DO YOU know anything of a people in the north of this country, called the Ansarey?’ inquired Tancred of Baroni.
‘No, my lord; and no one else. They hold the mountainous country about Antioch, and will let no one enter it; a very warlike race; they beat back the Egyptians; but Ibrahim Pasha loaded his artillery with piastres the second time he attacked them, and they worked very well with the Pasha after that.’ ‘Are they Moslemin?’
‘It is very easy to say what they are not, and that is about the extent of any knowledge that we have of them; they are not Moslemin, they are not Christians, they are not Druses, and they are not Jews, and certainly they are not Guebres, for I have spoken of them to the Indians at Djedda, who are fire-worshippers, and they do not in any degree acknowledge them.’
‘And what is their race? Are they Arabs?’ ‘I should say not, my lord; for the only one I ever saw was more like a Greek or an Armenian than a son of the desert.’
‘You have seen one of them?’
‘It was at Damascus: there was a city brawl, and M. de Sidonia saved the life of a man, who turned out to be an Ansarey, though disguised. They have secret agents at most of the Syrian cities. They speak Arabic; but I have heard M. de Sidonia say they have also a language of their own.’
‘I wonder he did not visit them.’
‘The plague raged at Aleppo when we were there, and the Ansarey were doubly rigid in their exclusion of all strangers from their country.’
‘And this Ansarey at Damascus, have you ever seen anything of him since?’
‘Yes; I have been at Damascus several times since I travelled with M. de Sidonia, and I have sometimes smoked a nargileh with this man: his name is Dar-kush, and he deals in drugs.’
Now this was the reason that induced Tancred to inquire of Baroni respecting the Ansarey. The day before, which was the third day of the great hunting party at Canobia, Fakredeen and Tancred had found themselves alone with Hamood Abuneked, and the lord of Canobia had thought it a good occasion to sound this powerful Sheikh of the Druses. Hamood was rough, but frank and sincere. He was no enemy of the House of Shehaab; but the Abunekeds had suffered during the wars and civil conflicts which had of late years prevailed in Lebanon, and he was evidently disinclined to mix in any movement which was not well matured and highly promising of success. Fakredeen, of course, concealed his ulterior purpose from the Druse, who associated with the idea of union between the two nations merely the institution of a sole government under one head, and that head a Shehaab, probably dwelling at Canobia.
‘I have fought by the side of the Emir Bescheer,’ said Hamood, ‘and would he were in his palace of Bteddeen at this moment! And the Abunekeds rode with the Emir Yousef against Djezzar. It is not the House of Abuneked that would say there should be two weak nations when there might be one strong one. But what I say is sealed with the signet of truth; it is known to the old, and it is remembered by the wise; the Emir Bescheer has said it to me as many times as there are oranges on that tree, and the Emir Yousef has said it to my father. The northern passes are not guarded by Maronite or by Druse.’
‘And as long as they are not guarded by us?’ said Fakredeen, inquiringly.
‘We may have a sole prince and a single government,’ continued Hamood, ‘and the houses of the two nations may be brothers, but every now and then the Osmanli will enter the mountain, and we shall eat sand.’
‘And who holds the northern passes, noble Sheikh?’ inquired Tancred.
‘Truly, I believe,’ replied Hamood, ‘very sons of Eblis, for the whole of that country is in the hands of Ansarey, and there never has been evil in the mountain that they have not been against us.’
‘They never would draw with the Shehaabs,’ said Fakredeen; ‘and I have heard the Emir Bescheer say that, if the Ansarey had acted with him, he would have baffled, in ‘40, both the Porte and the Pasha.’
‘It was the same in the time of the Emir Yousef,’ said Sheikh Hamood. ‘They can bring twenty-five thousand picked men into the plain.’
‘And I suppose, if it were necessary, would not be afraid to meet the Osmanli in Anatoly?’ said Fakredeen.
‘If the Turkmans or the Kurds would join them,’ said Sheikh Hamood, ‘there is nothing to prevent their washing their horses’ feet in the Bosphorus.’
‘It is strange,’ said Fakredeen, ‘but frequently as I have been at Aleppo and Antioch, I have never been in their country. I have always been warned against it, always kept from it, which indeed ought to have prompted my earliest efforts, when I was my own master, to make them a visit. But, I know not how it is, there are some prejudices that do stick to one. I have a prejudice against the Ansarey, a sort of fear, a kind of horror. ’Tis vastly absurd. I suppose my nurse instilled it into me, and frightened me with them when I would not sleep. Besides, I had an idea that they particularly hated the Shehaabs. I recollect so well the Emir Bescheer, at Bteddeen, bestowing endless imprecations on them.’
‘He made many efforts to win them, though,’ said Sheikh Hamood, ‘and so did the Emir Yousef.’
‘And you think without them, noble Sheikh,’ said Tancred, ‘that Syria is not secure?’
‘I think, with them and peace with the desert, that Syria might defy Turk and Egyptian.’
‘And carry the war into the enemy’s quarters, if necessary?’ said Fakredeen.
‘If they would let us alone, I am content to leave them,’ said Hamood.
‘Hem!’ said the Emir Fakredeen. ‘Do you see that gazelle, noble Sheikh? How she bounds along! What if we follow her, and the pursuit should lead us into the lands of the Ansarey?’
‘It would be a long ride,’ said Sheikh Hamood. ‘Nor should I care much to trust my head in a country governed by a woman.’
‘A woman!’ exclaimed Tancred and Fakredeen.
‘They say as much,’ said Sheikh Hamood; ‘perhaps it is only a coffee-house tale.’
‘I never heard it before,’ said Fakredeen. ‘In the time of my uncle, Elderidis was Sheikh. I have heard indeed that the Ansarey worship a woman.’
‘Then they would be Christians,’ said Sheikh Hamood, ‘and I never heard that.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07