Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Author: T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0100111.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: October 2001
Date most recently updated: May 2011

This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do n he keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

-----------------------------------------------------------------


Title:      Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Author:     T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935)





To S.A.

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.

Death seemed my servant on the road, till we were near
and saw you waiting:
When you smiled, and in sorrowful envy he outran  me
and took you apart:
Into his quietness.

Love, the way-weary, groped to your body, our brief wage
ours for the moment
Before earth's soft hand explored your shape, and the blind
worms grew fat upon
Your substance.

Men prayed me that I set our work, the inviolate house,
as a menory of you.
But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now
The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels
in the marred shadow
Of your gift.





Mr Geoffrey Dawson persuaded All Souls College to give me leisure,
in 1919-1920, to write about the Arab Revolt. Sir Herbert Baker let me
live and work in his Westminster houses.

The book so written passed in 1921 into proof; where it was fortunate in
the friends who criticized it. Particularly it owes its thanks to Mr. and
Mrs. Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity:
and for all the present semicolons.

It does not pretend to be impartial. I was fighting for my hand, upon my
own midden. Please take it as a personal narrative piece out of memory.
I could not make proper notes: indeed it would have been a breach of my
duty to the Arabs if I had picked such flowers while they fought. My
superior officers, Wilson, Joyce, Dawnay, Newcombe and Davenport could
each tell a like tale. The same is true of Stirling, Young, LIoyd and
Maynard: of Buxton and Winterton: of Ross, Stent and Siddons: of Peake,
Homby, Scott-Higgins and Garland: of Wordie, Bennett and MacIndoe: of
Bassett, Scott, Goslett, Wood and Gray: of Hinde, Spence and Bright: of
Brodie and Pascoe, Gilman and Grisenthwaite, Greenhill, Dowsett and Wade:
of Henderson, Leeson, Makins and Nunan.

And there were many other leaders or lonely fighters to whom this
self-regardant picture is not fair. It is still less fair, of course, like
all war-stories, to the un-named rank and file: who miss their share of
credit, as they must do, until they can write the despatches.

T. E. S.
Cranwell, 15.8.26





LIST OF CONTENTS


INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER
INTRODUCTION. Foundations of Revolt
BOOK ONE. The Discovery of Feisal
BOOK TWO. Opening the Arab Offensive
BOOK THREE. A Railway Diversion
BOOK FOUR. Extending to Akaba
BOOK FIVE. Marking Time
BOOK SIX. The Raid upon the Bridges
BOOK SEVEN. The Dead Sea Campaign
BOOK EIGHT. The Ruin of High Hope
BOOK NINE. Balancing for a Last Effort
BOOK TEN. The House is Perfected
EPILOGUE




INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER




The story which follows was first written out in Paris during the Peace
Conference, from notes jotted daily on the march, strengthened by some
reports sent to my chiefs in Cairo. Afterwards, in the autumn of 1919,
this first draft and some of the notes were lost. It seemed to me
historically needful to reproduce the tale, as perhaps no one but myself
in Feisal's army had thought of writing down at the time what we felt,
what we hoped, what we tried. So it was built again with heavy repugnance
in London in the winter of 1919-20 from memory and my surviving notes. The
record of events was not dulled in me and perhaps few actual mistakes
crept in--except in details of dates or numbers--but the outlines and
significance of things had lost edge in the haze of new interests.

Dates and places are correct, so far as my notes preserved them: but the
personal names are not. Since the adventure some of those who worked with
me have buried themselves in the shallow grave of public duty. Free
use has been made of their names. Others still possess themselves, and
here keep their secrecy. Sometimes one man carried various names. This may
hide individuality and make the book a scatter of featureless puppets,
rather than a group of living people: but once good is told of a man, and
again evil, and some would not thank me for either blame or praise.

This isolated picture throwing the main light upon myself is unfair to my
British colleagues. Especially I am most sorry that I have not told what
the non-commissioned of us did. They were but wonderful, especially when
it is taken into account that they had not the motive, the imaginative
vision of the end, which sustained officers. Unfortunately my concern was
limited to this end, and the book is just a designed procession of Arab
freedom from Mecca to Damascus. It is intended to rationalize the
campaign, that everyone may see how natural the success was and how
inevitable, how little dependent on direction or brain, how much less on
the outside assistance of the few British. It was an Arab war waged and
led by Arabs for an Arab aim in Arabia.

My proper share was a minor one, but because of a fluent pen, a free
speech, and a certain adroitess of brain, I took upon myself, as I
describe it, a mock primacy. In reality I never had any office among the
Arabs: was never in charge of the British mission with them. Wilson,
Joyce, Newcombe, Dawnay and Davenport were all over my head. I flattered
myself that I was too young, not that they had more heart or mind in the
work, I did my best. Wilson, Newcombe, Dawnay, Davenport, Buxton,
Marshall, Stirling, Young, Maynard, Ross, Scott, Winterton, Lloyd, Wordie,
Siddons, Goslett, Stent  Henderson, Spence, Gilman, Garland, Brodie,
Makins, Nunan, Leeson, Hornby, Peake, Scott-Higgins, Ramsay, Wood, Hinde,
Bright, MacIndoe, Greenhill, Grisenthwaite, Dowsett, Bennett, Wade, Gray,
Pascoe and the others also did their best.

It would be impertinent in me to praise them. When I wish to say ill of
one outside our number, I do it: though there is less of this than was in
my diary, since the passage of time seems to have bleached out men's
stains. When I wish to praise outsiders, I do it: bur our family affairs
are our own. We did what we set out to do, and have the satisfaction of
that knowledge. The others have liberty some day to put on record their
story, one parallel to mine but not mentioning more of me than I of them,
for each of us did his job by himself and as he pleased, hardly seeing his
friends.

In these pages the history is not of the Arab movement, but of me in it.
It is a narrative of daily life, mean happenings, little people. Here are
no lessons for the world, no disclosures to shock peoples. It is filled
with trivial things, partly that no one mistake for history the bones from
which some day a man may make history, and partly for the pleasure it gave
me to recall the fellowship of the revolt. We were fond together, because
of the sweep of the open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight,
and the hopes in which we worked. The moral freshness of the world-to-be
intoxicated us. We were wrought up in ideas inexpressible and vaporous,
but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns,
never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned,
the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness
of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to
keep: and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked
for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made
their peace.

All men dream: but nor equally, Those who dream by night in the dusty
recesses oftheir minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but
the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream
with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did. I meant to make a new
nation, to restore! a lost influence, to give twenty millions of Semites
the foundations on which to build an inspired dream-palace of their
national thoughts. So high an aim called out the inherent nobility of
their minds, and made them play a generous part in events: but when we
won, it was charged against me that the British petrol royalties in
Mesopotamia were become dubious, and French Colonial policy ruined in the
Levant.

I am afraid that I hope so. We pay for these things too much in honour and
in innocent lives. I went up the Tigris with one hundred Devon
Territorials, young, clean, delightful fellows, full of the power of
happiness and of making women and children glad. By them one saw vividly
how great it was to be their kin, and English. And we were casting them by
thousands into the fire to the worst of deaths, not to win the war but
that the corn and rice and oil of Mesopotamia might be ours. The only need
was to defeat our enemies (Turkey among them), and this was at last done
in the wisdom of Allenby with less than four hundred killed, by turning to
our uses the hands of the oppressed in Turkey. I am proudest of my thirty
fights in that I did not have any of our own blood shed. All our subject
provinces to me were not worth one dead Englishman.

We were three years over this effort and I have had to hold back many
things which may not yet be said. Even so, parts of this book will be new
to nearly all who see it, and many will look for familiar things and not
find them. Once I reported fully to my chiefs, but learnt that they were
rewarding me on my own evidence. This was not as it should be. Honours may
be necessary in a professional army, as so many emphatic mentions in
despatches, and by enlisting we had put ourselves, willingly or not, in
the position of regular soldiers.

For my work on the Arab front I had determined to accept nothing. The
Cabinet raised the Arabs to fight for us by definite promises of
self-government afterwards. Arabs believe in persons, not in institutions.
They saw in me a free agent of the British Government, and demanded from
me an endorsement of its written promises. So I had to join the
conspiracy, and, for what my word was worth, assured the men of their
reward. In our two years' partnership under fire they grew accustomed to
believing me and to think my Government, like myself, sincere. In this
hope they performed some fine things, but, of course, instead of being
proud of what we did together, I was bitterly ashamed.

It was evident from the beginning that if we won the war these promises
would be dead paper, and had I been an honest adviser of the Arabs I would
have advised them to go home and not risk their lives fighting for such
stuff: but I salved myself with the hope that, by leading these Arabs
madly in the final victory I would establish them, with arms in their
hands, in a position so assured (if not dominant) that expediency would
counsel to the Great Powers a fair settlement of their claims. In other
words, I presumed (seeing no other leader with the will and power) that I
would survive the campaigns, and be able to defeat not merely the Turks on
the battlefield, but my own country and its allies in the council-chamber.
It was an immodest presumption: it is not yet: clear if I succeeded: but
it is clear that I had no shadow of leave to engage the Arabs, unknowing,
in such hazard. I risked the fraud, on my conviction that Arab help was
necessary to our cheap and speedy victory in the East, and that better we
win and break our word than lose.

The dismissal of Sir Henry McMahon confirmed my belief in our essential
insincerity: but I could not so explain myself to General Wingate while
the war lasted, since I was nominally under his orders, and he did not
seem sensible of how false his own standing was. The only thing remaining
was to refuse rewards for being a successful trickster and, to prevent
this unpleasantness arising, I began in my reports to conceal the true
stories of things, and to persuade the few Arabs who knew to an equal
reticence. In this book also, for the last time, I mean to be my own
judge of what to say.




INTRODUCTION. Foundations of Revolt




CHAPTERS I TO VII



SOME ENGLISHMEN, OF WHOM KITCHENER WAS CHIEF, BELIEVED THAT A REBELLION
OF ARABS AGAINST TURKS WOULD ENABLE ENGLAND, WHILE FIGHTING GERMANY,
SIMULTANEOUSLY TO DEFEAT HER ALLY TURKEY.

THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE NATURE AND POWER AND COUNTRY OF THE
ARABIC-SPEAKING PEOPLES MADE THEM THINK THAT THE ISSUE OF SUCH A
REBELLION WOULD BE HAPPY: AND INDICATED ITS CHARACTER AND METHOD.

SO THEY ALLOWED IT TO BEGIN, HAVING OBTAINED FOR IT FORMAL ASSURANCES
OF HELP FROM THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT. YET NONE THE LESS THE REBELLION OF
THE SHERIF OF MECCA CAME TO MOST AS A SURPRISE, AND FOUND THE ALLIES
UNREADY. IT AROUSED MIXED FEELINGS AND MADE STRONG FRIENDS AND STRONG
ENEMIES, AMID WHOSE CLASHING JEALOUSIES ITS AFFAIRS BEGAN TO MISCARRY.




CHAPTER I



Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances.
For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under
the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were
dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and
shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were
a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom,
the second of man's creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all
our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded
in its glare.

As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an
unquestioning possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts.
Willy-nilly it became a faith. We had sold ourselves into its slavery,
manacled ourselves together in its chain-gang, bowed ourselves to serve
its holiness with all our good and ill content. The mentality of
ordinary human slaves is terrible--they have lost the world--and we had
surrendered, not body alone, but soul to the overmastering greed of
victory. By our own act we were drained of morality, of volition, of
responsibility, like dead leaves in the wind.

The everlasting battle stripped from us care of our own lives or of
others'. We had ropes about our necks, and on our heads prices which
showed that the enemy intended hideous tortures for us if we were
caught. Each day some of us passed; and the living knew themselves just
sentient puppets on God's stage: indeed, our taskmaster was merciless,
merciless, so long as our bruised feet could stagger forward on the
road. The weak envied those tired enough to die; for success looked so
remote, and failure a near and certain, if sharp, release from toil. We
lived always in the stretch or sag of nerves, either on the crest or in
the trough of waves of feeling. This impotency was bitter to us, and
made us live only for the seen horizon, reckless what spite we
inflicted or endured, since physical sensation showed itself meanly
transient. Gusts of cruelty, perversions, lusts ran lightly over the
surface without troubling us; for the moral laws which had seemed to
hedge about these silly accidents must be yet fainter words. We had
learned that there were pangs too sharp, griefs too deep, ecstasies too
high for our finite selves to register. When emotion reached this pitch
the mind choked; and memory went white till the circumstances were
humdrum once more.

Such exaltation of thought, while it let adrift the spirit, and gave it
licence in strange airs, lost it the old patient rule over the body.
The body was too coarse to feel the utmost of our sorrows and of our
joys. Therefore, we abandoned it as rubbish: we left it below us to
march forward, a breathing simulacrum, on its own unaided level,
subject to influences from which in normal times our instincts would
have shrunk. The men were young and sturdy; and hot flesh and blood
unconsciously claimed a right in them and tormented their bellies with
strange longings. Our privations and dangers fanned this virile heat,
in a climate as racking as can be conceived. We had no shut places to
be alone in, no thick clothes to hide our nature. Man in all things
lived candidly with man.

The Arab was by nature continent; and the use of universal marriage had
nearly abolished irregular courses in his tribes. The public women of
the rare settlements we encountered in our months of wandering would
have been nothing to our numbers, even had their raddled meat been
palatable to a man of healthy parts. In horror of such sordid commerce
our youths began indifferently to slake one another's few needs in
their own clean bodies--a cold convenience that, by comparison, seemed
sexless and even pure. Later, some began to justify this sterile
process, and swore that friends quivering together in the yielding sand
with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace, found there hidden in the
darkness a sensual co-efficient of the mental passion which was welding
our souls and spirits in one flaming effort. Several, thirsting to
punish appetites they could not wholly prevent, took a savage pride in
degrading the body, and offered themselves fiercely in any habit which
promised physical pain or filth.

I was sent to these Arabs as a stranger, unable to think their thoughts
or subscribe their beliefs, but charged by duty to lead them forward
and to develop to the highest any movement of theirs profitable to
England in her war. If I could not assume their character, I could at
least conceal my own, and pass among them without evident friction,
neither a discord nor a critic but an unnoticed influence. Since I was
their fellow, I will not be their apologist or advocate. To-day in my
old garments, I could play the bystander, obedient to the sensibilities
of our theatre . . . but it is more honest to record that these ideas
and actions then passed naturally. What now looks wanton or sadic
seemed in the field inevitable, or just unimportant routine.

Blood was always on our hands: we were licensed to it. Wounding and
killing seemed ephemeral pains, so very brief and sore was life with
us. With the sorrow of living so great, the sorrow of punishment had to
be pitiless. We lived for the day and died for it. When there was
reason and desire to punish we wrote our lesson with gun or whip
immediately in the sullen flesh of the sufferer, and the case was
beyond appeal. The desert did not afford the refined slow penalties of
courts and gaols.

Of course our rewards and pleasures were as suddenly sweeping as our
troubles; but, to me in particular, they bulked less large. Bedouin
ways were hard even for those brought up to them, and for strangers
terrible: a death in life. When the march or labour ended I had no
energy to record sensation, nor while it lasted any leisure to see the
spiritual loveliness which sometimes came upon us by the way. In my
notes, the cruel rather than the beautiful found place. We no doubt
enjoyed more the rare moments of peace and forgetfulness; but I
remember more the agony, the terrors, and the mistakes. Our life is
not summed up in what I have written (there are things not to be
repeated in cold blood for very shame); but what I have written was in
and of our life. Pray God that men reading the story will not, for love
of the glamour of strangeness, go out to prostitute themselves and
their talents in serving another race.

A man who gives himself to be a possession of aliens leads a Yahoo
life, having bartered his soul to a brute-master. He is not of them. He
may stand against them, persuade himself of a mission, batter and twist
them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have
been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of
theirs. Or, after my model, he may imitate them so well that they
spuriously imitate him back again. Then he is giving away his own
environment: pretending to theirs; and pretences are hollow, worthless
things. In neither case does he do a thing of himself, nor a thing so
clean as to be his own (without thought of conversion), letting them
take what action or reaction they please from the silent example.

In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs,
and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self,
and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they
destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on
the Arab skin: it was an affectation only. Easily was a man made an
infidel, but hardly might he be converted to another faith. I had
dropped one form and not taken on the other, and was become like
Mohammed's coffin in our legend, with a resultant feeling of intense
loneliness in life, and a contempt, not for other men, but for all they
do. Such detachment came at times to a man exhausted by prolonged
physical effort and isolation. His body plodded on mechanically, while
his reasonable mind left him, and from without looked down critically
on him, wondering what that futile lumber did and why. Sometimes these
selves would converse in the void; and then madness was very near, as I
believe it would be near the man who could see things through the veils
at once of two customs, two educations, two environments.




CHAPTER II



A first difficulty of the Arab movement was to say who the Arabs were.
Being a manufactured people, their name had been changing in sense
slowly year by year. Once it meant an Arabian. There was a country
called Arabia; but this was nothing to the point. There was a language
called Arabic; and in it lay the test. It was the current tongue of
Syria and Palestine, of Mesopotamia, and of the great peninsula called
Arabia on the map. Before the Moslem conquest, these areas were
inhabited by diverse peoples, speaking languages of the Arabic family.
We called them Semitic, but (as with most scientific terms)
incorrectly. However, Arabic, Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician, Hebrew,
Aramaic and Syriac were related tongues; and indications of common
influences in the past, or even of a common origin, were strengthened
by our knowledge that the appearances and customs of the present
Arabic-speaking peoples of Asia, while as varied as a field--full of
poppies, had an equal and essential likeness. We might with perfect
propriety call them cousins--and cousins certainly, if sadly, aware of
their own relationship.

The Arabic-speaking areas of Asia in this sense were a rough
parallelogram. The northern side ran from Alexandretta, on the
Mediterranean, across Mesopotamia eastward to the Tigris. The south
side was the edge of the Indian Ocean, from Aden to Muscat. On the west
it was bounded by the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea to
Aden. On the east by the Tigris, and the Persian Gulf to Muscat. This
square of land, as large as India, formed the homeland of our Semites,
in which no foreign race had kept a permanent footing, though
Egyptians, Hittites, Philistines, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and
Franks had variously tried. All had in the end been broken, and their
scattered elements drowned in the strong characteristics of the Semitic
race. Semites had sometimes pushed outside this area, and themselves
been drowned in the outer world. Egypt, Algiers, Morocco, Malta,
Sicily, Spain, Cilicia and France absorbed and obliterated Semitic
colonies. Only in Tripoli of Africa, and in the everlasting miracle of
Jewry, had distant Semites kept some of their identity and force.

The origin of these peoples was an academic question; but for the
understanding of their revolt their present social and political
differences were important, and could only be grasped by looking at
their geography. This continent of theirs fell into certain great
regions, whose gross physical diversities imposed varying habits on the
dwellers in them. On the west the parallelogram was framed, from
Alexandretta to Aden, by a mountain belt, called (in the north) Syria,
and thence progressively southward called Palestine, Midian, Hejaz, and
lastly Yemen. It had an average height of perhaps three thousand feet,
with peaks of ten to twelve thousand feet. It faced west, was well
watered with rain and cloud from the sea, and in general was fully
peopled.

Another range of inhabited hills, facing the Indian Ocean, was the
south edge of the parallelogram. The eastern frontier was at first an
alluvial plain called Mesopotamia, but south of Basra a level littoral,
called Kuweit, and Hasa, to Gattar. Much of this plain was peopled.
These inhabited hills and plains framed a gulf of thirsty desert, in
whose heart was an archipelago of watered and populous oases called
Kasim and Aridh. In this group of oases lay the true centre of Arabia,
the preserve of its native spirit, and its most conscious
individuality. The desert lapped it round and kept it pure of contact.

The desert which performed this great function around the oases, and so
made the character of Arabia, varied in nature. South of the oases it
appeared to be a pathless sea of sand, stretching nearly to the
populous escarpment of the Indian Ocean shore, shutting it out from
Arabian history, and from all influence on Arabian morals and politics.
Hadhramaut, as they called this southern coast, formed part of the
history of the Dutch Indies; and its thought swayed Java rather than
Arabia. To the west of the oases, between them and the Hejaz hills, was
the Nejd desert, an area of gravel and lava, with little sand in it. To
the east of these oases, between them and Kuweit, spread a similar
expanse of gravel, but with some great stretches of soft sand, making
the road difficult. To the north of the oases lay a belt of sand, and
then an immense gravel and lava plain, filling up everything between
the eastern edge of Syria and the banks of the Euphrates where
Mesopotamia began. The practicability of this northern desert for men
and motor-cars enabled the Arab revolt to win its ready success.

The hills of the west and the plains of the east were the parts of
Arabia always most populous and active. In particular on the west, the
mountains of Syria and Palestine, of Hejaz and Yemen, entered time and
again into the current of our European life. Ethically, these fertile
healthy hills were in Europe, not in Asia, just as the Arabs looked
always to the Mediterranean, not to the Indian Ocean, for their
cultural sympathies, for their enterprises, and particularly for their
expansions, since the migration problem was the greatest and most
complex force in Arabia, and general to it, however it might vary in
the different Arabic districts.

In the north (Syria) the birth rate was low in the cities and the death
rate high, because of the insanitary conditions and the hectic life led
by the majority. Consequently the surplus peasantry found openings in
the towns, and were there swallowed up. In the Lebanon, where
sanitation had been improved, a greater exodus of youth took place to
America each year, threatening (for the first time since Greek days) to
change the outlook of an entire district.

In Yemen the solution was different. There was no foreign trade, and no
massed industries to accumulate population in unhealthy places. The
towns were just market towns, as clean and simple as ordinary villages.
Therefore the population slowly increased; the scale of living was
brought down very low; and a congestion of numbers was generally felt.
They could not emigrate overseas; for the Sudan was even worse country
than Arabia, and the few tribes which did venture across were compelled
to modify their manner of life and their Semitic culture profoundly, in
order to exist. They could not move northward along the hills; for
these were barred by the holy town of Mecca and its port Jidda: an
alien belt, continually reinforced by strangers from India and Java and
Bokhara and Africa, very strong in vitality, violently hostile to the
Semitic consciousness, and maintained despite economics and geography
and climate by the artificial factor of a world-religion. The
congestion of Yemen, therefore, becoming extreme, found its only relief
in the east, by forcing the weaker aggregations of its border down and
down the slopes of the hills along the Widian, the half-waste district
of the great water-bearing valleys of Bisha, Dawasir, Ranya and Taraba,
which ran out towards the deserts of Nejd. These weaker clans had
continually to exchange good springs and fertile palms for poorer
springs and scantier palms, till at last they reached an area where a
proper agricultural life became impossible. They then began to eke out
their precarious husbandry by breeding sheep and camels, and in time
came to depend more and more on these herds for their living.

Finally, under a last impulse from the straining population behind
them, the border people (now almost wholly pastoral), were flung out of
the furthest crazy oasis into the untrodden wilderness as nomads. This
process, to be watched to-day with individual families and tribes to
whose marches an exact name and date might be put, must have been going
on since the first day of full settlement of Yemen. The Widian below
Mecca and Taif are crowded with the memories and place-names of half a
hundred tribes which have gone from there, and may be found to-day in
Nejd, in Jebel Sham-mar, in the Hamad, even on the frontiers of Syria
and Mesopotamia. There was the source of migration, the factory of
nomads, the springing of the gulf-stream of desert wanderers.

For the people of the desert were as little static as the people of the
hills. The economic life of the desert was based on the supply of
camels, which were best bred on the rigorous upland pastures with their
strong nutritive thorns. By this industry the Bedouins lived; and it in
turn moulded their life, apportioned the tribal areas, and kept the
clans revolving through their rote of spring, summer and winter
pasturages, as the herds cropped the scanty growths of each in turn.
The camel markets in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt determined the
population which the deserts could support, and regulated strictly
their standard of living. So the desert likewise overpeopled itself
upon occasion; and then there were heavings and thrustings of the
crowded tribes as they elbowed themselves by natural courses towards
the light. They might not go south towards the inhospitable sand or
sea. They could not turn west; for there the steep hills of Hejaz were
thickly lined by mountain peoples taking full advantage of their
defensiveness. Sometimes they went towards the central oases of Aridh
and Kasim, and, if the tribes looking for new homes were strong and
vigorous, might succeed in occupying parts of them. If, however, the
desert had not this strength, its peoples were pushed gradually north,
up between Medina of the Hejaz and Kasim of Nejd, till they found
themselves at the fork of two roads. They could strike eastward, by
Wadi Rumh or Jebel Sham-mar, to follow eventually the Batn to Shamiya,
where they would become riverine Arabs of the Lower Euphrates; or they
could climb, by slow degrees, the ladder of western oases--Henakiya,
Kheibar, Teima, Jauf, and the Sirhan--till fate saw them nearing Jebel
Druse, in Syria, or watering their herds about Tadmor of the northern
desert, on their way to Aleppo or Assyria.

Nor then did the pressure cease: the inexorable trend northward
continued. The tribes found themselves driven to the very edge of
cultivation in Syria or Mesopotamia. Opportunity and their bellies
persuaded them of the advantages of possessing goats, and then of
possessing sheep; and lastly they began to sow, if only a little barley
for their animals. They were now no longer Bedouin, and began to suffer
like the villagers from the ravages of the nomads behind. Insensibly,
they made common cause with the peasants already on the soil, and found
out that they, too, were peasantry. So we see clans, born in the
highlands of Yemen, thrust by stronger clans into the desert, where,
unwillingly, they became nomad to keep themselves alive. We see them
wandering, every year moving a little further north or a little further
east as chance has sent them down one or other of the well-roads of the
wilderness, till finally this pressure drives them from the desert
again into the sown, with the like unwillingness of their first
shrinking experiment in nomad life. This was the circulation which kept
vigour in the Semitic body. There were few, if indeed there was a
single northern Semite, whose ancestors had not at some dark age passed
through the desert. The mark of nomadism, that most deep and biting
social discipline, was on each of them in his degree.




CHAPTER III



If tribesman and townsman in Arabic-speaking Asia were not different
races, but just men in different social and economic stages, a family
resemblance might be expected in the working of their minds, and so it
was only reasonable that common elements should appear in the product
of all these peoples. In the very outset, at the first meeting with
them, was found a universal clearness or hardness of belief, almost
mathematical in its limitation, and repellent in its unsympathetic
form. Semites had no half-tones in their register of vision. They were
a people of primary colours, or rather of black and white, who saw the
world always in contour. They were a dogmatic people, despising doubt,
our modern crown of thorns. They did not understand our metaphysical
difficulties, our introspective questionings. They knew only truth and
untruth, belief and unbelief, without our hesitating retinue of finer
shades.

This people was black and white, not only in vision, but by inmost
furnishing: black and white not merely in clarity, but in apposition.
Their thoughts were at ease only in extremes. They inhabited
superlatives by choice. Sometimes inconsistents seemed to possess them
at once in joint sway; but they never compromised: they pursued the
logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends, without
perceiving the incongruity. With cool head and tranquil judgement,
imperturbably unconscious of the flight, they oscillated from asymptote
to asymptote.

They were a limited, narrow-minded people, whose inert intellects lay
fallow in incurious resignation. Their imaginations were vivid, but not
creative. There was so little Arab art in Asia that they could almost
be said to have had no art, though their classes were liberal patrons,
and had encouraged whatever talents in architecture, or ceramics, or
other handicraft their neighbours and helots displayed. Nor did they
handle great industries: they had no organizations of mind or body.
They invented no systems of philosophy, no complex mythologies. They
steered their course between the idols of the tribe and of the cave.
The least morbid of peoples, they had accepted the gift of life
unquestioningly, as axiomatic. To them it was a thing inevitable,
entailed on man, a usufruct, beyond control. Suicide was a thing
impossible, and death no grief.

They were a people of spasms, of upheavals, of ideas, the race of the
individual genius. Their movements were the more shocking by contrast
with the quietude of every day, their great men greater by contrast
with the humanity of their mob. Their convictions were by instinct,
their activities intuitional. Their largest manufacture was of creeds:
almost they were monopolists of revealed religions. Three of these
efforts had endured among them: two of the three had also borne export
(in modified forms) to non-Semitic peoples. Christianity, translated
into the diverse spirits of Greek and Latin and Teutonic tongues, had
conquered Europe and America. Islam in various transformations was
subjecting Africa and parts of Asia. These were Semitic successes.
Their failures they kept to themselves. The fringes of their deserts
were strewn with broken faiths.

It was significant that this wrack of fallen religions lay about the
meeting of the desert and the sown. It pointed to the generation of all
these creeds. They were assertions, not arguments; so they required a
prophet to set them forth. The Arabs said there had been forty thousand
prophets: we had record of at least some hundreds. None of them had
been of the wilderness; but their lives were after a pattern. Their
birth set them in crowded places. An unintelligible passionate yearning
drove them out into the desert. There they lived a greater or lesser
time in meditation and physical abandonment; and thence they returned
with their imagined message articulate, to preach it to their old, and
now doubting, associates. The founders of the three great creeds
fulfilled this cycle: their possible coincidence was proved a law by
the parallel life-histories of the myriad others, the unfortunate who
failed, whom we might judge of no less true profession, but for whom
time and disillusion had not heaped up dry souls ready to be set on
fire. To the thinkers of the town the impulse into Nitria had ever been
irresistible, not probably that they found God dwelling there, but that
in its solitude they heard more certainly the living word they brought
with them.

The common base of all the Semitic creeds, winners or losers, was the
ever present idea of world-worthlessness. Their profound reaction from
matter led them to preach bareness, renunciation, poverty; and the
atmosphere of this invention stifled the minds of the desert
pitilessly. A first knowledge of their sense of the purity of
rarefaction was given me in early years, when we had ridden far out
over the rolling plains of North Syria to a ruin of the Roman period
which the Arabs believed was made by a prince of the border as a
desert-palace for his queen. The clay of its building was said to have
been kneaded for greater richness, not with water, but with the
precious essential oils of flowers. My guides, sniffing the air like
dogs, led me from crumbling room to room, saying, 'This is jessamine,
this violet, this rose'.

But at last Dahoum drew me: 'Come and smell the very sweetest scent of
all', and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets
of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the
effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past. That
slow breath had been born somewhere beyond the distant Euphrates and
had dragged its way across many days and nights of dead grass, to its
first obstacle, the man-made walls of our broken palace. About them it
seemed to fret and linger, murmuring in baby-speech. 'This,' they told
me, 'is the best: it has no taste.' My Arabs were turning their backs
on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had
no share or part.

The Beduin of the desert, born and grown up in it, had embraced with
all his soul this nakedness too harsh for volunteers, for the reason,
felt but inarticulate, that there he found himself indubitably free. He
lost material ties, comforts, all superfluities and other complications
to achieve a personal liberty which haunted starvation and death. He
saw no virtue in poverty herself: he enjoyed the little vices and
luxuries--coffee, fresh water, women--which he could still preserve. In
his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great
emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the
heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath. There unconsciously he
came near God. God was to him not anthropomorphic, not tangible, not
moral nor ethical, not concerned with the world or with him, not
natural: but the being [GREEK] thus qualified not by divestiture but by
investiture, a comprehending Being, the egg of all activity, with
nature and matter just a glass reflecting Him.

The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he
was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not
God, Who alone was great; yet there was a homeliness, an everyday-ness
of this climatic Arab God, who was their eating and their fighting and
their lusting, the commonest of their thoughts, their familiar resource
and companion, in a way impossible to those whose God is so wistfully
veiled from them by despair of their carnal unworthiness of Him and by
the decorum of formal worship. Arabs felt no incongruity in bringing
God into the weaknesses and appetites of their least creditable causes.
He was the most familiar of their words; and indeed we lost much
eloquence when making Him the shortest and ugliest of our
monosyllables.

This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in
thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into
the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were
inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being. The
Bedawi might be a nominal Sunni, or a nominal Wahabi, or anything else
in the Semitic compass, and he would take it very lightly, a little in
the manner of the watchmen at Zion's gate who drank beer and laughed in
Zion because they were Zionists. Each individual nomad had his revealed
religion, not oral or traditional or expressed, but instinctive in
himself; and so we got all the Semitic creeds with (in character and
essence) a stress on the emptiness of the world and the fullness of
God; and according to the power and opportunity of the believer was the
expression of them.

The desert dweller could not take credit for his belief. He had never
been either evangelist or proselyte. He arrived at this intense
condensation of himself in God by shutting his eyes to the world, and
to all the complex possibilities latent in him which only contact with
wealth and temptations could bring forth. He attained a sure trust and
a powerful trust, but of how narrow a field! His sterile experience
robbed him of compassion and perverted his human kindness to the image
of the waste in which he hid. Accordingly he hurt himself, not merely
to be free, but to please himself. There followed a delight in pain, a
cruelty which was more to him than goods. The desert Arab found no joy
like the joy of voluntarily holding back. He found luxury in
abnegation, renunciation, self restraint. He made nakedness of the mind
as sensuous as nakedness of the body. He saved his own soul, perhaps,
and without danger, but in a hard selfishness. His desert was made a
spiritual ice-house, in which was preserved intact but unimproved for
all ages a vision of the unity of God. To it sometimes the seekers from
the outer world could escape for a season and look thence in detachment
at the nature of the generation they would convert.

This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns. It was at once
too strange, too simple, too impalpable for export and common use. The
idea, the ground-belief of all Semitic creeds was waiting there, but it
had to be diluted to be made comprehensible to us. The scream of a bat
was too shrill for many ears: the desert spirit escaped through our
coarser texture. The prophets returned from the desert with their
glimpse of God, and through their stained medium (as through a dark
glass) showed something of the majesty and brilliance whose full vision
would blind, deafen, silence us, serve us as it had served the Beduin,
setting him uncouth, a man apart.

The disciples, in the endeavour to strip themselves and their
neighbours of all things according to the Master's word, stumbled over
human weaknesses and failed. To live, the villager or townsman must
fill himself each day with the pleasures of acquisition and
accumulation, and by rebound off circumstance become the grossest and
most material of men. The shining contempt of life which led others
into the barest asceticism drove him to despair. He squandered himself
heedlessly, as a spendthrift: ran through his inheritance of flesh in
hasty longing for the end. The Jew in the Metropole at Brighton, the
miser, the worshipper of Adonis, the lecher in the stews of Damascus
were alike signs of the Semitic capacity for enjoyment, and expressions
of the same nerve which gave us at the other pole the self-denial of
the Essenes, or the early Christians, or the first Khalifas, finding
the way to heaven fairest for the poor in spirit. The Semite hovered
between lust and self-denial.

Arabs could be swung on an idea as on a cord; for the unpledged
allegiance of their minds made them obedient servants. None of them
would escape the bond till success had come, and with it responsibility
and duty and engagements. Then the idea was gone and the work ended--in
ruins. Without a creed they could be taken to the four corners of the
world (but not to heaven) by being shown the riches of earth and the
pleasures of it; but if on the road, led in this fashion, they met the
prophet of an idea, who had nowhere to lay his head and who depended
for his food on charity or birds, then they would all leave their
wealth for his inspiration. They were incorrigibly children of the
idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and spirit were for ever
and inevitably opposed. Their mind was strange and dark, full of
depressions and exaltations, lacking in rule, but with more of ardour
and more fertile in belief than any other in the world. They were a
people of starts, for whom the abstract was the strongest motive, the
process of infinite courage and variety, and the end nothing. They were
as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail.
Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing
themselves against the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken, but, like
the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed,
and some day, ages yet, might roll unchecked over the place where the
material world had been, and God would move upon the face of those
waters. One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before
the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and
fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance
of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when
in fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.




CHAPTER IV



The first great rush round the Mediterranean had shown the world the
power of an excited Arab for a short spell of intense physical
activity; but when the effort burned out the lack of endurance and
routine in the Semitic mind became as evident. The provinces they had
overrun they neglected, out of sheer distaste of system, and had to
seek the help of their conquered subjects, or of more vigorous
foreigners, to administer their ill-knit and inchoate empires. So,
early in the Middle Ages, the Turks found a footing in the Arab States,
first as servants, then as helpers, and then as a parasite growth which
choked the life out of the old body politic. The last phase was of
enmity, when the Hulagus or Timurs sated their blood lust, burning and
destroying everything which irked them with a pretension of
superiority.

Arab civilizations had been of an abstract nature, moral and
intellectual rather than applied; and their lack of public spirit made
their excellent private qualities futile. They were fortunate in their
epoch: Europe had fallen barbarous; and the memory of Greek and Latin
learning was fading from men's minds. By contrast the imitative
exercise of the Arabs seemed cultured, their mental activity
progressive, their state prosperous. They had performed real service in
preserving something of a classical past for a mediaeval future.

With the coming of the Turks this happiness became a dream. By stages
the Semites of Asia passed under their yoke, and found it a slow death.
Their goods were stripped from them; and their spirits shrivelled in
the numbing breath of a military Government. Turkish rule was gendarme
rule, and Turkish political theory as crude as its practice. The Turks
taught the Arabs that the interests of a sect were higher than those of
patriotism: that the petty concerns of the province were more than
nationality. They led them by subtle dissensions to distrust one
another. Even the Arabic language was banished from courts and offices,
from the Government service, and from superior schools. Arabs might
only serve the State by sacrifice of their racial characteristics.
These measures were not accepted quietly. Semitic tenacity showed
itself in the many rebellions of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia against
the grosser forms of Turkish penetration; and resistance was also made
to the more insidious attempts at absorption. The Arabs would not give
up their rich and flexible tongue for crude Turkish: instead, they
filled Turkish with Arabic words, and held to the treasures of their
own literature.

They lost their geographical sense, and their racial and political and
historical memories; but they clung the more tightly to their language,
and erected it almost into a fatherland of its own. The first duty of
every Moslem was to study the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, and
incidentally the greatest Arab literary monument. The knowledge that
this religion was his own, and that only he was perfectly qualified to
understand and practise it, gave every Arab a standard by which to
judge the banal achievements of the Turk.

Then came the Turkish revolution, the fall of Abdul Hamid, and the
supremacy of the Young Turks. The horizon momentarily broadened for the
Arabs. The Young-Turk movement was a revolt against the hierarchic
conception of Islam and the pan-Islamic theories of the old Sultan, who
had aspired, by making himself spiritual director of the Moslem world,
to be also (beyond appeal) its director in temporal affairs. These
young politicians rebelled and threw him into prison, under the impulse
of constitutional theories of a sovereign state. So, at a time when
Western Europe was just beginning to climb out of nationality into
internationality, and to rumble with wars far removed from problems of
race, Western Asia began to climb out of Catholicism into nationalist
politics, and to dream of wars for self-government and self-sovereignty,
instead of for faith or dogma. This tendency had broken out first
and most strongly in the Near East, in the little Balkan States,
and had sustained them through an almost unparalleled martyrdom
to their goal of separation from Turkey. Later there had been
nationalist movements in Egypt, in India, in Persia, and finally in
Constantinople, where they were fortified and made pointed by the new
American ideas in education: ideas which, when released in the old high
Oriental atmosphere, made an explosive mixture. The American schools,
teaching by the method of inquiry, encouraged scientific detachment and
free exchange of views. Quite without intention they taught revolution,
since it was impossible for an individual to be modern in Turkey and at
the same time loyal, if he had been born of one of the subject
races--Greeks, Arabs, Kurds, Armenians or Albanians--over whom the
Turks were so long helped to keep dominion.

The Young Turks, in the confidence of their first success, were carried
away by the logic of their principles, and as protest against Pan-Islam
preached Ottoman brotherhood. The gullible subject races--far more
numerous than the Turks themselves--believed that they were called upon
to co-operate in building a new East. Rushing to die task (full of
Herbert Spencer and Alexander Hamilton) they laid down platforms of
sweeping ideas, and hailed the Turks as partners. The Turks, terrified
at the forces they had let loose, drew the fires as suddenly as they
had stoked them. Turkey made Turkish for the Turks--YENI-TURAN--became
the cry. Later on, this policy would turn them towards the rescue of
their irredenti--the Turkish populations subject to Russia in Central
Asia; but, first of all, they must purge their Empire of such
irritating subject races as resisted the ruling stamp. The Arabs, the
largest alien component of Turkey, must first be dealt with.
Accordingly the Arab deputies were scattered, the Arab societies
forbidden, the Arab notables proscribed. Arabic manifestations and the
Arabic language were suppressed by Enver Pasha more sternly than by
Abdul Hamid before him.

However, the Arabs had tasted freedom: they could not change their
ideas as quickly as their conduct; and the staffer spirits among them
were not easily to be put down. They read the Turkish papers, putting
'Arab' for Turk' in the patriotic exhortations. Suppression charged
them with unhealthy violence. Deprived of constitutional outlets they
became revolutionary. The Arab societies went underground, and changed
from liberal clubs into conspiracies. The Akhua, the Arab mother
society, was publicly dissolved. It was replaced in Mesopotamia by the
dangerous Ahad, a very secret brotherhood, limited almost entirely to
Arab officers in the Turkish Army, who swore to acquire the military
knowledge of their masters, and to turn it against them, in the service
of the Arab people, when the moment of rebellion came.

It was a large society, with a sure base in the wild part of Southern
Irak, where Sayid Taleb, the young John Wilkes of the Arab movement,
held the power in his unprincipled fingers. To it belonged seven out of
every ten Mesopotamian-born officers; and their counsel was so well
kept that members of it held high command in Turkey to the last. When
the crash came, and Allenby rode across Armageddon and Turkey fell, one
vice-president of the society was commanding the broken fragments of
the Palestine armies on the retreat, and another was directing the
Turkish forces across-Jordan in the Amman area. Yet later, after the
armistice, great places in the Turkish service were still held by men
ready to turn on their masters at a word from their Arab leaders. To
most of them the word was never given; for those societies were pro-Arab
only, willing to fight for nothing but Arab independence; and they
could see no advantage in supporting the Allies rather than the Turks,
since they did not believe our assurances that we would leave them
free. Indeed, many of them preferred an Arabia united by Turkey in
miserable subjection, to an Arabia divided up and slothful under the
easier control of several European powers in spheres of influence.

Greater than the Ahad was the Fetah, the society of freedom in Syria.
The landowners, the writers, the doctors, the great public servants
linked themselves in this society with a common oath, passwords, signs,
a press and a central treasury, to ruin the Turkish Empire. With the
noisy facility of the Syrian--an ape-like people having much of the
Japanese quickness, but shallow--they speedily built up a formidable
organization. They looked outside for help, and expected freedom to
come by entreaty, not by sacrifice. They corresponded with Egypt, with
the Ahad (whose members, with true Mesopotamian dourness, rather
despised them), with the Sherif of Mecca, and with Great Britain:
everywhere seeking the ally to serve their turn. They also were deadly
secret; and the Government, though it suspected their existence, could
find no credible evidence of their leaders or membership. It had to
hold its hand until it could strike with evidence enough to satisfy the
English and French diplomats who acted as modern public opinion in
Turkey. The war in 1914 withdrew these agents, and left the Turkish
Government free to strike.

