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Title: A Pilgrimage to Nejd, Vol. 1 [of 2] - The Cradle of the Arab Race
Author: Blunt, Anne
Language: English
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          [Picture: Portrait of Lady Anne Blunt in Arab Costume]



                          A PILGRIMAGE TO NEJD,


                      _THE CRADLE OF THE ARAB RACE_.

                                * * * * *

                A VISIT TO THE COURT OF THE ARAB EMIR, AND
                         “OUR PERSIAN CAMPAIGN.”

                                * * * * *

                           BY LADY ANNE BLUNT.
             AUTHOR OF “THE BEDOUIN TRIBES OF THE EUPHRATES.”

                                * * * * *

                         IN TWO VOLUMES.—VOL. I.

                                * * * * *

               WITH MAP, PORTRAITS, AND ILLUSTRATIONS FROM
                          THE AUTHOR’S DRAWINGS.

                                * * * * *

                            _SECOND EDITION_.

                                * * * * *

                                 LONDON:
                      JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET,
                                  1881.

                         [_All Rights reserved_.]

                                * * * * *



These Volumes Are Dedicated


                                    TO

                      SIR HENRY CRESWICKE RAWLINSON,

                              K.C.B., F.R.S.

                                    BY

                                                            THE AUTHORESS.



PREFACE BY THE EDITOR.


READERS of our last year’s adventures on the Euphrates will hardly need
it to be explained to them why the present journey was undertaken, nor
why it stands described upon our title page as a “Pilgrimage.”  The
journey to Nejd forms the natural complement of the journey through
Mesopotamia and the Syrian Desert; while Nejd itself, with the romantic
interest attached to its name, seems no unworthy object of a religious
feeling, such as might prompt the visit to a shrine.  Nejd, in the
imagination of the Bedouins of the North, is a region of romance, the
cradle of their race, and of those ideas of chivalry by which they still
live.  There Antar performed his labours of Hercules, and Hatim Taï the
more historical hero entertained his guests.  To the Ánazeh and Shammar,
especially, whose northward migrations date only from a few generations
back, the tradition of their birth-place is still almost a recollection;
and even to the Arabs of the earlier invasions, the townsmen of such
places as Bozra, Palmyra, and Deyr, and to the Taï Bedouins, once lords
of Jebel Shammar, it appeals with a fascination more than equal to that
of the Hejaz itself.  Nejd is to all of them what Palestine is to the
Jews, England to the American and Australian colonists; but with this
difference, that they are cut off from the object of their filial
reverence more absolutely in practice than these by an intervening gulf
of desert less hospitable than any sea.  It is rare to meet anywhere in
the North an Arab who has crossed the Great Nefûd.

To us too, imbued as we were with the fancies of the Desert, Nejd had
long assumed the romantic colouring of a holy land; and when it was
decided that we were to visit Jebel Shammar, the metropolis of Bedouin
life, our expedition presented itself as an almost pious undertaking; so
that it is hardly an exaggeration, even now that it is over, and we are
once more in Europe, to speak of it as a pilgrimage.  Our pilgrimage then
it is, though the religion in whose name we travelled was only one of
romance.

Its circumstances, in spite of certain disappointments which the
narrative will reveal, were little less romantic than the idea.  Readers
who followed our former travels to their close, may remember a certain
Mohammed Abdallah, son of the Sheykh of Palmyra, a young man who, after
travelling with us by order of the Pasha from Deyr to his native town,
had at some risk of official displeasure assisted us in evading the
Turkish authorities, and accomplishing our visit to the Ánazeh.  It may
further be remembered that, in requital of this service and because we
had conceived an affection for him (for he appeared a really high-minded
young fellow), Mohammed had been given his choice between a round sum of
money, and the honour of becoming “the Beg’s” brother, a choice which he
had chivalrously decided in favour of the brotherhood.  We had then
promised him that, if all went well with us, we would return to Damascus
the following winter, and go in his company to Nejd, where he believed he
had relations, and that we would help him there to a wife from among his
own people.

The idea and the promise were in strict accordance with Bedouin notions,
and greatly delighted both him and his father Abdallah, to whom they were
in due course communicated.  Arab custom is very little changed on the
point of marriage from what it was in the days of Abraham; and it was
natural that both father and son should wish for a wife for him of their
own blood, and that he should be ready to go far to fetch one.  Moreover,
the sort of help we proposed giving (for he could hardly have travelled
to Nejd alone) was just such as beseemed our new relationship.
Assistance in the choice of a wife ranks in Bedouin eyes with the gift of
a mare, or personal aid in war, both brotherly acts conferring high
honour on those concerned.  Mohammed too had a special reason in the
circumstances of his family history to make the proposal doubly welcome.
He found himself in an embarrassing position at home with regard to
marriage, and was in a manner forced to look elsewhere for a wife.  The
history of the Ibn Arûks of Tudmur, the family to which he belonged, will
explain this, and is so curious, and so typical of Arabia, that it
deserves a passing notice here.

It would appear that seven or eight generations ago (probably about the
date of the foundation of the Wahhabi empire) three brothers of the noble
family of Arûk, Sheykhs of the Beni Khaled of south-eastern Nejd,
quarrelled with their people and left the tribe.  The Ibn Arûks were then
a very well-known family, exercising suzerain rights over the important
towns of Hasa and Katif, and having independent, even sovereign, power in
their own district.  This lay between the Persian Gulf and Harik, an
oasis on the edge of the great southern desert, and they retained it
until they and the rest of their fellow Sheykhs in Arabia were reduced to
insignificance by Mohammed Ibn Saoud, the first Wahhabi Sultan of Nejd.
{xiii}

At the beginning of last century, all Arabia was independent of central
authority, each tribe, and to a certain extent each town, maintaining its
separate existence as a State.  Religion, except in its primitive Bedouin
form, had disappeared from the inland districts, and only the Hejaz and
Yemen were more than nominally Mahometan.  The Bedouin element was then
supreme.  Each town and village in Arabia was considered the property of
one or other of the nomade Sheykhs in its neighbourhood, and paid him
tribute in return for his protection.  The Sheykh too not unfrequently
possessed a house or castle within the city walls, as a summer residence,
besides his tent outside.  He in such cases became more than a mere
suzerain, and exercised active authority over the townspeople,
administering justice at the gate daily, and enrolling young men as his
body-guard, even on occasion levying taxes.  He then received the title
of Emir or Prince.  It was in no other way perhaps that the “Shepherd
Kings” of Egypt acquired their position and exercised their power; and
vestiges of the old system may still be found in many parts of Arabia.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, Ibn Abd-el-Wahhab, the
Luther of Mahometanism, preached his religious reform in Nejd, and
converted Ibn Saoud, the Ánazeh Sheykh of Deriyeh, to his doctrines.  By
Ibn Abd-el-Wahhab’s help Ibn Saoud, from the mere chief of a tribe, and
sovereign of one city, became Sultan of all Arabia, and reduced one after
another every rival Sheykh to submission.  He even ultimately destroyed
the system of tribute and protection, the original basis of his power,
and having raised a regular army from among the townsmen, made these
quite independent of Bedouin rule.  Arabia then, for the first time since
Mahomet’s death, became a united empire with a centralised and regular
government.  It must have been about the year 1760 that the three Ibn
Arûks, disgusted with the new state of things in Nejd, went out to seek
their fortunes elsewhere.  According to the tradition, partly embodied in
an old ballad which is still current in Arabia, they were mounted all
three upon a single camel, and had nothing with them but their swords and
their high birth to gain them credit among strangers.  They travelled
northwards and at first halted in Jôf, the northernmost oasis of Central
Arabia, where one of them remained.  The other two, quarrelling,
separated; the younger going, tradition knew not whither, while the elder
held on his way still further north, and settled finally at Tudmur
(Palmyra), where he married a woman of the place, and where he ultimately
became Sheykh.  At that time Tudmur consisted but of a few houses.  His
name was Ali, and from him our friend Mohammed and his father Abdallah,
and his uncle Faris, the real head of the family in Tudmur, are
descended.

Mohammed then had some reason, as far as his male ancestry were
concerned, to boast of his birth, and look high in making a “matrimonial
alliance;” but _par les femmes_ he was of less distinguished blood; and,
as purity of descent on both sides is considered a _sine quâ non_ among
the Arabs, the Ibn Arûks of Tudmur had not been recognized for several
generations as _asil_, or noble.  They had married where they could among
the townspeople of no birth at all, or as in the case of Mohammed’s
father, among the Moáli, a tribe of mixed origin.  The Ánazeh, in spite
of the name of Arûk, would not give their daughters to them to wife.
This was Mohammed’s secret grief, as it had been his father’s, and it was
as much as anything else to wipe out the stain in their pedigree, that
the son so readily agreed to our proposal.

The plan of our journey was necessarily vague, as it included the search
after two families of relations of whom nothing had been heard for nearly
a hundred years.  The last sign of life shewn by the Ibn Arûks of Jôf had
been on the occasion of Abdallah’s father’s death by violence, when
suddenly a member of the Jôf family had appeared at Tudmur as avenger in
the blood feud.  This relation had not, however, stayed longer there than
duty required of him, and having slain his man had as suddenly
disappeared.  Of the second family nothing at all was known; and, indeed,
to the Ibn Arûks as to the other inhabitants of Tudmur, Nejd itself was
now little more than a name, a country known by ancient tradition to
exist, but unvisited by any one then living connected with the town.

These singular circumstances were, as I have said, the key-note of our
expedition, and will, I hope, lend an interest beyond that of our own
personal adventures to the present volumes.  To Mohammed and the Arabs
with whom we travelled, as well as to most of those we met upon our
journey, his family history formed a perpetual romance, and the _kasid_
or ballad of Ibn Arûk came in on every occasion, seasonable and
unseasonable, as a chorus to all that happened.  But for it, I doubt
whether the journey could ever have been accomplished; and on more than
one occasion we found ourselves borne easily on by the strength of it
over difficulties which, under ordinary conditions, might have sufficed
to stop us.  By extreme good luck, as will be seen in the sequel, we lit
upon both branches of the family we set out in search of, the one
citizens of the Jôf oasis, the other Bedouins in Nejd, while the further
we got the better was the Arûk name known, and relations poured in on us
on all sides, eager to shew us hospitality and assistance.  We were thus
passed on from kinsman to kinsman, and were everywhere received as
friends; nor is it too much to say that while in Arabia we enjoyed the
singular advantage of being accepted as members of an Arabian family.
This gave us an unique occasion of seeing, and of understanding what we
saw; and we have only ourselves to blame if we did not turn it to very
important profit.

So much then for the romance.  The profit of our expedition may be
briefly summarised.

First as to geography.  Though not the only Europeans who have visited
Jebel Shammar, we are the only ones who have done so openly and at our
leisure, provided with compass and barometer and free to take note of all
we saw.  Our predecessors, three in number, Wallin, Guarmani, and
Palgrave, travelled in disguise, and under circumstances unfavourable for
geographical observation.  The first, a Finnish professor, proceeded in
1848, as a Mussulman divine, from the coast of the Red Sea to Haïl and
thence to the Euphrates.  The account of his journey, given in the
Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, is unfortunately meagre,
and I understand that, though one more detailed was published in his own
language, he did not live long enough to record the whole body of his
information.  The second, Guarmani, a Levantine of Italian origin,
penetrated in disguise to Jebel Shammar, commissioned by the French
Government to procure them horses from Nejd; and he communicated a lively
and most interesting account of his adventures to the “Société de
Géographie” in 1865.  He too went as a Turkish mussulman, and, being
rather an Oriental than a European, collected a mass of valuable
information relating chiefly to the Desert Tribes through which he
passed.  It is difficult, however, to understand the route maps with
which his account is illustrated, and, though he crossed the Nefûd at
more than one point, he is silent as to its singular physical features.
Guarmani started from Jerusalem in 1863 and visited Teyma, Kheybar,
Áneyzeh, Bereydah, and Haïl, returning thence to Syria by Jôf and the
Wady Sirhán.  Mr. Palgrave’s journey is better known.  A Jesuit
missionary and an accomplished Arabic scholar, he was entrusted with a
secret political mission by Napoleon III. and executed it with the
permission of his superiors.  He entered Nejd, disguised as a Syrian
merchant, from Maan, and passing through Haïl in 1864 reached Riad, the
capital of the Wahhabi kingdom, and eventually the Persian Gulf at Katif.
His account of Central Arabia is by far the most complete and life-like
that has been published, and in all matters of town life and manners may
be depended upon as accurate.  But his faculty of observation seems
chiefly adapted to a study of society, and the nature he describes is
human nature only.  He is too little in sympathy with the desert to take
accurate note of its details, and the circumstances of his journey
precluded him from observing it geographically.  He travelled in the heat
of summer and mostly by night, and was besides in no position, owing to
his assumed character and the doubtful company in which he was often
compelled to travel, to examine at leisure what he saw.  Mr. Palgrave’s
account of the physical features of the Nefûd, and of Jebel Shammar, the
only one hitherto published, bears very little resemblance to the
reality; and our own observations, taken quietly in the clear atmosphere
of an Arabian winter, are therefore the first of the kind which have
reached Europe.  By taking continuous note of the variations of the
barometer while we travelled, we have been able to prove that the plateau
of Haïl is nearly twice the height supposed for it above the sea, while
the granite range of Jebel Shammar exceeds this plateau by about 2000
feet.  Again, the great pilgrim-road from the Euphrates, though
well-known by report to geographers, had never before been travelled by
an European, and on this, as on other parts of our route, we have
corrected previous maps.  The map of Northern Arabia appended to the
first volume of our work may be now depended upon as within its limits
substantially accurate.

In geology, though possessing a superficial knowledge only of our
subject, we have, I believe, been able to correct a few mistakes, and to
clear up a doubt, much argued by Professor Wetzstein, as to the rock
formation of Jebel Aja; while a short memoir I have appended, on the
physical conformation of the great sand desert, will contain
original—possibly valuable—matter.  The sketches, above all, which
illustrate these volumes, may be relied on as conscientious
representations of the chief physical features of Central Arabia.

Botanists and zoologists will be disappointed in the meagre accounts of
plants and animals I am able to give.  But the existence now proved of
the white antelope (_Oryx Beatrix_) in Nejd is, I believe, a fact new to
science, as may be that of the _Webber_, a small climbing quadruped
allied to the marmots.

A more important contribution to knowledge will, I hope, be recognised in
a description of the political system to which I have just alluded under
the name of Shepherd rule, and which is now once more found in Central
Arabia.  I do not know that it has ever previously been noticed by
writers on Arabia.  Neither Niebuhr nor Burckhardt seem to have come
across it in its pure form, and Mr. Palgrave misunderstood it altogether
in his contempt of Bedouin as contrasted with town life.  Yet it is
probably the oldest form of government existing in Arabia, and the one
best suited for the country’s needs.  In connection with this matter too,
the recent history of Nejd, with an account of the downfall of the Ibn
Saouds, for which I am mainly indebted to Colonel Ross, British Resident
at Bushire, and the decay of Wahhabism in Arabia, will prove of interest,
as may in a lesser degree the imperfect picture given in the second
volume of the extreme results produced in Persia by despotic rule, and
the iniquitous annexation of Hasa by the Turks.  The value, however, of
these “discoveries” I leave to our readers to determine, premising only
that they are here pointed out less on account of their own importance,
than as an excuse in matter for the manner of the narrative.

With regard to the sequel of our Arabian journey, the further journey
from Bagdad to Bushire, I should not intrude it on the notice of the
public, but that it serves as an additional proof, if such be wanting, of
the folly of those schemes which, under the name of “Euphrates Valley”
and “Indo-Mediterranean” railway companies, have from time to time been
dangled before the eyes of speculators.  A country more absolutely
unsuited for railway enterprise than that between the Mediterranean and
the Persian Gulf, has probably never been selected for such operations;
and, if the recital of our passage through the uninhabited tracts, which
form nine tenths of the whole region, shall deter my countrymen from
embarking their capital in an enterprise financially absurd, I feel that
its publication will not have been in vain.

One word before I end my Preface.  It was objected to me at the Royal
Geographical Society’s meeting, where I read a paper on this “Visit to
Nejd,” that though we had crossed the Great Sand Desert, and visited
Jebel Shammar, we had after all not been to Nejd.  Nejd, I was told on
the “best authority,” was a term applicable only to that district of
Central Arabia which is bounded by the Jebel Toweykh and the lesser
Nefûds, neither Jebel Shammar nor Kasim being included in it.  Strange as
this statement sounded to ears fresh from the country itself, I was
unable at the time to fortify my refusal to believe by any more special
argument than that the inhabitants of the districts in question had
always called them so,—an argument “quod semper et ab omnibus” which to
some seemed insufficient.  I have therefore taken pains to examine the
grounds of the objection raised, and to give a reason for the belief
which is still strong within me that Haïl is not only an integral part of
Nejd, but Nejd _par excellence_.

First then, to repeat the argument “quod ab omnibus,” I state
emphatically that according to the Arabs themselves of every tribe and
town I have visited, Nejd is held to include the lands which lie within
the Nefûds.  It is a geographical expression including three principal
sub-districts, Jebel Shammar and Kasim in the North, and Aared in the
South.  The only doubt I have ever heard expressed was as to the Nefûds
themselves, whether they were included or not in the term.  The Bedouins
certainly so consider them, for they are the only part of Nejd which they
habitually inhabit, the stony plateaux of the centre being unfit for
pastoral life.  Jôf is considered outside the limit northwards, as are
Kheybar and Teyma to the north-west, while Jobba and Harik are doubtful,
being towns of the Nefûd.

Secondly, I plead written authority:—

1.  Abulfeda and Edrisi, quoted by Colonel Ross in his memorandum,
include in the term Nejd all those lands lying between Yemen, Hejaz, and
Irak.

2.  Yakut, an Arabian geographer of the thirteenth century, quoted by
Wetzstein, expressly mentions Aja as being in Nejd.

3.  Merasid confirms Yakut in his geographical lexicon.

4.  Sheykh Hamid of Kasim, also quoted by Wetzstein, says, “Nejd in its
widest sense is the whole of Central Arabia;—in its narrowest and
according to modern usage, only the Shammar Mountains and the Land of
Kasim, with the Great Desert bordering it to the South.”

5.  Niebuhr, the oldest and most respectable of European writers,
enumerating the towns of Nejd, says, “Le mont Schamer n’est qu’à dix
journées de Bagdad; il comprend Haïl, Monkek, Kafar, et Bokà.  L’on place
_aussi_ dans le Nejdsjed une contrée montagneuse nommée Djof-al-Sirhán
entre le mont Schâmer et Shâm (la Syrie),” etc.; thus showing that all,
and more than all I claim, were in Niebuhr’s day accounted Nejd.

6.  Chesney, in his map of Arabia, published in 1838, includes Kasim and
Jebel Shammar within the boundary of Nejd, and gives a second boundary
besides, still further north, including districts “sometimes counted to
Nejd.”

7.  Wallin defines Nejd as the whole district where the _ghada_ grows, a
definition taken doubtless from the Bedouins with whom he travelled, and
which would include not only Jebel Shammar, but the Nefûds and even the
Southern half of the Wady Sirhán.

8.  In Kazimirski’s dictionary, 1860, I find, “_Ahlu’lghada_, surnom
donné aux habitants de la frontière de Nejd où la plante _ghada_ croit en
abondance.”

Finally, Guarmani gives the following as the result of his inquiries in
the country itself: “Le Gebel est la province la plus septentrionale du
Neged.  C’est, comme disent les Arabes, un des sept Negged;” and on the
authority of Zamil, Sheykh of Áneyzeh, explains these seven to be Aared,
Hasa, and Harik, in the south, Woshem in the centre, and Jebel Shammar,
Kasim, and Sudeyr, in the north.

Opposed to this mass of testimony, we find among travellers a single
competent authority, Mr. Palgrave; and even his opinion is much
qualified.  After explaining that the name Nejed signifies “highland,” in
contradistinction to the coast and the outlying provinces of lesser
elevation, he sums up his opinion thus: “The denomination ‘Nejed’ is
commonly enough applied to the whole space included between Djebel Shomer
on the north, and the great desert to the south, from the extreme range
of Jebel Toweyk on the east to the neighbourhood of the Turkish
pilgrim-road or Derb-el-Hajj on the west.  However, this central
district, forming a huge parallelogram, placed almost diagonally across
the midmost of Arabia from north-east-by-east to south-west-by-west, as a
glance at the map may show, is again subdivided by the natives of the
country into the Nejed-el-aala or Upper Nejed, and the Nejed-el-owta or
Lower Nejed, a distinction of which more hereafter, while Djebel Shomer
is generally considered as a sort of appendage to Nejed, rather than as
belonging to that district itself.  But the Djowf is always excluded by
the Arabs from the catalogue of upland provinces, though strangers
sometimes admit it also to the title of Nejed, by an error on their part,
since it is a solitary oasis, and a door to highland or inner Arabia, not
in any strict sense a portion of it.”

The exact truth of the matter I take, then, to be this.  Nejd, in its
original and popular sense of “Highlands,” was a term of physical
geography, and necessarily embraced Jebel Shammar, the most elevated
district of all, as well as Kasim, which lay between it and Aared; and so
it was doubtless considered in Niebuhr’s time, and is still considered by
the Bedouins of the North, whose recollections date from an age previous
to Niebuhr’s.  With the foundation, however, of the Wahhabi Empire of
Nejd, the term from a geographical became a political one, and has since
followed the fluctuating fortunes of the Wahhabi State.  In this way it
once embraced not only the upland plateaux, but Jôf and Hasa; the latter,
though a low-lying district on the coast, retaining in Turkish official
nomenclature its political name of Nejd to the present day.  At the time
of Mr. Palgrave’s visit, the Wahhabis, from whom doubtless his
information was acquired, considered Jebel Shammar no longer an integral
part of their State, but, as he expresses it, an appendage.  It was
already politically independent, and had ceased in their eyes to be Nejd.
But since his day the Nejd State has seen a still further disruption.
Kasim has regained its independence, and Hasa has been annexed to the
Turkish Empire.  Nejd has therefore become once more what it was before
the Empire of Nejd arose, a term of physical geography only, and one
pretty nearly co-extensive with our term Central Arabia.

I hold, then, to the correctness of our title, though in this matter, as
in the rest, craving indulgence of the learned.

                                                     WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT.

CRABBET PARK,
      _August_ 1, 1880.

                        [Picture: Pilgrim Banner]



CONTENTS TO VOL. I.

                              CHAPTER I.
                                                                  PAGE
The charm of Asia—A return to old friends—Desert News—The            1
Palmyrene colony at Damascus—New horses and camels—Mrs.
Digby and her husband Mijuel the Mizrab—A blood feud—Abd
el-Kader’s life—Midhat Pasha discourses on canals and
tramways—He raises a loan
                             CHAPTER II.
Brotherly offices—We prepare for a campaign—Mohammed Dukhi          21
comes to court—A night robber—We start for Nejd—Tale of a
penitent—The duty of revenge—We are entertained by poor
relations—The fair at Mezarib
                             CHAPTER III.
Beating about—Bozra—We leave the Turkish                            46
dominions—Mohammed vows to kill a sheep—The citadel of
Salkhad and the independent Druses—We are received by a
Druse chieftain—Historical notice of the Hauran
                             CHAPTER IV.
We start in earnest—The Harra—A theory of Mirage—Camp of            64
the Beni Sokkhr—Wady er Rajel—A Christmas Dinner in the
Desert—Sand-storm—We reach Kâf
                              CHAPTER V.
Kâf and Itheri—More relations—The Wady Sirhán—Locust                84
hunting—Hanna sits down to die—Tales of robbery and
violence—We are surprised by a ghazu and made
prisoners—Sherarat statistics—Jôf
                             CHAPTER VI.
The Jôf oasis—We are entertained by Ibn Rashid’s                   113
lieutenant—A haunch of wild cow—Dancing in the
castle—Prayers—We go on to Meskakeh
                             CHAPTER VII.
The Ibn Arûks of Jôf—Mohammed contracts a matrimonial              129
alliance—Leah and Rachel—We cheapen the bride’s dower—A
negro governor and his suite—A thunder-storm
                            CHAPTER VIII.
Mohammed in love—We enter the red sand desert—Geology of           150
the Nefûd—Radi—The great well of Shakik—Old
acquaintance—Tales of the Nefûd—The soldiers who perished
of thirst—The lovers—We nearly remain in the sand—Land at
last
                             CHAPTER IX.
Jobba—An unpleasant dream—We hear strange tales of Ibn             187
Rashid—Romping in the Nefûd—A last night there—The
Zodiacal light—We enter Nejd—The granite range of Jebel
Shammar
                              CHAPTER X.
Haïl—The Emir Mohammed Ibn Rashid—His menagerie—His                213
horses—His courtiers—His wives—Amusements of the ladies of
Haïl—Their domestic life—An evening at the castle—The
telephone
                             CHAPTER XI.
Political and historical—Shepherd rule in Arabia—An                257
hereditary policy—The army—The Law—Taxation—The finances
of Jebel Shammar—Ibn Rashid’s ambition

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS TO VOL. I.

PORTRAIT OF LADY ANNE BLUNT IN HER ARAB COSTUME         _Frontispiece_
(BY MOLONY)
                                                                  PAGE
PILGRIM BANNER                                                    xxvi
SALKHAD                                                             45
RUN TO EARTH                                                        63
SAND-STORM IN THE WADY ER-RAJEL                                     80
KÂF                                                                 83
GHAZÛ IN THE WADY SIRHÁN                                           104
CASTLE OF JÔF                                                      112
THE OASIS OF JÔF                                                   120
A NEJD SHEEP                                                       149
THE NEFÛD OR GREAT RED SAND DESERT OF ARABIA                       160
A DELÚL RIDER                                                      186
RECEPTION AT HAÏL                                                  212
THE GREAT KAHWAH                                                   214
IBN RASHID’S STABLES AT HAÏL                                       250
EVENING WITH THE EMIR                                              256
OUR HOUSE AT HAÏL                                                  273
MAP OF NEJD                                              _At the End_.



CHAPTER I.


    “You have been a great traveller, Mercury?”

    “I have seen the world.”

    “Ah, a wondrous spectacle.  I long to travel.”

    “The same thing over again.  Little novelty and much change.  I am
    wearied with exertion, and if I could get a pension would retire.”

    “And yet travel brings wisdom.”

    “It cures us of care.  Seeing much we feel little, and learn how very
    petty are all those great affairs which cost us such anxiety.”

                                                          IXION IN HEAVEN.

The charm of Asia—A return to old friends—Desert news—The Palmyrene
colony at Damascus—New horses and camels—Mrs. Digby and her husband
Mijuel the Mizrab—A blood feud—Abd el-Kader’s life—Midhat Pasha
discourses on canals and tramways—He fails to raise a loan.

DAMASCUS, _Dec._ 6, 1878.—It is strange how gloomy thoughts vanish as one
sets foot in Asia.  Only yesterday we were still tossing on the sea of
European thought, with its political anxieties, its social miseries and
its restless aspirations, the heritage of the unquiet race of Japhet—and
now we seem to have ridden into still water, where we can rest and forget
and be thankful.  The charm of the East is the absence of intellectual
life there, the freedom one’s mind gets from anxiety in looking forward
or pain in looking back.  Nobody here thinks of the past or the future,
only of the present; and till the day of one’s death comes, I suppose the
present will always be endurable.  Then it has done us good to meet old
friends, friends all demonstratively pleased to see us.  At the coach
office when we got down, we found a little band of dependants waiting our
arrival—first of all Mohammed ibn Arûk, the companion of our last year’s
adventures, who has come from Palmyra to meet and travel with us again,
and who has been waiting here for us, it would seem, a month.  Then
Hanna, the most courageous of cowards and of cooks, with his ever ready
tears in his eyes and his double row of excellent white teeth, agrin with
welcome.  Each of them has brought with him a friend, a relation he
insists on calling him, who is to share the advantage of being in our
service, and to stand by his patron in case of need, for servants like to
travel here in pairs.  Mohammed’s _cousin_ is a quiet, respectable
looking man of about five and thirty, rather thick set and very broad
shouldered.  He is to act as head camel man, and he looks just the man
for the place.  Hanna’s _brother_ bears no likeness at all to Hanna.  He
is a young giant, with a rather feckless face, and great splay hands
which seem to embarrass him terribly.  He is dressed picturesquely in a
tunic shaped like the ecclesiastical vestment called the “dalmatic,” and
very probably its origin, with a coloured turban on his head.  He too may
be useful, but he is a Christian, and we rather doubt the prudence of
taking Christian servants to Nejd.  Only Ferhan, our Agheyl camel-driver,
is missing, and this is a great disappointment, for he was the best
tempered and the most trustworthy of all our followers last year.  I
fancy we may search Damascus with a candle before we find his like again.

The evening we spent in giving and receiving news.  Mohammed in his
quality of Wilfrid’s “brother,” was invited to dine with us, and a very
pleasant hour or two we had, hearing all that has happened in the desert
during the summer.  First of all, the sensation that has been caused
there by our purchase of Beteyen’s mare, which after all we have secured,
and the heart-burnings and jealousies raised thereby.  Then there have
been high doings among our friends in the Hamád.  Faris and Jedaan have
(wonderful to relate) made peace, {3} and between them have it all their
own way now on the Euphrates, where the caravan road has become quite
unsafe in consequence.  Ferhan ibn Sfuk, it seems, marched against his
brother with some Turkish troops to help him, and Faris retreated across
the river; but most of the Shammar have, as we anticipated last year,
come over to him.  The Roala war is not yet finished.  Ibn Shaalan,
rejecting the proposals made him through us by Jedaan, persisted in
reoccupying the Hama pastures last spring, and Jedaan attacked and routed
him; so that he has retreated southwards to his own country.  Mohammed
Dukhi and Jedaan have parted company, the Sebaa having cleared off scores
with the Roala, and being satisfied with the summer’s campaign; while the
Welled Ali are still a long way on the creditor side in their blood feud.
Mohammed Dukhi is a long-headed old rogue, but it is difficult to see how
he is to hold his own with Sotamm in spite of a new alliance with Faris
el Meziad, Sheykh of the Mesenneh, who still has some hundred horsemen to
help him with, and of another with Mohammed Aga of Jerúd.  The Welled Ali
are at the present moment encamped close to Jerúd, so we shall probably
go there, as the first step on our road to Nejd.

Mohammed of course knows nothing about the roads to Nejd or Jôf, except
that they are somewhere away to the south, and that he has relations
there, and I doubt if anybody in Damascus can give us more information.
The Welled Ali, however, would know where the Roala are, and the Roala
could send us on, as they go further south than any of the Ánazeh.  The
difficulty, we fear, this winter will be the accident of no rain having
fallen since last spring, so that the Hamád is quite burnt up and without
water.  If it were not for this, our best course would undoubtedly be
outside the Hauran, which is always dangerous, and is said to be
especially so this year.  The desert has often been compared to the sea,
and is like it in more ways than one, amongst others in this, that once
well away from shore it is comparatively safe, while there is always a
risk of accidents along the coast.  But we shall see.  In the meantime we
talk to Mohammed of the Jôf only, for fear of scaring him.  Nejd, in the
imagination of the northern Arabs, is an immense way off, and no one has
ever been known to go there from Damascus.  Mohammed professes unbounded
devotion to Wilfrid, and he really seems to be sincere; but six hundred
miles of desert as the crow flies will be a severe test of affection.  We
notice that Mohammed has grown in dignity and importance since we saw him
last, and has adopted the style and title of Sheykh, at least for the
benefit of the hotel servants; he has indeed good enough manners to pass
very well for a true Bedouin.

There is a small colony of Palmyra people at Damascus, or rather in the
suburb of the town called the Maidan, and with them Mohammed has been
staying.  We went there with him this morning to see some camels he has
been buying for us, and which are standing, or rather sitting, in his
friends’ yard.  The colony consists of two or three families, who live
together in a very poor little house.  They left Tudmur about six years
ago “in a huff,” they say, and have been waiting on here from day to day
ever since to go back.  The men of the house were away from home when we
called, for they make their living like most Tudmuri as carriers; but the
women received us hospitably, asked us to sit down and drink coffee,
excellent coffee, such as we had not tasted for long, and sent a little
girl to bring the camels out of the yard for us to look at.  The child
managed these camels just as well as any man could have done.  Mohammed
seems to have made a good selection.  There are four deluls for riding,
and four big baggage camels; these last have remarkably ugly heads, but
they look strong enough to carry away the gates of Gaza, or anything else
we choose to put upon their backs.  In choosing camels, the principal
points to look at are breadth of chest, depth of barrel, shortness of
leg, and for condition roundness of flank.  I have seen the strength of
the hocks tested by a man standing on them while the camel is kneeling.
If it can rise, notwithstanding the weight, there can be no doubt as to
soundness.  One only of the camels did not quite please us, as there was
a suspicion of recent mange; but Abdallah (Mohammed’s cousin) puts it “on
his head” that all is right with this camel, as with the rest.  They are
not an expensive purchase at any rate, as they average less than £10 a
piece.  One cannot help pitying them, poor beasts, when one thinks of the
immense journey before them, and the little probability there is that
they will all live to see the end of it.  Fortunately they do not know
their fate any more than we know ours.  How wretched we should be for
them if we knew exactly in what wady or at what steep place they would
lie down and be left to die; for such is the fate of camels.  But if we
did, we should never have the heart to set out at all.

Next in importance to the camels are the horses we are to ride.  Mohammed
has got his little Jilfeh mokhra of last year which is barely three years
old, but he declares she is up to his weight, thirteen stone, and I
suppose he knows best.  Mr. S. has sent us two mares from Aleppo by
Hanna, one, a Ras el Fedawi, very handsome and powerful, the other, a bay
three year old Abeyeh Sherrak, without pretension to good looks, but
which ought to be fast and able to carry a light weight.  We rode to the
Maidan, and the chestnut’s good looks attracted general attention.
Everybody turned round to look at her; she is perhaps too handsome for a
journey.

_December_ 7.—We have been spending the day with Mrs. Digby and her
husband, Mijuel of the Mizrab, a very well bred and agreeable man, who
has given us a great deal of valuable advice about our journey.  They
possess a charming house outside the town, surrounded by trees and
gardens, and standing in its own garden with narrow streams of running
water and paths with borders full of old fashioned English
flowers—wall-flowers especially.  There are birds and beasts too; pigeons
and turtle doves flutter about among the trees, and a pelican sits by the
fountain in the middle of the courtyard guarded by a fierce watch-dog.  A
handsome mare stands in the stable, but only one, for more are not
required in town.

The main body of the house is quite simple in its bare Arab furnishing,
but a separate building in the garden is fitted up like an English
drawing-room with chairs, sofas, books, and pictures.  Among many
interesting and beautiful sketches kept in a portfolio, I saw some really
fine water-colour views of Palmyra done by Mrs. Digby many years ago when
that town was less known than it is at present.

The Sheykh, as he is commonly called, though incorrectly, for his elder
brother Mohammed is reigning Sheykh of the Mizrab, came in while we were
talking, and our conversation then turned naturally upon desert matters,
which evidently occupy most of his thoughts, and are of course to us of
all-important interest at this moment.  He gave us among other pieces of
information an account of his own tribe, the Mizrab, to which in our
published enumeration of tribes we scarcely did justice.

But before repeating some of the particulars we learned from him, I
cannot forbear saying a few words about Mijuel himself, which will
justify the value we attach to information received from him as from a
person entitled by birth and position to speak with authority.  In
appearance he shews all the characteristics of good Bedouin blood.  He is
short and slight in stature, with exceedingly small hands and feet, a
dark olive complexion, beard originally black, but now turning grey, and
dark eyes and eyebrows.  It is a mistake to suppose that true Arabs are
ever fair or red-haired.  Men may occasionally be seen in the desert of
comparatively fair complexion, but these _always_ (as far as my
experience goes) have features of a correspondingly foreign type, showing
a mixture of race.  No Bedouin of true blood was ever seen with hair or
eyes not black, nor perhaps with a nose not aquiline.

Mijuel’s father, a rare exception among the Ánazeh, could both read and
write, and gave his sons, when they were boys, a learned man to teach
them their letters.  But out of nine brothers, Mijuel alone took any
pains to learn.  The strange accident of his marriage with an English
lady has withdrawn him for months at a time, but not estranged him, from
the desert; and he has adopted little of the townsman in his dress, and
nothing of the European.  He goes, it is true, to the neighbouring
mosque, and recites the Mussulman prayers daily; but with this exception,
he is undistinguishable from the Ibn Shaalans and Ibn Mershids of the
Hamád.  It is also easy to see that his heart remains in the desert, his
love for which is fully shared by the lady he has married; so that when
he succeeds to the Sheykhat, as he probably will, for his brother appears
to be considerably his senior, I think they will hardly care to spend
much of their time at Damascus.  They will, however, no doubt, be
influenced by the course of tribal politics, with which I understand
Mijuel is so much disgusted, that he might resign in favour of his son
Afet; in that case, they might continue, as now, living partly at
Damascus, partly at Homs, partly in tents, and always a providence to
their tribe, whom they supply with all the necessaries of Bedouin life,
and guns, revolvers, and ammunition besides.  The Mizrab, therefore,
although numbering barely a hundred tents, are always well mounted and
better armed than any of their fellows, and can hold their own in all the
warlike adventures of the Sebaa.

According to Mijuel, the Mizrab, instead of being, as we had been told, a
mere section of the Resallin, are in fact the original stock, from which
not only the Resallin but the Moáhib and the Gomussa themselves have
branched off.  In regard to the last-mentioned tribe he related the
following curious story:—

An Arab of the Mizrab married a young girl of the Suellmat tribe and soon
afterwards died.  In a few weeks his widow married again, taking her new
husband from among her own kinsmen.  Before the birth of her first child
a dispute arose as to its parentage, she affirming her Mizrab husband to
be the father while the Suellmat claimed the child.  The matter, as all
such matters are in the desert, was referred to arbitration, and the
mother’s assertion was put to the test by a live coal being placed upon
her tongue.  In spite of this ordeal she persisted in her statement, and
got a judgment in her favour.  Her son, however, is supposed to have been
dissatisfied with the decision, for as soon as born he turned angrily on
his mother, from which circumstance he received the name of Gomussa or
the “scratcher.”  From him the Gomussa tribe are descended.  They first
came into notice about seventy years ago when they attacked and plundered
the Bagdad caravan which happened to be conveying a large sum of money.
With these sudden riches they acquired such importance that they have
since become the leading section of the tribe, and they are now
undoubtedly the possessors of the best mares among the Ánazeh.  The
Mizrab Sheykhs nevertheless still assert superiority in point of birth,
and a vestige of their old claims still exists in their titular right to
the tribute of Palmyra.

Mijuel’s son, Afet, or Japhet, whom we met at Beteyen’s camp last spring,
has taken, it would appear, an active part in the late fighting.  During
the battle where Sotamm was defeated by the Sebaa and their allies, the
head of the Ibn Jendal {11} family, pursued by some Welled Ali horsemen,
yielded himself up a prisoner to Afet whose father-in-law he was, and who
sought to give him protection by covering him with his cloak.  But the
Ibn Smeyr were at blood feud with the Ibn Jendals, and in such cases no
asylum is sacred.  One of Mohammed Dukhi’s sons dragged Ibn Jendal out of
his hiding-place and slew him before Afet’s eyes.  On that day the Sebaa
took most of the mares and camels they had lost in the previous fighting,
and our friend Ferhan Ibn Hedeb is now in tolerable comfort again with
tents and tent furniture, and coffee-pots to his heart’s content.  I hope
he will bear his good fortune as well as he bore the bad.

Mijuel can of course give us better advice than anybody else in Damascus,
and he says that we cannot do better in the interests of our journey than
go first to Jerúd and consult Mohammed Dukhi.  The Welled Ali after the
Roala are the tribe which knows the western side of the desert best, and
we should be sure of getting correct information from them, if nothing
more.  The Sebaa never go anywhere near the Wady Sirhán, as they keep
almost entirely to the eastern half of the Hamád; and even their ghazús
hardly ever meddle with that inhospitable region.  Mijuel has once been
as far south as to the edge of the Nefûd, which he describes as being
covered with grass in the spring.  The Wady Sirhán, he believes, has
wells, but no pasturage.

Another interesting visit which we paid while at Damascus was to Abd
el-Kader, the hero of the French war in Algiers.  This charming old man,
whose character would do honour to any nation and any creed, is ending
his days as he began them, in learned retirement and the exercises of his
religion.  The Arabs of the west, “Maghrabi” (Mogrebins), are
distinguished from those of the Peninsula, and indeed from all others, by
a natural taste for piety and a religious tone of thought.  Arabia
proper, except in the first age of Islam and latterly during the hundred
years of Wahhabi rule, has never been a religious country.  Perhaps out
of antagonism to Persia, its nearest neighbour, it neglects ceremonial
observance, and pays little respect to saints, miracles, and the
supernatural world in general.  But with the Moors and the Algerian Arabs
this is different.  Their religion is the reason of their social life and
a prime mover in their politics.  It is the fashion there, even at the
present day, for a rich man to spend his money on a mosque, as elsewhere
he would spend it on his stud and the entertainment of guests, and
nothing gives such social distinction as regular attendance at prayer.
There is too, besides the lay nobility, a class of spiritual nobles held
equally high in public estimation.  These are the marabous or descendants
of certain saints, who by virtue of their birth partake in the sanctity
of their ancestors and have hereditary gifts of divination and miraculous
cure.  They hold indeed much the same position with the vulgar as did the
sons of the prophets in the days of Saul.

Abd el-Kader was the representative of such a family, and not, as I think
most people suppose, a Bedouin Sheykh.  In point of fact he was a
townsman and a priest, not by birth a soldier, and though trained, as
nobles of either class were, to arms, it was only the accident of a
religious war that made him a man of action.  He gained his first
victories by his sermons, not by his sword; and, now that the fight is
over, he has returned naturally to his first profession, that of saint
and man of letters.  As such, quite as much as for his military renown,
he is revered in Damascus.

To us, however, it is the extreme simplicity of his character and the
breadth of his good sense, amounting to real wisdom, which form his
principal charm.  “Saint” though he be “by profession,” as one may say,
for such he is in his own eyes as well as those of his followers, he is
uninjured by his high position.  It is to him an obligation.  His charity
is unbounded, and he extends it to all alike; to be poor or suffering is
a sufficient claim on him.  During the Damascus massacres he opened his
doors to every fugitive; his house was crowded with Christians, and he
was ready to defend his guests by force if need were.  To us he was most
amiable, and talked long on the subject of Arab genealogy and tradition.
He gave me a book which has been lately written by one of his sons on the
pedigree of the Arabian horse, and took an evident interest in our own
researches in that direction.  He made the pilgrimage to Mecca many years
ago, travelling the whole way from Algeria by land and returning through
Nejd to Meshhed Ali and Bagdad.  This was before the French war.

Abd el-Kader returned our visit most politely next day, and it was
strange to see this old warrior humbly mounted on his little Syrian
donkey, led by a single servant, riding into the garden where we were.
He dresses like a mollah in a cloth gown, and with a white turban set far
back from his forehead after the Algerian fashion.  He never, I believe,
wore the Bedouin kefiyeh.  His face is now very pale as becomes a
student, and his smile is that of an old man, but his eye is still bright
and piercing like a falcon’s.  It is easy to see, however, that it will
never flash again with anything like anger.  Abd el-Kader has long
possessed that highest philosophy of noble minds according to Arab
doctrine, patience.

A man of a very different sort, but one whom we were also interested to
see, was Midhat Pasha, just arrived at Damascus as Governor-General of
Syria.  He had come with a considerable flourish of trumpets, for he was
supposed to represent the doctrine of administrative reform, which was at
that time seriously believed in by Europeans for the Turkish Empire.
Midhat was the protégé of our own Foreign Office, and great things were
expected of him.  For ourselves, though quite sceptical on these matters
and knowing the history of Midhat’s doings at Bagdad too well to have any
faith in him as a serious reformer, we called to pay our respects, partly
as a matter of duty, and partly it must be owned out of curiosity.  It
seemed impossible that a man who had devised anything so fanciful as
parliamentary government for Turkey should be otherwise than strange and
original.  But in this we were grievously disappointed, for a more
essentially commonplace, even silly talker, or one more naïvely pleased
with himself, we had never met out of Europe.  It is possible that he may
have adopted this tone with us as the sort of thing which would suit
English people, but I don’t think so.  We kept our own counsel of course
about our plans, mentioning only that we hoped to see Bagdad and Bussora
and to go on thence to India, for such was to be ultimately our route.
On the mention of these two towns he at once began a panegyric of his own
administration there, of the steamers he had established on the rivers,
the walls he had pulled down and tramways built.  “Ah, that tramway,” he
exclaimed affectionately.  “It was I that devised it, and it is running
still.  Tramways are the first steps in civilisation.  I shall make a
tramway round Damascus.  Everybody will ride in the trucks.  It will pay
five per cent.  You will go to Bussora.  You will see my steamers there.
Bussora, through me, has become an important place.  Steamers and
tramways are what we want for these poor countries.  The rivers of
Damascus are too small for steamers, or I should soon have some afloat.
But I will make a tramway.  If we could have steamers and tramways
everywhere Turkey would become rich.”  “And canals,” we suggested,
maliciously remembering how he had flooded Bagdad with his experiments in
this way.  “Yes, and canals too.  Canals, steamers, and tramways, are
what we want.”  “And railways.”  “Yes, railways.  I hope to have a
railway soon running alongside of the carriage road from Beyrout.
Railways are important for the guaranteeing of order in the country.  If
there was a railway across the desert we should have no more trouble with
the Bedouins.  Ah, those poor Bedouins, how I trounced them at Bagdad.  I
warrant my name is not forgotten there.”  We assured him it was not.

