Page images
PDF
EPUB

without violating the rules of hospitality. He will be strict to the letter of the laws of guest-right, but the spirit of performance will militate grievously against their efficiency: he will manage to confound his Christian friend as much as possible with his Arab usages; he will have his food cooked with the most rancid butter that can be got; he will maliciously pitch his tent for him, where he will be sure to be bitten by mosquitoes, by the side of a stream or on the site of an old encampment; he will tether a newly-weaned camel close by him, who will cry for its mother the whole night long, or à male donkey, who will bray from sunset to sunrise ; and in the morning he will come and inquire with such an innocent face and such polite salutations how his guest has slept, that the latter, if he is a wise man, will do no otherwise than reply, 'Excellently well. Allah irhham waldik' (May God be merciful to the authors of thy days), and not give his host the triumph of reading any dissatisfaction in his face. If the Arab can no longer carry on the Djahad

the holy war against the infidel—this is a slight substitute for it; and you may perhaps contrive to be guests with him in the same polite fashion, and he will respect you the more.

The philosophy of Arab hospitality may be summed up in two phrases : Spend all thy substance rather than convert thy friends into enemies' (Khesart el mal ou la audout sahhab); The master of the cousscoussou is worth a master of powder' (Moula taam ki moula barroud); that is to say, you may increase your power as much by hospitality as by fighting. But on the avaricious man who conceals himself when the guest from God appears in sight, and lets the dogs bark at him, imprecations fall on all sides. 'May the malediction of God come upon thee as many times as thou hast hairs in thy beard ! O, the villain ! O, the Jew! No, thou art not of our goum."

There is a legend current among the Arabs which characterises in a very striking way the veneration with which the rites of Arab hospitality are regarded.

There were two brothers : the one was a dervish, who for forty years had devoted himself to the worship of God in a mountain solitude; the other was a robber on the highways, and had killed ninety men. One day a stranger appeared before the dervish, and demanded hospitality. 'Go thy ways,' said the dervish ; 'I am alone here, and have nothing to offer thee.' 'Let me sleep, at least, with thee; I will eat and drink nothing.' 'Well, be it so; thou canst sleep.'

In the morning the dervish looked for his guest, and he was not to be found. The stranger had, in fact, gone off to demand hospitality of his brother the robber. He went to his tent, and cried at the door, “A guest from God.' The master of the tent was away; but his wife came out : ‘Be welcome, and enter.' But the stranger refused, in spite of repeated invitations, and remained outside the tent till the evening, when the robber returned. The robber was angry with his wife for not having prevailed upon the stranger to enter, and went and took the tent, lifted it up, carried it towards the stranger, and set it up over his head, saying, Since thou wouldst not enter by good-will into my house, now thou art there by force.'

Supper was prepared and brought; but the traveller refused all that was offered him, and when pressed, declared that he had made a vow never to taste food till he had partaken of a dish made with seven hearts.

Now, the robber had nothing left but five goats. He kills the five goats: there are five hearts; two more are wanting. The robber had but two children, who were playing outside the tent. He killed his two children, and the dish of seven hearts was complete for the guest from God.' He served the dish before the stranger, who said, “Hast thou not two children ?' *I have two.' 'Well, I will not eat till they come before me.' That cannot be, my lord ; for they are very young, and badly dressed.' • What are their names ?' 'Aali and Abd-el-Kader.' The robber left the tent to hide his tears.

Then the stranger called the children three times by their names, and they arose ; and when the father returned to the tent, he found them full of joy, and seated at the supper-cloth ; but the stranger was not to be seen.

Now, the stranger was no other than the angel Gabriel, who went up straight to Allah, and told him the story of the two brothers. And Allah said, “Return to him who has worshipped me forty years and refused thee hospitality, and say that if he worships me yet a hundred years, it shall profit him nothing, either in this world or in the one to come. And then go thou to the robber, and tell him that I pardon him all his sins, that he shall enter into Paradise, and that he is already a saint of the seventh class. The guest from God is God.'