Mobilization put all power into the hands of those members--Enver,
Talaat and Jemal--who were at once the most ruthless, the most logical,
and the most ambitious of the Young Turks. They set themselves to stamp
out all non-Turkish currents in the State, especially Arab and Armenian
nationalism. For the first step they found a specious and convenient
weapon in the secret papers of a French Consul in Syria, who left
behind him in his Consulate copies of correspondence (about Arab
freedom) which had passed between him and an Arab club, not connected
with the Fetah but made up of the more talkative and less formidable
INTELLIGENZIA of the Syrian coast. The Turks, of course, were
delighted; for 'colonial' aggression in North Africa had given the
French a black reputation in the Arabic-speaking Moslem world; and it
served Jemal well to show his co-religionists that these Arab
nationalists were infidel enough to prefer France to Turkey.

In Syria, of course, his disclosures had little novelty; but the
members of the society were known and respected, if somewhat academic,
persons; and their arrest and condemnation, and the crop of
deportations, exiles, and executions to which their trial led, moved
the country to its depths, and taught the Arabs of the Fetah that if
they did not profit by their lesson, the fate of the Armenians would be
upon them. The Armenians had been well armed and organized; but their
leaders had failed them. They had been disarmed and destroyed
piecemeal, the men by massacre, the women and children by being driven
and overdriven along the wintry roads into the desert, naked and
hungry, the common prey of any passer-by, until death took them. The
Young Turks had killed the Armenians, not because they were Christians,
but because they were Armenians; and for the same reason they herded
Arab Moslems and Arab Christians into the same prison, and hanged them
together on the same scaffold. Jemal Pasha united all classes,
conditions and creeds in Syria, under pressure of a common misery and
peril, and so made a concerted revolt possible.

The Turks suspected the Arab officers and soldiers in the Army, and
hoped to use against them the scattering tactics which had served
against the Armenians. At first transport difficulties stood in their
way; and there came a dangerous concentration of Arab divisions (nearly
one third of the original Turkish Army was Arabic speaking) in North
Syria early in 1915. They broke these up when possible, marching them
off to Europe, to the Dardanelles, to the Caucasus, or the
Canal--anywhere, so long as they were put quickly into the firing-line,
or withdrawn far from the sight and help of their compatriots. A Holy War
was proclaimed to give the 'Union and Progress' banner something of the
traditional sanctity of the Caliph's battle-order in the eyes of the
old clerical elements; and the Sherif of Mecca was invited--or rather
ordered--to echo the cry.




CHAPTER V



The position of the Sherif of Mecca had long been anomalous. The title
of 'Sherif implied descent from the prophet Mohammed through his
daughter Fatima, and Hassan, her elder son. Authentic Sherifs were
inscribed on the family tree--an immense roll preserved at Mecca, in
custody of the Emir of Mecca, the elected Sherif of Sherifs, supposed
to be the senior and noblest of all. The prophet's family had held
temporal rule in Mecca for the last nine hundred years, and counted
some two thousand persons.

The old Ottoman Governments regarded this clan of manticratic peers
with a mixture of reverence and distrust. Since they were too strong to
be destroyed, the Sultan salved his dignity by solemnly confirming
their Emir in place. This empty approval acquired dignity by lapse of
time, until the new holder began to feel that it added a final seal to
his election. At last the Turks found that they needed the Hejaz under
their unquestioned sway as part of the stage furniture for their new
pan-Islamic notion. The fortuitous opening of the Suez Canal enabled
them to garrison the Holy Cities. They projected the Hejaz Railway, and
increased Turkish influence among the tribes by money, intrigue, and
armed expeditions.

As the Sultan grew stronger there he ventured to assert himself more
and more alongside the Sherif, even in Mecca itself, and upon occasion
ventured to depose a Sherif too magnificent for his views, and to
appoint a successor from a rival family of the clan in hopes of winning
the usual advantages from dissension. Finally, Abdul Hamid took away
some of the family to Constantinople into honourable captivity. Amongst
these was Hussein ibn Ali, the future ruler, who was held a prisoner
for nearly eighteen years. He took the opportunity to provide his
sons--Ali, Abdulla, Feisal, and Zeid--with the modern education and
experience which afterwards enabled them to lead the Arab armies to
success.

When Abdul Hamid fell, the less wily Young Turks reversed his policy
and sent back Sherif Hussein to Mecca as Emir. He at once set to work
unobtrusively to restore the power of the Emirate, and strengthened
himself on the old basis, keeping the while close and friendly touch
with Constantinople through his sons Abdulla, vice-chairman of the
Turkish House, and Feisal, member for Jidda. They kept him informed of
political opinion in the capital until war broke out, when they
returned in haste to Mecca.

The outbreak of war made trouble in the Hejaz. The pilgrimage ceased,
and with it the revenues and business of the Holy Cities. There was
reason to fear that the Indian food-ships would cease to come (since
the Sherif became technically an enemy subject); and as the province
produced almost no food of its own, it would be precariously dependent
on the goodwill of the Turks, who might starve it by closing the Hejaz
Railway. Hussein had never been entirely at the Turks' mercy before;
and at this unhappy moment they particularly needed his adherence to
their 'Jehad', the Holy War of all Moslems against Christianity.

To become popularly effective this must be endorsed by Mecca; and if
endorsed it might plunge the East in blood. Hussein was honourable,
shrewd, obstinate and deeply pious. He felt that the Holy War was
doctrinally incompatible with an aggressive war, and absurd with a
Christian ally: Germany. So he refused the Turkish demand, and made at
the same time a dignified appeal to the Allies not to starve his
province for what was in no way his people's fault. The Turks in reply
at once instituted a partial blockade of the Hejaz by controlling the
traffic on the pilgrim railway. The British left his coast open to
specially-regulated food vessels.

The Turkish demand was, however, not the only one which the Sherif
received. In January 1915, Yisin, head of the Mesopotamian officers,
Ali Riza, head of the Damascus officers, and Abd el Ghani el Areisi,
for the Syrian civilians, sent down to him a concrete proposal for a
military mutiny in Syria against the Turks. The oppressed people of
Mesopotamia and Syria, the committees of the Ahad and the Fetah, were
calling out to him as the Father of the Arabs, the Moslem of Moslems,
their greatest prince, their oldest notable, to save them from the
sinister designs of Talaat and Jemal.

Hussein, as politician, as prince, as moslem, as modernist, and as
nationalist, was forced to listen to their appeal. He sent Feisal, his
third son, to Damascus, to discuss their projects as his
representative, and to make a report. He sent Ali, his eldest son, to
Medina, with orders to raise quietly, on any excuse he pleased, troops
from villagers and tribesmen of the Hejaz, and to hold them ready for
action if Feisal called. Abdulla, his politic second son, was to sound
the British by letter, to learn what would be their attitude towards a
possible Arab revolt against Turkey.

Feisal reported in January 1915, that local conditions were good, but
that the general war was not going well for their hopes. In Damascus
were three divisions of Arab troops ready for rebellion. In Aleppo two
other divisions, riddled with Arab nationalism, were sure to join in if
the others began. There was only one Turkish division this side of the
Taurus, so that it was certain that the rebels would get possession of
Syria at the first effort. On the other hand, public opinion was less
ready for extreme measures, and the military class quite sure that
Germany would win the war and win it soon. If, however, the Allies
landed their Australian Expedition (preparing in Egypt) at
Alexandretta, and so covered the Syrian flank, then it would be wise
and safe to risk a final German victory and the need to make a previous
separate peace with the Turks.

Delay followed, as the Allies went to the Dardanelles, and not to
Alexandretta. Feisal went after them to get first-hand knowledge of
Gallipoli conditions, since a breakdown of Turkey would be the Arab
signal. Then followed stagnation through the months of the Dardanelles
campaign. In that slaughter-house the remaining Ottoman first-line army
was destroyed. The disaster to Turkey of the accumulated losses was so
great that Feisal came back to Syria, judging it a possible moment in
which to strike, but found that meanwhile the local situation had
become unfavourable.

His Syrian supporters were under arrest or in hiding, and their friends
being hanged in scores on political charges. He found the well-disposed
Arab divisions either exiled to distant fronts, or broken up in drafts
and distributed among Turkish units. The Arab peasantry were in the
grip of Turkish military service, and Syria prostrate before the
merciless Jemal Pasha. His assets had disappeared. He wrote to his
father counselling further delay, till England should be ready and
Turkey in extremities. Unfortunately, England was in a deplorable
condition. Her forces were falling back shattered from the Dardanelles.
The slow-drawn agony of Kut was in its last stage; and the Senussi
rising, coincident with the entry of Bulgaria, threatened her on new
flanks.

Feisal's position was hazardous in the extreme. He was at the mercy of
the members of the secret society, whose president he had been before
the war. He had to live as the guest of Jemal Pasha, in Damascus,
rubbing up his military knowledge; for his brother Ali was raising the
troops in Hejaz on the pretext that he and Feisal would lead them
against the Suez Canal to help the Turks. So Feisal, as a good Ottoman
and officer in the Turkish service, had to live at headquarters, and
endure acquiescingly the insults and indignities heaped upon his race
by the bully Jemal in his cups.

Jemal would send for Feisal and take him to the hanging of his Syrian
friends. These victims of justice dared not show that they knew
Feisal's real hopes, any more than he dared show his mind by word or
look, since disclosure would have condemned his family and perhaps
their race to the same fate. Only once did he burst out that these
executions would cost Jemal all that he was trying to avoid; and it
took the intercessions of his Constantinople friends, chief men in
Turkey, to save him from the price of these rash words.

Feisal's correspondence with his father was an adventure in itself.
They communicated by means of old retainers of the family, men above
suspicion, who went up and down the Hejaz Railway, carrying letters in
sword-hilts, in cakes, sewn between the soles of sandals, or in
invisible writings on the wrappers of harmless packages. In all of them
Feisal reported unfavourable things, and begged his father to postpone
action till a wiser time.

Hussein, however, was not a whit cast down by Emir Feisal's
discouragements. The Young Turks in his eyes were so many godless
transgressors of their creed and their human duty--traitors to the
spirit of the time, and to the higher interests of Islam. Though an old
man of sixty-five, he was cheerfully determined to wage war against
them, relying upon justice to cover the cost. Hussein trusted so much
in God that he let his military sense lie fallow, and thought Hejaz
able to fight it out with Turkey on a fair field. So he sent Abd el
Kader el Abdu to Feisal with a letter that all was now ready for
inspection by him in Medina before the troops started for the front
Feisal informed Jemal, and asked leave to go down, but, to his dismay,
Jemal replied that Enver Pasha, the Generalissimo, was on his way to
the province, and that they would visit Medina together and inspect
them. Feisal had planned to raise his father's crimson banner as soon
as he arrived in Medina, and so to take the Turks unawares; and here he
was going to be saddled with two uninvited guests to whom, by the Arab
law of hospitality, he could do no harm, and who would probably delay
his action so long that the whole secret of the revolt would be in
jeopardy!

In the end matters passed off well, though the irony of the review was
terrible. Enver, Jemal and Feisal watched the troops wheeling and
turning in the dusty plain outside the city gate, rushing up and down
in mimic camel-battle, or spurring their horses in the javelin game
after immemorial Arab fashion. 'And are all these volunteers for the
Holy War?' asked Enver at last, turning to Feisal. 'Yes,' said Feisal.
Willing to fight to the death against the enemies of the faithful?'
Yes,' said Feisal again; and then the Arab chiefs came up to be
presented, and Sherif Ali ibn el Hussein, of Modhig, drew him aside
whispering, 'My Lord, shall we kill them now?' and Feisal said, 'No,
they are our guests.'

The sheikhs protested further; for they believed that so they could
finish off the war in two blows. They were determined to force Feisal's
hand; and he had to go among them, just out of earshot but in full
view, and plead for the lives of the Turkish dictators, who had
murdered his best friends on the scaffold. In the end he had to make
excuses, take the party back quickly to Medina, picket the banqueting
hall with his own slaves, and escort Enver and Jemal back to Damascus
to save them from death on the way. He explained this laboured courtesy
by the plea that it was the Arab manner to devote everything to guests;
but Enver and Jemal being deeply suspicious of what they had seen,
imposed a strict blockade of the Hejaz, and ordered large Turkish
reinforcements thither. They wanted to detain Feisal in Damascus; but
telegrams came from Medina claiming his immediate return to prevent
disorder, and, reluctantly, Jemal let him go on condition that his
suite remained behind as hostages.

Feisal found Medina full of Turkish troops, with the staff and
headquarters of the Twelfth Army Corps under Fakhri Pasha, the
courageous old butcher who had bloodily 'purified' Zeitun and Urfa of
Armenians. Clearly the Turks had taken warning, and Feisal's hope of a
surprise rush, winning success almost without a shot, had become
impossible. However, it was too late for prudence. From Damascus four
days later his suite took horse and rode out east into the desert to
take refuge with Nuri Shaalan, the Beduin chieftain; and the same day
Feisal showed his hand. When he raised the Arab flag, the pan-Islamic
supra-national State, for which Abdul Hamid had massacred and worked
and died, and the German hope of the co-operation of Islam in the
world-plans of the Kaiser, passed into the realm of dreams. By the mere
fact of his rebellion the Sherif had closed these two fantastic
chapters of history.

Rebellion was the gravest step which political men could take, and the
success or failure of the Arab revolt was a gamble too hazardous for
prophecy. Yet, for once, fortune favoured the bold player, and the Arab
epic tossed up its stormy road from birth through weakness, pain and
doubt, to red victory. It was the just end to an adventure which had
dared so much, but after the victory there came a slow time of
disillusion, and then a night in which the fighting men found that all
their hopes had failed them. Now, at last, may there have come to them
the white peace of the end, in the knowledge that they achieved a
deathless thing, a lucent inspiration to the children of their race.




CHAPTER VI



I had been many years going up and down the Semitic East before the
war, learning the manners of the villagers and tribesmen and citizens
of Syria and Mesopotamia. My poverty had constrained me to mix with the
humbler classes, those seldom met by European travellers, and thus my
experiences gave me an unusual angle of view, which enabled me to
understand and think for the ignorant many as well as for the more
enlightened whose rare opinions mattered, not so much for the day, as
for the morrow. In addition, I had seen something of the political
forces working in the minds of the Middle East, and especially had
noted everywhere sure signs of the decay of imperial Turkey.

Turkey was dying of overstrain, of the attempt, with diminished
resources, to hold, on traditional terms, the whole Empire bequeathed
to it. The sword had been the virtue of the children of Othman, and
swords had passed out of fashion nowadays, in favour of deadlier and
more scientific weapons. Life was growing too complicated for this
child-like people, whose strength had lain in simplicity, and patience,
and in their capacity for sacrifice. They were the slowest of the races
of Western Asia, little fitted to adapt themselves to new sciences of
government and life, still less to invent any new arts for themselves.
Their administration had become perforce an affair of files and
telegrams, of high finance, eugenics, calculations. Inevitably the old
governors, who had governed by force of hand or force of character,
illiterate, direct, personal, had to pass away. The rule was
transferred to new men, with agility and suppleness to stoop to
machinery. The shallow and half-polished committee of the Young Turks
were descendants of Greeks, Albanians, Circassians, Bulgars, Armenians,
Jews--anything but Seljuks or Ottomans. The commons ceased to feel in
tune with their governors, whose culture was Levantine, and whose
political theory was French. Turkey was decaying; and only the knife
might keep health in her.

Loving the old ways steadily, the Anatolian remained a beast of burden
in his village and an uncomplaining soldier abroad, while the subject
races of the Empire, who formed nearly seven-tenths of its total
population, grew daily in strength and knowledge; for their lack of
tradition and responsibility, as well as their lighter and quicker
minds, disposed them to accept new ideas. The former natural awe and
supremacy of the Turkish name began to fade in the face of wider
comparison. This changing balance of Turkey and the subject provinces
involved growing garrisons if the old ground was to be retained.
Tripoli, Albania, Thrace, Yemen, Hejaz, Syria, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan,
Armenia, were all outgoing accounts, burdens on the peasants of
Anatolia, yearly devouring a larger draft. The burden fell heaviest on
the poor villages, and each year made these poor villages yet more
poor.

The conscripts took their fate unquestioning: resignedly, after the
custom of Turkish peasantry. They were like sheep, neutrals without
vice or virtue. Left alone, they did nothing, or perhaps sat dully on
the ground. Ordered to be kind, and without haste they were as good
friends and as generous enemies as might be found. Ordered to outrage
their fathers or disembowel their mothers, they did it as calmly as
they did nothing, or did well. There was about them a hopeless,
fever-wasted lack of initiative, which made them the most biddable, most
enduring, and least spirited soldiers in the world.

Such men were natural victims of their showy-vicious Levantine
officers, to be driven to death or thrown away by neglect without
reckoning. Indeed, we found them just kept chopping-blocks of their
commanders' viler passions. So cheap did they rate them, that in
connection with them they used none of the ordinary precautions.
Medical examination of some batches of Turkish prisoners found nearly
half of them with unnaturally acquired venereal disease. Pox and its
like were not understood in the country; and the infection ran from one
to another through the battalion, where the conscripts served for six
or seven years, till at the end of their period the survivors, if they
came from decent homes, were ashamed to return, and drifted either into
the gendarmerie service, or, as broken men, into casual labour about
the towns; and so the birth-rate fell. The Turkish peasantry in
Anatolia were dying of their military service.

We could see that a new factor was needed in the East, some power or
race which would outweigh the Turks in numbers, in output, and in
mental activity. No encouragement was given us by history to think that
these qualities could be supplied ready-made from Europe. The efforts
of European Powers to keep a footing in the Asiatic Levant had been
uniformly disastrous, and we disliked no Western people enough to
inveigle them into further attempts. Our successor and solution must be
local; and fortunately the standard of efficiency required was local
also. The competition would be with Turkey; and Turkey was rotten.

Some of us judged that there was latent power enough and to spare in
the Arabic peoples (the greatest component of the old Turkish Empire),
a prolific Semitic agglomeration, great in religious thought,
reasonably industrious, mercantile, politic, yet solvent rather than
dominant in character. They had served a term of five hundred years
under the Turkish harrow, and had begun to dream of liberty; so when at
last England fell out with Turkey, and war was let loose in the East
and West at once, we who believed we held an indication of the future
set out to bend England's efforts towards fostering the new Arabic
world in hither Asia.

We were not many; and nearly all of us rallied round Clayton, the chief
of Intelligence, civil and military, in Egypt. Clayton made the perfect
leader for such a band of wild men as we were. He was calm, detached,
clear-sighted, of unconscious courage in assuming responsibility. He
gave an open run to his subordinates. His own views were general, like
his knowledge; and he worked by influence rather than by loud
direction. It was not easy to descry his influence. He was like water,
or permeating oil, creeping silently and insistently through
everything. It was not possible to say where Clayton was and was not,
and how much really belonged to him. He never visibly led; but his
ideas were abreast of those who did: he impressed men by his sobriety,
and by a certain quiet and stately moderation of hope. In practical
matters he was loose, irregular, untidy, a man with whom independent
men could bear.

The first of us was Ronald Storrs, Oriental Secretary of the Residency,
the most brilliant Englishman in the Near East, and subtly efficient,
despite his diversion of energy in love of music and letters, of
sculpture, painting, of whatever was beautiful in the world's fruit.
None the less, Storrs sowed what we reaped, and was always first, and
the great man among us. His shadow would have covered our work and
British policy in the East like a cloak, had he been able to deny
himself the world, and to prepare his mind and body with the sternness
of an athlete for a great fight.

George Lloyd entered our number. He gave us confidence, and with his
knowledge of money, proved a sure guide through the subways of trade
and politics, and a prophet upon the future arteries of the Middle
East. We would not have done so much so soon without his partnership;
but he was a restless soul, avid rather to taste than to exhaust. To
him many things were needful; and so he would not stay very long with
us. He did not see how much we liked him.

Then there was the imaginative advocate of unconvincing world-movements,
Mark Sykes: also a bundle of prejudices, intuitions, half-sciences.
His ideas were of the outside; and he lacked patience to test
his materials before choosing his style of building. He would take an
aspect of the truth, detach it from its circumstances, inflate it,
twist and model it, until its old likeness and its new unlikeness
together drew a laugh; and laughs were his triumphs. His instincts lay
in parody: by choice he was A caricaturist rather than an artist, even
in statesmanship. He saw the odd in everything, and missed the even. He
would sketch out in a few dashes a new world, ALL out of scale, but
vivid as a vision of some sides of the thing we hoped. His help did us
good and harm. For this his last week in Paris tried to atone. He had
returned from A period of political duty in Syria, after his awful
realization of the true shape of his dreams, to say gallantly, I was
wrong: here is the truth'. His former friends would not see his new
earnestness, and thought him fickle and in error; and very soon he
died. It was a tragedy of tragedies, for the Arab sake.

Not a wild man, but MENTOR to all of us was Hogarth, our father
confessor and adviser, who brought us the parallels and lessons of
history, and moderation, and courage. To the outsiders he was
peacemaker (I was all claws and teeth, and had a devil), and made us
favoured and listened to, for his weighty judgement. He had a delicate
sense of value, and would present clearly to us the forces hidden
behind the lousy rags and festering skins which we knew as Arabs.
Hogarth was our referee, and our untiring historian, who gave us his
great knowledge and careful wisdom even in the smallest things, because
he believed in what we were making. Behind him stood Cornwallis, a man
rude to look upon, but apparently forged from one of those incredible
metals with a melting-point of thousands of degrees. So he could remain
for months hotter than other men's white-heat, and yet look cold and
hard. Behind him again were others, Newcombe, Parker, Herbert, Graves,
all of the creed, and labouring stoutly after their fashion.

We called ourselves 'Intrusive' as a band; for we meant to break into
the accepted halls of English foreign policy, and build a new people in
the East, despite the rails laid down for us by our ancestors.
Therefore from our hybrid intelligence office in Cairo (a jangling
place which for its incessant bells and bustle and running to and fro,
was likened by Aubrey Herbert to an oriental railway station) we began
to work upon all chiefs, far and near. Sir Henry McMahon, High
Commissioner in Egypt, was, of course, our first effort; and his shrewd
insight and tried, experienced mind understood our design at once and
judged it good. Others, like Wemyss, Neil Malcolm, Wingate, supported
us in their pleasure at seeing the war turned constructive. Their
advocacy confirmed in Lord Kitchener the favourable impression he had
derived years before when Sherif Abdulla appealed to him in Egypt; and
so McMahon at last achieved our foundation stone, the understanding
with the Sherif of Mecca.

But before this we had had hopes of Mesopotamia. The beginning of the
Arab Independence Movement had been there, under the vigorous but
unscrupulous impulse of Seyid Taleb, and later of Yasin el Hashimi and
the military league. Aziz el Masri, Enver's rival, who was living, much
indebted to us, in Egypt, was an idol of the Arab officers. He was
approached by Lord Kitchener in the first days of the war, with the
hope of winning the Turkish Mesopotamian forces to our side.
Unfortunately Britain was bursting then with confidence in an easy and
early victory: the smashing of Turkey was called a promenade. So the
Indian Government was adverse to any pledges to the Arab nationalists
which might limit their ambitions to make the intended Mesopotamian
colony play the self-sacrificing role of a Burma for the general good.
It broke off negotiations, rejected Aziz, and interned Sayid Taleb, who
had placed himself in our hands.

By brute force it marched then into Basra. The enemy troops in Irak
were nearly all Arabs in the unenviable predicament of having to fight
on behalf of their secular oppressors against a people long envisaged
as liberators, but who obstinately refused to play the part. As may be
imagined, they fought very badly. Our forces won battle after battle
till we came to think an Indian army better than a Turkish army. There
followed our rash advance to Ctesiphon, where we met native Turkish
troops whose full heart was in the game, and were abruptly checked. We
fell back, dazed; and the long misery of Kut began.

Meanwhile, our Government had repented, and, for reasons not
unconnected with the fall of Erzerum, sent me to Mesopotamia to see
what could be done by indirect means to relieve the beleaguered
garrison. The local British had the strongest objection to my coming;
and two Generals of them were good enough to explain to me that my
mission (which they did not really know) was dishonourable to a soldier
(which I was not). As a matter of fact it was too late for action, with
Kut just dying; and in consequence I did nothing of what it was in my
mind and power to do.

The conditions were ideal for an Arab movement. The people of Nejef and
Kerbela, far in the rear of Halil Pasha's army, were in revolt against
him. The surviving Arabs in Hali's army were, on his own confession,
openly disloyal to Turkey. The tribes of the Hai and Euphrates would
have turned our way had they seen signs of grace in the British. Had we
published the promises made to the Sherif, or even the proclamation
afterwards posted in captured Bagdad, and followed it up, enough local
fighting men would have joined us to harry the Turkish line of
communication between Bagdad and Kut. A few weeks of that, and the
enemy would either have been forced to raise the siege and retire, or
have themselves suffered investment, outside Kut, nearly as stringent
as the investment of Townshend within it. Time to develop such a scheme
could easily have been gained. Had the British headquarters in
Mesopotamia obtained from the War Office eight more aeroplanes to
increase the daily carriage of food to the garrison of Kut, Townshend's
resistance might have been indefinitely prolonged. His defence was
Turkishly impregnable; and only blunders within and without forced
surrender upon him.

However, as this was not the way of the directing parties there, I
returned at once to Egypt; and till the end of the war the British in
Mesopotamia remained substantially an alien force invading enemy
territory, with the local people passively neutral or sullenly against
them, and in consequence had not the freedom of movement and elasticity
of Allenby in Syria, who entered the country as a friend, with the
local people actively on his side. The factors of numbers, climate and
communications favoured us in Mesopotamia more than in Syria; and our
higher command was, after the beginning, no less efficient and
experienced. But their casualty lists compared with Allenby's, their
wood-chopping tactics compared with his rapier-play, showed how
formidably an adverse political situation was able to cramp a purely
military operation.




CHAPTER VII



Our check in Mesopotamia was a disappointment to us; but McMahon
continued his negotiations with Mecca, and finally brought them to
success despite the evacuation of Gallipoli, the surrender of Kut, and
the generally unfortunate aspect of the war at the moment. Few people,
even of those who knew all the negotiations, had really believed that
the Sherif would fight; consequently his eventual rebellion and opening
of his coast to our ships and help took us and them by surprise.

We found our difficulties then only beginning. The credit of the new
factor was to McMahon and Clayton: professional jealousies immediately
raised their heads. Sir Archibald Murray, the General in Egypt, wanted,
naturally enough, no competitors and no competing campaigns in his
sphere. He disliked the civil power, which had so long kept the peace
between himself and General Maxwell. He could not be entrusted with the
Arabian affair; for neither he nor his staff had the ethnological
competence needed to deal with so curious a problem. On the other hand,
he could make the spectacle of the High Commission running a private
war sufficiently ridiculous. His was a very nervous mind, fanciful and
essentially competitive.

He found help in his Chief of Staff, General Lynden Bell, a red
soldier, with an instinctive shuddering away from politicians, and a
conscientiously assumed heartiness.

Two of the General Staff officers followed their leaders full cry; and
so the unfortunate McMahon found himself deprived of Army help and
reduced to waging his war in Arabia with the assistance of his Foreign
Office Attache's.

Some appeared to resent a war which allowed outsiders to thrust into
their business. Also their training in suppression, by which alone the
daily trivialities of diplomacy were made to look like man's work, had
so sunk into them that when the more important thing arrived, they made
it trivial. Their feebleness of tone, and niggling dishonesties to one
another, angered the military to disgust; and were bad for us, too,
since they patently let down the High Commissioner, whose boots the
G--s were not good enough to clean.

Wingate, who had complete confidence in his own grasp of the situation
in the Middle East, foresaw credit and great profit for the country in
the Arab development; but as criticism slowly beat up against McMahon
he dissociated himself from him, and London began to hint that better
use might be made by an experienced hand of so subtle and involved a
skein.

However it was, things in the Hejaz went from bad to worse. No proper
liaison was provided for the Arab forces in the field, no military
information was given the Sherifs, no tactical advice or strategy was
suggested, no attempt made to find out the local conditions and adapt
existing Allied resources in material to suit their needs. The French
Military Mission (which Clayton's prudence had suggested be sent to
Hejaz to soothe our very suspicious allies by taking them behind the
scenes and giving them a purpose there), was permitted to carry on an
elaborate intrigue against Sherif Hussein in his towns of Jidda and
Mecca, and to propose to him and to the British authorities measures
that must have ruined his cause in the eyes of all Moslems. Wingate,
now in military control of our cooperation with the Sherif, was induced
to land some foreign troops at Rabegh, half-way between Medina and
Mecca, for the defence of Mecca and to hold up the further advance of
the reinvigorated Turks from Medina. McMahon, in the multitude of
counsellors, became confused, and gave a handle to Murray to cry out
against his inconsistencies. The Arab Revolt became discredited; and
Staff Officers in Egypt gleefully prophesied to us its near failure and
the stretching of Sherif Hussein's neck on a Turkish scaffold.

My private position was not easy. As Staff Captain under Clayton in Sir
Archibald Murray's Intelligence Section, I was charged with the
'distribution' of the Turkish Army and the preparation of maps. By
natural inclination I had added to them the invention of the Arab
Bulletin, a secret weekly record of Middle-Eastern politics; and of
necessity Clayton came more and more to need me in the military wing of
the Arab Bureau, the tiny intelligence and war staff for foreign
affairs, which he was now organizing for McMahon. Eventually Clayton
was driven out of the General Staff; and Colonel Holdich, Murray's
intelligence officer at Ismailia, took his place in command of us. His
first intention was to retain my services; and, since he clearly did
not need me, I interpreted this, not without some friendly evidence, as
a method of keeping me away from the Arab affair. I decided that I must
escape at once, if ever. A straight request was refused; so I took to
stratagems. I became, on the telephone (G.H.Q. were at Ismailia, and I
in Cairo) quite intolerable to the Staff on the Canal. I took every
opportunity to rub into them their comparative ignorance and
inefficiency in the department of intelligence (not difficult!) and
irritated them yet further by literary airs, correcting Shavian split
infinitives and tautologies in their reports.

In a few days they were bubbling over on my account, and at last
determined to endure me no longer. I took this strategic opportunity to
ask for ten days' leave, saying that Storrs was going down to Jidda on
business with the Grand Sherif, and that I would like a holiday and
joyride in the Red Sea with him. They did not love Storrs, and were
glad to get rid of me for the moment. So they agreed at once, and began
to prepare against my return some official shelf for me. Needless to
say, I had no intention of giving them such a chance; for, while very
ready to hire my body out on petty service, I hesitated to throw my
mind frivolously away. So I went to Clayton and confessed my affairs;
and he arranged for the Residency to make telegraphic application to
the Foreign Office for my transfer to the Arab Bureau. The Foreign
Office would treat directly with the War Office; and the Egypt command
would not hear of it, till all was ended.

Storrs and I then marched off together, happily. In the East they swore
that by three sides was the decent way across a square; and my trick to
escape was in this sense oriental. But I justified myself by my
confidence in the final success of the Arab Revolt if properly advised.
I had been a mover in its beginning; my hopes lay in it. The fatalistic
subordination of a professional soldier (intrigue being unknown in the
British army) would have made a proper officer sit down and watch his
plan of campaign wrecked by men who thought nothing of it, and to whose
spirit it made no appeal. NON NOBIS, DOMINE.





BOOK ONE. The Discovery of Feisal




CHAPTERS VIII TO XVI



I HAD BELIEVED THESE MISFORTUNES OF THE REVOLT TO BE DUE MAINLY TO
FAULTY LEADERSHIP, OR RATHER TO THE LACK OF LEADERSHIP, ARAB AND
ENGLISH. SO I WENT DOWN TO ARABIA TO SEE AND CONSIDER ITS GREAT MEN.
THE FIRST, THE SHERIF OF MECCA, WE KNEW TO BE AGED. I FOUND ABDULLA TOO
CLEVER, ALI TOO CLEAN, ZEID TOO COOL.

THEN I RODE UP-COUNTRY TO FEISAL, AND FOUND IN HIM THE LEADER WITH THE
NECESSARY FIRE, AND YET WITH REASON TO GIVE EFFECT TO OUR SCIENCE. HIS
TRIBESMEN SEEMED SUFFICIENT INSTRUMENT, AND HIS HILLS TO PROVIDE
NATURAL ADVANTAGE. SO I RETURNED PLEASED AND CONFIDENT TO EGYPT, AND
TOLD MY CHIEFS HOW MECCA WAS DEFENDED NOT BY THE OBSTACLE OF RABEGH,
BUT BY THE FLANK-THREAT OF FEISAL IN JEBEL SUBH.




CHAPTER VIII



Waiting off Suez was the LAMA, a small converted liner; and in her we
left immediately. Such short voyages on warships were delicious
interludes for us passengers. On this occasion, however, there was some
embarrassment. Our mixed party seemed to disturb the ship's company in
their own element. The juniors had turned out of their berths to give
us night space, and by day we filled their living rooms with irregular
talk. Storrs' intolerant brain seldom stooped to company. But to-day he
was more abrupt than usual. He turned twice around the decks, sniffed,
'No one worth talking to', and sat down in one of the two comfortable
armchairs, to begin a discussion of Debussy with Aziz el Masri (in the
other). Aziz, the Arab-Circassian ex-colonel in the Turkish Army, now
general in the Sherifian Army, was on his way to discuss with the Emir
of Mecca the equipment and standing of the Arab regulars he was forming
at Rabegh. A few minutes later they had left Debussy, and were
depreciating Wagner: Aziz in fluent German, and Storrs in German,
French and Arabic. The ship's officers found the whole conversation
unnecessary.

We had the accustomed calm run to Jidda, in the delightful Red Sea
climate, never too hot while the ship was moving. By day we lay in
shadow; and for great part of the glorious nights we would tramp up and
down the wet decks under the stars in the steaming breath of the
southern wind. But when at last we anchored in the outer harbour, off
the white town hung between the blazing sky and its reflection in the
mirage which swept and rolled over the wide lagoon, then the heat of
Arabia came out like a drawn sword and struck us speechless. It was
midday; and the noon sun in the East, like moonlight, put to sleep the
colours. There were only lights and shadows, the white houses and black
gaps of streets: in front, the pallid lustre of the haze shimmering
upon the inner harbour: behind, the dazzle of league after league of
featureless sand, running up to an edge of low hills, faintly suggested
in the far away mist of heat.

Just north of Jidda was a second group of black-white buildings, moving
up and down like pistons in the mirage, as the ship rolled at anchor
and the intermittent wind shifted the heat waves in the air. It looked
and felt horrible. We began to regret that the inaccessibility which
made the Hejaz militarily a safe theatre of revolt involved bad climate
and un-wholesomeness.

However, Colonel Wilson, British representative with the new Arab
state, had sent his launch to meet us; and we had to go ashore to learn
the reality of the men levitating in that mirage. Half an hour later
Ruhi, Consular Oriental assistant, was grinning a delighted welcome to
his old patron Storrs (Ruhi the ingenious, more like a mandrake than a
man), while the newly-appointed Syrian police and harbour officers,
with a scratch guard of honour, lined the Customs Wharf in salutation
of Aziz el Masri. Sherif Abdulla, the second son of the old man of
Mecca, was reported just arriving in the town. He it was we had to
meet; so our coming was auspiciously timed.

We walked past the white masonry of the still-building water gate, and
through the oppressive alley of the food market on our way to the
Consulate. In the air, from the men to the dates and back to the meat,
squadrons of flies like particles of dust danced up and down the
sunshafts which stabbed into the darkest corners of the booths through
torn places in the wood and sackcloth awnings overhead. The atmosphere
was like a bath. The scarlet leathers of the armchair on the LAMA'S
deck had dyed Storrs' white tunic and trousers as bright as themselves
in their damp contact of the last four days, and now the sweat running
in his clothes began to shine like varnish through the stain. I was so
fascinated watching him that I never noticed the deepened brown of my
khaki drill wherever it touched my body. He was wondering if the walk
to the Consulate was long enough to wet me a decent, solid, harmonious
colour; and I was wondering if all he ever sat on would grow scarlet as
himself.

We reached the Consulate too soon for either hope; and there in a
shaded room with an open lattice behind him sat Wilson, prepared to
welcome the sea breeze, which had lagged these last few days. He
received us stiffly, being of the honest, downright Englishmen, to whom
Storrs was suspect, if only for his artistic sense: while his contact
with me in Cairo had been a short difference of opinion as to whether
native clothes were an indignity for us. I had called them
uncomfortable merely. To him they were wrong. Wilson, however, despite
his personal feelings, was all for the game. He had made preparations
for the coming interview with Abdulla, and was ready to afford every
help he could. Besides, we were his guests; and the splendid
hospitality of the East was near his spirit.

Abdulla, on a white mare, came to us softly with a bevy of richly-armed
slaves on foot about him, through the silent respectful salutes of the
town. He was flushed with his success at Taif, and happy. I was seeing
him for the first time, while Storrs was an old friend, and on the best
of terms; yet, before long, as they spoke together, I began to suspect
him of a constant cheerfulness. His eyes had a confirmed twinkle; and
though only thirty-five, he was putting on flesh. It might be due to
too much laughter. Life seemed very merry for Abdulla. He was short,
strong, fair-skinned, with a carefully trimmed brown beard, masking his
round smooth face and short lips. In manner he was open, or affected
openness, and was charming on acquaintance. He stood not on ceremony,
but jested with all comers in most easy fashion: yet, when we fell into
serious talk, the veil of humour seemed to fade away. He then chose his
words, and argued shrewdly. Of course, he was in discussion with
Storrs, who demanded a high standard from his opponent.

The Arabs thought Abdulla a far-seeing statesman and an astute
politician. Astute he certainly was, but not greatly enough to convince
us always of his sincerity. His ambition was patent. Rumour made him
the brain of his father and of the Arab revolt; but he seemed too easy
for that. His object was, of course, the winning of Arab independence
and the building up of Arab nations, but he meant to keep the direction
of the new states in the family. So he watched us, and played through
us to the British gallery.

On our part, I was playing for effect, watching, criticizing him. The
Sherifs rebellion had been unsatisfactory for the last few months
(standing still, which, with an irregular war, was the prelude to
disaster), and my suspicion was that its lack was leadership: not
intellect, nor judgement, nor political wisdom, but the flame of
enthusiasm that would set the desert on fire. My visit was mainly to
find the yet unknown master-spirit of the affair, and measure his
capacity to carry the revolt to the goal I had conceived for it. As our
conversation continued, I became more and more sure that Abdulla was
too balanced, too cool, too humorous to be a prophet: especially the
armed prophet who, if history be true, succeeded in revolutions. His
value would come perhaps in the peace after success. During the
physical struggle, when singleness of eye and magnetism, devotion and
self-sacrifice were needed, Abdulla would be a tool too complex for a
simple purpose, though he could not be ignored, even now.

We talked to him first about the state of Jidda, to put him at ease by
discussing at this first of our interviews the unnecessary subject of
the Sherif's administration. He replied that the war was yet too much
with them for civil government. They had inherited the Turkish system
in the towns, and were continuing it on a more modest scale. The
Turkish Government was often not unkind to strong men, who obtained
considerable licence on terms. Consequently, some of the licensees in
Hejaz regretted the coming of a native ruler. Particularly in Mecca and
Jidda public opinion was against an Arab state. The mass of citizens
were foreigners--Egyptians, Indians, Javanese, Africans, and
others--quite unable to sympathize with the Arab aspirations, especially
as voiced by Beduin; for the Beduin lived on what he could exact from the
stranger on his roads, or in his valleys; and he and the townsman bore
each other a perpetual grudge.

The Beduins were the only fighting men the Sherif had got; and on their
help the revolt depended. He was arming them freely, paying many of
them for their service in his forces, feeding their families while they
were from home, and hiring from them their transport camels to maintain
his armies in the field. Accordingly, the country was prosperous, while
the towns went short.

Another grievance in the towns was in the matter of law. The Turkish
civil code had been abolished, and a return made to the old religious
law, the undiluted Koranic procedure of the Arab Kadi. Abdulla
explained to us, with a giggle, that when there was time they would
discover in the Koran such opinions and judgements as were required to
make it suitable for modern commercial operations, like banking and
exchange. Meanwhile, of course, what townsmen lost by the abolition of
the civil law, the Beduins gained. Sherif Hussein had silently
sanctioned the restoration of the old tribal order. Beduins at odds
with one another pleaded their own cases before the tribal lawman, an
office hereditary in one most-respected family, and recognized by the
payment of a goat per household as yearly due. Judgement was based on
custom, by quoting from a great body of remembered precedent. It was
delivered publicly without fee. In cases between men of different
tribes, the lawman was selected by mutual consent, or recourse was had
to the lawman of a third tribe. If the case were contentious and
difficult, the judge was supported by a jury of four--two nominated by
plaintiff from the ranks of defendant's family, and two by defendant
from plaintiff's family. Decisions were always unanimous.

We contemplated the vision Abdulla drew for us, with sad thoughts of
the Garden of Eden and all that Eve, now lying in her tomb just outside
the wall, had lost for average humanity; and then Storrs brought me
into the discussion by asking Abdulla to give us his views on the state
of the campaign for my benefit, and for communication to headquarters
in Egypt. Abdulla at once grew serious, and said that he wanted to urge
upon the British their immediate and very personal concern in the
matter, which he tabulated so:--

By our neglect to cut the Hejaz Railway, the Turks had been able to
collect transport and supplies for the reinforcement of Medina.

Feisal had been driven back from the town; and the enemy was preparing
a mobile column of all arms for an advance on Rabegh.

The Arabs in the hills across their road were by our neglect too weak
in supplies, machine guns and artillery to defend them long.

Hussein Mabeirig, chief of the Masruh Harb, had joined the Turks. If
the Medina column advanced, the Harb would join it.

It would only remain for his father to put himself at the head of his
own people of Mecca, and to die fighting before the Holy City.

At this moment the telephone rang: the Grand Sherif wanted to speak to
Abdulla. He was told of the point our conversation had reached, and at
once confirmed that he would so act in the extremity. The Turks would
enter Mecca over his dead body. The telephone rang off; and Abdulla,
smiling a little, asked, to prevent such a disaster, that a British
brigade, if possible of Moslem troops, be kept at Suez, with transport
to rush it to Rabegh as soon as the Turks debouched from Medina in
their attack. What did we think of the proposal?