He then went on to talk of the Circassians, “_ces pauvres Circassiens_,”
for he was speaking in French, “_il faut que je fasse quelque chose pour
eux_.”  I wish I could give some idea of the tone of tenderness and
almost tearful pity in Midhat’s voice as he pronounced this sentence; the
Circassians seemed to be dearer to him than even his steamers and
tramways.  These unfortunate refugees are, in truth, a problem not easy
of solution: they have been a terrible trouble to Turkey, and, since they
were originally deported from Russia after the Crimean war, they have
been passed on from province to province until they can be passed no
further.  They are a scourge to the inhabitants wherever they go, because
they are hungry and armed, and insist on robbing to get a livelihood.  To
the Syrian Arabs they are especially obnoxious, because they shed blood
as well as rob, which is altogether contrary to Arab ideas.  The
Circassians are like the foxes which sportsmen turn out in their covers.
It is a public-spirited act to have done so, but they cannot be made to
live in peace with the hares and rabbits.  Midhat, however, had a notable
scheme for setting things to rights.  He would draft all these men into
the corps of zaptiehs, and then, if they did rob, it would be in the
interests of Government.  Some score of them were waiting in the
courtyard at the time of our visit, to be experimented on; and a more
evil-visaged set it would have been difficult to select.

On the whole, we went away much impressed with Midhat, though not as we
had hoped.  He had astonished us, but not as a wise man.  To speak
seriously, one such reforming pasha as this does more to ruin Turkey than
twenty of the old dishonest sort.  Midhat, though he fails to line his
own purse, may be counted on to empty the public one at Damascus, as he
did at Bagdad, where he spent a million sterling on unproductive works
within a single year.  As we wished him good-bye, we were amused to
notice that he retained Mr. Siouffi, the manager of the Ottoman Bank, who
had come with us, with him for a private conference, the upshot of which
was his first public act as Governor of Syria, the raising of a loan.
{18}



CHAPTER II.


    “This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
    I better brook than flourishing peopled towns.”

                                                              SHAKESPEARE.

Brotherly offices—We prepare for a campaign—Mohammed Dukhi comes to
court—A night robber—We start for Nejd—Tale of a penitent—The duty of
revenge—We are entertained by poor relations—The fair at Mezarib.

WE spent a week at Damascus, a week not altogether of pleasure, although
it was to be our last of civilised life.  We had an immense number of
things to buy and arrange and think over, before starting on so serious a
journey as this, which we knew must be very unlike the pleasure trip of
last year.  We could not afford to leave anything to chance with the
prospect of a three months’ wandering, and a thousand miles of desert,
where it was impossible to count upon fresh supplies even of the
commonest necessaries of life.  Jôf, the first station on our road, was
four hundred miles off, and then we must cross the Nefûd, with its two
hundred miles of sand, before we could get to Nejd.  The return journey,
too, to the Persian Gulf, would have to be made without coming to
anything so European as a Turkish town.  Nobody could tell us what
supplies were to be had in Nejd, beyond dates and corn.  Mr. Palgrave’s
account of Jebel Shammar was, in fact, the only guide we had to go on,
and its accuracy had been so much doubted that we felt obliged to take
into consideration the possibility of finding the Nejd towns mere oases,
and their cultivation only that of the date.

Mohammed, less “insouciant” than most of his countrymen are on such
matters, now made himself most useful, spending many hours in the bazaars
with Wilfrid, as I did with the cook and the camel-man; and being a town
Arab and a trader born, he saved us an infinity of trouble and time, and
no few mejidies.

They began by choosing a complete suit of Bedouin clothes for Wilfrid,
not exactly as a disguise, for we did not wish, even if we could have
done so, not to pass for Europeans, but in order to avoid attracting more
notice than was necessary on our way.  The costume consisted of a striped
silk jibbeh or dressing-gown worn over a long shirt, a blue and white
abba of the kind made at Karieteyn, and for the head a black kefiyeh
embroidered with gold which was fastened on with the Bedouin aghal, a
black lamb’s-wool rope.  Mohammed had brought with him a sword which had
belonged to his grandfather, a fine old Persian blade curved like a
sickle.  He gave it to Wilfrid and received in return a handsome weapon
somewhat similar but silver-mounted, which they found in the bazaar.
Thus rigged out, for Mohammed too had been reclothed from head to foot
(and he much required it), they used to sally out in the town as two
Bedouin gentlemen.  Wilfrid by holding his peace was able to pass with
the unwary as an unconcerned friend, while Mohammed did the bargaining
for cloaks, kefiyehs, and other articles suitable as presents to the
Sheykhs whose acquaintance we might make.  Mohammed was an expert in
driving a hard bargain and knew the exact fashion in vogue in each
Bedouin tribe, so that although his taste did not always quite agree with
ours, we let him have his way.  The only mistake he made, as it turned
out, was in underestimating the value of gifts necessary in Haïl.  Not
one of us had the least idea of the luxury existing in Nejd, and
Mohammed, like most of the northern Arabs, had heard of Ibn Rashid only
as a Bedouin Sheykh, and fancied that a red cloth jibbeh would be the _ne
plus ultra_ of magnificence for him, as indeed it would have been for an
Ibn Shaalan or an Ibn Mershid.  We had, however, some more serious
presents than these to produce, if necessary, in the rifles and revolvers
we carried with us, so that we felt there was no real danger of arriving
empty-handed.

The purchases which it fell to my share to make, with the assistance of
Abdallah and the cook, were entirely of a useful sort, and do not require
a detailed description here.  As to dress, it was unnecessary for me to
make any change, save that of substituting a kefiyeh for a hat and
wearing a Bedouin cloak over my ordinary travelling ulster.  Hanna and
Abdallah were both of them masters in the art of haggling, and vied with
each other in beating down the prices of provisions.  Dates, flour,
burghul (a kind of crushed wheat, which in Syria takes the place of
rice), carrots, onions, coffee, and some dried fruit were to be the
mainstay of our cooking, and of these we bought a supply sufficient to
last us as far as Jôf.  We had brought from England some beef tea,
vegetable soup squares, and a small quantity of tea in case of need.  We
had agreed to do without bulky preserved provisions, which add greatly to
the weight of baggage, and that as to meat, we would take our chance of
an occasional hare or gazelle, or perhaps now and then a sheep.

All began well.  Our servants seemed likely to turn out treasures, and we
had no difficulty in getting a couple of Agheyls to start with us as
camel drivers.  We thought it prudent to keep our own counsel as to the
direction we intended to take, and it was generally supposed that Bagdad
was to be our first object.  Only Mohammed and Hanna were informed of the
real design, and them we could trust.  Not but what Hanna had occasional
fits of despondency about the risk he ran.  He did not pretend to be a
hero, he had a wife and children to whom he was sincerely attached, and
he felt, not quite wrongly, that Central Arabia was hardly the place for
one of his nation and creed.  He came to us, indeed, one morning, to
announce his intention of returning home to Aleppo, and he required a
good deal of humouring before he recovered his spirits; but I do not
think that he ever seriously intended to desert us.  He had come all the
way from Aleppo to join us, and, besides, the companionship of the young
giant he called his “brother,” who was to share his tent, reassured him.
Once started, we knew that he would bear patiently all that fortune might
inflict.

By the 11th the necessary preparations had been made, and we were ready
to start.  As a preliminary, we moved into a garden outside the town with
our camels and our mares, so as to be at liberty to go off any morning
without attracting notice and in the direction we might choose.  It was
generally believed in Damascus that we intended going to Bagdad, and we
had made up our minds to start in that direction, partly to avoid
questions, and partly because at Jerúd, the first village on the road to
Palmyra, we should find Mohammed Dukhi with the Welled Ali.  He seemed
the most likely person to put us on our way, and in expeditions of this
sort the first few marches are generally the most difficult, if not the
most dangerous.  The edges of the desert are always unsafe, whereas, once
clear of the shore, so to speak, there is comparatively little risk of
meeting anybody, friend or foe.  We thought then that we should be able
to get a man from Mohammed Dukhi to take us in a straight line from Jerúd
to some point in the Wady Sirhán, keeping well outside the Hauran, a
district of the worst reputation, and following perhaps a line of pools
or wells which the Bedouins might know.  But just as we had settled this,
Mohammed Dukhi himself appeared unexpectedly at Damascus, and our plan
was changed.

Mohammed Dukhi ibn Smeyr is the greatest personage in the north-western
desert next to Ibn Shaalan, and as I have said before was at that time
hotly engaged in a war with the Roala chief.  His object in visiting
Damascus was as follows: in the course of the autumn a detachment of
fifteen Turkish soldiers attacked his camp without provocation and,
firing into it, killed a woman and a child.  This camp numbered only a
few tents, the tribe being at the time scattered on account of pasturage,
and the Sheykh himself was absent with most of the men.  Those, however,
who had remained at home managed to cut off and surround the soldiers,
one of whom was killed in the fray.  The Welled Ali would have killed the
rest but for Mohammed Dukhi’s wife, Herba, {26} who rushed in among the
combatants, and remonstrated with her people on the folly of involving
themselves in a quarrel with the Government.  Her pluck saved the
soldiers’ lives.  She took them under her protection, and the next
morning sent them under escort to a place of safety.

Now Mohammed Dukhi, having the Roala war on his hands and being obliged
to shelter himself from Ibn Shaalan under the walls of Jerúd, was
naturally anxious to clear up this matter of the soldier’s death; and,
directly he heard of Midhat’s arrival at Damascus, he shrewdly determined
to make his count with the new Pasha by an early call at the Serai.  Ibn
Shaalan was out of the way, and the first comer would doubtless be the
one most readily listened to.  Ibn Smeyr had besides a little intrigue on
foot respecting the escort of the Damascus pilgrims, which he in part
provided or hoped to provide.  Abd el-Kader was his friend, and it was at
the Emir’s house that he alighted and that we found him.  Mohammed Dukhi,
noble though he is in point of blood, is not a fine specimen of a great
Bedouin Sheykh.  His politeness is overstrained and unnatural, reminding
one rather of city than of desert manners; there are also ugly stories of
his want of faith, which one finds no difficulty in believing when one
sees him.  He affected, however, great pleasure at seeing us again, and
professed an entire devotion to our welfare and our plans.  He would
himself accompany us on the first stages of our road, or at least send
his sons or some of his men; offers which dwindled, till at last they
resulted in his merely writing some letters of recommendation for us, and
giving us a large amount of good advice.  As regards the latter, he
informed us that a journey such as we proposed outside the Hauran would
not at the present moment be practicable.  No rain had fallen during the
autumn, and the Hamád was without water; indeed, except in the Wady
Sirhán, where the wells were never dry, there was no watering place
southwards at any distance from the hills.  He advised us, therefore, to
leave Damascus by the pilgrim road, which keeps inside the Hauran, and
follow it till we came across the Beni Sokkhr, whom we should find
encamped not far to the east of it.  There was besides a capital
opportunity for us of doing this in company with the _Jerdeh_, now on the
point of starting for Mezárib, a station on the Haj road.  The Jerdeh, he
explained, for the name was new to us, are a kind of relief party sent
every year from Damascus, to meet the pilgrims on their homeward route,
carrying with them supplies of all the necessaries of life, provisions,
and extra camels to replace those broken down.  The party is escorted by
Mohammed Dukhi, or rather by his men, and the idea of joining them seemed
exactly suited to our purpose; though when we came to put it in practice,
it turned out to be of as little value as the rest of the smooth-spoken
Sheykh’s offers.  It was something, however, to have a plan, good or bad,
and letters from so great a man as Ibn Smeyr were of value, even though
addressed to the wrong people.

Accordingly, on the 12th we bade good-bye to our Damascus friends, wrote
our last letters to our friends in England, and said a long farewell to
the pleasures and pains of European life.  On the 13th we started.

_December_ 13.—We have started at last, and on a Friday, the 13th of the
month.  I have no personal objection to any particular day of the week,
or of the month.  But, as a matter of fact, the only seriously
unfortunate journey we ever made was begun on a Friday, and Wilfrid
professes himself to be superstitious and full of dark foreboding.  He,
however, insisted on starting this Friday, and with some inconsistency
argues that forebodings are lucky, or that at any rate the absence of
them is unlucky, and that it would not be safe to begin a journey in a
cheerful frame of mind.

We were roused in the middle of the night by a cry of thieves in the
garden, and running out of our tent found a scuffle going on, which, when
lights were brought, proved to have been caused by two men, one the
keeper of the garden and the other a soldier, whom he was taking
prisoner.  Our servants were standing round them, and Hanna, seeing the
man to be securely bound, was belabouring him with a stick, ejaculating
at intervals, “O robber, O dog, O pig!  O pig, O dog, O robber!”  The
story told us was that the gardener had found this man prowling about,
and had, after a terrible engagement, succeeded in his capture.  There
were, however, no blood or wounds to show; and, the evidence of the
prisoner’s wicked designs not being very overwhelming, Wilfrid gave
orders that he should be let go as soon as it should be daylight.  In the
first place, any handing over of the man to justice would have delayed
our start, and secondly, it was more than probable that the whole thing
had been got up by the gardener with the accused person for the sake of
the present the two would receive.  Such little comedies are quite common
in the East; and when we declined to take it seriously, the two men very
good-humouredly let the matter drop.

At the first streak of dawn we struck our tents, loaded our camels, and a
little after sunrise were on our mares and well away from the town in
marching order for Nejd!  At first we skirted the city, passing the gate
where St. Paul is said to have entered, and the place where he got over
the wall, and then along the suburb of Maidan, which is the quarter
occupied by Bedouins when they come to town, and where we had found the
Tudmuri and our camels.  Here we were to have met the Jerdeh, and we
waited some time outside the Bawábat Allah, or “Gates of God,” while
Mohammed went in to make inquiries, and take leave of his Tudmuri
friends.  It is in front of this gate that the pilgrims assemble on the
day of their start for Mecca, and from it the Haj road leads away in a
nearly straight line southwards.  The Haj road is to be our route as far
as Mezárib, and is a broad, well worn track, though of course not a road
at all according to English ideas.  It has, nevertheless, a sort of
romantic interest, one cannot help feeling, going as it does so far and
through such desolate lands, a track so many thousand travellers have
followed never to return.  I suppose in its long history a grave may have
been dug for every yard of its course from Damascus to Medina, for,
especially on the return journey, there are constantly deaths among the
pilgrims from weariness and insufficient food.

Our caravan, waiting at the gate, presented a very picturesque
appearance.  Each of the delúls carries a gay pair of saddle-bags in
carpet-work, with long worsted tassels hanging down on each side half way
to the ground; and they have ornamented _reshmehs_ or headstalls to
match.  The camels, too, though less decorated, have a gay look; and
Wilfrid on the chestnut mare ridden in a halter wants nothing but a long
lance to make him a complete Bedouin.  The rest of our party consists,
besides Mohammed and Hanna, who have each of them a delúl to ride, of
Mohammed’s “cousin” Abdallah, whom we call Sheykh of the camels, with his
two Agheyl assistants, Awwad, a negro, and a nice-looking boy named Abd
er-Rahman.  These, with Mohammed, occupy one of the servants’ tents,
while Hanna and his “brother” Ibrahim have another, for even in the
desert distinctions of religious caste will have to be preserved.  It is
a great advantage in travelling that the servants should be as much as
possible strangers to each other, and of different race or creed, as this
prevents any combination among them for mutiny or disobedience.  The
Agheyls will be one clique, the Tudmuri another, and the Christians a
third, so that though they may quarrel with one another, they are never
likely to unite against us.  Not that there is any prospect of difficulty
from such a cause; but three months is a long period for a journey, and
everything must be thought of beforehand.

Mohammed was not long in the Maidan, and came back with the news that the
Jerdeh has not been seen there, but might be at a khan some miles on the
road called Khan Denún.  It was useless to wait for them there, and so,
wishing our friend, Mr. Siouffi, good-bye (for he had accompanied us thus
far) we rode on.  Nothing remarkable has marked our first day’s journey;
a gazelle crossing the track, and a rather curious squabble between a
kite, a buzzard, and a raven, in which the raven got all the profit,
being the only events.  From the crest of a low ridge we looked back and
saw our last of Damascus, with its minarets and houses imbedded in green.
We shall see no more buildings, I suppose, for many a day.  Mount Hermon
to the left of it rose, an imposing mass, hazy in the hot sun, for,
December though it is, the summer is far from over.  Indeed, we have
suffered from the heat today more than we did during the whole of our
last journey.

At Denún no sign or knowledge of the Jerdeh, so we have decided to do
without them.  On a road like this we cannot want an escort.  There are
plenty of people passing all day long, most of them, like ourselves,
going to Mezárib for the annual fair which takes place there on the
occasion of the Jerdeh visit.  Among them, too, are zaptiehs and even
soldiers; and there are to be several villages on the way.  We filled our
goat-skins at Denún and camped for this our first night on some rising
ground looking towards Hermon.  It is a still, delightful evening, but
there is no moon.  The sun is setting at five o’clock.

_December_ 14.—Still on the Haj road and through cultivated land, very
rich for wheat or barley, Mohammed says, though it has a fine covering of
stones.  These are black and volcanic, very shiny and smooth, just as
they were shot up from the Hauran when the Hauran was a volcano.  The
soil looks as if it ought to grow splendid grapes, and some say the
bunches the spies brought to Joshua came from near here.  The villages,
of which we have passed through several, are black and shiny too, dreary
looking places even in the sunshine, without trees or anything pleasant
to look at round them.  The fields at this time of year are of course
bare of crops, and it is so long since there was any rain that even the
weeds are gone.  This is part of what is called the Leja, a district
entirely of black boulders, and interesting to archæologists as being the
land of Og, king of Basan, whose cities some have supposed to exist in
ruins to the present day.

In the middle of the day we passed a small ruin, about which Mohammed,
who has been this road before, as his father was at one time
camel-contractor for the Haj, told us a curious story.  Once upon a time
there were two children, left orphans at a very early age.  The elder, a
boy, went out into the world to seek his fortune, while the other, a
girl, was brought up by a charitable family in Damascus.  In course of
time the brother and sister came together by accident, and, without
knowing their relationship, married, for according to eastern usage the
marriage had been arranged for them by others.  Then, on comparing notes,
they discovered the mistake which had been made; and the young man,
anxious to atone for the guilt they had inadvertently incurred, consulted
a wise man as to what he should do in penance.  He was told to make the
pilgrimage to Mecca seven times, and then to live seven years more in
some desert place on the Haj road offering water to the pilgrims.  This
he did, and chose the place we passed for the latter part of his penance.
When the seven years were over, however, he returned to Damascus, and the
little house he had built and the fig-trees he had planted remain as a
record of his story.  Mohammed could not tell me what became of the girl,
and seemed to think it did not matter.

He has been talking a great deal to us on the duties of brotherhood,
which seemed a little like a suggestion.  The rich brother, it would
seem, should make the poor one presents, not only of fine clothes, but of
a fine mare, a fine delúl, or a score of sheep,—while the poor brother
should be very careful to protect the life of his sworn ally, or, if need
be, to avenge his death.  Wilfrid asked him how he should set about this
last, if the case occurred.  “First of all,” said Mohammed, “I should
inquire who the shedder of blood was.  I should hear, for instance, that
you had been travelling in the Hauran and had been killed, but I should
not know by whom.  I should then leave Tudmur, and, taking a couple of
camels so as to seem to be on business, should go to the place where you
had died, under a feigned name, and should pretend to wish to buy corn of
the nearest villagers.  I should make acquaintance with the old women,
who are always the greatest talkers, and should sooner or later hear all
about it.  Then, when I had found out the real person, I should watch
carefully all his goings out and comings in, and should choose a good
opportunity of taking him unawares, and run my sword through him.  Then I
should go back to Tudmur as fast as my delúl could carry me.”  Wilfrid
objected that in England we thought it more honourable to give an enemy
the chance of defending himself; but Mohammed would not hear of this.
“It would not be right.  My duty,” he said, “would be to avenge your
blood, not to fight with the man; and if I got the opportunity, I should
come upon him asleep or unarmed.  If he was some poor wretch, of no
consequence, I should take one of his relations instead, if possible the
head of his family.  I cannot approve of your way of doing these things.
Ours is the best.”  Mohammed might have reasoned (only Arabs never
reason), that there were others besides himself concerned in the deed
being secretly and certainly done.  An avenger of blood carries not only
his own life but the lives of his family in his hand; and if he bungles
over his vengeance, and himself gets killed, he entails on them a further
debt of blood.  To Mohammed, however, on such a point, reasoning was
unnecessary.  What he had described was the custom, and that was enough.

We are now a little to the south of the village of Gunayeh where we have
sent Abdallah with a delúl to buy straw.  There is no camel pasture here
nor anything the horses can eat.  To the east we can see the blue line of
the Hauran range, and to the west the Syrian hills from Hermon to Ajalon.
I told Mohammed the story of the sun standing still over Gibeon and the
moon over Ajalon, which he took quite as a matter of course, merely
mentioning that he had never heard it before.

I forgot to say that we crossed the old Roman road several times to-day.
It is in fair preservation, but the modern caravan track avoids it.
Perhaps in old days wheeled carriages were common and required a stone
road.  Now there is no such necessity.  At Ghabaghat, a village we passed
about eleven o’clock, we found a tank supplied with water from a spring,
and while we were waiting there watering the camels a fox ran by pursued
by two greyhounds, who soon came up with and killed him.  One of the
dogs, a blue or silver grey, was very handsome and we tried to buy him of
his owner, a soldier, but he would not take the money.  After that we had
a bit of a gallop in which we were pleased with our new mares.  But we
are both tired with even this short gallop, being as yet not in training,
and we feel the heat of the sun.

_Sunday_, _December_ 15.—We have left the Leja country and are now in
bare open fields, a fine district for farmers, but as uninteresting as
the plains of Germany or northern France.  These fields are better
watered than the Leja, and we crossed several streams to-day by old stone
bridges belonging to the Roman road.  The streams run, I believe,
eventually into the Jordan, and in one place form a marsh to the right of
the road which Mohammed declared to be infested by robbers, men who lurk
about in the tall reeds and when they have made a capture run off with
their booty into it and cannot be followed.  We saw nothing suspicious,
however, nor anything of interest but a huge flock of sand grouse, of
which we got four as they passed overhead.  There were also immense
clouds of starlings, and we started a hare.  We passed many villages, the
principal one being Shemskin, where there are the ruins of an old town.
Our road then bore away to the right, leaving the Roman road for good.
This goes on straight to Bozra, the chief town of the Hauran in former
days.

At Tafazz we stopped to pay a visit to some Tudmuri settled there,
relations of Mohammed’s but not on the Ibn Arûk side, very worthy people
though hardly respectable as relations.  Tafazz from the outside looks
like a heap of ruins half smothered in dunghills.  There has been a
murrain among the cattle this year, and dead cows lay about in every
stage of decomposition.  We had some difficulty in groping our way
through them to the wretched little mud hovel where the Tudmuri lived.
The family consisted of two middle-aged men, brothers, with their mother,
their wives, and a pretty daughter named Shemseh (sunshine), some
children, and an old man, uncle or grandfather of the others.  These were
all presently clustering round us, and hugging and kissing Mohammed who,
I must say, showed a complete absence of false pride in spite of his fine
clothes and noble appearance.  Their welcome to us, poor people, was very
hearty; and in a few minutes coffee was being pounded, and a breakfast of
unleavened loaves, thin and good, an omelette, buttermilk (lebben), and a
sweet kind of treacle (dibs), made of raisins, prepared.  While we were
at breakfast a little starved colt looked in at the door from the yard;
and some chickens and a pretty fawn greyhound, all equally hungry I
thought, watched us eagerly.  The people were very doleful about the want
of rain, and the loss of their yoke-oxen, which makes their next year’s
prospects gloomily uncertain.  They told us, however, that they had a
good stock of wheat in their underground granaries, sufficient for a year
or even more, which shows a greater amount of forethought than I should
have expected of them.  In these countries it is quite necessary to
provide against the famines which happen every few years, and in ancient
times I believe it was a universal practice to keep a year’s harvest in
store.

After many entreaties that we would stay the night under their roof they
at last suffered us to depart, promising that the men of the party would
rejoin us the following day at Mezárib, for Mezárib was close by.  There
we arrived about three o’clock and are encamped on the piece of desert
ground where the fair is held.  The view from our tents is extremely
pretty, a fine range of distant hills, the Ajlun to the south-west, and
about a mile off a little lake looking very blue and bright, with a
rather handsome ruined khan or castle in the foreground.  To the left the
tents of the Suk, mostly white and of the Turkish pattern.  There are
about a hundred and fifty of them in four rows, making a kind of street.
The village of Mezárib stands on an island in the lake, connected by a
stone causeway with the shore, but the Suk is on the mainland.  There is
a great concourse of people with horses, and donkeys, and camels, and
more are constantly coming from each quarter of the compass.  They have
not as yet paid much attention to us, so that we have been able to make
ourselves comfortable.  There is a fresh wind blowing from the south, and
there is a look in the clouds of something like rain.  I have never
before wished for rain on a journey, but I do so heartily now; these poor
people want it badly.

_December_ 16.—To-day we have done nothing but receive visits.  First
there came a Haurani, who announced himself as a sheykh, and gave us the
information that Sotamm ibn Shaalan and the Roala are somewhere near
Ezrak.  If this be true it will be a great piece of good luck for us, but
other accounts have made it doubtful.  A more interesting visitor was a
young man, a native of Bereydeh in Nejd, who, hearing that we were on our
way to Jôf, came to make friends with us.  Though a well-mannered youth,
he is evidently nothing particular in the way of position at home, and
admits having been somebody’s servant at Bagdad, but on the strength of a
supposed descent from the Beni Laam in Nejd, he has claimed kinship with
Mohammed and they have been sitting together affectionately all the
morning, holding each an end of Mohammed’s rosary.  We have
cross-questioned him about Nejd; but though he knows Haïl and Kasim and
other places, he can give us little real information.  He seems to have
left it as a boy.  We are cheered, however, by the little he has had to
tell us, as he seems to take it for granted that everybody in Nejd will
be delighted to see us, and he has given us the name and address of his
relations there.

Mohammed went last night to find out whether any of the Beni Sokkhr
Sheykhs were at the Suk, for it is to them that we have letters from
Mohammed Dukhi, and in the middle of the day Sákhn, a son of Fendi
el-Faiz, the nominal head of the tribe, was introduced.  He was a not
ill-looking youth, and when we had shewn him our letter to his father
informed us that the Sheykh had just arrived, so we sent him to fetch
him.  While Hanna was preparing coffee, the old man came to our tent.  In
person he is very different from any of the Ánazeh Sheykhs we have seen,
reminding one rather of the Jiburi, or other Euphrates Arabs.  The Beni
Sokkhr are in fact of Shimali or Northern race, which is quite distinct
from the Nejdi, to which both Ánazeh and Shammar belong.  He is a fine
picturesque old man, with rugged features and grey beard and an immense
nose, which put us in mind of the conventional Arab types of Scripture
picture books, and seemed to correspond with a suggestion I have heard
made, that the Beni Sokkhr {41} are really the Beni Issachar, a lost
tribe.

The Sheykh was very much “en cérémonie,” and we found it difficult to
carry on conversation with him.  Either he had not much to say, or did
not care to say it to us; and the talk went on principally between his
second son Tellál, a Christian merchant (here on business), and Mohammed.
We did not, ourselves, broach the subject of our journey; but after
coffee had been served, Mohammed had a private conversation with the
Sheykh, which resulted in an invitation from him to his tents, which he
described as being somewhere near Zerka on the Haj road, from which he
will send us on to Maan, and ultimately to Jôf.  This plan, however, does
not at all suit Wilfrid, who is determined on exploring the Wady Sirhán,
which no European has ever done, and he insists that we must go first to
Ezrak.  Fendi, it appears, cannot take us that way, as he is on bad terms
with the Kreysheh, a branch of his own tribe who are on the road.
Perhaps, too, he is afraid of the Roala.  It is very perplexing, as some
sort of introduction we must have at starting, and yet we cannot afford
to go out of our way or even wait here indefinitely till Fendi is ready.
The Jerdeh people are after all not expected for another two days, and it
may be a week before they go on.

Later in the day Sottan, Fendi’s youngest son, came to us and offered to
accompany us himself to Jôf, but at a price which was altogether beyond
our ideas.  He had travelled once with some English people on the Syrian
frontier, and had got foolish notions about money.  Five pounds was the
sum we had thought of giving; and he talked about a hundred.  So we sent
him away.  Later still, came a Shammar from the Jebel, who said he was
willing to go for fifteen mejidies, and a Kreysheh who made similar
offers.  We have engaged them both, but neither could do more than show
us the road.  They would be no introduction.  The difficulty, by all
accounts, of going down the Wady Sirhán, is from the Sherarát, who hang
about it, and who having no regular Sheykh, cannot easily be dealt with.
They are afraid, however, of the Beni Sokkhr Sheykhs, and of course of
Mohammed Dukhi and Ibn Shaalan; and if we could only get a proper
representative of one or other of these to go with us, all would be
right.  But how to get such a one is the question.

It has been very hot and oppressive here to-day, and the appearance of
rain is gone.  The thermometer about noon stood at 86°.

_December_ 17.—We have decided not to wait here any longer, but to go off
to-morrow in the direction of Ezrak, trusting to find some one on the
road.  We shall have to pass through Bozra, and may have better luck
there.  Our Shammar seems to think it will be all right; but the Kreysheh
came back this morning with a demand for thirty pounds, instead of the
two pounds ten shillings, which he informed Mohammed, Fendi had told him
to ask.  He seems to be with Fendi, although his branch of the tribe are
not on terms with their principal chief.  He still talks, however, of
coming on the original terms, but that will be without Fendi’s
permission.  It is quite necessary to be, or appear to be stingy with
these people, as throwing money away is considered by them the act of a
simpleton.

Mohammed has been sent to the Suk to make some last purchases, and
inquire about two more camels.  Now that it is decided we are to go by
the Wady Sirhán, we shall be obliged to buy two extra camels to carry
food for the rest.  In ordinary seasons this would not be necessary, but
this year everybody tells us we shall find no pasture.  _Altek_, which is
the camel food used at Damascus, is made of a sort of grain, like small
misshapen peas or lentils, the husk green and the seed red.  It is mixed
up into dough with wheaten flour and water, and then kneaded into
egg-shaped balls five inches long.  Six of these balls are a camel’s
daily ration, which, if he can pick up any rubbish by the way, will be
enough to keep him fat.  We are carrying barley for the mares.

Aamar and Selim, our Tafazz relations, have come to pay us their promised
visit, and will perhaps accompany us to-morrow.  They brought with them a
measure of _feríkeh_, wheat crushed very fine, a sort of burghul, some
bread, and a couple of fowls; also Mohammed’s sheepskin coat, which one
of the women has been lining for him; and lastly, the little greyhound we
saw at their house, all as a present, or very nearly so, after the
fashion of the country.

Mohammed has come back with two camels for our approval, one a very
handsome animal, but rather long-legged, the other short and
broad-chested like a prize-fighter.  We have paid ten pounds and eleven
pounds for them.  Nothing is absolutely settled about who is going and
who is not going with us.  Nothing but this, that we leave Mezárib
to-morrow.

As I write, an immense hubbub and a cry of thieves from the Suk.  They
are ducking a man in the lake.

                            [Picture: Salkhad]



CHAPTER III.


             “Rather proclaim it
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight
    Let him depart.  His passport shall be made.”

                                                              SHAKESPEARE.

Beating about—Bozra—We leave the Turkish dominions—Mohammed vows to kill
a sheep—The citadel of Salkhad and the independent Druses—We are received
by a Druse chieftain—Historical notice of the Hauran.

_December_ 18.—Our caravan has lost some of its members.  To begin with
the two guides, the Kreysheh and the Shammar have failed to make their
appearance.  Then Abd er-Rahman, the little Agheyl, came with a petition
to be allowed to go home.  He was too young, he said, for such a journey,
and afraid he might die on the road.  He had brought a cousin with him as
a substitute, who would do much better than himself, for the cousin was
afraid of nothing.  The substitute was then introduced, a wild
picturesque creature all rags and elf locks and with eyes like jet, armed
too with a matchlock rather longer than himself, and evidently no Agheyl.
We have agreed, however, to take him and let the other go.  Unwilling
hands are worse than useless on a journey.  Lastly, the slave Awwad has
gone.  Like most negroes he had too good an opinion of himself, and
insisted on being treated as something more than a servant, and on having
a donkey to ride.  So we have packed him too off.  He was very angry when
told to go, and broke a rebab we had given him to play on, for he could
both play and sing well.  We are now reduced to our two selves, Mohammed,
Abdallah, Hanna, Ibrahim and the substitute—seven persons in all, but the
Tafazz people are to go the first two days’ march with us and help drive
the camels.

We were glad to get clear of the dirt and noise of the Suk, and leaving
the Haj road, took a cross track to the south-east, which is to lead us
to Bozra.  All day long we have been passing through a well-inhabited
country, with plenty of villages and a rich red soil, already ploughed,
every acre of it, and waiting only for rain.  The road was full of people
travelling on donkey-back and on foot to Mezárib, singing as they went
along.  In all the numerous villages we saw the effects of the late
murrain in the dead cattle strewed about.  I counted seventy carcasses in
one small place, a terrible loss for the poor villagers, as each working
cow or bullock was worth ten pounds.  I asked what disease had killed
them, and was told it was “min Allah” (from God).  Mohammed, however,
calls it _abu hadlan_ (father of leanness).

This district is said to be the best corn-growing country anywhere, and
looks like it, but unless rain falls soon, the year must be barren.  The
villages depend almost entirely on rain for their water supply.  In each
there is an old reservoir hollowed out of the rock.  It is difficult to
understand how these tanks get filled, for they seem to have no drainage
leading to them, being on the contrary perched up generally on high
ground.  They are now all dry, and the villagers have to send many miles
for their drinking water.  All this country belongs to the Hauran, and we
are now in a Haurani village called Ghízeh.  The people are evidently not
pure Arabs, as many of them have light eyes.

We are being hospitably entertained by the village Sheykh, who is an old
acquaintance of Mohammed’s father’s, and insists on setting all he has
got before us,—coffee, a plate of rice, barley for the mares, and, what
is more precious just now, water for them as well as for ourselves.
Hassan, for such is his name, has a very pretty wife, who was among the
crowd which gathered round us on our arrival at the village.  She, like
the women of all these villages, made no pretence of shyness, and was
running about unveiled as any peasant girl might in Italy.  She was
evidently a spoilt child, and required more than one command from Hassan
before she would go home.  The Sheykh has been spending the evening with
us.  He is in great distress about his village, which is in the last
straits for water.  The cattle, as I have said, have all died, and now
even the beasts of burden which have to go for the water are dying.  The
nearest spring is at Bozra, twelve miles off; and if the donkeys break
down the village must die too of thirst.  He told us that a Frank passed
this way two years ago, and had told him that there must be an ancient
well somewhere among the ruins of which the village is built, and he has
been looking for it ever since.  He entreated us to tell him the most
likely spot either for finding the old well or digging a new one.  We are
much distressed at not being engineers enough to do this for him; and I
can’t help thinking how much a real reformer (not a Midhat) might do in
Turkey by attending to such crying wants as these.  Ghízeh is within
fifty miles from Damascus as the crow flies, and there are scores of
villages in like condition throughout the Hauran, which a Syrian governor
might relieve at the cost of sending round an engineer.  But until
tramways and railroads and new bazaars have been made, I suppose there is
little chance for mere wells under the present regime.

Besides meat and drink, Hassan has given us useful advice.  He has
reminded Mohammed of another old friend of his father’s, who he thinks
might be of more service to us than anybody else could be, and he advises
us to go first to him.  This is Huseyn ibn Nejm el-Atrash, a powerful
Druse Sheykh, who lives somewhere beyond the Hauran mountains.  He must
certainly have relations with some of the Bedouin tribes beyond, for it
appears he lives in a little town quite on the extreme edge of the
inhabited country towards the Wady Sirhán.  We have always heard of this
Druse country as unsafe, but what country is not called unsafe outside
the regular Turkish authority?  The Ghízeh Sheykh’s suggestion seems
worth following, and we shall make for the Druse town.

The little greyhound Shiekhah (so called from a plant of that name) is
very docile and well-behaved.  She is a regular desert dog, and likes
dates better than anything else.  I have made her a coat to wear at night
for she is chilly.

_December_ 19.—Hassan with true hospitality did not leave his house this
morning, but let us depart quietly.  His coming to wish us good-bye would
have looked like asking for a present, and he evidently did not wish for
anything of the sort.  This is the first time we have received
hospitality absolutely gratis in a town, for even when staying with
Mohammed’s father at Tudmur, the women of the family had eagerly asked
for money.  In the desert, Hassan’s behaviour would not have needed
remark.

Before leaving Ghízeh we went to look at a house where there is a mosaic
floor of old Roman work, scrolls with orange trees and pomegranates,
vines with grapes on them, vases and baskets, all coloured on a white
ground.  It speaks well for the quality of the workmanship that it has so
long stood the weather and the wear, for it is out of doors, and forms
the pavement in the courtyard of a house.

Three and a half hours of steady marching brought us to Bozra, where we
now are.  The entrance of the town is rather striking, as the old Roman
road, which has run in a straight line for miles, terminates in a gateway
of the regular classic style, beyond which lie a mass of ruins and
pillars, and to the right a fine old castle.  A raven was sitting on the
gateway, and as we rode through solemnly said “caw.”

Bozra is, I have no doubt, described by Mr. Murray, so I won’t waste my
time in writing about the ruins, which indeed we have not yet examined.
They seem to be Roman, and in tolerable preservation.  The castle is more
modern, probably Saracenic, a huge pile built up out of older fragments.
It is occupied by a small garrison of Turkish regulars, the last, I hope,
we shall see for many a day, for Bozra is the frontier town of the
Hauran, and beyond it the Sultan is not acknowledged.  I believe that its
occupation is not of older date than fifteen to twenty years ago, the
time when Turkey made its last flicker as a progressing state, and that
before that time the people of Bozra paid tribute to Ibn Shaalan, as they
once had to the Wahhabis of Nejd.  The Roala still keep up some
connection with the town, however, for a shepherd we met at the springs
just outside it assured us that Ibn Shaalan had watered his camels at
them not two months ago.  It was somewhere not far from Bozra that the
forty days battle between the Mesenneh and the Roala, described by
Fatalla, {51} was fought.  Though the details are no doubt exaggerated,
Mohammed knows of the battle by tradition.  Wilfrid asked him
particularly about it to-day, and he fully confirms the account given by
Fatalla of the downfall of the Mesenneh.  He has added too some
interesting details of their recent history.  We are encamped outside the
town at the edge of a great square tank of ancient masonry, now out of
repair and dry.  Here would be another excellent occupation for Midhat
and his Circassians.

_December_ 20.—We were disturbed all night by the barking of dogs, and
the strange echoes from the ruined places round.  I never heard anything
so unearthly—a cold night—and melancholy too, as nights are when the moon
rises late, and is then mixed up in a haggard light with the dawn.

The Tafazz relations are gone, very sorrowful to wish us good-bye.
Selim, the elder of the two, told me that he has been thirty years now in
the Hauran, and has no idea of going back to Tudmur.  The land at Tafazz
is so good that it will grow anything, while at Tudmur there are only the
few gardens the stream waters.  He is a _fellah_ and likes ploughing and
sowing better than camel driving.  To Tafazz they are gone, Selim on his
chestnut mare, old, worn, and one-eyed, but _asil_; Aamar on his bay
Kehîleh from the Roala, also old and very lame.  They went with tears in
their eyes, wishing us all possible blessings for the road.

The consequence is, we have to do more than our share of work, and have
had a hard day loading and reloading the camels, for we were among the
hills, and the roads were bad.  The beasts have not yet become accustomed
to each other, and the old camel we bought at Mezárib shows every sign of
wishing to return there.  He is an artful old wretch, and chose his
moment for wandering off whenever we were looking the other way, and
wherever a bit of uneven ground favoured his escape.  Once or twice he
very nearly gave us the slip.  He wants to get back to his family,
Abdallah says, for we bought him out of a herd where he was lord and
master, a sultan among camels.  Our road to-day has been very rough.  We
were told to make our way to Salkhad, a point on the far horizon, just on
the ridge of the Hauran, and the only road there was the old Roman one.
This went in an absolutely straight line over hill and dale, and as two
out of every three of the stones paving it were missing, and the rest
turned upside down, it was a long stumble from beginning to end.  We had
been warned to keep a good look-out for robbers, so Wilfrid and I rode
ahead, reconnoitering every rock and heap.  We passed one or two ruined
villages, but met nobody all day long, still following the pointed hill
of Salkhad, which, as we got nearer it, we could see was crowned by a
huge fortress.  The country had now become a mass of boulders, which in
places had been rolled into heaps, making gigantic cairns, not recently,
but perhaps in ancient days, when there were giants in the land.  The
soil thus uncovered was a rich red earth, and here and there it had been
cultivated.  There was now a little pasture, for on the hills rain had
fallen, and once we saw some goats in the distance.

As we approached Salkhad the road got so bad that Mohammed made a vow of
killing a sheep if ever we got safe to Huseyn el-Atrash.  We were amused
at this and asked him what it meant; and he told us the story of the
prophet Ibrahim who made a vow to kill his son, and who was prevented
from doing so by the prophet Musa, who appeared to him and stopped him,
and showed him two rams which he said would do instead.  These vows the
Arabs make are very curious, and are certainly a relic of the ancient
sacrifices.  Mohammed explained them to us.  “The Bedouins,” he said,
“always do this when they are in difficulties,” he could not say why, but
it was an old custom; and when they go back home they kill the sheep, and
eat it with their friends.  He does not seem to consider it a religious
ceremony, only a custom, but it is very singular.

Nine and a half hours’ march from seven o’clock brought us to the foot of
the conical hill, on which the fortress of Salkhad stands.  This is a
very ancient building, resembling not a little the fortress of Aleppo, a
cone partly artificial and surrounded by a moat, cased with smooth stone
and surmounted by walls still nearly perfect.  We remarked on some of
them the same device as at Aleppo, a rampant lion, the emblem of the
Persian Monarchy.  The fortress itself, however, is probably of much
older date, and may have existed at the time the children of Israel
conquered the country.  Wilfrid and I, who had gone on in front, agreed
to separate here, and ride round the citadel, he to the right, and I to
the left, and I was to wait on the top of the ridge till he gave me some
signal.  This I did and waited so long, that at last the camels came up.
He in the meantime had found a little town just under the fortress on the
other side and had ridden down into it.  At first he saw nobody, and
thought the place deserted, but presently people in white turbans began
to appear on the house-tops, very much astonished to see this horseman
come riding down upon them, for the road was like a stair.  He saluted
them, and they saluted politely in return, and answered his inquiry for
Huseyn el-Atrash, by pointing out a path which led down across the hills
to a town called Melakh, where they said Huseyn lived.  They asked where
he was going, and he said Bussora, Bussora of Bagdad, at which they
laughed, and showing him the Roman road, which from Salkhad still goes on
in a straight line about south-east, said that that would take him to it.
This is curious, for it certainly is exactly the direction, and yet it is
impossible there can ever have really been a road there.  It probably
goes to Ezrak but we hope to find out all about this in a day or two.  At
the bottom of the hill Wilfrid beckoned to me, and I found him at a large
artificial pool or reservoir, still containing a fair supply of water,
and there, when the rest had joined us, we watered the camels and horses.
Mohammed in the meanwhile had been also on a voyage of discovery, and
came back with the news that Huseyn el-Atrash was really at Melakh, and
Melakh was only two hours and a half further on.

Salkhad is a very picturesque town.  It hangs something like a honeycomb
under the old fortress on an extremely steep slope, the houses looking
black from the colour of the volcanic stone of which they are built.
Many of them are very ancient, and the rest are built up of ancient
materials, and there is a square tower like the belfry of a church. {56}
The tanks below are at least equally old with the town, having a casing
of hewn stone, now much dilapidated, and large stone troughs for watering
cattle.  Its inhabitants, the people in the white turbans, are Druses, a
colony sent I believe from the Lebanon after the disturbances in 1860.