Is there need to say that this indiscriminate way of giving hospitality has engendered for ages a set of graceless fellows, 'loafers of the desert,' who almost entirely live by roving about from tent to tent ? Nevertheless the true Arab still keeps up the old practice in all its integrity, but will perhaps revenge himself on a too-frequent visitor by saying, if occasion offers, 'For the guest of one day we knead this cake; but for the guest of every day, what can we give him?' He who eats the chickens of others ought to fatten his own betimes.' But the rule of Arab hospitality contained in the following lines is still obeyed to the letter by every true son of the desert: If thou hast much, give of thy goods; if thou hast little, give of thy heart' (Ila andek ketir, ati men malek; ila andek klil, ati men galbek).

WILLIAM STIGAND.

THE POLITIC WAX-CHANDLER

I Legend of Mexico

BY GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA

Caramba!' exclaimed José Jamon de la Ycarregua, of the Calle Santa Isidra in the city of Mexico, wax-chandler. Caramba!' he repeated, pulling off his sombrero, inspecting it, and replacing it on his head with a dissatisfied countenance. * Cré Caramba! this country of Mexico is going to the Devil !' The prefix cré could not be justified on any grammatical grounds, but it added force to the expletive which followed.

There were naughtier words in José Jamon's vocabulary than *Caramba,' which is a comparatively mild form of adjuration ; but he did not care, being a respectable wax-chandler, and withal a politic man, living in good relations with the ecclesiastical authorities, to say anything of a decidedly objectionable nature. Indeed, swearing may be subjected to the nicest tests of good manners, and I know a lady who sometimes says, “Dash it!'

• To the Devil are going los Estados Unidos de Mejico,' José Jamon muttered once more, inverting the former order of his phraseology. To the Devil, al Diablo rubio.' The Red Devil is a very terrible demon to the Mexican mind, well-nigh equalling in awesomeness the dreaded “Gaspodin Tchort' or 'Lord Devil' of the Russian peasants.

José Jamon de la Ycarregua was a wax-chandler, and a politic manhombre de pequeñas palabras, pero de muchos pensamientos

but it needed not to be wizard to discern that the United States of Mexico were going very rapidly indeed to Mephistopheles. They had been tending Tophetwards for a very long time, almost indeed from the period when New Spain had shaken off her allegiance to the Castilian crown. José Jamon was well stricken in years, and he remembered a score of Mexican dictators. His recollection, perhaps, failed him as to the precise number of Mexican revolutions and pronunciamientos which he had witnessed, seeing that their name was Legion; but in conversing with him on bygone events he would say, reckoning on his fingers, 'Ah, that was in the days of the Cura Morelos, Almonte's father ; that took place in the reign of poor Don Augustin Yturbide ; stay, Comonfort must have been in power then; unless it was just after Santa Anna's second return to power.

You remember; and then Bustamente was President; long before Miramon, and our present excellent Gefe del Gobierno, the absolute Constitutional President, Don Benito Juarez, whom Heaven protect! For blowing hot and cold as expediency prompted, and rendering implicit obedience to the powers that were, José Jamon de la Ycarregua had few rivals among his countrymen. Had he been in England, he might have gone into the Church, and solicited with perfect propriety the next presentation to the vicarage of Bray.

