Mohammed Ali and His House

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XVI Retribution.

Night has come. The Bedouin chief, Arnhyn, has retired to rest. He is to start early in the morning with others of his tribe for Tantah, to take to market the wool of their black sheep, the cloth they have woven out of it, the goat-skins; and cheese.

Butheita, also, must rise early in the morning, for she is to accompany her father, and has many little preparations to make. On the evening before, she had already done up her hair in a hundred small plaits, securing them with gold-headed pins, on some of which precious stones sparkled. The pink silk dress, the white veil, and the shoes, all lie ready for use: She has colored her finger-nails and the palms of her hands with henna; but Butheita scorns to color her face; moreover, no one is to see her face. Hitherto she had cordially detested her veil, but now she hides her countenance closely in the presence of all men.

Surprised at this, the sheik has often asked her how it happened that such a change had come over her, and that she showed herself to no one unveiled since the strangler had sojourned in their tent, as though his eyes had hurt her, and made her afraid of the gaze of men.

Butheita had only smiled mysteriously in response to his questions; she well knows, however, why she does so: she knows it is to keep sacred from the gaze of other men the countenance consecrated by his glance.

Night has come. The sheik is sleeping soundly on his mat in the first apartment of the tent, and Butheita on her cushions in the inner apartment. Deep silence prevails, interrupted only from time to time by the desert-wind as it sweeps across the plain and shakes the stakes of the tent, and makes the white canvas swe11 out.

Surely it was only the wind that now raised the curtain and made the canvas rustle. But it does not awaken the sheik; he is accustomed to such sounds, and sleeps so quietly that he does not see the shadow that glides cautiously into the tent, and creeps to where he lies sleeping. Without, stands another man, holding up the curtain to enable the first to see his way.

The moon throws a ray of light into the tent, and with a quick bound the man is beside the sheik, and binds his hands and feet. The sheik is now aroused; he opens his lips to utter a cry, but a wooden gag, is thrust into his mouth. He can neither cry out nor move; he lies there perfectly helpless, looking up wrathfully at the enemy who is treating him so shamefully.

The robber’s face is masked, and he can not recognize him. But a robber he assuredly is; yes, a robber who is searching for treasure, and who well knows that the sheik possesses several little chests filled with gold-pieces, jewelry, and precious stones, and who also knows that they are kept within in Butheita’s apartment. Yes, the robber knows this, for he is cautiously creeping into the second apartment. But this is not the one who bound him; it is another. There are therefore more of them. The first, the tall man who bound him, is now waiting at the door of the tent; the other, the smaller one, is entering the inner apartment. The sheik, powerless to prevent, sees all this as he lies bound on his mat.

Butheita still sleeps soundly. He who glides to her side regards her for a moment with an ardent, passionate glance, and then bends down and quickly binds her feet, and her hands, that lie crossed on her breast, with silken cloths. As she awakens and attempts to cry out, he quickly throws a gold-embroidered cuffei over her head, ties it securely around her neck, and then lifts Butheita in his arms. But, as he does so, he whispers in her ear, "Fear nothing, Butheita, no harm will be done you!"

A sudden tremor seizes her; she thinks she recognizes this voice. But no, it is impossible. He would not come to her as a robber. No, she is mistaken. Yet she offers no resistance. And what resistance can she offer? Her hands and feet are bound, and now she is borne out, and lifted high, and then laid down.

She does not see that she is on her own dromedary. She lies on the same cushion in the same palanquin in which she had once held the sarechsme Mohammed Ali a prisoner, and he it is who seats himself beside her. "And now onward, onward, my Alpha!"

The Nubian mounts his horse, and the swift dromedary speeds his way through the desert.

The night is clear, and the moon is shedding a golden lustre over the sand, through which the ship of the desert is flying with its rich prize, and behind it the Nubian, his hand on his pistol, ready to shoot down any one who may dare to attack his master.

Now the rider draws rein and stops the dromedary; the sublime image of the desert-queen, silvered over with the moonlight, towers before them in majestic proportions.

"This is the desert-queen, the goddess of all the Bedouins!" cries Mohammed. "Do you wish to see her, Butheita? I am sorry for you, and would gladly remove the cloth from your head and eyes in order that you may see. But if you are cruel, you might tear my arms with your teeth. Will you do that, Butheita?"

She starts and shakes her head, inwardly rejoicing, for she recognizes these words, and remembers that she spoke them when he lay a prisoner on the cushion before her. And he now continues to speak just as she spoke then

"You shake your head, and I will trust you and loosen your bonds."

He quickly unties the cuffei and removes it from her head. She looks up at him who is bowed down over her, and the kind moon sheds her soft light upon them, and enables them to see each other.

Oh, happy moment! Forgotten is all, forgotten the long separation— forgotten, also, that her father will be angry and will grieve for her! She looks only at him, sees only him, and yet, as he now bends down closer, she turns her face aside.

