To the desert’s verge she staggers—sinks—one
groan—and all is o’er.
Now the steed shall feast the rider, dead, and smeared with dust and
Far across, o’er Madagascar, faintly now the morning breaks;
Thus the king of beasts his journey nightly through his empire makes.
* * * * *
’Twas at midnight, in the Desert,
where we rested on the ground;
There my Bedouins were sleeping, and their steeds were stretched around;
In the farness lay the moonlight on the mountains of the Nile,
And the camel-bones that strewed the sands for many an arid mile.
With my saddle for a pillow did I prop
my weary head,
And my caftan-cloth unfolded o’er my limbs was lightly spread,
While beside me, both as Captain and as watchman of my band,
Lay my Bazra sword and pistols twain a-shimmering on the sand.
And the stillness was unbroken, save at
moments by a cry
From some stray belated vulture sailing blackly down the sky,
Or the snortings of a sleeping steed at waters fancy-seen,
Or the hurried warlike mutterings of some dreaming Bedouin.
When, behold!—a sudden sandquake—and
atween the earth and moon
Rose a mighty Host of Shadows, as from out some dim lagoon;
Then our coursers gasped with terror, and a thrill shook every man,
And the cry was “Allah Akbar!—’tis the Spectre-Caravan!”
On they came, their hueless faces toward
On they came, long files of camels, and of women whom they bore;
Guides and merchants, youthful maidens, bearing pitchers like Rebecca,
And behind them troops of horsemen, dashing, hurrying on to Mecca!
More and more! the phantom-pageant overshadowed
all the Plains,
Yea, the ghastly camel-bones arose, and grew to camel-trains;
And the whirling column-clouds of sand to forms in dusky garbs,
Here, afoot as Hadjee pilgrims—there, as warriors on their barbs!
Whence we knew the Night was come when
all whom Death had sought and
Long ago amid the sands whereon their bones yet bleach around,
Rise by legions from the darkness of their prisons low and lone,
And in dim procession march to kiss the Kaaba’s Holy Stone.
More and more! the last in order have
not passed across the plain,
Ere the first with slackened bridle fast are flying back again.
From Cape Verde’s palmy summits, even to Bab-el-Mandeb’s sands,
They have sped ere yet my charger, wildly rearing, breaks his bands!
Courage! hold the plunging horses; each
man to his charger’s head!
Tremble not as timid sheep-flocks tremble at the lion’s tread.
Fear not, though yon waving mantles fan you as they hasten on;
Call on Allah! and the pageant, ere you look again, is gone!