Chapter XXXVII. The Princess Hears News of Pekuah

CHAP. XXXVII.

The adventures of the lady Pekuah.

“At what time, and in what manner,
I was forced away, laid Pekuah,
your servants have told you. The
suddenness of the event struck me with
surprise, and I was at first rather stupified
than agitated with any passion of either
fear or sorrow. My confusion was
encreased by the speed and tumult of our
fight while we were followed by the
Turks, who, as it seemed, soon despaired
to overtake us, or were afraid of those
whom they made a shew of menacing. [81]

“When the Arabs saw themselves out
of danger they slackened their course,
and as I was less harassed by external
violence, I began to feel more uneasiness
in my mind. After some time we stopped
near a spring shaded with trees in a
pleasant meadow, where we were set upon
the ground, and offered such refreshments
as our masters were partaking. I
was suffered to sit with my maids apart
from the rest, and none attempted to
comfort or insult us. Here I first began
to feel the full weight of my misery.
The girls sat weeping in silence, and
from time to time looked on me for
succour. I knew not to what condition
we were doomed, nor could conjecture
where would be the place of our captivity,
or whence to draw any hope of deliverance.
I was in the hands, of [82]

robbers and savages, and had no reason to
suppose that their pity was more than
their justice, or that they would forbear
the gratification of any ardour of desire,
or caprice of cruelty. I, however, kissed
my maids, and endeavoured to pacify
them by remarking, that we were yet
treated with decency, and that, since we
were now carried beyond persuit, there
was no danger of violence to our lives.
“When we were to be set again on
horseback, my maids clung round me,
and refused to be parted, but I commanded
them not to irritate those who
had us in their power. We travelled
the remaining part of the day through
an unfrequented and pathless country,
and came by moonlight to the side of a
hill, where the rest of the troop was stationed. [83]

Their tents were pitched, and
their fires kindled, and our chief was
welcomed as a man much beloved by his
dependants.
“We were received into a large tent,
where we found women who had attended
their husbands in the expedition.
They set before us the supper which
they had provided, and I eat it rather
to encourage my maids than to comply
with any appetite of my own. When
the meat was taken away they spread
the carpets for repose. I was weary, and
hoped to find in sleep that remission of
distress which nature seldom denies.
Ordering myself therefore to be undrest,
I observed that the women looked very
earnestly upon me, not expecting, I suppose,
to see me so submissively attended. [84]

When my upper vest was taken off,
they were apparently struck with the
splendour of my cloaths, and one of
them timorously laid her hand upon
the embroidery. She then went out,
and, in a short time, came back with
another woman, who seemed to be of
higher rank, and greater authority. She
did, at her entrance, the usual act of
reverence, and, taking me by the hand,
placed me in a smaller tent, spread with
finer carpets, where I spent the night
quietly with my maids.
“In the morning, as I was sitting on
the grass, the chief of the troop came towards
me. I rose up to receive him, and
he bowed with great respect. “Illustrious
lady, said he, my fortune is better
than I had presumed to hope; I am
told by my women, that I have a princess [85]

in my camp.”Sir, answered I,
your women have deceived themselves
and you; I am not a princess, but an
unhappy stranger who intended soon to
have left this country, in which I am
now to be imprisoned for ever. “Whoever,
or whencesoever, you are, returned
the Arab, your dress, and that of
your servants, show your rank to be high,
and your wealth to be great. Why
should you, who can so easily procure
your ransome, think yourself in danger
of perpetual captivity? The purpose
of my incursions is to encrease my riches,
or more properly to gather tribute.
The sons of Ishmael are the natural and
hereditary lords of this part of the continent,
which is usurped by late invaders,
and low-born tyrants, from whom we
are compelled to take by the sword what [86]

is denied to justice. The violence of war
admits no distinction; the lance that is
lifted at guilt and power will sometimes
fall on innocence and gentleness.”
“How little, said I, did I expect that
yesterday it should have fallen upon me.”
“Misfortunes, answered the Arab,
should always be expected. If the eye
of hostility could learn reverence or pity,
excellence like yours had been exempt
from injury. But the angels of affliction
spread their toils alike for the virtuous
and the wicked, for the mighty and
the mean.”Do not be disconsolate; I am
not one of the lawless and cruel rovers
of the desart; I know the rules of civil
life: I will fix your ransome, give a pasport [87]

to your messenger, and perform my
stipulation with nice punctuality.”
“You will easily believe that I was
pleased with his courtesy; and finding
that his predominant passion was desire
of money, I began now to think my
danger less, for I knew that no sum
would be thought too great for, the release
of Pekuah. I told him that he
should have no reason to charge me with
ingratitude, if I was used with kindness,
and that any ransome, which could be
expected for a maid of common rank,
would be paid, but that he must not persist
to rate me as a princess. He said,
he would consider what he should demand,
and then, smiling, bowed and retired. [88]

“Soon after the women came about
me, each contending to be more officious
than the other, and my maids themselves
were served with reverence. We travelled,
onward by short journeys. On the
fourth day the chief told me, that my
ransome must be two hundred ounces
of gold, which I not only promised him,
but told him, that I would add fifty
more, if I and my maids were honourably treated.
“I never knew the power of gold before.
From that time I was the leader
of the troop. The march of every day
was longer or shorter as I commanded,
and the tents were pitched where I chose
to rest. We now had camels and other
conveniencies for travel, my own women
were always at my side, and I amused [89]

myself with observing the manners of
the vagrant nations, and with viewing
remains of ancient edifices with which
these deserted countries appear to have
been, in some distant age, lavishly embellished.
“The chief of the band was a man
far from illiterate: he was able to travel
by the stars or the compass, and
had marked in his erratick expeditions
such places as are most worthy the notice
of a passenger. He observed to me,
that buildings are always best preserved in
places little frequented, and difficult of
access: for, when once a country declines
from its primitive splendour, the
more inhabitants are left, the quicker
ruin will be made. Walls supply stones
more easily than quarries, and palaces [90]

and temples will be demolished to make
stables of granate, and cottages of porphyry. [91]

         

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A Digital Anthology of Writing in English, 1660-1783