From Salkhad our road lay principally down hill, for we had now crossed
the watershed of the Jebel Hauran, and became somewhat intricate, winding
about among small fields.  The country on this side the hills is divided
into walled enclosures, formed by the rolling away of boulders, which
give it a more European look than anything we have seen of late.  These
date I should think from very early times, for the stones have had time
to get covered with a grey lichen, so as to resemble natural rather than
artificial heaps, and in these dry climates lichen forms slowly.  In some
of the enclosures we found cultivation, and even vines and fig-trees.  It
is remarkable how much more prosperous the land looks as soon as one gets
away from Turkish administration.  The sun was setting as we first caught
sight of Melakh, another strange old mediæval town of black stone, with
walls and towers much out of the perpendicular; so leaving the camels to
come on under Abdallah’s charge and that of a man who had volunteered to
guide us, we cantered on with Mohammed, and in the twilight arrived at
the house of Huseyn el-Atrash.

Huseyn is a fine specimen of a Druse sheykh, a man of about forty,
extremely dark and extremely handsome, his eyes made darker and more
brilliant by being painted with kohl.  This seems to be a general fashion
here.  He was very clean and well dressed in jíbbeh and abba; and, unlike
most of the Druses, he wore a kefiyeh of purple and gold, though with the
white turban over it in place of the aghal.  He was sitting with his
friends and neighbours on a little terrace in front of his house,
enjoying the coolness of the evening, while we could see that a fire had
been lit indoors.  He rose and came to meet us as we dismounted, and
begged us to come in, and then the coffee pots and mortar were set at
work and a dinner was ordered.  The Sheykh’s manners were excellent, very
ceremonious but not cold, and though we conversed for an hour about “the
weather and the crops,” he carefully avoided asking questions as to who
we were and what we wanted.  Neither did we say anything, as we knew that
the proper moment had not come.  At last our camels arrived, and dinner
was served, a most excellent one, chicken and burghul, horse-radishes in
vinegar and water, several sweet dishes, one a puree of rice, spiced tea,
cream cheese, and the best water-melon ever tasted.  The cookery and the
people remind us of the frontier towns of the Sahara, everything good of
its kind, good food, good manners, and good welcome.  Then, when we had
all eaten heartily down to the last servant, he asked us who we were.
Mohammed’s answer that we were English persons of distinction, on our way
to Jôf, and that he was Mohammed, the son of Abdallah of Tudmur, made
quite a _coup de théâtre_, and it is easy to see that we have at last
come to the right place.  We have been, however, glad to retire early,
for we have had a hard day’s march, nearly twelve hours, and over
exceedingly bad ground.

_December_ 21.—The shortest day of the year, but still hot, though the
night was cold.

We spent the morning with Huseyn.  His house has not long been built, but
it looks old because it is built of old stones.  Its construction is
simple but good, the main room being divided into sections with arches so
as to suit the stone rafters with which it is roofed.  In front there is
a pleasant terrace overlooking an agreeable prospect of broken ground,
with glimpses of the desert beyond.  While Wilfrid was talking to Huseyn
I went to see the ladies of the establishment.  Huseyn has only one wife;
her name is Wardi (a rose).  She is the mother of a nice little boy,
Mohammed, about six years old and very well behaved, whom we had seen
with the Sheykh; and of a pretty little girl of two, named Amina.  There
are, besides, some older children by a former husband.  Wardi is rather
fat, with a brilliant complexion and well-kohled eyes and eyebrows; she
has good manners, and received me very cordially in a room opening on to
a terrace, with a beautiful view eastward of some tells at the edge of
the Hamad.  She sat surrounded by dependants and relations, among whom
were Huseyn’s mother and her own.  The former was suffering from cough
and loss of voice, and another member of the family complained of a
rheumatic arm; both wanted me to advise them as to treatment.  The ladies
would not uncover their faces until Assad, the Sheykh’s secretary, who
accompanied me, had retired.  Wardi’s concealment of her features was,
however, a mere make-believe, only a corner of her head veil pulled half
across her face.  She talked a great deal about her children of the
former marriage, Mustafa a son of eighteen, who is chief of a
neighbouring village, and a daughter of perhaps twelve who was present.
This young girl seemed particularly intelligent and had received some
education; enough to read out a phrase from my Arabic exercise book, and
to repeat the first chapter of the Koran.  The pleasure of my visit was
somewhat marred by the quantity of sweetmeats and tea and coffee served;
with the tea and coffee I got on very well, as the cups were of the usual
small size, but the sugar-plums were of so massive a kind that it was
impossible to swallow them.  The two small children fortunately came to
my rescue; and by their zeal in devouring everything I handed to them,
took off their mother’s attention from my shortcomings.  At parting Wardi
gave me a bunch of feathers pulled then and there out of an ostrich skin
hanging up against the wall; the skin, she said, had been brought to her
some months before, from somewhere in the south.

The Druses of the Hauran say that they are Arabs who came here with the
immediate successors of the prophet from the south; that the Jebel was at
that time inhabited by Rûmi (Greeks), whose descendants still live here
and are Christians.  We saw one of them in Huseyn’s house to-day,
apparently on excellent terms with the other visitors.  He was dressed
like an Arab, and was undistinguishable from the ordinary felláhín Arabs
one sees in the desert towns.  The Druse women, except those of Huseyn’s
family, go about unveiled.  They are particularly well-mannered and
civil, with clean fresh complexions and bright coloured cheeks, and
always say “Salam aleykum” to travellers.  They all kohl their eyes
carefully and broadly.

There has of course been much discussion about our further journey.  It
is rather aggravating to think that a whole week has passed since we left
Damascus, and yet we are not, as the crow flies, more than eighty miles
on our way.  Still there seems a chance now of our really getting
forward, for Huseyn promises to send some men with us to Kâf, an oasis in
the Wady Sirhán, with which there is occasional communication on this
side of the Hauran, as there are salt beds to which the villagers send
camels to fetch salt.  They say it is about five days’ journey from here.
The principal difficulty is that there are several Bedouin tribes on the
road, and nobody knows which.  The Sirdíeh are friends of Huseyn’s, and
so are the Kreysheh, but there are others whom he does not know, Sherarât
Sirhán and Howeysin, the last mere thieves “worse than the Sleb.”  Any or
all of these may be met with, though it is very possible we may meet
nobody.  Huseyn has sent a man on horseback to Ezrak, the first stage on
our way, where there are wells and an old castle, to find out who is
there.  The Kreysheh we have letters to, from Mohammed Dukhi, and if we
can find them there will be no more difficulty, as they are strong enough
to give us protection from the rest.  At any rate we go on to-morrow.  We
are anxious to get away to the desert, for life is very fatiguing in
these towns; there are so many people to be civil to, and the children
make such a noise.  They have been playing hockey all day long just
outside our tent, tiresome little wretches.  Wilfrid went out for an hour
this afternoon, and got some grouse, of which there are immense flocks
all about the fields, while I made a picture of the town from behind a
wall.

We have at last got a man to go with us as servant, who looks promising.
He is a Shammari from Jebel Shammar who, for some reason or other, has
left his own tribe (probably for some crime against Bedouin law), and has
been settled for the last few years at Salkhad, where he has married a
Druse woman.  There is some mystery about his profession and way of life,
but he has an attractive face, and in spite of very poor clothes a
certain air of distinction.  We both like him, and Huseyn seems to know
something about him.  Besides, he has made the whole journey from Nejd
already, and has been backwards and forwards between Salkhad and Jôf more
than once.  He wants now, he says, to go back to his own country.
Mohammed has also discovered a red-headed man, a native of Sokhne and as
such almost a fellow countryman, who will come as camel driver under
Abdallah; so that our complement of hands is made up to its original
number, eight.

To-morrow we may hope to sleep in the desert.

                                * * * * *

_Note_.  Alas, since this was written, our friends at Melakh have
experienced sad reverses.  In September, 1879, Midhat Pasha, to signalize
his assumption of office at Damascus, and support that reputation of
energy which Europe has given him, sent an armed force to coerce the
independent Druses.  At first these, fighting for their liberty, were
successful.  They met and defeated the Turkish troops advancing through
the Leja, and the expedition returned with a loss of 400 men.  A month
later, however, Midhat retrieved his fortunes.  He bribed or persuaded
Mohammed Dukhi to overrun the Eastern Hauran with his Bedouins, and while
these were blockading the towns, marched a second column of regular
troops through the mountains, and so gained possession of Salkhad,
Melakh, and the rest, reducing all to submission.  An Ottoman Governor
now replaces the native Sheykhs, and the blessings of the Sultan’s rule
have been extended to every village of the Hauran.

                         [Picture: Run to earth]



CHAPTER IV.


    “For all is rocks at random thrown,
    Black walls of crag, black banks of stone.”

                                                                    SCOTT.

We start in earnest—The Harra—A Theory of Mirage—Camp of the Beni
Sokkhr—Wady er Rajel—A Christmas Dinner in the Desert—Sand storm—We reach
Kâf.

_December_ 22.—A white frost, and off at half-past seven.  Huseyn has
sent two men with us, Assad, his head man, and another.  We have also
letters from him for Ali el-Kreysheh, and the Sheykh of Kâf.

Mohammed as we rode away was much elated at the success of this visit,
and related to me the pretty things Huseyn had said about us.  Huseyn had
seen other franjis but none who understood the _shoghl Arab_, Arab ways,
as we did.  They had come with an escort to see the ruins, but we had
come to see him.  “Ah,” said Mohammed, “now they are sitting drinking
coffee and talking about us.  They are saying to each other that the Beg
and I are brothers, and we are travelling together, as is right, in
search of relations, and to make friends all over the world.  There is
nothing so _asil_ (noble) as to travel and make friends.  Once upon a
time there was an old man who had a son, but very little other property,
and when he came to die he called his son and said to him, “O my son, I
am about to die, and I have nothing to leave behind me for your good but
advice, and my advice is this: ‘Build to yourself houses in every part of
the world.’”  And the son, who was a child without understanding,
wondered how he was to do this, seeing he had no money to build houses
with, and so set out on a journey in search of a wise man who could
explain to him his father’s last words.  And he travelled for many years
and visited every part of the world, and made friends in each town, and
at last he found the wise man who told him that he had already done as
his father had bidden him, “for,” he said, “you have friends everywhere,
and is not your friend’s house your own?”

We too were in high spirits, as everything now seemed to be going right.
Our course lay nearly south on the road to Ezrak, and we passed several
ruined villages and some cultivated land.  Every now and then we put up
immense packs of sand-grouse, which were busy feeding on the seeds of the
_zueyti_, a kind of thistle which grows abundantly on the fallows.
Wilfrid got eight of them at a shot, and at one of the villages we bought
ten partridges of a man who had been out with a matchlock, so that we are
well supplied with meat for a couple of days.  Assad has got a very
handsome greyhound with him, of the long-haired breed, which has a
wonderful nose for game.  His master declares he _sees_ the birds, for
the Arabs do not seem to understand the theory of scent.

After two hours’ fair travelling, we stopped at a village called Metém,
where Assad had friends, and where we were obliged to go through the
ceremony of drinking coffee, losing much time thereby.  Then a new
discussion arose as to our road, somebody having just come in from Ezrak,
who announced that the Sirhán were camped there, and the Sirhán we knew
were friendly with Huseyn el-Atrash.  Assad, and Salman his companion,
refused in consequence to go that way, and were for stopping the night at
Metém to think over it; but this we would not listen to.  We were
determined to go somewhere, and if not to Ezrak then by some other route
to Kâf.  Somebody suggested El Kreysheh, who was said to be in the Wady
er-Rajel, and others the Sirdíeh, who were camped a day’s journey towards
the east.  It was difficult to decide; but at the well of the village
while we were watering our animals, we met a man and his wife, who told
us they knew where to find the Sirdíeh, and were themselves on their way
to join them.  So this decided us, and we determined on the Sirdíeh.  The
Sirdíeh are friends of Huseyn’s, and our Druse guides made no objection
to going that way; Awwad the Shammari declared also that it was all
right.  Accordingly we left the Ezrak road, and striking off to the east,
soon found ourselves out of the range of cultivation.  Metém is to be the
last village we shall see, and the desert is now before us all the way to
Nejd.

We are encamped at the edge of a plateau, from which there is an immense
prospect of hill and plain, and Wilfrid has been very busy making out a
rough chart of the different landmarks, as they may be useful to-morrow
if we should happen to miss our way.  The man and woman we met at the
well are with us, and know the different points by name.  Awwad too,
declares he knows every part of the desert between this and Kâf and he
has pointed out a tell, south-east by south, beyond which it lies.  The
Druses, like townsmen, are already nervous at the sight of the desert,
and angry with us for camping away from villages and tents.  Our camp is
well concealed in an old volcanic crater, where also we are sheltered
from the wind, which is very cold.  There is a spring just below called
Ain el-Ghiaour (the infidel’s spring); according to the Druses, the scene
of a great battle fought by the Arabs of the first invasion, in which
they routed the Christians.  At that time all the country we have been
passing through, and perhaps the broken ground in front of us, was well
inhabited; and there is a tell with a ruined convent on it not far off to
the north-west, still known as Ed Deyr.  There is capital pasture here,
_rotha_, which the camels have been making the most of.  We too have
dined, and now all is quiet, and the sky is full of stars.  We have been
sitting on the edge of the crater talking over plans for to-morrow.  The
Sirdíeh, it now appears, are at a _khabra_ or pool, called Shubboitia,
which we could see before the sun set like a yellow line far away to the
northeast, too far out of our road for us to go there.  Awwad is in
favour of going straight to Kâf and taking our chance of what Arabs we
may meet.  El Kreysheh is somewhere in front of us, and so they say is
Ibn Majil, the Akid of the Roala, whom we met last year.  At any rate, we
must take a good supply of water with us, and go forward at the first
streak of dawn.

_December_ 23.—As soon as it was light we climbed up to the top of the
crater and looked over the plain.  It was a wonderful sight with its
broken tells and strange chaotic wadys, all black with volcanic boulders,
looking blacker still against the yellow morning sky.  There is always
something mysterious about a great plain, and especially such a plain as
this, where Europeans, one may say, have never been, and which even the
people of the Hauran know little of.  Besides, it seems to have had a
history if only in the days of Og, king of Basan.  But it was not to look
at the view or for any romantic reason that we had come there; only to
examine the country before us and see if we could discover traces of Arab
encampments.  After looking carefully all round we at last made out a
thin column of smoke to the northeast, ten or twelve miles away, and
another nearly due east.  The first must be the Sirdíeh, the second
perhaps the Kreysheh.  Satisfied with this we returned to our party, who
were just setting the camels in motion, and as the sun rose we began our
march.

We have been stumbling about all day among the boulders of the Harra,
following little tracks just wide enough for the camels to get along, and
making a great circuit in order to find ourselves at last barely twelve
miles from where we began.  At first we kept company with our new
acquaintances, the people going to the Sirdíeh, but when we had arrived
at the foot of the hills we found them turning away to the north, and so
wished them good-bye, much to the Druses’ disgust, who did not at all
relish our wild-goose chase of the Kreysheh, and still less the idea of
going straight to Kâf.  They followed, however, when they found that we
would listen to no reason, and I must say good-humouredly.  One great
charm of the Arab character is that it bears no malice, even about
trifles.  Sulkiness is very rare with them.  They did not pretend to know
much of the country, so we made Awwad lead the way.  Going straight was
out of the question, for the Harra is an impracticable country, not only
for camels but for horses, on account of the boulders, except just where
the paths lead.  We had a bleak desolate ride, for a cold wind had sprung
up in our faces with a decided touch of winter.  This country must be a
furnace, however, in summer with its polished black stones.  I noticed
that these were very regularly weathered; one side, that towards the
north, being grey with a sort of lichen, so that as we rode past they
seemed to change colour continually.  There was very little sign of life
in this region, only a few small birds, and no trace of inhabitants or of
any recent passers by.  The tracks followed generally the beds of wadys,
and wandered on without any particular aim or direction.  They looked
like the paths made by sheep or camels, only that the stones were so big
it seemed impossible that the mere passage of animals could have ever
made them.  On the whole I think they must be artificial, made by
shepherds in very ancient times for their flocks.  In the spring, we are
told, the whole of this Harra is excellent grazing ground.  It is a
curious thing that every here and there in the hollows there is a space
free from stones where water lies after rain, forming a pool.  Why are
there no stones there?  The soil is a dry clay with a highly glazed
surface cracked into very regular squares, so glazed indeed that even
close by it has the appearance of water, reflecting the light of the sky.
This, no doubt, is the way some of the curious mirage effects are
produced in the desert, for it is to be noticed that the most perfect
delusions are found just in places where one would naturally expect to
find water—that is, where water has been.

At half-past twelve, we came suddenly on a level bit of open ground,
which we took at first for one of these khabras, but found it to be part
of a long wady running north and south, with a very distinct watercourse
in the middle, with tamarisk bushes, and patches of fresh grass, showing
that water had run down it not long ago.  Both Awwad and the Druses
recognised this as the Wady-er-Rajel, where the Kreysheh were reported to
be encamped, and the only question was, whether to turn up or down it.
While we were debating, however, a flock of sheep was sighted, and
presently a boy, who told us he was a Sirdíeh, but that the Kreysheh were
only a couple of hours further down the valley.  This just suited, as it
was exactly in the right direction for us, and we are now at Ali
el-Kreysheh’s camp, and being hospitably entertained by a young relation
in the Sheykh’s absence.  Ali is away at Mezárib with fifty horsemen, to
escort the Jerdeh on their way to Maan.

We have had some singing to-night, and playing of the rebab.  Among the
songs I was pleased to recognise an old Shammar ballad about Abdul Kerim
and the man who had no mare.

_December_ 24.—The Kreysheh, at whose camp we now are, belong to the Beni
Sokkhr, a large, but not very warlike tribe, which occupies the whole of
the district from the pilgrim road eastwards to the extreme edge of the
Harra, throughout a wilderness of stones.  To this they are said to owe
their name of Beni Sokkhr, children of the rocks; and they assure us that
they have lived in the Harra “from all time.”  They do not come from
Nejd, they say, like the Ánazeh, but are Shimali or Northern Arabs.  We
were told the names of ten divisions into which the Beni Sokkhr have
ramified, each owning a separate Sheykh, though nominally subject to
Fendi el-Faiz, or rather his son Sóttan, for Fendi is old and has given
up practical authority.  These divisions are probably nothing more than
groups of the tribe, as their names are those of their Sheykhs, the
principal being Sóttan, and next to him El Kreysheh, and next again Ed
Dreybi ibn Zebbed.  The Kreysheh have camels as well as sheep, and seem
pretty well off; but they have no great number of mares, and those not of
the best type.  They keep hawks and greyhounds.

They have given us news of the Roala.  Ibn Majil, whom we met last year
at Sotamm Ibn Shaalan’s, and who took our side in the negotiations for
peace with the Sebaa, has now separated from Sotamm, and is somewhere
down by Jôf, so perhaps we may meet him; while Sotamm has just marched
north again to attack the Welled Ali.  The Kreysheh are friends with Ibn
Majil, but at war with Sotamm, another curious instance of the
inconsistencies of Bedouin politics.  These are, indeed, as changing as
the clouds in the sky, and transform themselves so rapidly, that in
Desert history, if it were written, ten years would comprise as much
incident as a century in Europe.

While negotiations were going on about arrangements for our further
progress, I went to call on Ali el-Kreysheh’s wives.  There are two of
them, Hazna and Fassal; but I only saw the latter, who had the women’s
tent to herself with her attendants and three children, two little boys
and a girl, remarkably dirty, and (what is rare among Bedouins) suffering
from sore eyes.  Fassal was plain and uninteresting but sensible, and I
daresay has the advantage over Hazna, who, poor thing, is childless.  She
told me she was from a section of the tribe further north, and took an
interest in Damascus, asking about the new Valy as well as about Mohammed
ibn Smeyr, who is the great name in these parts.  She seemed much pleased
with the box of sugar-plums I gave her, and when I went away followed me
as far as the end of the tent ropes invoking blessings on my head.

I found our own tents down and everything ready for a start; for an
arrangement had been come to with the young man representing our host,
that we were to have a _zellem_ (person) to go with us as far as Kâf for
the sum of ten mejidies (forty shillings).  Assad and Salman were just
saying good-bye, for they had to go back to Melakh.  They were made very
happy with a Turkish pound apiece, and Assad has left us his greyhound,
the black and tan dog, who whined piteously when his master went away.  I
like the dog for this.

As we left the Kreysheh camp a bitter wind sprang up from the
west-south-west, and continued all day long, chilling us, in spite of all
the furs and cloaks we could put on, to the bone.  Our course lay nearly
across it south-south-east.  We are out of the hills now in a nearly
level plain still covered with the black stones.  The only variety during
the day was when we came to a large khabra (Khabra-el-Gurrthi), a dreary
flat of dried up clay and sand which we took two hours to cross, though
we went at the camels’ best pace.  The wind drove great clouds of sand
across it, making it one of the dreariest places I ever saw.  We were all
too cold for much talking, and sat huddled up on our delúls with our
backs to the wind, and our heads wrapped up in our cloaks.  We met no one
all day long, except one string of a dozen camels driven by two very
wild-looking Arabs who told us they were Shesharât, and nothing living
except a hare which got up among the stones, and which the dogs coursed
for some hundreds of yards, over ground which would have broken every
bone of an English greyhound, apparently without hurting themselves.
About two o’clock we came, to our great delight, upon the Wady er-Rajel
again, an angle of whose course we had been cutting off.  Here we found
beautiful soft ground and grass and pools of water, for this wady had
running water in it last month, and is not quite drunk up yet.  The
pasture was too good to be passed, so here we remain for the night.  Just
as we were unloading, a little troop of gazelles looked over the edge of
the wady, perhaps come for water, and Mohammed set off in pursuit with a
Winchester rifle.  We heard him fire all the twelve shots one after the
other, but he came back empty-handed.  Our tent is set under the lee of a
rough wall of loose stones, such as are set up by the shepherds as a
shelter for their flocks.  The wind still blows tempestuously, and it is
cold as a Christmas Eve need be.  But Hanna has made us a capital curry,
which with soup and burghul and a plum-pudding from a tin, makes not a
bad dinner, while Abdallah has distinguished himself baking bread, and
Awwad roasting coffee.

_Wednesday_, _December_ 25.—Christmas Day.  We are out of the Harra at
last, and on open ground.  That black wilderness had become like a
nightmare with its horrible boulders and little tortuous paths, which
prevented the camels from doing more than about two miles an hour.  Now
we are able to push on at three, or three and a quarter.

After floundering down the wady for half an hour, we came to some
splendid pools in a narrow cleft of rock, where we stopped to take in
water.  We have been very fortunate in such a season as this to find the
Wady er-Rajel full.  The rain which filled it must have been some
isolated waterspout on the eastern slope of Jebel Hauran, for not a drop
fell anywhere else; and there is no autumn grass except just along its
edge.  It is rapidly drying, or rather being drunk up, and the little
vegetation is very closely eaten down.  In the smaller pools there is a
very distinct flavour of sheep and camels in the water; but at the pools
we came to this morning it is still pure.  The Kreysheh have been all up
this valley, eating and drinking their way, and leaving not a blade they
could help behind them, and we have come upon numerous tracks of their
cattle.  Every here and there we have passed the traces of their camps,
stones set in line on three sides of a square; one we saw had been only
just deserted, and we put up a number of vultures and ravens from the
fresh carcase of a camel lying by it.  There crossed it also the
footprint of a horse, which brought on the usual talk of ghazús and
marauders, in which our people delight.  They, however, have settled it
among them to their satisfaction, that such accidents as meeting robbers
or people of a hostile tribe are “min Allah” (from God), to be classed
with the rain and fine weather, and sickness and good health, all which
things the Bedouins consider fortuitous.

Having filled our goat skins, we left the Wady er-Rajel for good, and are
to come across no more water now till we get to Kâf.  The valley takes a
turn here to the west before it reaches the Wady Sirhán, and would
therefore be out of our road.  We have been crossing some rolling downs
covered with light flinty gravel, a delightful change from the Harra, and
have had a gallop or two after the gazelles, which now and then came in
sight.  We thought too of our Christmas dinner, and how glad we should be
to get some addition to the rice, which was all we had; but neither
greyhounds nor mares were in good enough condition to run down their
quarry.  Once we made a rather successful stalk, and a charge in among a
small herd, but the dogs could not get hold of anything, and, though
several shots were fired, nothing came to bag.  Then we had a long gallop
after Sayad, the black and tan greyhound, who went on after the gazelles
for a good two miles, so that we were afraid of losing him; and then
another long gallop to get back to our camels.  This time, we had been
three quarters of an hour away from them, and we found our people all
much alarmed, Abdallah rather angry at our going so far, for Mohammed was
with us.  He was perfectly in the right, and we were to blame, for we are
on a serious journey not a sporting tour; and to say nothing of danger
from enemies, there is always a certain risk of missing one another in a
country like this where camels leave no track behind them.  A turn to
right or left out of the direct line and a fold in the ground, and they
are lost.  So we apologised, and promised to do so again no more.  We
were, however, in a most unexpected manner provided with dinner; for
while we were still talking, behold a grazing camel all alone on the
plain, not a mile away; when with a general shout of “a prize,” the whole
party on horseback and on foot rushed in pursuit.  We were naturally the
first up, and drove the animal at a canter to the others.  The camel was
a young one of last spring, in good condition, and at the sight tears
rushed into Hanna’s eyes—tears of hunger, not of pity.  I am afraid
indeed that none of the party had much thought of pity, and the scene
caused me mixed feelings of compassion for the poor victim, and disgust
at ourselves who were waiting to prey upon it.  No question was raised as
to ownership; camels found astray in desert places were by acclamation
declared the property of the first comer.  We were in fact a ghazú, and
this was our lawful prize.  So the poor little camel was driven on before
us.

Dinner is thus secured, and I must see what else can be arranged in
honour of the occasion.

_December_ 26.—Mohammed, Abdallah, Awwad, the two Ibrahims and Hanna, all
of them, spent the evening in feasting and ate up the whole of the camel
except the short ribs, which were set before us, and the shoulders which
were kept for to-day.  They divided among them the labour of killing,
skinning and quartering, and cooking it, for all were equally ready to
lend a hand to the work.  People talk sometimes of camel meat, as if it
were something not only unpalatable, but offensive.  But it is in reality
very good; when young it resembles mutton, even when old it is only
tough, and never has any unpleasant taste as far as my experience goes;
indeed if served up without the bones it could hardly be distinguished
from mutton.

The servants having thus feasted were all soon sound asleep, and even
when suddenly, between two and three in the morning, the wind rose with a
deafening noise, they did not wake, not till their tent blew down upon
them as ours did upon us.  We were awake and might have kept our tent
standing had we not been too lazy to get up and drive in the pegs.  It
was too late when the tent had fallen on us to do anything but lie as
well as we could beneath the ruins and wait for daylight.  Fortunately
the main pegs had not drawn, and the sand, for this hurricane was a sand
storm, soon covered over the edges of the fallen tent, and no further
damage was done.  In the morning, the servants proposed staying where we
were; but we would not hear of this, as we had water for only two days,
and it would have been folly to dawdle, so after rubbing the sand out of
or rather into our eyes, we set to work packing and loading.  The wind
continued violent and bitterly cold, and carried a great deal of sand
with it.  It came from the west-south-west.  We had camped under shelter
at a small tell close to the Tell Guteyfi, which proved to be the same as
one pointed out to us by Awwad from Ain el-Giaour, and once beyond it, we
found ourselves on a perfectly open bit of plain, exposed to the full
fury of the gale, now more violent than ever.  Sand storms are evidently
common here, for the Tell Guteyfi, which is of black volcanic boulders
like the Harra, is half smothered in sand.  We saw it looming near us in
the thick air, and soon after were almost hidden from each other in the
increasing darkness.  The sun shone feebly at intervals through the
driving sand, but it was all we could do to keep the caravan together,
and not lose sight of each other.  At one moment we had all to stop and
turn tail to the wind, covering our eyes and heads with our cloaks,
waiting till the burst was over.  Nothing could have faced it.  Still we
were far from having any idea of danger, for there really is none in
these storms, and had plenty of time to notice how very picturesque the
situation was, the camels driven along at speed, all huddled together for
protection, with their long necks stretched out, and heads low, tags and
ropes flying, and the men’s cloaks streaming in the wind, all seen
through the yellow haze of sand which made them look as though walking in
the air.  The beasts looked gigantic yet helpless, like antediluvian
creatures overwhelmed in a flood.  Still, as I said, there was no danger,
for the wind was steady in its direction, and our course was directly
across it—that we knew—and by patiently struggling on, we managed to get
over a deal of ground.  Suddenly the sandy plain over which we were
travelling, seemed to sink away in front of us, and at the bottom of a
steep dip we could see clumps of tamarisk looming through the storm.  We
knew that a refuge was at hand.

                [Picture: Sand Storm in the Wady Er-Rajel]

Here then we are comfortably housed under one of these bushes, where
there is a delightful lull.  The soil is all deep sand, white as snow,
and the tent which we have rigged up is already half buried in it, so
that we might imagine ourselves at home snowed up on Boxing Day.  We have
made a fire of tarfa sticks inside the tent, and have been enjoying
Hanna’s delicious coffee.  Where is one ever so much at home as in one’s
own tent?  Awwad surprised us very much to-day by objecting, when we
proposed to pitch the tent, that it would be impossible to do so in the
sand.  If Mohammed or any of the townspeople had done so it would have
been natural, but Awwad is a Bedouin born, and must have pitched camp
hundreds of times in the Nefúd.  Yet he had never heard of burying a tent
peg.

One misfortune has happened in the storm.  The old rogue of a camel we
bought at Mezárib, who has been trying all along to get back to his
family, has given us the slip.  Taking advantage of the darkness, and
knowing that the wind would obliterate his track at once, he decamped as
soon as unloaded, and is gone.  Mohammed and Awwad, each on a delúl, are
scouring the country, but without a chance of finding him; for at best
they can only see things a hundred yards off, and he was not missed for
the first half hour.  Mohammed has vowed to kill a lamb, but I fear that
will do no good.

_December_ 27.—We have arrived at Kâf after a long march, twenty-seven or
twenty-eight miles.  Course about south-east!

In the night a little rain fell, and the wind moderated.  At eight
o’clock we started, crossing a wide plain of coarse sand interspersed
with low sandstone tells.  At noon we came upon a well-marked track, the
road of the salt caravans between Bozra and Kâf, which, after crossing a
rather high ridge, brought us to a very curious valley; an offshoot, we
were told, of the Wady Sirhán.  The geological formation of this is
singular; the crest of the ridge on either side the valley is of black
rock with detached stones of the same—then yellow sandstone, then another
black layer, then pure sand, then sand with isolated black stones, then a
calcareous deposit, and at the bottom chalk.  The actual bed of the wady
is a fine white sand sprinkled over with tamarisk and guttub bushes.  As
we were crossing this our dogs started a jerboa, and, little creature
though it is, it gave them much trouble to catch it.  Its hops were
prodigious, and from side to side and backwards and forwards, so that the
dogs always ran over it, and snatching, always missed it; till at last,
as if by accident, it jumped into Shiekhah’s mouth.  Abdallah and the
rest were very anxious to eat it, but it was so mauled as to be beyond
cooking.  At three o’clock we crested another ridge, and from it suddenly
came in sight of the great Wady Sirhán, the object of so many of our
conjectures.  It seems, however, to be no wady, but the bed of an ancient
sea.  A little black dot on the edge of a _subbka_ or salt lake, now dry,
and just under a tall black tell, marked the oasis of Kâf, an
infinitesimal village of sixteen houses, and a palm garden of about an
acre.

I have had the misfortune to sprain my knee, an awkward accident, and
very annoying in the middle of a journey.  My delúl, always a fidgety
animal, gave a bolt just as I was leaning over to arrange something on
the off side of the _shedád_, or saddle, and pitched me off.  The pain is
indescribable, and I fear I shall be helplessly lame for some time to
come.  But here we are at Kâf.

                              [Picture: Kâf]



CHAPTER V.


    “Rafi ran after her with his sword drawn, and was just about to
    strike off her head, when she cried ‘quarter.’”—ABULFEDA.

Kâf and Itheri—More relations—The Wady Sirhán—Locust hunting—Hanna sits
down to die—Tales of robbery and violence—We are surprised by a ghazú and
made prisoners—Sherarât statistics—Jôf.

_December_ 28.—Kâf is a pretty little village, with a character of its
own, quite distinct from anything one sees in Syria.  All is in
miniature, the sixteen little square houses, the little battlemented
towers and battlemented walls seven feet high—seventy or eighty palm
trees in a garden watered from wells, and some trees I took at first for
cypresses, but which turned out to be a very delicate kind of tamarisk.
{84}  Though so small a place, Kâf has a singularly flourishing look, all
is neat there and in good repair, not a battlement broken or a door off
its hinges, as would certainly have been the case in Syria.  There are
also a good many young palms planted in among the older ones, and young
fig trees and vines, things hardly ever found in the North.  The people
are nice looking and well behaved, though at first they startled us a
little by going about all of them with swords in their hands.  These they
hold either sloped over their shoulders or grasped in both hands by the
scabbard, much as one sees in the old stone figures of mediæval martyrs,
or in the effigies of crusaders.

Abdallah el-Kamis, Sheykh of the village, to whom we had letters from
Huseyn, received us with great politeness; and a room in his house was
swept out for our use.  Like all the other rooms, it opened on to the
court-yard, in the middle of which was tethered a two-year-old colt.  Our
room had been a storing place for wood, and was without furniture of any
sort, but we were delighted to find also without inhabitants.  The
architecture here is very simple, plain mud walls with no windows or
openings of any kind except a few square holes near the roof.  The roof
was of _ithel_ beams with cross rafters of palm, thatched in with palm
branches.  The principal room is called the kahwah or coffee room; and in
it there is a square hearth at the side or in the middle for
coffee-making.  There is no chimney, and the smoke escapes as it can; but
this is not so uncomfortable as it sounds, for the wood burnt here burns
with a beautiful bright flame, giving out a maximum of heat to a minimum
of smoke.  It is the _ratha_ or _ghada_. {85}  People sit round the
hearth while coffee is being made, a solemn process occupying nearly half
an hour.

As soon as we arrived, a trencher of dates was brought, dates of the last
year’s crop, all sticky and mashed up, but good; and later in the
evening, we had a more regular dinner of burghul and boiled fowls.  We
are much struck with the politeness of everybody.  Abdallah, our host,
asked us at least twenty times after our health before he would go on to
anything else; and it was not easy to find appropriate compliments in
return.  Everything of course is very poor and very simple, but one
cannot help feeling that one is among civilized people.  They have been
making a great fuss with Mohammed, who is treated as a sheykh.  Tudmur is
well known by name, and at this distance is considered an important town.
Much surprise was expressed at finding a man of his rank in the
semi-menial position Mohammed holds with us, and he was put to some
polite cross-questioning in the evening as to the motive of his journey.
No Franjis have ever been seen at Kâf before, so the people say; and they
do not understand the respect in which Europeans are held elsewhere.
Mohammed, however, has explained his “brotherhood with the Beg,” and
protested that his journey is one of honour, not of profit; so that we
are treated with as much courtesy as if we were Arabs born.  Awwad the
Shammar has been of great use to us, as he is well known here, and he
serves as an introduction.

Kâf is quite independent of the Sultan, though it has twice been sacked
by Turkish soldiers, once under Ibrahim Pasha in 1834, and again only a
few years ago, when the Government of Damascus sent a military expedition
down the Wady Sirhán.  We were shown the ruins of a castle, Kasr es-Saïd,
on a hill above the town which the former destroyed, and we heard much
lamentation over the proceedings of the latter.  The inhabitants of Kâf
acknowledge themselves subjects of Ibn Rashid, the Jebel Shammar chief,
some of whose people were here only a few days since, taking the annual
tribute, a very small sum, twenty mejidies (£4), which they are glad to
pay in return for his protection.  They are very enthusiastic about “the
Emir,” as they call him, and certainly have no reason to wish for
annexation to Syria.  The little town of Kâf and its neighbour Itheri,
where we now are, have commercially more connection with the north than
with the south, for their principal wealth, such as it is, arises from
the salt trade with Bozra.  Abdallah el-Kamis seems to be well off, for
he possesses several slaves, and has more than one wife.  But the colt I
have mentioned is his only four-footed possession; he would have come
with us, he said, if he had owned a delúl.  I noticed a few camels and
donkeys and goats about the village.

Makbul, the Kreysheh, has gone back, and we now want to find a Sherári to
take us on to Jôf.  We have come on to Itheri, Kâf’s twin oasis, two and
a half hours east of it, also in the Wady Sirhán.  This is not marked on
many of the modern maps, though Chesney has it incorrectly placed on his.
We find by the barometer that they are both on the same level, so that
our conjecture seems confirmed, about the Wady Sirhán having no slope.
The Wady Sirhán is a curious chaotic depression, probably the bed of some
ancient sea like the Dead Sea, and is here about twelve miles broad if we
can judge by the hills we see beyond it, and which are no doubt the
opposite cliffs of the basin.  There are numerous wells both here and at
Kâf, wide and shallow, for the water is only eight feet below the surface
of the ground.  From these the palm gardens are irrigated.  There are
wells too outside, all lying low and at the same level.  The water is
drinkable, by no means excellent.  We crossed a large salt lake, now dry,
where the salt is gathered for the caravans.

On our road Mohammed entertained us with tales of his birth and ancestry.
The people of Kâf have heard of the Ibn Arûks, and have told Mohammed
that he will find relations in many parts of Arabia besides Jôf.  They
say there is somebody at Bereydeh, and a certain Ibn Homeydi, whom
Mohammed has heard of as a cousin.  Then here at Itheri, the Sheykh’s
wife is a member of the Jôf family.  Everything in fact seems going just
as we expected it.

Itheri is a still smaller place than Kâf but it boasts of an ancient
building and miniature castle inside the walls, something after the
fashion of the Hauran houses.  This, instead of mud, the common Arab
material, is built of black stones, well squared and regularly placed.
On the lintel of the doorway there is or rather has been, an inscription
in some ancient character, perhaps Himyaritic, which we would have copied
had it been legible, but the weather has almost effaced it. {89}  Here we
are being entertained by Jeruan, an untidy half-witted young man, with
long hair in plaits and a face like a Scotch terrier, who is the son of
Merzuga, Mohammed’s cousin, and consequently a cousin himself.  Though
nothing much to be proud of as a relation, we find him an attentive host.
His mother is an intelligent and well-bred woman, and it seems strange
that she should have so inferior a son.  Her other three sons, for Jeruan
is the eldest of four, have their wits like other people, but they are
kept in the background.  Merzuga came to see me just now with a large
dish of dates in her hand, and stopped to talk.  Her face is still
attractive, and she must have once been extremely beautiful.  I notice
that she wears a number of silver rings on her fingers like wedding
rings.

Merzuga tells us we shall find plenty of Ibn Arûk relations at Jôf.  She
herself left it young and talks of it as an earthly paradise from which
she has been torn to live in this wretched little oasis.  Itheri is
indeed a forlorn place, all except Jeruan’s palm garden.  After a walk in
the palm garden, in which my lameness prevented me from joining, we all
sat down to a very good dinner of lamb and sopped bread—the bread tasted
like excellent pastry—served us by Jeruan in person, standing according
to Arab fashion when guests are eating.  His mother looks well after him,
and tells him what to do, and it is evident, though he has the sense to
say very little, that he is looked upon as not quite “accountable” in his
family.  Wilfrid describes the walk in the garden as rather amusing,
Mohammed and Abdallah making long speeches of compliments about all they
saw, and telling Jeruan’s head man extraordinary stories of the grandeur
and wealth of Tudmur.  Jeruan’s garden, the only one at Itheri, contains
four hundred palm trees, many of them newly planted, and none more than
twenty-five years old.  Amongst them was a young tree of the _héllua_
variety, the sweet date of Jôf, imported from thence, and considered here
a great rarity.  At this there was a chorus of admiration.  The ithel
trees were also much admired.  They are grown for timber, and spring from
the stub when cut down, a six years’ growth being already twenty feet
high.

Two men have arrived from Jôf with the welcome news that all is well
between this and Jôf; that is, there are no Arabs yet in the Wady Sirhán;
welcome because we have no introductions, and a meeting might be
disagreeable.  The season is so late and the pasture so bad, that the
Wady has been quite deserted since last spring.  There will be no road
now, or track of any kind, and as it is at least two hundred miles to
Jôf, we must have a guide to shew us the wells.  Such a one we have found
in a funny looking little Bedouin, a Sherári, who happens to be here and
who will go with us for ten mejidies.

_December_ 29.—There was a bitter east wind blowing when we started this
morning, and I observed a peewit, like a land bird at sea, flying hither
and thither under the lea of the palm trees, looking hopeless and worn
out with its long voyage.  Poor thing, it will die here, for there is
nothing such a bird can eat anywhere for hundreds of miles.  It must have
been blown out of its reckoning, perhaps from the Euphrates.

Our course to-day lay along the edge of the Wady, sometimes crossing
stony promontories from the upper plain, sometimes sandy inlets from the
Wady.  The heights of these were always pretty much the same, 2250 feet
above and 1850 below—so these may be taken as the respective heights of
the Hamád and of the Wady Sirhán.  There are besides, here and there,
isolated tells, three hundred to four hundred feet higher than either.
Rough broken ground all day, principally of sand with slaty grit
sprinkled over it, the vegetation very scanty on the high ground, but
richer in the hollows.  In one small winding ravine leading into the
Wady, we found ghada trees, but otherwise nothing bigger than shrubs.
There Awwad told us that two years ago he was robbed and stripped by a
ghazú from the Hauran.  He had lost six camels and all he possessed.  The
Haurani were eight in number, his own party six.  I asked him how it was
the robbers got the best of it.  He said it was “min Allah” (from God).
The Wady Sirhán seems to be a favourite place for robbers, and Awwad
takes the occurrence as a matter of course.  I asked him why he had left
his tribe, the Shammar, and come to live so far north as Salkhad.  He
said it was “_nasíb_,” a thing fated; that he had married a Salkhad wife,
and she would not go away from her people.  I asked him how he earned his
living, and he laughed.  “I have got half a mare,” he said, “and a delúl,
and I make ghazús.  There are nine of us Shammar in the Hauran, and we go
out together towards Zerka, or to the western Leja and take cattle by
night.”  He then showed us some frightful scars of wounds, which he had
got on these occasions, and made Wilfrid feel a bullet which was still
sticking in his side.  He is a curious creature, but we like him, and,
robber or no robber, he has quite the air of a gentleman.  He is besides
an agreeable companion, sings very well, recites ballads, and is a great
favourite everywhere.  At Kâf and Itheri he was hugged and kissed by the
men, old and young, and welcomed by the women in every house.

We were nearly frozen all the morning, the wind piercing through our fur
cloaks.  At half-past twelve, after four hours’ marching, we came to some
wells called Kurághir, six of them in a bare hollow, with camel tracks
leading from every point of the compass towards them.  It is clear that
at some time of the year the Wady is inhabited; Awwad says by the Roala
in winter, but this year there is nobody.  The water, like that of Kâf
and Itheri, is slightly brackish.  Near Kurághir we saw some gazelles and
coursed them vainly.  It is vexatious, for I have forgotten to bring
meat, and unless we can catch or shoot something, we shall have none till
we get to Jôf.  I ought to have thought of it, for, though provisions are
by no means plentiful at Itheri, we could probably have bought a sheep
and driven it on with us.  The pain of my lameness distracted my
attention—a bad excuse, but the only one.  I suffer less when riding than
at any other time.

We are now, since four o’clock, camped on the sand under some ghada
bushes, and the wind has dropped for the moment.  It seems always to blow
here except for an hour about sunset and another at dawn.  We are to dine
on beef tea, burghul with curry sauce, and a water-melon, the last of our
Hauran store.

_December_ 30.—On the high level all the morning over ground like the
Harra with volcanic stones, a fierce south-east wind in our faces, so
that we could not talk or hardly think.  Our course lay towards an
inhospitable looking range of hills called El Mizmeh, and when we reached
these, to the right of them, for we travel in anything but a straight
line.  Saw great numbers of red locusts which, as the sun warmed the
ground, began to fly about and were pursued by the men and knocked down
with sticks.  Enough have been secured to make a dish for dinner.  When
flying, these insects look very like large May flies, as they have the
same helpless heavy flight, drifting down the wind with hardly sufficient
power of direction to keep them clear of obstacles.  Sometimes they fly
right against the camels, and at others drop heavily into the bushes
where they are easily caught.  When sitting on the ground, however, they
are hard to see, and they keep a good look-out and jump up and drift away
again as you come near them.  They seem to have more sense, than power of
moving.

