Here to return to
RASHID GOES HOME
IN time Awad had trained the ostrich so well that the children could play with her as they did with the camels and ponies.
One day there was a great laughing and shouting around the tents. No wonder! for there came the ostrich stalking along with Hamid and Rashid on her back. Hamid sat astride the bird’s neck, guiding it by a rope which was tied around its head for a bridle.
“Let me get up, too,” cried Fatimah, who came running out of the tent; and good-natured Awad swung her up beside the boys.
“Hold on tight,” he called out, as away went the big bird with a troop of little Bedouin children following a long way after.
Such a ride as the children had! Poor Awad was quite breathless when they got back, from running to keep up with the bird’s long strides.
But now Rashid’s happy days in the desert were coming to an end; for the time had come when he must leave the “Black Tents “and go home. He was well and strong now, and a messenger had come from his father, saying how much he missed his boy, and how all at home wanted to have him back again.
“Oh, Rashid, must you go?” asked Hamid, who felt very sad at losing his little friend.
“Yes, but my father has sent word that you must come back with me, Hamid, for a visit with us.”
And so it was all arranged that not only Hamid was to go with Rashid, but all the family as well. Everybody was very busy making preparations.
There were a great many things to do in order to get ready for the journey, for when a Bedouin travels he takes his house and all his belongings with him.
Long before the peep of day Nassar-Ben had his great camels kneeling before the tents, and the camel men began to fasten the loads on the camels’ backs, the beasts were groaning and moaning as they always do when they are being loaded. Camels are very cunning and wise, and try to make out that they have already too much to carry, even before they have made the attempt. Every once and awhile they would get up, and the camel men would cry out to them to kneel down again and keep quiet, giving a sharp blow with the curved stick which the drivers always carry to guide the camels.
One of the camels carried a litter in which Fatimah and her mother were to ride. It was like a broad seat and long enough so that Zubaydah and Fatimah might use it as a bed to lie down upon as well. Arched over it were poles on which hung curtains to keep out the dust and sun.
“Isn’t this nice and snug?” laughed Fatimah.
“Too snug when all of you little ones are here,” answered her mother.
The children had all climbed up into the litter to see just what it was like; and, of course, they had got in the way of Zubaydah who was hanging the pouches or bags around inside the curtains. These contained the food and other necessaries for the journey.
“It is very well for thee, Fatimah, but I am glad I am going to ride Zuleika,” said Hamid, slipping out and stopping to watch two men swing two large jars of water across the camel’s back behind the litter, which the Arabs called the “shugduf.”
All the little Bedouin children of the neighbourhood crowded around to bid Rashid goodbye, for they had grown very fond of him and were sorry to see him go. Each had brought him some little parting gift, such as a string of dates, a bunch of feathers for his spear, or a tame bird.
After Rashid had thanked his kind little friends, there was great fun stowing the presents away so that they might be carried safely, especially the shell of one of the ostrich’s eggs which Awad had brought him. Finally Fatimah found a place for this last gift by putting it in a palm-leaf basket and hanging it from the roof of the “shugduf.”
At last all was ready. The boys mounted their ponies and the camel men cried out orders to the great beasts, and the camels got up slowly, groaning under their big loads. Al-Abukar looked splendid as he rode at the Head of the little caravan on his swift dromedary. Over the dromedary’s back were two big saddle-bags with long crimson tassels which hung nearly down to the ground; the saddle itself was of red leather with a high metal pommel at the front and back. Beside the dromedary cantered the two boys.
Rashid turned around and waved a last good-bye with his spear to all his friends whom he had left behind at the encampment, while all the little Bedouins ran after him a little way, shouting at the tops of their voices: “May your shadow never grow less, O little Son of the Walls!”
Soon the “Black Tents” were left far behind, and the camels struck into their regular caravan gait, rolling and lurching like a ship at sea.
If you were riding a camel for the first time you would understand why the Arabs call the camel “the ship of the desert,” for it rolls backwards and forwards and pitches first forward and then backward exactly like a ship in mid-ocean.
At noon they halted for the midday meal. While the men hastily put up a tent, the children gathered dry branches in the thickets of thorn-bushes with which to make the fire. Meanwhile Hamid had spied some tents in the distance; and, near them, a woman tending goats.
“May we go and ask her to give us some milk, mother?” asked Fatimah.
“Yes, and here is some bread to give her in exchange for the milk,” said Zubaydah.
The Bedouin woman gladly filled the bowl that the children brought with them with nice warm goat’s milk, but when Fatimah offered her the bread, she shook her head angrily.
“Nay, nay, I am not a ‘labban,’” — a milk-seller, — she said. The true Bedouins think it is a disgrace to sell milk, and that it is only right that they should give it freely to any stranger who may ask for it.
When the children got back with the milk, Zubaydah was frying dates in butter, and soon they were all sitting in the shade of the tent eating heartily of them and the cold meat and rice and cakes.
“The camels are glad to rest, too,” said Rashid, watching them as they slowly knelt down one by one. It is one of the funniest sights in the world to see a camel lay down on the ground. He sighs and groans and slowly unbends his funny long legs that look as if they would come unjointed and drop off. He folds up his fore legs a little, then he folds up his hind legs in part, and then he falls on his knees until his nose nearly touches the ground. Now he finishes the folding up process with all his legs, as if they were the blades of a jack-knife, and tucks them well away beneath him.
When it became cooler our party broke camp, and the little caravan started off again over the desert. They passed more and more tents and herds, and also a little party of travellers like themselves, and all shouted salaams, or greetings, as they went by.