I replied; first, historically, that Sherif Hussein had asked us not to
cut the Hejaz line, since he would need it for his victorious advance
into Syria; second, practically, that the dynamite we sent down for
demolitions had been returned by him with a note that it was too
dangerous for Arab use; third, specifically, that we had had no demands
for equipment from Feisal.

With regard to the brigade for Rabegh, it was a complicated question.
Shipping was precious; and we could not hold empty transports
indefinitely at Suez. We had no Moslem units in our Army. A British
brigade was a cumbersome affair, and would take long to embark and
disembark. The Rabegh position was large. A brigade would hardly hold
it and would be quite unable to detach a force to prevent a Turkish
column slipping past it inland. The most they could do would be to
defend the beach, under a ship's guns and the ship could do that as
well without the troops.

Abdulla replied that ships were insufficient morally, as the
Dardanelles fighting had destroyed the old legend of the British Navy
and its omnipotence. No Turks could slip past Rabegh; for it was the
only water supply in the district, and they must water at its wells.
The earmarking of a brigade and transports need be only temporary; for
he was taking his victorious Taif troops up the eastern road from Mecca
to Medina. As soon as he was in position, he would give orders to Ah'
and Feisal, who would close in from the south and west, and their
combined forces would deliver a grand attack, in which Medina would,
please God, be taken. Meanwhile, Aziz el Masri was moulding the
volunteers from Mesopotamia and Syria into battalions at Rabegh. When
we had added the Arab prisoners of war from India and Egypt, there
would be enough to take over the duties momentarily allotted to the
British brigade.

I said that I would represent his views to Egypt, but that the British
were reluctant to spare troops from the vital defence of Egypt (though
he was not to imagine that the Canal was in any danger from the Turks)
and, still more, to send Christians to defend the people of the Holy
City against their enemies; as some Moslems in India, who considered
the Turkish Government had an imprescriptable right to the Haramein,
would misrepresent our motives and action. I thought that I might
perhaps urge his opinions more powerfully if I was able to report on
the Rabegh question in the light of my own knowledge of the position
and local feeling. I would also like to see Feisal, and talk over with
him his needs and the prospects of a prolonged defence of his hills by
the tribesmen if we strengthened them materially. I would like to ride
from Rabegh up the Sultani road towards Medina as far as Feisal's camp.

Storrs then came in and supported me with all his might, urging the
vital importance of full and early information from a trained observer
for the British Commander-in-Chief in Egypt, and showing that his
sending down me, his best qualified and most indispensable staff
officer, proved the serious consideration being given to Arabian
affairs by Sir Archibald Murray. Abdulla went to the telephone and
tried to get his father's consent to my going up country. The Sherif
viewed the proposal with grave distrust. Abdulla argued the point, made
some advantage, and transferred the mouthpiece to Storrs, who turned
all his diplomacy on the old man. Storrs in FULL blast was a delight to
listen to in the mere matter of Arabic speech, and also a lesson to
every Englishman alive of how to deal with suspicious or unwilling
Orientals. It was nearly impossible to resist him for more than a few
minutes, and in this case also he had his way. The Sherif asked again
for Abdulla, and authorized him to write to Ali, and suggest that if he
thought fit, and if conditions were normal, I might be allowed to
proceed to Feisal in Jebel Subh; and Abdulla, under Storrs' influence,
transformed this guarded message into direct written instructions to
Ali to mount me as well and as quickly as possible, and convey me, by
sure hand, to Feisal's camp. This being all I wanted, and half what
Storrs wanted, we adjourned for lunch.




CHAPTER IX



Jeddah had pleased us, on our way to the Consulate: so after lunch,
when it was a little cooler, or at least when the sun was not so high,
we wandered out to see the sights under the guidance of Young, Wilson's
assistant, a man who found good in many old things, but little good in
things now being made.

It was indeed a remarkable town. The streets were alleys, wood roofed
in the main bazaar, but elsewhere open to the sky in the little gap
between the tops of the lofty white-walled houses. These were built
four or five stories high, of coral rag tied with square beams and
decorated by wide bow-windows running from ground to roof in grey
wooden panels. There was no glass in Jidda, but a profusion of good
lattices, and some very delicate shallow chiselling on the panels of
window casings. The doors were heavy two-leaved slabs of teak-wood,
deeply carved, often with wickets in them; and they had rich hinges and
ring-knockers of hammered iron. There was much moulded or cut
plastering, and on the older houses fine stone heads and jambs to the
windows looking on the inner courts.

The style of architecture was like crazy Elizabethan half-timber work,
in the elaborate Cheshire fashion, but gone gimcrack to an incredible
degree. House-fronts were fretted, pierced and pargetted till they
looked as though cut out of cardboard for a romantic stage-setting.
Every storey jutted, every window leaned one way or other; often the
very walls sloped. It was like a dead city, so clean underfoot, and so
quiet. Its winding, even streets were floored with damp sand solidified
by time and as silent to the tread as any carpet. The lattices and
wall-returns deadened all reverberation of voice. There were no carts,
nor any streets wide enough for carts, no shod animals, no bustle
anywhere. Everything was hushed, strained, even furtive. The doors of
houses shut softly as we passed. There were no loud dogs, no crying
children: indeed, except in the bazaar, still half asleep, there were
few wayfarers of any kind; and the rare people we did meet, all thin,
and as it were wasted by disease, with scarred, hairless faces and
screwed-up eyes, slipped past us quickly and cautiously, not looking at
us. Their skimp, white robes, shaven polls with little skull-caps, red
cotton shoulder-shawls, and bare feet were so same as to be almost a
uniform.

The atmosphere was oppressive, deadly. There seemed no life in it. It
was not burning hot, but held a moisture and sense of great age and
exhaustion such as seemed to belong to no other place: not a passion of
smells like Smyrna, Naples or Marseilles, but a feeling of long use, of
the exhalations of many people, of continued bath-heat and sweat. One
would say that for years Jidda had not been swept through by a firm
breeze: that its streets kept their air from year's end to year's end,
from the day they were built for so long as the houses should endure.
There was nothing in the bazaars to buy.

In the evening the telephone rang; and the Sherif called Storrs to the
instrument. He asked if we would not like to listen to his band.
Storrs, in astonishment, asked What band? and congratulated his
holiness on having advanced so far towards urbanity. The Sherif
explained that the headquarters of the Hejaz Command under the Turks
had had a brass band, which played each night to the Governor General;
and when the Governor General was captured by Abdulla at Taif his band
was captured with him. The other prisoners were sent to Egypt for
internment; but the band was excepted. It was held in Mecca to give
music to the victors. Sherif Hussein laid his receiver on the table of
his reception hall, and we, called solemnly one by one to the
telephone, heard the band in the Palace at Mecca forty-five miles away.
Storrs expressed the general gratification; and the Sherif, increasing
his bounty replied that the band should be sent down by forced march to
Jidda, to play in our courtyard also, 'And,' said he, 'you may then do
me the pleasure of ringing me up from your end, that I may share your
satisfaction.'

Next day Storrs visited Abdulla in his tent out by Eve's Tomb; and
together they inspected the hospital, the barracks, the town offices,
and partook of the hospitality of the Mayor and the Governor. In the
intervals of duty they talked about money, and the Sherif's tide, and
his relations with the other Princes of Arabia, and the general course
of the war: all the commonplaces that should pass between envoys of two
Governments. It was tedious, and for the most part I held myself
excused, as after a conversation in the morning I had made up my mind
that Abdulla was not the necessary leader. We had asked him to sketch
the genesis of the Arab movement: and his reply illuminated his
character. He had begun by a long description of Talaat, the first Turk
to speak to him with concern of the restlessness of Hejaz. He wanted it
properly subdued, and military service, as elsewhere in the Empire,
introduced.

Abdulla, to forestall him, had made a plan of peaceful insurrection for
Hejaz, and, after sounding Kitchener without profit, had dated it
provisionally for 1915. He had meant to call out the tribes during the
feast, and lay hold of the pilgrims. They would have included many of
the chief men of Turkey besides leading Moslems of Egypt, India, Java,
Eritrea, and Algiers. With these thousands of hostages in his hands he
had expected to win the notice of the Great Powers concerned. He
thought they would bring pressure on the Porte to secure the release of
their nationals. The Porte, powerless to deal with Hejaz militarily,
would either have made concessions to the Sherif or have confessed its
powerlessness to the foreign States. In the latter event, Abdulla would
have approached them direct, ready to meet their demands in return for
a guarantee of immunity from Turkey. I did not like his scheme, and was
glad when he said with almost a sneer that Feisal in fear had begged
his father not to follow it. This sounded good for Feisal, towards whom
my hopes of a great leader were now slowly turning.

In the evening Abdulla came to dine with Colonel Wilson. We received
him in the courtyard on the house steps. Behind him were his brilliant
household servants and slaves, and behind them a pale crew of bearded,
emaciated men with woe-begone faces, wearing tatters of military
uniform, and carrying tarnished brass instruments of music. Abdulla
waved his hand towards them and crowed with delight, 'My Band'. We sat
them on benches in the forecourt, and Wilson sent them cigarettes,
while we went up to the dining room, where the shuttered balcony was
opened right out, hungrily, for a sea breeze. As we sat down, the band,
under the guns and swords of Abdulla's retainers, began, each
instrument apart, to play heartbroken Turkish airs. Our ears ached with
noise; but Abdulla beamed.

Curious the party was. Abdulla himself, Vice-President IN PARTIBUS of
the Turkish Chamber and now Foreign Minister of the rebel Arab State;
Wilson, Governor of the Red Sea Province of the Sudan, and His
Majesty's Minister with the Sherif of Mecca; Storrs, Oriental Secretary
successively to Gorst, Kitchener and McMahon in Cairo; Young, Cochrane,
and myself, hangers-on of the staff; Sayed Ali, a general in the
Egyptian Army, commander of the detachment sent over by the Sirdar to
help the first efforts of the Arabs; Aziz el Masri, now Chief of Staff
of the Arab regular army, but in old days Enver's rival, leader of the
Turkish and Senussi forces against the Italians, chief conspirator of
the Arab officers in the Turkish army against the Committee of Union
and Progress, a man condemned to death by the Turks for obeying the
Treaty of Lausanne, and saved by THE TIMES and Lord Kitchener.

We got tired of Turkish music, and asked for German. Aziz stepped out
on the balcony and called down to the bandsmen in Turkish to play us
something foreign. They struck shakily into 'Deutschland uber Alles'
just as the Sherif came to his telephone in Mecca to listen to the
music of our feast. We asked for more German music; and they played
'Eine feste Burg'. Then in the midst they died away into flabby
discords of drums. The parchment had stretched in the damp air of
Jidda. They cried for fire; and Wilson's servants and Abdulla's
bodyguard brought them piles of straw and packing cases. They warmed
the drums, turning them round and round before the blaze, and then
broke into what they said was the Hymn of Hate, though no one could
recognize a European progression in it all. Sayed Ali turned to Abdulla
and said, 'It is a death march'. Abdulla's eyes widened; but Storrs who
spoke in quickly to the rescue turned the moment to laughter; and we
sent out rewards with the leavings of the feast to the sorrowful
musicians, who could take no pleasure in our praises, but begged to be
sent home. Next morning I left Jidda by ship for Rabegh.




CHAPTER X



Moored in Rabegh lay the NORTHBROOK, an Indian Marine ship. On board
was Colonel Parker, our liaison officer with Sherif Ali, to whom he
sent my letter from Abdulla, giving Ali the father's 'orders' to send
me at once up to Feisal. Ah' was staggered at their tenour, but could
not help himself; for his only telegraph to Mecca was by the ship's
wireless, and he was ashamed to send personal remonstrances through us.
So he made the best of it, and prepared for me his own splendid
riding-camel, saddled with his own saddle, and hung with luxurious
housings and cushions of Nejd leather-work pieced and inlaid in various
colours, with plaited fringes and nets embroidered with metal tissues.
As a trustworthy man he chose out Tafas el Raashid, a Hawazim Harb
tribesman, with his son, to guide me to Feisal's camp.

He did all this with the better grace for the countenance of Nuri Said,
the Bagdadi staff officer, whom I had befriended once in Cairo when he
was ill. Nuri was now second in command of the regular force which Aziz
el Masri was raising and training here. Another friend at court was
Faisel Ghusein, a secretary. He was a Sulut Sheikh from the Hauran, and
a former official of the Turkish Government, who had escaped across
Armenia during the war, and had eventually reached Miss Gertrude Bell
in Basra. She had sent HIM on to me with a warm recommendation.

To Ali himself I took a great fancy. He was of middle height, thin, and
looking already more than his thirty-seven years. He stooped a little.
His skin was sallow, his eyes large and deep and brown, his nose thin
and rather hooked, his mouth sad and drooping. He had a spare black
beard and very delicate hands. His manner was dignified and admirable,
but direct; and he struck me as a pleasant gentleman, conscientious,
without great force of character, nervous, and rather tired. His
physical weakness (he was consumptive) made him subject to quick fits
of shaking passion, preceded and followed by long moods of infirm
obstinacy. He was bookish, learned in law and religion, and pious
almost to fanaticism. He was too conscious of his high heritage to be
ambitious; and his nature was too clean to see or suspect interested
motives in those about him. Consequently he was much the prey of any
constant companion, and too sensitive to advice for a great leader,
though his purity of intention and conduct gained him the love of those
who came into direct contact with him. If Feisal should turn out to be
no prophet, the revolt would make shift well enough with Ali for its
head. I thought him more definitely Arab than Abdulla, or than Zeid,
his young half-brother, who was helping him at Rabegh, and came down
with Ali and Nuri and Aziz to the palm-groves to see me start. Zeid was
a shy, white, beardless lad of perhaps nineteen, calm and flippant, no
zealot for the revolt. Indeed, his mother was Turkish; and he had been
brought up in the harem, so that he could hardly feel great sympathy
with an Arab revival; but he did his best this day to be pleasant, and
surpassed AM, perhaps because his feelings were not much outraged at
the departure of a Christian into the Holy Province under the auspices
of the Emir of Mecca. Zeid, of course, was even less than Abdulla the
born leader of my quest. Yet I liked him, and could see that he would
be a decided man when he had found himself.

Ali would not let me start till after sunset, lest any of his followers
see me leave the camp. He kept my journey a secret even from his
slaves, and gave me an Arab cloak and head-cloth to wrap round myself
and my uniform, that I might present a proper silhouette in the dark
upon my camel. I had no food with me; so he instructed Tafas to get
something to eat at Bir el Sheikh, the first settlement, some sixty
miles out, and charged him most stringently to keep me from questioning
and curiosity on the way, and to avoid all camps and encounters. The
Masruh Harb, who inhabited Rabegh and district, paid only lip-service
to the Sherif. Their real allegiance was to Hussein Mabeirig, the
ambitious sheikh of the clan, who was jealous of the Emir of Mecca and
had fallen out with him. He was now a fugitive, living in the hills to
the East, and was known to be in touch with the Turks. His people were
not notably pro-Turkish, but owed him obedience. If he had heard of my
departure he might well have ordered a band of them to stop me on my
way through his district.

Tafas was a Hazimi, of the Beni Salem branch of Harb, and so not on
good terms with the Masruh. This inclined him towards me; and when he
had once accepted the charge of escorting me to Feisal, we could trust
him. The fidelity of road-companions was most dear to Arab tribesmen.
The guide had to answer to a sentimental public with his life for that of
his fellow. One Harbi, who promised to take Huber to Medina and broke
his word and killed him on the road near Rabegh, when he found out that
he was a Christian, was ostracized by public opinion, and, in spite of
the religious prejudices in his favour, had ever since lived miserably
alone in the hills, cut off from friendly intercourse, and refused
permission to marry any daughter of the tribe. So we could depend upon
the good will of Tafas and his son, Abdulla; and Ali endeavoured by
detailed instructions to ensure that their performance should be as
good as their intention.

We marched through the palm-groves which lay like a girdle about the
scattered houses of Rabegh village, and then out under the stars along
the Tehama, the sandy and featureless strip of desert bordering the
western coast of Arabia between sea-beach and littoral hills, for
hundreds of monotonous miles. In day-time this low plain was
insufferably hot, and its waterless character made it a forbidding
road; yet it was inevitable, since the more fruitful hills were too
rugged to afford passage north and south for loaded animals.

The cool of the night was pleasant after the day of checks and
discussions which had so dragged at Rabegh. Tafas led on without
speaking, and the camels went silently over the soft flat sand. My
thoughts as we went were how this was the pilgrim road, down which, for
uncounted generations, the people of the north had come to visit the
Holy City, bearing with them gifts of faith for the shrine; and it
seemed that the Arab revolt might be in a sense a return pilgrimage, to
take back to the north, to Syria, an ideal for an ideal, a belief in
liberty for their past belief in a revelation.

We endured for some hours, without variety except at times when the
camels plunged and strained a little and the saddles creaked:
indications that the soft plain had merged into beds of drift-sand,
dotted with tiny scrub, and therefore uneven going, since the plants
collected little mounds about their roots, and the eddies of the sea-winds
scooped hollows in the intervening spaces. Camels appeared not
sure-footed in the dark, and the starlit sand carried little shadow, so
that hummocks and holes were difficult to see. Before midnight we
halted, and I rolled myself tighter in my cloak, and chose A. hollow of
my own size and shape, and slept well in it till nearly dawn.

As soon as he felt the air growing chill with the coming change, Tafas
got up, and two minutes later we were swinging forward again. An hour
after it grew bright, as we climbed a low neck of lava drowned nearly
to the top with blown sand. This joined a small flow near the shore to
the main Hejaz lava-field, whose western edge ran up upon our right
hand, and caused the coast road to lie where it did. The neck was
stony, but brief: on each side the blue lava humped itself into low
shoulders, from which, so Tafas said, it was possible to see ships
sailing on the sea. Pilgrims had built cairns here by the road.
Sometimes they were individual piles, of just three stones set up one
above the other: sometimes they were common heaps, to which any
disposed passer-by might add his stone--not reasonably nor with known
motive, but because others did, and perhaps they knew.

Beyond the ridge the path descended into a broad open place, the
Masturah, or plain by which Wadi Fura flowed into the sea. Seaming its
surface with innumerable interwoven channels of loose stone, a few
inches deep, were the beds of the flood water, on those rare occasions
when there was rain in the Tareif and the courses raged like rivers to
the sea. The delta here was about six miles wide. Down some part of it
water flowed for an hour or two, or even for a day or two, every so
many years. Underground there was plenty of moisture, protected by the
overlying sand from the sun-heat; and thorn trees and loose scrub
profited by it and flourished. Some of the trunks were a foot through:
their height might be twenty feet. The trees and bushes stood somewhat
apart, in clusters, their lower branches cropped by the hungry camels.
So they looked cared for, and had a premeditated air, which felt
strange in the wilderness, more especially as the Tehama hitherto had
been a sober bareness.

Two hours up-stream, so Tafas told me, was the throat where Wadi Fura
issued from the last granite hills, and there had been built a little
village, Khoreiba, of running water channels and wells and palm-groves,
inhabited by a small population of freedmen engaged in date husbandry.
This was important. We had not understood that the bed of Wadi Fura
served as a direct road from near Medina to the neighbourhood of
Rabegh. It lay so far south and east of Feisal's supposed position in
the hills that he could hardly be said to cover it. Also Abdulla had
not warned us of the existence of Khoreiba, though it materially
affected the Rabegh question, by affording the enemy a possible
watering-place, safe from our interference, and from the guns of our
warships. At Khoreiba the Turks could concentrate a large force to
attack our proposed brigade in Rabegh.

In reply to further questions, Tafas disclosed that at Hajar, east of
Rabegh in the hills, was yet another supply of water, in the hands of
the Masruh, and now the headquarters of Hussein Mabeirig, their
Turcophil chief. The Turks could make that their next stage from
Khoreiba towards Mecca, leaving Rabegh unmolested and harmless on their
flank. This meant that the asked-for British Brigade would be unable to
save Mecca from the Turks. For that purpose would be required a force
with A front or a radius of action of some twenty miles, in order to
deny all three water-supplies to the enemy.

Meanwhile in the early sunlight we lifted our camels to a steady trot
across the good going of these shingle-beds among the trees, making for
Masturah well, the first stage out from Rabegh on the pilgrim road.
There we would water and halt a little. My camel was a delight to me,
for I had not been on such an animal before. There were no good camels
in Egypt; and those of the Sinai Desert, while hardy and strong, were
not taught to pace fair and softly and swiftly, like these rich mounts
of the Arabian princes.

Yet her accomplishments were to-day largely wasted, since they were
reserved for riders who had the knack and asked for them, and not for
me, who expected to be carried, and had no sense of how to ride. It was
easy to sit on a camel's back without falling off, but very difficult
to understand and get the best out of her so as to do long journeys
without fatiguing either rider or beast. Tafas gave me hints as we
went: indeed, it was one of the few subjects on which he would speak.
His orders to preserve me from contact with the world seemed to have
closed even his mouth. A pity, for his dialect interested me.

Quite close to the north bank of the Masturah, we found the well.
Beside it were some decayed stone walls which had been a hut, and
opposite it some little shelters of branches and palm-leaves, under
which a few Beduin were sitting. We did not greet them. Instead, Tafas
turned across to the ruinous walls, and dismounted; and I sat in their
shade while he and Abdulla watered the animals, and drew a drink for
themselves and for me. The well was old, and broad, with a good stone
steyning, and a strong coping round the top. It was about twenty feet
deep; and for the convenience of travellers without ropes, like
ourselves, a square chimney had been contrived in the masonry, with
foot and hand holds in the corners, so that a man might descend to the
water, and fill his goat-skin.

Idle hands had flung so many stones down the shaft, that half the
bottom of the well was choked, and the water not abundant. Abdulla tied
his flowing sleeves about his shoulders; tucked his gown under his
cartridge belt; and clambered nimbly down and up, bringing each time
four or five gallons which he poured for our camels into a stone trough
beside the well. They drank about five gallons each, for they had been
watered at Rabegh a day back. Then we let them moon about a little,
while we sat in peace, breathing the light wind coming off the sea.
Abdulla smoked a cigarette as reward for his exertions.

Some Harb came up, driving a large herd of brood camels, and began to
water them, having sent one man down the well to fill their large
leather bucket, which the others drew up hand over hand with a loud
staccato chant. We watched them, without intercourse; for these were
Masruh, and we Beni Salem; and while the two clans were now at peace,
and might pass through each other's districts, this was only a
temporary accommodation to further the Sherifs' war against the Turks,
and had little depth of goodwill in it.

As we watched, two riders, trotting light and fast on thoroughbred
camels, drew towards us from the north. Both were young. One was
dressed in rich Cashmere robes and heavy silk embroidered head-cloth.
The other was plainer, in white cotton, with a red cotton head-dress.
They halted beside the well; and the more splendid one slipped
gracefully to the ground without kneeling his camel, and threw his
halter to his companion, saying, carelessly, 'Water them while I go
over there and rest'. Then he strolled across and sat down under our
wall, after glancing at us with affected unconcern. He offered a
cigarette, just rolled and licked, saying, Tour presence is from
Syria?' I parried politely, suggesting that he was from Mecca, to which
he likewise made no direct reply. We spoke a little of the war and of
the leanness of the Masruh she-camels.

Meanwhile the other rider stood by, vacantly holding the halters,
waiting perhaps for the Harb to finish watering their herd before
taking his turn. The young lord cried What is it, Mustafa? Water them
at once'. The servant came up to say dismally, They will not let me'.
'God's mercy!' shouted his master furiously, as he scrambled to his
feet and hit the unfortunate Mustafa three or four sharp blows about
the head and shoulders with his riding-stick 'Go and ask them.' Mustafa
looked hurt, astonished, and angry as though he would hit back, but
thought better of it, and ran to the well.

The Harb, shocked, in pity made a place for him, and let his two camels
drink from their water-trough. They whispered, 'Who is he?' and
Mustapha said, 'Our Lord's cousin from Mecca'. At once they ran and
untied a bundle from one of their saddles, and spread from it before
the two riding camels fodder of the green leaves and buds of the thorn
trees. They were used to gather this by striking the low bushes with a
heavy staff, till the broken tips of the branches rained down on a
cloth stretched over the ground beneath.

The young Sherif watched them contentedly. When his camel had fed, he
climbed slowly and without apparent effort up its neck into the saddle,
where he settled himself leisurely, and took an unctuous farewell of
us, asking God to requite the Arabs bountifully. They wished him a good
journey; and he started southward, while Abdulla brought our camels,
and we went off northward. Ten minutes later I heard a chuckle from old
Tafas, and saw wrinkles of delight between his grizzled beard and
moustache.

'What is upon you, Tafas?' said I.

'My Lord, you saw those two riders at the well?'

'The Sherif and his servant?'

'Yes; but they were Sherif Ali ibn el Hussein of Modhig, and his cousin,
Sherif Mohsin, lords of the Harith, who are blood enemies of the Masruh.
They feared they would be delayed or driven off the water if the Arabs
knew them. So they pretended to be master and servant from Mecca. Did you
see how Mohsin raged when Ali beat him? Ali is a devil. While only eleven
years old he escaped from his father's house to his uncle, a robber of
pilgrims by trade; and with him he lived by his hands for many months,
till his father caught him. He was with our lord Feisal from the first
day's battle in Medina, and led the Ateiba in the plains round Aar and
Bir Derwish. It was all camel-fighting; and Ali would have no man with him
who could not do as he did, run beside his camel, and leap with one hand
into the saddle, carrying his rifle. The children of Harith are children
of battle.' For the first time the old man's mouth was full of words.




CHAPTER XI



While he spoke we scoured along the dazzling plain, now nearly bare of
trees, and turning slowly softer under foot. At first it had been grey
shingle, packed like gravel. Then the sand increased and the stones
grew rarer, till we could distinguish the colours of the separate
flakes, porphyry, green schist, basalt. At last it was nearly pure
white sand, under which lay a harder stratum. Such going was like a
pile-carpet for our camels' running. The particles of sand were clean
and polished, and caught the blaze of sun like little diamonds in a
reflection so fierce, that after a while I could not endure it. I
frowned hard, and pulled the head-cloth forward in a peak over my eyes,
and beneath them, too, like a beaver, trying to shut out the heat which
rose in glassy waves off the ground, and beat up against my face.
Eighty miles in front of us, the huge peak of Rudhwa behind Yenbo was
looming and fading in THE dazzle of vapour which hid its foot. Quite
near in the plain rose the little shapeless hills of Hesna, which
seemed to block the way. To our right was the steep ridge of Beni Ayub,
toothed and narrow like a saw-blade, the first edge of the sheaf of
mountains between the Tehama and the high scarp of the tableland about
Medina. These Tareif Beni Ayub fell away on their north into a blue
series of smaller hills, soft in character, behind which lofty range
after range in a jagged stairway, red now the sun grew low, climbed up
to the towering central mass of Jebel Subh with its fantastic granite
spires.

A little later we turned to the right, off the pilgrim road, and took a
short cut across gradually rising ground of flat basalt ridges, buried
in sand till only their topmost piles showed above the surface. It held
moisture enough to be well grown over with hard wiry grass and shrubs
up and down the slopes, on which a few sheep and goats were pasturing.
There Tafas showed me a stone, which was the limit of the district of
the Masruh, and told me with grim pleasure that he was now at home, in
his tribal property, and might come off his guard.

Men have looked upon the desert as barren land, the free holding of
whoever chose; but in fact each hill and valley in it had a man who was
its acknowledged owner and would quickly assert the right of his family
or clan to it, against aggression. Even the wells and trees had their
masters, who allowed men to make firewood of the one and drink of the
other freely, as much as was required for their need, but who would
instantly check anyone trying to turn the property to account and to
exploit it or its products among others for private benefit. The desert
was held in a crazed communism by which Nature and the elements were
for the free use of every known friendly person for his own purposes
and no more. Logical outcomes were the reduction of this licence to
privilege by the men of the desert, and their hardness to strangers
unprovided with introduction or guarantee, since the common security
lay in the common responsibility of kinsmen. Tafas, in his own country,
could bear the burden of my safe-keeping lightly.

The valleys were becoming sharply marked, with clean beds of sand and
shingle, and an occasional large boulder brought down by a flood. There
were many broom bushes, restfully grey and green to the eye, and good
for fuel, though useless as pasture. We ascended steadily till we
rejoined the main track of the pilgrim road. Along this we held our way
till sunset, when we came into sight of the hamlet of Bir el Sheikh. In
the first dark as the supper fires were lighted we rode down its wide
open street and halted. Tafas went into one of the twenty miserable
huts, and in a few whispered words and long silences bought flour, of
which with water he kneaded a dough cake two inches thick and eight
inches across. This he buried in the ashes of a brushwood fire,
provided for him by a Subh woman whom he seemed to know. When the cake
was warmed he drew it out of the fire, and clapped it to shake off the
dust; then we shared it together, while Abdulla went away to buy
himself tobacco.

They told me the place had two stone-lined wells at the bottom of the
southward slope, but I felt disinclined to go and look at them, for the
long ride that day had tired my unaccustomed muscles, and the heat of
the plain had been painful. My skin was blistered by it, and my eyes
ached with the glare of light striking up at a sharp angle from the
silver sand, and from the shining pebbles. The last two years I had
spent in Cairo, at a desk all day or thinking hard in a little
overcrowded office full of distracting noises, with a hundred rushing
things to say, but no bodily need except to come and go each day
between office and hotel. In consequence the novelty of this change was
severe, since time had not been given me gradually to accustom myself
to the pestilent beating of the Arabian sun, and the long monotony of
camel pacing. There was to be another stage tonight, and a long day
to-morrow before Feisal's camp would be reached.

So I was grateful for the cooking and the marketing, which spent one
hour, and for the second hour of rest after it which we took by common
consent; and sorry when it ended, and we re-mounted, and rode in pitch
darkness up valleys and down valleys, passing in and out of bands of
air, which were hot in the confined hollows, but fresh and stirring in
the open places. The ground under foot must have been sandy, because
the silence of our passage hurt my straining ears, and smooth, for I
was always falling asleep in the saddle, to wake a few seconds later
suddenly and sickeningly, as I clutched by instinct at the saddle post
to recover my balance which had been thrown out by some irregular
stride of the animal. It was too dark, and the forms of the country
were too neutral, to hold my heavy-lashed, peering eyes. At length we
stopped for good, long after midnight; and I was rolled up in my cloak
and asleep in a most comfortable little sand-grave before Tafas had
done knee-haltering my camel.

Three hours later we were on the move again, helped now by the last
shining of the moon. We marched down Wadi Mared, the night of it dead,
hot, silent, and on each side sharp-pointed hills standing up black and
white in the exhausted air. There were many trees. Dawn finally came to
us as we passed out of the narrows into a broad place, over whose flat
floor an uneasy wind span circles, capriciously in the dust. The day
strengthened always, and now showed Bir ibn Hassani just to our right.
The trim settlement of absurd little houses, brown and white, holding
together for security's sake, looked doll-like and more lonely than the
desert, in the immense shadow of the dark precipice of Subh, behind.
While we watched it, hoping to see life at its doors, the sun was
rushing up, and the fretted cliffs, those thousands of feet above our
heads, became outlined in hard refracted shafts of white light against
a sky still sallow with the transient dawn.

We rode on across the great valley. A camel-rider, garrulous and old,
came out from the houses and jogged over to join us. He named himself
Khallaf, too friendly-like. His salutation came after a pause in a
trite stream of chat; and when it was returned he tried to force us
into conversation. However, Tafas grudged his company, and gave him
short answers. Khallaf persisted, and finally, to improve his footing,
bent down and burrowed in his saddle pouch till he found a small
covered pot of enamelled iron, containing a liberal portion of the
staple of travel in the Hejaz. This was the unleavened dough cake of
yesterday, but crumbled between the fingers while still warm, and
moistened with liquid butter till its particles would fall apart only
reluctantly. It was then sweetened for eating with ground sugar, and
scooped up like damp sawdust in pressed pellets with the fingers.

I ate a little, on this my first attempt, while Tafas and Abdulla
played at it vigorously; so for his bounty Khallaf went half-hungry:
deservedly, for it was thought effeminate by the Arabs to carry a
provision of food for a little journey of one hundred miles. We were
now fellows, and the chat began again while Khallaf told us about the
last fighting, and a reverse Feisal had had the day before. It seemed
he had been beaten out of Kheif in the head of Wadi Safra, and was now
at Hamra, only a little way in front of us; or at least Khallaf thought
he was there: we might learn for sure in Wasta, the next village on our
road. The fighting had not been severe; but the few casualties were all
among the tribesmen of Tafas and Khallaf; and the names and hurts of
each were told in order.

Meanwhile I looked about, interested to find myself in a new country.
The sand and detritus of last night and of Bir el Sheikh had vanished.
We were marching up a valley, from two hundred to five hundred yards in
width, of shingle and light soil, quite firm, with occasional knolls of
shattered green stone cropping out in its midst. There were many thorn
trees, some of them woody acacias, thirty feet and more in height,
beautifully green, with enough of tamarisk and soft scrub to give the
whole a charming, well kept, park-like air, now in the long soft
shadows of the early morning. The swept ground was so flat and clean,
the pebbles so variegated, their colours so joyously blended that they
gave a sense of design to the landscape; and this feeling was
strengthened by the straight lines and sharpness of the hills. They
rose on each hand regularly, precipices a thousand feet in height, of
granite-brown and dark porphyry-coloured rock, with pink stains; and by
a strange fortune these glowing hills rested on hundred-foot bases of
the cross-grained stone, whose unusual colour suggested a thin growth
of moss.

We rode along this beautiful place for about seven miles, to a low
watershed, crossed by a wall of granite slivers, now little more than a
shapeless heap, but once no doubt a barrier. It ran from cliff to
cliff, and even far up the hill-sides, wherever the slopes were not too
steep to climb. In the centre, where the road passed, had been two
small enclosures like pounds. I asked Khallaf the purpose of the wall.
He replied that he had been in Damascus and Constantinople and Cairo,
and had many friends among the great men of Egypt. Did I know any of
the English there? Khallaf seemed curious about my intentions and my
history. He tried to trip me in Egyptian phrases. When I answered in
the dialect of Aleppo he spoke of prominent Syrians of his
acquaintance. I knew them, too; and he switched off into local
politics, asking careful questions, delicately and indirectly, about
the Sherif and his sons, and what I thought Feisal was going to do. I
understood less of this than he, and parried inconsequentially. Tafas
came to my rescue, and changed the subject. Afterwards we knew that
Khallaf was in Turkish pay, and used to send frequent reports of what
came past Bir ibn Hassani for the Arab forces.

Across the wall we were in an affluent of Wadi Safra, a more wasted and
stony valley among less brilliant hills. It ran into another, far down
which to the west lay a cluster of dark palm-trees, which the Arabs
said was Jedida, one of the slave villages in Wadi Safra. We turned to
the right, across another saddle, and then downhill for a few miles to
a corner of tall cliffs. We rounded this and found ourselves suddenly
in Wadi Safra, the valley of our seeking, and in the midst of Wasta,
its largest village. Wasta seemed to be many nests of houses, clinging
to the hillsides each side the torrent-bed on banks of alluvial soil,
or standing on detritus islands between the various deep-swept channels
whose sum made up the parent valley.

Riding between two or three of these built-up islands, we made for the
far bank of the valley. On our way was the main bed of the winter
floods, a sweep of white shingle and boulders, quite flat. Down its
middle, from palm-grove on the one side to palm-grove on the other, lay
a reach of clear water, perhaps two hundred yards long and twelve feet
wide, sand-bottomed, and bordered on each brink by a ten-foot lawn of
thick grass and flowers. On it we halted a moment to let our camels put
their heads down and drink their fill, and the relief of the grass to
our eyes after the day-long hard glitter of the pebbles was so sudden
that involuntarily I glanced up to see if a cloud had not covered the
face of the sun.

We rode up the stream to the garden from which it ran sparkling in a
stone-lined channel; and then we turned along the mud wall of the
garden in the shadow of its palms, to another of the detached hamlets.
Tafas led the way up its little street (the houses were so low that
from our saddles we looked down upon their clay roofs), and near one of
the larger houses stopped and beat upon the door of an uncovered court.
A slave opened to us, and we dismounted in privacy. Tafas haltered the
camels, loosed their girths, and strewed before them green fodder from
a fragrant pile beside the gate. Then he led me into the guest-room of
the house, a dark clean little mud-brick place, roofed with half
palm-logs under hammered earth. We sat down on the palm-leaf mat which ran
along the dais. The day in this stifling valley had grown very hot; and
gradually we lay back side by side. Then the hum of the bees in the
gardens without, and of the flies hovering over our veiled faces
within, lulled us into sleep.




CHAPTER XII



Before we awoke, a meal of bread and dates had been prepared for us by
the people of the house. The dates were new, meltingly sweet and good,
like none I had ever tasted. The owner of the property, a Harbi, was,
with his neighbours, away serving Feisal; and his women and children
were tenting in the hills with the camels. At the most, the tribal
Arabs of Wadi Safra lived in their villages five months a year. For the
other seasons the gardens were entrusted to slaves, negroes like the
grown lads who brought in the tray to us, and whose thick limbs and
plump shining bodies looked curiously out of place among the birdlike
Arabs. Khallaf told me these blacks were originally from Africa,
brought over as children by their nominal Takruri fathers, and sold
during the pilgrimage, in Mecca. When grown strong they were worth from
fifty to eighty pounds apiece, and were looked after carefully as
befitted their price. Some became house or body servants with their
masters; but the majority were sent out to the palm villages of these
feverish valleys of running water, whose climate was too bad for Arab
labour, but where they flourished and built themselves solid houses,
and mated with women slaves, and did all the manual work of the
holding.

They were very numerous--for instance, there were thirteen villages of
them side by side in this Wadi Safra--so they formed a society of their
own, and lived much at their pleasure. Their work was hard, but the
supervision loose, and escape easy. Their legal status was bad, for
they had no appeal to tribal justice, or even to the Sherifs courts;
but public opinion and self-interest deprecated any cruelty towards
them, and the tenet of the faith that to enlarge a slave is a good
deed, meant in practice that nearly all gained freedom in the end. They
made pocket-money during their service, if they were ingenious. Those I
saw had property, and declared themselves contented. They grew melons,
marrows, cucumber, grapes and tobacco for their own account, in
addition to the dates, whose surplus was sent across to the Sudan by
sailing dhow, and there exchanged for corn, clothing and the luxuries
of Africa or Europe.

After the midday heat was passed we mounted again, and rode up the
clear, slow rivulet till it was hidden within the palm-gardens, behind
their low boundary walls of sun-dried clay. In and out between the tree
roots were dug little canals a foot or two deep, so contrived that the
stream might be let into them from the stone channel and each tree
watered in its turn. The head of water was owned by the community, and
shared out among the landowners for so many minutes or hours daily or
weekly according to the traditional use. The water was a little
brackish, as was needful for the best palms; but it was sweet enough in
the wells of private water in the groves. These wells were very
frequent, and found water three or four feet below the surface.

Our way took us through the central village and its market street.
There was little in the shops; and all the place felt decayed. A
generation ago Wasta was populous (they said of a thousand houses); but
one day there rolled a huge wall of water down Wadi Safra, the
embankments of many palm-gardens were breached, and the palm trees
swept away. Some of the islands on which houses had stood for centuries
were submerged, and the mud houses melted back again into mud, killing
or drowning the unfortunate slaves within. The men could have been
replaced, and the trees, had the soil remained; but the gardens had
been built up of earth carefully won from the normal freshets by years
of labour, and this wave of water--eight feet deep, running in a race
for three days--reduced the plots in its track to their primordial banks
of stones.

A little above Wasta we came to Kharma, a tiny settlement with rich
palm-groves, where a tributary ran in from the north. Beyond Kharma the
valley widened somewhat, to an average of perhaps four hundred yards,
with a bed of fine shingle and sand, laid very smooth by the winter
rains. The walls were of bare red and black rock, whose edges and
ridges were sharp as knife blades, and reflected the sun like metal.
They made the freshness of the trees and grass seem luxurious. We now
saw parties of Feisal's soldiers, and grazing herds of their saddle
camels. Before we reached Harhra every nook in the rocks or clump of
trees was a bivouac. They cried cheery greetings to Tafas, who came to
life again, waving back and calling to them, while he pressed on quickly
to end his duty towards me.

Hamra opened on our left. It seemed a village of about one hundred
houses, buried in gardens among mounds of earth some twenty feet in
height. We forded a little stream, and went up a walled path between
trees to the top of one of these mounds, where we made our camels kneel
by the yard-gate of a long, low house. Tafas said something to a slave
who stood there with silver-hilted sword in hand. He led me to an inner
court, on whose further side, framed between the uprights of a black
doorway, stood a white figure waiting tensely for me. I felt at first
glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek--the leader
who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory. Feisal looked very tall
and pillar-like, very slender, in his long white silk robes and his
brown head-cloth bound with a brilliant scarlet and gold cord. His
eyelids were dropped; and his black beard and colourless face were like
a mask against the strange, still watchfulness of his body. His hands
were crossed in front of him on his dagger.

I greeted him. He made way for me into the room, and sat down on his
carpet near the door. As my eyes grew accustomed to the shade, they saw
that the little room held many silent figures, looking at me or at
Feisal steadily. He remained staring down at his hands, which were
twisting slowly about his dagger. At last he inquired softly how I had
found the journey. I spoke of the heat, and he asked how long from
Rabegh, commenting that I had ridden fast for the season.

'And do you like our place here in Wadi Safra?'

Well; but it is far from Damascus.'

The word had fallen like a sword in their midst. There was a quiver.
Then everybody present stiffened where he sat, and held his breath for
a silent minute. Some, perhaps, were dreaming of far off success:
others may have thought it a reflection on their late defeat. Feisal at
length lifted his eyes, smiling at me, and said, 'Praise be to God,
there are Turks nearer us than that'. We all smiled with him; and I
rose and excused myself for the moment.




CHAPTER XIII



Under tall arcades of palms with ribbed and groined branches, in a soft
meadow, I found the trim camp of Egyptian Army soldiers with Nafi Bey,
their Egyptian major, sent lately from the Sudan by Sir Reginald
Wingate to help the Arab rebellion. They comprised a mountain battery
and some machine-guns, and looked smarter than they felt. Nafi himself
was an amiable fellow, kind and hospitable to me in spite of weak
health and his resentment at having been sent so far away into the
desert to serve in an unnecessary and toilsome war.

Egyptians, being home-loving persons and comfortable, found strangeness
always a misery. In this bad instance they suffered hardship for a
philanthropic end, which made it harder. They were fighting the Turks,
for whom they had a sentimental regard, on behalf of the Arabs, an
alien people speaking a language kindred to their own, but appearing
therefore all the more unlike in character, and crude in life. The
Arabs seemed hostile to the material blessings of civilization rather
than appreciative of them. They met with a ribald hoot well-meaning
attempts to furnish their bareness.