At two we came to more wells,—Mahiyeh—most of them choked up with sand,
but one containing a sufficient supply of brackish water.  These wells
lay among clumps of tamarisk, out of which we started several hares which
the greyhounds could not catch, as they always dodged back to cover.
Wilfrid and I waited behind for this fruitless hunting upon which our
dinner depended, and did not join the rest of the party for more than a
mile.  Before we reached them we came upon Hanna, sitting on the ground
on his _hedûm_ (quilt and abba), and Ibrahim standing over him, both
shouting, “_Wah_! _wah_! _wah_!”  We could not conceive what had happened
and could get no information from either of them, except that they were
going to remain where they were.  These two townspeople sitting on their
beds all alone in the Wady Sirhán were so absurd a spectacle that, at the
moment, we could not help laughing; but it was not an affair for
laughter, and of course it was impossible to leave them there.  We
insisted on an explanation.  There had been a quarrel between Hanna and
Abdallah, because the latter had driven on Hanna’s delúl fast with the
other camels, and refused to let it be made to kneel down and get up
again.  Abdallah and Awwab were in a great hurry to get as far from
Mahiyeh as possible, because Hamdán the Sherâri says it is a dangerous
spot.  But Hanna was angry, and in his anger he dropped his cloak; upon
which he jumped down, pulling his bed after him, and sat down on the
ground.  There the others left him, wailing and raving, and in this state
we found him.  He proposed that he and Ibrahim should be left behind to
be eaten up by the hyena whose tracks we had seen.  However, Ibrahim, who
had only stayed to keep him company, was quite ready to go on, and,
seeing this, Hanna was not long in getting up, and, making his brother
carry his bedding, he followed us.  It was no good inquiring who was
right or who was wrong; we stopped the camels, and, driving back the
delúl insisted on Hanna’s mounting, which after some faces he did, and
the episode ended.  Mohammed has been commissioned to insist with the
Arabs on peace, and we have we think prevailed with Hanna to bear no
malice.  It is absolutely impossible for anybody to go back now without
losing his life, and I trust they will all be reasonable; it is
disagreeable to think that there has been discord in our small party,
separated as it is from all the rest of the world.  We are camped now in
a side wady where the camel pasture is good.  We saw the place from a
great distance, for we are becoming skilful now at guessing likely spots.
Wherever you see rocky ground in lines you may be sure pasture will be
found.  We have seen no sign of recent habitation in the country since
leaving Itheri, neither footprint of camel nor of man.

The locusts fried are fairly good to eat.

_December_ 31.—Another long day’s march, and here we are at the end of
the year in one of the most desolate places in the world.  It was so cold
last night, that all the locusts are dead.  They are lying about
everywhere, and being eaten up by the little desert birds, larks, and
wheatears.  We have got down again into the main bed of the Wady Sirhán,
which is still at the same level as before; it is here nearly flat, and
covered with great bunches of guttub and other shrubs, all very salt to
the taste; the soil crumbly and unsound, in places white with saltpetre.
Awwad and the Sherâri declare that there are quicksands, _hadôda_
(literally, an abyss), somewhere in the neighbourhood, in which
everything that passes over sinks and disappears, leaving no trace—men,
camels, and gazelles; but of such we saw nothing.  Coasting the edge of
the Wady, we came suddenly on some gazelles, which led us to higher
ground, where we found a stony wilderness of the Harra type; and amongst
the stones we saw a hyena trotting leisurely.  We got nothing, however;
neither him nor the gazelles, and are still without meat.  No other
incident occurred till we came to a palm tree standing by itself in an
open place; near it, a charming little spring, quite in among the roots
of a thick clump of palm bushes.  The hole is about three feet across,
and two deep, with about a foot of water in it; the water rises again as
fast as it is taken out, but never overflows.  There were traces of
hyenas and gazelles about, and this, I suppose, is where the desert
animals come to drink, for it is the only water above ground we have yet
seen.  This spring is called Maasreh (little by little)—a pleasant spot
where we should have liked to camp; but it is always dangerous to stop
near water, lest people should come.  Awwad says there is some tradition
of a town or village having formerly existed here; but no ruins are to be
seen.  The water is sweet and good, as might be perceived by the insects
which were swimming about in it.  The Arabs always judge of the
wholesomeness of water in this way.  There is nothing more suspicious in
the desert than perfectly clear water, free from animal life.

We are now camped under a low cliff hollowed out into caves as if by
water, capital dens for hyænas.  There is a beautiful view looking back
at the Mizmeh hills.  The evening is still and cold, but we do not like
to make much fire for fear of enemies.  Hamdán, our Sherári guide, an
uncouth, savage creature to look at, has been reciting a very pretty
ballad, which he tells us he made himself.  It is in stanzas of four
lines with alternate rhymes, and relates to an episode in his own family.
As he recited it the rest of the Arabs chimed in, repeating always the
last word of the line with the rhyming syllable; it had a good effect.
The story was simple, and told how Hamdán’s mother and sister had a
quarrel, and how they brought their grievances before Obeyd ibn Rashid at
Haïl, and how the old Sheykh settled it by putting a rope round the
daughter’s neck, and bidding the mother hold the end of it, and do so for
the rest of their days.  Whereupon the daughter had kissed her mother,
and Obeyd had sent them away with presents, a delúl, a cloak each, and a
hundred measures of wheat, a present he had continued giving them every
year till he died, and which is given still by his nephew, Mohammed, the
present ruler of Jebel Shammar.  Hamdán has also given us an interesting
account of the Haïl politics, which agrees very closely with what we
remember of Mr. Palgrave’s, carrying them on to a later date.  The
present Ibn Rashid is not by any means so amiable a character as his
brother Tellál; and Hamdán’s account of his career is rather startling.
It appears that he has put to death something like a dozen of his
relations, and is more feared than loved by the Shammar.  This is very
tiresome, as it may be a reason for our not going on to Nejd after all.
But we shall hear more when we get to Jôf.

Hamdán’s recitative was, as nearly as I could write the musical part of
it, like this:—

                      [Picture: Two lines of music]

_January_ 1, 1879.—A black frost, but still.  We have changed our course,
and have been going all day nearly due south—twenty-five miles, as near
as we can calculate it—and down the middle of the Wady Sirhán, a level
plain of sand and grit, with here and there mounds of pure white sand
covered with ghada.  Our plan is to get up and strike the tents at the
first glimpse of dawn, drink a cup of coffee, and eat a biscuit or a bit
of rusk (kâk), and then march on till three or four in the afternoon
without stopping for an instant, eating half-a-dozen dates and some more
rusk as we go.  Then immediately on stopping, and before the tents are
pitched, we light a fire and make coffee, which carries us on till dinner
is ready, about sunset.  It is wonderful how little food one can do with
while travelling.  We have had no meat now for the last four days till
to-day, only beef tea, and burghul, and dates, with sometimes fried
onions, or flour mixed with curry powder and butter, and baked into a
cake.  This last is very good, and easily made.  To-day, however, we are
in clover, as the dogs coursed a hare, and we dug her out.  The desert
hare is very little bigger than a large rabbit, and is literally too much
for one, and not enough for two; but Mohammed magnanimously foregoes his
portion, and says he can wait.

Mohammed has been improving the occasion of a dispute which arose this
evening on a choice of camp, to tell us some stories of his own
adventures in the desert; and we have been telling him ours.  He had a
younger brother, whom his mother was very fond of, a regular town boy
with “a white face like a girl,” who knew how to read and write and knew
nothing of the desert (Mohammed himself like his great namesake, has
always been a camel driver).  Now at Tudmur they have constantly had
fights and quarrels for the Sheykhat, and on one such occasion his
brother was sent away by his parents to Sokhne, the neighbouring village,
about thirty miles from Tudmur; and there he stayed for some time with a
relation.  At last, however, he got tired of being away from home, and
wanted to see his mother.  He started off with another boy of his own age
(about fifteen) to walk back to Tudmur.  It was in the middle of summer,
and they lost their way and wandered far down into the Hamád where they
died of thirst.  Mohammed had gone out to look for them, and found them
both dead close together.

On another occasion Mohammed himself was nearly meeting his death.  He
had gone alone with his camels on the road to Karieteyn, and had fallen
in with a ghazú of robbers from the hills.  These stripped him of
everything except his shirt and a tarbush.  His gun he had contrived to
hide under a bush, but they left him nothing else, neither food nor
water, and it was in the middle of summer.  Karieteyn, the nearest place,
was about forty miles off, and he was lame with a blow he had received.
However, when the robbers were gone, he set out in that direction, and
managed to walk on till night and the next day, till he got to a ruin
called Kasr el Hayr where he fell down senseless under the shade, and lay
for twenty-four hours unable to move, and suffering agonies from thirst.
At last, when he had said to himself, “now I shall have to die,” a party
of camel men from Sokhne came by and found him lying there.  At first
they took him for a slave, for the sun had burnt him black, and his
tongue was dried so that he could not speak.  Fortunately one of the
party recognised him, and then they gave him water.  He still could give
no account of himself, but they put him on a donkey and brought him with
them to Tudmur.

Our own story was the one of our quarrel with Abunjad and our rush from
Akaba to Gaza, when we so nearly perished of thirst.

The year would have begun prosperously, but for a severe cold Wilfrid has
caught.  He has lost his voice.

_January_ 2.—A hard frost—water frozen in the pail.  Reached the wells of
Shaybeh at half-past eight and watered the camels—water very
brackish—level by aneroid 1950, depth to surface of water twelve feet.
Got into a sort of track, part of the morning, but one evidently not
frequented.  At one o’clock came to another well, near a curious rock
which at first we took for a castle.  We have now crossed the wady and
are on its western bank.  Passed a ruined house of no great antiquity
called Abu Kasr and another well near it, and at half-past four have
encamped under some sand hills, crowned with ghada, a delightful spot not
far from a fourth well called Bir el-Jerawi—level by barometer 1840.
Wilfrid has recovered his voice but still has a bad cold.  I am as lame
as ever, though in less pain.  I sometimes think I shall never be able to
walk again.

_Friday_, _January_ 3.—We have had an adventure at last and a
disagreeable one; a severe lesson as to the danger of encamping near
wells.  We started early, but were delayed a whole hour at Jerawi taking
water, and did not leave the wells till nearly eight o’clock.  Then we
turned back nearly due east across the wady.  The soil of pure white sand
was heavy going, and we went slowly, crossing low undulations without
other landmark than the tells we had left behind us.  Here and there rose
little mounds tufted with ghada.  To one of these Wilfrid and I cantered
on, leaving the camels behind us, and dismounting, tied our mares to the
bushes that we might enjoy a few minutes’ rest, and eat our midday
mouthful—the greyhounds meanwhile played about and chased each other in
the sand.  We had finished, and were talking of I know not what, when the
camels passed us.  They were hardly a couple of hundred yards in front
when suddenly we heard a thud, thud, thud on the sand, a sound of
galloping.  Wilfrid jumped to his feet, looked round and called out, “Get
on your mare.  This is a ghazú.”  As I scrambled round the bush to my
mare I saw a troop of horsemen charging down at full gallop with their
lances, not two hundred yards off.  Wilfrid was up as he spoke, and so
should I have been, but for my sprained knee and the deep sand, both of
which gave way as I was rising.  I fell back.  There was no time to think
and I had hardly struggled to my feet, when the enemy was upon us, and I
was knocked down by a spear.  Then they all turned on Wilfrid, who had
waited for me, some of them jumping down on foot to get hold of his
mare’s halter.  He had my gun with him, which I had just before handed to
him, but unloaded; his own gun and his sword being on his delúl.  He
fortunately had on very thick clothes, two abbas one over the other, and
English clothes underneath, so the lances did him no harm.  At last his
assailants managed to get his gun from him and broke it over his head,
hitting him three times and smashing the stock.  Resistance seemed to me
useless, and I shouted to the nearest horseman, “_ana dahílak_” (I am
under your protection), the usual form of surrender.  Wilfrid hearing
this, and thinking he had had enough of this unequal contest, one against
twelve, threw himself off his mare.  The _khayal_ (horsemen) having
seized both the mares, paused, and as soon as they had gathered breath,
began to ask us who we were and where we came from.  “English, and we
have come from Damascus,” we replied, “and our camels are close by.  Come
with us, and you shall hear about it.”  Our caravan, while all this had
happened, and it only lasted about five minutes, had formed itself into a
square and the camels were kneeling down, as we could plainly see from
where we were.  I hardly expected the horsemen to do as we asked, but the
man who seemed to be their leader at once let us walk on (a process
causing me acute pain), and followed with the others to the caravan.  We
found Mohammed and the rest of our party entrenched behind the camels
with their guns pointed, and as we approached, Mohammed stepped out and
came forward.  “Min entum?” (who are you?) was the first question.
“Roala min Ibn Debaa.”  “Wallah? will you swear by God?”  “Wallah! we
swear.”  “And you?”  “Mohammed ibn Arûk of Tudmur.”  “Wallah?”  “Wallah!”
“And these are Franjis travelling with you?”  “Wallah!  Franjis, friends
of Ibn Shaalan.”

                   [Picture: Ghazú in the Wady Sirhán]

It was all right, we had fallen into the hands of friends.  Ibn Shaalan,
our host of last year, was bound to protect us, even so far away in the
desert, and none of his people dared meddle with us, knowing this.
Besides, Mohammed was a Tudmuri, and as such could not be molested by
Roala, for Tudmur pays tribute to Ibn Shaalan, and the Tudmuris have a
right to his protection.  So, as soon as the circumstances were made
clear, orders were given by the chief of the party to his followers to
bring back our mares, and the gun, and everything which had been dropped
in the scuffle.  Even to Wilfrid’s tobacco bag, all was restored.  The
young fellows who had taken the mares made rather wry faces, bitterly
lamenting their bad fortune in finding us friends.  “Ah the beautiful
mares,” they said, “and the beautiful gun.”  But Arabs are always
good-humoured, whatever else their faults, and presently we were all on
very good terms, sitting in a circle on the sand, eating dates and
passing round the pipe of peace.  They were now our guests.

What struck us as strange in all this was, the ready good faith with
which they believed every word we said.  We had spoken the truth, but why
did they trust us?  They knew neither us nor Mohammed; yet they had taken
our word that we were friends, when they might so easily have ridden off
without question with our property.  Nobody would ever have heard of it,
or known who they were.

It appears that Ibn Debaa (hyæna), the Sheykh, and his friends were a
small party in advance of the main body of the Roala.  They had come on
to see what pasturage there might be in the wady, and had there camped
only a few miles from the wells of El Jerawi near which we slept last
night.  They had come in the morning for water, and had seen our tracks
in the sand, and so had followed, riding in hot haste to overtake us.  It
was a mere accident their finding us separated from the rest of the
caravan, and they had charged down as soon as they saw us.  Everything
depends on rapidity in these attacks, and this had been quite successful
The least hesitation on their part, and we should have been safe with our
camels.  There they could not have molested us, for though they were
twelve to our eight, they had only lances, while we carried firearms.  We
liked the look of these young Roala.  In spite of their rough behaviour,
we could see that they were gentlemen.  They were very much ashamed of
having used their spears against me, and made profuse apologies; they
only saw a person wearing a cloak, and never suspected but that it
belonged to a man.  Indeed their mistake is not a matter for surprise,
for they were so out of breath and excited with their gallop, that they
looked at nothing except the object of their desire—the mares.  The loss
of these, however, I fear, was to them a cause of greater sorrow than the
rough handling to which we had been treated, when, after explanations
given and regrets interchanged, they rode away.  Mohammed was anxious not
to detain them, prudently considering that our acquaintance with them had
gone far enough, and it was plain that Awwad was in a terrible fidget.  I
fancy he has a good many debts of blood owing him, and is somewhat shy of
strangers.  The others, too, were rather subdued and silent; so we wished
Ibn Debaa farewell and let him go.

The mares belonging to this ghazú were small, compact, and active, with
especially good shoulders and fine heads, but they were of a more
poneyish type than our own Ánazeh mares.  Most of them were bay.  One I
saw was ridden in a bit.

When the Roala were gone we compared notes.  In the first place,
Wilfrid’s hurts were examined, but they are only contusions.  The thick
rope he wears round his head had received all the blows, and though the
stock of the gun is clean broken, steel and all, his head is still sound.
The lances could not get through his clothes.  As regards myself the only
injury I have received is the renewal of my sprain.  But I could almost
forget the pain of it in my anger at it, as being the cause of our being
caught.  But for this we might have galloped away to our camels and
received the enemy in quite another fashion.  I was asked if I was not
frightened, but in fact there was at first no time, and afterwards rage
swallowed up every other feeling.  Wilfrid says, but I do not believe
him, that he felt frightened, and was very near running away and leaving
me, but on reflection stayed.  The affair seems more alarming now it is
over, which is perhaps natural.

As to the others, Mohammed is terribly crestfallen at the not very heroic
part he took in the action.  The purely defensive attitude of the caravan
was no doubt prudent; but it seemed hardly up to the ideal of chivalry
Mohammed has always professed.  He keeps on reproaching himself, but we
tell him that he did quite right.  It was certainly our own fault that we
were surprised in this way, and if the enemy, as they might have been,
had really been robbers and outlaws, our safety depended on our having
the caravan intact as a fortress to return to after being robbed.  To
have rushed forward in disorder to help us would have exposed the whole
caravan to a defeat, which in so desolate a region as this would mean
nothing less than dying of cold and starvation.

We may indeed be very thankful that matters were no worse.  I shall never
again dismount while I remain crippled, and never as long as I live, will
I tie my horse to a bush.

Many vows of sheep, it appears, were made by all the party of spectators
during the action, so we are to have a feast at Jôf—if ever we get there.

Now all is quiet, and Hamdán the Sherâri is singing the loves of a young
man and maiden who were separated from one another by mischief-makers,
and afterwards managed to carry on a correspondence by tying their
letters to their goats when these went out to pasture

_January_ 4.—There was no dawdling this morning, for everybody has become
serious, and we were off by seven, and have marched steadily on for quite
thirty miles without stopping, at the rate of three-and-a-half miles an
hour.  We have left the Wady Sirhán for good, and are making a straight
cut across the Hamád for Jôf.  There is no water this way, but less
chance of ghazús.  The soil has been a light hard gravel, with hardly a
plant or an inequality to interfere with the camels’ pace.  At one
o’clock we came to some hills of sandstone faced with iron, the beginning
of the broken ground in which, they say, Jôf stands.  We had been
gradually ascending all day, and as we reached that, the highest point of
our route, the barometer marked 2660 feet.  Here we found a number of
little pits, used, so Hamdán explained, for collecting and winnowing
_semh_, a little red grain which grows wild in this part of the desert,
and is used by the Jôf people for food.

A little later we sighted two men on a delúl, the first people we have
seen, except the ghazú, since leaving Kâf.  Wilfrid and Mohammed galloped
up to see what they were, and Mohammed, to atone I suppose for his
inertness on a recent occasion, fired several shots, and succeeded in
frightening them out of their wits.  They were quite poor people, dressed
only in old shirts, and they had a skin of dates on one side the camel
and a skin of water on the other.  They were out, they said, to look for
a man who had been lost in the Wady Sirhán, one of the men sent by Ibn
Rashid to Kâf for the tribute.  He had been taken ill, and had stopped
behind his companions, and nobody had seen him since.  They had been sent
out by the governor of Jôf to look for him.  They said that we were only
a few hours from the town.

Meanwhile, I had remained with our camels, listening to the remarks of
Awwad and Hamdán, both dying with curiosity about the two zellems from
Jôf.  At last Awwad could wait no longer, and begged Hamdán to go with
him.  They both jumped down from the camels they were riding, and set off
as hard as they could run to meet the Jôfi, who by this time had
proceeded on their way, while Wilfrid and Mohammed were returning.
Wilfrid on arriving held out to me a handful of the best dates I have
ever eaten, which the men had given him.  The Sherâri and Awwad presently
came back with no dates, but a great deal of Jôf gossip.

We are encamped this evening near some curious tells of red, yellow, and
purple sandstone, a formation exactly similar to parts of the Sinai
peninsula.  There is a splendid view to the south, and we can see far
away a blue line of hills {110} which, they tell us, are beyond Jôf at
the edge of the Nefúd!

We have been questioning Hamdán about his tribe, the Sherarât, and he
gives the following as their principal sections:—

El Hueymreh       Sheykh       El Hawi.
El Helesseh           ,,       Ibn Hedayaja.
El Khayâli            ,,       Zeyd el Werdi.
Shemalat              ,,       Fathal el Dendeh.

The Sherarât have no horses, but breed the finest dromedaries in Arabia.
Their best breed is called _Benat Udeyhan_, (daughters of Udeyhan).  With
a Bint Udeyhan, he says, that if you started from where we now are at
sunset, you would be to-morrow at sunrise at Kâf, a distance of a hundred
and eighty miles.  A thief not long ago stole a Sherâri delúl at Mezárib,
and rode it all the way to Haïl in seven days and nights!

_January_ 5.—A long wearisome ride of twenty-two miles, always expecting
to see Jôf, and always disappointed.  The ground broken up into fantastic
hills and ridges, but on a lower level than yesterday, descending in fact
all day.  Every now and then we caught sight of the Wady Sirhán far away
to the right, with blue hills beyond it, but in front of us there seemed
an endless succession of rocky ridges.  At last from the top of one of
these there became visible a black outline, standing darkly out against
the yellow confusion of sandstone hills and barren wadys, which we knew
must be the castle of Marid.  It looked a really imposing fortress,
though dreary enough in the middle of this desolation.  Towards this we
pushed on, eager for a nearer view.  Then we came to a natural causeway
of white rock, which Awwad and Hamdán both affirmed to be a continuation
of the Roman road from Salkhad.  We should have liked to believe this,
but it was too clear that the road was one made by nature.  Along this we
travelled for some miles till it disappeared.  All of a sudden we came as
it were to the edge of a basin, and there, close under us, lay a large
oasis of palms, surrounded by a wall with towers at intervals, and a
little town clustering round the black castle.  We were at Jôf.

                       [Picture: The castle of Jôf]



CHAPTER VI.


    And Laban said to him, “Surely thou art my bone and my flesh.”  And
    he abode with him the space of a month.—BOOK OF GENESIS.

The Jôf oasis—We are entertained by Ibn Rashid’s lieutenant—A haunch of
wild cow—Dancing in the castle—Prayers—We go on to Meskakeh.

JÔF is not at all what we expected.  We thought we should find it a large
cultivated district, and it turns out to be merely a small town.  There
is nothing at all outside the walls except a few square patches, half an
acre or so each, green with young corn.  These are watered from wells,
and irrigated just like the gardens inside the walls, with little
water-courses carefully traced in patterns, like a jam tart.  The whole
basin of Jôf is indeed barely three miles across at its widest, and
looks, what it no doubt is, the empty basin of a little inland sea.  How,
or when, or why, it was originally dried up, is beyond me to guess (one
can only say with Mohammed, it is “min Allah”); but the proofs of its
pelagic origin are apparent everywhere.  It looks lower than the rest of
the Wady Sirhán, with which it probably communicates; and we thought at
first that it might have been the last water-hole, as it were, of the sea
when it dried up.  But this is not really the case, as its lowest part is
exactly on a level with all the hollows of the wady.  Its wells are
between 1800 and 1900 feet above the sea.  They are shallow, only a few
feet from the surface, and the water is drawn by camels pulling a long
rope with a bucket, which empties itself as it reaches the surface into a
kind of trough.  The town, with its gardens, all encircled by a mud wall
ten feet high, is about two miles long from north to south, and half a
mile across.  The rest of the plain is nearly a dead flat of sand, with
here and there a patch of hard ground, sandy clay, where the water
collects when it rains, and salt is left when it dries up.

Wherever a well has been sunk, a little garden has been made, fenced in
with a wall, and planted with palms.  There are perhaps a dozen of these
outlying farms occupying two or three acres each.  In one place there are
four or five houses with their gardens together, which have the look of a
village.  The whole of the basin, except these oases, is dazzlingly
white, showing the palm groves as black patches on its surface.  Jôf
itself contains not more than six hundred houses, square boxes of mud,
clustering, most of them, round the ruin of Marid, but not all, for there
are half a dozen separate clusters in different parts of the grove.  Many
of these houses have a kind of tower, or upper storey, and there are
small towers at irregular intervals all round the outer wall.  The chief
feature of the town, besides Marid, is a new castle just outside the
_enceinte_, inhabited by Ibn Rashid’s lieutenant.  It stands on rising
ground, and is an imposing building, square, with battlemented walls
forty feet high, flanked with round and square towers tapering upwards
twenty feet higher than the rest.  It has no windows, only holes to shoot
from; and each tower has several excrescences like hoods (machicoulis)
for the same purpose.

There is nothing like a bazaar in Jôf, nor even streets, as one generally
understands the word, only a number of narrow tortuous lanes, with mud
walls on either side.  As we rode into the town, we found the lanes
crowded with armed men, all carrying swords in the way we had seen at
Kâf, dark-visaged and, we thought, not very pleased to see us.  They
answered our “salaam aleykum” simply, without moving, and let us pass on
without any particular demonstration of hospitality.  To suppose them
indifferent, however, was a mistake; their apparent coldness was only
Arab formality, and when Mohammed began to inquire after the house of his
relations, they very civilly pointed out the way, and one or two of them
came with us.  We were led down a number of narrow byways, and through
the palm-gardens to the other side of the town, and then out by another
gate beyond to one of the isolated farms we had seen from the cliff.  It
was close by, not a quarter of a mile, and in a few minutes more we had
dismounted, and were being hospitably entertained in the tidy kahwah of
Huseyn’s house.

What Huseyn’s exact relationship is to Mohammed, I have not yet been able
to discover—Mohammed himself hardly knows—but here it is evident that any
consanguinity, however slight, is considered of high importance.  We were
no sooner seated by Huseyn’s fire, watching the coffee roasting, than
another relation arrived, attracted by the news of our arrival, and then
another, both loud in their expostulations at our having accepted
Huseyn’s hospitality, not theirs.  Mohammed was kissed and hugged, and it
was all he could do to pacify these injured relatives by promising to
stay a week with each, as soon as our visit to Huseyn should be over.
Blood here is indeed thicker than water.  The sudden appearance of a
twentieth cousin is enough to set everybody by the ears.

A lamb has been killed, and we have each had the luxury of a bath in our
own tent, and a thorough change of raiment.  The tent is pitched in a
little palm garden behind the house, and we are quite at peace, and able
to think over all that has happened, and make our plans for the future.

_January_ 6.—Last night, while we were sitting drinking coffee for the
ninth or tenth time since our arrival, two young men came into the kahwah
and sat down.  They were very gaily dressed in silk jibbehs, and
embroidered shirts under their drab woollen abbas.  They wore red cotton
kefiyehs on their heads, bound with white rope, and their swords were
silver-hilted.  Everyone in the kahwah stood up as they entered, and we
both thought them to be the sons of the Sheykh, or some great personage
at Jôf.  Wilfrid whispered a question about them to Huseyn, who laughed
and said they were not sons of sheykhs, but “zellemet Ibn Rashid,” Ibn
Rashid’s men, in fact, his soldiers.  The red kefiyeh, and the silver
hilted sword, was a kind of uniform.  They had come, as it presently
appeared, from Dowass, the acting governor of Jôf, to invite us to the
castle, and though we were sorry to leave Huseyn’s quiet garden and his
kind hospitality, we have thought it prudent to comply.  Neither Huseyn
nor anyone else seemed to think it possible we could refuse, for Ibn
Rashid’s government is absolute at Jôf, and his lieutenant’s wishes are
treated as commands, not that there seems to be ill-feeling between the
garrison and the town; the soldiers we saw appear to be on good terms
with everybody, and are indeed so good-humoured, that it would be
difficult to quarrel with them.  But Jôf is a conquered place, held
permanently in a state of siege, and the discipline maintained is very
strict.  We have moved accordingly with all our camp to the precincts of
the official residence, and are encamped just under its walls.  The kasr,
which, as I have said, is outside the town, was built about twelve years
ago by Metaab ibn Rashid, brother of the Emir Tellál (Mr. Palgrave’s
friend), and though so modern a construction, has a perfectly mediæval
look, for architecture never changes in Arabia.  It is a very picturesque
building with its four high towers at the corners, pierced with
loopholes, but without windows.  There is one only door, and that a small
one in an angle of the wall, and it is always kept locked.  Inside it the
entrance turns and twists about, and then there is a small court-yard
surrounded by the high walls, and a kahwah, besides a few other small
rooms, all dark and gloomy like dungeons.  Here the deputy governor lives
with six soldiers, young men from Haïl, who, between them, govern and
garrison and do the police work of Jôf.  The governor himself is away
just now at Meskakeh, the other small town included in the Jôf district,
about twenty miles from here.  He is a negro slave, we are told, but a
person of great consequence, and a personal friend of the Emir.

Jôf, as far as we have been able to learn through Mohammed, for we don’t
like to ask too many questions ourselves, was formally an appanage of the
Ibn Shaalans, Sheykhs of the Roala, and it still pays tribute to Sotamm;
but about twenty years ago Metaab ibn Rashid conquered it, and it has
ever since been treated as part of Nejd.  There have been one or two
insurrections, but they have been vigorously put down, and the Jôfi are
now afraid of stirring a finger against the Emir.  On the occasion of one
of these revolts, Metaab cut down a great many palm trees, and half
ruined the town, so they are obliged to wait and make the best of it.  In
truth, the government can hardly be very oppressive.  These six soldiers
with the best will in the world cannot do much bullying in a town of four
or five thousand inhabitants.  They are all strong, active, good-humoured
young fellows, serving here for a year at a time, and then being
relieved.  They are volunteers, and do not get pay, but have, I suppose,
some advantages when they have done their service.  They seem quite
devoted to the Emir.

Four years ago, they tell us, the Turkish Governor of Damascus sent a
military expedition against Jôf (the same we heard of at Kâf), and held
it for a few months; but Ibn Rashid complained to the Sultan of this, and
threatened to turn them out and to discontinue the tribute he pays to the
Sherif of Medina if the troops were not withdrawn, so they had to go
back.  This tribute is paid by the Emir on account of his outlying
possessions, such as Kâf, Teyma, and Jôf, which the Turks have on various
occasions attempted to meddle with.  He is, however, quite independent of
the Sultan, and acknowledges no suzerain anywhere.  The greatness of Ibn
Saoud and the Wahhabis is now a thing of the past, and Mohammed ibn
Rashid is the most powerful ruler in Arabia.  We hear a charming account
of Nejd, at least of the northern part of it.  You may travel anywhere,
they say, from Jôf to Kasim without escort.  The roads are safe
everywhere.  A robbery has not been known on the Emir’s highway for many
years, and people found loafing about near the roads have their heads cut
off.  Ibn Rashid allows no ghazús against travellers, and when he makes
war it is with his enemies.  The Ibn Haddal and Ibn Majil are his
friends, but he is on bad terms with Sotamm and the Sebaa Sheykhs.

There are two twelve pounder cannons of English make in the castle.  They
are ancient pieces of no value, but were used, it appears, in the siege
of Jôf by Metaab.

The Jôfi are of a different race from the Shammar of Nejd, being as mixed
in their origin almost as the Tudmuri or the villagers of the Euphrates.
Huseyn our first host here, tells us he belongs to the Taï, and that
others of his neighbours are Sirhán or Beni Laam.  He is not really a
cousin of Mohammed’s, but a cousin’s cousin; the real cousins living at
Meskakeh.  Though we were very comfortable with him, we are not less well
off here; and it is more interesting being at the kasr.  Dowass, the
deputy governor, is a very amiable man, and all his soldiers are
exceedingly civil and obliging. They are a cheerful set of people,
talking openly about everything with us, politics and all.  They assure
us Ibn Rashid will be delighted to see us, but we must see Jôhar, the
black governor, first. There are several real slaves in the fort, but no
women.  The soldiers leave their wives behind at Haïl when they go away
on service.  There are no horses in Jôf, except one two-year-old colt
belonging to Dubejeh, one of the soldiers, who all admire our _shagra_
(chestnut mare) amazingly, saying that there is nothing in Nejd so
beautiful.  Neither are there any beasts of burden, not even asses.  The
few camels there are in the town are kept for drawing water; and the only
other four-footed creatures I have seen are a few goats and three
half-starved cows at the kasr.  There is not an atom of vegetation within
miles of Jôf, and the camels and these cows have to eat chopped straw and
refuse dates.

                       [Picture: The Oasis of Jôf]

Our dinner to-day consisted of a lamb and three other dishes—one a sort
of paste like the paste used for pasting paper, another merely rancid
butter with chopped onions, and the third, bread sopped in water—all
nasty except the lamb.  There was, however, afterwards an extra course
brought to us as a surprise, a fillet of “wild cow” (probably an
antelope) from the Nefûd, baked in the ashes, one of the best meats I
ever tasted.

In the evening we had an entertainment of dancing and singing, in which
Dowass, as well as the soldiers, took part.  They performed a kind of
sword dance, one performer beating on a drum made of palm wood and horse
hide, while the rest held their swords over their shoulders and chaunted
in solemn measure, dancing as solemnly.  Occasionally the swords were
brandished, and then there was a scream very like what may be heard in
the hunting-field at home.  Once or twice there was a distinct who-whoop,
exactly in the proper key, and with the proper emphasis.  The tunes were
many of them striking, after the manner of Arabian music.  One of them
ran thus:—

                    [Picture: A line of musical notes]

The dancing ended, a huge bowl of date molasses (dibs) and juice from
_trengs_ (a gigantic sort of lemon) was mixed; and surprising quantities
of this temperance liquid drunk.  Now we are quiet, outside the castle,
which is locked up for the night, and are at liberty to write or make
sketches by moonlight, things we dare not do in the daytime.

_January_ 7.—Hamdán, our Sherâri guide, who had disappeared, returned
this morning furtively for the balance of pay due to him.  He says he is
afraid of the people at the castle, and cannot stay with us.

A messenger has come from Meskakeh with an invitation from Jóhar for us,
so we are going on there to-morrow.  We are not, however, to stay with
Jóhar, as he has no house of his own there, but with our relations, the
Ibn Arûks, who have at last been really discovered.  Nassr ibn Arûk, the
head of the family, hearing of our arrival, has sent his son with every
sort of polite message, and it is to his house we shall go.  The young
man is modest, and well-mannered, without pretension, honest and
straightforward, if one can read anything in faces; and evidently much
impressed with the honour done him by our intended visit.

We have been making calls all the morning, first on our former host,
Huseyn el-Kelb, and the other relatives, and then on one or two notables
of the town.  Huseyn says that the Beyt Habûb, mentioned by Mr. Palgrave,
exists, but that the noblest of all the families is that of Mehsin ibn
Dirra, formerly Sheykh of Jôf, but now reduced to the condition of one of
the Emir’s subjects.  Ibn Dirra is not (Mohammed tells us) by any means
pleased at the political changes in Jôf; but he is afraid to show more
than a half-smothered discontent, for Mohammed ibn Rashid keeps a hostage
for his good conduct in the person of his eldest son.  This youth resides
at Haïl, where he is not exactly a prisoner, but cannot return to his
friends.  At all the houses we were fed and entertained, having to drink
endless cups of coffee flavoured with cloves (heyl), and eat innumerable
dates, the _helwet el Jôf_, which they say here are the best in Arabia;
they are of excellent flavour, but too sweet and too sticky for general
use.  The people of Jôf live almost entirely on dates; not, however, on
the _helwet_, which are not by any means the common sort.  There are as
many varieties here of dates as of apples in our orchards, and quite as
different from each other.  The kind we prefer for ordinary eating is
light coloured, crisp, and rounder than the helwet; while these are
shapeless, and of the colour of a horse chestnut.  It is a great mistake
to suppose that dates are better for being freshly gathered; on the
contrary, they mellow with keeping.  The sweeter kinds contain so much
sugar, that when placed in an open dish they half dissolve into a syrup,
in which the sugar forms in large lumps.  I have no doubt that regular
sugar could be manufactured from them.

The coffee making is much the same process here as among the Bedouins of
the north, except that it is more tedious.  First, there is an
interminable sorting of the beans, which are smaller and lighter in
colour than what one gets in Europe; then, after roasting, a long
pounding in a mortar, though the coffee is never pounded quite fine; then
an extraordinary amount of washing and rinsing of coffee-pots, five or
six of them; and lastly, the actual boiling, which is done three times.
The Jôf mortars are very handsome, of red sandstone, the common stone of
the country, and are, I believe, an article of export.  I should like to
take one away with me but they are too heavy, a quarter of a camel load
each.  The design on them is simple but handsome, and I should not be
surprised if it were very ancient.  The only other manufactures of Jôf
that I heard of, are cartridge belts and woollen abbas.  The former are
showy and tipped with silver, and all the servants have purchased them;
the latter are made of wool brought from Bagdad.  Awwad bought one for
six and a half mejidies.

We next had a look at the castle of Marid, the only building of stone in
Jôf.  Its construction dates, I should say, from mediæval times,
certainly it is not classic, and it has no particular feature to make it
interesting.  It looks best at a distance.  I find the map places it a
long way from Jôf, but in reality it is within the walls of the town, on
the western edge.  It stands about 2000 feet above the sea.

While sitting in Ibn Dirra’s house, we saw an instance of Ibn Rashid’s
paternal government, and the first sign of Wahhabism.  The midday prayer
was called from the roof of the mosque close by, for there is no minaret
in Jôf, but for some time nobody seemed inclined to move, taking our
visit as an excuse.  Then an old man with a sour face began lecturing the
younger ones, and telling them to get up and go to pray, and finding
precept of no avail, at last gave them the example.  Still the main body
of the guests sat on, till suddenly up jumped the two young soldiers who
had come with us, and shouting “kum, kum,” get up, get up, set to with
the flats of their swords on the rest and so drove them to the mosque,
all but our host, whose position as such made him sacred from assault.
It is very evident that religion is not appreciated here, and except the
sour looking old man nobody seemed to take the praying seriously, for the
soldiers when they had done their duty of driving in the others, came
back without ceremony from the mosque.  The outward show of religion does
not seem natural among the Arabs.

Another sword dance to-night, and another carouse on lemonade.

_January_ 8.—A cloudy, almost foggy morning, and a shower of rain.  We
wished Dowass and his soldiers good-bye, and they really seemed sorry to
part with us.  They are extraordinarily good-tempered, honest people, and
have treated us with great kindness.  Dowass’s last attention to me was
the present of an enormous treng as big as a large cocoanut.  The trengs
are sour not sweet lemons, but they have a rind an inch thick, sweet
enough to be eaten though very woolly.

Meskakeh, where we have come to-day, is about twenty miles from Jôf, and
there is a well-beaten track between the two places.  We were a rather
numerous party, as several Jôfi came with us for company, and we have
Areybi ibn Arûk, Nassr’s son, and another Arûk, a cousin of his, and a
man with a gun who is by way of going on with us to Haïl.  All the party
but ourselves were on foot, for the Jôfi never ride, having neither
horses nor camels nor even donkeys.  One of the men had with him an
ostrich eggshell slung in a sort of network, and used like a gourd to
hold water.  He told me that ostriches are common in the Nefûd, which is
now close by.  The scenery all the way was fantastic, sometimes
picturesque.  First we crossed the punchbowl of Jôf to the other side,
passing several ruined farms, the ground absolutely barren, and the
lowest part of it covered with salt.  The whole of this depression is but
a mile across.  Then our road rose suddenly a hundred feet up a steep
bank of sand, and then again a hundred and sixty feet over some stony
ridges, descending again to cross a subbkha with a fringe of tamarisks
just now in flower, then tracts of fine ironstone gravel,
undistinguishable from sheep’s droppings.  About two hours from Jôf is a
large water-hole, which the Jôfi call a spring, the water about eight
feet below ground.  In the wadys where water had flowed (for it rained
here about a month ago), there were bright green bulbous plants with
crocus flowers, giving a false look of fertility.  In other places there
were curious mushroom rocks of pink sandstone topped with iron, and in
the distance northwards several fine masses of hill, Jebel Hammamíyeh or
the pigeon mountains being the most remarkable.  These may have been a
thousand feet higher than Jôf.  Far beyond, to the north-east and east,
there ran a level line of horizon at about an equal height, the edge of
the Hamád, for all the country we have been crossing is within the area
of the ancient sea, which, we suppose, must have included the Wady
Sirhán, Jôf and Meskakeh.

On one of the rocks I noticed an inscription, or rather pictures of
camels and horses, cut on a flat surface about five feet across.  We
could not, however, under the circumstances, copy it.

Meskakeh, though not the seat of Jóhar’s government, is a larger town
than Jôf—seven hundred houses they say, and palm gardens at least twice
as extensive as the other’s.  The position of the two towns is much the
same, a broad hollow surrounded by cliffs of sandstone, but the Meskakeh
basin is less regular, and is broken up with sandhills and outlying tells
of rock.  Meskakeh, like Jôf, has an ancient citadel perched on a cliff
about a hundred feet high, and dominating the town.  The town itself is
irregularly built, and has no continuous wall round its gardens.  There
are many detached gardens and groups of houses, and these have not been
ruined as those of Jôf have been by recent wars.  Altogether, it has an
exceedingly flourishing look, not an acre of irrigable land left
unplanted.  Everything is neat and clean, the walls fresh battlemented,
and every house trim as if newly built.  The little square plots of
barley are surrounded each by its hedge of wattled palm branches, and the
streets and lanes are scrupulously tidy.  Through these we rode without
stopping, and on two miles beyond, to Nassr’s farm.  We are now in the
bosom of the Ibn Arûk family, after all no myth, but a hospitable
reality, receiving us with open arms, as if they had been expecting us
every day for the last hundred years.  They know the Ibn Arûk ballad and
Mohammed’s genealogy far better than he knows it himself, so for the time
at least we may hope to be in clover, and if after all we get no further,
we may feel that we have travelled not quite in vain.



CHAPTER VII.


    “And Leah was tender eyed but Rachel was beautiful.”—BOOK OF GENESIS.

The Ibn Arûks of Jôf—Mohammed contracts a matrimonial alliance—Leah and
Rachel.—We cheapen the bride’s dower—A negro governor and his suite—A
thunder-storm.

WE stayed three days with Nassr and his sons, and his sons’ wives and
their children, in their quiet farm house.  It was a rest which we much
needed, and proved besides to be an interesting experience, and an
excellent opportunity of learning more of Arab domestic life than we had
done on our previous journeys.  Not that the Ibn Arûks of Meskakeh are in
themselves of any particular interest.  Like their relations of Tudmur,
they have been too long settled down as mere townspeople, marrying the
daughters of the land, and adopting many of the sordid town notions, but
they were honest and kind-hearted, and the traditions of their origin,
still religiously preserved, cast an occasional gleam of something like
romance on their otherwise matter of fact lives.  Nassr, the best of the
elder generation, resembled some small Scottish laird, poor and
penurious, but aware of having better blood in his veins than his
neighbours—one whose thought, every day in the year but one, is of how to
save sixpence, but who on that one day shows himself to be a gentleman,
and the head of a house.  His sons were quiet, modest, and unpretending,
and, like most young Arabs, more romantically inclined than their father.
They even had a certain appreciation of chivalrous ideas; especially
Turki, the elder, in whom the Bedouin blood and Bedouin traditions
predominated almost to the exclusion of commercial instincts, while in
his brother Areybi, these latter more than counterbalanced the former.
We liked both the brothers, of course preferring Turki, with whom Wilfrid
made great friends.

Mohammed is less distantly related to these people than I had supposed.
His ancestor, Ali ibn Arûk, was one of the three brothers who, in
consequence of a blood feud, or, as Wilfrid thinks more likely, to escape
the Wahhabi tyranny of a hundred years ago, left Aared in Nejd, and came
north as far as Tudmur, where Ali married and remained.  Another brother,
Abd el-Kader ibn Arûk, had stopped at Jôf, settled there, and became
Nassr’s grandfather.  As to the third, Mutlakh, the descendants of the
two former know nothing of his fate, except that, liking neither Tudmur
nor Jôf he returned towards Nejd.  Some vague report of his death reached
them, but nobody can tell when or how he died.  Nassr came from Jôf to
Meskakeh not many years ago.

Nassr is now the head of the family, at least of that branch of it which
inhabits the Meskakeh oasis.  But there lives in an adjoining house to
his, his first cousin, Jazi ibn Arûk, brother to our friend Merzuga, and
father to two pretty daughters.  These, with a few other relations, make
up a pleasant little family party, all living in their outlying farm
together.

