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TWENTY-FOUR HOURS WITH A BEDOUIN.-No. V.
The sheik recounted many exploits similar to what I have related in the preceding chapters, and some that savoured even more of the marvellous, and then the unhappy culprit had to be bastinadoed again, a fate from which, by many protestations, we succeeded in begging him off; so the sheik dismissed him with the admonition to mind and prove more successful the next time he set out on a plundering expedition: and the culprit, very much abashed, slunk away, secretly determined to wash out the slur cast upon him by some more than usually daring exploit, the victim of which, for all we could foresee to the contrary, might be ourselves and our purses. Not, however, during this trip, for this time we were secure from the aims or intentions of all of that tribe. I left the sheik settling some minor dispute which had happened amongst the women relative to eggs declared to have been stolen, and sauntering from tent to tent, watched the out-door occupations of the damsels of this encampment: most of them were busily intent upon the manufacturing of elegant hearthrugs, such, for material, colouring, and pattern as I have seldom seen rivalled in any other part of the world ; but even these were of an inferior quality (being made expressly for sale) to what each girl manufactured entirely with her own hands, and without any assistance, against the hoped-for and almost infallible day of nuptials. I say almost infallible only as regards the certainty of being some day or other married, if she lived, as none are allowed to pass over their twenty-second year without being espoused. Life and death are of course matters of as great uncertainty amongst the Bedouins as amongst any other people, perhaps more so ; but if young people live to twenty and upwards, they are sure of never dying bachelors or old maids. These nuptial carpets occupied the whole resources and skill of a Bedouin girl during her leisure hours; and though many could only find time to accomplish barely a square inch a day, they were usually completed ere the propitious hour arrived, and evinced to a greater or less extent the skill and the competency of the girl whose handy-work the rug chanced to be. No people I believe in the world, since the days of the ancient Syrian dyers, possess the secret of producing such excellent and durable colours as these Bedouins--their greens, yellows, and purples are particularly excellent, and no inducement can prevail upon them to part with the secret of their art.
Besides the great taste displayed in mingling and arranging the colours, I was surprised at the elegant method by which these brunettes entwined peacock and other bright feathers into their carpet-work, so as to represent gems of every hue, brilliantly set in fanciful borderings. The length of these carpets varied according to the means and expectations of the damsels employed upon them. Mine host's daughter had accomplished one that was fully twelve feet square, and pre-eminently strong and beautiful. Whatever may be their future fate in life, however depressed by misfortune and roughshod by poverty, the Bedouin will sell evetything, even his own children, before he will part with this nuptial carpet or rug, which is held in special veneration amongst thein, and superstitiously supposed to be possessed of certain charms with which it is periodically invested at stated seasons of the year. So long as it is retained, the Bedouin's heart, however oppressed by disease, by famine, by thirst-great family affliction-or other calamity, will retain hope; but when that has been forced from him, he may wrap his sheepskin closer around him, and resign himself to his fate; for in his opinion, what is termed good luck in this world has taken his hat and wished him good morning for ever and a day.