Englishmen being sure of their own absolute excellence would persist in
help without grumbling overmuch; but the Egyptians lost faith. They had
neither that collective sense of duty towards their State, nor that
feeling of individual obligation to push struggling humanity up its
road. The vicarious policemanship which was the strongest emotion of
Englishmen towards another man's muddle, in their case was replaced by
the instinct to pass by as discreetly far as possible on the other
side. So, though all was well with these soldiers, and they had
abundant rations and good health and no casualties, yet they found
fault with the handling of the universe, and hoped this unexpected
Englishman had come to set it right.

Feisal was announced with Maulud el Mukhlus, the Arab zealot of Tekrit,
who, for rampant nationalism had been twice degraded in the Turkish
Army, and had spent an exile of two years in Nejd as a secretary with
ibn Rashid. He had commanded the Turkish cavalry before Shaiba, and had
been taken by us there. As soon as he heard of the rebellion of the
Sherif he had volunteered for him, and had been the first regular
officer to join Feisal. He was now nominally his A.D.C.

Bitterly he complained that they were in every way ill-equipped. This
was the main cause of their present plight. They got thirty thousand
pounds a month from the Sherif, but little flour and rice, little
barley, few rifles, insufficient ammunition, no machine-guns, no
mountain guns, no technical help, no information.

I stopped Maulud there and said that my coming was expressly to learn
what they lacked and to report it, but that I could work with them only
if they would explain to me their general situation. Feisal agreed, and
began to sketch to me the history of their revolt from its absolute
beginning.

The first rush on Medina had been a desperate business. The Arabs were
ill-armed and short of ammunition, the Turks in great force, since
Fakhri's detachment had just arrived and the troops to escort von
Stotzingen to Yemen were still in the town. At the height of the crisis
the Beni Ali broke; and the Arabs were thrust out beyond the walls. The
Turks then opened fire on them with their artillery; and the Arabs,
unused to this new arm, became terrified. The Ageyl and Ateiba got into
safety and refused to move out again. Feisal and Ali ibn el Hussein
vainly rode about in front of their men in the open, to show them that
the bursting shells were not as fatal as they sounded. The
demoralization deepened.

Sections of Beni Ali tribesmen approached the Turkish command with an
offer to surrender, if their villages were spared. Fakhri played with
them, and in the ensuing lull of hostilities surrounded the Awali
suburb with his troops: then suddenly he ordered them to carry it by
assault and to massacre every living thing within its walls. Hundreds
of the inhabitants were raped and butchered, the houses fired, and
living and dead alike thrown back into the flames. Fakhri and his men
had served together and had learned the arts of both the slow and the
fast kill upon the Armenians in the North.

This bitter taste of the Turkish mode of war sent a shock across
Arabia; for the first rule of Arab war was that women were inviolable:
the second that the lives and honour of children too young to fight
with men were to be spared: the third, that property impossible to
carry off should be left undamaged. The Arabs with Feisal perceived
that they were opposed to new customs, and fell back out of touch to
gain time to readjust themselves. There could no longer be any question
of submission: the sack of Awali had opened blood feud upon blood feud,
and put on them the duty of fighting to the end of their force: but it
was plain now that it would be a long affair, and that with muzzle-loading
guns for sole weapons, they could hardly expect to win.

So they fell back from the level plains about Medina into the hills
across the Sultani-road, about Aar and Raha and Bir Abbas, where they
rested a little, while Ali and Feisal sent messenger after messenger
down to Rabegh, their sea-base, to learn when fresh stores and money
and arms might be expected. The revolt had begun haphazard, on their
father's explicit orders, and the old man, too independent to take his
sons into his full confidence, had not worked out with them any
arrangements for prolonging it. So the reply was only a little food.
Later some Japanese rifles, most of them broken, were received. Such
barrels as were still whole were so foul that the too-eager Arabs burst
them on the first trial. No money was sent up at all: to take its place
Feisal filled a decent chest with stones, had it locked and corded
carefully, guarded on each daily march by his own slaves, and
introduced meticulously into his tent each night. By such theatricals
the brothers tried to hold a melting force.

At last Ali went down to Rabegh to inquire what was wrong with the
organization. He found that Hussein Mabeirig, the local chief, had made
up his mind that the Turks would be victorious (he had tried
conclusions with them twice himself and had the worst of it), and
accordingly decided theirs was the best cause to follow. As the stores
for the Sherif were landed by the British he appropriated them and
stored them away secretly in his own houses. Ali made a demonstration,
and sent urgent messages for his half-brother Zeid to join him from
Jidda with reinforcements. Hussein, in fear, slipped off to the hills,
an outlaw. The two Sherifs took possession of his villages. In them
they found great stores of arms, and food enough for their armies for a
month. The temptation of a spell of leisured ease was too much for
them: they settled down in Rabegh.

This left Feisal alone up country, and he soon found himself isolated,
in a hollow situation, driven to depend upon his native resources. He
bore it for a time, but in August took advantage of the visit of
Colonel Wilson to the newly-conquered Yenbo, to come down and give a
full explanation of his urgent needs. Wilson was impressed with him and
his story, and at once promised him a battery of mountain guns and some
maxims, to be handled by men and officers of the Egyptian Army garrison
in the Sudan. This explained the presence of Nafi Bey and his units.

The Arabs rejoiced when they came, and believed they were now equals of
the Turk; but the four guns were twenty-year-old Krupps, with a range
of only three thousand yards; and their crews were not eager enough in
brain and spirit for irregular fighting. However, they went foward with
the mob and drove in the Turkish outposts, and then their supports,
until Fakhri becoming seriously alarmed, came down himself, inspected
the front, and at once reinforced the threatened detachment at Bir
Abbas to some three thousand strong. The Turks had field guns and
howitzers with them, and the added advantage of high ground for
observation. They began to worry the Arabs by indirect fire, and nearly
dropped a shell on Feisal's tent while all the head men were conferring
within. The Egyptian gunners were asked to return the fire and smother
the enemy guns. They had to plead that their weapons were useless,
since they could not carry the nine thousand yards. They were derided;
and the Arabs ran back again into the defiles.

Feisal was deeply discouraged. His men were tired. He had lost many of
them. His only effective tactics against the enemy had been to chase in
suddenly upon their rear by fast mounted charges, and many camels had
been killed, or wounded or worn out in these expensive measures. He
demurred to carrying the whole war upon his own neck while Abdulla
delayed in Mecca, and Ali and Zeid at Rabegh. Finally he withdrew the
bulk of his forces, leaving the Harb sub-tribes who lived by Bir Abbas
to keep up pressure on the Turkish supply columns and communications by
a repeated series of such raids as those which he himself found
impossible to maintain.

Yet he had no fear that the Turks would again come forward against him
suddenly. His failure to make any impression on them had not imbued him
with the smallest respect for them. His late retirement to Hamra was
not forced: it was a gesture of disgust because he was bored by his
obvious impotence, and was determined for a little while to have the
dignity of rest.

After all, the two sides were still untried. The armament of the Turks
made them so superior at long range that the Arabs never got to grips.
For this reason most of the hand-to-hand fighting had taken place at
night, when the guns were blinded. To my ears they sounded oddly
primitive battles, with torrents of words on both sides in a
preliminary match of wits. After the foulest insults of the languages
they knew would come the climax, when the Turks in frenzy called the
Arabs 'English', and the Arabs screamed back 'German' at them. There
were, of course, no Germans in the Hejaz, and I was the first
Englishman; but each party loved cursing, and any epithet would sting
on the tongues of such artists.

I asked Feisal what his plans were now. He said that till Medina fell
they were inevitably tied down there in Hejaz dancing to Fakhri's tune.
In his opinion the Turks were aiming at the recapture of Mecca. The
bulk of their strength was now in a mobile column, which they could
move towards Rabegh by a choice of routes which kept the Arabs in
constant alarm. A passive defence of the Subh hills had shown that the
Arabs did not shine as passive resisters. When the enemy moved they
must be countered by an offensive.

Feisal meant to retire further yet, to the Wadi Yenbo border of the
great Juheina tribe. With fresh levies from them he would march
eastwards towards the Hejaz Railway behind Medina, at the moment when
Abdulla was advancing by the lava-desert to attack Medina from the
east. He hoped that Ah' would go up simultaneously from Rabegh, while
Zeid moved into Wadi Safra to engage the big Turkish force at Bir
Abbas, and keep it out of the main battle. By this plan Medina would be
threatened or attacked on all sides at once. Whatever the success of
the attack, the concentration from three sides would at least break up
the prepared Turkish push-outwards on the fourth, and give Rabegh and
the southern Hejaz a breathing space to equip themselves for effective
defence, or counter-attack.

Maulud, who had sat fidgeting through our long, slow talk, could no
longer restrain himself and cried out, 'Don't write a history of us.
The needful thing is to fight and fight and kill them. Give me a
battery of Schneider mountain guns, and machine-guns, and I will finish
this off for you. We talk and talk and do nothing.' I replied as
warmly; and Maulud, a magnificent fighter, who regarded a battle won as
a battle wasted if he did not show some wound to prove his part in it,
took me up. We wrangled while Feisal sat by and grinned delightedly at
us.

This talk had been for him a holiday. He was encouraged even by the
trifle of my coming; for he was a man of moods, flickering between
glory and despair, and just now dead-tired. He looked years older than
thirty-one; and his dark, appealing eyes, set a little sloping in his
face, were bloodshot, and his hollow cheeks deeply lined and puckered
with reflection. His nature grudged thinking, for it crippled his speed
in action: the labour of it shrivelled his features into swift lines of
pain. In appearance he was tall, graceful and vigorous, with the most
beautiful gait, and a royal dignity of head and shoulders. Of course he
knew it, and a great part of his public expression was by sign and
gesture.

His movements were impetuous. He showed himself hot-tempered and
sensitive, even unreasonable, and he ran off soon on tangents. Appetite
and physical weakness were mated in him, with the spur of courage. His
personal charm, his imprudence, the pathetic hint of frailty as the
sole reserve of this proud character made him the idol of his
followers. One never asked if he were scrupulous; but later he showed
that he could return trust for trust, suspicion for suspicion. He was
fuller of wit than of humour.

His training in Abdul Hamid's entourage had made him past-master in
diplomacy. His military service with the Turks had given him a working
knowledge of tactics. His life in Constantinople and in the Turkish
Parliament had made him familiar with European questions and manners.
He was a careful judge of men. If he had the strength to realize his
dreams he would go very far, for he was wrapped up in his work and
lived for nothing else; but the fear was that he would wear himself out
by trying to seem to aim always a little higher than the truth, or that
he would die of too much action. His men told me how, after a long
spell of fighting, in which he had to guard himself, and lead the
charges, and control and encourage them, he had collapsed physically
and was carried away from his victory, unconscious, with the foam
flecking his lips.

Meanwhile, here, as it seemed, was offered to our hand, which had only
to be big enough to take it, a prophet who, if veiled, would give
cogent form to the idea behind the activity of the Arab revolt. It was
all and more than we had hoped for, much more than our halting course
deserved. The aim of my trip was fulfilled.

My duty was now to take the shortest road to Egypt with the news: and
the knowledge gained that evening in the palm wood grew and blossomed
in my mind into a thousand branches, laden with fruit and shady leaves,
beneath which I sat and half-listened and saw visions, while the
twilight deepened, and the night; until a line of slaves with lamps
came down the winding paths between the palm trunks, and with Feisal
and Maulud we walked back through the gardens to the little house, with
its courts still full of waiting people, and to the hot inner room in
which the familiars were assembled; and there we sat down together to
the smoking bowl of rice and meat set upon the food-carpet for our
supper by the slaves.




CHAPTER XIV



So mixed was the company, Sherifs, Meccans, sheikhs of the Juheina and
Ateiba, Mesopotamians, Ageyl, that I threw apples of discord,
inflammatory subjects of talk amongst them, to sound their mettle and
beliefs without delay. Feisal, smoking innumerable cigarettes, kept
command of the conversation even at its hottest, and it was fine to
watch him do it. He showed full mastery of tact, with a real power of
disposing men's feelings to his wish. Storrs was as efficient; but
Storrs paraded his strength, exhibiting all the cleverness and
machinery, the movements of his hands which made the creatures dance.
Feisal seemed to govern his men unconsciously: hardly to know how he
stamped his mind on them, hardly to care whether they obeyed. It was as
great art as Storrs'; and it concealed itself, for Feisal was born to
it.

The Arabs loved him openly: indeed, these chance meetings made clear
how to the tribes the Sherif and his sons were heroic. Sherif Hussein
(Sayidna as they called him) was outwardly so clean and gentle-mannered
as to seem weak; but this appearance hid a crafty policy, deep
ambition, and an un-Arabian foresight, strength of character and
obstinacy. His interest in natural history reinforced his sporting
instincts, and made him (when he pleased) a fair copy of a Beduin
prince, while his Circassian mother had endowed him with qualities
foreign to both Turk and Arab, and he displayed considerable astuteness
in turning now one, now another of his inherited assets to present
advantage.

Yet the school of Turkish politics was so ignoble that not even the
best could graduate from it unaffected. Hussein when young had been
honest, outspoken . . . and he learned not merely to suppress his
speech, but to use speech to conceal his honest purpose. The art,
over-indulged, became a vice from which he could not free himself. In old
age ambiguity covered his every communication. Lake a cloud it hid his
decision of character, his worldly wisdom, his cheerful strength. Many
denied HIM such qualities: but history gave proof.

One instance of his worldly wisdom was the upbringing of his sons. The
Sultan had made them live in Constantinople to receive a Turkish
education. Sherif Hussein saw to it that the education was general and
good. When they came back to the Hejaz as young effendis in European
clothes with Turkish manners, the father ordered them into Arab dress;
and, to rub up their Arabic, gave them Meccan companions and sent them
out into the wilds, with the Camel Corps, to patrol the pilgrim roads.

The young men thought it might be an amusing trip, but were dashed when
their father forbade them special food, bedding, or soft-padded
saddles. He would not let them back to Mecca, but kept them out for
months in all seasons guarding the roads by day and by night, handling
every variety of man, and learning fresh methods of riding and
fighting. Soon they hardened, and became self-reliant, with that blend
of native intelligence and vigour which so often comes in a crossed
stock. Their formidable family group was admired and efficient, but
curiously isolated in their world. They were natives of no country,
lovers of no private plot of ground. They had no real confidants or
ministers; and no one of them seemed open to another, or to the father,
of whom they stood in awe.

The debate after supper was an animated one. In my character as a
Syrian I made sympathetic reference to the Arab leaders who had been
executed in Damascus by Jemal Pasha. They took me up sharply: the
published papers had disclosed that these men were in touch with
foreign Governments, and ready to accept French or British suzerainty
as the price of help. This was a crime against Arab nationality, and
Jemal had only executed the implied sentence. Feisal smiled, almost
winked, at me. 'You see,' he explained, 'we are now of necessity tied
to the British. We are delighted to be their friends, grateful for
their help, expectant of our future profit. But we are not British
subjects. We would be more at ease if they were not such
disproportionate allies.'

I told a story of Abdulla el Raashid, on the way up to Hamra. He had
groaned to me of the British sailors coming ashore each day at Rabegh.
'Soon they will stay nights, and then they will live here always, and
take the country.' To cheer him I had spoken of millions of Englishmen
now ashore in France, and of the French not afraid.

Whereat he had turned on me scornfully, asking if I meant to compare
France with the land of Hejazi?

Feisal mused a little and said, I am not a Hejazi by upbringing; and
yet, by God, I am jealous for it. And though I know the British do not
want it, yet what can I say, when they took the Sudan, also not wanting
it? They hunger for desolate lands, to build them up; and so, perhaps,
one day Arabia will seem to them precious. Your good and my good,
perhaps they are different, and either forced good or forced evil will
make a people cry with pain. Does the ore admire the flame which
transforms it? There is no reason for offence, but a people too weak
are clamant over their little own. Our race will have a cripple's
temper till it has found its feet.'

The ragged, lousy tribesmen who had eaten with us astonished me by
their familiar understanding of intense political nationality, an
abstract idea they could hardly have caught from the educated classes
of the Hejaz towns, from those Hindus, Javanese, Bokhariots, Sudanese,
Turks, out of sympathy with Arab ideals, and indeed just then suffering
A little from the force of local sentiment, springing too high after
its sudden escape from Turkish control. Sherif Hussein had had the
worldly wisdom to base his precepts on the instinctive belief of the
Arabs that they were of the salt of the earth and self-sufficient.
Then, enabled by his alliance with us to back his doctrine by arms and
money, he was assured of success.

Of course, this success was not level throughout. The great body of
Sherifs, eight hundred or nine hundred of them, understood his
nationalist doctrine and were his missionaries, successful missionaries
thanks to the revered descent from the Prophet, which gave them the
power to hold men's minds, and to direct their courses into the willing
quietness of eventual obedience.

The tribes had followed the smoke of their racial fanaticism. The towns
might sigh for the cloying inactivity of Ottoman rule: the tribes were
convinced that they had made a free and Arab Government, and that each
of them was It. They were independent and would enjoy themselves--a
conviction and resolution which might have led to anarchy, if they had
not made more stringent the family tie, and the bonds of
kin-responsibility. But this entailed a negation of central power. The
Sherif might have legal sovereignty abroad, if he hiked the high-sounding
toy; but home affairs were to be customary. The problem of the
foreign theorists--Is Damascus to rule the Hejaz, or can Hejaz rule
Damascus?' did not trouble them at all, for they would not have it set.
The Semites' idea of nationality was the independence of clans and
villages, and their ideal of national union was episodic combined
resistance to an intruder. Constructive policies, an organized state,
an extended empire, were not so much beyond their sight as hateful in
it. They were fighting to get rid of Empire, not to win it.

The feeling of the Syrians and Mesopotamians in these Arab armies was
indirect. They believed that by fighting in the local ranks, even here
in Hejaz, they were vindicating the general rights of all Arabs to
national existence; and without envisaging one State, or even a
confederation of States, they were definitely looking northward,
wishing to add an autonomous Damascus and Bagdad to the Arab family.
They were weak in material resources, and even after success would be,
since their world was agricultural and pastoral, without minerals, and
could never be strong in modern armaments. Were it otherwise, we should
have had to pause before evoking in the strategic centre of the Middle
East new national movements of such abounding vigour.

Of religious fanaticism there was little trace. The Sherif refused in
round terms to give a religious twist to his rebellion. His fighting
creed was nationality. The tribes knew that the Turks were Moslems, and
thought that the Germans were probably true friends of Islam. They knew
that the British were Christians, and that the British were their
allies. In the circumstances, their religion would not have been of
much help to them, and they had put it aside. 'Christian fights
Christian, so why should not Mohammedans do the same? What we want is a
Government which speaks our own language of Arabic and will let us live
in peace. Also we hate those Turks.'




CHAPTER XV



Next morning I was up early and out among Feisal's troops towards the
side of Kheif, by myself, trying to feel the pulse of their opinions in
a moment, by such tricks as those played upon their chiefs the night
before. Time was of the essence of my effort, for it was necessary to
gain in ten days the impressions which would ordinarily have been the
fruit of weeks of observing in my crab-fashion, that sideways-slipping
affair of the senses. Normally I would go along all day, with the
sounds immediate, but blind to every detail, only generally aware that
there were things red, or things grey, or clear things about me. To-day
my eyes had to be switched straight to my brain, that I might note a
thing or two the more clearly by contrast with the former mistiness.
Such things were nearly always shapes: rocks and trees, or men's bodies
in repose or movement: not small things like flowers, nor qualities
like colour.

Yet here was strong need of a lively reporter. In this drab war the
least irregularity was a joy to all, and McMahon's strongest course was
to exploit the latent imagination of the General Staff. I believed in
the Arab movement, and was confident, before ever I came, that in it
was the idea to tear Turkey into pieces; but others in Egypt lacked
faith, and had been taught nothing intelligent of the Arabs in the
field. By noting down something of the spirit of these romantics in the
hills about the Holy Cities I might gain the sympathy of Cairo for the
further measures necessary to help them.

The men received me cheerfully. Beneath every great rock or hush they
sprawled like lazy scorpions, resting from the heat, and refreshing
their brown limbs with the early coolness of the shaded stone. Because
of my khaki they took me for a Turk-trained officer who had deserted to
them, and were profuse in good-humoured but ghastly suggestions of how
they should treat me. Most of them were young, though the term
'fighting man' in the Hejaz meant anyone between twelve and sixty sane
enough to shoot. They were a tough-looking crowd, dark-coloured, some
negroid. They were physically thin, but exquisitely made, moving with
an oiled activity altogether delightful to watch. It did not seem
possible that men could be hardier or harder. They would ride immense
distances day after day, run through sand and over rocks bare-foot in
the heat for hours without pain, and climb their hills like goats.
Their clothing was mainly a loose shirt, with sometimes short cotton
drawers, and a head-shawl usually of red cloth, which acted towel or
handkerchief or sack as required. They were corrugated with bandoliers,
and fired joy-shots when they could.

They were in wild spirits, shouting that the war might last ten years.
It was the fattest time the hills had ever known. The Sherif was
feeding not only the fighting men, but their families, and paying two
pounds a month for a man, four for a camel. Nothing else would have
performed the miracle of keeping a tribal army in the field for five
months on end. It was our habit to sneer at Oriental soldiers' love of
pay; but the Hejaz campaign was a good example of the limitations of
that argument. The Turks were offering great bribes, and obtaining
little service--no active service. The Arabs took their money, and gave
gratifying assurances in exchange; yet these very tribes would be
meanwhile in touch with Feisal, who obtained service for his payment.
The Turks cut the throats of their prisoners with knives, as though
they were butchering sheep. Feisal offered a reward of a pound a head
for prisoners, and had many carried in to him unhurt. He also paid for
captured mules or rifles.

The actual contingents were continually shifting, in obedience to the
rule of flesh. A family would own a rifle, and the sons serve in turn
for a few days each. Married men alternated between camp and wife, and
sometimes a whole clan would become bored and take a rest. Consequently
the paid men were more than those mobilized; and policy often gave to
great sheikhs, as wages, money that was a polite bribe for friendly
countenance. Feisal's eight thousand men were one in ten camel-corps
and the rest hill-men. They served only under their tribal sheikhs, and
near home, arranging their own food and transport. Nominally each
sheikh had a hundred followers. Sherifs acted as group leaders, in
virtue of their privileged position, which raised them above the
jealousies which shackled the tribesmen.

Blood feuds were nominally healed, and really suspended in the
Sherifian area: Billi and Juheina, Ateiba and Ageyl living and fighting
side by side in Feisal's army. All the same, the members of one tribe
were shy of those of another, and within the tribe no man would quite
trust his neighbour. Each might be, usually was, wholehearted against
the Turk, but perhaps not quite to the point of failing to work off a
family grudge upon a family enemy in the field. Consequently they could
not attack. One company of Turks firmly entrenched in open country
could have defied the entire army of them; and a pitched defeat, with
its casualties, would have ended the war by sheer horror.

I concluded that the tribesmen were good for defence only. Their
acquisitive recklessness made them keen on booty, and whetted them to
tear up railways, plunder caravans, and steal camels; but they were too
free-minded to endure command, or to fight in team. A man who could
fight well by himself made generally a bad soldier, and these champions
seemed to me no material for our drilling; but if we strengthened them
by light automatic guns of the Lewis type, to be handled by themselves,
they might be capable of holding their hills and serving as an
efficient screen behind which we could build up, perhaps at Rabegh, an
Arab regular mobile column, capable of meeting a Turkish force
(distracted by guerilla warfare) on terms, and of defeating it
piecemeal. For such a body of real soldiers no recruits would be
forthcoming from Hejaz. It would have to be formed of the heavy
unwarlike Syrian and Mesopotamian towns-folk already in our hands, and
officered by Arabic-speaking officers trained in the Turkish army, men
of the type and history of Aziz el Masri or Maulud. They would
eventually finish the war by striking, while the tribesmen skirmished
about, and hindered and distracted the Turks by their pin-prick raids.

The Hejaz war, meanwhile, would be one of dervishes against regular
troops. It was the fight of a rocky, mountainous, barren country
(reinforced by a wild horde of mountaineers) against an enemy so
enriched in equipment by the Germans as almost to have lost virtue for
rough-and-tumble war. The hill-belt was a paradise for snipers; and
Arabs were artists in sniping. Two or three hundred determined men
knowing the ranges should hold any section of them; because the slopes
were too steep for escalade. The valleys, which were the only
practicable roads, for miles and miles were not so much valleys as
chasms or gorges, sometimes two hundred yards across, but sometimes
only twenty, full of twists and turns, one thousand or four thousand
feet deep, barren of cover, and flanked each side by pitiless granite,
basalt and porphyry, not in polished slopes, but serrated and split and
piled up in thousands of jagged heaps of fragments as hard as metal and
nearly as sharp.

It seemed to my unaccustomed eyes impossible that, without treachery on
the part of the mountain tribes, the Turks could dare to break their
way through. Even with treachery as an ally, to pass the hills would be
dangerous. The enemy would never be sure that the fickle population
might not turn again; and to have such a labyrinth of defiles in the
rear, across the communications, would be worse than having it in
front. Without the friendship of the tribes, the Turks would own only
the ground on which their soldiers stood; and lines so long and complex
would soak up thousands of men in a fortnight, and leave none in the
battle-front.

The sole disquieting feature was the very real success of the Turks in
frightening the Arabs by artillery. Aziz el Masri in the Turk-Italian
war in Tripoli had found the same terror, but had found also that it
wore off. We might hope that the same would happen here; but for the
moment the sound of a fired cannon sent every man within earshot behind
cover. They thought weapons destructive in proportion to their noise.
They were not afraid of bullets, not indeed overmuch of dying: just the
manner of death by shell-fire was unendurable. It seemed to me that
their moral confidence was to be restored only by having guns, useful
or useless, but noisy, on their side. From the magnificent Feisal down
to the most naked stripling in the army the theme was artillery,
artillery, artillery.

When I told them of the landing of the five-inch howitzers at Rabegh
they rejoiced. Such news nearly balanced in their minds the check of
their last retreat down Wadi Safra. The guns would be of no real use to
them: indeed, it seemed to me that they would do the Arabs positive
harm; for their virtues lay in mobility and intelligence, and by giving
them guns we hampered their movements and efficiency. Only if we did
not give them guns they would quit.

At these close quarters the bigness of the revolt impressed me. This
well-peopled province, from Una Lejj to Kunfida, more than a
fortnight's camel march, had suddenly changed its character from a rout
of casual nomad pilferers to an eruption against Turkey, fighting her,
not certainly in our manner, but fiercely enough, in spite of the
religion which was to raise the East against us in a holy war. Beyond
anything calculable in figures, we had let loose a passion of
anti-Turkish feeling which, embittered as it had been by generations of
subjection, might die very hard. There was among the tribes in the
fighting zone a nervous enthusiasm common, I suppose, to all national
risings, but strangely disquieting to one from a land so long delivered
that national freedom had become like the water in our mouths,
tasteless.

Later I saw Feisal again, and promised to do my best for him. My chiefs
would arrange a base at Yenbo, where the stores and supplies he needed
would be put ashore for his exclusive use. We would try to get him
officer-volunteers from among the prisoners of war captured in
Mesopotamia or on the Canal. We would form gun crews and machine-gun
crews from the rank and file in the internment camps, and provide them
with such mountain guns and light machine-guns as were obtainable in
Egypt. Lastly, I would advise that British Army officers,
professionals, be sent down to act as advisers and liaison officers
with him in the field.

This time our talk was of the pleasantest, and ended in warm thanks
from him, and an invitation to return as soon as might be. I explained
that my duties in Cairo excluded field work, but perhaps my chiefs
would let me pay a second visit later on, when his present wants were
filled and his movement was going forward prosperously. Meanwhile I
would ask for facilities to go down to Yenbo, for Egypt, that I might
get things on foot promptly. He at once appointed me an escort of
fourteen Juheina Sherifs, all kinsmen of Mohamed Ali ibn Beidawi, the
Emir of the Juheina. They were to deliver me intact in Yenbo to Sheikh
Abd el Kadir el Abdo, its Governor.




CHAPTER XVI



Leaving Hamra as dusk fell, we marched back down Wadi Safra until
opposite Kharma, where we turned to the right up the side valley. It
was closely grown with stiff brushwood, through which we drove our
camels strenuously, having tucked up the streamers of our saddle-bags
to save them from being shredded by the thorns. Two miles later we
began to climb the narrow pass of Dhifran, which gave evidence even by
night of labour expended on the road. It had been artificially
smoothed, and the stones piled at each side into a heavy wall of
protection against the rush of water in the rains. Parts had been
graded, and were at times carried on a causeway built seemingly six or
eight feet high, of great blocks of uncut stone: but it had been
breached at every turn by torrents, and was in terrible ruin.

The ascent lasted perhaps for a mile; and the steep descent on the
other side was about the same. Then we got to the level and found
ourselves in a much broken country of ridges, with an intricate net of
wadies whose main flow was apparently towards the south-west. The going
was good for our camels. We rode for about seven miles in the dark, and
came to a well, Bir el Murra, in a valley bed under a very low bluff,
on whose head the square courses of a small fort of ashlar stood out
against the starry sky. Conceivably both fort and causeway had been
built by an Egyptian Mameluke for the passage of his pilgrim-caravan
from Yenbo.

We halted there for the night, sleeping for six hours, a long luxury
upon the road, though this rest was broken twice by challenges from
half-seen mounted parties who had found our bivouac. Afterwards we
wandered among more small ridges until the dawn showed gentle valleys
of sand with strange hills of lava hemming us about. The lava here was
not the blue-black cinder-stone of the fields about Rabegh: it was
rust-coloured, and piled in huge crags of flowing surface and bent and
twisted texture, as though played with oddly while yet soft. The sand,
at first a carpet about the foot of the dolerite, gradually gained on
it. The hills got lower, with the sand banked up against them in
greater drifts, till even the crests were sand-spattered, and at last
drowned beyond sight. So, as the sun became high and painfully fierce,
we led out upon a waste of dunes, rolling southward for miles down hill
to the misty sea, where it lay grey-blue in the false distance of the
heat.

The dunes were narrow. By half-past seven we were on a staring plain of
glassy sand mixed with shingle, overspread by tall scrub and thorn
bushes, with some good acacia trees. We rode very fast across this,
myself in some discomfort; for I was not a skilled rider: the movement
exhausted me, while sweat ran down my forehead and dripped smartingly
into my gritty, sun-cracked eyelids. Sweat was actually welcome when a
drop fell from the end of a tuft of hair, to strike on the cheek cold
and sudden and unexpected like a splash, but these refreshments were
too few to pay for the pain of heat. We pressed on, while the sand
yielded to pure shingle, and that again hardened into the bed of a
great valley, running down by shallow, interwoven mouths towards the
sea.

We crossed over a rise, and from the far side opened a wide view, which
was the delta of Wadi Yenbo, the largest valley of Northern Hejaz. It
seemed a vivid copse of tamarisk and thorn. To the right, some miles up
the valley, showed darkly the palm-groves of Nakhi Mubarak, a village
and gardens of the Beni Ibrahim Juheina. In the distance, ahead of us,
lay the massive Jebel Rudhwa, brooding always so instantly over Yenbo,
though more than twenty miles away. We had seen it from Masturah, for
it was one of the great hills of Hejaz, the more wonderful because it
lifted itself in one clear edge from flat Tehama to crest. My
companions felt at home in its protection; so, as the plain was now
dancing with unbearable heat, we took shade under the branches of a
leafy acacia beside the path, and slumbered through the middle day.

In the afternoon we watered our camels at a brackish little water hole
in the sand bed of a branch watercourse, before a trim hedge of the
feathery tamarisk, and then pushed on for two more happy hours. At last
we halted for the night in typical Tehama country of bare slowly-swelling
sand and shingle ridges, with shallow valleys.

The Sherifs lit a fire of aromatic wood to bake bread and boil coffee;
and we slept sweetly with the salt sea air cool on our chafed faces. We
rose at two in the morning, and raced our camels over a featureless
plain of hard shingle and wet sand to Yenbo, which stood up with walls
and towers on a reef of coral rag twenty feet above our level. They
took me straight through the gates by crumbling, empty streets--Yenbo
had been half a city of the dead since the Hejaz Railway opened--to the
house of Abd el Kader, Feisal's agent, a well-informed, efficient,
quiet and dignified person, with whom we had had correspondence when he
was postmaster in Mecca, and the Survey in Egypt had been making stamps
for the new State. He had just been transferred here.

With Abd el Kader, in his picturesque rambling house looking over the
deserted square, whence so many Medina caravans had started, I stayed
four days waiting for the ship, which seemed as if it might fail me at
the rendezvous. However, at last the SUVA appeared, with Captain Boyle,
who took me back to Jidda. It was my first meeting with Boyle. He had
done much in the beginning of the revolt, and was to do much more for
the future: but I failed to make a good return impression. I was
travel-stained and had no baggage with me. Worst of all I wore a native
head-cloth, put on as a compliment to the Arabs. Boyle disapproved.

Our persistence in the hat (due to a misunderstanding of the ways of
heat-stroke) had led the East to see significance in it, and after long
thought their wisest brains concluded that Christians wore the hideous
thing that its broad brim might interpose between their weak eyes and
the uncongenial sight of God. So it reminded Islam continually that God
was miscalled and misliked by Christians. The British thought this
prejudice reprehensible (quite unlike our hatred of a head-cloth), one
to be corrected at any price. If the people would not have us hatted,
they should not have us any way. Now as it happened I had been educated
in Syria before the war to wear the entire Arab outfit when necessary
without strangeness, or sense of being socially compromised. The skirts
were a nuisance in running up stairs, but the head-cloth was even
convenient in such a climate. So I had accepted it when I rode inland,
and must now cling to it under fire of naval disapproval, till some
shop should sell me a cap.

In Jidda was the EURYALUS, with Admiral Wemyss, bound for Port Sudan
that Sir Rosslyn might visit Sir Reginald Wingate at Khartum. Sir
Reginald, as Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, had been put in command of
the British military side of the Arab adventure in place of Sir Henry
McMahon, who continued to direct its politics; and it was necessary for
me to see him, to impart my impressions to him. So I begged the Admiral
for a passage over sea, and a place in his train to Khartum. This he
readily granted, after cross-questioning me himself at length.

I found that his active mind and broad intelligence had engaged his
interest in the Arab Revolt from the beginning. He had come down again
and again in his flagship to lend a hand when things were critical, and
had gone out of his way twenty times to help the shore, which properly
was Army business. He had given the Arabs guns and machine-guns,
landing parties and technical help, with unlimited transport and naval
co-operation, always making a real pleasure of requests, and fulfilling
them in overflowing measure.

Had it not been for Admiral Wemyss' good will, and prescience, and the
admirable way in which Captain Boyle carried out his wishes, the
jealousy of Sir Archibald Murray might have wrecked the Sherifs
rebellion at its start. As it was, Sir Rosslyn Wemyss acted godfather
till the Arabs were on their feet; when he went to London; and Allenby,
coming out fresh to Egypt, found the Arabs a factor on his battle
front, and put the energies and resources of the Army at their
disposal. This was opportune, and a fortunate twist of the whirligig;
for Admiral Wemyss' successor in the naval command in Egypt was not
considered helpful by the other services, though apparently he treated
them no worse than he treated his own subordinates. A hard task, of
course, to succeed Wemyss.

In Port Sudan we saw two British officers of the Egyptian Army waiting
to embark for Rabegh. They were to command the Egyptian troops in
Hejaz, and to do their best to help Aziz el Masri organize the Arab
Regular Force which was going to end the war from Rabegh. This was my
first meeting with Joyce and Davenport, the two Englishmen to whom the
Arab cause owed the greater part of its foreign debt of gratitude.
Joyce worked for long beside me. Of Davenport's successes in the south
we heard by constant report.

Khartum felt cool after Arabia, and nerved me to show Sir Reginald
Wingate my long reports written in those days of waiting at Yenbo. I
urged that the situation seemed full of promise. The main need was
skilled assistance; and the campaign should go prosperously if some
regular British officers, professionally competent and speaking Arabic,
were attached to the Arab leaders as technical advisers, to keep us in
proper touch.

Wingate was glad to hear a hopeful view. The Arab Revolt had been his
dream for years. While I was at Khartum chance gave him the power to
play the main part in it; for the workings against Sir Henry McMahon
came to a head, were successful, and ended in his recall to England.
Sir Reginald Wingate was ordered down to Egypt in his stead. So after
two or three comfortable days in Khartum, resting and reading the MORTE
D'ARTHUR in the hospitable palace, I went down towards Cairo, feeling
that the responsible person had all my news. The Nile trip became a
holiday.

Egypt was, as usual, in the throes of a Rabegh question. Some
aeroplanes were being sent there; and it was being argued whether to
send a brigade of troops after them or not. The head of the French
Military Mission at Jidda, Colonel Bremond (Wilson's counterpart, but
with more authority; for he was a practising light in native warfare, a
success in French Africa, and an ex-chief of staff of a Corps on the
Somme) strongly urged the landing of Allied forces in Hejaz. To tempt
us he had brought to Suez some artillery, some machine-guns, and some
cavalry and infantry, all Algerian Moslem rank and file, with French
officers. These added to the British troops would give the force an
international flavour.

Bremond's specious appreciation of the danger of the state of affairs
in Arabia gained upon Sir Reginald. Wingate was a British General,
commander of a nominal expeditionary force, the Hejaz Force, which in
reality comprised a few liaison officers and a handful of storemen and
instructors. If Bremond got his way he would be G.O.C. of a genuine
brigade of mixed British and French troops, with all its pleasant
machinery of responsibility and despatches, and its prospect of
increment and official recognition. Consequently he wrote a guarded
despatch, half-tending towards direct interference.

As my experience of Arab feeling in the Harb country had given me
strong opinions on the Rabegh question (indeed, most of my opinions
were strong), I wrote for General Clayton, to whose Arab Bureau I was
now formally transferred, a violent memorandum on the whole subject.
Clayton was pleased with my view that the tribes might defend Rabegh
for months if lent advice and guns, but that they would certainly
scatter to their tents again as soon as they heard of the landing of
foreigners in force. Further, that the intervention-plans were
technically unsound, for a brigade would be quite insufficient to
defend the position, to forbid the neighbouring water-supplies to the
Turks, and to block their road towards Mecca. I accused Colonel Bremond
of having motives of his own, not military, nor taking account of Arab
interests and of the importance of the revolt to us; and quoted his
words and acts in Hejaz as evidence against him. They gave just
plausible colour to my charge.

Clayton took the memorandum to Sir Archibald Murray, who, liking its
acidity and force, promptly wired it all home to London as proof that
the Arab experts asking this sacrifice of valuable troops from him were
divided about its wisdom and honesty, even in their own camp. London
asked for explanations; and the atmosphere slowly cleared, though in a
less acute form the Rabegh question lingered for two months more.

My popularity with the Staff in Egypt, due to the sudden help I had
lent to Sir Archibald's prejudices, was novel and rather amusing. They
began to be polite to me, and to say that I was observant, with a
pungent style, and character. They pointed out how good of them it was
to spare me to the Arab cause in its difficulties. I was sent for by
the Commander-in-Chief, but on my way to him was intercepted by a
waiting and agitated aide, and led first into the presence of the Chief
of Staff, General Lynden Bell. To such an extent had he felt it his
duty to support Sir Archibald in his whimsies that people generally
confounded the two as one enemy. So I was astonished when, as I came
in, he jumped to his feet, leaped forward, and gripped me by the
shoulder, hissing, 'Now you're not to frighten him: don't you forget
what I say!'

My face probably showed bewilderment, for his one eye turned bland and
he made me sit down, and talked nicely about Oxford, and what fun
undergrads had, and the interest of my report of life in Feisal's
ranks, and his hope that I would go back there to carry on what I had
so well begun, mixing these amiabilities with remarks of how nervous
the Commander-in-Chief was, and how worried about everything, and the
need there was for me to give him a reassuring picture of affairs, and
yet not a rosy picture, since they could not afford excursions either
way.

I was hugely amused, inwardly, and promised to be good, but pointed out
that my object was to secure the extra stores and arms and officers the
Arabs needed, and how for this end I must enlist the interest, and, if
necessary (for I would stick at nothing in the way of duty), even the
excitement of the Commander-in-Chief; whereupon General Lynden Bell
took me up, saying that supplies were his part, and in them he did
everything without reference, and he thought he might at once, here and
now, admit his new determination to do all he could for us.

I think he kept his word and was fair to us thereafter. I was very
soothing to his chief.





BOOK TWO. Opening the Arab Offensive




CHAPTERS XVII TO XXVII



MY CHIEFS WERE ASTONISHED AT SUCH FAVOURABLE NEWS, BUT PROMISED HELP,
AND MEANWHILE SENT ME BACK, MUCH AGAINST MY WILL, INTO ARABIA. I
REACHED FEISAL'S CAMP ON THE DAY THE TURKS CARRIED THE DEFENCES OF
JEBEL SUBH. BY THEIR SO DOING THE ENTIRE BASIS OF MY CONFIDENCE IN A
TRIBAL WAR WAS DESTROYED.

WE HAVERED FOR A WHILE BY FENBO, HOPING TO RETRIEVE THE POSITION: BUT
THE TRIBESMEN PROVED TO BE USELESS FOR ASSAULT, AND WE SAW THAT IF THE
REVOLT WAS TO ENDURE WE MUST INVENT A NEW PLAN OF CAMPAIGN AT ONCE.

THIS WAS HAZARDOUS, AS THE PROMISED BRITISH MILITARY EXPERTS HAD NOT
YET ARRIVED. HOWEVER, WE DECIDED THAT TO REGAIN THE INITIATIVE WE MUST
IGNORE THE MAIN BODY OF THE ENEMY, AND CONCENTRATE FAR OFF ON HIS
RAILWAY FLANK. THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS THIS WAS TO MOVE OUR BASE TO
WEJH: WHICH WE PROCEEDED TO DO IN THE GRAND MANNER.




CHAPTER XVII



Clayton a few days later told me to return to Arabia and Feisal. This
being much against my grain I urged my complete unfitness for the job:
said I hated responsibility--obviously the position of a conscientious
adviser would be responsible--and that in all my We objects had been
gladder to me than persons, and ideas than objects. So the duty of
succeeding with men, of disposing them to any purpose, would be doubly
hard to me. They were not my medium: I was not practised in that
technique. I was unlike a soldier: hated soldiering. Of course, I had
read the usual books (too many books), Clausewitz and Jomini, Mahan and
Foch, had played at Napoleon's campaigns, worked at Hannibal's tactics,
and the wars of Belisarius, like any other man at Oxford; but I had
never thought myself into the mind of a real commander compelled to
fight a campaign of his own.