Of course our first thought on coming amongst them was for a wife for
Mohammed, at whose request I took an early opportunity of making
acquaintance with the women of the family.  I found them all very
friendly and amiable, and some of them intelligent.  Most of the younger
ones were good looking.  The most important person in the harim was
Nassr’s wife, a little old lady named Shemma (candle), thin and wizened,
and wrinkled, with long grey locks, and the weak eyes of extreme old age;
and, though she can have been hardly more than sixty, she seemed to be
completely worn out.  She was the mother of Turki and Areybi; and I had
heard from Mohammed that Nassr had never taken another wife but her.  In
this, however, he was mistaken, for on my very first visit, she called in
a younger wife from the adjoining room, and introduced her at once to me.
The second wife came in with two little boys of two and three years old,
the eldest of whom (for they all have extraordinary names) is called
Mattrak, “stick;” in spite of which he seemed an amiable, good-tempered
child.  In this he resembled his mother, whose respectful manner towards
her elder, Shemma, impressed me favourably; she had, besides, a really
beautiful face.  The little boy, Mattrak, I recognised as a boy I had
seen in the morning with old Nassr in our garden, and supposed to be his
grandson.  Nassr was doing his best to spoil the child, after the fashion
of old men among the Arabs.  I had then given Mattrak a little red frock,
one I had bought for Sotamm’s boy, Mansur, when we thought we were going
to the Roala, and in this the child was now strutting about, showing off
his finery to two very pretty little girls, his sisters.  These two ran
in and out during my visit, helping to bring bowls of dates, and to eat
the dates when brought.  Next appeared Turki’s two wives, a pretty one
and a plain one, and Areybi’s one wife, pretty, and lately married.  All
these seemed to be on better terms with one another than is usually the
case among mixed wives and daughters-in-law.  They were extremely anxious
to please me, and I, of course, did my best to satisfy their hospitable
wishes about eating.  They offered me dates of countless kinds,—dry ones
and sticky ones, sweet and less sweet, long dried ones, and newer ones, a
mass of pulp; it was impossible for one person to do justice to them all.

Shemma treated all the young people with the air of one in authority,
though her tone with them was kind.  She, however, spoke little, while
the others talked incessantly and asked all sorts of questions, requiring
more knowledge of Arabic than I possessed to answer.  In the middle of
the visit, Nazzch, Nassr’s married daughter, own sister to Turki and
Areybi, arrived with her daughter, and an immense bowl of dates.  She had
walked all the way from the town of Meskakeh, about three miles, carrying
this child, a fat heavy creature of four, as well as the dates, and came
in, panting and laughing, to see me.  She was pleasant and lively, very
like her brother Turki in face, that is to say, good-tempered rather than
good-looking.  Any one of these young ladies, seen on my first visit,
might have done for Mohammed’s project of marriage, but, unfortunately,
they were all either married or too young.  I asked if there were no
young ladies already “out,” and was told that there were none in Nassr’s
house, but that his cousin Jazi had two grown-up daughters, not yet
married; so I held my peace till there should be an opportunity of seeing
them.

Mohammed, in the meantime, had already begun to make inquiries on his own
account, and the first day of our visit was not over before he came to me
with a wonderful account of these very daughters of Jazi.  There were
three of them, he declared, and all more beautiful each than the others,
Asr (afternoon), Hamú and Muttra—the first two unfortunately betrothed
already, but Muttra still obtainable.  I could see that already he was
terribly in love, for with the Arabs, a very little goes a long way; and
never being allowed to see young ladies, they fall in love merely through
talking about them.  He was very pressing that I should lose no time
about making my visit to their mother, and seemed to think that I had
been wasting my time sadly on the married cousin.  Mohammed has all along
declared that he must be guided by my opinion.  I shall know, he
pretends, at once, not only whether Muttra is pretty, but whether
good-tempered, likely to make a good wife.  He had been calculating, he
said, and thought forty pounds would be asked as her dower.  It is a
great deal to be sure, but then she was really “asil,” and the occasion
was a unique one—a daughter of Jazi!—a niece of Merzuga!—a girl of such
excellent family!—an Ibn Arûk! and Ibn Arûks were not to be had every
day!—forty pounds would hardly be too much.  He trusted all to my
judgment—I had so much discernment, and had seen the wives and daughters
of all the Ánazeh Sheykhs; I should know what was what, and should not
make a mistake.  Still, he would like Abdallah to go with me, just to spy
out things.  Abdallah, as a relation, might be admitted to the door on
such an occasion, though he, Mohammed, of course could not; he might,
perhaps, even be allowed to see the girl, as it were, by accident.  With
us, the Ibn Arûks, the wives and daughters are always veiled, a custom we
brought with us from Nejd, for we are not like the Bedouins; yet on so
important an occasion as this, of arranging a marriage, a man of a
certain age, a dependant, or a poor relation, is sometimes permitted to
see and report.  I promised that I would do all I could to expedite the
matter.

Accordingly, the next day Turki was sent for, and a word dropped to him
of the matter in hand, and he was forthwith dispatched to announce my
visit to the mother of the daughters of Jazi—Mohammed explaining, that it
was etiquette that the mother should be made acquainted with the object
of my visit, though not necessarily the daughters.  Then we went to
Jazi’s house, Turki, Abdallah, and I.

Jazi’s house is close to Nassr’s, only the garden wall dividing them, and
is still smaller than his, a poor place, I thought, to which to come for
a princess; but in Arabia one must never judge by externals.  At the
door, among several women, stood Saad, Jazi’s eldest son, who showed us
through the courtyard to an inner room, absolutely dark, except for what
light might come in at the doorway.  It is in Arabia that the expression
“to darken one’s door,” must have been invented, for windows there are
none in any of the smaller houses.  There was a smell of goats about the
place, and it looked more like a stable than a parlour for reception.  At
first I could see nothing, but I could hear Saad, who had plunged into
the darkness, shaking something in a corner, and as my eyes got
accustomed to the twilight, this proved to be a young lady, one of the
three that I had come to visit.  It was Asr the second, a great,
good-looking girl, very like her cousin Areybi, with his short aquiline
nose and dark eyes.  She came out to the light with a great show of
shyness and confusion, hiding her face in her hands, and turning away
even from me; nor would she answer anything to my attempts at
conversation.  Then, all of a sudden, she broke away from us, and rushed
across the yard to another little den, where we found her with her mother
and her sister Muttra.  I hardly knew what to make of all this, as
besides the shyness, I thought I could see that Asr really meant to be
rude, and the polite manners of her mother Haliyeh and her little sister
Muttra confirmed me in this idea.  I liked Muttra’s face at once; she has
a particularly open, honest look, staring straight at one with her great
dark eyes like a fawn, and she has, too, a very bright fresh colour, and
a pleasant cheerful voice.  I paid, then, little attention to Asr’s
rudeness, and asked the little girl to walk with me round their garden,
which she did, showing me the few things there were to be seen, and
explaining about the well, and the way they drew the water.  The garden,
besides the palm trees, contained figs, apricots, and vines, and there
was a little plot of green barley, on which some kids were grazing.
Muttra told me that in summer they live on fruit, but that they never
preserve the apricots or figs, only the dates.  I noticed several young
palm trees, always a sign of prosperity.  The well was about ten feet
square at the top, and carefully faced with stone, the water being only a
few feet below the surface of the ground.  Water, she told me, could be
found anywhere at Meskakeh by digging, and always at the same depth.  I
was pleased with the intelligence Muttra showed in this conversation, and
pleased with her pretty ways and honest face, and decided in my own mind
without difficulty that Mohammed would be most fortunate if he obtained
her in marriage.  It was promising, too, for their future happiness, to
remark that Haliyeh, the mother, seemed to be a sensible woman; only I
could not understand the strange behaviour of the elder sister Asr.
Abdallah, in the meanwhile, standing at the door, had made his notes, and
come to much the same conclusion as myself; so we returned with an
excellent report to give to the impatient suitor waiting outside.

Mohammed’s eagerness was now very nearly spoiling the negotiation, for he
at once began to talk of his intended marriage; and the same thing
happened to him in consequence, which happened long ago to Jacob, the son
of Isaac.  Jazi, imitating the conduct of Laban, and counting upon his
cousin’s anxiety to be married, first of all increased the dower from
forty pounds to sixty, and then endeavoured to substitute Leah for
Rachel, the ill-tempered Asr for the pretty Muttra.

This was a severe blow to Mohammed’s hopes, and a general council was
called of all the family to discuss it and decide.  The council met in
our tent, Wilfrid presiding; on one side sat Mohammed, with Nassr as head
of the house; on the other, Jazi and Saad, representing the bride, while
between them, a little shrivelled man knelt humbly on his knees, who was
no member of the family, but, we afterwards learned, a professional
go-between.  Outside, the friends and more distant relations assembled,
Abdallah and Ibrahim Kasir, and half a dozen of the Ibn Arûks.  These
began by sitting at a respectful distance, but as the discussion warmed,
edged closer and closer in, till every one of them had delivered himself
of an opinion.

Mohammed himself was quite in a flutter, and very pale; and Wilfrid
conducted his case for him.  It would be too long a story to mention all
the dispute, which sometimes was so warmly pressed, that negotiations
seemed on the point of being broken off.  Jazi contended that it was
impossible he should give his younger daughter, while the elder ones
remained unmarried.  “Hamú, it was true, was engaged, and of her there
was no question, but Asr, though engaged too, was really free; Jeruan,
the shock-headed son of Merzuga, to whom she was betrothed, was not the
husband for her.  He was an imbecile, and Asr would never marry him.  If
a girl declares that she will not marry her betrothed, she is not
engaged, and has still to seek a husband she likes.  But this would not
do.  We cited the instance of Jedaan’s marriage with an engaged girl, and
the unfortunate sequel, as proving that Jeruan’s consent was necessary
for Asr, and Mohammed chimed in, “Ya ibn ammi, ya Jazi, O Jazi!  O son of
my uncle how could I do this thing, and sin against my cousin?  How could
I take his bride?  Surely this would be a shame to us all.”  In fine, we
insisted that Muttra it should be or nobody, and Asr’s claim was
withdrawn.  Still it was pleaded, Muttra was but a child, hardly fifteen,
and unfit for so great a journey as that to Tudmur.  Where indeed was
Tudmur? who of all the Jôfi had ever been so far?  Mohammed, however,
replied that if youth were an obstacle, a year or two would mend that.
He was content to wait for a year, or two, or even for three years, if
need were.  He was an Ibn Arûk, and trained to patience.  As to Tudmur,
it was far, but had we not just come thence, and could we not go back?
He would send one of his brothers at the proper time, with twenty men,
thirty, fifty, to escort her.  So argued, the marriage project was at
last adopted, as far as Muttra was concerned.  But the question of
“settlements” was not as easily got over.  Here it was very nearly being
wrecked for good and all.  Wilfrid had all along intended to pay the
dower for Mohammed, but he would not say so till the thing was settled,
and left Mohammed to fight out the question of jointure to as good a
bargain as they could make.  This Mohammed was very capable of doing,
despite the infirmity of his heart, and strengthened by Abdallah, who
took a strictly commercial view of the whole transaction, a middle sum
was agreed on, and the conference broke up.

Things, however, were not yet to go off quite smoothly.  On the day
following, when I went with some little presents for the bride to Jazi’s
house, I was met at the door by Jazi himself, who received me, as I at
once perceived, with an embarrassed air, as also did Haliyeh, for both
she and a strange relation were sitting in the kahwah.  To my questions
about Muttra short answers were given; and the conversation was at once
turned on “the weather and the crops,” or rather on that Arabian
substitute for it, a discussion about locusts.  We had had a heavy
thunderstorm in the morning, for which all were thankful.  It would bring
grass in the Nefûd, but the locusts there, never were so numerous as this
year.  Again I asked about the girls, but again got no reply; and at
last, tired of their idle talk, and quite out of patience, I exclaimed,
“O Jazi, what is this?  I trust that you—and you, O Haliyeh,—are pleased
at this connection with Mohammed.”  To which he replied, in a sing-song
voice, “Inshallah, inshallah,” and Haliyeh repeated “Inshallah,” and the
stranger.  I saw that something must be wrong, for it was no answer to my
question, and rose to go.  Then Haliyeh went out with me into the yard,
and explained what had happened.  Asr, it appeared, with her violent
temper, was frightening them all out of their wits.  She would not hear
of her sister being married before herself, or making so much better a
match.  Jeruan she despised, though he was Sheykh of Kâf; and she wanted
to marry the Sheykh of Tudmur herself.  She had tormented old Jazi into
withdrawing his consent; and Muttra was afraid of her.  What was to be
done?  I said it was no use arguing about this over again; that if she
and her husband were really not able to manage their daughters, we must
look out elsewhere for Mohammed; that I hoped and trusted Asr would not
be so foolish as to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness, for it
would not profit her.  This bad temper of hers made it more than ever
certain that she could not marry Mohammed, and, in fine, that the family
must make up their minds, yes or no, about Muttra, and at once, for we
were leaving Meskakeh presently, and must have the matter settled.  I
then saw the two girls, and spoke to them in the same strain, and with
such effect that a few hours later, Mohammed, who had fallen into low
spirits about the affair, now came with a joyful countenance to say that
the marriage contract would be signed that evening.

Signed, therefore, it was, though to the last moment difficulty on
difficulty was raised, and a lamentably haggling spirit displayed by all
except Turki in the matter of the dower.  Fifty Turkish pounds was,
however, the sum ultimately fixed on; and Wilfrid refused curtly to
advance a beshlik beyond it, even to buy off a cousin who unaccountably
appeared on the scene and claimed his right to Muttra or an equivalent
for her in coin.  It was not very dignified this chaffering about price;
and people do better in England, leaving such things to be settled by
their lawyers.

Everything, however, was at last arranged, the marriage contract written
out and signed, and everybody made happy.  Then the rest of the evening
was spent in jubilation.  A kid was killed and eaten, songs sung, and
stories told, nor was, as might be expected, the Arûk ballad left out of
the programme.  Nassr is a poet, and recited an ode impromptu for the
occasion.  Among the guests were two pilgrims from Mecca—so at least they
called themselves—and some men who had run away from the Turkish
conscription in Syria.  These feasted with the rest, as though they too
had been relations.  And so ended Mohammed’s marriage negotiations.  He
is to come back next year or send for Muttra; but for the present he is
to be content and wait.

While this family arrangement was in progress, we had also on hand a more
important negotiation of our own, and that was to get the governor’s
permission for our journey on to Haïl.  The first thing to be done was to
make friends with Jóhar, for all in this despotic country depends upon
his good will and pleasure; and if he had chosen to send us back to Kâf
by the Wady Sirhán, I do not know that we could have offered any
resistance.  Jôf is not an easy place to get away from.  It is more than
three hundred miles from the nearest point on the Euphrates, and without
the governor’s leave no one would have dared to travel a mile with us.
Accordingly, the day after our arrival at Meskakeh, we called on Jóhar,
who had been warned of our visit, and received us in state.

Jóhar is a perfectly black negro, with repulsive African features; tall,
and very fat, and very vain.  He had put on his finest clothes to receive
us, a number of gaudy silk jibbehs one over the other, a pair of sky-blue
trousers—things new to us in Arabia—a black and gold abba, and a purple
kefiyeh.  His shirt was stiff with starch, and crackled every time he
moved.  He carried a handsome gold-hilted sword, and looked altogether as
barbaric a despot as one need wish to see.  He kept us waiting nearly ten
minutes in the kahwah, to add, I suppose, to his importance, and then
came in behind a procession of armed men, all of them well got up with
silver hilted swords, silver ornamented belts, and blue and red kefiyehs
bound with thick white aghals.  He affected the affable, rather languid
air of a royal personage, passing from one subject of conversation to
another without transition, and occasionally asking explanations of our
remarks or questions from one or other of his attendants.  It struck me
as eminently absurd to see this negro, who is still a slave, the centre
of an adulous group of white courtiers, for all these Arabs, noble as
many of them are in blood, were bowing down before him, ready to obey his
slightest wink and laugh at his poorest joke.  After the first few
moments of dignified silence, Jóhar, as I have said, became affable, and
began asking the news.  We had come from the north, and could tell him
all about the war.  What was Sotamm doing and what was Ibn Smeyr,—the
latter evidently a hero with the Jôfi or rather with the Haïl people, for
they are not friends with Sotamm, and old Mohammed Dukhi is considered
Sotamm’s great rival.  We were glad to be able to say that we had seen
Ibn Smeyr himself at Damascus not a month ago.  Jóhar told us in return
of a report recently brought in to Meskakeh by some Sleb that the Roala
had been beaten in a fight with Mohammed Dukhi, and that Sotamm was
killed—a report we were sorry to hear.

Then, but in a tone of minor interest, we were questioned about the
Sultan.  He had made peace with the Muscov, Jóhar was glad to hear it.
Peace was a good thing, and now “inshallah es Sultan mabsutin,” “the
Sultan, let us hope, was pleased;” this with a mock sentimental,
patronising accent and a nasal twang in the voice, which was extremely
comic.  A little whispering then took place between Mohammed and one of
the suite, which resulted in their going out together, to hand over to
Jóhar the presents we had brought for him.  Mohammed was, I believe,
cross-questioned as to our position and the objects of our journey, and
answered, as it had been agreed beforehand he should do, that we were
going to Bussora to meet friends, and that we had come by way of Jôf to
avoid the sea-voyage.  This, though of course not by any means the whole
truth, was true as far as it went, and was a story easily understood and
accepted by those to whom it was told.  Mohammed added, moreover, that as
we had happened to pass through the Emir’s dominions, the English Beg was
anxious to pay his respects to Ibn Rashid at Haïl before going any
further, and begged Jóhar to give us the necessary guides.  This, after
some discussion, and some coyness on the governor’s part, he consented to
do.  His heart had been softened by the handsome clothes we had given
him, and I believe a small present in money was also talked of between
him and Mohammed.

When we were summoned again to Jóhar’s presence, this time on the
house-top, we found the negro’s face wreathed in smiles, and our journey
being discussed as a settled matter.  Carpets were then spread, and we
all sat down on the roof and had breakfast, boiled meat on rice, with a
sharp sauce to pour over the rice, and then after the usual washings and
el hamdu lillahs we retired, extremely pleased to get away from the flies
and the hot sun of Jóhar’s roof; and not a little thankful for the good
turn things had taken with us.  As Wilfrid remarked, when we were well on
our mares again and riding home, Jóhar was just the picture of a
capricious despot, and one who, if he had been in a bad humour, might
have ordered our heads off, with no more ceremony than he had ordered
breakfast.  Our last day at Meskakeh was a quiet one.

_January_ 11.—Every morning since we have been here there has been a fog,
and to-day (Saturday), as I have already said, it has rained heavily.
The rain came with thunder and lightning, as I believe is almost always
the case in this part of the world.  I am much surprised to learn, in
talking of the lightning, that nobody at Meskakeh has heard of people
being killed by it, and Mohammed confirms the statement made here, by
saying that the same is the case at Tudmur.  He seemed astonished when I
asked him, at lightning being thought dangerous, and says that accidents
from it never occur in the desert.  This is strange.  The surface soil of
Meskakeh is very nearly pure sand, and the rain runs through it as
quickly as it falls, remaining only in a few hollows, where there is a
kind of sediment hard enough to hold it.

In the afternoon the weather cleared, and we made a little expedition to
the top of the low tell just outside Nassr’s farm.  The tell is of
sandstone rock, orange coloured below, but weathered black on the upper
surface.  It is not more than a hundred feet high, but standing alone, it
commands a very extensive view, curious as all views in the Jôf district
are, and very pretty besides.  In the fore-ground just below lay the
farm, a square walled enclosure of three or four acres, with its palms
and ithel trees, and its two low mud houses, and its wells, looking snug
and trim and well to do.  Beyond, looking westwards, three other farms
were visible, spots of dark green in the broken wilderness of sand and
sandstone rock, and then behind them Meskakeh, only its palm-tops in
sight, and the dark mass of its citadel rising over them in fantastic
outline.  The long line of the palm grove stretched far away to the
south, disappearing at last in a confused mass of sand-hills.  These
specially attracted our notice, for they marked the commencement of the
Nefûd, not indeed the great Nefûd, but an outlying group of dunes tufted
with ghada, and not at all unlike those passed through by the Calais and
Boulogne railway.  Our route, we know, lies across them, and we are to
start to-morrow.

While I sat sketching this curious view, Wilfrid, who had climbed to the
top of a tall stone, crowning the hill, came back with the news that he
had discovered an inscription.  We have been looking out, ever since our
arrival in the sandstone district, for traces of ancient writing, but
have hitherto found nothing except some doubtful scratches, and a few of
those simple designs one finds everywhere on the sandstone, representing
camels and gazelles.  Here however, were three distinctly formed letters,
[Picture: Incised characters] two of them belonging to the Greek
alphabet.

It was evident, too, by the colour of the incisions, that they had been
there for very many years.  On these we have built a number of historical
conjectures relating to Meskakeh, and its condition in classical times.

When we came home again, we found that Mohammed had been to make the last
arrangements with Jóhar for our journey.  The great man had raised
objections at one point of the negotiations, but these had been settled
by a _dahab_ or gold piece, and he has now agreed to send a man with us,
a professional guide for crossing the Nefûd.  It seems that there are two
lines by which Haïl may be reached, one of thirteen and the other of ten
days’ journey.  The first is better suited, they say, for heavy laden
camels, as the sand is less deep, but we shall probably choose the
shorter route, if only for the sake of seeing the Nefûd at its worst.
For the Nefûd has been the object of our dreams all through this journey,
as the _ne plus ultra_ of desert in the world.  We hear wonderful
accounts of it here, and of the people who have been lost in it.  This
ten days’ journey represents something like two hundred miles, and there
are only two wells on the way, one on the second, and another on the
eighth day.  The guide will bring his own camel, and carry a couple of
waterskins, and we have bought four more, making up the whole number to
eight.  This will have to suffice for our mares as well as for ourselves,
and we shall have to be very careful.  We have laid in a sufficient stock
of dates and bread, and have still got one of the kids left to start with
in the way of meat, the other has just been devoured as I have said, and
cannot be replaced.  Provisions of every kind are difficult to procure at
Meskakeh; it was only by the exercise of a little almost Turkish bullying
that Jóhar has been able to get us a camel load of corn.

The rain is over and the moon shining.  All our preparations are made for
crossing the Nefûd, and in a few hours we shall be on our way.  We shall
want all our strength for the next ten days.

                         [Picture: A Nejd sheep]



CHAPTER VIII.


    “We were now traversing an immense ocean of loose reddish sand,
    unlimited to the eye, and heaped up in enormous ridges running
    parallel to each other from north to south, undulation after
    undulation, each swell two or three hundred feet in average height,
    with slant sides and rounded crests furrowed in every direction by
    the capricious gales of the desert.  In the depths between the
    traveller finds himself as it were imprisoned in a suffocating sand
    pit, hemmed in by burning walls on every side; while at other times,
    while labouring up the slope, he overlooks what seems a vast sea of
    fire, swelling under a heavy monsoon wind, and ruffled by a cross
    blast into little red hot waves.”—PALGRAVE.

Mohammed in love—We enter the red sand desert—Geology of the
Nefûd—Radi—The great well of Shakik—Old acquaintance—Tales of the
Nefûd—The soldiers who perished of thirst—The lovers—We nearly remain in
the sand—Land at last.

_January_ 12.—We left the farm this morning in a thick fog, among the
benedictions of the Ibn Arûks.  They have treated us kindly, and we were
sorry to say good-bye to them, especially to Turki and Areybi, although
we are a little disappointed in our expectations of the family in
general.  In spite of their noble birth and their Nejdean traditions,
they have the failings of town Arabs in regard to money, and it was a
shock to our feelings that Nassr, our host, expected a small present in
money at parting, nominally for the women, but in reality, no doubt, for
himself.  No desert sheykh, however poor, would have pocketed the
mejidies.  The boys too asked for gifts, the elder wanted a cloak,
because one had been given to his brother, the younger, a jíbbeh, because
he already had a cloak; and other members of the household came with
little skins full of dates or semneh in their hands, in the guise of
farewell offerings, and lingered behind for something in return.  All
this of course was perfectly fair, and we were pleased to make them happy
with our money; but it hardly tallied with the fine sentiments they had
been in the habit of expressing, in season and out of season, about the
duties of hospitality.  Such small disappointments, however, must be
borne, and borne cheerfully, for people are not perfect anywhere, and a
traveller has no right to expect more abroad than he would find at home.
In England we might perhaps not have been received at all, while here our
welcome had been perfectly honest at starting, whatever the afterthought
may have been.  So Wilfrid solemnly kissed the relations all round, and
exchanged promises of mutual good-will and hopes of meeting; I went in to
the harim to say good-bye to the rest of the family, and fortunately was
not expected to kiss them all round; and then we set out on our way.

Our course lay due south over the sand hills we saw yesterday, and
presently these shut out Meskakeh and its palm groves from our view, and
we were once more reduced to our own travelling party of eight souls,
with Radi our new guide, and fairly on the road to Haïl.  These sand
dunes are not really the Nefûd, and are much like what may be seen
elsewhere in the desert, in the Sahara for instance, or in certain parts
of the peninsula of Sinai.  They are very picturesque, being of pure
white sand, from fifty to a hundred feet high, with intervening spaces of
harder ground, and are covered with vegetation.  The ghada here grows
quite into a tree, with fine gnarled trunks, nearly white, and feathery
grey foliage.  We met several shepherds with their flocks, sent here to
graze from the town, and parties of women gathering firewood.  Mohammed
amused us very much all the morning, talking with these wood gatherers.
He had managed to get a glimpse of his bride elect and her sister before
starting, and fancies himself desperately in love, though he cannot make
up his mind which of the two he prefers.  Sometimes it is Muttra, as it
ought to be, and sometimes the other, for no better reason, as far as we
can learn, than that she is taller and older, for he did not see their
faces.  His conversations to-day with the wood gatherers shewed a
_naïveté_ of mind neither of us suspected.  He would ride on whenever he
saw a party of these women, and when we came up was generally to be found
in earnest discussion with the oldest and ugliest of them on the subject
of his heart.  He would begin by asking them whether they were from
Meskakeh, and lead round the conversation to the Ibn Arûk family, and if
he found that the women knew them, he would vaguely ask how many
daughters there were in Jazi’s house, and whether married or unmarried.
Then he would hint that he had heard that the eldest one was very
beautiful, and ask cautiously after the youngest, ending always by the
disclosure that he himself was an Ibn Arûk from Tudmur, and that he was
engaged to whichever of the two unmarried ones the old women had seemed
to favour in their descriptions.  By this process he had quite lost his
head about both sisters, sometimes fancying that he was the happiest of
men, and sometimes that Jazi had passed off the less valuable of his
daughters upon him.  On such occasions he would turn to me and beg me to
repeat for the hundredth time my description of Muttra’s merits, which
consoled him until he met somebody else to raise new doubts in his mind.

After about eight miles of travelling through the sand dunes, we came out
rather suddenly on the village of Kara, the last that we shall see for
many a day.  It is commanded by a rocky mound, with a ruin on it, and
contains seventy or eighty houses; the palm grove surrounding it is
remarkable for the palms and ithel trees.  The fog had cleared off, and
the sun was hot enough to make us glad to sit down for a few minutes
under the mud wall which encloses the oasis.  Some villagers came out,
and we had a little chat about Kara and its sheykh, while our mares were
being watered from a well close by.  They told us we should find a Roala
camp not far upon our way, for the camels from it were watered from this
very well.  Formerly Kara, like Jôf and Meskakeh, was a fief of the Ibn
Shaalans, and they still pay a small tribute to Sotamm, but in return
they make the Bedouins pay for the water they use.  There is no danger of
being attacked by the Roala or anyone else, for we are in Ibn Rashid’s
country now, where highway robbery is not allowed.  The villagers were
very hospitable in their offers of entertainment if we would remain at
Kara, but there was nothing in the place sufficiently interesting to
detain us, so we went on.  It contains, like Jôf and Meskakeh, a ruined
castle on a low tell, but the ruins are now not much more than the
foundations of old stone walls made without cement.

Not long after leaving the village, we came upon a party of Roala, with
several hundred camels coming in to Kara for water.  They were unarmed,
and travelling as peaceably as peasants would in Italy.  They told us
their camp was out of our way, and too far off for us to reach to-night,
but that we should find Beneyeh ibn Shaalan, a cousin of Sotamm’s, near
the well of Shakik our watering place for to-morrow.  It argued well for
the security of the country, to find parties of villagers, as we
presently did, out in the sand dunes many miles beyond Kara, with all
these Bedouins about.  But really there seem to be law and order in Ibn
Rashid’s government.  After travelling on for another two hours and a
half in broken ground, we came at last to a steep acclivity which proved,
when we had mounted it, to be the further edge of the Meskakeh
depression, and above it we found ourselves on a gravelly plain.  The
view from this edge, looking back, was very interesting, and gave us at
once an idea of the geography of the whole country, the great basin of
Meskakeh with its tells and sand hills, the long ridge of hill under
which the oasis stands, the range of Jebel Hammamiyeh too, all mere
islands in the basin, which seems moreover to include Jôf as well as the
eastern villages in its main circuit.  Wilfrid has little doubt now that
Meskakeh and Jôf are really only the tail as it were of the Wady Sirhán
or rather its head, for the whole must be in shape something like a
tadpole, and this point its nose.

The Hamád or plain where we now were, is three hundred and fifty feet
higher than Kara and Meskakeh, or 2220 feet above the sea.  It is
absolutely level and bare of vegetation, a flat black expanse of gravelly
soil covered with small round pebbles, extending southwards to the
horizon, and quite unlike anything in the basin below.  We were much
surprised to find such an open plain in front of us, for we had expected
nothing now but sand, but the sand, though we could not see it, was not
far off, and this was only as it were the shore of the great Nefûd.

At half past three o’clock we saw a red streak on the horizon before us,
which rose and gathered as we approached it, stretching out east and west
in an unbroken line.  It might at first have been taken for an effect of
mirage, but on coming nearer we found it broken into billows, and but for
its red colour not unlike a stormy sea seen from the shore, for it rose
up, as the sea seems to rise, when the waves are high, above the level of
the land.  Somebody called out “the Nefûd,” and though for a while we
were incredulous, we were soon convinced.  What surprised us was its
colour, that of rhubarb and magnesia, nothing at all like the sand we had
hitherto seen, and nothing at all like what we had expected.  Yet the
Nefûd it was, the great red desert of central Arabia.  In a few minutes
we had cantered up to it, and our mares were standing with their feet in
its first waves.

_January_ 13.—We have been all day in the Nefûd, which is interesting
beyond our hopes, and charming into the bargain.  It is, moreover, quite
unlike the description I remember to have read of it by Mr. Palgrave,
which affects one as a nightmare of impossible horror.  It is true he
passed it in summer, and we are now in mid-winter, but the physical
features cannot be much changed by the change of seasons, and I cannot
understand how he overlooked its main characteristics.  The thing that
strikes one first about the Nefûd is its colour.  It is not white like
the sand dunes we passed yesterday, nor yellow as the sand is in parts of
the Egyptian desert, but a really bright red, almost crimson in the
morning when it is wet with the dew.  The sand is rather coarse, but
absolutely pure, without admixture of any foreign substance, pebble,
grit, or earth, and exactly the same in tint and texture everywhere.  It
is, however, a great mistake to suppose it barren.  The Nefûd, on the
contrary, is better wooded and richer in pasture than any part of the
desert we have passed since leaving Damascus.  It is tufted all over with
ghada bushes, and bushes of another kind called _yerta_, which at this
time of the year when there are no leaves, is exactly like a thickly
matted vine.  Its long knotted stems and fibrous trunk give it so much
that appearance, that there is a story about its having originally been a
vine.  The rasúl Allah (God’s prophet), Radi says, came one day to a
place where there was a vineyard, and found some peasants pruning.  He
asked them what they were doing, and what the trees were, and they,
fearing his displeasure or to make fun of him, answered, these are
“yerta” trees, yerta being the first name that came into their heads.
“Yerta inshallah, yerta let them be then,” rejoined the prophet, and from
that day forth they ceased to be vines and bore no fruit.  There are,
besides, several kinds of camel pasture, especially one new to us called
adr, on which they say sheep can feed for a month without wanting water,
and more than one kind of grass.  Both camels and mares are therefore
pleased with the place, and we are delighted with the abundance of
firewood for our camps.  Wilfrid says that the Nefûd has solved for him
at last the mystery of horse-breeding in Central Arabia.  In the hard
desert there is nothing a horse can eat, but here there is plenty.  The
Nefûd accounts for everything.  Instead of being the terrible place it
has been described by the few travellers who have seen it, it is in
reality the home of the Bedouins during a great part of the year.  Its
only want is water, for it contains but few wells; all along the edge, it
is thickly inhabited, and Radi tells us that in the spring, when the
grass is green after rain, the Bedouins care nothing for water, as their
camels are in milk, and they go for weeks without it, wandering far into
the interior of the sand desert.

We have been travelling through the Nefûd slowly all day, and have
occupied ourselves in studying its natural features.  At first sight it
seemed to us an absolute chaos, and heaped up here and hollowed out
there, ridges and cross ridges, and knots of hillocks all in utter
confusion, but after some hours’ marching we began to detect a uniformity
in the disorder, which we are occupied in trying to account for.  The
most striking features of the Nefûd are the great horse-hoof hollows
which are scattered all over it (Radi calls them _fulj_).  These, though
varying in size from an acre to a couple of hundred acres, are all
precisely alike in shape and direction.  They resemble very exactly the
track of an unshod horse, that is to say, the toe is sharply cut and
perpendicular, while the rim of the hoof tapers gradually to nothing at
the heel, the frog even being roughly but fairly represented by broken
ground in the centre, made up of converging water-courses.  The diameter
of some of these fuljes must be at least a quarter of a mile, and the
depth of the deepest of them, which we measured to-day, proved to be 230
feet, bringing it down very nearly exactly to the level of the gravelly
plain which we crossed yesterday, and which, there can be little doubt,
is continued underneath the sand.  This is all the more probable, as we
found at the bottom of this deepest fulj, and nowhere else, a bit of hard
ground.  The next deepest fulj we measured was only a hundred and forty
feet, and was still sandy at the lowest point, that is to say, just below
the point of the frog.  Though the soil composing the sides and every
part of the fuljes is of pure sand, and the immediate surface must be
constantly shifting, it is quite evident that the general outline of each
has remained unchanged for years, possibly for centuries.  The vegetation
proves this; for it is not a growth of yesterday, and it clothes the
fuljes like all the rest.  Moreover, our guide, who has travelled
backwards and forwards over the Nefûd for forty years, asserts that it
never changes.  No sandstorm ever fills up the hollows, or carries away
the ridges.  He knows them all, and has known them ever since he was a
boy.  “They were made so by God.”  Wilfrid has been casting about,
however, for some natural theory to account for their formation, but has
not yet been able to decide whether they are owing to the action of wind
or water, or to inequalities of the solid ground below.  But at present
he inclines to the theory of water.  We shall be able perhaps to say more
of them hereafter, when we have seen more of them, and I therefore
reserve my remarks.  We have had a long day’s journey, plodding up to the
camel’s fetlocks in sand, and now it is time to look after Hanna, who is
busy cooking.  Height of our camp 2440 feet; but the highest level
crossed during the day was 2560 feet.  Nobody seen all day but one Roala
on a delúl, who told us there was a camp to our left.  We looked for it,
but only made out camels at a great distance.

_January_ 14.—Another bright clear morning, but with a cold wind from the
south-east.  Nothing can be more bright and sparkling than the winter’s
sun reflected from these red sands.  The fuljes have again been the
object of our attention.  We find that they all point in the same
direction, or nearly so, that is to say, with the toe of the horse-hoof
towards the west, though the steepest part of the declivity varies a
little, sometimes the southerly and sometimes the northerly aspect being
more abrupt than that facing east.  This would seem to point rather to
wind than water as being the original cause of the depressions.

         [Picture: The Nefûd, or Great Red Sand Desert of Arabia]

At the edge, moreover, of the large fuljes there is generally a tallish
mound of sand with a ridge, such as one sees on the top of a snow peak,
and evidently caused by the wind, the lee side being steep and the
weather side rounded.  These seem to change with a change of wind and are
generally bare of vegetation, and what is singular, of a lighter coloured
sand than the rest.  One can guess the existence of a deep fulj from a
long way off, by the presence of one of these snowy looking mounds on the
horizon.  It is seldom that one can see very far in the Nefûd, as one is
always toiling up or down sandslopes, or creeping like a fly round the
edges of these great basins.  The ground is generally pretty even, just
round the edges, and one goes from one fulj to another so as to take this
advantage of level.  We rode up to the top of one or two of the highest
sand peaks, and from one of them made out a line of hills about fifteen
miles off to the west-south-west, with an isolated headland beyond, which
we recognized as the Ras el Tawil pointed out to us the day we arrived at
Jôf.  From these heights too we could observe the lay of the fuljes, and
make out that they followed each other in strings, not always in a
straight line, but as a wady would go, winding gently about.  This made
us speculate on the water theory again.  Wilfrid thinks that there may be
a very gradual slope in the plain beneath the sand, and that whenever
rain falls, as of course it must do here sometimes, it sinks through to
the hard ground and flows under the sand along shallow winding wadys, and
that the sand in this way is constantly slipping very gradually down the
incline, and wherever there is a slope in the plain below, there the fulj
occurs above it. {162}

This notion is favoured by what we have observed of the bare places,
where such occur, for they always slope down towards the west.  Radi
assures us that no water ever collects in the fuljes even after rain.  It
runs into them and disappears.  While we were discussing these points of
natural history, we suddenly perceived camels grazing at the edge of a
fulj not half a mile below us, and jumped on to our mares in a great
hurry.  I have contrived a bandage which enables me to mount quickly, and
ever since the ghazú in the Wady Sirhán, we keep a good look-out for
enemies.  We then rode down to see what was to be seen, and presently
found half a dozen people, men and women, in a fulj, and several more
camels grazing near a tent.  The tent was a mere awning with a back to
it, and as soon as they saw us the women ran and pulled it down, while
the men rushed off to the nearest camels, and made them kneel.  They were
evidently in a fright, and so quickly was it all done that by the time we
had ridden up, the tent and tent furniture, such as there was, were
loaded and ready to go.  The Arabs take pride in being able to strike
camp and march at almost a moment’s notice, and in this case I think it
hardly took three minutes.  They seemed much surprised and puzzled at our
appearance when we rode up, and at first said they were Roala, but when
our people joined us they confessed that they were of the Howeysin, a
very poor tribe despised by the rest of the Bedouins and holding much the
same position as the Sleb.  They were, however, to our eyes
undistinguishable from other Bedouins.

I asked Mohammed after this, how it was that in the desert each tribe
seemed so readily recognized by their fellows, and he told me that each
has certain peculiarities of dress or features well known to all.  Thus
the Shammar are in general tall, and the Sebaa very short but with long
spears.  The Roala spears are shorter, and their horses smaller.  The
Shammar of Nejd wear brown abbas, the Harb are black in face, almost like
slaves, and Mohammed told me many more details as to other tribes which I
do not remember.  He said that Radi had recognised these people as
Howeysin directly, by their wretched tent.  He then reminded us of how we
had been deceived last year by the ghazú we had met in the Hamád the day
we found Jedaan.  It was very lucky, he declared, that nothing
disagreeable had happened then, for he had found out since that the nine
people Wilfrid had ridden up to talk to, were in reality a ghazú of
Amarrat, headed by Reja himself, Sheykh of the Erfuddi section of that
tribe.  Reja had come in not many weeks later to Palmyra to buy corn, and
had stayed two days in Abdallah’s house, and had recognized him as the
man who was with the Beg that day.  These Amarrat had been in the act of
discussing how they should attack our caravan when Wilfrid rode up, and
the fact of his doing so alone made them imagine that our caravan was a
very strong one, so they had decided on leaving us alone.  Mohammed and
Reja were now friends, Reja having given Mohammed a falcon on going away,
and Mohammed the strange present of a winding-sheet.  Winding-sheets he
explains are much esteemed by the Bedouins, and this one had been made by
Mohammed’s mother.

Soon after this we came upon a real Roala camp, at least a camp of their
slaves.  The men were not negroes, though very dark and ill-looking.
They explained that they belonged to Beneyeh ibn Shaalan, a cousin of
Sotamm’s, and the head of the tribe now in the Nefûd.  They gave us some
fresh camel’s milk, the first we have tasted this year.  We then began to
descend into a long valley, which here intersects the Nefûd, and in which
stand the wells of Shakik.  Close to one of these we now are, camped on a
bit of hard ground, under the first wave of sand beyond the wells.  There
are four wells known as Shakik; the one where we now are and another near
it, and two others, three or four miles distant, up and down the valley.
They are all, we hear, of the same depth, two hundred and twenty-five
feet, and are apparently very ancient, for this one is lined with cut
stones, and the edges are worn through with long usage of ropes in
drawing water.  There is, however, here, a little wooden pulley for the
rope to pass over, a permanent arrangement very unusual in the desert,
where everything removable is as a matter of course removed.  A rope or a
bucket would have no chance of remaining a week at any well.  There was a
dead camel near the well, on which a pair of vultures and a dog were at
work, but nothing else living.

While we were looking over our ropes, and wondering whether we could make
up enough, with all the odds and ends tied together, to reach to the
water, a troop of camels came flourishing down upon us, cantering with
their heads out, and their heels in the air, and followed by some men on
delúls.  These proved to be Ibn Shaalan’s people, and, to our great
surprise and delight, one of them, a man named Rashid, recognized us as
old acquaintances.  We had met him the year before at the Roala camp at
Saikal far away north.  He had come, he said, with Abu Giddeli to our
tent, and we remember the circumstance perfectly.  It is pleasant to
think of finding friends in such a place as this, and it shows how far
the tribes wander during the year.  Saikal is five hundred miles from
Shakik, as the crow flies.  Rashid at once offered to draw us all the
water we wanted, for he had a long rope with him, and coffee was drunk
and dates were eaten by all the party.  Amongst them are two sons of
Beneyeh’s, Mohammed and Assad, the elder a shy boorish youth, but the
younger, nine years old, a nice little boy.  To him we entrusted our
complimentary message to his father.  Beneyeh ibn Heneyfi ibn Shaalan is
the Sheykh of a large section of the Roala, the very one we heard of last
year as having stayed in Nejd.  He is on ill terms with Sotamm on account
of a chestnut mare Sotamm took from him by force, some years ago.  The
children had never seen a European in their lives, or been further north
than the Wady Sirhán.  We should like to pay Beneyeh a visit, but his
tents are many miles out of our way, and we dare not trifle with the
Nefûd.

A camel foal was born to-day by the well.  I went to look at the little
creature which was left behind with its mother, when the rest were driven
home.  I noticed that it had none of those bare places (callosities)
which the older camels get on their knees and chest from kneeling down,
and that its knees were bruised by its struggles to rise.  We helped it
up, and in three hours’ time it was able to trot away with its mother.

_January_ 15.—This morning, as I looked out of the tent, I saw a halo
round the moon, and thought there would be rain; but no such luck has
come, though the sky was overcast and the day sultry.  We made a great
effort to get off early, and there was a great deal of “yalla, yalla”
from Mohammed with very little result, for the men had been celebrating
our passage of the Nefûd, which began seriously to-day, with a final
feast on kid, and were dull and slow in consequence.  Wilfrid made them a
short speech last night, about the serious nature of the journey we were
undertaking, the hundred miles of deep sand we have to cross, and the
necessity of husbanding all our strength for the effort.  With the best
despatch we can hardly hope to reach Jobba under five days, and it may be
six or seven.  No heavily laden caravan such as ours is, has ever, if we
may believe Radi, crossed the Nefûd at this point, and if the camels
break down, there will be no means of getting help, nor is there any well
after Shakik.  Abdallah has accordingly been made _sheykh of the water_,
with orders to dole it out in rations every night, and allow nobody to
drink during the day.  The Arabs are very childish about meat and drink,
eating and drinking all day long if they get the chance, and keeping
nothing for the morrow.  But here improvidence can only bring disaster,
and we think Abdallah as well as Mohammed are impressed with the
situation.  There is something sobering and solemn in these great tracts
of sand, even for the wildest spirits, and we have begun our march to-day
in very orderly fashion.

Radi, the little guide (his name signifies _willing_), has proved a great
acquisition to our party, willing to give every sort of information when
asked, and not impertinently talkative.  He is a curious little old man,
as dry and black and withered as the dead stumps of the yerta bushes one
sees here, the driftwood of the Nefûd.  He has his delúl with him, an
ancient bag of bones which looks as if it would never last through the
journey, and on which he sits perched hour after hour in silence,
pointing now and then with his shrivelled hand towards the road we are to
take.  He is carrying with him on his camel one of the red sand-stone
mortars of the Jôf for a relation of Ibn Rashid’s, and this seems to
balance the water-skin hanging on the other side.  From time to time,
however, he speaks, and he has told us more than one interesting tale of
those who have perished here in former days.  In almost every hollow
there are bones, generally those of camels, “Huseyn’s camels,” Radi calls
them, and if anybody asks who Huseyn was, there is a laugh.  At the
bottom, however, of one fulj there are bones of another sort.  Here a
ghazú perished, delúls and men.  They were Roala who had crossed the
Nefûd to make a raid upon the Shammar, and had not been able to reach
Shakik on their way back.  The bones were white, but there were bits of
skin still clinging to them, though Radi says it happened ten years ago.
In another place, he shewed us two heaps of wood, thirty yards apart
which mark the spot where a Shammar which had been lifting camels in the
Wady Sirhán, was overtaken by their owner, a Sirhan sheykh, who had
thrown his lance these thirty yards at the akid of the Shammar and
transfixed him, mare and all.  Again, he pointed out the remains of forty
Suelmat camel riders, who had lost their way, and perished of thirst.

