A moment, and the luster of the light flung its own magic brilliancy over the Algerine water-line, and then shone full on the heights of El Biar and Bouzariah, and on the lofty, delicate form of the Italian pines that here and there, Sicilian-like, threw out their graceful heads against the amber sun-glow and the deep azure of the heavens. Then swiftly, suddenly, the sun sank; twilight passed like a gray, gliding shade, an instant, over earth and sea; and night—the balmy, sultry, star-studded night of Africa,—fell over the thirsty leafage longing for its dews, the closed flowers that slumbered at its touch, the seared and blackened plains to which its coolness could bring no herbage, the massive hills that seemed to lie so calmly in its rest.
Camped on one of the bare stretches above the Mustapha Road was a circle of Arab tents; the circle was irregularly kept, and the Krumas were scattered at will; here a low one of canvas, there one of goatskin; here a white towering canopy of teleze, there a low striped little nest of shelter, and loftier than all, the stately beit el shar of the Sheik, with his standard stuck into the earth in front of it, with its heavy folds hanging listlessly in the sultry, breathless air.
The encampment stretched far over the level, arid earth, and there was more than one tent where the shadowing folds of the banner marked the abode of some noble Djied. Disorder reigned supreme, in all the desert freedom; horses and mules, goats and camels, tethered, strayed among the conical houses of hair, browsing off the littered straw or the tossed-down hay; and caldrons seethed and hissed over wood fires, whose lurid light was flung on the eagle features and the white haiks of the wanderers who watched the boiling of their mess, or fed the embers with dry sticks. Round other fires, having finished the eating of their couscousson, the Bedouins lay full-length; enjoying the solemn silence which they love so little to break, and smoking their long pipes; while through the shadows about them glided the lofty figures of their brethren, with the folds of their sweeping burnous floating in the gloom. It was a picture, Rembrandt in color, Oriental in composition; with the darkness surrounding it stretching out into endless distance that led to the mystic silence of the great desert; and above the intense blue of the gorgeous night, with the stars burning through white, transparent mists of slowly drifting clouds.
In the central tent, tall and crimson-striped, with its mighty standard reared in front, and its opening free to the night, sat the Khalifa, the head of the tribe, with a circle of Arabs about him. He was thrown on his cushions, rich enough for a seraglio, while the rest squatted on the morocco carpet that covered the bare ground, and that was strewn with round brass Moorish trays and little cups emptied of their coffee. The sides of the tent were hung with guns and swords, lavishly adorned; and in the middle stood a tall Turkish candle-branch in fretted work, whose light struggled with the white flood of the moon, and the ruddy, fitful glare from a wood fire without.