An Arabian Anecdote

Miss Porden

All day Moheddin rode, the sultry glow
Parch’d his faint limbs and agonizing brow
Yet o’er the sands with unrelenting speed
And mind untir’d, he urg’d his panting steed
But coldly now the dew of evening fell
And failing light scarce show’d a leafy dell
Where on the narrow spot of verdant ground
And Arab horde had pitch’d their tents around — 
Where the broad banners float in crimson state
He stay’d his courser at the chieftain’s gate.

 “Unfold! ye hospitable doors, unfold!
A noble Arab, weary, faint, and cold.
Food, rest, and aid, the stranger’s right, implores.
Unfold! unfold! ye hospitable doors.
That bounty show, the generous Arab’s pride,
Ope! at the stranger’s bidding, open wide!”

 The chieftain hears, he hails his noble guest
His slaves obedient spread the ready feast.
Four graceful virgins, youngest of his race
On the full board the choicest dainties place
Beneath their vest each lovely bosom heaves
Pure as the rose amid her modest leaves.

On their smooth cheeks the mantling blushes rise
Love lurks in ambush in their downcast eyes
The scarlet aloe decks their sable hair
Too blest to blossom and to perish there.

 In social converse either warrior told
Of deeds his valour had achiev’d of old
Each listened with attention ever new
And strong esteem with every moment grew
Till now Moheddin said, “In early days
My hardy valour gain’d Noureddin’s praise.
But Osman cried, ‘Behold the false one’s son
He claims the laurels by his soldiers won.’
Stung with the taunt, the envious wretch I slew
On me his sones, his hundred kinsmen flew
And I had sunk beneath th’ unequal strife
But generous Orasmin redeem’d my life.
Child of his bounty, in his smiles I live,
And for his countless gifts alone can give
Zeal for his fame unstain’d by selfish art
A hand obedient, and a faithful heart.”

 What sudden spell is in the stranger’s tale?
Why turns the Arab’s hardy cheek so pale?
With haggard eyes as from the tenet he passed
His trembling limbs deride his seeming haste,
But soon a slave the board more quickly dressed
His modest arms he folded on his breast
And hails with downcast looks the wondering guest

“Abdallah bids me health to greeting bear
His roof despise not, not the banquet spare,
Nor think his mind less hospitably bent
If sudden illness call him from the tent.
His virgin’s hands thy simple couch have spread
And chas’d by prayer the demon’s from thy bed.
Thy noble steed is weary of thy weight,
At dawn another meets thee at the gate.
Till then, health, honour, to Abdallah’s guest.
Sleep bless thy couch, and angels guard thy rest!”

Not yet the breeze of morning warm’d the air
Nor call’d the Imam’s holy voice to prayer,
When rung these accents in Moheddin’s ear.
“Awake! Arise! thy steed is waking near.”
He rose — before the Arab chieftain’s gate
The courser stood the bold Abdallah waits.
“Mount! Mount!” he cried, “accept this generous steed!
Not one in all my stalls excels his speed.
Haste! for thy safety on his strength depends,
Thou are my guest, and let us part as friends.
Thy speech has shown the murderer of my sire
And I have vowed by fraud, by steel, by fire,
From the sun’s rising to his setting light
To seek thy life — and I will keep my plight!
He shines already on yon mountain’s brow
Haste! ere he glimmer on the plain below
Haste! ere yon stream a golden lustre show
And all my tribe thy flying steps pursue.”

Moheddin speeds, no marvel if his eyes
Were sometimes turn’d upon the changing skies
As now repining at the hastening sun
And now rejoicing in the distance won.
But see! far off Abdallah gives the rein
His eager kinsmen blacked all the plain.
Their clattering hoofs strike louder on his ear.
They come! they come! but yonder grove is near.
On! On! thou gallant horse, more swiftly speed
Unwept, unseen, the Emir must not bleed — 
He gains the wood — in vain his foes pursue
The thickening branches screen him from their view
While onward speeding, with the waning light
The walls of Cairo rose upon his sight.

The above is versified almost literally from a fact recorded by a recent traveller. “The sphere of an Arab’s hospitality extends no farther than the small plain which surrounds his encampment.”