The sand, for several miles after leaving the wells, was covered with
camel tracks, Roala camels no doubt, and here and there we came across
the track of a horse, but the further one gets into Arabia, the rarer
horses seem to be.  After these first few miles, however, there appeared
no trace of living creatures except lizards.  Radi took us first in a
nearly southerly direction, till he hit a line of landmarks, invisible to
us but well known to him, running-south-south-east.  This he calls _the
road_, the road of Abu Zeyd, and told us the following legend in
connection with it (there was no more trace of a road than there might
have been on the sea).  Many years ago, says Radi, there was a famine in
Nejd, and the Beni Hellal were without bread.  Then Abu Zeyd, sheykh of
the tribe, spoke to his kinsmen Merrey and Yunis, and said, “Let us go
out towards the west, and seek new pastures for our people,” and they
travelled until they came to Tunis el-Gharb, which was at that time ruled
by an Emir named Znati, and they looked at the land and liked it, and
were about to return to their tribe with the news, when Znati put them
all into prison.  Now Znati had a daughter who was very beautiful, named
Sferi, and when she saw Merrey in the dungeon, she fell in love with him,
and proposed that he should marry her, and promised that his life and all
their lives should be spared.  But Merrey did not care for her and would
not at first consent.  Still she persisted in her love, and sought to do
them good, and interceded with her father to spare their lives.  Now
Znati began to be perplexed with his prisoners, hearing from his daughter
that they were of noble birth, and not knowing what to do with them.  And
when she told them this, they proposed that one of them should be
released, and sent home to bring a ransom for his fellows, but in their
hearts they were determined that Abu Zeyd should be the one sent, and
that he should return, not with a ransom, but with all his people to
Tunis, and so set them free.  And Sferi carried the proposal to her
father, and said, “Two of these men are of noble birth, but the third is
a slave, but I know not which it is.  Let then the slave go and get
ransom for his masters.”  And Znati said, “How shall we discover the
slave amongst them, and distinguish him from the others?” and she said,
“By this.  Take them to a muddy place, where there is water, and bid them
pass over it.  And you shall see that whichever is the slave amongst them
will gather up his clothes about him carefully, while the nobly born will
let their clothes be soiled.”  And her father agreed, and it happened so
that on the following day the three men were brought out of their
dungeon, and made to pass through a muddy stream.  And Abu Zeyd, being
warned by Sferi, put his abba on his head, and lifted up his shirt to the
waist, while Merry and Yunis walked through without precaution.  So Abu
Zeyd was set free and returned to Nejd, and gathering all his people
together there, he led them across the Nefûd by this very way, making the
road we had just seen, to enable them to come in safety.  He then marched
on to Tunis, and laid siege to the town.

Abu Zeyd besieged Tunis for a year but could not enter, and he never
would have taken it, but for Sferi who was plotting for his success
outside.  Sferi was a wise woman.  She could read and write, and knew
magic and could interpret prophecies.  And there was a prophecy
concerning Znati that he could be killed by no one in battle but by a
certain Dib ibn Ghanim, a robber in the neighbouring desert.  And Sferi
sent word of this to Abu Zeyd, who took this robber into his service, and
on the next occasion sent him against Znati when he came out to fight.
And the Emir was slain.

Then Abu Zeyd became Emir of Tunis and Merrey married Sferi.

Such is Radi’s story, which it may be hoped is not exactly true as to
Sferi’s betrayal of her father.  As to the road legend, it is impossible
to say that the road is there “to witness if he lies.”  Road or no road
we have been wandering about in zigzags all day long, sometimes toiling
up steep slopes, at others making a long circuit to avoid a fulj, and
sometimes meandering for no particular reason yet always on a perfectly
untrodden surface of yielding sand.  The ground is more broken than ever,
the fuljes bigger and the travelling harder.  But both mares and camels
have marched bravely, and we have got over about twenty-one miles to-day.
Our camp this evening, though in a fulj, is five hundred and sixty feet
higher than the wells of Shakik.

_January_ 16.—A thunderstorm in the night which has turned the sand
crimson.  Radi congratulates us upon this, as he says now we shall get to
Jobba, inshallah!  He seems to have been a little doubtful before.  But
the heavy rain has hardened the ground, and we have been able to push on
at almost as good a rate as if we had been travelling on gravel.  As we
get deeper into the Nefûd, the fuljes are further apart and the cross
ridges lower.  The fuljes seem to run in pretty regular strings from east
to west, or rather from east by south to west by north.  It is
interesting to observe the footmarks of wild animals on the sand, for
they are now clearly marked as on fresh fallen snow.  The most common are
those of hares answering in size to our rabbits at home, and to-day the
greyhounds have put up and coursed several of them, though quite in vain,
for the ghada trees and bushes soon screen them from the dogs.  We have
had a gallop or two, and there is no danger of losing ourselves, for we
only have to go back on our footsteps to find the caravan.  Besides the
hares there are several sorts of small birds, linnets, wrens, desert
larks, wheatears, and occasionally crows.  I also saw a pair of kestrels
evidently quite at home.  Reptiles are still much more numerous, the
whole surface of the desert being marked with lizard tracks, while here
and there was the trail of a snake.  Our people killed two to-day of the
sort called _suliman_, common in most parts of the desert, a long, slim,
silvery snake, with a little head, and quite harmless.  The warm sunshine
after the rain had brought them out.  We have been inquiring of Radi
after the more dangerous species, and he describes very accurately the
horned viper and the cobra.  I was surprised to hear of the latter, but
it is impossible to mistake his description of a snake which stands on
its tail, and swells out its neck like wings.  These, he says, are only
seen in the summer.  Gazelles there seem to be none in the Nefûd, but we
crossed the quite fresh track of two “wild cows” (antelope).  This
animal, Radi assures us, never leaves the Nefûd and never drinks.  Indeed
there is no water here above ground anywhere nearer than Jebel Aja, and
it must be able to do without.  The slot was about the size of a red deer
fully grown.  We are very anxious to see the beast itself, which they
assure us is a real cow, though that can hardly be.  We have also kept a
good look-out for ostriches but without result.  In the way of insects,
we have seen a few flies like houseflies, and some dragonflies and small
butterflies.  There is a much better sort of grass in the Nefûd and more
of it than on the outskirts, which I suppose is from the absence of
camels.

I find that Radi makes out his course almost entirely by landmarks.  On
every high sand-hill he gets down from his delúl, and pulls some ghada
branches, which are very brittle, and adds them to piles of wood he has
formerly made.  These can be seen a good way off.  We have learned, too,
to make out a sort of road after all, of an intermittent kind, marked by
the dung of camels, and occasionally on the side of a steep slope there
is a distinct footway.  Along this line our guide feels his way, here and
there making a cast, as hounds do when they are off the scent.  Neither
he nor Mohammed, nor any of the Arabs with us, have the least notion of
steering by the sun, and when Wilfrid asked Mohammed if he thought he
could find his way back to Shakik, he answered, “How could I do so?
Every one of these sand-hills is like the last.”

We have been entertained by Radi with more blood and bones stories, the
most terrible of which is that of some Turkish soldiers, {174} who many
years ago were treacherously abandoned in the Nefûd.  They had occupied
Haïl in the days of the first Ibn Rashid, and had been left there as a
garrison.  But either the Sultan could not communicate with them or
forgot them, and after a certain time they wished to go home.  Many of
them had died at Haïl, and the remainder of them, about five hundred,
easily agreed to set out for Damascus under the escort of Obeyd, the
Emir’s brother, who had resolved to destroy them.  They left Haïl on
horseback and followed their Shammar guides to this place, who to all
questions as to where they should find wells, answered, a little further,
a little further on.  At last the Bedouins left them.  They seem to have
been brave fellows, for the last that was heard of them was a sort of
song or chorus which they sang as they struggled on, “Nahnu askar ma
nahnu atâsha nahnu askar ma benríd moyeh.”  “We are not thirsty, we
soldiers want no water.”  But at noon that day they must have lost heart,
and lain down under the bushes to get a sort of shade, and so they were
afterwards found scattered about in the different fuljes.  Some of their
horses made their way back to Jobba, and became the property of any who
could seize them.  They were sold by these lucky people for a few sheep
or goats each.  It is a ghastly tale.

A pleasanter one is that of two young lovers who eloped from Jôf, and
were pursued by their relations.  Suspecting that they would be tracked,
and to avoid scandal, they had agreed that instead of walking together,
they would keep parallel lines about a hundred yards apart and so set out
on their journey, and when they came to a certain fulj, which Radi
pointed out to us, they were too tired and lay down to die each under his
bush.  Thus they were found and fortunately in time, and their discretion
so pleased the relations on both sides, that consent was given to their
marriage, and the nuptials celebrated with rejoicings.

At half-past ten we suddenly caught sight of the peaks of Aalem, two
conical rocks which jut out of the sand, and make a conspicuous landmark
for travellers on their way to Jobba.  It was an immense relief to see
them, for we had begun to distrust the sagacity of our guide on account
of the tortuous line we followed, and now we knew that the worst was
over, and that if need were, we could find our way on across the other
half of the Nefûd, with some prospect at least of success.  We left our
camels to follow, and rode on towards the hills.  It still took us
several hours to reach them, but we were by three o’clock touching the
stones with our hands to feel that they were real.  It was as if we had
been lost at sea and had found a desert island.

We had some time to wait while the caravan laboured slowly on to join us.
I remained with the mares and kept a look-out while Wilfrid climbed to
the top of the smaller rock.  “What a place to be buried in,” he
exclaimed.  “Mount Nebo must have been like this.”  But people who die in
the Nefûd have seldom anyone to bury them.  As he clambered round the
pile of loose stones near the top of the tell, he found to his great
delight a painted lady butterfly sunning itself in a sheltered spot.  If,
as is probable, there is no vegetation suited for the caterpillar of this
butterfly nearer than Hebron, this little insect must have travelled at
least four hundred miles.  Here it seemed happy in the sun.  This smaller
rock, or rocky hill, was just a hundred feet from the level of the plain,
and rose sheer out of it bare and naked as a rock does at sea.  The
barometer at the top of it shewed 3220 feet.  The taller Aalem is perhaps
three times its height.

Aalem, Radi says, is Sheykh of the Nefûd, and the little tell is his son.
At some miles distance to the north-east there is a cluster of white
sand-hills, Aalem’s “harim.”  The rocks of Aalem are sandstone weathered
black, not granite as we had hoped, and this no doubt is the material
from which in the lapse of years the great red sand heaps have been
formed.  They are not of solid rock but resemble heaps of stones.  On the
top of the one Wilfrid ascended was a cairn with the remains of some old
letters scratched on the stones, of the same kind as those to be seen on
Sinai, or rather in the Wady Mokattib.  The view was, by Wilfrid’s
report, stupendous, but one impossible to draw or even attempt to draw.
Here could be seen spread out as on a map the general features of the
Nefûd, the uniformity of the ocean of sand streaked with the long lines
of its fuljes, Aalem itself rising in their midst like a rock out of a
sea streaked with foam.

We are now encamped about two miles beyond Aalem.  I have filled a bottle
with sand to make an hour-glass with at home.

_January_ 17.—A white frost, some of which was packed up with the tents
and carried with us all day.

It is curious that now we have passed Aalem the vegetation has changed.
Up to that point the ghada reigned supreme, and I could not have believed
it could so suddenly disappear, yet such is the case.  Now not a bush of
ghada is to be seen, and its place is taken by the yerta which before was
rare.  It seems impossible to account for this, as there is no material
change of level, and absolutely no change in the character of the soil.
The bushes by which we camped last night were quite the last southwards.
We are sorry to lose them, as ghada is the finest firewood in the world.
Charcoal made from it, which one finds here and there where there has
been a camp fire, is finer than the finest charcoal used for drawing.
The yerta is inferior.  On the other hand there is more of the grass
called _nassí_ for the camels, and of the hamar, a whitish-blue prickly
plant which the mares are very fond of, while the _adr_, a shrub with
stiff green leaves and brownish yellow flowers, is still the commonest
plant.

The sand has dried again since yesterday, and as the day grew warmer
became very heavy for the camels.  The labour of trudging through the
yielding surface is beginning to tell on them, and to-day most of our men
have walked, Mohammed giving the example.  Every one was cheerful, in
spite of the hard work, and all showed wonderful strength in running on
and playing pranks in the sand.  Wilfrid, who is in fair training, was
quite unable to keep up with them, and I fared still worse as may be
imagined, being as yet very lame; we both, however, felt bound to try and
walk at intervals for the sake of our mares.  Ibrahim el-tawîl (the tall
as contrasted with Ibrahim el-kasír, or the short), who has hitherto been
the butt of the party, being sent down on fools’ errands to fetch water
from fuljes, and up to the tops of sand-hills, to see imaginary
mountains, has proved himself to-day most valiant.  He, although a
Christian, is a match for any Moslem of the party, and gives as much as
he takes in the rough games the Arabs indulge in to keep up their
spirits.  At one moment he got hold of the servants’ tent pole, a very
heavy one, and played at quarter-staff with it among them to such effect,
that I thought there would have been bones broken.  Abdallah, too, when
there is any particularly hard piece of climbing to do and the rest seem
fagged, generally runs on and stands on his head till they come up.  We
encourage this mirth as it makes the work lighter.

Our water is now running rather short, for we have had to divide a skin
among the mares each day, but this lightens the loads.  Two of the camels
are beginning to flag, Hanna’s delúl, which has hardly had fair play, as
he and Ibrahim have been constantly changing places on its back, and
making a camel kneel and get up repeatedly tires it more than any weight;
also the beautiful camel we bought at Mezárib.  This last, in spite of
his good looks, seems to be weakly.  His legs are a trifle long, and his
neck a trifle short, two bad points for endurance, and then he is only a
three year old and has not had the distemper, at least so Abdallah says.
A camel can never be depended on till he has had it.  The ugly camel,
too, which they call Shenuan, seems distressed.  He has certainly got the
mange, and I wish we had insisted on this point when we suspected the
camels at Damascus, but it is too late now.  The rest are still in fine
order, in spite of the long journey and the absence of fresh pasture,
which at this time of year they require.  Nothing green has yet appeared,
except a diminutive plant like a nemophila, with a purple flower which is
beginning to show its head above the sand.  Fresh grass there is none,
and last year’s crop stands white and withered still without sign of
life.

We met a man to-day, a Roala, alone with twelve camels, yearlings and two
year olds, which he had bought from the Shammar and was driving home.  He
had paid twenty-five to thirty-five mejidies apiece for them, but they
were scraggy beasts.  The Nejd camels are nearly all black, and very
inferior in size and strength to those of the north.  When we came upon
the man we at first supposed he might be an enemy, for anybody here is
likely to be that, and Awwad rushed valiantly at him with a gun,
frightening him out of his wits and summoning him in a terrible voice to
give an account of himself.  He was perfectly harmless and unarmed, and
had been three nights out already in the Nefûd by himself.  He had a skin
of water and a skin of dates, and was going to Shakik, a lonely walk.

At half-past three (level 3040 feet) we caught sight of the hills of
Jobba, and from the same point could just see Aalem.  It was a good
occasion for correcting our reckoning, so we took the directions
accurately with the compass, and made out our course to be exactly south
by east.

To-day all our Mahometans have begun to say their prayers, for the first
time during the journey.  The solemnity of the Nefûd, or perhaps a doubt
about reaching Jobba, might well make them serious; perhaps, however,
they merely want to get into training for Nejd, where Wahhabism prevails
and prayers are in fashion.  Whatever be the cause, Mohammed on the top
of a sand-hill was bowing and kneeling towards Mecca with great
appearance of earnestness, and Awwad recited prayers in a still more
impressive manner, raising his voice almost to a chant.

Talking by the camp fire tonight, Radi informs us that the Nefûd extends
twelve days’ journey to the east of where we now are, and eleven days’
journey to the west.  At the edge of it westwards, lies Teyma, an oasis
like Jôf, where there is a wonderful well, the best in Arabia.  We asked
him about sandstorms, and whether caravans were ever buried by them.  He
said they were not.  The sand never buries any object deeply, as we can
judge by the sticks and bones and camel-dung which always remain on the
surface.  The only danger for caravans is that a storm may last so long
that their provision of water fails them, for they cannot travel when it
is severe.  Of the simum, or poisonous wind spoken of by travellers, he
has never heard, though he has been travelling to and fro in the Nefûd
for forty years.  Abdallah, however, says he has heard of it at Tudmur,
as of a thing occurring now and again.  None of them have ever
experienced it.

_January_ 18.—A calm night with slight fog, hoar frost in the morning.

It appears that there was a scout or spy about our camp in the night from
the Shammar.  We had been sighted in the afternoon, and he had crept up
in the dark to find out who we were.  At first he thought we were a
ghazú, but afterwards recognised Radi’s voice, and knew we must be
travellers going to Ibn Rashid.  He came in the morning and told us this;
and that he was out on a scouting expedition to look for grass in the
Nefûd.  He seemed rather frightened, and very anxious to please; and
assured us over and over again that Mohammed Ibn Rashid would be
delighted to see us.

It has been another hard day for the camels.  Shenuan has broken down and
cannot carry his load; and Hanna, like the rest of the men, has had to
walk, for his delúl is giving in.  The sand seems to get deeper and
deeper; and though we have been at work from dawn to dusk, we are still
ten or fifteen miles from Jobba.  But for the hills which we see before
us every time we rise to the crest of a wave, it would be very hopeless
work.  Every one is serious to-night.

_Sunday_, _January_ 19.—A terrible day for camels and men.  Hanna’s
delúl, Shenuan, and the tall camel they call “Amúd,” or the “Pillar,”
refused their aliek last night, being too thirsty to eat; and to-day they
could carry no loads.  Shakran, too, who has hitherto been one of our
best walkers, lagged behind; and the whole pace of the caravan has been
little over a mile an hour.  But for the extraordinary strength of
Hatherán, the gigantic camel which leads the procession, and on whom most
of the extra loads have been piled, we should have had to abandon a great
part of our property; and, indeed, at one moment it seemed as if we
should remain altogether in the Nefûd, adding a new chapter to old Radi’s
tales of horror.  And now that we have escaped such a fate and have
reached Jobba, we can see how fortunate we have been.  But for the
perfect travelling weather throughout our passage of the Nefûd, and the
extraordinary luck of that thunderstorm, we should not now be at Jobba.
The sand to tired camels is like a prison, and in the sand we should have
remained.  Mohammed, Abdallah, and the rest all behaved like heroes; even
old Hanna, with stray locks of grey hair hanging from under his kefiyeh,
for he has grown grey on the journey, and his feet bare, for it is
impossible to walk in shoes, trudged on as valiantly as the most robust
of the party.  All were cheerful and uncomplaining, though the usual
songs had ceased, and they talked but little.

Wilfrid and I were the only ones who rode at all, except Hanna, whom
Wilfrid forced to ride his mare from time to time, and we were the
gloomiest of the party.  We felt annoyed at being unable to do our work
on foot with the others; though from time to time we walked or rather
waded through the sand, until obliged to remount for lack of breath and
strength.  Neither of us could have kept up on foot; but a European is no
match for even a town Arab in the matter of walking.

To-day the _khall Abu Zeyd_ (Abu Zeyd’s road) was distinctly traceable,
and we begin to think that it may not have been altogether a romance.
There are regular cuttings in some places, and the track is often well
marked for half a mile together.  Radi assures us that there is a road of
stone under the sand; of stone brought from Jebel Shammar at, I am afraid
to say, what expense of camels and men, who died in the work.  I noticed
to-day a buzzard and a grey shrike; and a couple of wolves had run along
the road, as one could see by their footmarks and the scratching on the
sand.

The level of the Nefûd had been rising all day, and at one o’clock we
were 3300 feet above the sea.  From this point we had a large view
southwards, sand, all sand still for many a mile; but close before us the
group of islands we had so long been steering for, the rocks of Jobba.
The nearest was not two miles off.  We could see nothing of the oasis,
for it was on the other side of the hills; but we could make out a wide
space bare of sand, which looked like a subbkha, and beyond this a
further group of rocks of exceedingly fantastic outline, rising out of
the sand.  It was like a scene on some great glacier in the Alps.  Beyond
again, lay a faint blue line of hills.  “Jebel Shammar.  Those are the
hills of Nejd,” said Radi.  They were what we have come so far to see.

We made haste now to get to the rocks, and reached them at half-past
three.  They were of the same character as Aalem, sand and ironstone.
There Wilfrid took a map, and I a sketch, and we waited till the camels
came up; a doleful string they were as we looked down from the top of our
rocky hill at them passing below.  Shenuan and Amúd toiled on with only
their saddles, and the poor black delúl, absolutely bare and hardly able
to walk, was fifty yards behind, urged along by Abdallah.  We still had
some miles to go to get to Jobba, but on harder ground and all down hill;
and Mohammed proposed that we three should ride on, and prepare a place
for the camels in the village.  On our way we saw what we thought was a
cloud of smoke moving from west to east, and the tail of it passed over
us.  We found it was a flight of locusts in the red stage of their
existence, which the people here prefer for eating, but we did not care
to stop now to gather them, and rode on.  It was nearly sunset when we
first saw Jobba itself, below us at the edge of the subbkha, with dark
green palms cutting the pale blue of the dry lake, and beyond that a
group of red rocks rising out of the pink Nefûd; in the foreground yellow
sand tufted with adr; the whole scene transfigured by the evening light,
and beautiful beyond description.

                          [Picture: Delúl Rider]



CHAPTER IX.


    “They went till they came to the Delectable Mountains, which
    mountains belong to the Lord of that hill of which we have spoken.”

                                                       PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.

Jobba—An unpleasant dream—We hear strange tales of Ibn Rashid—Romping in
the Nefûd—A last night there—The Zodiacal light—We enter Nejd—The granite
range of Jebel Shammar.

JOBBA is one of the most curious places in the world, and to my mind one
of the most beautiful.  Its name Jobba, or rather Jubbeh, meaning a well,
explains its position, for it lies in a hole or well in the Nefûd; not
indeed in a fulj, for the basin of Jobba is on quite another scale, and
has nothing in common with the horse-hoof depressions I have hitherto
described.  It is, all the same, extremely singular, and quite as
difficult to account for geologically as the fuljes.  It is a great bare
space in the ocean of sand, from four hundred to five hundred feet below
its average level, and about three miles wide; a hollow, in fact, not
unlike that of Jôf, but with the Nefûd round it instead of sandstone
cliffs.  That it has once been a lake is pretty evident, for there are
distinct water marks on the rocks which crop up out of its bed just above
the town; and, strange to say, there is a tradition still extant of there
having formerly been water there.  The wonder is how this space is kept
clear of sand.  What force is it that walls out the Nefûd and prevents
encroachment?  As you look across the subbkha or dry bed of the lake, the
Nefûd seems like a wall of water which must overwhelm it, and yet no sand
shifts down into the hollow, and its limits are accurately maintained.

The town itself (or village, for it has only eighty houses) is built on
the edge of the subbkha, 2860 feet above the sea, and has the same sort
of palm gardens we saw at Jôf, only on a very small scale.  The wells
from which these are watered are seventy-five feet deep, and are worked,
like all the wells in Arabia, by camels.  The village is extremely
picturesque, with its little battlemented walls and its gardens.  At the
entrance stand half a dozen fine old ithel-trees with gnarled trunks and
feathery branches.  The rocks towering above are very grand, being of
purple sandstone streaked and veined with yellow, and having an upper
facing of black.  They are from seven hundred to eight hundred feet high,
and their bases are scored with old water marks.  Wilfrid found several
inscriptions in the Sinaïtic character upon them.  Jobba is backed by
these hills, and by a strip of yellow sand, like the dunes of Ithery, on
which just now there are brilliantly green tufts of adr in full leaf.
Beyond the subbkha the rocks of Ghota rising out of the Nefûd remind one
of the Aletsch Glacier, as seen from the Simplon Road.

So much for the outer face of Jobba.  The interior is less attractive.
The houses are very poor, and less smartly kept than those of Kâf and
Ithery.  I can hardly call them dirty, for dirt in this region of sand is
almost an impossibility.  It is one of the luxuries of the Nefûd that no
noxious insects are found within its circuit.  The Nefûd and, indeed,
Nejd, which lies beyond it, are free from those creatures which make life
a torment in other districts of the East.  Even the fleas on our
greyhounds died as soon as they entered the enchanted circle of red sand.
But Jobba would be dirty if it could; and its inhabitants are the least
well-mannered of all the Arabs we saw in Nejd.  The fact is, the people
are very poor and have no communication with the outer world, except when
the rare travellers between Haïl and Jôf stop a night among them.  At the
time of our passage through Jobba, the Sheykh had lately died, and his
office was being held by a young man of two or three and twenty, who had
no authority with his fellow-youths, a noisy, good-for-nothing set.  Ibn
Rashid has no special lieutenant at Jobba, and the young Sheykh Naïf was
unsupported by any representative of the central government, even a
policeman.  The consequence was that though entertained hospitably enough
by Naïf, we were considerably pestered by his friends, and made to feel
not a little uncomfortable.  I quote this as a single instance of
incivility in a country where politeness is very much the rule.

The style of our entertainment at Naïf’s house requires no special
mention, as it differed in no respect from what we had already received
elsewhere.  There was a great deal of coffee drinking, and a great deal
of talk.  Wherever one goes in Arabia one only has to march into any
house one pleases, and one is sure to be welcome.  The kahwah stands open
all day long, and the arrival of a guest is the signal for these two
forms of indulgence, coffee and conversation, the only ones known to the
Arabs.  A fire is instantly lighted, and the coffee cups in due course
are handed round.  One curious incident, however, of our stay at Jobba
must be related.

For some days before our arrival there Mohammed, who was usually careless
enough about the dangers of the road, had betrayed considerable
uneasiness whenever there was a question of meeting Arabs on the way or
making new acquaintances.  He had dissuaded us more than once from
looking about for tents; and when we had met the solitary man with the
camels and the man we called the spy, he had given very short answers to
their inquiries of who we were, and where we were going.  It was not till
the evening of our arrival at Jobba that he explained the cause of his
anxiety.  It then appeared that Radi in the course of conversation had
mentioned the name of a certain Shammar Sheykh, one Ibn Ermal, as being
in the neighbourhood, and Mohammed had remembered that many years ago a
Sheykh of that name had made a raid against Tudmur.  There had been some
fighting, and a man or two killed on the Shammar side; and this was
enough to make it extremely probable that a blood-feud might be still
unsettled between his family and the Ibn Ermals.  He therefore begged us
not to mention his name in Jobba, or the fact that he and Abdallah were
Tudmur men.  He had the more reason for this because he had discovered
that Naïf, our host, was himself related to the Ibn Ermals; and it was
fortunate that Tudmur had not yet been mentioned by any one in
conversation.  Later on in the evening he came to us very radiant, with
the news that we need no longer be under any apprehension.  He had
managed ingeniously to lead the conversation with Naïf to the subject he
had at heart, and had just learned that the blood-feud was considered at
an end.  Mohammed ibn Rashid, before he came to the Sheykhat of Jebel
Shammar, was Emir el-Haj, or Prince of the pilgrimage to Mecca, a
position of honour and profit, under his brother Tellál, and in that
capacity had made acquaintance with several Tudmuri at the holy cities,
and when he succeeded to the Sheykhat he had good-naturedly composed
their difference with his people.  He had either paid the blood-money
himself, or had used pressure on Ibn Ermal to forego his revenge, and the
blood-feud had been declared cancelled.  Whatever the Emir’s reason for
acting thus as peace maker, it was a very fortunate circumstance for us,
and now Mohammed and Naïf were the best of friends.  On the morning,
however, of our departure from Jobba (we stayed there two nights), Naïf
in wishing Mohammed good bye, narrated that he had had a curious dream
that night.  He had gone to sleep, he said, thinking of this old feud;
and in his sleep he thought he heard a voice reproaching him with having
neglected his duty of taking just revenge on the man who was his guest,
and he had been much distressed between the conflicting duties of
vengeance and hospitality, so that he had got up in his sleep to feel
about for his sword, and had found himself doing this when he woke.  Then
he had remembered that the feud was at an end, and said El hamdu lillah,
and went to sleep again.  “What a dreadful thing it would have been,” he
said to Mohammed at the end of this story, “if I had been obliged to kill
you, you, my guest!”  Mohammed, however, maintained to us that even if
the blood-feud had not been settled, Naïf would not have been bound to do
anything, once he had eaten and drunk with him in his house.  Such, at
least, would be the rule at Tudmur, though morals might be stricter in
Nejd.

We only stayed, as I have said, two nights with Naïf.  The young people
of the village were inquisitive and obtrusive, and we were obliged to
make a sort of scene with our host about it, a thing which is
disagreeable, but sometimes necessary.  I dare say they meant no harm,
but their manners were bad, and there was something almost hostile in
their tone about Nasrani (Nazarenes or Christians), which it was
advisable to check.  I am glad to say that this is the only instance we
have had in Arabia of unpleasant allusions to religion.  The Arabs are by
nature tolerant to the last degree on this point, and national or
religious prejudices are exceedingly rare.

This little episode, however, made us rather anxious about our possible
reception at Haïl.  No European nor Christian of any sort had penetrated
as such before us to Jebel Shammar, and all we knew of the people and
country was the recollection of Mr. Palgrave’s account of his visit there
in disguise sixteen years before.  Ibn Rashid, for all we knew, might be
as ill-disposed towards us as these Jobbites here, and it was clear that,
without his countenance and protection, we should be running considerable
risk in entering Haïl.  Still, the die was cast.  We had crossed our
Rubicon, the Red Desert, and there was no turning back.  There was
nothing to be done but to put a good face on things and proceed on our
way.  We cross questioned Radi as to the state of affairs at Haïl, and I
may as well give here the whole of the information he gave us,
corroborated and amplified by subsequent narrators.  The main facts we
learned from him.

Radi, in the first place, confirmed in general terms the account we had
already heard of the history of the Ibn Rashid family.  About fifty years
ago, Abdallah ibn Rashid, at that time “a mere _zellem_,” individual, of
the Abde section of the Shammar tribe, took service with the Ibn Saouds
of Upper Nejd, and was appointed lieutenant of Jebel Shammar, by the
Wahhabi Emir.  He was a great warrior, and reduced the whole country to
order with the help of his brother Obeyd, the principal hero of Shammar
tradition.  Of Obeyd we heard nothing to confirm the evil tales mentioned
by Mr. Palgrave.  On the contrary, he has left a great reputation among
the Arabs for his hospitality, generosity, and courage, the three
cardinal virtues of their creed.  He was never actually Emir of Jebel
Shammar, but after his brother’s death he virtually ruled the country.
It was he that counselled the destruction of the Turkish soldiers in the
Nefûd.  He lived to a great age, and died only nine years ago, having
been paralysed from the waist downwards for some months before his death.
It is related of him that he left no property behind him, having given
away everything during his lifetime—no property but his sword, his mare,
and his young wife.  These he left to his nephew Mohammed, ibn Rashid,
the reigning Emir, with the request that his sword should remain undrawn,
his mare unridden, and his wife unmarried for ever afterwards.  Ibn
Rashid has respected his uncle’s first two wishes, but he has taken the
wife into his own harim.

Abdallah ibn Rashid died in 1843, and was succeeded in the Sheykhat of
the Shammar and the lieutenancy of Haïl, by his son Tellál, who took the
title of Emir, and made himself nearly independent of the Wahhabi
government.  There is not much talk at Haïl now about Tellál.  He has
left behind him little of the reputation one would expect from Mr.
Palgrave’s account of him.  In his time, his second brother and
successor, Metaab, conquered Jôf and Ithery, and Metaab’s name is much
more frequently mentioned than Tellál’s.  About twelve years ago Tellál
went out of his mind and committed suicide.  He stabbed himself at Haïl
with his own dagger.  He left behind him several sons, the eldest of whom
was Bender, and two brothers, Metaab and Mohammed, besides his uncle
Obeyd, then a very old man, and several cousins.  Bender was quite a boy
at the time, and Metaab succeeded Tellál with the approval of all the
family.  Metaab, however, only ruled for three years, and dying rather
suddenly, a dispute arose as to the succession.  Mohammed, who for some
years had been acting as Emir el-Haj, or leader of the pilgrims, was away
from Haïl, settling a matter connected with his office with Ibn Saoud at
Riad, and Bender, being now twenty years old, was proclaimed Emir.  He
was supported by all the family except Mohammed and Hamúd, Obeyd’s eldest
son, who had been brought up with Mohammed as a brother.  Mohammed, when
he heard of this, was very angry, and for many days, so Radi told us, sat
with his kefiyeh over his face like one in grief, and refused to speak
with anyone.  He remained at Riad, rejecting all Bender’s advances and
invitations until Obeyd was dead, when he consented to return to Haïl,
and resume his post with the Haj.  This post brought him in much money,
and he was fond of money.  But he plotted all the while for the Sheykhat,
intriguing with the Sherarât and other Bedouins under Bender’s rule.  It
was in this way that he ultimately gratified his ambition, for it
happened one day that a caravan of Sherarât came to Haïl to buy dates,
and placed themselves under Mohammed’s protection instead of the Emir’s.
This made Bender very angry, and he sent for Mohammed, and asked him the
meaning of this insolence.  “Are you Sheykh,” he asked, “or am I?”  He
then mounted his mare and rode out, threatening to confiscate the
Sherarât camels, for they were encamped under the walls of Haïl.  But
Mohammed followed him, and riding with him, a violent dispute arose, in
which Mohammed drew his _shabriyeh_ (a crooked dagger they all wear in
Nejd), and stabbed his nephew, who fell dead on the spot.  Then Mohammed
galloped back to the castle, and, finding Hamúd there, got his help and
took possession of the place.  He then seized the younger sons of Tellál,
Bender’s brothers, all but one child, Naïf, and Bedr, who was away from
Haïl, and had their heads cut off by his slaves in the courtyard of the
castle.  They say, however, that Hamúd protested against this.  But
Mohammed was reckless, or wished to strike terror, and not satisfied with
what he had already done, went on destroying his relations.  He had some
cousins, sons of Jabar, a younger brother of Abdallah and Obeyd; and
these he sent for.  They came in some alarm to the castle, each with his
slave.  They were all young men, beautiful to look at, and of the highest
distinction; and their slaves had been brought up with them, as the
custom is, more like brothers than servants.  They were shown into the
kahwah of the castle, and received with great formality, Mohammed’s
servants coming forward to invite them in.  It is the custom at Haïl,
whenever a person pays a visit, that before sitting down, he should hang
up his sword on one of the wooden pegs fixed into the wall, and this the
sons of Jabar did, and their slaves likewise.  Then they sat down, and
waited and waited, but still no coffee was served to them.  At last
Mohammed appeared surrounded by his guard, but there was no “salaam
aleykum,” and instantly he gave orders that his cousins should be seized
and bound.  They made a rush for their swords, but were intercepted by
the slaves of the castle, and made prisoners.  Mohammed then, with
horrible barbarity, ordered their hands and their feet to be cut off, and
the hands and the feet of their slaves and had them, still living,
dragged out into the courtyard of the palace, where they lay till they
died.  These ghastly crimes, more ghastly than ever in a country where
wilful bloodshed is so unusual, seem to have struck terror far and wide,
and no one has since dared to raise a hand against Mohammed.  Now he is
said to have repented of his crimes, and to be “angry with himself” for
what he has done.  But Radi is of opinion that Heaven is at least as
angry, for though Mohammed has married over and over again, he has never
been blessed with a son, nor even with a daughter.  His rule, however,
apart from its evil commencement, though firm, has been beneficent.  The
only other persons, with one exception, who have suffered death during
his reign, have been highway robbers, and these are now extirpated within
three hundred miles of Haïl.  A traveller may go about securely in any
part of the desert with all his gold in his hand, and he will not be
molested.  Neither are there thieves in the towns.  He has made Jebel
Shammar definitely independent of Riad, and has resisted one or two
attempted encroachments by the Turks.  He is munificent to all, and
exercises unbounded hospitality.  No man, rich or poor, is ever sent away
from his gate unfed, and seldom without a present of clothes or money;
and hospitality in Arabia covers a multitude of sins.  Besides, the Arabs
easily forget, and Mohammed is already half forgiven.  “Allah yetowil
omrahu,” God grant him long life, exclaimed Radi, after giving us these
particulars.

The one exception I have alluded to was this.  About two years after
Mohammed had gained the Sheykhat, Bedr, the second son of Tellál, who had
escaped the massacre of his brothers, began to grow a beard, and in Arab
opinion was come of age; and being a youth of high spirit and high
principle, resolved to avenge his brothers’ deaths.  This was clearly his
duty according to Arab law.  He was alone and unaided, except by some
former slaves of his father’s, to whose house at Haïl he returned
secretly.  With their assistance, he made a plan, of falling upon
Mohammed one day when he was paying a visit to Hamúd in Hamúd’s house
next the castle.  He went with one slave to the house, and asking
admittance was shown into the kahwah, where, if he had found the Emir, he
would have drawn his sword and killed him; but, as it happened, Mohammed
had just gone out into the garden, and only Hamúd was present.  Hamúd
asked him what he wanted, and he said he wished to speak to the Emir, but
Hamúd suspecting something, detained him and gave Mohammed warning.  When
arrested and recognised, Bedr was cross-questioned again, and then
declared his intention of avenging his brother Bender’s death, nor would
he desist from this.  Mohammed, it is said, besought him to hear reason,
and offered to release him if he would be content to let matters alone.
“I do not wish to shed more blood,” he said, “but you must promise to
leave Haïl.”  Still the young man refused, and at last in despair,
Mohammed ordered his execution.  The slave, who accompanied, Bedr, was
not ill-used.  Indeed, Mohammed sent him away with gifts, and he now
resides very comfortably at Samawa on the Euphrates.

After this, Mohammed, who seems to have really felt remorse for his
wickedness, sent for Naïf, the remaining son of Tellál, who was still a
boy, and took him to live with him, and treated him as his own son.  Only
a year ago, seeing the boy growing up, he exhorted him to marry, offering
him one of his nieces and a fitting establishment.  But the boy, they
say, hung back.  “What!” he said, “you would treat me as you treat a lamb
or a kid which you fatten before you kill it?”  Mohammed wept and
entreated, and swore that he would be as a father to Naïf; and the youth
still lives honourably treated in the Emir’s house.  Opinion at Haïl,
however, is very decided that as soon as Naïf is old enough, either he or
his uncle must die.  It will be his duty to follow Bedr in his attempt,
and if need be, to end like him

All this, as may be supposed, was anything but agreeable intelligence to
us, as we travelled on to Haïl.  We felt as though we were going towards
a wild beast’s den.  In the meantime, however, there were four days
before us, four days of respite, and of that tranquillity which the
desert only gives, and we agreed to enjoy it to the utmost.  There is
something in the air of Nejd, which would exhilarate even a condemned
man, and we were far from being condemned.  It is impossible to feel
really distressed or really anxious, with such a bright sun and such pure
delicious air.  We might feel that there was danger, but we could not
feel nervous.

Our last three nights in the Nefûd were devoted to merriment, large
bonfires of yerta, round which we sat in the clear starlight, feasting on
dates bought at Jobba, and feats of strength and games among the
servants.  I will give the journal for one day, the 22nd of January: “We
have been floundering along in the deep sand all day leisurely, and with
much singing and nonsense among the men, for we are in no hurry now; it
is only one day on to Igneh, the first village of Jebel Shammar.  The
camels, though tired, are not now in any danger of breaking down, and
they have capital _nassí_ grass to eat; the tufts of grass are beginning
to get their new shoots.  The Nefûd here is as big as ever, and the
fuljes as deep; and we crossed the track of a bakar wahash or wild cow,
not an hour before we stopped.  At half past three, we came upon a
shepherd driving forty sheep to market at Haïl.  He is a Shammar from Ibn
Rahis, a sheykh, whose tents we saw to-day a long way off to the
north-east, and he intends selling his flock to the Persian pilgrims who
are expected at Haïl to-day.  The pilgrims, he says, are on their way
from Mecca, and will stay a week at Haïl.  Who knows if we may not travel
on with them?  The sheep, which I took at first for goats, are gaunt,
long legged creatures, with long silky hair, not wool, growing down to
their fetlocks, sleek pendulous ears and smooth faces.  They are jet
black with white heads, spots of black round the eyes and noses, which
look as if they had been drinking ink.  They are as unlike sheep as it is
possible to conceive, all legs, and tail, and face.  But they have the
merit of being able to live on adr for a month at a time without needing
water.  They are, I fancy, quite peculiar to Nejd.  This meeting was the
signal for a halt, and behold a delightful little fulj, just big enough
to hold us, in the middle of a bed of nassí.  We slid our horses down the
sand-slope, the camels followed, Mohammed, the while, bargaining with the
shepherd for the fattest of his flock.  Here we unloaded, and the camels
in another ten minutes were scattered all over the hill-side, for there
is a sand-hill at least a hundred feet high, close by above us.  Ibrahim,
the short, was set to watch them while the rest were busy with the camp.
There is an enormous supply of fire-wood, beautiful white logs which burn
like match wood.  We climbed to the top of the hill to take the bearings
of the country, for there is a splendid view now of Jebel Shammar, no
isolated peak, as Dr. Colvill would have it last year, but a long range
of fantastic mountains, stretching far away east and west, reminding one
somewhat of the Sierra Guadarama in Spain.  There are also several
outlying peaks distinct from the main chain.  Behind us, to the
north-west, the Jobba group, with continuations to the west and
south-west.  Eastwards, there is a single point Jebel Atwa.  Haïl lies
nearly south-east, its position marked by an abrupt cliff near the
eastern extremity of the Jebel Aja range.  The northern horizon only is
unbroken.  This done, we both went down to measure a fulj half a mile
off, and found it two hundred and seventy feet deep, with hard ground
below.  It is marked very regularly on its steep side with sheep tracks,
showing how permanent the surface of the Nefûd remains, for the little
paths are evidently of old date. {203a}  By the time of our return,
Hanna’s good coffee was ready with a dish of flour and curry, to stay
hunger until the sheep is boiled.  Awwad, who delights in butcher’s work,
has killed the sheep in the middle of our camp, for it is the custom to
slaughter at the tent door, and has been smearing the camels with gore.
When asked why, he says, “it will look as if we had been invited to a
feast.  It always looks well to have one’s camels sprinkled.”  He has
rigged up three tent poles, as a stand to hang the sheep from, and is
dismembering in a truly artistic fashion.  Ibrahim el-Tawîl and Abdallah
are collecting an immense pile of wood for the night.  Hanna is preparing
to cook.  Poor Hanna has been having a hard time of it since Meskakeh,
for now that everybody has to walk, he insists upon walking too, “to
prevent trouble,” he says, and probably he is right.  A regular Aleppin
Christian like Hanna, in such a country as this, does best by effacing
himself and disarming envy, unless indeed he can fraternize, and at the
same time inspire respect, as Ibrahim seems to have done.  Hanna is
patient, and does not complain, endeavouring, though with a rueful
countenance, to be cheerful when the rest tease him.  I do my best to
protect him, but he dares not take his own part.  Lastly, Mohammed is
sitting darning his shirt, against making his appearance at Court, and
talking to two Jobbites, who are travelling with us, about the virtues of
Ibn Rashid, and the grandeur of the Ibn Arûks.  The Ibn Arûk legend, like
a snowball, is gathering as it rolls, and we fully expect Mohammed to
appear in the character of a Prince at Haïl.  He talks already of Nejd as
his personal property, and affects a certain air of protection towards
us, as that of a host doing the honours to his guests.  His scare about
Ibn Ermal is quite forgotten.  Prince or peasant, however, Mohammed has
the great merit of always being good-tempered, and this evening he is
very amusing.  He has been telling us the whole history of his relations
with Huseyn Pasha at Deyr, which we never quite understood before (and
which I dare not repeat in detail for fear of bringing him into trouble).
He has been two or three times in prison, but poor Huseyn seems to have
been made a sad fool of.  Mohammed also gave us a full, true, and
particular account of Ahmed Beg Moali’s death; and then we had a long
discussion about the exact form in which we are to introduce ourselves at
Haïl.  Mohammed will have it that Wilfrid ought to represent himself as a
merchant travelling to Bussorah to recover a debt, but this we will not
listen to.  We think it much more agreeable and quite as prudent to be
straightforward, and we intend to tell Ibn Rashid that we are persons of
distinction in search of other persons of distinction; that we have
already made acquaintance with Ibn Smeyr and Ibn Shaalan, and all the
sheykhs of the north, and that each time we have seen a great man, we
have been told that these were nothing in point of splendour to the Emir
of Haïl, and that hearing this, and being on our way to Bussorah, we have
crossed the Nefûd to visit him, as in former days people went to see
Suliman ibn Daoud, and then we are to produce our presents and wish him a
long life.  Mohammed has been obliged to admit that this will be a better
plan; and so it is settled.  Radi, whom we have taken more or less into
our confidence, thinks that the Emir will be pleased, and promises to
sing our praises “below stairs,” and he talks of a Franji having already
been at Haïl, and having gone away with money and clothes from Ibn
Rashid.  Who this can be, we cannot imagine, for Mr. Palgrave was not
known there as a European.  So we whiled away the time till dinner was
ready, and when all had well feasted, Mohammed came to invite us to the
servants’ fire, where feats of strength were going on.  First, Abdallah
lies flat on the sand, a camel saddle is put upon his back, and then two
gigantic khurjes, weighing each of them about a hundredweight.  With
these he struggles to his knees, and then by a prodigious effort to his
feet, staggers a pace, and topples over.  Mohammed, not to be outdone,
lifts Ibrahim kasír, who weighs at least twelve stone, on the palm of his
hand off his legs.  Then they make wheels, such as are seen at a circus,
and play at a sort of leap-frog, which consists of standing in a row one
close behind the other, when the last jumps on their shoulders and runs
along till he comes to the end, where he has to turn a somersault and
alight as he can on his head or his heels.  This is very amusing, and in
the deep sand hurts nobody.  All, except Hanna, join in these athletic
sports, but Awwad, who is a Bedouin born, goes through the performance
with a rather wry face.  Bedouins never play at games as the town Arabs
do, and they have not the physical strength of the others.  Awwad
revenges himself, however, by malignantly hiding bits of hot coal in the
ground, and every now and then somebody steps on these traps with his
bare feet, and there is a scream.  Great amusement, too, is caused by
Wilfrid showing them the old game of turning three times round with the
head resting on a short stick, and then trying to walk straight.  This is
considered very funny, and they generally manage to tumble over Hanna,
and when they make him try it, arrange that he shall run into the fire.
The best game, to my mind, is something like one sometimes played by
sailors on board ship.  They all put their cloaks together in one heap,
and one man has to guard it.  Then the rest dance round him, and try to
steal the clothes away without getting touched.  Ibrahim tawíl is great
at this sport, and defends the heap with his huge hands and feet, dealing
tremendous blows on the unwary, and paying off, I fancy, not a few old
scores.  Abdallah especially, who is disliked by the rest on account of
his bad temper, gets shot clean off his legs by a straight kick almost
like a football, and a fight very nearly ensues.  But a diversion is made
by the ingenious Awwad, who steals away with a gun and fires it suddenly
from the top of the fulj, and then comes tumbling head over heels down
the sand to represent a ghazú.  So the evening passes, and as we go back
to our private lair, we see for the first time the zodiacal light in the
western sky.