Mohammed smiles and points to the sphinx. "Only look at the shadow the moon throws from the dromedary to the mouth of the sphinx! Look at the two heads there, they are our shadows, and they are kissing each other, Butheita!"

She utters a cry of delight. These were her very words, and, as then, he says, bending over her:

"Why should our shadows only kiss each other? Why not our lips, too?"

But she shakes her head and says, as she then said:

"I have promised my father to kiss only that man whom I shall follow to his tent for love. At the door of the tent he may give me the first kiss."

"And you are still resolved to keep this promise?" said he, smiling.

"I am," says she, also smiling. "And you, Mohammed, shall never kiss me!" she continues, the smile vanishing from her lips, and her countenance assuming an angry expression. "No, you shall never kiss me, for you shall never lead me to your tent as your wife! Oh, I see it all plainly. You have stolen me from my father to make me a slave!"

"Yes," said Mohammed, "I intend you to be a slave, the slave of your love! For I know you love me, Butheita!"

"No!" she exclaims: "No, I do not love you! And you have no right to make me a slave. I am the Bedouin queen; my whole tribe call me so, and the daughters of the Bedouins have never been sold into slavery. No, I will not be a slave!"

"And yet you shall be the slave of your love!"

"I do not love you, I hate you!" replies she, crying with anger. "Yes, Mohammed Ali, I hate you, and you shall never kiss me, for I hate the robber who takes me from my father’s house in order to make me a slave!"

"Butheita," says he, gently, "I removed the cloth from your lips, but you are not keeping your word; you tear my heart with your lips, and I must cover them again if you continue to wound me so cruelly."

"Do so; close my lips! They shall say nothing else to you!" cries she, angrily. "Do so, close my lips and eyes again!"

"Well, then, I shall do so," he says, taking the gold-embroidered cloth and throwing it over her face. "I do so, Butheita, because I am not willing the rude wind should kiss the cheek of my beloved; unwilling the stars should gaze down on you in your loveliness, unwilling the moon should adorn your countenance with its lustre. I, alone, will adorn you; I, alone, will gaze on your loveliness; and my sighs, alone, shall kiss your cheeks! Yes, Butheita, you belong to me alone, and shall be my slave, as I am your slave, and yet your master. Shake your head if you will. I am your master, for you love me. You shake your head again? You mean to say you hate me! I don’t believe it.—Onward, my dromedary, speed through the desert! Onward, my Alpha!"

The dromedary moves on still more rapidly over the desert; its shadow dances beside them on the sand, and behind them the shadow of the Nubian’s steed.

The moon grows pale, the stars vanish; day is beginning to dawn. As the sun rises, they reach their destination.

The dromedary stops at the little gate at the end of the park. Achmed dismounts, and opens the gate. Mohammed has lifted Butheita from the palanquin, and now carries his precious burden into the park.

All are asleep in the palace. The two glide softly through the park to the door of the harem. Achmed unlocks it, and Mohammed ascends the stairway with noiseless footsteps. No one hears or sees him. Achmed hastens back to care for the horse and the dromedary. Mohammed carries the precious burden, that lies quietly in his arms, through the suite of glittering apartments. Butheita sees nothing of the splendor through which they pass, and, if she saw it, would not heed it.

What cares she for gilded rooms! the desert puts on more glorious attire with each day’s dawn, and nothing can be more sublime than the sphinx near the great pyramids. He who has seen that is astonished at nothing else; to him all things in the houses of men seem petty.

Mohammed is aware of this, and he understands the heart of the girl he bears in his arms; he now enters the large room at the end of the apartments of the harem. Here he gently lays her down, and locks the door. The sun has risen and gilds with its light the lattice-work of the windows, throwing little crimson circles on the mat that covers the floor. Mohammed unties the silken scarf that binds Butheita’s feet, and assists her to stand up.

He also unties the scarf that binds her hands, and she now stands before him with her face veiled. He gently removes the cuffei from her head. Her large black eyes glance around the wide space, and she sees the tent that looks exactly like her father’s. She turns her eyes on Mohammed with a loving glance. He draws her to his heart.

"Are you still resolved, Butheita, that he only shall kiss you who leads you to his tent as his wife. And will you only allow him to kiss you at the door of the tent?"

"I am still so resolved!" she exclaims, but in joyous tones. "I am still so resolved!"

Mohammed lifts her in his arms and carries her to the tent.

"Butheita, this is my tent! I lead you into it as my wife. Butheita, may I now kiss you?"

She makes no answer, but, with a loud cry, throws herself upon his breast, and kisses him passionately. Mohammed encircles Butheita with his arms, and bears her into his tent.


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XVI Retribution.," Mohammed Ali and His House, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Mohammed Ali and His House (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XVI Retribution." Mohammed Ali and His House, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Mohammed Ali and His House, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XVI Retribution.' in Mohammed Ali and His House, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Mohammed Ali and His House, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from