I thought to myself, "Now this disease with a human heart in it is going to shoot me." I smiled in derision at the idea of a Bedouin daring to touch off his great-grandfather's rusty gun and getting his head blown off for his pains. But then it occurred to me, in simple school-boy language, "Suppose he should take deliberate aim and 'haul off' and fetch me with the butt-end of it?" There was wisdom in that view of it, and I stopped to parley. I found he was only a friendly villain who wanted a trifle of bucksheesh, and after begging what he could get in that way, was perfectly willing to trade off everything he had for more. I believe he would have parted with his last shirt for bucksheesh if he had had one. He was smoking the "humbliest" pipe I ever saw--a dingy, funnel- shaped, red-clay thing, streaked and grimed with oil and tears of tobacco, and with all the different kinds of dirt there are, and thirty per cent. of them peculiar and indigenous to Endor and perdition. And rank? I never smelt anything like it. It withered a cactus that stood lifting its prickly hands aloft beside the trail. It even woke up my horse. I said I would take that. It cost me a franc, a Russian kopek, a brass button, and a slate pencil; and my spendthrift lavishness so won upon the son of the desert that he passed over his pouch of most unspeakably villainous tobacco to me as a free gift. What a pipe it was, to be sure! It had a rude brass-wire cover to it, and a little coarse iron chain suspended from the bowl, with an iron splinter attached to loosen up the tobacco and pick your teeth with. The stem looked like the half of a slender walking-stick with the bark on.

I felt that this pipe had belonged to the original Witch of Endor as soon as I saw it; and as soon as I smelt it, I knew it. Moreover, I asked the Arab cub in good English if it was not so, and he answered in good Arabic that it was. I woke up my horse and went my way, smoking. And presently I said to myself reflectively, "If there is anything that could make a man deliberately assault a dying cripple, I reckon may be an unexpected whiff from this pipe would do it." I smoked along till I found I was beginning to lie, and project murder, and steal my own things out of one pocket and hide them in another; and then I put up my treasure, took off my spurs and put them under my horse's tail, and shortly came tearing through our caravan like a hurricane.

From that time forward, going to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan, Bethany, Bethlehem, and everywhere, I loafed contentedly in the rear and enjoyed my infamous pipe and revelled in imaginary villany. But at the end of two weeks we turned our faces toward the sea and journeyed over the Judean hills, and through rocky defiles, and among the scenes that Samson knew in his youth, and by and by we touched level ground just at night, and trotted off cheerily over the plain of Sharon. It was perfectly jolly for three hours, and we whites crowded along together, close after the chief Arab muleteer (all the pack-animals and the other Arabs were miles in the rear), and we laughed, and chatted, and argued hotly about Samson, and whether suicide was a sin or not, since Paul speaks of Samson distinctly as being saved and in heaven. But by and by the night air, and the duskiness, and the weariness of eight hours in the saddle, began to tell, and conversation flagged and finally died out utterly. The squeak-squeaking of the saddles grew very distinct; occasionally somebody sighed, or started to hum a tune and gave it up; now and then a horse sneezed. These things only emphasised the solemnity and the stillness. Everybody got so listless that for once I and my dreamer found ourselves in the lead. It was a glad, new sensation, and I longed to keep the place forevermore. Every little stir in the dingy cavalcade behind made me nervous. Davis and I were riding side by side, right after the Arab. About 11 o'clock it had become really chilly, and the dozing boys roused up and began to inquire how far it was to Ramlah yet, and to demand that the Arab hurry along faster.

Curious Republic of Gondour Page 12

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book