The Badawin Had Decided That There
Was To Be An "Arab Contingent," And Had Been Looking Forward To The
Spoils Of Europe:
This caused quarrels, as all the men wanted to go,
and not a ten-year-old would be left behind.
The consequence was, that
this amiable people was fighting in all directions. At least so said
the visitors, and I afterwards found out that they were not far wrong.
The Samman is a great family, in numbers as in dignity; from 8 A.M.
till mid-day therefore the Majlis was crowded with people, and
politeness delayed our breakfasts until an unconscionable hour.
To the plague of strangers succeeded that of children. No sooner did
the parlour become, comparatively speaking, vacant than they rushed in
en masse, treading upon our toes, making the noise of a nursery of
madlings, pulling to pieces everything they could lay their hands upon,
and using language that would have alarmed an old
man-o'war's-man.[FN#13] In fact, no one can conceive the plague but
[p.293] those who have studied the "enfan[t]s terribles" which India
sends home in cargoes.
One urchin, scarcely three years old, told me, because I objected to
his perching upon my wounded foot, that his father had a sword at home
with which he would cut my throat from ear to ear, suiting the action
to the word. By a few taunts, I made the little wretch furious with
rage; he shook his infant fist at me, and then opening his enormous
round black eyes to their utmost stretch, he looked at me, and licked
his knee with portentous meaning. Shaykh Hamid, happening to come in at
the moment, stood aghast at the doorway, chin in hand, to see the
Effendi subject to such indignity; and it was not without trouble that
I saved the offender from summary nursery discipline. Another scamp
caught up one of my loaded pistols before I could snatch it out of his
hand, and clapped it to his neighbour's head; fortunately, it was on
half-cock, and the trigger was stiff. Then a serious and majestic boy
about six years old, with an inkstand in his belt, in token of his
receiving a literary education, seized my pipe and began to smoke it
with huge puffs. I ventured laughingly to institute a comparison
between the length of his person and the pipe-stick, when he threw it
upon the ground, and stared at me fixedly with flaming eyes and
features distorted by anger. The cause of this "bouldness" soon
appeared. The boys, instead of being well beaten, were scolded with
fierce faces, a mode of punishment which only made them laugh.
They had their redeeming points, however; they were manly angry boys,
who punched one another like Anglo-Saxons in the house, whilst abroad
they were always
[p.294] fighting with sticks and stones. And they examined our
weapons,-before deigning to look at anything else,-as if eighteen
instead of five had been the general age.
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