When they stopped for their supper, Hamid and Rashid, instead of washing themselves as usual, poured sand over their faces and hands in place of water. This is the Mohammedan custom when travelling in the desert, for where water has to be carried with one, it must not be wasted.
When bedtime came the children were quite ready for it, for it had been a long, hard day. Fatimah said she would rather sleep in the tent; but the two boys rolled themselves up in their rugs on the warm sand outside, and, with their saddles for pillows, slept as soundly as did their ponies, who were tethered beside them.
“Fasten the curtains of the litter well,” said Al-Abukar when the little party started off the next day, “the ‘poison-wind’ has begun to blow.”
“Ugh! and it is as hot as if it blew from a furnace,” said Hamid, tying the end of his kerchief tightly across his mouth. Rashid did the same, while Fatimah helped her mother to draw the curtains tightly around them; for the simoon, as this great desert wind is called, was blowing great whirls of sand into their faces.
“Here comes a thing of ill-omen,” said Hamid’s father, pointing to a great column of sand which whirled by them at a rapid rate.
“Ay, it is a genie, the evil spirit of the desert,” muttered the old camel-sheik, wrapping his cloak more closely about him.
The genie is practically a pillar of sand drawn up into the air by the wind as it whirls and blows around and around with a circular motion, very much in the same way that a water-spout is formed at sea. The Arabs are all afraid of the genie, and say it is an evil spirit; and no wonder, for these moving columns of sand do not look unlike some strange, living thing as they go dancing across the desert.
The wind was blowing so hard when they halted at midday that they could not think of putting up a tent or cooking; but ate as best they could huddled up beside the kneeling camels, with their cloaks pulled up over their heads.
“I am eating more sand than bread,” said Hamid, with disgust, as he held tightly to his cloak to keep it wrapped closely about him, and tried to eat at the same time.
“I know I must have eaten a basketful,” said Rashid.
“Oh, there goes my veil,” cried Fatimah, who had thoughtlessly popped her head out of the litter.
“Thou wilt never see it again,” said her mother. Almost immediately it had been lost to view as it went sailing through the air.
“Never mind, thou shalt buy the prettiest that can be found in the Bazaar when we get to the city,” said her father, consolingly.
The little caravan struggled against the wind all the rest of the day; and that night there was no sleeping in a tent for anybody. The next day, however, things went better.
“Oh! I see over there a beautiful lake of blue water and palm-trees beside it,” cried Fatimah. “Look, mother,” she said, waking her mother, from a doze and pointing across the sandy plain.
“Indeed it looks as though there were water and trees ahead,” said her mother; but Al-Abukar answered: “Nay, it is but a mirage.”
“But we can see the ripple of the water; it must be real,” persisted Fatimah.
“Nay,” said the camel man, and shielding his eyes with his hand, he peered at the strange sight. “The camels say nothing,” he continued, “and they are wise and can always tell when water is near. If it were real water they would begin to whine and groan.” Sure enough, as they went toward the mirage, it faded away altogether, the lake, trees, and all.
“But it did look real, did it not, father?” said Fatimah.
“Ah, so has thought many a poor traveller to his undoing, when he was lost in the desert and was dying of thirst,” answered her father. “He thinks he sees cool water and green trees ahead of him, and hurries along to reach them, only to find that the mocking mirage has faded away and that there is nothing there but the hot sand of the desert.”
A mirage really is nothing more than a sort of reflection of some very distant object projected into the sky through the hot, dry air of the desert. Sometimes the desert traveller sees a phantom city in the clouds, and sometimes a ship, as if it were floating on the sandy waves of the desert instead of on the ocean; but it is all a delusion and not real.
From now on, the little Bedouins began to remark that they were leaving the desert behind them. They began to pass some houses, and then small villages of mud huts with roofs of palm-leaves. Around these villages were little fields divided off by low ridges of earth. There were orchards of fruit-trees, and Hamid and Rashid rode up to one of these and bought some pomegranates.
“Did ever anything taste nicer?” said Fatimah. And they all agreed with her as they ate the sweet, pink pomegranate seeds.
Soon they were riding through great groves of date-palms, and shortly caught a glimpse of the city shining white through the trees still some distance away.
“Oh, Hamid! I believe that is my father yonder,” cried Rashid, as he caught sight of several horsemen riding toward them.
It was true; it was the Sharif, Rashid’s father, who, with a party of relatives, had come out to meet them. Rashid galloped forward, and in another moment was in the arms of his father.
The caravan came to a halt, and, after many greetings on all sides, got under way again, and they all rode together into the city.
“Is not the big city a wonderful place?” whispered little Fatimah to her mother as they rode through the great city gates of stone, the walls of which were painted with broad bands of yellow and red. She had never before seen a large city.
“Keep clear of the sides, O camel men!” shouted out Nassar-Ben, who had hard work guiding his little caravan through the narrow, winding streets. The camel men had to run behind their charges, prodding them with sticks and crying out: “Go in the middle of the road! O! Hé! O! Hi!”
Finally they came to the great square called the “Kneeling Place of the Camels,” because all the caravans which came into the city were obliged to unload or encamp there. On one side of the square was the house in which Rashid lived. “Welcome to our house,” said the Sharif, as he led his friends through a gateway and into a large courtyard.
Here they dismounted. Rashid’s mother and his big brother, Ali, and all the other relations and servants rushed out to meet them. And wasn’t Rashid glad to see them all again!