Last of all I reminded Clayton, relevantly, that the Sirdar had
telegraphed to London for certain regular officers competent to direct
the Arab war. The reply was that they might be months arriving, and
meanwhile Feisal must be linked to us, and his needs promptly notified
to Egypt. So I had to go; leaving to others the Arab Bulletin I had
founded, the maps I wished to draw, and the file of the war-changes of
the Turkish Army, all fascinating activities in which my training
helped me; to take up a role for which I felt no inclination. As our
revolt succeeded, onlookers have praised its leadership: but behind the
scenes lay all the vices of amateur control, experimental councils,
divisions, whimsicality.

My journey was to Yenbo, now the special base of Feisal's army, where
Garland single-handed was teaching the Sherifians how to blow up
railways with dynamite, and how to keep army stores in systematic
order. The first activity was the better. Garland was an enquirer in
physics, and had years of practical knowledge of explosives. He had his
own devices for mining trains and felling telegraphs and cutting
metals; and his knowledge of Arabic and freedom from the theories of
the ordinary sapper-school enabled him to teach the art of demolition
to unlettered Beduin in a quick and ready way. His pupils admired a man
who was never at a loss.

Incidentally he taught me to be familiar with high explosive. Sappers
handled it like a sacrament, but Garland would shovel a handful of
detonators into his pocket, with a string of primers, fuse, and fusees,
and jump gaily on his camel for a week's ride to the Hejaz Railway. His
health was poor and the climate made him regularly ill. A weak heart
troubled him after any strenuous effort or crisis; but he treated these
troubles as freely as he did detonators, and persisted till he had
derailed the first train and broken the first culvert in Arabia.
Shortly afterwards he died.

Things in Hejaz had changed a good deal in the elapsed month. Pursuing
his former plan, Feisal had moved to Wadi Yenbo, and was trying to make
safe his rear before going up to attack the railway in the grand
manner. To relieve him of the burdensome Harb tribes, his young
half-brother Zeid was on the way up from Rabegh to Wadi Safra, as a
nominal subordinate of Sherif Ali. The advanced Harb clans were
efficiently harrying the Turkish communications between Medina and Bir
Abbas. They sent in to Feisal nearly every day a little convoy of captured
camels, or rifles picked up after an engagement, or prisoners, or
deserters.

Rabegh, shaken by the first appearance of Turkish aeroplanes on
November the seventh, had been reassured by the arrival of a flight of
four British aeroplanes, B.E. machines, under Major Ross, who spoke
Arabic so adeptly and was so splendid a leader that there could be no
two minds as to the wise direction of his help. More guns came in week
by week, till there were twenty-three, mostly obsolete, and of fourteen
patterns. Ali had about three thousand Arab infantry; of whom two
thousand were regulars in khaki, under Aziz el Masri. With them were
nine hundred camel corps, and three hundred Egyptian troops. French
gunners were promised.

Sherif Abdulla had at last left Mecca, on November the twelfth. A
fortnight later he was much where he had meant to be, south, east, and
north-east of Medina, able to cut off its supplies from Kasim and
Kuweit. Abdulla had about four thousand men with him, but only three
machine-guns, and ten inefficient mountain guns captured at Taif and
Mecca. Consequently he was not strong enough to carry out his further
plan of a concerted attack on Medina with Ah' and Feisal. He could only
blockade it, and for this purpose posted himself at Henakiyeh, a desert
place, eighty miles north-east of Medina, where he was too far away to
be very useful.

The matter of the stores in the Yenbo base was being well bandied.
Garland had left the checking and issuing of them to Abd el Kader,
Feisal's governor, who was systematic and quick. His efficiency was a
great comfort to us, since it enabled us to keep our attention on more
active things. Feisal was organizing his peasants, his slaves, and his
paupers into formal battalions, an irregular imitation of the new model
army of Aziz at Rabegh. Garland held bombing classes, fired guns,
repaired machine-guns, wheels, and harness, and was armourer for them
all. The feeling was busy and confident.

Feisal, who had not yet acted on our reminders of the importance of
Wejh, was imagining an expedition of the Juheina to take it. Meanwhile
he was in touch with the Billi, the numerous tribe with headquarters in
Wejh, and he hoped for support from them. Their paramount Sheikh,
Suleiman Rifada, was temporizing, being really hostile; for the Turks
had made him Pasha and decorated him; but his cousin Hamid was in arms
for the Sherif, and had just captured a gratifying little caravan of
seventy camels on the way from El Ula, with stores for the Turkish
garrison of Wejh. As I was starting for Kheif Hussein to press the Wejh
plan again on Feisal, news came in of a Turkish repulse near Bir ibn
Hassani. A reconnaissance of their cavalry and camel corps had been
pushed too far into the hills, and the Arabs had caught it and
scattered it. Better and better yet.




CHAPTER XVIII



So I made a happy start with my sponsor for the journey, Sherif Abd el
Kerim el Beidawi, half-brother of Mohammed, Emir of the Juheina, but,
to my astonishment, of pure Abyssinian type. They told me later that
his mother had been a slave-girl married by the old Emir late in life.
Abd el Kerim was a man of middle height, thin and coal black, but
debonaire, twenty-six years old; though he looked less, and had only a
tiny tuft of beard on his sharp chin. He was restless and active,
endowed with an easy, salacious humour. He hated the Turks, who had
despised him for his colour (Arabs had little colour-feeling against
Africans: it was the Indian who evoked their race-dislike), and was
very merry and intimate with me. With him were three or four of his
men, all well mounted; and we had a rapid journey, for Abd el Kerim was
a famous rider who took pride in covering his stages at three times the
normal speed. It was not my camel, and the weather was cool and
clouded, with a taste of rain. So I had no objection.

After starting, we cantered for three unbroken hours. That had shaken
down our bellies far enough for us to hold more food, and we stopped
and ate bread and drank coffee till sunset, while Abd el Kerim rolled
about his carpet in a dog-fight with one of the men. When he was
exhausted he sat up; and they told stories and japed, till they were
breathed enough to get up and dance. Everything was very free, very
good-tempered, and not at all dignified.

When we re-started, an hour's mad race in the dusk brought us to the
end of the Tehama, and to the foot of a low range of rock and sand. A
month ago, coming from Hamra, we had passed south of this: now we
crossed it, going up Wadi Agida, a narrow, winding, sandy valley
between the hills. Because it had run in flood a few days earlier, the
going was firm for our panting camels; but the ascent was steep and we
had to take it at walking pace. This pleased me, but so angered Abd el
Kerim, that when, in a short hour, we reached the watershed he thrust
his mount forward again and led us at break-neck speed down hill in the
yielding night (a fair road, fortunately, with sand and pebbles
underfoot) for half an hour, when the land flattened out, and we came
to the outlying plantations of Nakhl Mubarak, chief date-gardens of the
southern Juheina.

As we got near we saw through the palm-trees flame, and the flame-lit
smoke of many fires, while the hollow ground re-echoed with the roaring
of thousands of excited camels, and volleying of shots or shoutings in
the darkness of lost men, who sought through the crowd to rejoin their
friends. As we had heard in Yenbo that the Nakhl were deserted, this
tumult meant something strange, perhaps hostile. We crept quietly past
an end of the grove and along a narrow street between man-high mud
walls, to a silent group of houses. Abd el Kerim forced the courtyard
door of the first on our left, led the camels within, and hobbled them
down by the walls that they might remain unseen. Then he slipped a
cartridge into the breech of his rifle and stole off on tiptoe down the
street towards the noise to find out what was happening. We waited for
him, the sweat of the ride slowly drying in our clothes as we sat there
in the chill night, watching.

He came back after half an hour to say that Feisal with his camel corps
had just arrived, and we were to go down and join him. So we led the
camels out and mounted; and rode in file down another lane on a bank
between houses, with a sunk garden of palms on our right. Its end was
filled with a solid crowd of Arabs and camels, mixed together in the
wildest confusion, and all crying aloud. We pressed through them, and
down a ramp suddenly into the bed of Wadi Yenbo, a broad, open space:
how broad could only be guessed from the irregular lines of watch-fires
glimmering over it to a great distance. Also it was very damp; with
slime, the relic of a shallow flood two days before, yet covering its
stones. Our camels found it slippery under foot and began to move
timidly.

We had no opportunity to notice this, or indeed anything, just now,
except the mass of Feisal's army, filling the valley from side to side.
There were hundreds of fires of thorn-wood, and round them were Arabs
making coffee or eating, or sleeping muffled like dead men in their
cloaks, packed together closely in the confusion of camels. So many
camels in company made a mess indescribable, couched as they were or
tied down all over the camping ground, with more ever coming in, and
the old ones leaping up on three legs to join them, roaring with hunger
and agitation. Patrols were going out, caravans being unloaded, and
dozens of Egyptian mules bucking angrily over the middle of the scene.

We ploughed our way through this din, and in an island of calm at the
very centre of the valley bed found Sherif Feisal. We halted our camels
by his side. On his carpet, spread barely over the stones, he was
sitting between Sherif Sharraf, the Kaimmakam both of the Imaret and of
Taif, his cousin, and Maulud, the rugged, slashing old Mesopotamian
patriot, now acting as his A.D.C. In front of him knelt a secretary
taking down an order, and beyond him another reading reports aloud by
the light of a silvered lamp which a slave was holding. The night was
windless, the air heavy, and the unshielded flame poised there stiff
and straight.

Feisal, quiet as ever, welcomed me with a smile until he could finish
his dictation. After it he apologized for my disorderly reception, and
waved the slaves back to give us privacy. As they retired with the
onlookers, a wild camel leaped into the open space in front of us,
plunging and trumpeting. Maulud dashed at its head to drag it away; but
it dragged him instead; and, its load of grass ropes for camel fodder
coming untied, there poured down over the taciturn Sharraf, the lamp,
and myself, an avalanche of hay. 'God be praised,' said Feisal gravely,
'that it was neither butter nor bags of gold.' Then he explained to me
what unexpected things had happened in the last twenty-four hours on
the battle front.

The Turks had slipped round the head of the Arab barrier forces in Wadi
Safra by a side road in the hills, and had cut their retreat. The Harb,
in a panic, had melted into the ravines on each side, and escaped
through them in parties of twos and threes, anxious for their
threatened families. The Turkish mounted men poured down the empty
valley and over the Dhifran Pass to Bir Said, where Ghalib Bey, their
commander, nearly caught the unsuspecting Zeid asleep in his tent.
However, warning came just in time. With the help of Sherif Abdulla ibn
Thawab, an old Harith campaigner, Emir Zeid held up the enemy attack
for long enough to get some of his tents and baggage packed on camels
and driven away. Then he escaped himself; but his force melted into a
loose mob of fugitives riding wildly through the night towards Yenbo.

Thereby the road to Yenbo was laid open to the Turks, and Feisal had
rushed down here only an hour before our arrival, with five thousand
men, to protect his base until something properly defensive could be
arranged. His spy system was breaking down: the Harb, having lost their
wits in the darkness, were bringing in wild and contradictory reports
from one side and another about the strength of the Turks and their
movements and intention. He had no idea whether they would strike at
Yenbo or be content with holding the passes from Wadi Yenbo into Wadi
Safra while they threw the bulk of their forces down the coast towards
Rabegh and Mecca. The situation would be serious either way: the best
that could happen would be if Feisal's presence here attracted them,
and caused them to lose more days trying to catch his field army while
we strengthened Yenbo. Meanwhile, he was doing all he could, quite
cheerfully; so I sat down and listened to the news; or to the
petitions, complaints and difficulties being brought in and settled by
him summarily.

Sharraf beside me worked a busy tooth-stick back and forward along his
gleaming jaws, speaking only once or twice an hour, in reproof of
too-urgent suitors. Maulud ever and again leaned over to me, round
Feisal's neutral body, eagerly repeating for our joint benefit any word of
a report which might be turned to favour the launching of an instant and
formal counter-attack.

This lasted till half-past four in the morning. It grew very cold as
the damp of the valley rose through the carpet and soaked our clothes.
The camp gradually stilled as the tired men and animals went one by one
to sleep; a white mist collected softly over them and in it the fires
became slow pillars of smoke. Immediately behind us, rising out of the
bed of mist, Jebel Rudhwa, more steep and rugged than ever, was brought
so close by the hushed moonlight that it seemed hanging over our heads.

Feisal at last finished the urgent work. We ate half-a-dozen dates, a
frigid comfort, and curled up on the wet carpet. As I lay there in a
shiver, I saw the Biasha guards creep up and spread their cloaks gently
over Feisal, when they were sure that he was sleeping.

An hour later we got up stiffly in the false dawn (too cold to go on
pretending and lying down) and the slaves lit a fire of palm-ribs to
warm us, while Sharraf and myself searched for food and fuel enough for
the moment. Messengers were still coming in from all sides with evil
rumours of an immediate attack; and the camp was not far off panic. So
Feisal decided to move to another position, partly because we should be
washed out of this one if it rained anywhere in the hills, and partly
to occupy his men's minds and work off their restlessness.

When his drums began to beat, the camels were loaded hurriedly. After
the second signal everyone leaped into the saddle and drew off to left
or right, leaving a broad lane up which Feisal rode, on his mare, with
Sharraf a pace behind him, and then Ali, the standard-bearer, a
splendid wild man from Nejd, with his hawk's face framed in long plaits
of jet-black hair falling downward from his temples. Ali was dressed
garishly, and rode a tall camel. Behind him were all the mob of sherifs
and sheikhs and slaves--and myself--pell-mell. There were eight hundred
in the bodyguard that morning.

Feisal rode up and down looking for a place to camp, and at last
stopped on the further side of a little open valley just north of Nakhl
Mubarak village; though the houses were so buried in the trees that few
of them could be seen from outside. On the south bank of this valley,
beneath some rocky knolls, Feisal pitched his two plain tents. Sharraf
had his personal tent also; and some of the other chiefs came and lived
by us. The guard put up their booths and shelters; and the Egyptian
gunners halted lower down on our side, and dressed their twenty tents
beautifully in line, to look very military. So in a little while we
were populous, if hardly imposing in detail.




CHAPTER XIX



We stayed here two days, most of which I spent in Feisal's company, and
so got a deeper experience of his method of command, at an interesting
season when the morale of his men was suffering heavily from the scare
reports brought in, and from the defection of the Northern Harb.
Feisal, fighting to make up their lost spirits, did it most surely by
lending of his own to everyone within reach. He was accessible to all
who stood outside his tent and waited for notice; and he never cut
short petitions, even when men came in chorus with their grief in a
song of many verses, and sang them around us in the dark. He listened
always, and, if he did not settle the case himself, called Sharraf or
Faiz to arrange it for him. This extreme patience was a further lesson
to me of what native headship in Arabia meant.

His self-control seemed equally great. When Mirzuk el Tikheimi, his
guest-master, came in from Zeid to explain the shameful story of their
rout, Feisal just laughed at him in public and sent him aside to wait
while he saw the sheikhs of the Harb and the Ageyl whose carelessness
had been mainly responsible for the disaster. These he rallied gently,
chaffing them for having done this or that, for having inflicted such
losses, or lost so much. Then he called back Mirzuk and lowered the
tent-flap: a sign that there was private business to be done. I thought
of the meaning of Feisal's name (the sword flashing downward in the
stroke) and feared a scene, but he made room for Mirzuk on his carpet,
and said, 'Come! tell us more of your 'nights' and marvels of the
battle: amuse us.' Mirzuk, a good-looking, clever lad (a little too
sharp-featured) falling into the spirit of the thing, began, in his
broad, Ateibi twang, to draw for us word-pictures of young Zeid in
flight; of the terror of Ibn Thawab, that famous brigand; and, ultimate
disgrace, of how the venerable el Hussein, father of Sherif Ali, the
Harithi, had lost his coffee-pots!

Feisal, in speaking, had a rich musical voice, and used it carefully
upon his men. To them he talked in tribal dialect, but with a curious,
hesitant manner, as though faltering painfully among phrases, looking
inward for the just word. His thought, perhaps, moved only by a little
in front of his speech, for the phrases at last chosen were usually the
simplest, which gave an effect emotional and sincere. It seemed
possible, so thin was the screen of words, to see the pure and the very
brave spirit shining out.

At other times he was full of humour--that invariable magnet of Arab
goodwill. He spoke one night to the Rifaa sheikhs when he sent them
forward to occupy the plain this side of Bir el Fagir, a tangled
country of acacia and tamarisk thickets on the imperceptible watershed
of the long depression uniting Bruka and Bir Said. He told them gently
that the Turks were coming on, and that it was their duty to hold them
up and give God the credit of their victory; adding that this would
become impossible if they went to sleep. The old men--and in Arabia
elders mattered more than youths--broke out into delighted speech, and,
after saying that God would give him a victory, or rather two
victories, capped their wishes with a prayer that his life might be
prolonged in the accumulation of an unprecedented number of victories.
What was better, they kept effective watch all night, in the strength
of his exhortation.

The routine of our life in camp was simple. Just before daybreak the
army Imam used to climb to the head of the little hill above the
sleeping army, and thence utter an astounding call to prayer. His voice
was harsh and very powerful, and the hollow, like a sounding-board,
threw echoes at the hills which returned them with indignant interest.
We were effectually roused, whether we prayed or cursed. As soon as he
ended, Feisal's Imam cried gently and musically from just outside the
tent. In a minute, one of Feisal's five slaves (all freed men, but
refusing discharge till it was their pleasure: since it was good and
not unprofitable to be my lord's servant) came round to Sharraf and
myself with sweetened coffee. Sugar for the first cup in the chill of
dawn was considered fit.

An hour or so later, the flap of Feisal's sleeping tent would be thrown
back: his invitation to callers from the household. There would be four
or five present; and after the morning's news a tray of breakfast would
be carried in. The staple of this was dates in Wadi Yenbo; sometimes
Feisal's Circassian grandmother would send him a box of her famous
spiced cakes from Mecca; and sometimes Hejris, the body slave, would
give us odd biscuits and cereals of his own trying. After breakfast we
would play with bitter coffee and sweet tea in alternation, while
Feisal's correspondence was dealt with by dictation to his secretaries.
One of these was Faiz el Ghusein the adventurous; another was the Imam,
a sad-faced person made conspicuous in the army by the baggy umbrella
hanging from his saddle-bow. Occasionally a man was given private
audience at this hour, but seldom; as the sleeping tent was strictly
for the Sherif's own use. It was an ordinary bell tent, furnished with
cigarettes, a camp-bed, a fairly good Kurd rug, a poor Shirazi, and the
delightful old Baluch prayer-carpet on which he prayed.

At about eight o'clock in the morning, Feisal would buckle on his
ceremonial dagger and walk across to the reception tent, which was
floored with two horrible kilims. Feisal would sit down at the end of
the tent facing the open side, and we with our backs against the wall,
in a semicircle out from him. The slaves brought up the rear, and
clustered round the open wall of the tent to control the besetting
suppliants who lay on the sand in the tent-mouth, or beyond, waiting
their turn. If possible, business was got through by noon, when the
Emir liked to rise.

We of the household, and any guests, then reassembled in the living
tent; and Hejris and Salem carried in the luncheon tray, on which were
as many dishes as circumstances permitted. Feisal was an inordinate
smoker, but a very light eater, and he used to make-believe with his
fingers or a spoon among the beans, lentils, spinach, rice, and sweet
cakes till he judged that we had had enough, when at a wave of his hand
the tray would disappear, as other slaves walked forward to pour water
for our fingers at the tent door. Fat men, like Mohammed Ibn Shefia,
made a comic grievance of the Emir's quick and delicate meals, and
would have food of their own prepared for them when they came away.
After lunch we would talk a little, while sucking up two cups of
coffee, and savouring two glasses full of syrup-like green tea. Then
till two in the afternoon the curtain of the living tent was down,
signifying that Feisal was sleeping, or reading, or doing private
business. Afterwards he would sit again in the reception tent till he
had finished with all who wanted him. I never saw an Arab leave him
dissatisfied or hurt--a tribute to his tact and to his memory; for he
seemed never to halt for loss of a fact, nor to stumble over a
relationship.

If there were time after second audience, he would walk with his
friends, talking of horses or plants, looking at camels, or asking
someone the names of the visible land features. The sunset prayer was
at times public, though Feisal was not outwardly very pious. After it
he saw people individually in the living tent, planning the night's
reconnaissances and patrols--for most of the field-work was done after
dark. Between six and seven there was brought in the evening meal, to
which all present in headquarters were called by the slaves. It
resembled the lunch, except the cubes of boiled mutton were sorted
through the great tray of rice, MEDFA EL SUHUR, the mainstay of
appetite. We observed silence till all had eaten.

This meal ended our day, save for the stealthy offering by a barefooted
slave of a tray of tea-glasses at protracted intervals. Feisal did not
sleep till very late, and never betrayed a wish to hasten our going. In
the evening he relaxed as far as possible and avoided avoidable work.
He would send out for some local sheikh to tell stories of the
district, and histories of the tribe and its genealogy; or the tribal
poets would sing us their war narratives: long traditional forms with
stock epithets, stock sentiments, stock incidents grafted afresh on the
efforts of each generation. Feisal was passionately fond of Arabic
poetry, and would often provoke recitations, judging and rewarding the
best verses of the night. Very rarely he would play chess, with the
unthinking directness of a fencer, and brilliantly. Sometimes, perhaps
for my benefit, he told stories of what he had seen in Syria, and
scraps of Turkish secret history, or family affairs. I learned much of
the men and parties in the Hejaz from his lips.




CHAPTER XX



Suddenly Feisal asked me if I would wear Arab clothes like his own
while in the camp. I should find it better for my own part, since it
was a comfortable dress in which to live Arab-fashion as we must do.
Besides, the tribesmen would then understand how to take me. The only
wearers of khaki in their experience had been Turkish officers, before
whom they took up an instinctive defence. If I wore Meccan clothes,
they would behave to me as though I were really one of the leaders; and
I might slip in and out of Feisal's tent without making a sensation
which he had to explain away each time to strangers. I agreed at once,
very gladly; for army uniform was abominable when camel-riding or when
sitting about on the ground; and the Arab things, which I had learned
to manage before the war, were cleaner and more decent in the desert.
Hejris was pleased, too, and exercised his fancy in fitting me out in
splendid white silk and gold-embroidered wedding garments which had
been sent to Feisal lately (was it a hint?) by his great-aunt in Mecca.
I took a stroll in the new looseness of them round the palm-gardens of
Mubarak and Bruka, to accustom myself to their feel.

These villages were pleasant little places, built of mud brick on the
high earth mounds encircling the palm-gardens. Nakhl Mubarak lay to the
north, and Bruka just south of it across a thorny valley. The houses
were small, mud-washed inside, cool, and very clean, furnished with a
mat or two, a coffee mortar, and food pots and trays. The narrow
streets were shaded by an occasional well-grown tree. The earth
embankments round the cultivated areas were sometimes fifty feet in
height, and had been for the most part artificially formed from the
surplus earth dug out between the trees, from household rubbish and
from stones gathered out of the Wadi.

The banks were to defend the crops from flood. Wadi Yenbo otherwise
would soon have filled the gardens, since these, to be irrigable, must
be below the valley floor. The narrow plots were divided by fences of
palm-ribs or by mud walls, with narrow streams of sweet water in raised
channels round them. Each garden gate was over water, with a bridge of
three or four parallel palm-logs built up to it for the passage of
donkeys or camels. Each plot had a mud sluice, scooped away when its
turn for watering came. The palms, regularly planted in ordered lines
and well cared for, were the main crop; but between them were grown
barley, radishes, marrows, cucumbers, tobacco and henna. Villages
higher up Wadi Yenbo were cool enough to grow grapes.

Feisal's stand in Nakhl Mubarak could in the nature of things only be a
pause, and I felt that I had better get back to Yenbo, to think
seriously about our amphibious defence of this port, the Navy having
promised its every help. We settled that I should consult Zeid, and act
with him as seemed best. Feisal gave me a magnificent bay camel for the
trip back. We marched through the Agida hills by a new road, Wadi
Messarih, because of a scare of Turkish patrols on the more direct
line. Bedr ibn Shefia was with me; and we did the distance gently in a
single stage of six hours, getting to Yenbo before dawn. Being tired
after three strenuous days of little sleep among constant alarms and
excitements I went straight to Garland's empty house (he was living on
board ship in the harbour) and fell asleep on a bench; but afterwards I
was called out again by the news that Sherif Zeid was coming, and went
down to the walls to see the beaten force ride in.

There were about eight hundred of them, quiet, but in no other way
mortified by their shame. Zeid himself seemed finely indifferent. As he
entered the town he turned and cried to Abd el Kadir, the Governor,
riding behind him, Why, your town is ruinous! I must telegraph to my
father for forty masons to repair the public buildings.' And this
actually he did. I had telegraphed to Captain Boyle that Yenbo was
gravely threatened, and Boyle at once replied that his fleet would be
there in time, if not sooner. This readiness was an opportune
consolation: worse news came along next day. The Turks, by throwing a
strong force forward from Bir Said against Nakhl Mubarak, had closed
with Feisal's levies while they were yet unsteady. After a short fight,
Feisal had broken off, yielded his ground, and was retreating here. Our
war seemed entering its last act. I took my camera, and from the
parapet of the Medina gate got a fine photograph of the brothers coming
in. Feisal had nearly two thousand men with him, but none of the
Juheina tribesmen. It looked like treachery and a real defection of the
tribes, things which both of us had ruled out of court as impossible.

I called at once at his house and he told me the history. The Turks had
come on with three battalions and a number of mule-mounted infantry and
camelry. Their command was in the hands of Ghalib Bey, who handled his
troops with great keenness, acting as he did under the eye of the Corps
Commander. Fakhru Pasha privately accompanied the expedition, whose
guide and go-between with the Arabs was Dakhil-Allah el Kadhi, the
hereditary law-giver of the Juheina, a rival of Sherif Mohammed Ali el
Beidawi, and after him the second man in the tribe.

They got across Wadi Yenbo to the groves of Bruka in their first onset,
and thus threatened the Arab communications with Yenbo. They were also
able to shell Nakhl Mubarak freely with their seven guns. Feisal was
not a whit dismayed, but threw out the Juheina on his left to work down
the great valley. His centre and right he kept in Nakhl Mubarak, and he
sent the Egyptian artillery to take post in Jebel Agida, to deny that
to the Turks. Then he opened fire on Bruka with his own two
fifteen-pounders.

Rasim, a Syrian officer, formerly a battery commander in the Turkish
Army, was fighting these two guns; and he made a great demonstration
with them. They had been sent down as a gift from Egypt, anyhow, old
rubbish thought serviceable for the wild Arabs, just as the sixty
thousand rifles supplied the Sherif were condemned weapons, relics of
the Gallipoli campaign. So Rasim had no sights, nor range-finder, no
range tables, no high explosive.

His distance might have been six thousand yards; but the fuses of his
shrapnel were Boer War antiquities, full of green mould, and, if they
burst, it was sometimes short in the air, and sometimes grazing.
However, he had no means of getting his ammunition away if things went
wrong, so he blazed off at speed, shouting with laughter at this
fashion of making war; and the tribesmen seeing the commandant so merry
took heart of grace themselves. 'By God,' said one, 'those are the real
guns: the Importance of their noise!' Rasim swore that the Turks were
dying in heaps; and the Arabs charged forward warmly, at his word.

Things were going well; and Feisal had the hope of a decisive success
when suddenly his left wing in the valley wavered, halted; finally it
turned its back on the enemy and retired tumultuously to the camping
ground. Feisal, in the centre, galloped to Rasim and cried that the
Juheina had broken and he was to save the guns. Rasim yoked up the
teams and trotted away to Wadi Agida, wherein the Egyptians were taking
counsel avidly with one another. After him streamed the Ageyl and the
Atban, the men of Ibn Shefia, the Harb and Biasha. Feisal and his
household composed the rear, and in deliberate procession they moved
down towards Yenbo, leaving the Juheina with the Turks on the
battlefield.

As I was still hearing of this sad end, and cursing with him the
traitor Beidawi brothers, there was a stir about the door, and Abd el
Kerim broke through the slaves, swung up to the dais, kissed Feisal's
head-rope in salutation, and sat down beside us. Feisal with a gasping
stare at him said, 'How?' and Abd el Kerim explained their dismay at
the sudden flight of Feisal, and how he with his brother and their
gallant men had fought the Turks for the whole night, alone, without
artillery, till the palm-groves became untenable and they too had been
driven through Wadi Agida. His brother, with half the manhood of the
tribe, was just entering the gate. The others had fallen back up Wadi
Yenbo for water.

'And why did you retire to the camp-ground behind us during the
battle?' asked Feisal. 'Only to make ourselves a cup of coffee,' said
Abd el Kerim. We had fought from sunrise and it was dusk: we were very
tired and thirsty.' Feisal and I lay back and laughed: then we went to
see what could be done to save the town.

The first step was simple. We sent all the Juheina back to Wadi Yenbo
with orders to mass at Kheif, and keep up a steady pressure on the
Turkish line of communications. They were also to push sniping parties
down the Agida hills. This diversion would hold up so many of the Turks
that they would be unable to bring against Yenbo a force superior in
number to the defenders, who in addition had the advantage of a good
position. The town on the top of its flat reef of coral rose perhaps
twenty feet above the sea, and was compassed by water on two sides. The
other two sides looked over flat stretches of sand, soft in places,
destitute of cover for miles, and with no fresh water upon them
anywhere. In daylight, if defended by artillery and machine-gun fire,
they should be impregnable.

The artillery was arriving every minute; for Boyle, as usual far better
than his word, had concentrated five ships on us in less than twenty-four
hours. He put the monitor M.31, whose shallow draught fitted her
for the job, in the end of the south-eastern creek of the harbour,
whence she could rake the probable direction of a Turkish advance with
her six-inch guns. Crocker, her captain, was very anxious to let off
those itching guns. The larger ships were moored to fire over the town
at longer range, or to rake the other flank from the northern harbour.
The searchlights of DUFFERIN and M.31 crossed on the plain beyond the
town.

The Arabs, delighted to count up the quantity of vessels in the
harbour, were prepared to contribute their part to the night's
entertainment. They gave us good hope there would be no further panic:
but to reassure them fully they needed some sort of rampart to defend,
mediaeval fashion: it was no good digging trenches, partly because the
ground was coral rock, and, besides, they had no experience of trenches
and might not have manned them confidently. So we took the crumbling,
salt-riddled wall of the place, doubled it with a second, packed earth
between the two, and raised them till our sixteenth-century bastions
were rifle-proof at least, and probably proof against the Turkish
mountain guns. Outside the bastions we put barbed wire, festooned
between cisterns on the rain catchments beyond the walls. We dug in
machine-gun nests in the best angles, and manned them with Feisal's
regular gunners. The Egyptians, like everyone else given a place in the
scheme, were gratifyingly happy. Garland was engineer-in-chief and
chief adviser.

After sun-down the town quivered with suppressed excitement. So long as
the day lasted there had been shouts and joy-shots and wild bursts of
frenzy among the workmen; but when dark came they went back to feed and
a hush fell. Nearly everyone sat up that night. There was one alarm
about eleven o'clock. Our outposts had met the enemy only three miles
outside the town. Garland, with a crier, went through the few streets,
and called the garrison. They tumbled straight out and went to their
places in dead silence without a shot or a loose shout. The seamen on
the minaret sent warning to the ships, whose combined searchlights
began slowly to traverse the plain in complex intersections, drawing
pencils of wheeling light across the flats which the attacking force
must cross. However, no sign was made and no cause given us to open
fire.

Afterwards, old Dakhil Allah told me he had guided the Turks down to
rush Yenbo in the dark that they might stamp out Feisal's army once for
all; but their hearts had failed them at the silence and the blaze of
lighted ships from end to end of the harbour, with the eerie beams of
the searchlights revealing the bleakness of the glacis they would have
to cross. So they turned back: and that night, I believe, the Turks
lost their war. Personally, I was on the SUVA, to be undisturbed, and
sleeping splendidly at last; so I was grateful to Dakhil Allah for the
prudence which he preached the Turks, as though we might perhaps have
won a glorious victory, I was ready to give much more for just that
eight hours' unbroken rest.




CHAPTER XXI



Next day the crisis had passed: the Turks had clearly failed. The
Juheina were active in their flank position from Wadi Yenbo. Garland's
architectural efforts about the town became impressive. Sir Archibald
Murray, to whom Feisal had appealed for a demonstration in Sinai to
prevent further withdrawals of Turks for service at Medina, sent back
an encouraging reply, and everybody was breathing easily. A few days
later Boyle dispersed the ships, promising another lightning
concentration upon another warning; and I took the opportunity to go
down to Rabegh, where I met Colonel Bremond, the great bearded chief of
the French Military Mission, and the only real soldier in Hejaz. He was
still using his French detachment in Suez as a lever to move a British
Brigade into Rabegh; and, since he suspected I was not wholly of his
party, he made an effort to convert me.

In the course of the argument which followed, I said something about
the need of soon attacking Medina; for, with the rest of the British, I
believed that the fall of Medina was a necessary preliminary to any
further progress of the Arab Revolt. He took me up sharply, saying that
it was in no wise proper for the Arabs to take Medina. In his view, the
Arab Movement had attained its maximum utility by the mere rebellion in
Mecca; and military operations against Turkey were better in the
unaided hands of Great Britain and France. He wished to land Allied
troops at Rabegh, because it would quench the ardour of the tribes by
making the Sherif suspect in their eyes. The foreign troops would then
be his main defence, and his preservation be our work and option, until
at the end of the war, when Turkey was defeated, the victorious Powers
could extract Medina by treaty from the Sultan, and confer it upon
Hussein, with the legal sovereignty of Hejaz, as his rewards for
faithful service.

I had not his light confidence in our being strong enough to dispense
with small allies; so I said shortly that my opinions were opposed to
his. I laid the greatest weight on the immediate conquest of Medina,
and was advising Feisal to seize Wejh, in order to prolong his threat
against the railway. In sum, to my mind, the Arab Movement would not
justify its creation if the enthusiasm of it did not carry the Arabs
into Damascus.

This was unwelcome to him; for the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 between
France and England had been drawn by Sykes for this very eventuality;
and, to reward it, stipulated the establishment of independent Arab
states in Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul, districts which would otherwise
fall to the unrestricted control of France. Neither Sykes nor Picot had
believed the thing really possible; but I knew that it was, and
believed that after it the vigour of the Arab Movement would prevent
the creation--by us or others--in Western Asia of unduly 'colonial'
schemes of exploitation.

Bremond took refuge in his technical sphere, and assured me, on his
honour as a staff-officer, that for Feisal to leave Yenbo and go to
Wejh was military suicide; but I saw no force in the arguments which he
threw at me volubly; and told him so. It was a curious interview, that,
between an old soldier and a young man in fancy dress; and it left a
bad taste in my mouth. The Colonel, like his countrymen, was a realist
in love, and war. Even in situations of poetry the French remained
incorrigible prose-writers, seeing by the directly-thrown light of
reason and understanding, not through the half-closed eye, mistily, by
things' essential radiance, in the manner of the imaginative British:
so the two races worked ill together on a great undertaking. However, I
controlled myself enough not to tell any Arab of the conversation, but
sent a full account of it to Colonel Wilson, who was shortly coming up
to see Feisal for a discussion of the Wejh prospect in all its
bearings.

Before Wilson arrived the centre of Turkish gravity changed abruptly.
Fakhri Pashi had seen the hopelessness of attacking Yenbo, or of
driving after the intangible Juheina in Kheif Hussein. Also he was
being violently bombed in Nakhl Mubarak itself by a pair of British
seaplanes which did hardy flights over the desert and got well into the
enemy on two occasions, despite their shrapnel.

Consequently he decided to fall back in a hurry on Bir Said, leaving a
small force there to check the Juheina, and to move down the Sultani
road towards Rabegh with the bulk of his men. These changes were no
doubt partly impelled by the unusual vigour of Ali at Rabegh. As soon
as Ali had heard of Zeid's defeat he had sent him reinforcements and
guns; and when Feisal himself collapsed he decided to move north with
all his army, to attack the Turks in Wadi Safra and draw them off
Yenbo. Ah' had nearly seven thousand men; and Feisal felt that if the
move was synchronized with one on his part, Fakhri's force might be
crushed between them in the hills. He telegraphed, suggesting this,
asking for a delay of a few days till his shaken men were ready.

Ali was strung up and would not wait. Feisal therefore rushed Zeid out
to Masahali in Wadi Yenbo to make preparations. When these were
complete he sent Zeid on to occupy Bir Said, which was done
successfully. He then ordered the Juheina forward in support. They
demurred; for ibn Beidawi was jealous of Feisal's growing power among
his tribes, and wanted to keep himself indispensable. Feisal rode
unattended to Nakhl Mubarak, and in one night convinced the Juheina
that he was their leader. Next morning they were all moving, while he
went on to collect the northern Harb on the Tasha Pass to interrupt the
Turkish retreat in Wadi Safra. He had nearly six thousand men; and if
Ali took the southern bank of the valley the weak Turks would be
between two fires.

Unfortunately it did not happen. When actually on the move he heard
from Ali that, after a peaceful recovery of Bir ibn Hassani, his men
had been shaken by false reports of disloyalty among the Subh, and had
fallen back in rapid disorder to Babegh.

In this ominous pause Colonel Wilson came up to Yenbo to persuade us of
the necessity of an immediate operation against Wejh. An amended plan
had been drawn up whereby Feisal would take the whole force of the
Juheina, and his permanent battalions, against Wejh with the maximum of
naval help. This strength would make success reasonably sure, but it
left Yenbo empty and defenceless. For the moment Feisal dreaded
incurring such a risk. He pointed out, not unreasonably, that the Turks
in his neighbourhood were still mobile; that Ali's force had proved
hollow, unlikely to defend even Babegh against serious attack; and
that, as Babegh was the bulwark of Mecca, sooner than see it lost he
must throw away Yenbo and ferry himself and men thither to die fighting
on its beach.

To reassure him, Wilson painted the Babegh force in warm colours.
Feisal checked his sincerity by asking for his personal word that the
Babegh garrison, with British naval help, would resist enemy attack
till Wejh fell. Wilson looked for support round the silent deck of the
DUFFERIN (on which we were conferring), and nobly gave the required
assurance: a wise gamble, since without it Feisal would not move; and
this diversion against Wejh, the only offensive in the Arabs' power,
was their last chance not so much of securing a convincing siege of
Medina, as of preventing the Turkish capture of Mecca. A few days later
he strengthened himself by sending Feisal direct orders from his
father, the Sherif, to proceed to Wejh at once, with all his available
troops.

Meanwhile the Babegh situation grew worse. The enemy in Wadi Safra and
the Sultani road were estimated at nearly five thousand men. The Harb
of the north were suppliant to them for preservation of their palm-groves.
The Harb of the south, those of Hussein Mabeirig, notoriously
waited their advance to attack the Sherifians in the rear. At a
conference of Wilson, Bremond, Joyce, Boss and others, held in Babegh
on Christmas Eve, it was decided to lay out on the beach by the
aerodrome a small position, capable of being held under the ship's guns
by the Egyptians, the Flying Corps and a seamen's landing party from
the MINERVA, for the few hours needed to embark or destroy the stores.
The Turks were advancing step by step; and the place was not in
condition to resist one well-handled battalion supported by field
artillery.

However, Fakhri was too slow. He did not pass Bir el Sheikh in any
force till near the end of the first week in January, and seven days
later was still not ready to attack Khoreiba, where Ali had an outpost
of a few hundred men. The patrols were in touch; and an assault was
daily expected, but as regularly delayed.

In truth the Turks were meeting with unguessed difficulties. Their
headquarters were faced by a heavy sick rate among the men, and a
growing weakness of the animals: both symptoms of overwork and lack of
decent food. Always the activity of the tribesmen behind their back
hampered them. Clans might sometimes fall away from the Arab cause, but
did not therefore become trustworthy adherents of the Turks, who soon
found themselves in ubiquitously hostile country. The tribal raids in
the first fortnight of January caused them average daily losses of
forty camels and some twenty men killed and wounded, with corresponding
expense in stores.

These raids might occur at any point from ten miles seaward of Medina
itself for the next seventy miles through the hills. They illustrated
the obstacles in the way of the new Turkish Army with its half-Germanized
complexity of equipment, when, from a distant railhead with no
made roads, it tried to advance through extremely rugged and hostile
country. The administrative developments of scientific war had clogged
its mobility and destroyed its dash; and troubles grew in geometrical
rather than arithmetical progression for each new mile its commanding
officers put between themselves and Medina, their ill-found, insecure
and inconvenient base.

The situation was so unpromising for the Turks that Fakhri was probably
half glad when the forthcoming sudden moves of Abdulla and Feisal in
the last days of 1916 altered the strategic conception of the Hejaz
war, and hurried the Mecca expedition (after January the eighteenth
1917) back from the Sultani and the Fara and the Gaha roads, back from
Wadi Safra, to hold a passive defence of trenches within sight of the
walls of Medina: a static position which endured till the Armistice
ended the war and involved Turkey in the dismal surrender of the Holy
City and its helpless garrison.




CHAPTER XXII



Feisal was a fine, hot workman, whole-heartedly doing a thing when he
had agreed to it. He had pledged his word that he would go at once to
Wejh; so he and I sat down together on new-year's day for consideration
of what this move meant to us and to the Turks. Around us, stretching
up and down the Wadi Yenbo for miles, in little groups round palm-gardens,
under the thicker trees, and in all the side tributaries, wherever
there was shelter from the sun and rain, or good grazing for the
camels, were the soldiers of our army. The mountaineers, half-naked
footmen, had grown few. Most of the six thousand present were mounted
men of substance. Their coffee hearths were outlined from afar by the
camel saddles, pitched in circles round the fire as elbow-rests for men
reclining between meals. The Arabs' physical perfection let them lie
relaxed to the stony ground like lizards, moulding themselves to its
roughness in corpse-like abandon.

They were quiet but confident. Some, who had been serving Feisal for
six months or more, had lost that pristine heat of eagerness which had
so thrilled me in Hamra; but they had gained experience in
compensation; and staying-power in the ideal was fatter and more
important for us than an early fierceness. Their patriotism was now
conscious; and their attendance grew more regular as the distance from
their tomes increased. Tribal independence of orders was still
maintained; but they had achieved a mild routine in camp life and on
the march. When the Sherif came near they fell into a ragged line, and
together made the bow and sweep of the arm to the lips, which was the
official salute. They did not oil their guns: they said lest the sand
clog them; also they had no oil, and it was better rubbed in to soften
wind-chaps on their skin; but the guns were decently kept, and some of
the owners could shoot at long range.