The Calle Santa Isidra leads out of the more spacious Calle de las Santas Tripas, and, as every one acquainted with Mexican topography must be aware, terminates in the Plazuela de los Angelos. Nearly every street, lane, court, and alley in this city of bandits and cut-throats has something to do, nominally, with saints or angels. José Jamon had kept a wax-chandler's shop at the uppermost corner of the Santa Isidra— the south-west corner, looking towards the Portal and the Cathedral—for fifty years. Behold him, standing on his door-step, grumbling: a long, lank, gaunt, ill-conditioned man. His skin had the texture of that imitation of shagreen which the Japanese make from paper. They are going to start a railway soon, from Jeddo to Osaka, those ingenious Japanese; and, of course, the rails will be of papier maché, and the sleepers of cardboard.) His complexion was dun-coloured, in some places approaching to a chocolate hue, and was chequered on his forehead and just above his cheekbones by permanent patches of bile, which secretion likewise held chronic possession of what should have been the whites of his eyes, of which organs the pupils were black as sloes, and coruscated in quite an Inky Way of twinkling. The veins of his neck and of the backs of his hands resembled whipcord; he had not an ounce of muscle to spare ; and this physical condition, common enough among the natives of Mexico, he owed to the rarefied atmosphere, to extreme abstemiousness in eating and drinking, and to excessive smoking. Europeans settling in Mexico do not often succeed in getting into this living-mummy habit of body. They have not gone through the necessary training; they will drink brandy-and-water, forgetting that two glasses of dry sherry are an ample allowance for a Mexican diner-out; and the end of it is generally apoplexy. Brandy pawnee' is the curse of the European in hot climates, and its abuse may be equally pernicious among mountain ranges. • Is not this place the White Man's grave ?' I asked the captain of a West - India mail steamer once. * No,' replied the friendly skipper ; that is,' and he pointed to the brandy-bottle on the cabin table. The heat of the day was sweltering, so we both took "forty drops' more pleasant poison in the shape of fine champagne cognac and iced water. * Another nail in your coffin,' observed the friendly skipper as he took his “tot.' I thought, when I went on deck, and looked at the white houses of St. Thomas baking in the sun, that some of us might need when we died as many coffins as Mr. Banting gives to a prince when he is buried-lead, inner oak, outer oak, Spanish mahogany, and Genoa velvet to cover all. I am sure some of us have laid in a stock of nails sufficient to decorate a sarcophagus for the Colossus of Rhodes.

The hair of José Jamon de la Ycarregua was iron-gray, and cut close to his head for coolness; and neither beard nor moustache wore he. Let me whisper in your ear ere, ethnologically, I dismiss him, that he was a pure white Spaniard, and had not a tinge of Indian blood in his veins,- -a rare circumstance indeed with a middle-class Mexican. As for his dress, it was half a summer and half a winter costume-consisting of a monstrous sombrero of gray felt, rivalling a cart-wheel in the vastness of its circumference, and with its low crown encircled by a pudding,' or hoop of felt, well padded to keep off the rays of the sun. But for its weight the pudding would be a better guard against sunstroke than a puggree. Being a respectable man, José's sombrero was galonado; that is to say, the under part of the brim of his hat and the encircling 'pudding' were curiously embroidered in gold thread and green silk with representations of the maguey or cactus leaf, and of the eagle sitting on the nopal or prickly pear, which forms the heraldic cognisance of the Aztec Republic. He wore a round jacket of some shaggy material not unlike our imitation 'astrakan,' and which was profusely decorated with silver sugar-loaf buttons; he was destitute of waistcoat; his trousers were of white duck, scrupulously starched; but a thick scarf of silk of variegated hues was bound round his loins, and the vest beneath his fine linen, frilled, and puffed shirt was of flannel. You must wear woollen all the year if you wish to live in Mexico. In the morning and in the evening you might fancy yourself on Primrose-hill in the middle of March. From ten o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon no very great stretch of imagination is necessary to cause you to picture to yourself that you are in the stokehole of a P. and O. steamer in the Red Sea, in the middle of July. Is anything else necessary to show how José Jamon de la Ycarregua completed his costume,' as they used to say in the three - volume novels? Yes; this: he wore patent- leather shoes. There is never any mud in Mexico city, save only in the rainy season; and then nobody stirs out of doors except the Indians, who generally go barefoot. At other times, a lady may walk from one end of the town to the other without peril of smirching the soles of her pretty white-satin slippers. It is the driest place in the world, simply for the reason that it is situated on a mountain plateau many thousand feet above the level of the sea, and that the contents of all our City Commissioners of Sewers' mud-carts would be dried up in an hour by rarefaction. With impunity, then, did José Jamon parade his varnished slippers, in the assumption of which there might have been a spice of coxcombry. The Mexicans are not only the most polite but the best - dressed people in the world. The

« PreviousContinue »