The Sikhs lost no time. Shots began to whizz overhead and to splash the water around us. But the boat was painted gray; as we increased the distance we must have looked like a moving patch of darker water with a puzzling wake behind us. The sea was still. The stars were reflected in it in unsteady dots and streaks. The moon cast a silver patch of light that shimmered, and confused the eye. Sikhs are not by any means all marksmen. At any rate, the shots all missed. Though some of our party, Anazeh included, returned the fire, none boasted of having hit any one. And an Arab boasts at the least excuse.
In a few minutes we were out of range and, since there was no pursuing launch in sight, could afford to jeer at the Sikhs in chorus. There were things said about their habits and their ancestry that it is to be hoped they did not hear, or at any rate understand, for the sake of any Arab prisoners they might take in future. It always struck me as a fool game to mock your enemy. If you fall in his power at any time he would be almost more than human if he did not remember it. It seemed to me unlikely that those Sikhs would forget to avenge the Arab compliments that must have sizzled in ears across that star-lit sea. After that the only immediate danger was from the wind that sometimes blows down in sudden gusts from between the mountain-tops. It would have needed only half a sea to swamp us. But the Dead Sea was living up to its reputation, quiet, inert, like a mercury mirror for the stars—a brooding place of silence.
The Arabs’ spirits rose as we chugged toward their savage hills. They began to sing glorious songs about women and mares and camels. Presently Anazeh improvised an epic about the night’s raid, abortive though it had been. He left out all the disappointing part. He sang first of the three shore-dwelling fools whose boats they had stolen. Then of the baffled rage of those same fools when they should learn their property was lost forever. Presently, as he warmed to the spirit of the thing, he sang about the wails of the frightened villagers from whom they had plundered sheep and goats; and of the skill and resourcefulness with which the party had escaped pursuit under his leadership, Allah favoring, “and blessed be His Prophet!”
Last, he sang about me, the honoured stranger, for whom they had dared everything and conquered, and whom they were taking to El-Kerak. He described me as a prince from a far country, the son of a hundred kings.
It was a good song. I got Ahmed to translate it to me afterwards. But I suspect that Ahmed toned it down in deference to what he may have thought might be my modesty and moralistic scruples.
“I am willing to use all means—all methods.”