In mass they were not formidable, since they had no corporate spirit,
nor discipline nor mutual confidence. The smaller the unit the better
its performance. A thousand were a mob, ineffective against a company
of trained Turks: but three or four Arabs in their hills would stop a
dozen Turks. Napoleon remarked this of the Mamelukes. We were yet too
breathless to turn our hasty practice into principle: our tactics were
empirical snatchings of the first means to escape difficulty. But we
were learning like our men.

From the battle of Nakhl Mubarak we abandoned the brigading of Egyptian
troops with irregulars. We embarked the Egyptian officers and men,
after turning over their complete equipment to Rasim, Feisal's gunner,
and Abdulla el Deleimi, his machine-gun officer. They built up Arab
companies out of local material, with a stiffening of Turk-trained
Syrian and Mesopotamian deserters. Maulud, the fire-eating A.D.C.,
begged fifty mules off me, put across them fifty of his trained
infantrymen, and told them they were cavalry. He was a martinet, and a
born mounted officer, and by his spartan exercises the much-beaten
mule-riders grew painfully into excellent soldiers, instantly obedient
and capable of formal attack. They were prodigies in the Arab ranks. We
telegraphed for another fifty mules, to double the dose of mounted
infantry, since the value of so tough a unit for reconnaissance was
obvious.

Feisal suggested taking nearly all the Juheina to Wejh with him and
adding to them enough of the Harb and Billi, Ateiba and Ageyl to give
the mass a many-tribed character. We wanted this march, which would be
in its way a closing act of the war in Northern Hejaz, to send a rumour
through the length and breadth of Western Arabia. It was to be the
biggest operation of the Arabs in their memory; dismissing those who
saw it to their homes, with a sense that their world had changed
indeed; so that there would be no more silly defections and jealousies
of clans behind us in future, to cripple us with family politics in the
middle of our fighting.

Not that we expected immediate opposition. We bothered to take this
unwieldy mob with us to Wejh, in the teeth of efficiency and
experience, just because there was no fighting in the bill. We had
intangible assets on our side. In the first place, the Turks had now
engaged their surplus strength in attacking Rabegh, or rather in
prolonging their occupied area so as to attack Rabegh. It would take
them days to transfer back north. Then the Turks were stupid, and we
reckoned on their not hearing all at once of our move, and on their not
believing its first tale, and not seeing till later what chances it had
given them. If we did our march in three weeks we should probably take
Wejh by surprise. Lastly, we might develop the sporadic raiding
activity of the Harb into conscious operations, to take booty, if
possible, in order to be self-supporting; but primarily to lock up
large numbers of Turks in defence positions. Zeid agreed to go down to
Rabegh to organize similar pin-pricks in the Turks' rear. I gave him
letters to the captain of the DUFFERIN, the Yenbo guardship, which
would ensure him a quick passage down: for all who knew of the Wejh
scheme were agog to help it.

To exercise my own hand in the raiding genre I took a test party of
thirty-five Mahamid with me from Nakhl Mubarak, on the second day of
1917, to the old blockhouse-well of my first journey from Rabegh to
Yenbo. When dark came we dismounted, and left our camels with ten men
to guard them against possible Turkish patrols. The rest of us climbed
up Dhifran: a painful climb, for the hills were of knife-sharp strata
turned on edge and running in oblique lines from crest to foot. They
gave abundance of broken surface, but no sure grip, for the stone was
so minutely cracked that any segment would come away from its matrix,
in the hand.

The head of Dhifran was cold and misty, and time dragged till dawn. We
disposed ourselves in crevices of the rock, and at last saw the tips of
bell-tents three hundred yards away beneath us to the right, behind a
spur. We could not get a full view, so contented ourselves with putting
bullets through their tops. A crowd of Turks turned out and leaped like
stags into their trenches. They were very fast targets, and probably
suffered little. In return they opened rapid fire in every direction,
and made a terrific row; as if signalling the Hamra force to turn out
in their help. As the enemy were already more than ten to one, the
reinforcements might have prevented our retreat: so we crawled gently
back till we could rush down into the first valley, where we fell over
two scared Turks, unbuttoned, at their morning exercise. They were
ragged, but something to show, and we dragged them homeward, where
their news proved useful.

Feisal was still nervous over abandoning Yenbo, hitherto his
indispensable base, and the second sea-port of Hejaz: and when casting
about for further expedients to distract the Turks from its occupation
we suddenly remembered Sidi Abdulla in Henakiyeh. He had some five
thousand irregulars, and a few guns and machine-guns, and the
reputation of his successful (if too slow) siege of Taif. It seemed a
shame to leave him wasting in the middle of the wilderness. A first
idea was that he might come to Kheibar, to threaten the railway north
of Medina: but Feisal improved my plan vastly, by remembering Wadi Ais,
the historic valley of springs and palm-villages flowing through the
impregnable Juheina hills from behind Rudhwa eastward to the Hamdh
valley near Hedia. It lay just one hundred kilometres north of Medina,
a direct threat on Fakhri's railway communications with Damascus. From
it Abdulla could keep up his arranged blockade of Medina from the east,
against caravans from the Persian Gulf. Also it was near Yenbo, which
could easily feed him there with munitions and supplies.

The proposal was obviously an inspiration and we sent off Raja el
Khuluwi at once to put it to Abdulla. So sure were we of his adopting
it that we urged Feisal to move away from Wadi Yenbo northward on the
first stage to Wejh, without waiting a reply.




CHAPTER XXIII



He agreed, and we took the wide upper road through Wadi Messarih, for
Owais, a group of wells about fifteen miles to the north of Yenbo. The
hills were beautiful to-day. The rains of December had been abundant,
and the warm sun after them had deceived the earth into believing it
was spring. So a thin grass had come up in all the hollows and flat
places. The blades (single, straight and very slender) shot up between
the stones. If a man bent over from his saddle and looked downward he
would see no new colour in the ground; but, by looking forward, and
getting a distant slope at a flat angle with his eye, he could feel a
lively mist of pale green here and there over the surface of slate-blue
and brown-red rock. In places the growth was strong, and our
painstaking camels had become prosperous, grazing on it.

The starting signal went, but only for us and the Ageyl. The other
units of the army, standing each man by his couched camel, lined up
beside our road, and, as Feisal came near, saluted him in silence. He
called back cheerfully, 'Peace upon you', and each head sheikh returned
the phrase. When we had passed they mounted, taking the time from their
chiefs, and so the forces behind us swelled till there was a line of
men and camels winding along the narrow pass towards the watershed for
as far back as the eye reached.

Feisal's greetings had been the only sounds before we reached the crest
of the rise where the valley opened out and became a gentle forward
slope of soft shingle and flint bedded in sand: but there ibn Dakhil,
the keen sheikh of Russ, who had raised this contingent of Ageyl two
years before to aid Turkey, and had brought it over with him intact to
the Sherif when the revolt came, dropped back a pace or two, marshalled
our following into a broad column of ordered ranks, and made the drums
strike up. Everyone burst out singing a full-throated song in honour of
Emir Feisal and his family.

The march became rather splendid and barbaric. First rode Feisal in
white, then Sharraf at his right in red head-cloth and henna-dyed tunic
and cloak, myself on his left in white and scarlet, behind us three
banners of faded crimson silk with gilt spikes, behind them the
drummers playing a march, and behind them again the wild mass of twelve
hundred bouncing camels of the bodyguard, packed as closely as they
could move, the men in every variety of coloured clothes and the camels
nearly as brilliant in their trappings. We filled the valley to its
banks with our flashing stream.

At the mouth of Messarih, a messenger rode up with letters to Feisal
from Abd el Kader, in Yenbo. Among them was one three days old for me
from the DUFFERIN to say that she would not embark Zeid till she had
seen me and heard details of the local situation. She was in the Sherm,
a lonely creek eight miles up the coast from the port, where the
officers could play cricket on the beach without the plague of flies
pervading Yenbo. Of course, they cut themselves off from news by
staying so far away: it was a point of old friction between us. Her
well-meaning commander had not the breadth of Boyle, the fiery
politician and revolutionary constitutionalist, nor the brain of
Linberry, of the HARDINGE, who filled himself with the shore gossip of
every port he touched, and who took pains to understand the nature of
all classes on his beat.

Apparently I had better race off to DUFFERIN and regulate affairs. Zeid
was a nice fellow, but would assuredly do something quaint in his
enforced holiday; and we needed peace just then. Feisal sent some Ageyl
with me and we made speed for Yenbo: indeed, I got there in three
hours, leaving my disgusted escort (who said they would wear out
neither camels nor bottoms for my impatience) half way back on the road
across the plain so wearily well known to me. The sun, which had been
delightful overhead in the hills, now, in the evening, shone straight
into our faces with a white fury, before which I had to press my hand
as shield over my eyes. Feisal had given me a racing camel (a present
from the Emir of Nejd to his father), the finest and roughest animal I
had ridden. Later she died of overwork, mange, and necessary neglect on
the road to Akaba.

On arrival in Yenbo things were not as expected. Zeid had been
embarked, and the DUFFERIN had started that morning for Rabegh. So I
sat down to count what we needed of naval help on the way to Wejh, and
to scheme out means of transport. Feisal had promised to wait at Owais
till he got my report that everything was ready.

The first check was a conflict between the civil and military powers.
Abd el Kader, the energetic but temperamental governor, had been
cluttered up with duties as our base grew in size, till Feisal added to
him a military commandant, Tewfik Bey, a Syrian from Horns, to care for
ordnance stores. Unfortunately, there was no arbiter to define ordnance
stores. That morning they fell out over empty arms-chests. Abd el Kadir
locked the store and went to lunch. Tewfik came down to the quay with
four men, a machine-gun and a sledge hammer, and opened the door. Abd
el Kader got into a boat, rowed out to the British guardship--the tiny
ESPIEGLE--and told her embarrassed but hospitable captain that he had
come to stay. His servant brought him food from the shore and he slept
the night in a camp-bed on the quarter-deck.

I wanted to hurry, so began to solve the deadlock by making Abd el
Kadir write to Feisal for his decision and by making Tewfik hand over
the store to me. We brought the trawler ARETHUSA near the sloop, that
Abd el Kader might direct the loading of the disputed chests from his
ship, and lastly brought Tewfik off to the ESPIEGLE for a temporary
reconciliation. It was made easy by an accident, for, as Tewfik saluted
his guard of honour at the gangway (not strictly regular, this guard,
but politic), his face beamed and he said: This ship captured me at
Kurna, pointing to the trophy of the nameplate of the Turkish gunboat
MARMARIS, which the ESPIEGLE had sunk in action on the Tigris. Abd el
Kadir was as interested in the tale as Tewfik, and the trouble ceased.

Sharraf came into Yenbo next day as Emir, in Feisal's place. He was a
powerful man, perhaps the most capable of all the Sherifs in the army,
but devoid of ambition: acting out of duty, not from impulse. He was
rich, and had been for years chief justice of the Sherifs court. He
knew and handled tribesmen better than any man, and they feared him,
for he was severe and impartial, and his face was sinister, with a left
eyebrow which drooped (the effect of an old blow) and gave him an air
of forbidding hardness. The surgeon of the SUVA operated on the eye and
repaired much of the damage, but the face remained one to rebuke
liberties or weakness. I found him good to work with, very clear-headed,
wise and kind, with a pleasant smile-his mouth became soft then, while
his eyes remained terrible-and a determination to do fittingly, always.

We agreed that the risk of the fall of Yenbo while we hunted Wejh was
great, and that it would be wise to empty it of stores. Boyle gave me
an opportunity by signalling that either DUFFERIN or HARDINGE would be
made available for transport. I replied that as difficulties would be
severe I preferred HARDINGE! Captain Warren, whose ship intercepted the
message, felt it superfluous, but it brought along HARDINGE in the best
temper two days later. She was an Indian troop-ship, and her lowest
troop-deck had great square ports along the water level. Linberry
opened these for us, and we stuffed straight in eight thousand rifles,
three million rounds of ammunition, thousands of shells, quantities of
rice and flour, a shed-full of uniforms, two tons of high explosive,
and all our petrol, pell-mell. It was like posting letters in a box. In
no time she had taken a thousand tons of stuff.

Boyle came in eager for news. He promised the HARDINGE as depot ship
throughout, to land food and water whenever needed, and this solved the
main difficulty. The Navy were already collecting. Half the Red Sea
Fleet would be present. The admiral was expected and landing parties
were being drilled on every ship. Everyone was dyeing white duck
khaki-coloured, or sharpening bayonets, or practising with rifles.

I hoped silently, in their despite, that there would be no fighting.
Feisal had nearly ten thousand men, enough to fill the whole Billi
country with armed parties and carry off everything not too heavy or
too hot. The Billi knew it, and were now profuse in their loyalties to
the Sherif, completely converted to Arab nationality.

It was sure that we would take Wejh: the fear was lest numbers of
Feisal's host die of hunger or thirst on the way. Supply was my
business, and rather a responsibility. However, the country to Urn
Lejj, half way, was friendly: nothing tragic could happen so far as
that: therefore, we sent word to Feisal that all was ready, and he left
Owais on the very day that Abdulla replied welcoming the Ais plan and
promising an immediate start thither. The same day came news of my
relief. Newcombe, the regular colonel being sent to Hejaz as chief of
our military mission, had arrived in Egypt, and his two staff officers,
Cox and Vickery, were actually on their way down the Red Sea, to join
this expedition.

Boyle took me to Um Lejj in the SUVA, and we went ashore to get the
news. The sheikh told us that Feisal would arrive to-day, at Bir el
Waheidi, the water supply, four miles inland. We sent up a message for
him and then walked over to the fort which Boyle had shelled some
months before from the FOX. It was just a rubble barrack, and Boyle
looked at the ruins and said: I'm rather ashamed of myself for smashing
such a potty place.' He was a very professional officer, alert,
businesslike and official; sometimes a little intolerant of easy-going
things and people. Red-haired men are seldom patient. 'Ginger Boyle',
as they called him, was warm.

While we were looking over the ruins four grey ragged elders of the
village came up and asked leave to speak. They said that some months
before a sudden two-funnelled ship had come up and destroyed their
fort. They were now required to re-build it for the police of the Arab
Government. Might they ask the generous captain of this peaceable
one-funnelled ship for a little timber, or for other material help towards
the restoration? Boyle was restless at their long speech, and snapped
at me, What is it? What do they want?' I said, 'Nothing; they were
describing the terrible effect of the FOX'S bombardment.' Boyle looked
round him for a moment and smiled grimly, 'It's a fair mess'.

Next day Vickery arrived. He was a gunner, and in his ten years'
service in the Sudan had learned Arabic, both literary and colloquial,
so well that he would quit us of all need of an interpreter. We
arranged to go up with Boyle to Feisal's camp to make the timetable for
the attack, and after lunch Englishmen and Arabs got to work and
discussed the remaining march to Wejh.

We decided to break the army into sections: and that these should
proceed independently to our concentration place of Abu Zereibat in
Hamdh, after which there was no water before Wejh; but Boyle agreed
that the HARDINGE should take station for a single night in Sherm
Habban--supposed to be a possible harbour--and land twenty tons of water
for us on the beach. So that was settled.

For the attack on Wejh we offered Boyle an Arab landing party of
several hundred Harb and Juheina peasantry and freed men, under Saleh
ibn Shefia, a negroid boy of good courage (with the faculty of
friendliness) who kept his men in reasonable order by conjurations and
appeals, and never minded how much his own dignity was outraged by them
or by us. Boyle accepted them and decided to put them on another deck
of the many-stomached HARDINGE. They, with the naval party, would land
north of the town, where the Turks had no post to block a landing, and
whence Wejh and its harbour were best turned.

Boyle would have at least six ships, with fifty guns to occupy the
Turks' minds, and a seaplane ship to direct the guns. We would be at
Abu Zereibat on the twentieth of the month: at Habban for the
HARDINGE'S water on the twenty-second: and the landing party should go
ashore at dawn on the twenty-third, by which time our mounted men would
have closed all roads of escape from the town.

The news from Rabegh was good; and the Turks had made no attempt to
profit by the nakedness of Yenbo. These were our hazards, and when
Boyle's wireless set them at rest we were mightily encouraged. Abdulla
was almost in Ais: we were half-way to Wejh: the initiative had passed
to the Arabs. I was so joyous that for a moment I forgot my self-control,
and said exultingly that in a year we would be tapping on the
gates of Damascus. A chill came over the feeling in the tent and my
hopefulness died. Later, I heard that Vickery had gone to Boyle and
vehemently condemned me as a braggart and visionary; but, though the
outburst was foolish, it was not an impossible dream, for five months
later I was in Damascus, and a year after that I was its DE FACTO
Governor.

Vickery had disappointed me, and I had angered him. He knew I was
militarily incompetent and thought me politically absurd. I knew he was
the trained soldier our cause needed, and yet he seemed blind to its
power. The Arabs nearly made shipwreck through this blindness of
European advisers, who would not see that rebellion was not war:
indeed, was more of the nature of peace--a national strike perhaps. The
conjunction of Semites, an idea, and an armed prophet held illimitable
possibilities; in skilled hands it would have been, not Damascus, but
Constantinople which was reached in 1918.




CHAPTER XXIV



Early next morning, having seen that the HARDINGE was unloading without
friction, I went ashore to Sheikh Yusuf, and found him helping his
Bisha police, the frightened villagers and a squad of old Maulud's men
to throw a quick barricade across the end of the main street. He told
me that fifty wild mules, without halter or bridle or saddle, had been
loosed on shore that morning from a ship. By luck rather than skill
they had been stampeded into the market-place: the exits were now
safely barred, and there they must remain, ramping about the stalls,
till Maulud, to whom they were addressed, invented saddlery in the
wilderness. This was the second batch of fifty mules for the mounted
unit, and by the chance of our fear at Yenbo we, fortunately, had spare
ropes and bits enough for them on board the HARDINGE. So by noon the
shops were again open, and the damage paid for.

I went up to Feisal's camp, which was busy. Some of the tribes were
drawing a month's wages; all were getting eight days' food; tents and
heavy baggage were being stored; and the last arrangement for the march
being made. I sat and listened to the chatter of the staff: Faiz el
Ghusein, Beduin sheikh, Turkish official, chronicler of the Armenian
massacres, now secretary; Nesib el Bekri, Damascene land-owner, and
Feisal's host in Syria, now exiled from his country with a death-sentence
over him; Sami, Nesib's brother, graduate of the Law School, and
now assistant paymaster; Shefik el Eyr, ex-journalist, now assistant
secretary, a little white-faced man, and furtive, with a whispering
manner, honest in his patriotism, but in life perverse, and so a nasty
colleague.

Hassan Sharaf, the headquarters' doctor, a noble man who had put not
merely his life, but his purse to service in the Arab cause, was
plaintive with excess of disgust at finding his phials smashed and
their drugs confounded in the bottom of his chest. Shefik rallying him,
said, 'Do you expect a rebellion to be comfortable?' and the contrast
with the pale misery of their manner delighted us. In hardships the
humour of triteness outweighed a whole world of wit.

With Feisal in the evening we talked of the coming marches. The first
stage was short: to Semna, where were palm-groves and wells of abundant
water. After that there was choice of ways, to be determined only when
our scouts returned with reports as to ponded rainwater. By the coast,
the straight road, it was sixty dry miles to the next well, and our
multitude of footmen would find that long.

The army at Bir el Waheida amounted to five thousand one hundred
camel-riders, and five thousand three hundred men on foot, with four
Krupp mountain guns, and ten machine-guns: and for transport we had three
hundred and eighty baggage camels. Everything was cut to the lowest,
far below the standard of the Turks. Our start was set for January the
eighteenth just after noon, and punctually by lunch-time Feisal's work
was finished. We were a merry party: Feisal himself, relaxed after
responsibility, Abd el Kerim, never very serious, Sherif Jabar, Nasib
and Sami, Shefik, Hassan Sharaf and myself. After lunch the tent was
struck. We went to our camels, where they were couched in a circle,
saddled and loaded, each held short by the slave standing on its
doubled foreleg. The kettle drummer, waiting beside ibn Dakhil, who
commanded the bodyguard, rolled his drum seven or eight times, and
everything became still. We watched Feisal. He got up from his rug, on
which he had been saying a last word to Abd el Kerim, caught the
saddle-pommels in his hands, put his knee on the side and said aloud,
'Make God your agent'. The slave released the camel, which sprang up.
When it was on its feet Feisal passed his other leg across its back,
swept his skirts and his cloak under him by a wave of the arm, and
settled himself in the saddle.

As his camel moved we had jumped for ours, and the whole mob rose
together, some of the beasts roaring, but the most quiet, as trained
she-camels should be. Only a young animal, a male or ill-bred, would
grumble on the road, and self-respecting Beduins did not ride such,
since the noise might give them away by night or in surprise attacks.
The camels took their first abrupt steps, and we riders had quickly to
hook our legs round the front cantles, and pick up the head-stalls to
check the pace. We then looked where Feisal was, and tapped our mounts'
heads gently round, and pressed them on the shoulders with our bare
feet till they were in line beside him. Ibn Dakhil came up, and after a
glance at the country and the direction of march passed a short order
for the Ageyl to arrange themselves in wings, out to right and left of
us for two or three hundred yards, camel marching by camel in line as
near as the accidents underfoot permitted. The manoeuvre was neatly
done.

These Ageyl were Nejd townsmen, the youth of Aneyza, Boreida or Russ,
who had contracted for service as regular camel corps for a term of
years. They were young, from sixteen to twenty-five, and nice fellows,
large-eyed, cheery, a bit educated, catholic, intelligent, good
companions on the road. There was seldom a heavy one. Even in repose
(when most Eastern faces emptied themselves of life) these lads
remained keen-looking and handsome. They talked a delicate and elastic
Arabic, and were mannered, often foppish, in habit. The docility and
reasonableness of their town-bred minds made them look after themselves
and their masters without reiterated instructions. Their fathers dealt
in camels, and they had followed the trade from infancy; consequently
they wandered instinctively, like Beduin; while the decadent softness
in their nature made them biddable, tolerant of the harshness and
physical punishment which in the East were the outward proofs of
discipline. They were essentially submissive; yet had the nature of
soldiers, and fought with brains and courage when familiarly led.

Not being a tribe, they had no blood enemies, but passed freely in the
desert: the carrying trade and chaffer of the interior lay in their
hands. The gains of the desert were poor, but enough to tempt them
abroad, since the conditions of their home-life were uncomfortable. The
Wahabis, followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their
strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim there was but little
coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic
dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes or
ornaments. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical.

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little
more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the
votaries found their neighbours' beliefs cluttered with inessential
things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers.
Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body,
of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban
Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their
comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides
or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in
its excess of Tightness. Doubtless they must recur so long as the
causes--sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh
without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the
desert-dwellers.

However, this afternoon the Ageyl were not thinking of GOD, but of us,
and as ibn Dakhil ranged them to the right and left they fell eagerly
into rank. There came a warning patter from the drums and the poet of
the right wing burst into strident song, a single invented couplet, of
Feisal and the pleasures he would afford us at Wejh. The right wing
listened to the verse intently, took it up and sang it together once,
twice and three times, with pride and self-satisfaction and derision.
However, before they could brandish it a fourth time the poet of the
left wing broke out in extempore reply, in the same metre, in answering
rhyme, and capping the sentiment. The left wing cheered it in a roar of
triumph, the drums tapped again, the standard-bearers threw out their
great crimson banners, and the whole guard, right, left and centre,
broke together into the rousing regimental chorus,

I've lost Britain, and I've lost Gaul, I've lost Rome, and, worst of
all, I've lost Lalage--'

only it was Nejd they had lost, and the women of the Maabda, and their
future lay from Jidda towards Suez. Yet it was a good song, with a
rhythmical beat which the camels loved, so that they put down their
heads, stretched their necks out far and with lengthened pace shuffled
forward musingly while it lasted.

Our road to-day was easy for them, since it was over firm sand slopes,
long, slowly-rising waves of dunes, bare-backed, but for scrub in the
folds, or barren palm-trees solitary in the moist depressions.
Afterwards in a broad flat, two horsemen came cantering across from the
left to greet Feisal. I knew the first one, dirty old blear-eyed
Mohammed Ah' el Beidawi, Emir of the Juheina: but the second looked
strange. When he came nearer I saw he was in khaki uniform, with a
cloak to cover it and a silk head-cloth and head-rope, much awry. He
looked up, and there was Newcombe's red and peeling face, with
straining eyes and vehement mouth, a strong, humorous grin between the
jaws. He had arrived at Um Lejj this morning, and hearing we were only
just off, had seized Sheikh Yu-suf's fastest horse and galloped after
us.

I offered him my spare camel and an introduction to Feisal, whom he
greeted like an old school-friend; and at once they plunged into the
midst of things, suggesting, debating, planning at lightning speed.
Newcombe's initial velocity was enormous, and the freshness of the day
and the life and happiness of the Army gave inspiration to the march
and brought the future bubbling out of us without pain.

We passed Ghowashia, a ragged grove of palms, and marched over a
lava-field easily, its roughnesses being drowned in sand just deep enough
to smooth them, but not deep enough to be too soft. The tops of the
highest lava-piles showed through. An hour later we came suddenly to a
crest which dropped as a sand slope, abrupt and swept and straight
enough to be called a sand-cliff, into a broad splendid valley of
rounded pebbles. This was Semna, and our road went down the steep,
through terraces of palms.

The wind had been following our march, and so it was very still and
warm at bottom of the valley in lee of the great bank of sand. Here was
our water, and here we would halt till the scouts returned from seeking
rain-pools in front of us; for so Abd el Kerim, our chief guide, had
advised. We rode the four hundred yards across the valley and up the
further slopes till we were safe from floods, and there Feisal tapped
his camel lightly on the neck till she sank to her knees with a scrape
of shingle pushed aside, and settled herself. Hejris spread the carpet
for us, and with the other Sherifs we sat and jested while the coffee
was made hot.

I maintained against Feisal the greatness of Ibrahim Pasha, leader of
Milli-Kurds, in North Mesopotamia. When he was to march, his women rose
before dawn, and footing noiselessly overhead on the taut tentcloth,
unskewered the strips of it, while others beneath held and removed the
poles till all was struck and divided into camel-loads, and loaded.
Then they drove off, so that the Pasha awoke alone on his pallet in the
open air where at night he had lain down in the rich inner compartment
of his palace-tent.

He would get up at leisure and drink coffee on his carpet: and
afterwards the horses would be brought, and they would ride towards the
new camping ground. But if on his way he thirsted he would crisp his
fingers to the servants, and the coffee man would ride up beside him
with his pots ready and his brazier burning on a copper bracket of the
saddle, to serve the cup on the march without breaking stride; and at
sunset they would find the women waiting in the erected tent, as it had
been on the evening before.

To-day had a grey weather, so strange after the many thronging suns,
that Newcombe and I walked stooping to look where our shadows had gone,
as we talked of what I hoped, and of what he wanted.

They were the same thing, so we had brain-leisure to note Semna and its
fine groves of cared-for palms between little hedges of dead thorn;
with here and there huts of reed and palm-rib, to shelter the owners
and their families at times of fertilization and harvest. In the lowest
gardens and in the valley bed were the shallow wood-lined wells, whose
water was, they said, fairly sweet and never-failing: but so little
fluent that to water our host of camels took the night.

Feisal wrote letters from Semna to twenty-five leaders of the Billi and
Howeitat and Beni Atiyeh, saying that he with his army would be
instantly in Wejh and they must see to it. Mohammed Ali bestirred
himself, and since almost all our men were of his tribe, was useful in
arranging the detachments and detailing them their routes for the
morrow. Our water-scouts had come in, to report shallow pools at two
points well-spaced on the coast road. After cross-questioning them we
decided to send four sections that way, and the other five by the
hills: in such a fashion we thought we should arrive soonest and safest
at Abu Zereibat.

The route was not easy to decide with the poor help of the Musa
Juheina, our informants. They seemed to have no unit of time smaller
than the half-day, or of distance between the span and the stage; and a
stage might be from six to sixteen hours according to the man's will
and camel. Intercommunication between our units was hindered because
often there was no one who could read or write, in either. Delay,
confusion, hunger and thirst marred this expedition. These might have
been avoided had time let us examine the route beforehand. The animals
were without food for nearly three days, and the men marched the last
fifty miles on half a gallon of water, with nothing to eat. It did not
in any way dim their spirit, and they trotted into Wejh gaily enough,
hoarsely singing, and executing mock charges: but Feisal said that
another hot and barren midday would have broken both their speed and
their energy.

When business ended, Newcombe and I went off to sleep in the tent
Feisal had lent us as a special luxury. Baggage conditions were so hard
and important for us that we rich took pride in faring like the men,
who could not transport unnecessary things: and never before had I had
a tent of my own. We pitched it at the very edge of a bluff of the
foothills; a bluff no wider than the tent and rounded, so that the
slope went straight down from the pegs of the door-flap. There we found
sitting and waiting for us Abd el Kerim, the young Beidawi Sherif,
wrapped up to the eyes in his head-cloth and cloak, since the evening
was chill and threatened rain. He had come to ask me for a mule, with
saddle and bridle. The smart appearance of Maulud's little company in
breeches and puttees, and their fine new animals in the market at Um
Lejj, had roused his desire.

I played with his eagerness, and put him off, advancing a condition
that he should ask me after our successful arrival at Wejh; and with
this he was content. We hungered for sleep, and at last he rose to go,
but, chancing to look across the valley, saw the hollows beneath and
about us winking with the faint camp-fires of the scattered
contingents. He called me out to look, and swept his arm round, saying
half-sadly, 'We are no longer Arabs but a People'.

He was half-proud too, for the advance on Wejh was their biggest
effort; the first time in memory that the manhood of a tribe, with
transport, arms, and food for two hundred miles, had left its district
and marched into another's territory without the hope of plunder or the
stimulus of blood feud. Abd el Kerim was glad that his tribe had shown
this new spirit of service, but also sorry; for to him the joys of life
were a fast camel, the best weapons, and a short sharp raid against his
neighbour's herd: and the gradual achievement of Feisal's ambition was
making such joys less and less easy for the responsible.




CHAPTER XXV



During the morning it rained persistently; and we were glad to see more
water coming to us, and so comfortable in the tents at Semna that we
delayed our start till the sun shone again in the early afternoon. Then
we rode westward down the valley in the fresh light. First behind us
came the Ageyl. After them Abd el Kerim led his Gufa men, about seven
hundred of them mounted, with more than that number following afoot.
They were dressed in white, with large head-shawls of red and black
striped cotton, and they waved green palm-branches instead of banners.

Next to them rode Sherif Mohammed Ali abu Sharrain, an old patriarch
with a long, curling grey beard and an upright carriage of himself. His
three hundred riders were Ashraf, of the Aiaishi (Juheina) stock, known
Sherifs, but only acknowledged in the mass, since they had not
inscribed pedigrees. They wore rusty-red tunics henna-dyed, under black
cloaks, and carried swords. Each had a slave crouched behind him on the
crupper to help him with rifle and dagger in the fight, and to watch
his camel and cook for him on the road. The slaves, as befitted slaves
of poor masters, were very little dressed. Their strong, black legs
gripped the camels' woolly sides as in a vice, to lessen the shocks
inevitable on their bony perches, while they had knotted up their rags
of shirts into the plaited thong about their loins to save them from
the fouling of the camels and their staling on the march. Semna water
was medicinal, and our animals' dung flowed like green soup down their
hocks that day.

Behind the Ashraf came the crimson banner of our last tribal
detachment, the Rifaa, under Owdi ibn Zuweid, the old wheedling
sea-pirate who had robbed the Stotzingen Mission and thrown their
wireless and their Indian servants into the sea at Yenbo. The sharks
presumably refused the wireless, but we had spent fruitless hours dragging
for it in the harbour. Owdi still wore a long, rich, fur-lined German
officer's greatcoat, a garment little suited to the climate but, as he
insisted, magnificent booty. He had about a thousand men, three-quarters
of them on foot, and next him marched Rasim, the gunner commandant,
with his four old Krupp guns on the pack-mules, just as we had lifted
them from the Egyptian Army.

Rasim was a sardonic Damascene, who rose laughing to every crisis and
slunk about sore-headed with grievances when things went well. On this
day there were dreadful murmurings, for alongside him rode Abdulla el
Deleimi, in charge of machine-guns, a quick, clever, superficial but
attractive officer, much of the professional type, whose great joy was
to develop some rankling sorrow in Rasim till it discharged full blast
on Feisal or myself. To-day I helped him by smiling to Rasim that we
were moving at intervals of a quarter-day in echelon of sub-tribes.
Rasim looked over the new-washed underwood, where raindrops glistened
in the light of the sun setting redly across the waves below a ceiling
of clouds, and looked too at the wild mob of Beduins racing here and
there on foot after birds and rabbits and giant lizards and jerboas and
one another: and assented sourly, saying that he too would shortly
become a sub-tribe, and echelon himself half a day to one side or
other, and be quit of flies.

At first starting a man in the crowd had shot a hare from the saddle,
but because of the risk of wild shooting Feisal had then forbidden it,
and those later put up by our camels' feet were chased with sticks. We
laughed at the sudden commotion in the marching companies: cries, and
camels swerving violently, their riders leaping off and laying out
wildly with their canes to kill or to be pickers-up of a kill. Feisal
was happy to see the army win so much meat, but disgusted at the
shameless Juheina appetite for lizards and jerboas.

We rode over the flat sand, among the thorn trees, which here were
plentiful and large, till we came out on the sea-beach and turned
northward along a broad, well-beaten track, the Egyptian pilgrim road.
It ran within fifty yards of the sea, and we could go up it thirty or
forty singing files abreast. An old lava-bed half buried in sand jutted
out from the hills four or five miles inland, and made a promontory.
The road cut across this, but at the near side were some mud flats, on
which shallow reaches of water burned in the last light of the west.
This was our expected stage, and Feisal signalled the halt. We got off
our camels and stretched ourselves, sat down or walked before supper to
the sea and bathed by hundreds, a splashing, screaming, mob of fish-like
naked men of all earth's colours.

Supper was to look forward to, as a Juheina that afternoon had shot a
gazelle for Feisal. Gazelle meat we found better than any other in the
desert, because this beast, however barren the land and dry the
water-holes, seemed to own always a fat juicy body.

The meal was the expected success. We retired early, feeling too full:
but soon after Newcombe and myself had stretched out in our tent we
were quickened by a wave of excitement travelling up the lines; running
camels, shots, and shouts. A breathless slave thrust his head under the
flap crying, 'News! news! Sherif Bey is taken'. I jumped up and ran
through the gathering crowd to Feisal's tent, which was already beset
by friends and servants. With Feisal sat, portentously and unnaturally
collected in the din, Raja, the tribesman who had taken to Abdulla word
to move into Wadi Ais. Feisal was radiant, his eyes swollen with joy,
as he jumped up and shouted to me through the voices, 'Abdulla has
captured Eshref Bey'. Then I knew how big and good the event was.

Eshref was a notorious adventurer in the lower levels of Turkish
politics. In his boyhood, near his Smyrna home, he had been just a
brigand, but with years he became a revolutionary, and when he was
finally captured Abd el Hamid exiled him to Medina for five coloured
years. At first he was closely confined there, but one day he broke the
privy window and escaped to Shehad, the bibulous Emir, in his suburb of
Awali. Shahad was, as usual, at war with the Turks and gave him
sanctuary; but Eshref, finding ME dull, at last borrowed a fine mare
and rode to the Turkish barracks. On its square was the officer-son of
his enemy the Governor drilling a company of gendarmes. He galloped him
down, slung him across his saddle, and made away before the astonished
police could protest.

He took to Jebel Ohod, an uninhabited place, driving his prisoner
before him, calling him his ass, and lading upon him thirty loaves and
the skins of water necessary for their nourishment. To recover his son,
the Pasha gave Eshref liberty on parole and five hundred pounds. He
bought camels, a tent, and a wife, and wandered among the tribes till
the Young Turk revolution. Then he reappeared in Constantinople and
became a bravo, doing Enver's murders. His services earned the
appointment of inspector of refugee-relief in Macedonia, and he retired
a year later with an assured income from landed estate.

When war broke out he went down to Medina with funds, and letters from
the Sultan to Arabian neutrals; his mission being to open
communications with the isolated Turkish garrison in Yemen. His track
on the first stage of the journey had happened to cross Abdulla's, on
his way to Wadi Ais, near Kheibar, and some of the Arabs, watching
their camels during a midday halt, had been stopped by Eshref's men and
questioned. They said they were Heteym, and Abdulla's army a supply
caravan going to Medina. Eshref released one with orders to bring the
rest for examination, and this man told Abdulla of soldiers camped up
on the hill.

Abdulla was puzzled and sent horsemen to investigate. A minute later he
was startled by the sudden chatter of a machine-gun. He leaped to the
conclusion that the Turks had sent out a flying column to cut him off,
and ordered his mounted men to charge them desperately. They galloped
over the machine-gun, with few casualties, and scattered the Turks.
Eshref fled on foot to the hill-top. Abdulla offered a reward of a
thousand pounds for him; and near dusk he was found, wounded, and
captured by Sherif Fauzan el Harith, in a stiff fight.

In the baggage were twenty thousand pounds in coin, robes of honour,
costly presents, some interesting papers, and camel loads of rifles and
pistols. Abdulla wrote an exultant letter to Fakhri Pasha (telling him
of the capture), and nailed it to an uprooted telegraph pole between
the metals, when he crossed the railway next night on his unimpeded way
to Wadi Ais. Raja had left him there, camped in quiet and in ease. The
news was a double fortune for us.

Between the joyful men slipped the sad figure of the Imam, who raised
his hand. Silence fell for an instant. Hear me,' he said, and intoned
an ode in praise of the event, to the effect that Abdulla was
especially favoured, and had attained quickly to the glory which Feisal
was winning slowly but surely by hard work. The poem was creditable as
the issue of only sixteen minutes, and the poet was rewarded in gold.
Then Feisal saw a gaudy jewelled dagger at Raja's belt. Raja stammered
it was Eshref's. Feisal threw him his own and pulled the other off, to
give it in the end to Colonel Wilson. What did my brother say to
Eshref?' Is this your return for our hospitality?' While Eshref had
replied like Suckling, 'I can fight, Whether I am the wrong or right,
Devoutly!'

'How many millions did the Arabs get?' gasped greedy old Mohammed Ali,
when he heard of Abdulla to the elbows in the captured chest, flinging
gold by handfuls to the tribes. Raja was everywhere in hot demand, and
he slept a richer man that night, deservedly, for Abdulla's march to
Ais made the Medina situation sure. With Murray pressing in Sinai,
Feisal nearing Wejh, and Abdulla between Wejh and Medina, the position
of the Turks in Arabia became defensive only. The tide of our ill-fortune
had turned; and the camp seeing our glad faces was noisy until dawn.

Next day we rode easily. A breakfast suggested itself, upon our finding
some more little water-pools, in a bare valley flowing down from El
Sukhur, a group of three extraordinary hills like granite bubbles blown
through the earth. The journey was pleasant, for it was cool; there
were a lot of us; and we two Englishmen had a tent in which we could
shut ourselves up and be alone. A weariness of the desert was the
living always in company, each of the party hearing all that was said
and seeing all that was done by the others day and night. Yet the
craving for solitude seemed part of the delusion of self-sufficiency, a
factitious making-rare of the person to enhance its strangeness in its
own estimation. To have privacy, as Newcombe and I had, was ten
thousand times more restful than the open life, but the work suffered
by the creation of such a bar between the leaders and men. Among the
Arabs there were no distinctions, traditional or natural, except the
unconscious power given a famous sheikh by virtue of his
accomplishment; and they taught me that no man could be their leader
except he ate the ranks' food, wore their clothes, lived level with
them, and yet appeared better in himself.

In the morning we pressed towards Abu Zereibat with the early sun
incandescent in a cloudless sky, and the usual eye-racking dazzle and
dance of sunbeams on polished sand or polished flint. Our path rose
slightly at a sharp limestone ridge with eroded flanks, and we looked
over a sweeping fall of bare, black gravel between us and the sea,
which now lay about eight miles to the westward: but invisible.

Once we halted and began to feel that a great depression lay in front
of us; but not till two in the afternoon after we had crossed a basalt
outcrop did we look out over a trough fifteen miles across, which was
Wadi Hamdh, escaped from the hills. On the north-west spread the great
delta through which Hamdh spilled itself by twenty mouths; and we saw
the dark lines, which were thickets of scrub in the flood channels of
the dried beds, twisting in and out across the flat from the hill-edge
beneath us, till they were lost in the sun-haze thirty miles away
beyond us to our left, near the invisible sea. Behind Hamdh rose sheer
from the plain a double hill, Jebel Raal: hog-backed but for a gash
which split it in the middle. To our eyes, sated with small things, it
was a fair sight, this end of a dry river longer than the Tigris; the
greatest valley in Arabia, first understood by Doughty, and as yet
unexplored; while Raal was a fine hill, sharp and distinctive, which
did honour to the Hamdh.

Full of expectation we rode down the gravel slopes, on which tufts of
grass became more frequent, till at three o'clock we entered the Wadi
itself. It proved a bed about a mile wide, filled with clumps of ASLA
bushes, round which clung sandy hillocks each a few feet high. Their
sand was not pure, but seamed with lines of dry and brittle clay, last
indications of old flood levels. These divided them sharply into
layers, rotten with salty mud and flaking away, so that our camels sank
in, fetlock-deep, with a crunching noise like breaking pastry. The dust
rose up in thick clouds, thickened yet more by the sunlight held in
them; for the dead air of the hollow was a-dazzle.

The ranks behind could not see where they were going, which was
difficult for them, as the hillocks came closer together, and the
river-bed slit into a maze of shallow channels, the work of partial
floods year after year. Before we gained the middle of the valley
everything was over-grown by brushwood, which sprouted sideways from
the mounds and laced one to another with tangled twigs as dry, dusty
and brittle as old bone. We tucked in the streamers of our gaudy
saddle-bags, to prevent their being jerked off by the bushes, drew
cloaks tight over our clothes, bent our heads down to guard our eyes
and crashed through like a storm amongst reeds. The dust was blinding
and choking, and the snapping of the branches, grumbles of the camels,
shouts and laughter of the men, made a rare adventure.