This was our last night in the Nefûd, and the recollection of it long
stood as our standard of happiness, when imprisoned within walls at Haïl,
or travelling in less congenial lands.  The next day we reached Igneh,
the first village of Jebel Shammar, and the day after the mountains
themselves, the “Happy Mountains,” which had so long been the goal of our
Pilgrim’s progress.

_January_ 23.—It is like a dream to be sitting here, writing a journal on
a rock in Jebel Shammar.  When I remember how, years ago, I read that
romantic account by Mr. Palgrave, which nobody believed, of an ideal
State in the heart of Arabia, and a happy land which nobody but he had
seen, and how impossibly remote and unreal it all appeared; and how,
later during our travels, we heard of Nejd and Haïl and this very Jebel
Shammar, spoken of with a kind of awe by all who knew the name, even by
the Bedouins, from the day when at Aleppo Mr. S. first answered our vague
questions about it by saying, “It is _possible_ to go there.  Why do
_you_ not go?”  I feel that we have achieved something which it is not
given to every one to do.  Wilfrid declares that he shall die happy now,
even if we have our heads cut off at Haïl.  It is with him a favourite
maxim, that every place is exactly like every other place, but Jebel
Shammar is not like anything else, at least that I have seen in this
world, unless it be Mount Sinaï, and it is more beautiful than that.  All
our journey to-day has been a romance.  We passed through Igneh in the
early morning, stopping only to water our animals.  It is a pretty little
village, something like Jobba, on the edge of the sand, but it has what
Jobba has not, square fields of green barley unwalled outside it.  These
are of course due to irrigation, which while waiting we saw at work from
a large well, but they give it a more agricultural look than the walled
palm-groves we have hitherto seen.  Immediately after Igneh we came upon
hard ground, and in our delight indulged our tired mares in a fantasia,
which unstiffened their legs and did them good.  The soil was beautifully
crisp and firm, being composed of fine ground granite, quite different
from the sandstone formation of Jobba and Jôf.  The vegetation, too, was
changed.  The yerta and adr and other Nefûd plants had disappeared, and
in their place were shrubs, which I remember having seen in the wadys of
Mount Sinaï, with occasionally small trees of the acacia tribe known to
pilgrims as the “burning bush”—in Arabic “talkh”—also a plant with thick
green leaves and no stalks called “gheyseh,” which they say is good for
the eyes.  Every now and then a solitary boulder, all of red granite,
rose out of the plain, or here and there little groups of rounded rocks,
out of which we started several hares.  The view in front of us was
beautiful beyond description, a perfectly even plain, sloping gradually
upwards, out of which these rocks and tells cropped up like islands, and
beyond it the violet-coloured mountains now close before us, with a
precipitous cliff which has been our landmark for several days towering
over all.  The outline of Jebel Shammar is strangely fantastic, running
up into spires and domes and pinnacles, with here and there a loop-hole
through which you can see the sky, or a wonderful boulder perched like a
rocking stone on the sky line.  One rock was in shape just like a camel,
and would deceive any person who did not know that a camel could not have
climbed up there.  At half-past one we passed the first detached masses
of rock which stand like forts outside a citadel, and, bearing away
gradually to the left, reached the buttresses of the main body of hills.
These all rise abruptly from the smooth sloping surface of the plain,
and, unlike the mountains of most countries, with no interval of broken
ground.  Mount Sinaï is the only mountain I have seen like this.  In both
cases you can stand on a plain, and touch the mountain with your hand.
Only at intervals from clefts in the hills little wadys issue, showing
that it sometimes rains in Jebel Shammar.  Indeed to-night, we shall
probably have a proof of this, for a great black cloud is rising behind
the peaks westwards, and every now and then it thunders.  All is tight
and secure in our tent against rain.  There is a small ravine in the rock
close to where we are encamped, with a deep natural tank full of the
clearest water.  We should never have discovered it but for the shepherd
who came on with us to-day, for it is hidden away under some gigantic
granite boulders, and to get at it you have to creep through a hole in
the rock.  A number of bright green plants grow in among the crevices
(capers?), and we have seen a pair of partridges, little dove-coloured
birds with yellow bills.

We passed a small party of Bedouin Shammar, moving camp to-day.  One of
them had a young goshawk {210} on his delúl.  They had no horses with
them, and we have not crossed the track of a horse since leaving Shakik.
I forgot to say that yesterday we saw a Harb Bedouin, an ugly little
black faced man, who told us he was keeping sheep for the Emir.  The Harb
are the tribe which hold the neighbourhood of Medina, and have such an
evil reputation among pilgrims.

_January_ 24.—Thunderstorm in the night.  We sent on Radi early this
morning, for we had only a few miles to go, with our letters to Haïl.  It
was a lovely morning after the rain, birds singing sweetly from the
bushes, but we all felt anxious.  Even Mohammed was silent and
preoccupied, for none knew now what any moment might bring forth.  We put
on our best clothes, however, and tried to make our mares look smart.  We
had expected to find Haïl the other side of the hills, but this was a
mistake.  Instead of crossing them, we kept along their edge, turning
gradually round to the right, the ground still rising.  The barometer at
the camp was 3370, and now it marks an ascent of two hundred feet.

We passed two villages about a mile away to our left, El Akeyt and El
Uta; and from one of them we were joined by some peasants riding in to
Haïl on donkeys.  This looked more like civilisation than anything we had
seen since leaving Syria.  We were beginning to get rather nervous about
the result of our message, when Radi appeared and announced that the Emir
had read our letters, and would be delighted to see us.  He had ordered
two houses to be made ready for us, and nothing more remained for us to
do, than to ride into the town, and present ourselves at the kasr.  It
was not far off, for on coming to the top of the low ridge which had been
in front of us for some time, we suddenly saw Haïl at our feet not half a
mile distant.  The town is not particularly imposing, most of the houses
being hidden in palm groves, and the wall surrounding it little more than
ten feet high.  The only important building visible, was a large castle
close to the entrance, and this Radi told us was the kasr, Ibn Rashid’s
palace.

In spite of preoccupations, I shall never forget the vivid impression
made on me, as we entered the town, by the extraordinary spick and span
neatness of the walls and streets, giving almost an air of unreality.

                       [Picture: Reception at Haïl]



CHAPTER X.


    “There’s daggers in men’s smiles.”—SHAKESPEARE.

Haïl—The Emir Mohammed Ibn Rashid—His menagerie—His horses—His
courtiers—His wives—Amusements of the ladies of Haïl—Their domestic
life—An evening at the castle—The telephone.

AS we stayed some time at Haïl, I will not give the detail of every day.
It would be tedious, and would involve endless repetitions, and not a few
corrections, for it was only by degrees that we learned to understand all
we saw and all we heard.

Our reception was everything that we could have wished.  As we rode into
the courtyard of the kasr, we were met by some twenty well-dressed men,
each one of whom made a handsomer appearance than any Arabs we had
previously seen in our lives.  “The sons of Sheykhs,” whispered Mohammed,
who was rather pale, and evidently much impressed by the solemnity of the
occasion.  In their midst stood a magnificent old man, clothed in
scarlet, whose tall figure and snow-white beard gave us a notion of what
Solomon might have been in all his glory.  He carried a long wand in his
hand—it looked like a sceptre—and came solemnly forward to greet us.
“The Emir,” whispered Mohammed, as we all alighted.  Wilfrid then gave
the usual “salam aleykum,” to which every one replied “aleykum salam,” in
a loud cheerful tone, with a cordiality of manner that was very
reassuring.  I thought I had never seen so many agreeable faces collected
together, or people with so excellent a demeanour.  The old man, smiling,
motioned to us to enter, and others led the way.  We were then informed
that these were the servants of the Emir, and the old man his
chamberlain.  They showed us first through a dark tortuous entrance,
constructed evidently for purposes of defence, and then down a dark
corridor, one side of which was composed of pillars, reminding one a
little of the entrance to some ancient Egyptian temple.  Then one of the
servants tapped at a low door, and exchanged signals with somebody else
inside, and the door was opened, and we found ourselves in a large
kahwah, or reception room.  It was handsome from its size, seventy feet
by thirty, and from the row of five pillars, which stood in the middle,
supporting the roof.  The columns were about four feet in diameter, and
were quite plain, with square capitals, on which the ends of the rafters
rested.  The room was lighted by small square air-holes near the roof,
and by the door, which was now left open.  The whole of the inside was
white, or rather, brown-washed, and there was no furniture of any sort,
or fittings, except wooden pegs for hanging swords to, a raised platform
opposite the door where the mortar stood for coffee-pounding, and a
square hearth in one corner, where a fire was burning.

                   [Picture: The Emir’s Palace at Haïl]

It was very dark, but we could make out some slaves, busy with
coffee-pots round the fire.  Close to this we were invited to sit down,
and then an immense number of polite speeches were exchanged, our healths
being asked after at least twenty times, and always with some mention of
the name of God, for this is required by politeness in Nejd.  Coffee was
soon served, and after this the conversation became general between our
servants and the servants of the Emir, and then there was a stir, and a
general rising, and the word was passed round, “yiji el Emir,” the Emir
is coming.  We, too, got up, and this time it really was the Emir.  He
came in at the head of a group of still more smartly-dressed people than
those we had seen before, and held out his hand to Wilfrid, to me, and to
Mohammed, exchanging salutations with each of us in turn, and smiling
graciously.  Then we all sat down, and Wilfrid made a short speech of the
sort we had already agreed upon, which the Emir answered very amiably,
saying that he was much pleased to see us, and that he hoped we should
make his house our house.  He then asked Mohammed for news of the road;
of Jóhar and Meskakeh, and especially about the war going on between
Sotamm and Ibn Smeyr.  So far so good, and it was plain that we had
nothing now to fear; yet I could not help looking now and then at those
pegs on the wall, and thinking of the story of the young Ibn Jabars and
their slaves, who had been so treacherously murdered in this very hall,
and by this very man, our host.

The Emir’s face is a strange one.  It may be mere fancy, prompted by our
knowledge of Ibn Rashid’s past life, but his countenance recalled to us
the portraits of Richard the Third, lean, sallow cheeks, much sunken,
thin lips, with an expression of pain, except when smiling, a thin black
beard, well defined black knitted eyebrows, and remarkable eyes,—eyes
deep sunk and piercing, like the eyes of a hawk, but ever turning
restlessly from one of our faces to the other, and then to those beside
him.  It was the very type of a conscience-stricken face, or of one which
fears an assassin.  His hands, too, were long and claw-like, and never
quiet for an instant, incessantly playing, while he talked, with his
beads, or with the hem of his abba.  With all this, the Emir is very
distinguished in appearance, with a tall figure, and, clothed as he was
in purple and fine linen, he looked every inch a king.  His dress was
magnificent; at first we fancied it put on only in our honour, but this
we found to be a mistake, and Ibn Rashid never wears anything less
gorgeous.  His costume consisted of several jibbehs of brocaded Indian
silk, a black abba, interwoven with gold, and at least three kefiyehs,
one over the other, of the kind made at Bagdad.  His aghal, also, was of
the Bagdad type, which I had hitherto supposed were only worn by women,
bound up with silk and gold thread, and set high on the forehead, so as
to look like a crown.  In the way of arms he wore several golden-hilted
daggers and a handsome golden-hilted sword, ornamented with turquoises
and rubies, Haïl work, as we afterwards found.  His immediate attendants,
though less splendid, were also magnificently clothed.

After about a quarter of an hour’s conversation, Mohammed ibn Rashid rose
and went out, and we were then shown upstairs by ourselves to a corridor,
where dates and bread and butter were served to us.  Then a message came
from the Emir, begging that we would attend his _mejlis_, the court of
justice which he holds daily in the yard of the palace.  We were not at
all prepared for this, and when the castle gate was opened, and we were
ushered out into the sunshine, we were quite dazzled by the spectacle
which met our eyes.

The courtyard, which is about a hundred yards long by fifty broad, was
completely lined with soldiers, not soldiers such as we are accustomed to
in Europe, but still soldiers.  They were, to a certain extent, in
uniform, that is to say, they all wore brown cloaks and blue or red
kefiyehs on their heads.  Each, moreover, carried a silver-hilted sword.
I counted up to eight hundred of them forming the square, and they were
sitting in a double row under the walls, one row on a sort of raised
bench, which runs round the yard, and the other squatted on the ground in
front of them.  The Emir had a raised seat under the main wall, and he
was surrounded by his friends, notably his cousin Hamúd, who attends him
everywhere, and his favourite slave, Mubarek, whose duty it is to guard
him constantly from assassins. {218}  In front of the Emir stood
half-a-dozen suppliants, and outside the square of soldiers, a mob of
citizens and pilgrims, for the pilgrimage had arrived at Haïl.  We had to
walk across the square escorted by a slave, and the Emir motioned us to
take places at his side, which we accordingly did; he then went on with
his work.  People came with petitions, which were read to him by Hamúd,
and to which he generally put his seal without discussion, and then there
was a quarrel to settle, the rights of which I confess I did not
understand, for the Arabic spoken at Haïl is different from any we had
hitherto heard.  I noticed, however, that though the courtiers addressed
Mohammed as Emir, the poorer people, probably Bedouins, called him “ya
Sheykh,” or simply “ya Mohammed.”  One, who was probably a small Shammar
Sheykh, he kissed on the cheek.  Some pilgrims, who had a grievance, also
presented themselves, and had their case very summarily decided; they
were then turned out by the soldiers.  No case occupied more than three
minutes, and the whole thing was over in half-an-hour.  At last the Emir
rose, bowed to us, and went into the palace, while we, very glad to
stretch our legs, which were cramped with squatting on the bench barely a
foot wide, were escorted to our lodgings by the chamberlain and two of
the soldiers.

We found a double house provided for us in the main street of Haïl, and
not two hundred yards from the kasr—a house without pretence, but
sufficient for our wants, and secure from all intruders, for the street
door could be locked, and the walls were high.  It consisted of two
separate houses, as I believe most dwellings in Arabia do, one for men
and the other for women.  In the former there was a kahwah and a couple
of smaller rooms, and this we gave over to Mohammed and the servants,
keeping the _harim_ for ourselves.  This last had a small open court,
just large enough for the three mares to stand in, an open vestibule of
the sort they call _liwan_ at Damascus, and two little dens.  In one of
these dens we stored our luggage, and in the other, spread our beds.  The
doors of these inner rooms could be locked up when we went out, with
curious wooden locks and wooden keys; the doors were of ithel wood.  All
was exceedingly simple, but in decent repair and clean, the only
ornaments being certain patterns, scratched out in white from the brown
wash which covered the walls.  Here we soon made ourselves comfortable,
and were not sorry to rest at last, after our long journey.

Our rest, however, was not to come yet.  It was only one o’clock when we
arrived at our house, and before two, the Emir sent for us again.  This
time the reception was a private one in the upper rooms of the kasr, and
we found the Emir alone with Hamúd.  He received us with even more
cordiality than before, and with less ceremony.  We had brought presents
with us, the duty of displaying which we left to Mohammed, who expatiated
on their value and nature with all the art of a bazaar merchant.  As for
us, we were a little ashamed of their insignificance, for we had had no
conception of Ibn Rashid’s true position when we left Damascus, and the
scarlet cloth jibbeh we had considered the _ne plus ultra_ of splendour
for him, looked shabby among the gorgeous dresses worn at Haïl.  We had
added to the cloak and other clothes, which are the usual gifts of
ceremony, a revolver in a handsome embroidered case, a good telescope,
and a Winchester rifle, any one of which would have made Jedaan or Ibn
Shaalan open his eyes with pleasure; but Ibn Rashid, though far too
well-bred not to admire and approve, cared evidently little for these
things, having seen them all before.  Even the rifle was no novelty, for
he had an exactly similar one in his armoury.  Poor Mohammed, however,
went on quite naïvely with his descriptions, while the Emir looked out of
window through the telescope, pretending to be examining the wall
opposite, for there was no view.  Hamúd, his cousin, whose acquaintance
we now made, is more _sympathique_ than the Emir, though they are
ridiculously like each other in face, but Hamúd has the advantage of a
good conscience, and has no vengeance to fear.  They were dressed also
alike, so that it was difficult at first to know them apart; perhaps
there is a motive in this, as with the Richmonds of Shakespeare.  The
Emir’s room was on the same plan as the kahwah, but smaller, and boasting
only two columns, the coffee place in the right-hand corner as you enter,
and the Emir’s fireplace, with a fire burning in it, on an iron plate in
front.  Persian carpets were spread, and there were plenty of cushions to
lean against by the wall.  We were invited to sit down to the left of the
Emir and Hamúd, who never seems to leave his side.  Mohammed had a place
on the right, between them and the door.  Coffee, and a very sweet tea,
were handed round in thimblefuls, and a good deal of conversation ensued.
We had brought a letter from our old friend the Nawab Ikbal ed-Dowlah,
who had been at Haïl about forty years ago, in the time of Abdallah ibn
Rashid. {221}  The Emir remembered his coming, though he must have been a
child at the time, and said some pretty things in compliment of him.  He
then asked Mohammed about his Arûk relations in Jôf, and said that they
had always been faithful to him.  They had taken the Emir’s part, it
would seem, in some revolt which took place there a few years ago.  There
was also an Ibn Arûk in Harík, a Bedouin sheykh, who the Emir said was a
friend of his; at least, he was on bad terms with Ibn Saoud and the
Wahhabis, and this is a title to favour at Haïl.  Ibn Rashid is very
jealous of Ibn Saoud, and now that the Wahhabi empire is broken up,
fosters any discontent there may be in Aared.  I believe many of the
Bedouin sheykhs of Upper Nejd have come over to him.  Mohammed, thus
encouraged, launched out into his favourite tales, and repeated the Ibn
Arûk legend, which, I confess, I am beginning to get a little tired of,
and then went on to describe the wonders of Tudmur, of which he now
implied, without exactly stating it in words, that he was actual Sheykh.
The house he lived in at home, he said, had columns of marble, each sixty
feet in height, and had been built originally by Suliman ibn Daoud.
There were two hundred of these columns in and around it, and the walls
were twenty feet thick.  The Emir, who seemed rather perplexed by this,
appealed to us for confirmation, and we told him that all this really
existed at Tudmur; indeed, there was no gainsaying the fact that
Mohammed’s father’s house had some of the objects named on the premises,
though the house itself is but a little square box of mud.  The city
wall, in fact, makes one side of the stable, and a column or two have
been worked into the modern building; but this we did not think it
necessary to explain.  Mohammed’s reputation rose in consequence, and I
already began to fear that the Emir’s civilities had turned his head.  I
heard him whisper to Hamúd that the silver-hilted sword he is wearing,
and which is the one Wilfrid gave him at Damascus, was an ancestral
relic; it had been, he said, “min zeman,” from time immemorial, in the
Arûk family.  He had also established a fiction, in which he privately
entreated us to join, that we started from home with a hawk (for all the
best falcons come from Tudmur), and lost it on the journey. {223}

While we were discussing these important matters, the call to prayer was
heard, and the two Ibn Rashids, begging us to remain seated, rose and
went out.

They were absent a few minutes, and on their return the Emir, to our
great delight, proposed to show us his gardens, and immediately led the
way down tortuous passages and through courts and doors into a palm grove
surrounded by a high wall.  Here we were joined by numerous slaves, some
black, some white, for there are both sorts at Haïl.  A number of
gazelles were running about, and came up quite familiarly as we entered.
These were of two varieties, one browner than the other, answering, I
believe, to what are called the “gazelle des bois,” and the “gazelle des
plaines,” in Algeria.  There were also a couple of ibexes with immense
heads, tame like the gazelles, and allowing themselves to be stroked.
The gazelles seemed especially at home, and we were told that they breed
here in captivity.  The most interesting, however, of all the animals in
this garden were three of the wild cows (bakar wahhash), from the Nefûd,
which we had so much wished to see.  They proved to be, as we had
supposed, a kind of antelope, {224} though their likeness to cows was
quite close enough to account for their name.  They stood about as high
as an Alderney calf six months old, and had humps on their shoulders like
the Indian cattle.  In colour they were a yellowish white, with reddish
legs turning to black towards the feet.  The face was parti-coloured, and
the horns, which were black, were quite straight and slanted backwards,
and fully three feet long, with spiral markings.  These wild cows were
less tame than the rest of the animals, and the slaves were rather afraid
of them, for they seemed ready to use their horns, which were as sharp as
needles.  The animals, though fat, evidently suffered from confinement,
for all were lame, one with an enlarged knee, and the rest with overgrown
hoofs.  When we had seen and admired the menagerie, and fed the antelopes
with dates, we went on through a low door, which we had almost to creep
through, into another garden, where there were lemon trees (treng),
bitter oranges (hámud), and pomegranates (roman).  The Emir, who was very
polite and attentive to me, had some of the fruit picked and gave me a
bunch of a kind of thyme, the only flower growing there.  We saw some
camels at work drawing water from a large well, a hundred to a hundred
and fifty feet deep, to judge by the rope.  The Emir then crept through
another low door and we after him, and then to our great satisfaction we
found ourselves in a stable-yard full of mares, tethered in rows each to
a manger.  I was almost too excited to look, for it was principally to
see these that we had come so far.

This yard contained about twenty mares, and beyond it was another with a
nearly equal number.  Then there was a third with eight horses, tethered
in like manner; and beyond it again a fourth with thirty or forty foals.
I will not now describe all we saw, for the Emir’s stud will require a
chapter to itself.  Suffice it to say, that Wilfrid’s first impression
and mine were alike.  The animals we saw before us were not comparable
for beauty of form or for quality with the best we had seen among the
Gomussa.  The Emir, however, gave us little time for reflection, for with
a magnificent wave of his hand, and explaining with mock humility, “The
horses of my slaves,” he dragged us on from one yard to another, allowing
us barely time to ask a few questions as to breed, for the answers to
which he referred us to Hamúd.  We had seen enough, however, to make us
very happy, and Hamúd had promised that we should see them again.  There
was no doubt whatever that, in spite of the Emir’s disclaimer, these were
Ibn Rashid’s celebrated mares, the representatives of that stud of Feysul
ibn Saoud, about which such a romance had been made.

An equally interesting spectacle, the Emir thought for us, was his
kitchen, to which he now showed the way.  Here, with unconcealed pride,
he displayed his pots and pans, especially seven monstrous cauldrons,
capable each, he declared, of boiling three whole camels.  Several of
them were actually at work, for Ibn Rashid entertains nearly two hundred
guests daily, besides his own household.  Forty sheep or seven camels are
his daily bill of fare.  As we came out, we found the hungry multitude
already assembling.  Every stranger in Haïl has his place at Ibn Rashid’s
table, and towards sunset the courtyard begins to fill.  The Emir does
not himself preside at these feasts.  He always dines alone, or in his
harim; but the slaves and attendants are extraordinarily well-drilled,
and behave with perfect civility to all comers, rich and poor alike.  Our
own dinner was brought to us at our house.  Thus ended our first day at
Haïl, a day of wonderful interest, but not a little fatiguing.  “Ya
akhi,” (oh my brother), said Mohammed ibn Arûk to Wilfrid that evening,
as they sat smoking and drinking their coffee, “did I not promise you
that you should see Nejd, and Ibn Rashid, and the mares of Haïl, and have
you not seen them?”  We both thanked him, and, indeed, we both felt very
grateful.  Not that the favours were all on one side; for brotherly
offices had been very evenly balanced, and Mohammed had been quite as
eager to make this journey as we had.  But, alas! our pleasant
intercourse with Mohammed was very near its end.

The next few days of our life at Haïl may be briefly described.  Wilfrid
and Mohammed went every morning to the mejlis, and then paid visits,
sometimes to Hamúd, sometimes to Mubarek, sometimes to the Emir.  A slave
brought us our breakfast daily from the kasr, and a soldier came to
escort us through the streets.  Mohammed had now made acquaintances of
his own, and was generally out all day long.  I stayed very much in
doors, and avoided passing through the streets, except when invited to
come to the castle, for we had agreed that discretion was the better part
of valour with us.  That there was some reason for this prudence I think
probable, for though we never experienced anything but politeness from
the Haïl people, we heard afterwards that some among them were not best
pleased at the reception given us by the Emir.  Europeans had never
before been seen in Nejd; and it is possible that a fanatical feeling
might have arisen if we had done anything to excite it.  Wahhabism is on
the decline, but not yet extinct at Haïl; and the Wahhabis would of
course have been our enemies.  In the Emir’s house, or even under charge
of one of his officers, we were perfectly safe, but wandering about alone
would have been rash.  The object, too, would have been insufficient, for
away from the Court there is little to see at Haïl.

With Hamúd and his family we made great friends.  He was a man who at
once inspired confidence, and we had no cause to regret having acted on
our first impression of his character.  He has always, they say, refused
to take presents from the Emir; and has never approved of his conduct,
though he has sided with him politically, and serves him faithfully as a
brother.  His manners are certainly as distinguished as can be found
anywhere in the world, and he is besides intelligent and well informed.
The Emir is different; with him there was always a certain _gêne_.  It
was impossible to forget the horrible story of his usurpation; and there
was something, too, about him which made it impossible to feel quite at
ease in his presence.  Though he knows how to behave with dignity, he
does not always do so.  It is difficult to reconcile his almost childish
manner, at times, with the ability he has given proofs of.  He has
something of the spoiled child in his way of wandering on from one
subject to another; and, like Jóhar, of asking questions which he does
not always wait to hear answered, a piece of ill-manners not altogether
unroyal, and so, perhaps, the effect of his condition as a sovereign
prince.  He is also very naïvely vain, as most people become who are fed
constantly on flattery; and he is continually on the look-out for
compliments about his power, and his wisdom, and his possessions.  His
jealousy of other great Sheykhs whom we have seen is often childishly
displayed.  Hamúd has none of this.  I fancy he stands to his cousin
Mohammed somewhat in the position in which Morny is supposed to have
stood to Louis Napoleon, only that Morny was neither so good a man nor
even so fine a gentleman as Hamúd.  He gives the Emir advice, and in
private speaks his mind, only appearing to the outer world as the
obsequious follower of his prince.  Hamúd has several sons, the eldest of
whom, Majid, has all his father’s charm of manner, and has, besides, the
attraction of perfectly candid youth, and a quite ideal beauty.  He is
about sixteen, and he and his brother and a young uncle came to see us
the morning after our arrival, sent by their father to pay their
compliments.  He talked very much and openly about everything, and gave
us a quantity of information about the various mares at the Emir’s
stable, and about his father’s mares and his own.  He then went on to
tell us of an expedition he had made with the Emir to the neighbourhood
of Queyt, and of how he had seen the sea.  They had made a ghazú on the
felláhín of the sea-coast, and had then returned.  He asked me how I rode
on horseback, and I showed him my side-saddle, which, however, did not
surprise him.  “It is a shedad,” he said; “you ride as one rides a
delúl.”  This young Majid, though he looks quite a boy, is married; and
we were informed that here no one of good family puts off marriage after
the age of sixteen.  I made acquaintance with his wife Urgheyeh, who is
very pretty, very small in stature, and very young; she is one of
Metaab’s daughters, and her sister is married to Hamúd, so that father
and son are brothers-in-law.

Mubarek, the Emir’s chief slave, was one of our particular acquaintances.
He inhabits a very handsome house, as houses go in Haïl; and there
Wilfrid paid him more than one visit.  His house is curiously decorated
with designs in plaster of birds and beasts—ostriches, antelopes, and
camels.  Though a slave, Mubarek has not in appearance the least trace of
negro blood; and it is still a mystery to us how he happens to be one.
He is a well-bred person, and has done everything in his power to make
things pleasant for us.

On the second day after our arrival, after the usual compliments and some
conversation, I asked the Emir’s permission to pay a visit to the harim.
Mohammed ibn Rashid appeared gratified by my request, which he
immediately granted, saying that he would send to the khawatin (ladies)
to inform them, and desire them to prepare for my reception.  He
accordingly despatched a messenger, but we sat on talking for a long time
before anything came of the message; I had grown quite tired of waiting,
and was already wondering how soon we should be at liberty to return
home, where I might write my journal in secret, when the servant
re-appeared, and brought us word that Amusheh, the Emir’s chief wife, was
ready to receive me.  I fancy that ladies here seldom dress with any care
unless they want to display their silks and jewels to some visitor; and
on such special occasions their toilet is a most elaborate one, with kohl
and fresh paint, and takes a long time.  The Emir at once put me in
charge of a black slave woman, who led the way to the harim.  Hamúd’s
wives as well as Mohammed’s live in the palace, but in separate
dwellings.  The kasr is almost a town in itself, and I and my black guide
walked swiftly through so many alleys and courts, and turned so many
corners to the right and to the left, that if I had been asked to find my
way back unassisted, I certainly could not have done it.  At last,
however, after crossing a very large courtyard, we stopped at a small low
door.  This was open, and through it I could see a number of people
sitting round a fire within, for it was the entrance to Amusheh’s kahwah.
This room had two columns supporting the ceiling, like all other rooms I
had seen in the palace, except the great kahwah, which has five.  The
fire-place, as usual, an oblong hole in the ground, was on the left as
one entered, in the corner near the door; in it stood a brazier
containing the fire, and between it and the wall handsome carpets had
been spread.  All the persons present rose to their feet as I arrived.
Amusheh could easily be singled out from among the crowd, even before she
advanced to do the honours.  She possesses a certain distinction of
appearance and manner which would be recognised anywhere, and completely
eclipsed the rest of the company.  But she, the daughter of Obeyd and
sister of Hamúd, has every right to outshine friends, relatives, and
fellow wives.  Her face, though altogether less regularly shaped than her
brother’s, is sufficiently good-looking, with a well-cut nose and mouth,
and something singularly sparkling and brilliant.  Hedusheh and Lulya,
the two next wives, who were present, had gold brocade as rich as hers,
and lips and cheeks smeared as red as hers with carmine, and eyes with
borders kohled as black as hers, but lacked her charm.  Amusheh is
besides clever and amusing, and managed to keep up a continual flow of
conversation, in which the other two hardly ventured to join.  They sat
looking pretty and agreeable, but were evidently kept in a subordinate
position.  Lulya shares with Amusheh, as the latter informed me, what
they consider the great privilege of never leaving town, thus taking
precedence of Hedusheh, on whom devolves the duty of following the Emir’s
fortunes in the desert, where he always spends a part of the year in
tents.  The obligation of such foreign service is accounted derogatory,
and accordingly objected to by these Haïl ladies.  They have no idea of
amusement, if I may judge from what they said to me, but a firm
conviction that perfect happiness and dignity consist in sitting still.

This happiness Amusheh and I enjoyed for some time.  We sat together on
one carpet spread over a mattress, cushions being ranged along the wall
behind us for us to lean against, and the fire in front scorching our
faces while we talked.  On my right sat Hedusheh; beyond her Lulya and
the rest of the company, making a circle round the fireplace.  Before
long, Atwa, a pretty little girl, who was introduced to me as the fourth
wife, came in and took her place beyond Lulya.  She looked more like a
future wife than one actually married, being very young; and indeed it
presently appeared that she had merely been brought to be looked at and
considered about, and that the Emir had decided to reject her as too
childish and insignificant. {233}  He was, in fact, casting about in his
mind for some suitable alliance which should bring him political support,
as well as an increase of domestic comfort.  That these were the objects
of his new matrimonial projects I soon learned from his own mouth, from
the questions he asked me about the marriageable daughters of Bedouin
Sheyks.  What could, indeed, be more suitable for his purpose than some
daughter of a great desert sheykh, whose family should be valuable allies
in war, while she herself, the ideal fourth wife, unlike these ladies of
the town, should be always ready to accompany her husband to the desert,
and should indeed prefer the desert to the town?

Among other persons present were several oldish women, relatives, whose
names and exact relationship have slipped my memory; also a few friends
and a vast number of attendants and slaves, these last mostly black.
They all squatted round the fire, each trying to get into the front rank,
and to seize every opportunity of wedging in a remark, by way of joining
in the conversation of their betters.  None of these outsiders were
otherwise than plainly dressed in the dark blue or black cotton or
woollen stuffs, used by ordinary Bedouin women in this part of Arabia,
often bordered with a very narrow red edge, like a cord or binding, which
looks well.  The rich clothes worn by Amusheh and her companion wives are
somewhat difficult to describe, presenting as they did an appearance of
splendid shapelessness.  Each lady had a garment cut like an abba, but
closed up the front, so that it must have been put on over the head; and
as it was worn without any belt or fastening at the waist, it had the
effect of a sack.  These sacks or bags were of magnificent material, gold
interwoven with silk, but neither convenient nor becoming, effectually
hiding any grace of figure.  Amusheh wore crimson and gold, and round her
neck a mass of gold chains studded with turquoises and pearls.  Her hair
hung down in four long plaits, plastered smooth with some reddish stuff,
and on the top of her head stuck a gold and turquoise ornament, like a
small plate, about four inches in diameter.  This was placed forward at
the edge of the forehead, and fastened back with gold and pearl chains to
another ornament resembling a lappet, also of gold and turquoise, hooked
on behind the head, and having flaps which fell on each side of the head
and neck, ending in long strings of pearls with bell-shaped gold and
pearl tassels.  The pearls were all irregularly shaped and unsorted as to
size, the turquoises very unequal in shape, size, and quality, the coral
generally in beads.  The gold work was mostly good, some of it said to be
from Persia, but the greater part of Haïl workmanship.  I had nearly
forgotten to mention the nose-ring, here much larger than I have seen it
at Bagdad and elsewhere, measuring an inch and a half to two inches
across.  It consists of a thin circle of gold, with a knot of gold and
turquoises attached by a chain to the cap or lappet before described.  It
is worn in the left nostril, but taken out and left dangling while the
wearer eats and drinks.  A most inconvenient ornament, I thought and
said, and when removed it leaves an unsightly hole, badly pierced, in the
nostril, and more uncomfortable-looking than the holes in European ears.
But fashion rules the ladies at Haïl as in other places, and my new
acquaintances only laughed at such criticisms.  They find these trinkets
useful toys, and amuse themselves while talking by continually pulling
them out and putting them in again.  The larger size of ring seemed
besides to be a mark of high position, so that the diameter of the circle
might be considered the measure of the owner’s rank, for the rings of all
inferiors were kept within the inch.

Amusheh was very communicative, but told me so many new names, that I
could not remember all the information she volunteered about the Ibn
Rashid family and relationships.  She remarked that neither she nor any
of Mohammed’s wives had any children, a fact which I already knew, and
not from Radi alone; for it is the talk of the town and tribe that this
is a judgment for the Emir’s crimes.  She spoke with great affection of
her nephew Majid and of her brother Hamúd, and with veneration of her
father Obeyd, but I cannot recollect that she told me anything new about
any of them.  She spoke too of Tellál, but of course made no mention of
Bender.  Indeed, anxious as I was for any information she might give, I
knew too much of the family history and secrets to venture on asking many
questions; besides, any show of curiosity might have made her suspect me
of some unavowed motive.  I therefore felt more at ease when the
conversation wandered from dangerous topics to safe and trivial ones,
such as the manners and customs of different countries.  “Why do you not
wear your hair like mine?” said she, holding out one of her long auburn
plaits for me to admire; and I had to explain that such short locks as
mine were not sufficient for the purpose.  “Then why did I not dress in
gold brocade?”  “How unsuitable,” I replied, “would such beautiful stuffs
be for the rough work of travelling, hunting, and riding in the desert.”
When we talked of riding, Amusheh seemed for a moment doubtful whether to
be completely satisfied about her own lot in life—she would like, she
said, to see me on my mare; and I promised she should, if possible, be
gratified; but the opportunity never occurred, and perhaps the supreme
authority did not care that it should.  Even she might become
discontented.  Thus conversing, time slipped away, and the midday call to
prayer sounded.  My hostess then begged me to excuse her, and added, “I
wish to pray.”  She and the rest then got up and went to say their
prayers in the middle of the room.  After this she returned and continued
the conversation where we had left it off.

Some slaves now brought a tray, which they placed before me.  On it was a
regular solid breakfast: a large dish of rice in the middle, set round
with small bowls of various sorts of rich and greasy sauces to be eaten
with the rice.  I excused myself as well as I could for my want of
appetite, and said that I had this very morning eaten one of the hares
sent to us by the Emir.  Of course I was only exhorted all the more to
eat, and obliged to go through the form of trying; but fortunately there
were other hungry mouths at hand, and eager eyes watching till the dishes
should be passed on to them, so I got off pretty easily.

Amusheh afterwards invited me to go upstairs, that she might show me her
own private apartment, on the floor above the kahwah.  I followed her up
a steep staircase, of which each step was at least eighteen inches in
height.  It led nowhere, except to a single room, the same size as the
one below, and built in the same way, with two columns supporting the
roof, and with a window in a recess corresponding to the door beneath.
This apartment was well carpeted, and contained for other furniture a
large bed, or couch, composed of a pile of mattresses, with a velvet and
gold counterpane spread over it; also a kind of press or cupboard, a box
(sanduk) rather clumsily made of dark wood, ornamented by coarse, thin
plaques of silver stuck on it here and there.  The press stood against
the wall, and might be five feet long and two to three feet high, opening
with two doors, and raised about two feet from the floor on four thin
legs.  Underneath and in front of it were three or four rows of china and
crockery of a common sort, and a few Indian bowls, all arranged on the
carpet like articles for sale in the streets.  Amusheh asked what I
thought of her house, was it nice?  And after satisfying herself of my
approbation, she conducted me down again, and we sat as before on the
mattress between the brazier and the wall.

During my stay, the Emir paid two visits to the kahwah, and each time
that he appeared at the door the crowd and the wives, except Amusheh,
rose and remained standing until he left.  Amusheh only made a slight bow
or movement, as if about to rise, and kept her place by me while her
husband stood opposite to us talking.  He addressed himself almost
entirely to me, and spoke chiefly in the frivolous, almost puerile,
manner he sometimes affects.  He inquired my opinion of his wives,
whether they were more beautiful and charming than Ibn Shaalan’s wife,
Ghiowseh, the sister of El Homeydi ibn Meshur, or than his former wife,
Turkya, Jedaan’s daughter, who had left him and returned to her father’s
tent.  In the forty-eight hours since my arrival at Haïl, the Emir had
already asked me many questions about these two ladies, and I now
answered for the hundredth time that Turkya was pretty and nice, and that
Ghiowseh was still prettier, but very domineering.  He was, however,
determined on a comparison of the two families, and it was fortunate that
now, having seen Amusheh, Hedusheh, and Lulya and Atwa, I could say with
truth they were handsomer, even the poor little despised Atwa, than their
rivals.  He was rather impatient of Atwa being classed with the others,
and said, “Oh, Atwa, I don’t want her; she is worth nothing.”  His
character is, as I have already said, a strange mixture of remarkable
ability and political insight on the one hand, and on the other a
tendency to waste time and thought on the most foolish trifles, if they
touch his personal vanity.  Of his ability I judge by his extremely
interesting remarks on serious subjects, as well as by the position he
has been able to seize and to keep.  Of his energy no one can doubt, for
he has shown it, alas, by his crimes; but he is so eaten up with petty
personal jealousies, that I sometimes wonder whether these would
influence his conduct at an important political crisis.  I think,
however, that at such a moment all little vanities would be forgotten,
for he is above all things ambitious, and his vanity is, as it were, a
part and parcel of his ambition.  He is personally jealous of all other
renowned chiefs, because here in Arabia personal heroism is, perhaps more
than anywhere else in the world since the age of chivalry, an engine of
political power.  He would, I doubt not, make alliance with Sotamm, if
necessary to gain his ends; nevertheless, he could not resist talking to
me about Ibn Shaalan at this most inappropriate moment, evidently hoping
to hear something disparaging of his rival.  I confess I found it
embarrassing to undergo an examination as to the merits of Ghiowseh and
Turkya in the presence of Mohammed’s own wives, who all listened with
wide open eyes, breathless with attention.  My embarrassment only
increased when, after the Emir was gone, Amusheh, on her part,
immediately attacked me with a volley of questions.  While he remained he
had persisted in his inquiries, especially about Turkya, till I, being
driven into a corner, at last lost patience, and exclaimed, “But why do
you ask me these questions?  Why do you want to hear about Turkya?  What
is it to you whether she is fair or kind?  You never have seen her, nor
is it likely you ever will see her!”  “No,” he replied, “I have never
seen her.  Yet I want to know something about her, and to hear your
opinion of her.  Perhaps some day I may like to marry her.  I might take
her instead of this little girl,” pointing to Atwa, “who will never do
for me, and whom I will not have.  She is worthless,” he repeated,
“worthless.”  Poor little Atwa stood listening, but I think with stolid
indifference, for I watched her countenance, and could not detect even a
passing shade of regret or disappointment.  Indeed, of all the wives,
Amusheh alone seemed to me to have any personal feeling of affection for
the Emir.  She, the moment he had left, fell upon me with questions.
“Who is Turkya?” she asked, almost gasping for breath.  It surprised me
that she did not know, for she knew who El-Homeydi ibn Meshur was.  I had
to explain that his sister Ghiowseh had married Sotamm ibn Shaalan, and
to tell her the story of Sotamm’s second marriage; and of how Ghiowseh
had determined to get rid of her rival, and succeeded in making the
latter so uncomfortable, that she had left, and had since refused to
return.  Amusheh certainly cares about Ibn Rashid, and I thought she
feared lest a new element of discord should be brought into the family.
As to her own position, it could hardly be affected by the arrival of a
new wife; she, as Hamúd’s sister, must be secure of her rank and
influence, and the Emir, with his guilty conscience, would never dare, if
he ever wished, to slight her or Hamúd, to whose support he owes so much.

From Amusheh’s house I went with a black slave girl to another house also
within the kasr, that of Hamúd’s wife, Beneyeh, a daughter of Metaab.
There I saw Urgheyeh, her sister, married to Majid, son of Hamúd; also
another wife of Hamúd’s.  This last person I found was not considered as
an equal, and on asking about her birth and parentage, was told, “She is
the daughter of a Shammar.”  “Who?” I inquired.  “Ahad” (one).  “But
_who_ is he?”  “Ahad,—fulan min Haïl min el belad” (some one, a person of
the town).  She was hardly considered as belonging to the family.  The
third and fourth wives, whom I afterwards saw, are, like the first,
relations, one a daughter of Tellál, and the other of Suleyman, Hamúd’s
uncle on the mother’s side (khal).  These four are young; Majid’s mother,
whose name I never heard, died, I believe, several years ago.  Hamúd,
like the Emir, keeps up the number of his wives to the exact figure
permitted by the law of the Koran, any one who dies or fails to please
being replaced as we replace a servant.