Whilst I was reflecting over the many incidents of future life, the joy and sorrow wrapped up in the last-finished rug which mine host's daughter had proudly shown me and carefully stowed away again, the distant sound of music and revelry burst upon our ears, and old and young all hurried forward to the judgment-seat of the sheik, under the umbrageous old tree, there to ascertain what unknown cause had given rise to this sudden apparition of mirth. The music and the shouting was still distant, so was the occasional discharge of fire-arms: now and then a loud rap on the derbekey or drum, and a prolonged howl, spoke volumes to the auditors. “ Take my word for it,” said the sheik, “we shall hear something relative to the missing tent very soon now.”_“I hope so," I fervently exclaimed, almost as fervently as you may be expected to exclaim, gentle reader; but then I had an interest at stake-a valuable double-barrelled pistol which was not to be replaced for any money in that country, besides having a score to rub off in the matter of my back, which now and then felt stiff from the rough treatment it had received during the previous night: byand-by there was a misty haze-a cloud of dust obscured the horizon; presently two or three horsemen emerged from it, and galloping towards us at full speed, suddenly jerked in their horses -wheeled round-fired off their guns in the air, and then galloped back again. This was the signal for the shebabeen (the young men) of our encampment to prepare for a day's festivities. Old musty fowling-pieces and matchlocks were loaded and primed. The sheik borrowed my Manton, and gave it to his son. Those that had horses sprung upon their backs: the others ran off with a wild huzza, whilst girls and boys were despatched in every direction to call in such of the villagers as could be spared from tending the flocks. Meanwhile the advancing procession was met by and exchanged a feu-de-joie with the natives of our encampinent. The shouts grew louder and merrier, the concourse drew nigher to where we were seated, on the very tiptoe of expection; and when the thronging multitude dispersed a little, we could discern something carried high up in the air, and covered with wreaths of wildflowers and sheaves of wheat. This was immediately pronounced by the sheik to be the stolen tent, and as the crowd drew nearer, we could discern that it was held over the head of a gaily-dressed pedestrian, by some ten or a dozen equally-well-equipped horsemen. This pedestrian proved to be the young man who had been pointed out to me as an aspirant for the hand of the sheik's pretty daughter, and the robber of the tent. He was now coming to claim the hand of his future bride, and arrange preliminaries for the wedding festivities. Amongst all the spectators none looked more pleased than the old man and his daughter, the two parties most interested in the present procession, and this made me more than ever surmise that they had been privy to the almost marvellous abstraction of the tent. However, the time had at length arrived for some enlightenment on this subject; the noisy procession halted within about fifty yards of where we were sitting : the ten was pitched; the music that had accompanied it ceased its noisy strains, and the future bridegroom came forward and stated the
object of his errand, basing his claim upon the performance of a roguish exploit that had not been for many years equalled in those plains.
After a brief colloquy his claims were acknowledged by the sheik, and the future son-in-law was invited to seat himself upon the costly nuptial rug, which the daughter now hastily spread for her future lord, and where, after having served him with coffee and a pipe, she seated herself on an extreme edge, respectfully listening to the explanations entered into by her lover, which were frequently interrupted by the clamorous applause of the female portion of his auditors.
“Yer Cede," commenced the young Bedouin, “I had long watched for a propitious moment for carrying out my present scheme, and though my plans had been well laid and maturely considered, I was fearful of rashly executing them, because, in case of failure, I should have forfeited all that I esteem as precious upon
this earth—a name and the love of her whose eyes nurture the tender joys of life that spring up round my heart. The propitious arrival of the stranger who is now partaking of our sheik's hospitality pointed out to me a capital opportunity of executing my plans. I knew that on ordinary occasions, if even the encampment had been attacked by enemies, and fifty guns fired off at midnight, nothing would prevail upon the women to quit their tents and see what was going forward, because they are accustomed to such noises nightly, and attribute them very justly to such trivial causes as we Arabs nightly experience in protecting our flocks from thieves, wolves, and wild animals. It was therefore with great happiness and delight that I hailed the advent of the European traveller who had eaten salt with our tribe, and who, being well armed, I knew would to the last resist any attempt made to rob him of his property. This was just what I wanted : some one that I would entice into a quarrel, whose loud words and blows might attract and call off the attention of the neighbours. Besides this, I full-well knew, that being a stranger and a guest, and above all, being an Inglese, he would command the sympathy and succour of all our tribe, but more especially that of the members of the family where he had sought and fuund rest and shelter; and in this supposition, as the results have proved, I was not in the least mistaken. No sooner had our supper been concluded, as will be remembered by the sheik, than, pleading weariness, I retired to my own tent; but certainly slumber was the last thought that I harboured in my mind. Gathering together all the spare and strong rope that I could muster in my own tent, and winding this carefully round my body, I crept out of the encampment upon my stomach, fearful of awakening suspicion, or of being challenged by any of the watchmen of our village. Well, darkness favoured my project partially, though I did not escape scot-free, for my own dog, mistaking me in the obscurity,