CHAPTER XXVI



Before we quite reached the far bank the ground suddenly cleared at a
clay bottom, in which stood a deep brown water-pool, eighty yards long
and about fifteen yards wide. This was the flood-water of Abu Zereibat,
our goal. We went a few yards further, through the last scrub, and
reached the open north bank where Feisal had appointed the camp. It was
a huge plain of sand and flints, running to the very feet of Raal, with
room on it for all the armies of Arabia. So we stopped our camels, and
the slaves unloaded them and set up the tents; while we walked back to
see the mules, thirsty after their long day's march, rush with the
foot-soldiers into the pond, kicking and splashing with pleasure in the
sweet water. The abundance of fuel was an added happiness, and in
whatever place they chose to camp each group of friends had a roaring
fire--very welcome, as a wet evening mist rose eight feet out of the
ground and our woollen cloaks stiffened and grew cold with its silver
beads in their coarse woof.

It was a black night, moonless, but above the fog very brilliant with
stars. On a little mound near our tents we collected and looked over
the rolling white seas of fog. Out of it arose tent-peaks, and tall
spires of melting smoke, which became luminous underneath when the
flames licked higher into the clean air, as if driven by the noises of
the unseen army. Old Auda ibn Zuweid corrected me gravely when I said
this to him, telling me, 'It is not an army, it is a world which is
moving on Wejh'. I rejoiced at his insistence, for it had been to
create this very feeling that we had hampered ourselves with an
unwieldy crowd of men on so difficult a march.

That evening the Billi began to come in to us shyly, and swear fealty,
for the Hamdh Valley was their boundary. Amongst them Hamid el Bifada
rode up with a numerous company to pay his respects to Feisal. He told
us that his cousin, Suleiman Pasha, the paramount of the tribe, was at
Abu Ajaj, fifteen miles north of us, trying desperately for once to
make up the mind which had chopped and balanced profitably throughout a
long life. Then, without warning or parade, Sherif Nasir of Medina came
in. Feisal leaped up and embraced him, and led him over to us.

Nasir made a splendid impression, much as we had heard, and much as we
were expecting of him. He was the opener of roads, the forerunner of
Feisal's movement, the man who had fired his first shot in Medina, and
who was to fire our last shot at Muslimieh beyond Aleppo on the day
that Turkey asked for an armistice, and from beginning to end ALL that
could be told of him was good.

He was a brother of Shehad, the Emir of Medina. Their family was
descended from Hussein, the younger of Ali's children, and they were
the only descendants of Hussein considered Ashraf, not Saada. They were
Shias, and had been since the days of Kerbela, and in Hejaz were
respected only second to the Emirs of Mecca. Nasir himself was a man of
gardens, whose lot had been unwilling war since boyhood. He was now
about twenty-seven. His low, broad forehead matched his sensitive eyes,
while his weak pleasant mouth and small chin were clearly seen through
a clipped black beard.

He had been up here for two months, containing Wejh, and his last news
was that the outpost of Turkish camel corps upon our road had withdrawn
that morning towards the main defensive position.

We slept late the following day, to brace ourselves for the necessary
hours of talk. Feisal carried most of this upon his own shoulders.
Nasir supported him as second in command, and the Beidawi brothers sat
by to help. The day was bright and warm, threatening to be hot later,
and Newcombe and I wandered about looking at the watering, the men, and
the constant affluence of newcomers. When the sun was high a great
cloud of dust from the east heralded a larger party and we walked back
to the tents to see Mirzuk el Tikheimi, Feisal's sharp, mouse-featured
guest-master, ride in. He led his clansmen of the Juheina past the Emir
at a canter, to make a show. They stifled us with their dust, for his
van of a dozen sheikhs carrying a large red flag and a large white flag
drew their swords and charged round and round our tents. We admired
neither their riding nor their mares: perhaps because they were a
nuisance to us.

About noon the Wuld Mohammed Harb, and the mounted men of the ibn
Shefia battalion came in: three hundred men, under Sheikh Salih and
Mohammed ibn Shefia. Mohammed was a tubby, vulgar little man of
fifty-five, common-sensible and energetic. He was rapidly making a name
for himself in the Arab army, for he would get done any manual work. His
men were the sweepings of Wadi Yenbo, landless and without family, or
labouring Yenbo townsmen, hampered by no inherited dignity. They were
more docile than any other of our troops except the white-handed Ageyl
who were too beautiful to be made into labourers.

We were already two days behind our promise to the Navy, and Newcombe
decided to ride ahead this night to Habban. There he would meet Boyle
and explain that we must fail the HARDINGE at the rendezvous, but would
be glad if she could return there on the evening of the twenty-fourth,
when we should arrive much in need of water. He would also see if the
naval attack could not be delayed till the twenty-fifth to preserve the
joint scheme.

After dark there came a message from Suleiman Rifada, with a gift-camel
for Feisal to keep if he were friendly, and to send back if hostile.
Feisal was vexed, and protested his inability to understand so feeble a
man. Nasir asserted, 'Oh, it's because he eats fish. Fish swells the
head, and such behaviour follows'. The Syrians and Mesopotamians, and
men of Jidda and Yenbo laughed loudly, to shew that they did not share
this belief of the upland Arab, that a man of his hands was disgraced
by tasting the three mean foods--chickens, eggs and fish. Feisal said,
with mock gravity, 'You insult the company, we Wee fish'. Others
protested, We abandon it, and take refuge in God', and Mirzuk to change
the current said, 'Suleiman is an unnatural birth, neither raw nor
ripe'.

In the morning, early, we marched in a straggle for three hours down
Wadi Hamdh. Then the valley went to the left, and we struck out across
a hollow, desolate, featureless region. To-day was cold: a hard north
wind drove into our faces down the grey coast. As we marched we heard
intermittent heavy firing from the direction of Wejh, and feared that
the Navy had lost patience and were acting without us. However, we
could not make up the days we had wasted, so we pushed on for the whole
dull stage, crossing affluent after affluent of Hamdh. The plain was
striped with these wadies, all shallow and straight and bare, as many
and as intricate as the veins in a leaf. At last we re-entered Hamdh,
at Kurna, and though its clay bottoms held only mud, decided to camp.

While we were settling in there was a sudden rush. Camels had been seen
pasturing away to the east, and the energetic of the Juheina streamed
out, captured them, and drove them in. Feisal was furious, and shouted
to them to stop, but they were too excited to hear him. He snatched his
rifle, and shot at the nearest man; who, in fear, tumbled out of his
saddle, so that the others checked their course. Feisal had them up
before him, laid about the principals with his camel-stick, and
impounded the stolen camels and those of the thieves TILL the whole
tally was complete. Then he handed the beasts back to their Billi
owners. Had he not done so it would have involved the Juheina in a
private war with the Billi, our hoped-for allies of the morrow, and
might have checked extension beyond Wejh. Our success lay in bond to
such trifles.

Next morning we made for the beach, and up it to Habban at four
o'clock. The HARDINGE was duly there, to our relief, and landing water:
although the shallow bay gave little shelter, and the rough sea rolling
in made boat-work hazardous. We reserved first call for the mules, and
gave what water was left to the more thirsty of the footmen; but it was
a difficult night, and crowds of suffering men lingered jostling about
the tanks in the rays of the searchlight, hoping for another drink, if
the sailors should venture in again.

I went on board, and heard that the naval attack had been carried out
as though the land army were present, since Boyle feared the Turks
would run away if he waited. As a matter of fact, the day we reached
Abu Zereibat, Ahmed Tewflk Bey, Turkish Governor, had addressed the
garrison, saying that Wejh must be held to the last drop of blood. Then
at dusk he had got on to his camel and ridden off to the railway with
the few mounted men fit for flight. The two hundred infantry determined
to do his abandoned duty against the landing party; but they were
outnumbered three to one, and the naval gun-fire was too heavy to let
them make proper use of their positions. So far as the HARDINGE knew, the
fighting was not ended, but Wejh town had been occupied by seamen and
Saleh's Arabs.




CHAPTER XXVII



Profitable rumours excited the army, which began to trickle off
northward soon after midnight. At dawn we rallied the various
contingents in Wadi Miya, twelve miles south of the town, and advanced
on it in order, meeting a few scattered Turks, of whom one party put up
a short resistance. The Ageyl dismounted, to strip off their cloaks,
head-cloths and shirts; and went on in brown half-nakedness, which they
said would ensure clean wounds if they were hit: also their precious
clothes would not be damaged. Ibn Dakhil in command obtained a quiet
regularity of obedience. They advanced by alternate companies, in open
order, at intervals of four or five yards, with even-numbered companies
in support, making good use of the poor cover which existed.

It was pretty to look at the neat, brown men in the sunlit sandy
valley, with the turquoise pool of salt water in the midst to set off
the crimson banners which two standard bearers carried in the van. They
went along in a steady lope, covering the ground at nearly six miles an
hour, dead silent, and reached and climbed the ridge without a shot
fired. So we knew the work had been finished for us and trotted forward
to find the boy Saleh, son of ibn Shefia, in possession of the town. He
told us that his casualties had been nearly twenty killed; and later we
heard that a British lieutenant of the Air Service had been mortally
wounded in a seaplane reconnaissance, and one British seaman hurt in
the foot.

Vickery, who had directed the battle, was satisfied, but I could not
share his satisfaction. To me an unnecessary action, or shot, or
casualty, was not only waste but sin. I was unable to take the
professional view that all successful actions were gains. Our rebels
were not materials, like soldiers, but friends of ours, trusting our
leadership. We were not in command nationally, but by invitation; and
our men were volunteers, individuals, local men, relatives, so that a
death was a personal sorrow to many in the army. Even from the purely
military point of view the assault seemed to me a blunder.

The two hundred Turks in Wejh had no transport and no food, and if left
alone a few days must have surrendered. Had they escaped, it would not
have mattered the value of an Arab life. We wanted Wejh as a base
against the railway and to extend our front; the smashing and killing
in it had been wanton.

The place was inconveniently smashed. Its townspeople had been warned
by Feisal of the coming attack, and advised either to forestall it by
revolt or to clear out; but they were mostly Egyptians from Kosseir,
who preferred the Turks to us, and decided to wait the issue; so the
Shefia men and the Biasha found the houses packed with fair booty and
made a sweep of it. They robbed the shops, broke open doors, searched
every room, smashed chests and cupboards, tore down all fixed fittings,
and slit each mattress and pillow for hidden treasure; while the fire
of the fleet punched large holes in every prominent wall or building.

Our main difficulty was the landing of stores. The FOX had sunk the
local lighters and rowing boats and there was no sort of quay; but the
resourceful HARDINGE thrust herself into the harbour (which was wide
enough but much too short) and landed our stuff in her own cutters. We
raised a tired working party of ibn Shefia followers, and with their
clumsy or languid help got enough food into the place for the moment's
needs. The townspeople had returned hungry, and furious at the state of
what had been their property; and began their revenge by stealing
everything unguarded, even slitting open the rice-bags on the beach and
carrying away quantities in their held-up skirts. Feisal corrected this
by making the pitiless Maulud Town-governor. He brought in his
rough-riders and in one day of wholesale arrest and summary punishment
persuaded everyone to leave things alone. After that Wejh had the
silence of fear.

Even in the few days which elapsed before I left for Cairo the profits
of our spectacular march began to come in. The Arab movement had now no
opponent in Western Arabia, and had passed beyond danger of collapse.
The vexed Rabegh question died: and we had learnt the first rules of
Beduin warfare. When regarded backward from our benefits of new
knowledge the deaths of those regretted twenty men in the Wejh streets
seemed not so terrible. Vickery's impatience was justified, perhaps, in
cold blood.





BOOK THREE. A Railway Diversion




CHAPTERS XXVIII TO XXXVIII



OUR TAKING WEJH HAD THE WISHED EFFECT UPON THE TURKS, WHO ABANDONED
THEIR ADVANCE TOWARDS MECCA FOR A PASSIVE DEFENCE OF MEDINA AND ITS
RAILWAY. OUR EXPERTS MADE PLANS FOR ATTACKING THEM.

THE GERMANS SAW THE DANGER OF ENVELOPMENT, AND PERSUADED ENVER TO ORDER
THE INSTANT EVACUATION OF MEDINA. SIR ARCHIBALD MURRAY BEGGED US TO PUT
IN A SUSTAINED ATTACK TO DESTROY THE RETREATING ENEMY.

FEISAL WAS SOON READY IN HIS PART: AND I WENT OFF TO ABDULLA TO GET HIS
CO-OPERATION. ON THE WAY I FELL SICK AND WHILE LYING ALONE WITH EMPTY
HANDS WAS DRIVEN TO THINK ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN. THINKING CONVINCED ME
THAT OUR RECENT PRACTICE HAD BEEN BETTER THAN OUR THEORY.

SO ON RECOVERY I DID LITTLE TO THE RAILWAY, BUT WENT BACK TO WEJH WITH
NOVEL IDEAS. I TRIED TO MAKE THE OTHERS ADMIT THEM, AND ADOPT
DEPLOYMENT AS OUR RULING PRINCIPLE; AND TO PUT PREACHING EVEN BEFORE
FIGHTING. THEY PREFERRED THE LIMITED AND DIRECT OBJECTIVE OF MEDINA. SO
I DECIDED TO SLIP OFF TO AKABA BY MYSELF ON TEST OF MY OWN THEORY.




CHAPTER XXVIII



In Cairo the yet-hot authorities promised gold, rifles, mules, more
machine-guns, and mountain guns; but these last, of course, we never
got. The gun question was an eternal torment. Because of the hilly,
trackless country, field guns were no use to us; and the British Army
had no mountain guns except the Indian ten-pounder, which was
serviceable only against bows and arrows. Bremond had some excellent
Schneider sixty-fives at Suez, with Algerian gunners, but he regarded
them principally as his lever to move allied troops into Arabia. When
we asked him to send them down to us with or without men, he would
reply, first that the Arabs would not treat the crews properly, and
then that they would not treat the guns properly. His price was a
British brigade for Rabegh; and we would not pay it.

He feared to make the Arab Army formidable--an argument one could
understand--but the case of the British Government was incomprehensible.
It was not ill-will, for they gave us all else we wanted; nor was it
niggardliness, for their total help to the Arabs, in materials and
money, exceeded ten millions. I believe it was sheer stupidity. But it
was maddening to be unequal to many enterprises and to fail in others,
for the technical reason that we could not keep down the Turkish
artillery because its guns outranged ours by three or four thousand
yards. In the end, happily, Bremond over-reached himself, after keeping
his batteries idle for a year at Suez. Major Cousse, his successor,
ordered them down to us, and by their help we entered Damascus. During
that idle year they had been, to each Arab officer who entered Suez, a
silent incontrovertible proof of French malice towards the Arab
movement.

We received a great reinforcement to our cause in Jaafar Pasha, a
Bagdadi officer from the Turkish Army. After distinguished service in
the German and Turkish armies, he had been chosen by Enver to organize
the levies of the Sheikh el Senussi. He went there by submarine, made a
decent force of the wild men, and showed tactical ability against the
British in two battles. Then he was captured and lodged in the citadel
at Cairo with the other officer prisoners of war. He escaped one night,
slipping down a blanket-rope towards the moat; but the blankets failed
under the strain, and in the fall he hurt his ankle, and was re-taken
helpless. In hospital he gave his parole, and was enlarged after paying
for the torn blanket. But one day he read in an Arabic newspaper of the
Sherif's revolt, and of the execution by the Turks of prominent Arab
Nationalists--his friends--and realized that he had been on the wrong
side.

Feisal had heard of him, of course, and wanted him as commander-in-chief
of his regular troops, whose improvement was now our main effort.
We knew that Jaafar was one of the few men with enough of reputation
and personality to weld their difficult and reciprocally disagreeable
elements into an army. King Hussein, however, would not have it. He was
old and narrow, and disliked Mesopotamians and Syrians: Mecca must
deliver Damascus. He refused the services of Jaafar. Feisal had to
accept him on his own responsibility.

In Cairo were Hogarth and George Lloyd, and Storrs and Deedes, and many
old friends. Beyond them the circle of Arabian well-wishers was now
strangely increased. In the army our shares rose as we showed profits.
Lynden Bell stood firmly our friend and swore that method was coming
out of the Arab madness. Sir Archibald Murray realized with a sudden
shock that more Turkish troops were fighting the Arabs than were
fighting him, and began to remember how he had always favoured the Arab
revolt. Admiral Wemyss was as ready to help now as he had been in our
hard days round Rabegh. Sir Reginald Wingate, High Commissioner in
Egypt, was happy in the success of the work he had advocated for years.
I grudged him this happiness; for McMahon, who took the actual risk of
starting it, had been broken just before prosperity began. However,
that was hardly Wingate's fault.

In the midst of my touching the slender stops of all these quills there
came a rude surprise. Colonel Bremond called to felicitate me on the
capture of Wejh, saying that it confirmed his belief in my military
talent and encouraged him to expect my help in an extension of our
success. He wanted to occupy Akaba with an Anglo-French force and naval
help. He pointed out the importance of Akaba, the only Turkish port
left in the Red Sea, the nearest to the Suez Canal, the nearest to the
Hejaz Railway, on the left flank of the Beersheba army; suggesting its
occupation by a composite brigade, which should advance up Wadi Itm for
a crushing blow at Maan. He began to enlarge on the nature of the
ground.

I told him that I knew Akaba from before the war, and felt that his
scheme was technically impossible. We could take the beach of the gulf;
but our forces there, as unfavourably placed as on a Gallipoli beach,
would be under observation and gun-fire from the coastal hills: and
these granite hills, thousands of feet high, were impracticable for
heavy troops: the passes through them being formidable defiles, very
costly to assault or to cover. In my opinion, Akaba, whose importance
was all and more than he said, would be best taken by Arab irregulars
descending from the interior without naval help.

Bremond did not tell me (but I knew) that he wanted the landing at
Akaba to head off the Arab movement, by getting a mixed force in front
of them (as at Rabegh), so that they might be confined to Arabia, and
compelled to waste their efforts against Medina. The Arabs still feared
that the Sherif's alliance with us was based on a secret agreement to
sell them at the end, and such a Christian invasion would have
confirmed these fears and destroyed their cooperation. For my part, I
did not tell Bremond (but he knew) that I meant to defeat his efforts
and to take the Arabs soon into Damascus. It amused me, this
childishly-conceived rivalry of vital aims, but he ended his talk
ominously by saying that, anyhow, he was going down to put the scheme
to Feisal in Wejh.

Now, I had not warned Feisal that Bremond was a politician. Newcombe
was in Wejh, with his friendly desire to get moves on. We had not
talked over the problem of Akaba. Feisal knew neither its terrain nor
its tribes. Keenness and ignorance would lend an ear favourable to the
proposal. It seemed best for me to hurry down there and put my side on
its guard, so I left the same afternoon for Suez and sailed that night.
Two days later, in Wejh, I explained myself; so that when Bremond came
after ten days and opened his heart, or part of it, to Feisal, his
tactics were returned to him with improvements.

The Frenchman began by presenting six Hotchkiss automatics complete
with instructors. This was a noble gift; but Feisal took the
opportunity to ask him to increase his bounty by a battery of the
quick-firing mountain guns at Suez, explaining that he had been sorry
to leave the Yenbo area for Wejh, since Wejh was so much further from
his objective--Medina--but it was really impossible for him to assault
the Turks (who had French artillery) with rifles or with the old guns
supplied him by the British Army. His men had not the technical
excellence to make a bad tool prevail over a good one. He had to
exploit his only advantages--numbers and mobility--and, unless his
equipment could be improved, there was no saying where this protraction
of his front might end!

Bremond tried to turn it off by belittling guns as useless for Hejaz
warfare (quite right, this, practically). But it would end the war at
once if Feisal made his men climb about the country like goats and tear
up the railway. Feisal, angry at the metaphor (impolite in Arabic),
looked at Bremond's six feet of comfortable body, and asked if he had
ever tried to 'goat' himself. Bremond referred gallantly to the
question of Akaba, and the real danger to the Arabs in the Turks
remaining there: insisting that the British, who had the means for an
expedition thither, should be pressed to undertake it. Feisal, in
reply, gave him a geographical sketch of the land behind Akaba (I
recognized the less dashing part of it myself) and explained the tribal
difficulties and the food problem--all the points which made it a
serious obstacle. He ended by saying that, after the cloud of orders,
counter-orders and confusion over the allied troops for Rabegh, he
really had not the face to approach Sir Archibald Murray so soon with
another request for an excursion.

Bremond had to retire from the battle in good order, getting in a
Parthian shot at me, where I sat spitefully smiling, by begging Feisal
to insist that the British armoured cars in Suez be sent down to Wejh.
But even this was a boomerang, since they had started! After he had
gone, I returned to Cairo for a cheerful week, in which I gave my
betters much good advice. Murray, who had growlingly earmarked
Tullibardine's brigade for Akaba, approved me still further when I
declared against that side-show too. Then to Wejh.




CHAPTER XXIX



Life in Wejh was interesting. We had now set our camp in order. Feisal
pitched his tents (here an opulent group: living tents, reception
tents, staff tents, guest tents, servants') about a mile from the sea,
on the edge of the coral shelf which ran up gently from the beach till
it ended in a steep drop facing east and south over broad valleys
radiating star-like from the land-locked harbour. The tents of soldiers
and tribesmen were grouped in these sandy valleys, leaving the chill
height for ourselves; and very delightful in the evening we northerners
found it when the breeze from the sea carried us a murmur of the waves,
faint and far off, like the echo of traffic up a by-street in London.

Immediately beneath us were the Ageyl, an irregular close group of
tents. South of these were Rasim's artillery; and by him for company,
Abdulla's machine-gunners, in regular lines, with their animals
picketed out in those formal rows which were incense to the
professional officer and convenient if space were precious. Further out
the market was set plainly on the ground, a boiling swell of men always
about the goods. The scattered tents and shelters of the tribesmen
filled each gully or windless place. Beyond the last of them lay open
country, with camel-parties coming in and out by the straggling palms
of the nearest, too-brackish well. As background were the foothills,
reefs and clusters like ruined castles, thrown up craggily to the
horizon of the coastal range.

As it was the custom in Wejh to camp wide apart, very wide apart, my
life was spent in moving back and forth, to Feisal's tents, to the
English tents, to the Egyptian Army tents, to the town, the port, the
wireless station, tramping all day restlessly up and down these coral
paths in sandals or barefoot, hardening my feet, getting by slow
degrees the power to walk with little pain over sharp and burning
ground, tempering my already trained body for greater endeavour.

Poor Arabs wondered why I had no mare; and I forbore to puzzle them by
incomprehensible talk of hardening myself, or confess I would rather
walk than ride for sparing of animals: yet the first was true and the
second true. Something hurtful to my pride, disagreeable, rose at the
sight of these lower forms of life. Their existence struck a servile
reflection upon our human kind: the style in which a God would look on
us; and to make use of them, to lie under an avoidable obligation to
them, seemed to me shameful. It was as with the negroes, tom-tom
playing themselves to red madness each night under the ridge. Their
faces, being clearly different from our own, were tolerable; but it
hurt that they should possess exact counterparts of all our bodies.

Feisal, within, laboured day and night at his politics, in which so few
of us could help. Outside, the crowd employed and diverted us with
parades, joy-shooting, and marches of victory. Also there were
accidents. Once a group, playing behind our tents, set off a seaplane
bomb, dud relic of Boyle's capture of the town. In the explosion their
limbs were scattered about the camp, marking the canvas with red
splashes which soon turned a dull brown and then faded pale. Feisal had
the tents changed and ordered the bloody ones to be destroyed: the
frugal slaves washed them. Another day a tent took fire, and part-roasted
three of our guests. The camp crowded round and roared with laughter
till the fire died down, and then, rather shamefacedly, we cared
for their hurts. The third day, a mare was wounded by a faffing
joy-bullet, and many tents were pierced.

One night the Ageyl mutinied against their commandant, ibn Dakhil, for
fining them too generally and flogging them too severely. They rushed
his tent, howling and shooting, threw his things about and beat his
servants. That not being enough to blunt their fury, they began to
remember Yenbo, and went off to kill the Ateiba. Feisal from our bluff
saw their torches and ran barefoot amongst them, laying on with the
flat of his sword like four men. His fury delayed them while the slaves
and horsemen, calling for help, dashed downhill with rushes and shouts
and blows of sheathed swords. One gave him a horse on which he charged
down the ringleaders, while we dispersed groups by firing Very lights
into their clothing. Only two were killed and thirty wounded. Ibn
Dakhil resigned next day.

Murray had given us two armoured-cars, Rolls-Royces, released from the
campaign in East Africa. Gilman and Wade commanded, and their crews
were British, men from the A.S.C. to drive and from the Machine Gun
Corps to shoot. Having them in Wejh made things more difficult for us,
because the food we had been eating and the water we had been drinking
were at once medically condemned; but English company was a balancing
pleasure, and the occupation of pushing cars and motor-bicycles through
the desperate sand about Wejh was great. The fierce difficulty of
driving across country gave the men arms like boxers, so that they
swung their shoulders professionally as they walked. With time they
became skilled, developing a style and art of sand-driving, which got
them carefully over the better ground and rushed them at speed over
soft places. One of these soft places was the last twenty miles of
plain in front of Jebel Raal. The cars used to cross it in little more
than half an hour, leaping from ridge to ridge of the dunes and swaying
dangerously around their curves. The Arabs loved the new toys. Bicycles
they called devil-horses, the children of cars, which themselves were
sons and daughters of trains. It gave us three generations of
mechanical transport.

The Navy added greatly to our interests in Wejh. The ESPIEGLE was sent
by Boyle as station ship, with the delightful orders to 'do everything
in her power to co-operate in the many plans which would be suggested
to her by Colonel Newcombe, while letting it be clearly seen that she
was conferring a favour'. Her commander Fitzmaurice (a good name in
Turkey), was the soul of hospitality and found quiet amusement in our
work on shore. He helped us in a thousand ways; above all in
signalling; for he was a wireless expert, and one day at noon the
NORTHBROOK came in and landed an army wireless set, on a light lorry,
for us. As there was no one to explain it, we were at a loss; but
Fitzmaurice raced ashore with half his crew, ran the car to a fitting
site, rigged the masts professionally, started the engine, and
connected up to such effect that before sunset he had called the
astonished NORTHBROOK and held a long conversation with her operator.
The station increased the efficiency of the base at Wejh and was busy
day and night, filling the Red Sea with messages in three tongues, and
twenty different sorts of army cypher-codes.




CHAPTER XXX



Fakhri Pasha was still playing our game. He held an entrenched line
around Medina, just far enough out to make it impossible for the Arabs
to shell the city. (Such an attempt was never made or imagined. ) The
other troops were being distributed along the railway, in strong
garrisons at all water stations between Medina and Tebuk, and in
smaller posts between these garrisons, so that daily patrols might
guarantee the track. In short, he had fallen back on as stupid a
defensive as could be conceived. Garland had gone south-east from Wejh,
and Newcombe north-east, to pick holes in it with high explosives. They
would cut rails and bridges, and place automatic mines for running
trains.

The Arabs had passed from doubt to violent optimism, and were promising
exemplary service. Feisal enrolled most of the Billi, and the Moahib,
which made him master of Arabia between the railway and the sea. He
then sent the Juheina to Abdulla in Wadi Ais.

He could now prepare to deal solemnly with the Hejaz Railway; but with
a practice better than my principles, I begged him first to delay in
Wejh and set marching an intense movement among the tribes beyond us,
that in the future our revolt might be extended, and the railway
threatened from Tebuk (our present limit of influence) northward as far
as Maan. My vision of the course of the Arab war was still purblind. I
had not seen that the preaching was victory and the fighting a
delusion. For the moment, I roped them together, and, as Feisal
fortunately liked changing men's minds rather than breaking railways,
the preaching went the better.

With his northern neighbours, the coastal Howeitat, he had already made
a beginning: but we now sent to the Beni Atiyeh, a stronger people to
the north-east; and gained a great step when the chief, Asi ibn Atiyeh,
came in and swore allegiance. His main motive was jealousy of his
brothers, so that we did not expect from him active help; but the bread
and salt with him gave us freedom of movement across his tribe's
territory. Beyond lay various tribes owning obedience to Nuri Shaalan,
the great Emir of the Ruwalla, who, after the Sherif and ibn Saud and
ibn Rashid, was the fourth figure among the precarious princes of the
desert.

Nuri was an old man, who had ruled his Anazeh tribesmen for thirty
years. His was the chief family of the Rualla, but Nuri had no
precedence among them at birth, nor was he loved, nor a great man of
battle. His headship had been acquired by sheer force of character. To
gain it he had killed two of his brothers. Later he had added Sherarat
and others to the number of his followers, and in all their desert his
word was absolute law. He had none of the wheedling diplomacy of the
ordinary sheikh; a word, and there was an end of opposition, or of his
opponent. All feared and obeyed him; to use his roads we must have his
countenance.

Fortunately, this was easy. Feisal had secured it years ago, and had
retained it by interchange of gifts from Medina and Yenbo. Now, from
Wejh, Faiz el Ghusein went up to him and on the way crossed ibn Dughmi,
one of the chief men of the Ruwalla, coming down to us with the
desirable gift of some hundreds of good baggage camels. Nuri, of
course, still kept friendly with the Turks. Damascus and Bagdad were
his markets, and they could have half-starved his tribe in three
months, had they suspected him; but we knew that when the moment came
we should have his armed help, and till then anything short of a breach
with Turkey.

His favour would open to us the Sirhan, a famous roadway, camping
ground, and chain of water-holes, which in a series of linked
depressions extended from Jauf, Nun's capital, in the south-east,
northwards to Azrak, near Jebel Druse, in Syria. It was the freedom of
the Sirhan we needed to reach the tents of the Eastern Howeitat, those
famous abu Tayi, of whom Auda, the greatest fighting man in northern
Arabia, was chief. Only by means of Auda abu Tayi could we swing the
tribes from Maan to Akaba so violently in our favour that they would
help us take Akaba and its hills from their Turkish garrisons: only
with his active support could we venture to thrust out from Wejh on the
long trek to Maan. Since our Yenbo days we had been longing for him and
trying to win him to our cause.

We made a great step forward at Wejh; ibn Zaal, his cousin and a
war-leader of the abu Tayi, arrived on the seventeenth of February, which
was in all respects a fortunate day. At dawn there came in five chief
men of the Sherarat from the desert east of Tebuk, bringing a present
of eggs of the Arabian ostrich, plentiful in their little-frequented
desert. After them, the slaves showed in Dhaif-Allah, abu Tiyur, a
cousin of Hamd ibn Jazi, paramount of the central Howeitat of the Maan
plateau. These were numerous and powerful; splendid fighters; but blood
enemies of their cousins, the nomad abu Tayi, because of an old-grounded
quarrel between Auda and Hamd. We were proud to see them
coming thus far to greet us, yet not content, for they were less fit
than the abu Tayi for our purposed attack against Akaba.

On their heels came a cousin of Nawwaf, Nuri Shaalan's eldest son, with
a mare sent by Nawwaf to Feisal. The Shaalan and the Jazi, being
hostile, hardened eyes at one another; so we divided the parties and
improvised a new guest-camp. After the Rualla, was announced the abu
Tageiga chief of the sedentary Howeitat of the coast. He brought his
tribe's respectful homage and the spoils of Dhaba and Moweilleh, the
two last Turkish outlets on the Red Sea. Room was made for him on
Feisal's carpet, and the warmest thanks rendered him for his tribe's
activity; which carried us to the borders of Akaba, by tracks too rough
for operations of force, but convenient for preaching, and still more
so for getting news.

In the afternoon, ibn Zaal arrived, with ten other of Auda's chief
followers. He kissed Feisal's hand once for Auda and then once for
himself, and, sitting back, declared that he came from Auda to present
his salutations and to ask for orders. Feisal, with policy, controlled
his outward joy, and introduced him gravely to his blood enemies, the
Jazi Howeitat. Ibn Zaal acknowledged them distantly. Later, we held
great private conversations with him and dismissed him with rich gifts,
richer promises, and Feisal's own message to Auda that his mind would
not be smooth till he had seen him face to face in Wejh. Auda was an
immense chivalrous name, but an unknown quantity to us, and in so vital
a matter as Akaba we could not afford a mistake. He must come down that
we might weigh him, and frame our future plans actually in his
presence, and with his help.

Except that all its events were happy, this day was not essentially
unlike Feisal's every day. The rush of news made my diary fat. The
roads to Wejh swarmed with envoys and volunteers and great sheikhs
riding in to swear allegiance. The contagion of their constant passage
made the lukewarm Billi ever more profitable to us. Feisal swore new
adherents solemnly on the Koran between his hands, 'to wait while he
waited, march when he marched, to yield obedience to no Turk, to deal
kindly with all who spoke Arabic (whether Bagdadi, Aleppine, Syrian, or
pure-blooded) and to put independence above life, family, and goods'.

He also began to confront them at once, in his presence, with their
tribal enemies, and to compose their feuds. An account of profit and
loss would be struck between the parties, with Feisal modulating and
interceding between them, and often paying the balance, or contributing
towards it from his own funds, to hurry on the pact. During two years
Feisal so laboured daily, putting together and arranging in their
natural order the innumerable tiny pieces which made up Arabian
society, and combining them into his one design of war against the
Turks. There was no blood feud left active in any of the districts
through which he had passed, and he was Court of Appeal, ultimate and
unchallenged, for western Arabia.

He showed himself worthy of this achievement. He never gave a partial
decision, nor a decision so impracticably just that it must lead to
disorder. No Arab ever impugned his judgements, or questioned his
wisdom and competence in tribal business. By patiently sifting out
right and wrong, by his tact, his wonderful memory, he gained authority
over the nomads from Medina to Damascus and beyond. He was recognized
as a force transcending tribe, superseding blood chiefs, greater than
jealousies. The Arab movement became in the best sense national, since
within it all Arabs were at one, and for it private interests must be
set aside; and in this movement chief place, by right of application
and by right of ability, had been properly earned by the man who filled
it for those few weeks of triumph and longer months of disillusion
after Damascus had been set free.




CHAPTER XXXI



Urgent messages from Clayton broke across this cheerful work with
orders to wait in Wejh for two days and meet the NUR EL BAHR, an
Egyptian patrol ship, coming down with news. I was not well and waited
with more excellent grace. She arrived on the proper day, and
disembarked MacRury, who gave me a copy of long telegraphic
instructions from Jemal Pasha to Fakhri in Medina. These, emanating
from Enver and the German staff in Constantinople, ordered the instant
abandonment of Medina, and evacuation of the troops by route march in
mass, first to Hedia, thence to El Ula, thence to Tebuk, and finally to
Maan, where a fresh rail-head and entrenched position would be
constituted.

This move would have suited the Arabs excellently; but our army of
Egypt was perturbed at the prospect of twenty-five thousand Anatolian
troops, with far more than the usual artillery of a corps, descending
suddenly on the Beersheba front. Clayton, in his letter, told me the
development was to be treated with the utmost concern, and every effort
made to capture Medina, or to destroy the garrison when they came out.
Newcombe was on the line, doing a vigorous demolition-series, so that
the moment's responsibility fell on me. I feared that little could be
done in time, for the message was days old, and the evacuation timed to
begin at once.

We told Feisal the frank position, and that Allied interests in this
case demanded the sacrifice, or at least the postponement of immediate
advantage to the Arabs. He rose, as ever, to a proposition of honour,
and agreed instantly to do his best. We worked out our possible
resources and arranged to move them into contact with the railway.
Sherif Mastur, an honest, quiet old man, and Rasim, with tribesmen,
mule-mounted infantry, and a gun, were to proceed directly to Fagair,
the first good water-base north of Wadi Ais, to hold up our first
section of railway, from Abdulla's area northward.

Ali ibn el Hussein, from Jeida, would attack the next section of line
northward from Mastur. We told ibn Mahanna to get close to El Ula, and
watch it. We ordered Sherif Nasir to stay near Kalaat el Muadhdham, and
keep his men in hand for an effort. I wrote asking Newcombe to come in
for news. Old Mohammed Ali was to move from Dhaba to an oasis near
Tebuk, so that if the evacuation got so far we should be ready. All our
hundred and fifty miles of line would thus be beset, while Feisal
himself, at Wejh, stood ready to bring help to whatever sector most
needed him.

My part was to go off to Abdulla in Wadi Ais, to find out why he had
done nothing for two months, and to persuade him, if the Turks came
out, to go straight at them. I hoped we might deter them from moving by
making so many small raids on this lengthy line that traffic would be
seriously disorganized, and the collection of the necessary food-dumps
for the army at each main stage be impracticable. The Medina force,
being short of animal transport, could carry little with them. Enver
had instructed them to put guns and stores on trains; and to enclose
these trains in their columns and march together up the railway. It was
an unprecedented manoeuvre, and if we gained ten days to get in place,
and they then attempted anything so silly, we should have a chance of
destroying them all.

Next day I left Wejh, ill and unfit for a long march, while Feisal in
his haste and many preoccupations had chosen me a travelling party of
queer fellows. There were four Rifaa and one Merawi Ju-heina as guides,
and Arslan, a Syrian soldier-servant, who prepared bread and rice for
me and acted besides as butt to the Arabs; four Ageyl, a Moor, and an
Ateibi, Suleiman. The camels, thin with the bad grazing of this dry
Billi territory, would have to go slowly.

Delay after delay took place in our starting, until nine at night, and
then we moved unwillingly: but I was determined to get clear of Wejh
somehow before morning. So we went four hours and slept. Next day we
did two stages of five hours each, and camped at Abu Zereibat, in our
old ground of the winter. The great pool had shrunk little in the two
months, but was noticeably more salt. A few weeks later it was unfit to
drink. A shallow well near by was said to afford tolerable water. I did
not look for it, since boils on my back and heavy fever made painful
the jolting of the camel, and I was tired.

Long before dawn we rode away, and having crossed Hamdh got confused in
the broken surfaces of Agunna, an area of low hills. When day broke we
recovered direction and went over a watershed steeply down into El
Khubt, a hill-locked plain extending to the Sukhur, the granite bubbles
of hills which had been prominent on our road up from Um Lejj. The
ground was luxuriant with colocynth, whose runners and fruits looked
festive in the early light. The Ju-heina said both leaves and stalks
were excellent food for such horses as would eat them, and defended
from thirst for many hours. The Ageyl said that the best aperient was
to drink camel-milk from cups of the scooped-out rind. The Ateibi said
that he was sufficiently moved if he just rubbed the juice of the fruit
on the soles of his feet. The Moor Hamed said that the dried pith made
good tinder. On one point however they were all agreed, that the whole
plant was useless or poisonous as fodder for camels.

This talk carried us across the Khubt, a pleasant three miles, and
through a low ridge into a second smaller section. We now saw that, of
the Sukhur, two stood together to the north-east, great grey striated
piles of volcanic rock, reddish coloured where protected from the
burning of the sun and the bruising of sandy winds. The third Sakhara,
which stood a little apart, was the bubble rock which had roused my
curiosity. Seen from near by, it more resembled a huge football
half-buried in the ground. It, too, was brown in colour. The south and
east faces were quite smooth and unbroken, and its regular, domed head
was polished and shining and had fine cracks running up and over it like
stitched seams: altogether one of the strangest hills in Hejaz, a
country of strange hills. We rode gently towards it, through a thin
shower of rain which came slanting strangely and beautifully across the
sunlight.

Our path took up between the Sakhara and the Sukhur by a narrow gorge
with sandy floor and steep bare walls. Its head was rough. We had to
scramble up shelves of coarse-faced stone, and along a great fault in
the hill-side between two tilted red reefs of hard rock. The summit of
the pass was a knife-edge, and from it we went down an encumbered gap,
half-blocked by one fallen boulder which had been hammered over with
the tribal marks of all the generations of men who had used this road.
Afterwards there opened tree-grown spaces, collecting grounds in winter
for the sheets of rain which poured off the glazed sides of the Sukhur.
There were granite outcrops here and there, and a fine silver sand
underfoot in the still damp water-channels. The drainage was towards
Heiran.

We then entered a wild confusion of granite shards, piled up haphazard
into low mounds, in and out of which we wandered any way we could find
practicable going for our hesitating camels. Soon after noon this gave
place to a broad wooded valley, up which we rode for an hour, till our
troubles began again; for we had to dismount and lead our animals up a
narrow hill-path with broken steps of rock so polished by long years of
passing feet that they were dangerous in wet weather. They took us over
a great shoulder of the hills and down among more small mounds and
valleys, and afterwards by another rocky zigzag descent into a
torrent-bed. This soon became too confined to admit the passage of laden
camels, and the path left it to cling precariously to the hill-side
with a cliff above and cliff below. After fifteen minutes of this we
were glad to reach a high saddle on which former travellers had piled
little cairns of commemoration and thankfulness. Of such a nature had
been the road-side cairns of Masturah, on my first Arabian journey,
from Rabegh to Feisal.

We stopped to add one to the number, and then rode down a sandy valley
into Wadi Hanbag, a large, well-wooded tributary of Hamdh. After the
broken country in which we had been prisoned for hours, the openness of
Hanbag was refreshing. Its clean white bed swept on northward through
the trees in a fine curve under precipitous hills of red and brown,
with views for a mile or two up and down its course. There were green
weeds and grass growing on the lower sand-slopes of the tributary, and
we stopped there for half an hour to let our starved camels eat the
juicy, healthy stuff.

They had not so enjoyed themselves since Bir el Waheidi, and tore at it
ravenously, stowing it away unchewed inside them, pending a fit time
for leisurely digestion. We then crossed the valley to a great branch
opposite our entry. This Wadi Eitan was also beautiful. Its shingle
face, without loose rocks, was plentifully grown over with trees. On
the right were low hills, on the left great heights called the Jidhwa,
in parallel ridges of steep broken granite, very red now that the sun
was setting amid massed cloud-banks of boding rain.

At last we camped, and when the camels were unloaded and driven out to
pasture, I lay down under the rocks and rested. My body was very sore
with headache and high fever, the accompaniments of a sharp attack of
dysentery which had troubled me along the march and had laid me out
twice that day in short fainting fits, when the more difficult parts of
the climb had asked too much of my strength. Dysentery of this Arabian
coast sort used to fall like a hammer blow, and crush its victims for a
few hours, after which the extreme effects passed off; but it left men
curiously tired, and subject for some weeks to sudden breaks of nerve.

My followers had been quarrelling all day; and while I was lying near
the rocks a shot was fired. I paid no attention; for there were hares
and birds in the valley; but a little later Suleiman roused me and made
me follow him across the valley to an opposite bay in the rocks, where
one of the Ageyl, a Boreida man, was lying stone dead with a bullet
through his temples. The shot must have been fired from close by;
because the skin was burnt about one wound. The remaining Ageyl were
running frantically about; and when I asked what it was Ali, their head
man, said that Hamed the Moor had done the murder. I suspected
Suleiman, because of the feud between the Atban and Ageyl which had
burned up in Yenbo and Wejh; but Ah' assured me that Suleiman had been
with him three hundred yards further up the valley gathering sticks
when the shot was fired. I sent all out to search for Hamed, and
crawled back to the baggage, feeling that it need not have happened
this day of all days when I was in pain.

