It was clear, then, that for some reason the force had been ordered to turn and go back for a distance, probably to await the caravan in some ravine, and that they were now not very far away. It was necessary, then, to be as expeditious as possible.
He hastily returned and gave the order that the route of the caravan be changed, and that the party should cross over the hills and proceed by a route close to the Red Sea until the place of danger was left behind.
This was accordingly done, and the long lines passed anxiously yet laboriously onward over flinty summits, down steep and rugged hill-sides, past rocky clefts and over barren desert spots peopled only by the echoes that rang from the mountain sides, until at last the sparkling waters of the Red Sea lay below, and the anxious travelers felt that, for the present at least, they were safe.
THE BATTLE OF BEDR.
“A Prodigy of Fear,
and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times.”
The afternoon was intensely warm. Although the heat of the day was past, the houses of Mecca seemed to bake in the sun, the sand burned like a furnace, and a visible, shimmering heat seemed to fill the air. Nevertheless the ceremonies of Tawaf and the ablutions of Zem-Zem went on unceasingly, for it was the month of Ramadhan, and the half-naked pilgrims, with their scanty white garments, shaven heads, and bare feet, kept up the perpetual promenade about the temple, even when so hot as to be ready to drop of exhaustion. The courtyard was crowded with people, the carriers of Zem-Zem water were in constant demand, and, in the cooler recesses of the covered portico around the great yard, a humming trade went on, the venders’ cries rising above the prayers of the pilgrims.
Such was the scene upon which Omair suddenly staggered, all breathless, with haggard face, turban awry, and thin wisps of hair streaming in wet hanks over his brow.
“Where is Abu Jahl?” he cried, gasping.
“Why, what is wrong? Tell us!” cried the curious crowd in some consternation. “Where is Abu Sofian? Where is the caravan? Why have you come alone?”
“Send me Abu Jahl!” was his only reply.
The old man happened to be at the Caaba, and came anxiously at the unexpected summons.
“Omair!” he exclaimed. “Allah! What has happened?”
“Send them help!” gasped Omair. “Send them help at once, or not one in our fair caravan may escape! Mohammed is lying in wait for them in the mountain passes.”
“May Allah have mercy!” ejaculated the old man; and the crowd about shrieked and groaned.
“Bring me the stair!” called Abu Jahl. “Place it close to the Caaba!”
This done, he ascended to the roof where all might see him. His snowy beard descended to his waist over his flowing garments, and his white locks fell thinly from beneath his kufiyah.