Beneyeh met me at her door, and we went through a little ante-room or
vestibule into her kahwah.  Here we remained only a few moments till, to
my surprise, three arm-chairs were brought and placed in the ante-room.
On these I and Beneyeh and the second class wife sat, drinking tea out of
tea-cups, with saucers and tea-spoons.  The cups were filled to the brim,
and the tea in them then filled to overflowing with lumps of sugar.  It
was, however, good.  A pile of sweet limes was then brought; slaves
peeled the fruits, and divided them into quarters, which they handed
round.  After these refreshments Beneyeh wished to show me her room
upstairs.  It was reached, like Amusheh’s private apartment, by a rugged
staircase from the kahwah, and was built in the same style, with two
columns supporting the rafters, only it had no outlook, being lighted
only by two small openings high up in the wall.  It was, however, more
interesting than Amusheh’s room, for its walls were decorated with arms.
There were eighteen or twenty swords, and several guns and daggers,
arranged with some care and taste as ornaments.  The guns were all very
old-fashioned things, with long barrels, but most of them beautifully
inlaid with silver.  Two of the daggers we had already seen in the
evening, when the Emir sent for them to show us as specimens of the
excellence of Haïl goldsmiths’ work.  The swords, or sword-hilts, were of
various degrees of richness, the blades I did not see.  Unfortunately at
the moment I did not think of Obeyd and his three wishes, and so forgot
to ask Beneyeh whether Obeyd’s sword was among these; it would not have
done to inquire about the widow, but there would have been no impropriety
in asking about the sword, and I afterwards the more regretted having
omitted to do so, because this proved to be my only opportunity.  It
would have been curious to ascertain whether Obeyd wore a plain
unjewelled weapon in keeping with Wahhabi austerity.  He would surely
have disapproved, could he have foreseen it, of the gold and jewels, not
to mention silks and brocaded stuffs now worn by his descendants; for his
own children have none of the severe asceticism attributed to him,
although they inherit his love of prayer.

Hamúd came upstairs while I was there with Beneyeh, but he only stayed a
few minutes.  They seemed to be on very good terms, and after he left she
talked a great deal about him, and seemed very proud of him.  “This is
Hamúd’s, and this, and this,” said she, “and here is his bed,” pointing
to a pile of mattresses with a fine coverlid.  There were several
European articles of furniture in the room, an iron bedstead with
mattresses, several common looking-glasses, with badly gilt frames, and a
clock with weights.  Urgheyeh now joined us, and Beneyeh particularly
showed me a handsome necklace her sister wore of gold and coral,
elaborately worked.  “This was my father’s,” she told me, adding that the
ornament came from Persia.  Beneyeh is immensely proud of her son,
Abdallah, a fine boy of four months old.  She and her sister were so
amiable and anxious to please, that I could willingly have spent the rest
of the afternoon with them.  But it was now time to pay my next visit.
After many good-byes and good wishes from both sisters, my black guide
seized hold of my hand, and we proceeded to the apartments of another
wife of Hamúd, Zehowa, daughter of Tellál.  She is sympathetic and
intelligent, extremely small and slight, with the tiniest of hands.  Like
the other ladies, she wore rings on her fingers, with big, irregular
turquoises.  We sat by the fire and ate sweet limes and trengs and drank
tea.  Zehowa sent for her daughter, a baby only nine months old, to show
me, and I told her I had a daughter of my own, and that girls were better
than boys, which pleased her, and she answered, “Yes, the daughter is the
mother’s, but the son belongs to the father.”

Presently one of the guards, a tall black fellow, all in scarlet, came
with a message for me, a request from the Beg that I would join him in
the Emir’s kahwah, where he was waiting for me.  Zehowa, like her
cousins, begged hard that I would stay, or at least promise to visit her
again as soon as possible, and I, bidding her farewell, followed the
scarlet and black swordsman through courts, alleys, and passages to the
kahwah, where I found Wilfrid.  He was being entertained by an elderly
man with coffee and conversation.  This personage was Mubarek, already
mentioned as the chief of the slaves, and he had been giving Wilfrid a
vast deal of interesting information about horses, especially the
dispersion of Feysul ibn Saoud’s stud, and the chief sources from which
that celebrated collection was obtained.  It had been originally got
together, he said, entirely from the Bedouins, both of Nejd and of the
north, by purchase and in war.

I never saw Zehowa, Beneyeh, or Amusheh again, for the next few days were
fully occupied, and afterwards, owing to our finding ourselves involved
in a network of mystery, and subject to an adverse influence, the
pressure of which made itself felt without our being able at first to lay
hold of anything tangible, or even to conjecture the cause, it became
more than ever an object to us to remain quiet and unobserved.  But I am
anticipating circumstances to be detailed further on.

About three days later I paid a visit to the harim of Hamúd’s uncle.
This gentleman, Suleyman, we were already acquainted with, from seeing
him at Court on several occasions.  He had sent me an invitation to visit
his family, and two black slaves came to escort me to their house, one of
the dependencies of the palace.  In a kahwah opening out of a small yard,
I found the old man waiting to receive me.  He dyes his beard red, and
loves books, amidst a pile of which he was sitting.  I was in hopes that
his conversation would be instructive, and we had just begun to talk
when, alas, his wife came in with a rush, followed by a crowd of other
women, upon which he hastily gathered up all his books and some
manuscripts which were lying about, and putting some of them away in a
cupboard, carried off the rest and made his escape.

Ghut, his wife, was the stupidest person I had seen at Haïl, but very
talkative, and hospitable with dates, fresh butter floating in its own
buttermilk, and sugar-plums.  The many-coloured crowd of white, brown,
and black attendants, slaves, and children, were not in much awe of her,
and chattered away without a check to their hearts’ content.  All were,
however, respectful and attentive to me.  Ghut’s daughter, another
Zehowa, presently arrived with a slave carrying her son, Abderrahman, a
child about a year old.  This Zehowa was good-looking, but nearly as
stupid and tiresome as her mother.  She was very much taken up with
showing me her box of trinkets, which she sent for on purpose to display
before me its contents.  These were of the usual sort, gold ornaments for
head and arms and ankles, set with turquoises and strings of pearls.  The
furniture of the room, which she and her mother specially pointed out for
my admiration, was also like what I had already seen—presses or boxes on
legs, and ornamented with rude silver plaques.

The conversation was dull.  Here is a sample:

  _I_.  “What do you do all day long?”

  _Zeh._  “We live in the kasr.”

  _I_.  “Don’t you go out at all?”

  _Zeh._  “No; we always stay in the kasr.”

  _I_.  “Then you never ride as we do?”  (I always ask if they ride, to
  see the effect.)

  _Zeh._  “No, we have no mares to ride.”

  _I_.  “What a pity! and don’t you ever go into the country outside
  Haïl, the desert?”

  _Zeh._  “Oh, no, of course not.”

  _I_.  “But, to pass the time, what do you do?”

  _Zeh._  “We do nothing.”

Here a sharp black boy interrupted us, “O, khatún, these are daughters of
sheykhs, they have no work—no work _at all_ to do, don’t you understand?”

  _I_.  “Of course, I understand perfectly; but they might amuse
  themselves without doing work,” and turning to Zehowa I added, “Don’t
  you even look at the horses?”

  _Zeh._  “No, we do nothing.”

  _I_.  “I should die if I did nothing.  When I am at home I always walk
  round the first thing in the morning to look at my horses.  How do you
  manage to spend your lives?”

  _Zeh._  “We sit.”  Thus supreme contentment in the harim here is to sit
  in absolute idleness.  It seems odd, where the men are so active and
  adventurous, that the women should be satisfied to be bored; but such,
  I suppose, is the tyranny of fashion.

Every evening after dinner we used to receive a message from the Emir,
inviting us to spend the evening with him.  This was always the
pleasantest part of the day, for we generally found one or two
interesting visitors sitting with him.  As a sample of these I give an
extract from my journal:

“We found the Emir this evening in high good humour.  News had just come
from El-Homeydi ibn Meshur, a Roala sheykh of the faction opposed to
Sotamm, that a battle was fought about a month ago between the Roala and
the Welled Ali, and that Sotamm has been worsted.  Sotamm, at the head of
a ghazú numbering six hundred horsemen, had marched against Ibn Smeyr at
Jerud, but the latter refused to come out and fight him, and so Sotamm
retired.  On his way back home, however, he fell in with an outlying camp
of Welled Ali, somewhere to the east of the Hauran, and summoned it to
surrender.  These, numbering only a hundred and fifty horsemen, at first
entered into negotiation, and, it is said, offered to give up their camp
and camels if they were permitted to retire with their mares (the women
and children would of course not have been molested in any case), and to
this Sotamm wished to agree.  But the younger men of his party, and
especially the Ibn Jendal family, who had a death to avenge, would not
hear of compromise, and a battle ensued.  It ended, strangely enough, in
favour of the weaker side, who succeeded in killing four of the Roala,
and among them Tellal ibn Shaalan, Sotamm’s cousin and heir presumptive.
Sotamm himself is said to have been saved only by the speed of his mare.
Though the forces engaged were so disproportionate, nobody here seems
surprised at the result, for victory and defeat are “min Allah,” “in the
hand of God;” but everybody is highly delighted, and the Emir can hardly
contain himself for joy.  “What do you think now of Sotamm?” he said;
“has he head, or has he no head?”  “Not much, I am afraid,” I answered,
“but I am sorry for him.  He is weak, and does not know how to manage his
people, but he has a good heart.”  “And Ibn Smeyr, what do you say to Ibn
Smeyr?”  “He has more head than heart,” I said.  This delighted the Emir.
“Ah,” he replied, “it is you, khatún, that have the head.  Now what do
you say to me? have I head, or not head?”  “You have head,” I answered.
“And Hamúd?”  “You all of you have plenty of head here, more of course
than the Bedouins, who are most of them like children.”  “But we are
Bedouins too,” he said, hoping to be contradicted.  “I like the Bedouins
best,” I replied; “it is better to have heart than head.”  Then he went
on to cross-question me about all the other sheykhs whose names he knew.
“Which,” he asked, “is the best of all you have met with?”  “Mohammed
Dukhi,” I said, “is the cleverest, Ferhan ibn Hedeb the best-mannered,
but the one I like best is your relation in the Jezireh, Faris Jerba.”  I
don’t think he was quite pleased at this.  He had never heard, he said,
good or bad of Ibn Hedeb, who belonged to the Bisshr.  He was not on
terms with any of the Bisshr except Meshur ibn Mershid, who had paid him
a visit two years ago.  We told him that both Meshur and Faris were
Wilfrid’s “brothers.”  Meshur he liked, but Faris Jerba was evidently no
favourite of his.

                  [Picture: Ibn Rashid’s stable at Haïl]

I fancy the Emir has taken Ferhan’s part in the family quarrel.  It is
certain that when Amsheh, Sfuk’s widow and Abdul Kerim’s mother, came
with her son Faris to Nejd, he would see neither of them.  They stayed in
the desert all the time they were here, and never came to Haïl.  Rashid
ibn Ali, too, is Faris’s friend, and of course in no favour at this
court. {251}  He then asked about Jedaan, touched rather unfeelingly on
the idiocy of Turki, Jedaan’s only son, and then cut some jokes at the
expense of our old acquaintance, Smeyr ibn Zeydan.  “An old fool,” the
Emir exclaimed, “why did they send him here?  They might as well have
sent a camel!”  This is the Smeyr who came to Nejd a year and a half ago
to try and get Ibn Rashid’s assistance for Sotamm, and arrange a
coalition against Jedaan and the Sebaa.  We knew his mission had failed,
but the fact is Ibn Rashid is eaten up with jealousy of anyone who has
the least reputation in the desert.  We are surprised, however, to find
him so well informed about everything and everybody in the far north, and
we are much interested, as he has solved for us one of the problems about
Nejd which used to puzzle us, namely, the relations maintained by the
tribes of Jebel Shammar with those of the north.  The Emir has told us
that the Shammar of the Jezireh and his own Shammar still count each
other as near relations.  “Our horses,” he said, “are of the same blood.”
With the Roala he has made peace, and with Ibn Haddal; but the Sebaa and
the rest of the Bisshr clan are out of his way.  They never come anywhere
near Nejd, except on ghazús, and that very rarely.  Once, however, a
ghazú, of Fedaan, had got as far as Kasím, and he had gone out against
them, and captured a Seglawi Jedran mare of the Ibn Sbeni strain.  He
promised to show it to us.  We then talked a good deal about horses, and
our knowledge on this head caused general astonishment.  Indeed, I think
we could pass a better examination in the breeds than most of the Ibn
Rashids.  By long residence in town they have lost many of the Bedouin
traditions.  Hamúd, however, who takes more interest in horses than the
Emir, has told us a number of interesting facts relating to the stud
here, and that of the late Emir of Riad, Feysul ibn Saoud, solving
another problem, that of the fabulous Nejd breed; but we are taking
separate notes about these things.

We had not been talking long with the Emir and Hamúd, when a fat
vulgar-looking fellow was introduced and made to sit down by us.  It was
evident that he was no Haïl man, for his features were coarse, and his
manners rude.  He talked with a strong Bagdadi accent, and was addressed
by everyone as “ya Hajji.”  It was clear that he belonged to the Haj, but
why was he here?  The mystery was soon cleared up, for after a whispered
conversation with Hamúd, the new visitor turned to Wilfrid, and began
addressing him in what we at first took to be gibberish, until seeing
that we made no answer, he exclaimed in Arabic, “There, I told you he was
no Englishman!”  Wilfrid then cross-questioned him, and elicited the fact
that he had been a stoker on board one of the British India Company’s
steamers on the Persian Gulf, and that the language he had been talking
was English.  Only two phrases, however, we succeeded in distinguishing,
“werry good,” and “chief engineer”—and having recognised them and given
their Arabic equivalents, our identity was admitted.  The fellow was then
sent about his business, and a very small, very polite old man took his
place.  He was conspicuous among these well-dressed Shammar by the
plainest possible dress, a dark brown abba without hem or ornament, and a
cotton kefiyeh on his head, unbound by any aghal whatsoever.  He was
treated with great respect, however, by all, and it was easy to see that
he was a man of condition.  He entered freely into conversation with us,
and talked to Mohammed about his relations in Aared, and it presently
appeared that he was from Southern Nejd.  This fact explained the
severity of his costume, for among the Wahhabis, no silk or gold
ornaments are tolerated.  He was, in fact, the Sheykh of Harík, the last
town of Nejd towards the south, and close to the Dahna, or great southern
desert.  This he described to us as exactly like the Nefûd we have just
crossed, only with more vegetation.  The ghada is the principal wood, but
there are palms in places.

It is not the custom of Haïl to smoke, either from Wahhabi prejudice, or,
as I am more inclined to think, because tobacco has never penetrated so
far inland in quantities sufficient to make the habit general.  No
objection, however, has been made to Wilfrid’s pipe, which he smokes when
and where he chooses, and this evening when the call to prayer sounded,
and the Emir and Hamúd had gone out to perform their devotions, the old
man I have just mentioned, Nassr ibn Hezani, hinted without more ceremony
that he should like a whiff.  He has quarrelled with Ibn Saoud, and
probably hates all the Wahhabi practices, and was very glad to take the
opportunity of committing this act of wickedness.  He was careful,
however, to return the pipe before the rest came back.  He, at any rate,
if a Wahhabi, is not one of the disagreeable sort described by Mr.
Palgrave, for he invited us very cordially to go back home with him to
Harík.  The Emir, however, made rather a face at this suggestion, and
gave such an alarming account of what would happen to us if we went to
Riad, that I don’t think it would be wise to attempt to go there now.  We
could not go in fact without the Emir’s permission.  I do not much care,
for town life is wearisome; we have had enough of it, and I have not much
curiosity to see more of Nejd, unless we can go among the Bedouins there.
If Ibn Saoud still had his collection of mares the sight of them would be
worth some risk, but his stud has long since been scattered, and Nassr
ibn Hezani assures us that there is nothing now in Arabia to compare with
Ibn Rashid’s stud.  Ibn Hezani, like everybody else, laughs at the story
of a Nejd breed, and says, as everybody else does, that the mares at Riad
were a collection made by Feysul ibn Saoud in quite recent times.

Later in the evening, a native goldsmith was introduced, with a number of
articles worked by him at Haïl.  They were pretty, but not specially
interesting, or very unlike what may be seen elsewhere, dagger hilts and
sheaths, and a few ornaments.  It was this man, however, who had made the
gold hilts which all the princely family here wear to their swords.
These we examined, and found the work really good.

The most amusing incident of the evening, however, and one which we were
not at all prepared for, was the sudden production by the Emir of one of
those toys called telephones, which were the fashion last year in Europe.
This the Emir caused two of his slaves to perform with, one going into
the courtyard outside, and the other listening.  The message was
successfully delivered, the slave outside, to make things doubly sure,
shouting at the top of his voice, “Ya Abdallah weyn ente? yeridak el
Emir.”  “O Abdallah, where are you? the Emir wants you,” and other such
phrases.  We expressed great surprise, as in duty bound; indeed, it was
the first time we had actually seen the toy, and it is singular to find
so very modern an invention already at Haïl.

At about ten o’clock, the Emir began to yawn, and we all got up and
wished him good-night.  He very kindly sent for, and gave me, a number of
trengs and oranges, which he gave orders should be conveyed to our house,
together with a new-laid ostrich’s egg, the “first of the season,” which
had just been brought to him from the Nefûd.

                     [Picture: Evening with the Emir]



CHAPTER XI.


                “I shall do well:
    The people love me, and the Desert’s mine;
    My power’s a crescent, and my auguring hope
    Says it will come to the full.”

                                                              SHAKESPEARE.

Political and historical—Shepherd role in Arabia—An hereditary policy—The
army—The law—Taxation—The finances of Jebel Shammar—Ibn Rashid’s
ambition.

THE following is the result of our inquiries made while at Haïl into the
political condition and resources of the country.  It has no pretension
to rigid accuracy, especially in the figures given, but it will serve to
convey an idea of the kind of government found in Arabia, and of the
capacity for self-rule of the Arab race.

The political constitution of Jebel Shammar is exceedingly curious; not
only is it unlike anything we are accustomed to in Europe, but it is
probably unique, even in Asia.  It would seem, in fact, to represent some
ancient form of government indigenous to the country, and to have sprung
naturally from the physical necessities of the land, and the character of
its inhabitants.  I look upon Ibn Rashid’s government as in all
likelihood identical with that of the Kings of Arabia, who came to visit
Solomon, and of the Shepherd Kings who, at a still earlier date, held
Egypt and Babylonia; and I have little doubt that it owes its success to
the fact of its being thus in harmony with Arab ideas and Arab tradition.
To understand it rightly, one ought to consider what Arabia is, and what
the Arab character and mode of life.  The whole of the peninsula, with
the exception, perhaps, of Yemen, and certain districts of Hadramaut
within the influence of the monsoon winds, is a rainless, waterless
region, in every sense of the word a desert.  The soil is a poor one,
mainly of gravel or of sand, and except in a few favoured spots, unsuited
for cultivation; indeed, no cultivation is possible at all in Nejd,
except with the help of irrigation, and, as there is no water above
ground, of irrigation from wells.  Even wells are rare.  The general
character of the central plateaux, and of the peninsula, is that of vast
uplands of gravel, as nearly destitute of vegetation as any in the world,
and incapable of retaining water, even at a great depth.  It is only in
certain depressions of the plain, several hundred feet lower than the
general level, that wells as a rule are found, and wherever these occur
with a sufficient supply of water, towns and villages with gardens round
them, have sprung up.  These, however, are often widely apart, showing as
mere spots on the map of Arabia, and unconnected with each other by any
intervening district of agricultural land.  Indeed, it is not too much to
say, that Nejd contains no agricultural region, as we understand
agriculture, and that all its production is garden produce.  From this
state of things, it happens that there is also no rural class, and that
each town is isolated from its neighbours to a degree impossible with us.
The desert surrounds them like a sea, and they have no point of contact
one with the other in the shape of intervening fields or villages, or
even intervening pastures.  They are isolated in the most literal sense,
and from this fact has sprung the political individuality it has always
been their care to maintain.  Each city is an independent state.

Meanwhile the desert outside, though untenanted by any settled
population, is roamed over by the Bedouin tribes, who form the bulk of
the Arab race.  These occupy for the most part the Nefûds, where alone
pasture in any abundance is found; but they frequent also every part of
the upland districts, and being both more warlike and more numerous than
the townsmen, hold every road leading from town to town, so that it
depends upon their good will and pleasure, to cut off communication for
the citizens entirely from the world.

The towns, as I have said, are for the most part self-supporting; but
their production is limited to garden produce, and the date.  They grow
no wheat and rear no stock, so that for bread and meat they are dependent
on without.  They require also a market for their industries, the weaving
of cloth, the manufacture of arms and utensils, and it is necessary, at
least in Jebel Shammar, to send yearly caravans to the Euphrates for
corn.  Thus security of travelling outside their walls is essential to
the life of every town in Arabia, and on this necessity the whole
political structure of their government is built.  The towns put
themselves each under the protection of the principal Bedouin Sheykh of
its district, who, on the consideration of a yearly tribute, guarantees
the citizens’ safety outside the city walls, enabling them to travel
unmolested as far as his jurisdiction extends, and this, in the case of a
powerful tribe, may be many hundred miles, and embrace many cities.  The
towns are then said to “belong” to such and such a tribe, and the Bedouin
Sheykh becomes their suzerain, or Lord Protector, until, from their
common vassalage, and the freedom of intercourse it secures them with
each other, the germs of federation spring up, and develop sometimes into
nationality.

This has, I believe, been always the condition of Arabia.

A farther development then ensues.  The Bedouin Sheykh, grown rich with
the tribute of a score of towns, builds himself a castle close to one of
them, and lives there during the summer months.  Then with the prestige
of his rank (for Bedouin blood is still accounted the purest), and backed
by his power in the desert, he speedily becomes the practical ruler of
the town, and from protector of the citizens becomes their sovereign.  He
is now dignified by them with the title of Emir or prince, and though
still their Sheykh to the Bedouins, becomes king of all the towns which
pay him tribute.

This form of government, resting as it does on a natural basis, has
always been reverted to in Arabia, whenever the country has, after an
interval of foreign or domestic tyranny, succeeded in emancipating
itself.  Of very early Arabia little is known; neither the Persian nor
the Macedonian nor the Roman Empires embraced it, and it is probable that
Nejd at least existed till the time of Mahomet exclusively under the
system of government I have described.  Then for a short time it became
part of the Mussulman Empire, and shared in the centralised or
semi-centralised administration of the Caliphs, which substituted a
theocratic rule for the simpler forms preceding it.  But though the
birthplace of Islam, no part of the Arabian Empire was sooner in revolt
than Arabia itself.  In the second century of the Mahometan era, nearly
all the peninsula had reverted to its ancient independence, nor, except
temporarily, has Nejd itself ever been since included in the imperial
system of a foreign king or potentate.  In the middle of last century,
however, just as Mahomet had asserted his spiritual authority over the
peninsula, the Wahhabi Emir of Aared once more established a centralized
and theocratic government in Arabia.  The Bedouin Princes were one after
another dispossessed, and a new Arabian Empire was established.  This
included not only the whole of Nejd, but at one time Yemen, Hejaz, and
Hasa, with the northern desert as far north as the latitude of Damascus.
For nearly sixty years the independence of the towns and tribes of the
interior was crushed, and a system of imperial rule substituted for that
of old Arabia.  The Ibn Saouds, “Imâms of Nejd,” governed neither more
nor less than had the first Caliphs, and with the same divine
pretensions.  But their rule came to an end in 1818, when Nejd was
conquered by the Turks, and the reigning Ibn Saoud made prisoner and
beheaded at Constantinople.  Then, on the retirement of the Turks, (for
they were unable long to retain their conquest,) shepherd government
again asserted itself, and the principality of Jebel Shammar was founded.

The Shammar tribe is the most powerful of Northern Nejd, and the towns of
Haïl, Kefar, Bekaa, and the rest, put themselves under the protection of
Abdallah ibn Rashid, who had succeeded in gaining the Shammar Sheykhat
for himself.  He seems to have been a man of great ability, and to him is
due the policy of rule which his descendants have ever since pursued.  He
took up his residence in Haïl, and built the castle there, and caused
himself to be recognized as Emir, first in vassalage to the Ibn Saouds,
who had reappeared in Aared, but later on his own account.  His policy
seems to have been first to conciliate or subdue the other Bedouin tribes
of Nejd, forcing them to become tributary to his own tribe, the Shammar,
and secondly to establish his protectorate over all the northern towns.
This was a simple plan enough, and one which any Bedouin Sheykh might
have devised; but Abdallah’s merit consists in the method of its
application.  He saw that in order to gain his object, he must appeal to
national ideas and national prejudices.  The tribute which he extracted
from the towns, he spent liberally in the desert, exercising boundless
hospitality to every sheykh who might chance to visit him.  To all he
gave presents, and dazzled them with his magnificence, sending them back
to the tribes impressed with his wealth and power.  Thus he made numerous
friends, with whose aid he was able to coerce the rest, his enemies or
rivals.  In treating with these he seems always to have tried
conciliation first, and, if forced to arms, to have been satisfied with a
single victory, making friends at once with the vanquished, and even
restoring to them their property, an act of generosity which met full
appreciation in the desert.  By this means his power and reputation
increased rapidly, as did that of his brother and right-hand man Obeyd,
who is now a legendary hero in Nejd.

Another matter to which the founder of the Ibn Rashid dynasty paid much
attention was finance.  Though spending large sums yearly on presents and
entertainments, he took care that these should not exceed his revenue,
and at his death he left, according to common report, a house full of
silver pieces to his son.  Nor have any of his successors been otherwise
than thrifty.  It is impossible of course to guess the precise amount of
treasure thus saved, but that it represents a fabulous fortune in Arabia
is certain; the possession of this, with the prestige which in a poor
country wealth gives, is an immense source of power.

Lastly Abdallah, and all the Ibn Rashid family, have been endowed with a
large share of caution.  No important enterprise has been embarked on in
a hurry; and certainly at the present day affairs of state are discussed
in family council, before any action is taken.  It seems to have been
always a rule with the Ibn Rashids to think twice, thrice, or a dozen
times before acting, for even Mohammed’s violent deeds towards his
nephews were premeditated, and thought over for many months beforehand.
In their conduct with the Ibn Saouds and the Turkish Sultans, they have
always waited their opportunity, and avoided an open rupture.  It is very
remarkable that so many members of this family should be superior men,
for it is difficult to say who has been the ablest man of them, Abdallah,
Obeyd, Tellál, Mohammed, or his cousin Hamúd.  Nor is the rising
generation less promising.

Having united into a sort of confederation all the Bedouin tribes of
Northern Nejd, Abdallah became naturally supreme over the towns; but he
was not satisfied merely with power, he aimed at making his rule popular.
It is much to his credit, and to that of his successors, that none of
them seem to have abused their position.  Liberality and conciliation,
combined with an occasional display of power, have been no less their
policy with the townsmen than with the Bedouins, and they have thus
placed their rule on its only secure basis, popularity.  In early days
the Ibn Rashids had to fight for their position at Haïl, and later in Jôf
and at Meskakeh.  But their rule is now acknowledged freely everywhere,
enthusiastically in Jebel Shammar.  It strikes a traveller fresh from
Turkey as surpassingly strange to hear the comments passed by the
townspeople of Haïl on their government, for it is impossible to converse
ten minutes with any one of them without being assured that the
government of the Emir is the best government in the world.  “El hamdu
lillah, ours is a fortunate country.  It is not with us as with the Turks
and Persians, whose government is no government.  Here we are happy and
prosperous.  El hamdu lillah.”  I have often been amused at this
chauvinism.

In the town of Haïl the Emir lives in state, having a body-guard of 800
or 1000 men dressed in a kind of uniform, that is to say, in brown cloaks
and red or blue kefiyehs, and armed with silver-hilted swords.  These are
recruited from among the young men of the towns and villages by voluntary
enlistment, those who wish to serve inscribing their names at the castle,
and being called out as occasion requires.  Their duties are light, and
they live most of them with their families, receiving neither pay nor
rations, except when employed away from home on garrison duty in outlying
forts and at Jôf.  Their expense, therefore, to the Emir is little more
than that of their clothes and arms.  To them is entrusted any police
work that may be necessary in the towns, but it is very seldom that the
authority of the Emir requires other support than that of public opinion.
The Arabs of Nejd are a singularly temperate race, and hardly ever
indulge in brawling or breaches of the peace.  If disputes arise between
citizens they are almost always settled on the spot by the interference
of neighbours; and the rowdyism and violence of European towns are
unknown at Haïl.  Where, however, quarrels are not to be settled by the
intervention of friends, the disputants bring their cases to the Emir,
who settles them in open court, the _mejlis_, and whose word is final.
The law of the Koran, though often referred to, is not, I fancy, the main
rule of the Emir’s decision, but rather Arabian custom, an authority far
older than the Mussulman code.  I doubt if it is often necessary for the
soldiers to support such decisions by force.  Thieving, I have been
repeatedly assured, is almost unknown at Haïl; but robbers or thieves
taken redhanded, lose for the first offence a hand, for the second their
head.

In the desert, and everywhere outside the precincts of the town, order is
kept by the Bedouins, with whom the Emir lives a portion of each year.
He is then neither more nor less himself than a Bedouin, throws off his
shoes and town finery, arms himself with a lance, and leads a wandering
life in the Nefûd.  He commonly does this at the commencement of spring,
and spring is the season of his wars.  Then with the extreme heat of
summer he returns to Haïl.  The tribute paid by each town and village to
the Emir is assessed according to its wealth in date palms, and the sheep
kept by its citizens with the Bedouins.  Four khrush for each tree is, I
believe, the amount, trees under seven years old being exempt.  At Haïl
this is levied by the Emir’s officers, but elsewhere by the local
sheykhs, who are responsible for its due collection.  At Jôf and
Meskakeh, which are still in the position of territory newly annexed, Ibn
Rashid is represented by a vakil, or lieutenant, who levies the tax in
coin, Turkish money being the recognised medium of exchange everywhere.
Without pretending to anything at all like accuracy we made a calculation
that the Emir’s revenue from all sources of tribute and tax may amount to
£60,000 yearly, and that the annual passage of the pilgrimage through his
dominions may bring £20,000 to £30,000 more to his exchequer.

With regard to his expenditure, it is perhaps easier to calculate.  He
pays a small sum yearly in tribute to the Sherif of Medina, partly as a
religious offering, partly to insure immunity for his outlying
possessions, Kheybar, Kâf and the rest, from Turkish aggression.  I
should guess this tribute to be £3,000 to £5,000, but could not ascertain
the amount.  The Emir’s expenditure on his army can hardly be more, and
with his civil list and every expense of Government, should be included
within £10,000.  On his household he may spend £5,000, and on his stable
£1,000.  By far the largest item in his budget must be described as
entertainment.  Mohammed ibn Rashid, in imitation of his predecessors,
feeds daily two to three hundred guests at the palace; the poor are there
clothed, and presents of camels and clothes made to richer strangers from
a distance.  The meal consists of rice and camel meat, sometimes mutton,
and there is besides a constant “coulage” in dates and coffee, which I
cannot estimate at less than £50 a day, say £20,000 yearly, or with
presents, £25,000.  Thus we have our budget made up to about £45,000
expenditure, as against £80,000 to £90,000 revenue—which leaves a
handsome margin for wars and other accidents, and for that amassing of
treasure which is traditional with the Ibn Rashids.  I must say, however,
once more, that I am merely guessing my figures, and nobody, perhaps, in
Jebel Shammar, except the Emir himself and Hamúd, could do more.

It will be seen from all this that Jebel Shammar is, financially, in a
very flourishing state.  The curse of money-lending has not yet invaded
it, and neither prince nor people are able to spend sixpence more than
they have got.  No public works, requiring public expenditure and public
loans, have yet been undertaken, and it is difficult to imagine in what
they would consist.  The digging of new wells is indeed the only duty a
“company” could find to execute, for roads are unnecessary in a country
all like a macadamised highway; there are no rivers to make canals with,
or suburban populations to supply with tramways.  One might predict with
confidence, that the secret of steam locomotion will have been forgotten
before ever a railway reaches Jebel Shammar.

With regard to the form of government, it is good mainly because it is
effective.  It is no doubt discordant to European ideas of political
propriety, that the supreme power in a country should be vested in
Bedouin hands.  But in Arabia they are the only hands that can wield it.
The town cannot coerce the desert; therefore, if they are to live at
peace, the desert must coerce the town.  The Turks, with all their
machinery of administration, and their power of wealth and military
force, have never been able to secure life and property to travellers in
the desert, and in Arabia have been powerless to hold more than the
towns.  Even the pilgrim road from Damascus, though nominally in their
keeping, can only be traversed by them with an army, and at considerable
risk.  Ibn Rashid, on the other hand, by the mere effect of his will,
keeps all the desert in an absolute peace.  In the whole district of
Jebel Shammar, embracing, as it does, some of the wildest deserts,
inhabited by some of the wildest people in the world, a traveller may go
unarmed and unescorted, without more let or hindrance than if he were
following a highway in England.  On every road of Jebel Shammar, townsmen
may be found jogging on donkey-back, alone, or on foot, carrying neither
gun nor lance, and with all their wealth about them.  If you ask about
the dangers of the road, they will return the question, “Are we not here
in Ibn Rashid’s country?”  No system, however perfect, of patrols and
forts and escorts, could produce a result like this.

In the town, on the other hand, the Bedouin prince, despotic though he
may be, is still under close restraint from public opinion.  The citizens
of Jebel Shammar have not what we should call constitutional rights;
there is no machinery among them for the assertion of their power; but
there is probably no community in the old world, where popular feeling
exercises a more powerful influence on government than it does at Haïl.
The Emir, irresponsible as he is in individual acts, knows well that he
cannot transgress the traditional unwritten law of Arabia with impunity.
An unpopular sheykh would cease, _ipso facto_, to be sheykh, for, though
dethroned by no public ceremony, and subjected to no personal
ill-treatment, he would find himself abandoned in favour of a more
acceptable member of his family.  The citizen soldiers would not support
a recognised tyrant in the town, nor would the Bedouins outside.  Princes
in Arabia have, therefore, to consider public opinion before all else.

The flaw in the system, for in every system there will be found one, lies
in the uncertainty of succession to the Sheykhat or Bedouin throne.  On
the death of an Emir, if he have no son of full age and acknowledged
capacity to take up the reins of government, rival claimants, brothers,
uncles, or cousins of the dead man, dispute his succession in arms, and
many and bitter have been the wars in consequence.  Such, quite lately,
was the quarrel which convulsed Aared on the death of Feysul ibn Saoud,
and led to the disintegration of the Wahhabi monarchy, and such, one
cannot help fearing, may be the fate of Jebel Shammar, on Mohammed’s.  He
has no children, and the sons of Tellál, the next heirs to the throne,
have a formidable rival in Hamúd.  The Emir, however, is a young man,
forty-five, and may live long; and if he should do so, seems to have the
succession of the Wahhabi monarchy in his hands.  He has effected, he and
his predecessors, the union of all the Bedouin sheykhs, from Meshhed Ali
to Medina, under his leadership, and is in close connection with those of
Kasim and Aared.  His authority is established as far north as Kâf, and
he has his eye already on the towns still further north, if ever they
should shake off the Turkish bondage.  I look forward to the day when the
Roala too, and the Welled Ali, shall have entered into his alliance,
possibly even the Sebaa and Ibn Haddal; and though it is neither likely
nor desirable that the old Wahhabi Empire should be re-established on its
centralised basis, a confederation of the tribes of the north may
continue its best traditions.  Hauran and the Leja, and the Euphrates
towns, were once tributary to the Ibn Saouds, and may be again one day to
the Ibn Rashids.  This is looking far afield, but not farther than
Mohammed himself looks. {272}

                       [Picture: Our house at Haïl]

                                * * * * *

                              END OF VOL. I.



NOTES.


{xiii}  Such at least is the family tradition of the Ibn Arûks.  Niebuhr
writing in 1765 gives Arär as the name of the Beni Khaled Sheykhs.

{3}  A truce only, I fear.

{11}  One of the noblest of the Roala families.

{18}  Midhat’s reign at Damascus lasted for twenty months, and is
remarkable only for the intrigues in which it was spent.  It began with
an _action d’éclat_, the subjugation of the independent Druses of the
Hauran, a prosperous and unoffending community whom Midhat with the help
of the Welled Ali reduced to ruin.  The rest of his time and resources
were spent in an attempt to gain for himself the rank and title of
khedive, a scheme which ended in his recall.  Of improvements, material
or administrative, nothing at all has been heard, but it is worth
recording that a series of fires during his term of office burnt down
great part of the bazaars at Damascus, causing much loss of property, and
that their place has been taken by a boulevard.  Midhat has been now
removed to Smyrna, where it is amusing to read the following account of
him:—

MIDHAT PASHA—September 28:—‘A private correspondent of the _Journal de
Genève_, writing ten days ago from Smyrna, says that Midhat Pasha, being
convinced that he possessed the sympathy of the inhabitants and could
count on their active co-operation, conceived a short time since vast
schemes of improvement and reform for the benefit of the province which
he has been called upon to administer.  The first works he proposed to
take in hand were the drainage of the great marshes of Halka-Bournar (the
Baths of Diana of the ancients), the cleansing of the sewers of Smyrna,
and the removal of the filth which cumbers the streets, pollutes the air,
and, as an eminent physician has told him, impairs the health of the city
and threatens at no distant date to breed a pestilence.  He next
proposed, at the instance of a clever engineer Effendi, to repress the
ravages of the river Hermus, which in winter overflows its banks and does
immense damage in the plain of Menemen.  Orders were given for the
execution of engineering works on a great scale which, it was thought,
would correct this evil and restore to agriculture a vast extent of
fertile, albeit at present unproductive, land.  Administrative reform was
to be also seriously undertaken.  The police were to be re-organized, and
order and honesty enforced in the courts of justice.  The scandal of
gendarmes being constrained, owing to the insufficiency of their pay, to
enter into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with all the thieves and
cut-throats of the city—the disgrace of judges receiving bribes from
rogues and other evil-doers—were to be promptly put down.  It was ordered
that every caïmacan, mudir, chief of police, and president of tribunal,
guilty either of malfeasance or robbery, should be arrested and
imprisoned.  The municipalities were to cease being the mere mouthpieces
of the valis, and consider solely the interests of their constituencies.
The accounts of functionaries who, with nominal salaries of 800 francs a
year, spend 10,000, were to be strictly investigated and their
malversations severely punished; and many other measures, equally
praiseworthy and desirable, were either projected or begun.  But energy
and goodwill in a reformer—whether he be a Midhat or a Hamid—are,
unfortunately, not alone sufficient to accomplish reforms.  To drain
marshes, embank rivers, cleanse sewers, remove filth, pay magistrates and
policemen, procure honest collectors of revenue, much money is necessary.
How was it to be obtained?  Not from the revenues of the port or the
province; these are sent regularly, to the last centime, to
Constantinople, for the needs of the Government are urgent and admit of
no delay.  Midhat Pasha, not knowing which way to turn, called a
_medjeless_ (council), but the members were able neither to suggest a
solution of the difficulty nor to find any money.  In this emergency it
occurred to the Governor that there existed at Smyrna a branch of the
Ottoman Bank, at the door of which are always stationed two superb nizams
in gorgeous uniforms, who give it the appearance of a Government
establishment.  Why should not the bank provide the needful?  The idea
commended itself to the Pasha, and the manager was requested to call
forthwith at the Konak on urgent public business.  When he arrived there
Midhat unfolded to him his plans of reform, and proved, with the
eloquence of a new convert, that the public works he had in view could
not fail to be an unspeakable benefit to the province and restore its
waning prosperity.  Never, he assured the wondering manager, could the
bank have a finer opportunity of making a splendid investment than this
of lending the Government a few million francs, to be strictly devoted to
the purposes he had explained.  The projected schemes, moreover, were to
be so immediately profitable that the bank might reckon with the most
implicit confidence on receiving back, in the course of a few years, both
interest and principal.  Unfortunately, however, all these arguments were
lost on M. Heintze, the manager; and he had to explain to the Pasha that,
although he, personally, would have been delighted to advance him the
millions he required, his instructions allowed him no discretion.  He was
there to do ordinary banking business, and collect certain revenues which
had been assigned to the bank by way of security; but he had been
strictly enjoined to make no loans whatever, however promising and
profitable they might appear.  And this was the end of Midhat Pasha’s
great schemes of public improvement and administrative reform.  In these
circumstances it would be the height of injustice to accuse him of not
having kept the promises which he made on entering office; for nobody,
not even a Turkish Governor-General, can be expected to achieve
impossibilities.

{26}  Daughter of Faria-el-Meziad, Sheykh of the Mesenneh.

{41}  Sakhr, a stone—the real origin of their name.

{51}  This is a mistake, as the battle was fought on the banks of the
Orontes.

{56}  The Hauran was among the first districts conquered by the Caliph
Omar.  It shared for some centuries the prosperity of the Arabian Empire,
but suffered severely during the Crusades.  There is no reason, however,
to doubt that it continued to be well inhabited until the conquest of
Tamerlane in 1400, when all the lands on the desert frontier were
depopulated.

{84}  The _Ithel_, a tree grown in every village of Central Arabia, but
not, as far as I know, found there wild.

{85}  A kind of tamarisk.

{89}  We were told that this inscription related to hidden treasure, a
common fancy among the Arabs who cannot read.

{110}  Jebel el Tawîl.

{162}  A diagram, showing what a section of the Nefûd would be like, is
given in the geographical notes, Vol. ii., page 248.

{174}  These were no doubt the Egyptians of Ibrahim Pasha’s army, left
behind at Aneyzeh.

{203a}  Query.—May not these be the spiral markings noticed by Mr.
Palgrave, and attributed by him to the wind, in his description of a
certain maelstrom in the Nefûd?

{210}  More probably a fanner.

{218}  The danger to Mohammed is a personal one on account of the blood
he has shed, not an official one, for, as Emir, he is adored by his
subjects.

{221}  The Nawab was in fact detained a prisoner at Haïl for about two
months.  But this we did not at the time know; nor was any allusion made
by Ibn Rashid to the circumstance.

{223}  To travel with a hawk is a sign of nobility.

{224}  Oryx boatrix.

{233}  I heard nothing of the fate of Obeyd’s widow, and could not
inquire.

{251}  The Ibn Alis were formerly Sheykhs of the Shammar, but were
displaced by the Ibn Rashids fifty years ago.

{272}  That Mohammed ibn Rashid does not limit his ambition to Nejd has
been very recently proved.  In the month of April last, 1880, he marched
with an army of 5000 men from Haïl, passed up the Wady Sirhán, surprised
Mohammed Dukhi ibn Smeyr in the Harra and sacked his camp, and then went
on to the Hauran.  The citizens of Damascus were not a little startled at
learning one morning that the Emir was at Bozra not 60 miles from the
capital of Syria, and there was much speculation as to his object in
coming so far northwards, no army from Nejd having been seen in the
Paahalik since the days of the Wahhabi Empire.  Then it was whispered
that he had made friends with Ibn Smeyr, that the quarrel between them
had been a mistake, and that a Sherari guide, held responsible for the
blunder, had been beheaded; lastly, that an enormous feast of
reconciliation had been given by Ibn Rashid to the Northern tribes, at
which 75 camels and 600 sheep had been slaughtered, and that after a stay
of some weeks at Melakh the Emir had returned to Nejd.

Without pretending to know precisely what was in Mohammed’s mind in
making this ghazú, or all that really happened, it seems to me not
difficult to guess its main object.  Ibn Smeyr’s success over Ibn
Shaalan, already alluded to, had placed him in a leading position with
the tribes of the North; and his raid against the Druses of the Hauran, a
district once tributary to the Emirs of Nejd, pointed him out for
Mohammed’s resentment.  It is part of the Ibn Rashid policy to strike a
blow and then make peace; and by thus humbling their most successful
chief, and becoming afterwards his host, Mohammed achieved exactly that
sort of reputation he most valued with the Northern tribes.  He has
asserted himself as supreme, where he chooses to be so, in the desert,
and has moreover reminded the frontier population in Syria of the old
Wahhabi pretensions to Eastern Syria.  It is conceivable that having
coerced or persuaded the Ánazeh to join his league, he may, in the coming
break-up of the Ottoman Empire, succeed to that part of its inheritance,
and be recognised as sovereign in all the lands beyond Jordan.





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