As I lay there I heard a rustle, and opened my eyes slowly upon Hamed's
back as he stooped over his saddle-bags, which lay just beyond my rock.
I covered him with a pistol and then spoke. He had put down his rifle
to lift the gear; and was at my mercy till the others came. We held a
court at once; and after a while Hamed confessed that, he and Salem
having had words, he had seen red and shot him suddenly. Our inquiry
ended. The Ageyl, as relatives of the dead man, demanded blood for
blood. The others supported them; and I tried vainly to talk the gentle
Ali round. My head was aching with fever and I could not think; but
hardly even in health, with all eloquence, could I have begged Hamed
off; for Salem had been a friendly fellow and his sudden murder a
wanton crime.

Then rose up the horror which would make civilized man shun justice
like a plague if he had not the needy to serve him as hangmen for
wages. There were other Moroccans in our army; and to let the Ageyl
kill one in feud meant reprisals by which our unity would have been
endangered. It must be a formal execution, and at last, desperately, I
told Hamed that he must die for punishment, and laid the burden of his
killing on myself. Perhaps they would count me not qualified for feud.
At least no revenge could lie against my followers; for I was a
stranger and kinless.

I made him enter a narrow gully of the spur, a dank twilight place
overgrown with weeds. Its sandy bed had been pitted by trickles of
water down the cliffs in the late rain. At the end it shrank to a crack
a few inches wide. The walls were vertical. I stood in the entrance and
gave him a few moments' delay which he spent crying on the ground. Then
I made him rise and shot him through the chest. He fell down on the
weeds shrieking, with the blood coming out in spurts over his clothes,
and jerked about till he rolled nearly to where I was. I fired again,
but was shaking so that I only broke his wrist. He went on calling out,
less loudly, now lying on his back with his feet towards me, and I
leant forward and shot him for the last time in the thick of his neck
under the jaw. His body shivered a little, and I called the Ageyl, who
buried him in the gully where he was. Afterwards the wakeful night
dragged over me, till, hours before dawn, I had the men up and made
them load, in my longing to be set free of Wadi Kitan. They had to lift
me into the saddle.




CHAPTER XXXII



Dawn found us crossing a steep short pass out of Wadi Kitan into the
main drainage valley of these succeeding hills. We turned aside into
Wadi Reimi, a tributary, to get water. There was no proper well, only a
seepage hole in the stony bed of the valley; and we found it partly by
our noses: though the taste, while as foul, was curiously unlike the
smell. We refilled our water-skins. Arslan baked bread, and we rested
for two hours. Then we went on through Wadi Amk, an easy green valley
which made comfortable marching for the camels.

When the Amk turned westward we crossed it, going up between piles of
the warped grey granite (like cold toffee) which was common up-country
in the Hejaz. The defile culminated at the foot of a natural ramp and
staircase: badly broken, twisting, and difficult for camels, but short.
Afterwards we were in an open valley for an hour, with low hills to the
right and mountains to the left. There were water pools in the crags,
and Merawin tents under the fine trees which studded the flat. The
fertility of the slopes was great: on them grazed flocks of sheep and
goats. We got milk from the Arabs: the first milk my Ageyl had been
given in the two years of drought.

The track out of the valley when we reached its head was execrable, and
the descent beyond into Wadi Marrakh almost dangerous; but the view
from the crest compensated us. Wadi Marrakh, a broad, peaceful avenue,
ran between two regular straight walls of hills to a circus four miles
off where valleys from left, right and front seemed to meet. Artificial
heaps of uncut stone were piled about the approach. As we entered it,
we saw that the grey hill-walls swept back on each side in a half-circle.
Before us, to the south, the curve was barred across by a straight
wall or step of blue-black lava, standing over a little grove of
thorn trees. We made for these and lay down in their thin shade,
grateful in such sultry air for any pretence of coolness.

The day, now at its zenith, was very hot; and my weakness had so
increased that my head hardly held up against it. The puffs of feverish
wind pressed like scorching hands against our faces, burning our eyes.
My pain made me breathe in gasps through the mouth; the wind cracked my
lips and seared my throat till I was too dry to talk, and drinking
became sore; yet I always needed to drink, as my thirst would not let
me lie still and get the peace I longed for. The flies were a plague.

The bed of the valley was of fine quartz gravel and white sand. Its
glitter thrust itself between our eyelids; and the level of the ground
seemed to dance as the wind moved the white tips of stubble grass to
and fro. The camels loved this grass, which grew in tufts, about
sixteen inches high, on slate-green stalks. They gulped down great
quantities of it until the men drove them in and couched them by me. At
the moment I hated the beasts, for too much food made their breath
stink; and they rumblingly belched up a new mouthful from their
stomachs each time they had chewed and swallowed the last, till a green
slaver flooded out between their loose lips over the side teeth, and
dripped down their sagging chins.

Lying angrily there, I threw a stone at the nearest, which got up and
wavered about behind my head: finally it straddled its back legs and
staled in wide, bitter jets; and I was so far gone with the heat and
weakness and pain that I just lay there and cried about it unhelping.
The men had gone to make a fire and cook a gazelle one of them had
fortunately shot; and I realized that on another day this halt would
have been pleasant to me; for the hills were very strange and their
colours vivid. The base had the warm grey of old stored sunlight; while
about their crests ran narrow veins of granite-coloured stone,
generally in pairs, following the contour of the skyline like the
rusted metals of an abandoned scenic railway. Arslan said the hills
were combed like cocks, a sharper observation.

After the men had fed we re-mounted, and easily climbed the first wave
of the lava flood. It was short, as was the second, on the top of which
lay a broad terrace with an alluvial plot of sand and gravel in its
midst. The lava was a nearly clean floor of iron-red rock-cinders, over
which were scattered fields of loose stone. The third and other steps
ascended to the south of us: but we turned east, up Wadi Gara.

Gara had, perhaps, been a granite valley down whose middle the lava had
flowed, slowly filling it, and arching itself up in a central heap. On
each side were deep troughs, between the lava and the hill-side. Rain
water flooded these as often as storms burst in the hills. The lava
flow, as it coagulated, had been twisted like a rope, cracked, and bent
back irregularly upon itself. The surface was loose with fragments
through which many generations of camel parties had worn an inadequate
and painful track.

We struggled along for hours, going slowly, our camels wincing at every
stride as the sharp edges slipped beneath their tender feet. The paths
were only to be seen by the droppings along them, and by the slightly
bluer surfaces of the rubbed stones. The Arabs declared them impassable
after dark, which was to be believed, for we risked laming our beasts
each time our impatience made us urge them on. Just before five in the
afternoon, however, the way got easier. We seemed to be near the head
of the valley, which grew narrow. Before us on the right, an exact
cone-crater, with tidy furrows scoring it from lip to foot, promised
good going; for it was made of black ash, clean as though sifted, with
here and there a bank of harder soil, and cinders. Beyond it was
another lava-field, older perhaps than the valleys, for its stones were
smoothed, and between them were straths of flat earth, rank with weeds.
In among these open spaces were Beduin tents, whose owners ran to us
when they saw us coming; and, taking our head-stalls with hospitable
force, led us in.

They proved to be Sheikh Fahad el Hansha and his men: old and garrulous
warriors who had marched with us to Wejh, and had been with Garland on
that great occasion when his first automatic mine had succeeded under a
troop train near Toweira station. Fahad would not hear of my resting
quietly outside his tent, but with the reckless equality of the desert
men urged me into an unfortunate place inside among his own vermin.
There he plied me with bowl after bowl of diuretic camel-milk between
questions about Europe, my home tribe, the English camel-pasturages,
the war in the Hejaz and the wars elsewhere, Egypt and Damascus, how
Feisal was, why did we seek Abdulla, and by what perversity did I
remain Christian, when their hearts and hands waited to welcome me to
the Faith?

So passed long hours till ten at night, when the guest-sheep was
carried in, dismembered royally over a huge pile of buttered rice. I
ate as manners demanded, twisted myself up in my cloak, and slept; my
bodily exhaustion, after those hours of the worst imaginable marching,
proofing me against the onslaught of lice and fleas. The illness,
however, had stimulated my ordinarily sluggish fancy, which ran riot
this night in dreams of wandering naked for a dark eternity over
interminable lava (like scrambled egg gone iron-blue, and very wrong),
sharp as insect-bites underfoot; and with some horror, perhaps a dead
Moor, always climbing after us.

In the morning we woke early and refreshed, with our clothes stinging-full
of fiery points feeding on us. After one more bowl of milk proffered
us by the eager Fahad, I was able to walk unaided to my camel and mount
her actively. We rode up the last piece of Wadi Gara to the crest,
among cones of black cinders from a crater to the south. Thence we
turned to a branch valley, ending in a steep and rocky chimney, up which
we pulled our camels.

Beyond we had an easy descent into Wadi Murrmiya, whose middle bristled
with lava like galvanized iron, on each side of which there were smooth
sandy beds, good going. After a while we came to a fault in the flow,
which served as a track to the other side. By it we crossed over,
finding the lava pocketed with soils apparently of extreme richness,
for in them were leafy trees and lawns of real grass, starred with
flowers, the best grazing of all our ride, looking the more wonderfully
green because of the blue-black twisted crusts of rock about. The lava
had changed its character. Here were no piles of loose stones, as big
as a skull or a man's hand, rubbed and rounded together; but bunched
and crystallized fronds of metallic rock, altogether impassable for
bare feet.

Another watershed conducted us to an open place where the Jeheina had
ploughed some eight acres of the thin soil below a thicket of scrub.
They said there were like it in the neighbourhood other fields, silent
witnesses to the courage and persistence of the Arabs.

It was called Wadi Chetl, and after it was another broken river of
lava, the worst yet encountered. A shadowy path zigzagged across it. We
lost one camel with a broken fore-leg, the result of a stumble in a
pot-hole; and the many bones which lay about showed that we were not
the only party to suffer misfortune in the passage. However, this ended
our lava, according to the guides, and we went thence forward along
easy valleys with finally a long run up a gentle slope till dusk. The
going was so good and the cool of the day so freshened me that we did
not halt at nightfall, after our habit, but pushed on for an hour
across the basin of Murrmiya into the basin of Wadi Ais, and there, by
Tleih, we stopped for our last camp in the open.

I rejoiced that we were so nearly in, for fever was heavy on me. I was
afraid that perhaps I was going to be really ill, and the prospect of
falling into the well-meaning hands of tribesmen in such a state was
not pleasant. Their treatment of every sickness was to burn holes in
the patient's body at some spot believed to be the complement of the
part affected. It was a cure tolerable to such as had faith in it, but
torture to the unbelieving: to incur it unwillingly would be silly, and
yet certain; for the Arabs' good intentions, selfish as their good
digestions, would never heed a sick man's protesting.

The morning was easy, over open valleys and gentle rides into Wadi Ais.
We arrived at Abu Markha, its nearest watering-place, just a few
minutes after Sherif Abdulla had dismounted there, and while he was
ordering his tents to be pitched in an acacia glade beyond the well. He
was leaving his old camp at Bir el Amri, lower down the valley, as he
had left Murabba, his camp before, because the ground had been fouled
by the careless multitude of his men and animals. I gave him the
documents from Feisal, explaining the situation in Medina, and the need
we had of haste to block the railway. I thought he took it coolly; but,
without argument, went on to say that I was a little tired after my
journey, and with his permission would lie down and sleep a while. He
pitched me a tent next his great marquee, and I went into it and rested
myself at last. It had been a struggle against faintness day-long in
the saddle to get here at all: and now the strain was ended with the
delivery of my message, I felt that another hour would have brought the
breaking point.




CHAPTER XXXIII



About ten days I lay in that tent, suffering a bodily weakness which
made my animal self crawl away and hide till the shame was passed. As
usual in such circumstances my mind cleared, my senses became more
acute, and I began at last to think consecutively of the Arab Revolt,
as an accustomed duty to rest upon against the pain. It should have
been thought out long before, but at my first landing in Hejaz there
had been a crying need for action, and we had done what seemed to
instinct best, not probing into the why, nor formulating what we really
wanted at the end of all. Instinct thus abused without a basis of past
knowledge and reflection had grown intuitive, feminine, and was now
bleaching my confidence; so in this forced inaction I looked for the
equation between my book-reading and my movements, and spent the
intervals of uneasy sleeps and dreams in plucking at the tangle of our
present.

As I have shown, I was unfortunately as much in command of the campaign
as I pleased, and was untrained. In military theory I was tolerably
read, my Oxford curiosity having taken me past Napoleon to Clausewitz
and his school, to Caemmerer and Moltke, and the recent Frenchmen. They
had all seemed to be one-sided; and after looking at Jomini and
Willisen, I had found broader principles in Saxe and Guibert and the
eighteenth century. However, Clausewitz was intellectually so much the
master of them, and his book so logical and fascinating, that
unconsciously I accepted his finality, until a comparison of Kuhne and
Foch disgusted me with soldiers, wearied me of their officious glory,
making me critical of all their light. In any case, my interest had
been abstract, concerned with the theory and philosophy of warfare
especially from the metaphysical side.

Now, in the field everything had been concrete, particularly the
tiresome problem of Medina; and to distract myself from that I began to
recall suitable maxims on the conduct of modern, scientific war. But
they would not fit, and it worried me. Hitherto, Medina had been an
obsession for us all; but now that I was ill, its image was not clear,
whether it was that we were near to it (one seldom liked the
attainable), or whether it was that my eyes were misty with too
constant staring at the butt. One afternoon I woke from a hot sleep,
running with sweat and pricking with flies, and wondered what on earth
was the good of Medina to us? Its harmfulness had been patent when we
were at Yenbo and the Turks in it were going to Mecca: but we had
changed all that by our march to Wejh. To-day we were blockading the
railway, and they only defending it. The garrison of Medina, reduced to
an inoffensive size, were sitting in trenches destroying their own
power of movement by eating the transport they could no longer feed. We
had taken away their power to harm us, and yet wanted to take away
their town. It was not a base for us like Wejh, nor a threat like Wadi
Ais. What on earth did we want it for?

The camp was bestirring itself after the torpor of the midday hours;
and noises from the world outside began to filter in to me past the
yellow lining of the tent-canvas, whose every hole and tear was stabbed
through by a long dagger of sunlight. I heard the stamping and snorting
of the horses plagued with flies where they stood in the shadow of the
trees, the complaint of camels, the ringing of coffee mortars, distant
shots. To their burden I began to drum out the aim in war. The books
gave it pat--the destruction of the armed forces of the enemy by the one
process-battle. Victory could he purchased only by blood. This was a
hard saying for us. As the Arabs had no organized forces, a Turkish
Foch would have no aim? The Arabs would not endure casualties. How
would our Clausewitz buy his victory? Von der Goltz had seemed to go
deeper, saying it was necessary not to annihilate the enemy, but to
break his courage. Only we showed no prospect of ever breaking
anybody's courage.

However, Goltz was a humbug, and these wise men must be talking
metaphors; for we were indubitably winning our war; and as I pondered
slowly, it dawned on me that we had won the Hejaz war. Out of every
thousand square miles of Hejaz nine hundred and ninety-nine were now
free. Did my provoked jape at Vickery, that rebellion was more like
peace than like war, hold as much truth as haste? Perhaps in war the
absolute did rule, but for peace a majority was good enough. If we held
the rest, the Turks were welcome to the tiny fraction on which they
stood, till peace or Doomsday showed them the futility of clinging to
our window-pane.

I brushed off the same flies once more from my face patiently, content
to know that the Hejaz War was won and finished with: won from the day
we took Wejh, if we had had wit to see it. Then I broke the thread of
my argument again to listen. The distant shots had grown and tied
themselves into long, ragged volleys. They ceased. I strained my ears
for the other sounds which I knew would follow. Sure enough across the
silence came a rustle like the dragging of a skirt over the flints,
around the thin walls of my tent. A pause, while the camel-riders drew
up: and then the soggy tapping of canes on the thick of the beasts'
necks to make them kneel.

They knelt without noise: and I timed it in my memory: first the
hesitation, as the camels, looking down, felt the soil with one foot
for a soft place; then the muffled thud and the sudden loosening of
breath as they dropped on their fore-legs, since this party had come
far and were tired; then the shuffle as the hind legs were folded in,
and the rocking as they tossed from side to side thrusting outward with
their knees to bury them in the cooler subsoil below the burning
flints, while the riders, with a quick soft patter of bare feet, like
birds over the ground, were led off tacitly either to the coffee hearth
or to Abdulla's tent, according to their business. The camels would
rest there, uneasily switching their tails across the shingle till
their masters were free and looked to their stabling.

I had made a comfortable beginning of doctrine, but was left still to
find an alternative end and means of war. Ours seemed unlike the ritual
of which Foch was priest; and I recalled him, to see a difference in
land between HIM and us. In his modern war--absolute war he called
it--two nations professing incompatible philosophies put them to the test
of force. Philosophically, it was idiotic, for while opinions were
arguable, convictons needed shooting to be cured; and the struggle
could end only when the supporters of the one immaterial principle had
no more means of resistance against the supporters of the other. It
sounded like a twentieth-century restatement of the wars of religion,
whose logical end was utter destruction of one creed, and whose
protagonists believed that God's judgement would prevail. This might do
for France and Germany, but would not represent the British attitude.
Our Army was not intelligently maintaining a philosophic conception in
Flanders or on the Canal. Efforts to make our men hate the enemy
usually made them hate the fighting. Indeed Foch had knocked out his
own argument by saying that such war depended on levy in mass, and was
impossible with professional armies; while the old army was still the
British ideal, and its manner the ambition of our ranks and our files.
To me the Foch war seemed only an exterminative variety, no more
absolute than another. One could as explicably call it 'murder war'.
Clausewitz enumerated all sorts of war . . . personal wars, joint-proxy
duels, for dynastic reasons . . . expulsive wars, in party
politics . . . commercial wars, for trade objects . . . two wars seemed
seldom alike. Often the parties did not know their aim, and blundered till
the march of events took control. Victory in general habit leaned to the
clear-sighted, though fortune and superior intelligence could make a
sad muddle of nature's 'inexorable' law.

I wondered why Feisal wanted to fight the Turks, and why the Arabs
helped him, and saw that their aim was geographical, to extrude the
Turk from all Arabic-speaking lands in Asia. Their peace ideal of
liberty could exercise itself only so. In pursuit of the ideal
conditions we might kill Turks, because we disliked them very much; but
the killing was a pure luxury. If they would go quietly the war would
end. If not, we would urge them, or try to drive them out. In the last
resort, we should be compelled to the desperate course of blood and the
maxims of 'murder war', but as cheaply as could be for ourselves, since
the Arabs fought for freedom, and that was a pleasure to be tasted only
by a man alive. Posterity was a chilly thing to work for, no matter how
much a man happened to love his own, or other people's already-produced
children.

At this point a slave slapped my tent-door, and asked if the Emir might
call. So I struggled into more clothes, and crawled over to his great
tent to sound the depth of motive in him. It was a comfortable place,
luxuriously shaded and carpeted deep in strident rugs, the aniline-dyed
spoils of Hussein Mabeirig's house in Rabegh. Abdulla passed most of
his day in it, laughing with his friends, and playing games with
Mohammed Hassan, the court jester. I set the ball of conversation
rolling between him and Shakir and the chance sheikhs, among whom was
the fire-hearted Ferhan el Aida, the son of Doughty's Motlog; and I was
rewarded, for Abdulla's words were definite. He contrasted his hearers'
present independence with their past servitude to Turkey, and roundly
said that talk of Turkish heresy, or the immoral doctrine of YENI-TURAN,
or the illegitimate Caliphate was beside the point. It was Arab
country, and the Turks were in it: that was the one issue. My argument
preened itself.

The next day a great complication of boils developed out, to conceal my
lessened fever, and to chain me down yet longer in impotence upon my
face in this stinking tent. When it grew too hot for dreamless dozing,
I picked up my tangle again, and went on ravelling it out, considering
now the whole house of war in its structural aspect, which was
strategy, in its arrangements, which were tactics, and in the sentiment
of its inhabitants, which was psychology; for my personal duty was
command, and the commander, like the master architect, was responsible
for all.

The first confusion was the false antithesis between strategy, the aim
in war, the synoptic regard seeing each part relative to the whole, and
tactics, the means towards a strategic end, the particular steps of its
staircase. They seemed only points of view from which to ponder the
elements of war, the Algebraical element of things, a Biological
element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas.

The algebraical element looked to me a pure science, subject to
mathematical law, inhuman. It dealt with known variables, fixed
conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates
and railways, with mankind in type-masses too great for individual
variety, with all artificial aids and the extensions given our
faculties by mechanical invention. It was essentially formulable.

Here was a pompous, professorial beginning. My wits, hostile to the
abstract, took refuge in Arabia again. Translated into Arabic, the
algebraic factor would first take practical account of the area we
wished to deliver, and I began idly to calculate how many square miles:
sixty: eighty: one hundred: perhaps one hundred and forty thousand
square miles. And how would the Turks defend all that? No doubt by a
trench line across the bottom, if we came like an army with banners;
but suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing
intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a
gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through
long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed.
Our kingdoms lay in each man's mind; and as we wanted nothing material
to live on, so we might offer nothing material to the killing. It
seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning
only what he sat on, and subjugating only what, by order, he could poke
his rifle at.

Then I figured out how many men they would need to sit on all this
ground, to save it from our attack-in-depth, sedition putting up her
head in every unoccupied one of those hundred thousand square miles. I
knew the Turkish Army exactly, and even allowing for their recent
extension of faculty by aeroplanes and guns and armoured trains (which
made the earth a smaller battlefield) still it seemed they would have
need of a fortified post every four square miles, and a post could not
be less than twenty men. If so, they would need six hundred thousand
men to meet the ill-wills of all the Arab peoples, combined with the
active hostility of a few zealots.

How many zealots could we have? At present we had nearly fifty
thousand: sufficient for the day. It seemed the assets in this element
of war were ours. If we realized our raw materials and were apt with
them, then climate, railway, desert, and technical weapons could also
be attached to our interests. The Turks were stupid; the Germans behind
them dogmatical. They would believe that rebellion was absolute like
war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things
was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like
eating soup with a knife.

This was enough of the concrete; so I sheered off [GREEK], the
mathematical element, and plunged into the nature of the biological
factor in command. Its crisis seemed to be the breaking point, life and
death, or less finally, wear and tear. The war-philosophers had
properly made an art of it, and had elevated one item, 'effusion of
blood', to the height of an essential, which became humanity in battle,
an act touching every side of our corporal being, and very warm. A line
of variability, Man, persisted like leaven through its estimates,
making them irregular. The components were sensitive and illogical, and
generals guarded themselves by the device of a reserve, the significant
medium of their art. Goltz had said that if you knew the enemy's
strength, and he was fully deployed, then you could dispense with a
reserve: but this was never. The possibility of accident, of some flaw
in materials was always in the general's mind, and the reserve
unconsciously held to meet it.

The 'felt' element in troops, not expressible in figures, had to be
guessed at by the equivalent of Plato's (greek?), and the greatest
commander of men was he whose intuitions most nearly happened. Nine-tenths
of tactics were certain enough to be teachable in schools; but
the irrational tenth was like the kingfisher flashing across the pool,
and in it lay the test of generals. It could be ensued only by instinct
(sharpened by thought practising the stroke) until at the crisis it
came naturally, a reflex. There had been men whose [GREEK] so nearly
approached perfection that by its road they reached the certainty of
[GREEK]. The Greeks might have called such genius for command [GREEK];
had they bothered to rationalize revolt.

My mind seesawed back to apply this to ourselves, and at once knew that
it was not bounded by mankind, that it applied also to materials. In
Turkey things were scarce and precious, men less esteemed than
equipment. Our cue was to destroy, not the Turk's army, but his
minerals. The death of a Turkish bridge or rail, machine or gun or
charge of high explosive, was more profitable to us than the death of a
Turk. In the Arab Army at the moment we were chary both of materials
and of men. Governments saw men only in mass; but our men, being
irregulars, were not formations, but individuals. An individual death,
like a pebble dropped in water, might make but a brief hole; yet rings
of sorrow widened out therefrom. We could not afford casualties.

Materials were easier to replace. It was our obvious policy to be
superior in some one tangible branch; gun-cotton or machine-guns or
whatever could be made decisive. Orthodoxy had laid down the maxim,
applied to men, of being superior at the critical point and moment of
attack. We might be superior in equipment in one dominant moment or
respect; and for both things and men we might give the doctrine a
twisted negative side, for cheapness' sake, and be weaker than the
enemy everywhere except in that one point or matter. The decision of
what was critical would always be ours. Most wars were wars of contact,
both forces striving into touch to avoid tactical surprise. Ours should
be a war of detachment. We were to contain the enemy by the silent
threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we
attacked. The attack might be nominal, directed not against him, but
against his stuff; so it would not seek either his strength or his
weakness, but his most accessible material. In railway-cutting it would
be usually an empty stretch of rail; and the more empty, the greater
the tactical success. We might turn our average into a rule (not a law,
since war was antinomian) and develop a habit of never engaging the
enemy. This would chime with the numerical plea for never affording a
target. Many Turks on our front had no chance all the war to fire on
us, and we were never on the defensive except by accident and in error.

The corollary of such a rule was perfect 'intelligence', so that we
could plan in certainty. The chief agent must be the general's head;
and his understanding must be faultless, leaving no room for chance.
Morale, if built on knowledge, was broken by ignorance. When we knew
all about the enemy we should be comfortable. We must take more pains
in the service of news than any regular staff.

I was getting through my subject. The algebraical factor had been
translated into terms of Arabia, and fitted like a glove. It promised
victory. The biological factor had dictated to us a development of the
tactical line most in accord with the genius of our tribesmen. There
remained the psychological element to build up into an apt shape. I
went to Xenophon and stole, to name it, his word DIATHETICS, which had
been the art of Cyrus before he struck.

Of this our 'propaganda' was the stained and ignoble offspring. It was
the pathic, almost the ethical, in war. Some of it concerned the crowd,
an adjustment of its spirit to the point where it became useful to
exploit in action, and the pre-direction of this changing spirit to a
certain end. Some of it concerned the individual, and then it became a
rare art of human kindness, transcending, by purposed emotion, the
gradual logical sequence of the mind. It was more subtle than tactics,
and better worth doing, because it dealt with uncontrollables, with
subjects incapable of direct command. It considered the capacity for
mood of our men, their complexities and mutability, and the cultivation
of whatever in them promised to profit our intention. We had to arrange
their minds in order of battle just as carefully and as formally as
other officers would arrange their bodies. And not only our own men's
minds, though naturally they came first. We must also arrange the minds
of the enemy, so far as we could reach them; then those other minds of
the nation supporting us behind the firing line, since more than half
the battle passed there in the back; then the minds of the enemy nation
waiting the verdict; and of the neutrals looking on; circle beyond
circle.

There were many humiliating material limits, but no moral
impossibilities; so that the scope of our diathetical activities was
unbounded. On it we should mainly depend for the means of victory on
the Arab front: and the novelty of it was our advantage. The printing
press, and each newly-discovered method of communication favoured the
intellectual above the physical, civilization paying the mind always
from the body's funds. We kindergarten soldiers were beginning our art
of war in the atmosphere of the twentieth century, receiving our
weapons without prejudice. To the regular officer, with the tradition
of forty generations of service behind him, the antique arms were the
most honoured. As we had seldom to concern ourselves with what our men
did, but always with what they thought, the diathetic for us would be
more than half the command. In Europe it was set a little aside, and
entrusted to men outside the General Staff. In Asia the regular
elements were so weak that irregulars could not let the metaphysical
weapon rust unused.

Battles in Arabia were a mistake, since we profited in them only by the
ammunition the enemy fired off. Napoleon had said it was rare to find
generals willing to fight battles; but the curse of this war was that
so few would do anything else. Saxe had told us that irrational battles
were the refuges of fools: rather they seemed to me impositions on the
side which believed itself weaker, hazards made unavoidable either by
lack of land room or by the need to defend a material property dearer
than the lives of soldiers. We had nothing material to lose, so our
best line was to defend nothing and to shoot nothing. Our cards were
speed and time, not hitting power. The invention of bully beef had
profited us more than the invention of gunpowder, but gave us
strategical rather than tactical strength, since in Arabia range was
more than force, space greater than the power of armies.

I had now been eight days lying in this remote tent, keeping my ideas
general, till my brain, sick of unsupported thinking, had to be dragged
to its work by an effort of will, and went off into a doze whenever
that effort was relaxed. The fever passed: my dysentery ceased; and
with restored strength the present again became actual to me. Facts
concrete and pertinent thrust themselves into my reveries; and my
inconstant wit bore aside towards all these roads of escape. So I
hurried into line my shadowy principles, to have them once precise
before my power to evoke them faded.

It seemed to me proven that our rebellion had an unassailable base,
guarded not only from attack, but from the fear of attack. It had a
sophisticated alien enemy, disposed as an army of occupation in an area
greater than could be dominated effectively from fortified posts. It
had a friendly population, of which some two in the hundred were
active, and the rest quietly sympathetic to the point of not betraying
the movements of the minority. The active rebels had the virtues of
secrecy and self-control, and the qualities of speed, endurance and
independence of arteries of supply. They had technical equipment enough
to paralyse the enemy's communications. A province would be won when we
had taught the civilians in it to die for our ideal of freedom. The
presence of the enemy was secondary. Final victory seemed certain, if
the war lasted long enough for us to work it out.




CHAPTER XXXIV



Obviously I was well again, and I remembered the reason of my journey
to Wadi Ais. The Turks meant to march out of Medina, and Sir Archibald
Murray wanted us to attack them in professional form. It was irksome
that he should come butting into our show from Egypt, asking from us
alien activities. Yet the British were the bigger; and the Arabs lived
only by grace of their shadow. We were yoked to Sir Archibald Murray,
and must work with him, to the point of sacrificing our non-essential
interests for his, if they would not be reconciled. At the same time we
could not possibly act alike. Feisal might be a free gas: Sir
Archibald's army, probably the most cumbrous in the world, had to be
laboriously pushed forward on its belly. It was ridiculous to suppose
it could keep pace with ethical conceptions as nimble as the Arab
Movement: doubtful even if it would understand them. However, perhaps
by hindering the railway we could frighten the Turks off their plan to
evacuate Medina, and give them reason to remain in the town on the
defensive: a conclusion highly serviceable to both Arabs and English,
though possibly neither would see it, yet.

Accordingly, I wandered into Abdulla's tent, announcing my complete
recovery and an ambition to do something to the Hejaz railway. Here
were men, guns, machine-guns, explosives and automatic mines: enough
for a main effort. But Abdulla was apathetic. He wanted to talk about
the Royal families of Europe, or the Battle of the Somme: the slow
march of his own war bored him. However, Sherif Shakir, his cousin and
second in command, was fired to enthusiasm, and secured us licence to
do our worst. Shakir loved the Ateiba, and swore they were the best
tribe on earth; so we settled to take mostly Ateiba with us. Then we
thought we might have a mountain gun, one of the Egyptian Army Krupp
veterans, which had been sent by Feisal to Abdulla from Wejh as a
present.

Shakir promised to collect the force, and we agreed that I should go in
front (gently, as befitted my weakness) and search for a target. The
nearest and biggest was Aba el Naam Station. With me went Raho,
Algerian officer in the French Army, and member of Bremond's mission, a
very hard-working and honest fellow. Our guide was Mohammed el Kadhi,
whose old father, Dakhil-Allah, hereditary lawman of the Juheina, had
guided the Turks down to Yenbo last December. Mohammed was eighteen,
solid and silent natured. Sherif Fauzan el Harith, the famous warrior
who had captured Eshref at Janbila, escorted us, with about twenty
Ateiba and five or six Juheina adventurers.

We left on March the twenty-sixth, while Sir Archibald Murray was
attacking Gaza; and rode down Wadi Ais; but after three hours the heat
proved too much for me, and we stopped by a great sidr tree (lote or
jujube, but the fruit was scarce) and rested under it the midday hours.
Sidr trees cast heavy shade: there was a cool east wind, and few flies.
Wadi Ais was luxuriant with thorn trees and grass, and its air full of
white butterflies and scents of wild flowers; so that we did not
remount till late in the afternoon, and then did only a short march,
leaving Wadi Ais by the right, after passing in an angle of the valley
a ruined terrace and cistern. Once there had been villages in this
part, with the underground waters carefully employed in their frequent
gardens; but now it was waste.

The following morning we had two hours' rough riding around the spurs
of Jebel Serd into Wadi Turaa, a historic valley, linked by an easy
pass to Wadi Yenbo. We spent this midday also under a tree, near some
Juheina tents, where Mohammed guested while we slept. Then we rode on
rather crookedly for two more hours, and camped after dark. By ill luck
an early spring scorpion stung me severely on the left hand while I lay
down to sleep. The place swelled up; and my arm became stiff and sore.

At five next morning, after a long night, we restarted, and passed
through the last hills, out into the Jurf, an undulating open space
which ran up southward to Jebel Antar, a crater with a split and
castellated top, making it a landmark. We turned half-right in the
plain, to get under cover of the low hills which screened it from Wadi
Hamdh, in whose bed the railway lay. Behind these hills we rode
southward till opposite Aba el Naam. There we halted to camp, close to
the enemy but quite in safety. The hill-top commanded them; and we
climbed it before sunset for a first view of the station.

The hill was, perhaps, six hundred feet high and steep, and I made many
stages of it, resting on my way up: but the sight from the top was
good. The railway was some three miles off. The station had a pair of
large, two-storied houses of basalt, a circular watertower, and other
buildings. There were bell-tents, huts and trenches, but no sign of
guns. We could see about three hundred men in all.

We had heard that the Turks patrolled their neighbourhood actively at
night. A bad habit this: so we sent off two men to lie by each
blockhouse, and fire a few shots after dark. The enemy, thinking it a
prelude to attack, stood-to in their trenches all night, while we were
comfortably sleeping; but the cold woke us early with a restless dawn
wind blowing across the Jurf, and singing in the great trees round our
camp. As we climbed to our observation point the sun conquered the
clouds and an hour later it grew very hot.

We lay like lizards in the long grass round the stones of the foremost
cairn upon the hill-top, and saw the garrison parade. Three hundred and
ninety-nine infantry, little toy men, ran about when the bugle sounded,
and formed up in stiff lines below the black building till there was
more bugling: then they scattered, and after a few minutes the smoke of
cooking fires went up. A herd of sheep and goats in charge of a little
ragged boy issued out towards us. Before he reached the foot of the
hills there came a loud whistling down the valley from the north, and a
tiny, picture-book train rolled slowly into view across the hollow
sounding bridge and halted just outside the station, panting out white
puffs of steam.

The shepherd lad held on steadily, driving his goats with shrill cries
up our hill for the better pasture on the western side. We sent two
Juheina down behind a ridge beyond sight of the enemy, and they ran
from each side and caught him. The lad was of the outcast Heteym,
pariahs of the desert, whose poor children were commonly sent on hire
as shepherds to the tribes about them. This one cried continually, and
made efforts to escape as often as he saw his goats straying uncared-for
about the hill. In the end the men lost patience and tied him up
roughly, when he screamed for terror that they would kill him. Fauzan
had great ado to make him quiet, and then questioned him about his
Turkish masters. But all his thoughts were for the flock: his eyes
followed them miserably while the tears made edged and crooked tracks
down his dirty face.

Shepherds were a class apart. For the ordinary Arab the hearth was a
university, about which their world passed and where they heard the
best talk, the news of their tribe, its poems, histories, love tales,
lawsuits and bargainings. By such constant sharing in the hearth
councils they grew up masters of expression, dialecticians, orators,
able to sit with dignity in any gathering and never at a loss for
moving words. The shepherds missed the whole of this. From infancy they
followed their calling, which took them in all seasons and weathers,
day and night, into the hills and condemned them to loneliness and
brute company. In the wilderness, among the dry bones of nature, they
grew up natural, knowing nothing of man and his affairs; hardly sane in
ordinary talk; but very wise in plants, wild animals, and the habits of
their own goats and sheep, whose milk was their chief sustenance. With
manhood they became sullen, while a few turned dangerously savage, more
animal than man, haunting the flocks, and finding the satisfaction of
their adult appetites in them, to the exclusion of more licit
affections.

For hours after the shepherd had been suppressed only the sun moved in
our view. As it climbed we shifted our cloaks to filter its harshness,
and basked in luxurious warmth. The restful hill-top gave me back
something of the sense-interests which I had lost since I had been ill
I was able to note once more the typical hill scenery, with its hard
stone crests, its sides of bare rock, and lower slopes of loose sliding
screens, packed, as the base was approached, solidly with a thin dry
soil. The stone itself was glistening, yellow, sunburned stuff;
metallic in ring, and brittle; splitting red or green or brown as the
case might be. From every soft place sprouted thorn-bushes; and there
was frequent grass, usually growing from one root in a dozen stout
blades, knee-high and straw-coloured: the heads were empty ears between
many-feathered arrows of silvery down. With these, and with a shorter
grass, whose bottle-brush heads of pearly grey reached only to the
ankle, the hill-sides were furred white and bowed themselves lowly
towards us with each puff of the casual wind.

Verdure it was not, but excellent pasturage; and in the valleys were
bigger tufts of grass, coarse, waist-high and bright green when fresh
though they soon faded to the burned yellow of ordinary life. They grew
thickly in all the beds of water-ribbed sand and shingle, between the
occasional thorn trees, some of which stood forty feet in height. The
sidr trees, with their dry, sugary fruit, were rare. But bushes of
browned tamarisk, tall broom, other varieties of coarse grass, some
flowers, and everything which had thorns, flourished about our camp,
and made it a rich sample of the vegetation of the Hejaz highlands.
Only one of the plants profited ourselves, and that was the hemeid: a
sorrel with fleshy heart-shaped leaves, whose pleasant acidity stayed
our thirst.

At dusk we climbed down again with the goat-herd prisoner, and what we
could gather of his flock. Our main body would come this night; so that
Fauzan and I wandered out across the darkling plain till we found a
pleasant gun-position in some low ridges not two thousand yards from
the station. On our return, very tired, fires were burning among the
trees. Shakir had just arrived, and his men and ours were roasting
goat-flesh contentedly. The shepherd was tied up behind my sleeping
place, because he had gone frantic when his charges were unlawfully
slaughtered. He refused to taste the supper; and we only forced bread
and rice into him by the threat of dire punishment if he insulted our
hospitality. They tried to convince him that we should take the station
next day and kill his masters; but he would not be comforted, and
afterwards, for fear lest he escape, had to be lashed to his tree
again.

After supper Shakir told me that he had brought only three hundred men
instead of the agreed eight or nine hundred. However, it was his war,
and therefore his tune, so we hastily modified the plans. We would not
take the station; we would frighten it by a frontal artillery attack,
while we mined the railway to the north and south, in the hope of
trapping that halted train. Accordingly we chose a party of
Garland-trained dynamiters who should blow up something north of the
bridge at dawn, to seal that direction; while I went off with high
explosive and a machine-gun with its crew to lay a mine to the south of
the station, the probable direction from which the Turks would seek or
send help, in their emergency.

Mohammed el Khadi guided us to a deserted bit of line just before
midnight. I dismounted and fingered its thrilling rails for the first
time during the war. Then, in an hour's busy work, we laid the mine,
which was a trigger action to fire into twenty pounds of blasting
gelatine when the weight of the locomotive overhead deflected the
metals. Afterwards we posted the machine-gunners in a little
bush-screened watercourse, four hundred yards from and fully commanding
the spot where we hoped the train would be derailed. They were to hide
there; while we went on to cut the telegraph, that isolation might
persuade Aba el Naam to send their train for reinforcements, as our
main attack developed.

So we rode another half-hour, and then turned in to the line, and again
were fortunate to strike an unoccupied place. Unhappily the four
remaining Juheina proved unable to climb a telegraph pole, and I had to
struggle up it myself. It was all I could do, after my illness; and
when the third wire was cut the flimsy pole shook so that I lost grip,
and came slipping down the sixteen feet upon the stout shoulders of
Mohammed, who ran in to break my fall, and nearly got broken himself.
We took a few minutes to breathe, but afterwards were able to regain
our camels. Eventually we arrived in camp just as the others had
saddled up to go forward.

Our mine-laying had taken four hours longer than we had planned and the
delay put us in the dilemma either of getting no rest, or of letting
the main body march without us. Finally by Shakir's will we let them
go, and fell down under our trees for an hour's sleep, without which I
felt I should collapse utterly. The time was just before daybreak, an
hour when the uneasiness of the air affected trees and animals, and
made even men-sleepers turn over sighingly. Mohammed, who wanted to see
the fight, awoke. To get me up he came over and cried the morning
prayer-call in my ear, the raucous voice sounding battle, murder, and
sudden death across my dreams. I sat up and rubbed the sand out of
red-rimmed aching eyes, as we disputed vehemently of prayer and sleep. He
pleaded that there was not a battle every day, and showed the cuts and
bruises sustained during the night in helping me. By my blackness and
blueness I could feel for him, and we rode off to catch the army, after
loosing the still unhappy shepherd boy, with advice to wait for our
return.

A band of trodden untidiness in a sweep of gleaming water-rounded sand
showed us the way, and we arrived just as the guns opened fire. They
did excellently, and crashed in all the top of one building, damaged
the second, hit the pump-room, and holed the water-tank. One lucky
shell caught the front waggon of the train in the siding, and it took
fire furiously. This alarmed the locomotive, which uncoupled and went
off southward. We watched her hungrily as she approached our mine, and
when she was on it there came a soft cloud of dust and a report and she
stood still. The damage was to the front part, as she was reversed and
the charge had exploded late; but, while the drivers got out, and
jacked up the front wheels and tinkered at them, we waited and waited
in vain for the machine-gun to open fire. Later we learned that the
gunners, afraid of their loneliness, had packed up and marched to join
us when we began shooting. Half an hour after, the repaired engine went
away towards Jebel Antar, going at a foot pace and clanking loudly; but
going none the less.

Our Arabs worked in towards the station, under cover of the
bombardment, while we gnashed our teeth at the machine-gunners. Smoke
clouds from the fire trucks screened the Arab advance which wiped out
one enemy outpost, and captured another. The Turks withdrew their
surviving detachments to the main position, and waited rigorously in
their trenches for the assault, which they were in no better spirit to
repel than we were to deliver. With our advantages in ground the place
would have been a gift to us, if only we had had some of Feisal's men
to charge home.

Meanwhile the wood, tents and trucks in the station were burning, and
the smoke was too thick for us to shoot, so we broke off the action. We
had taken thirty prisoners, a mare, two camels and some more sheep; and
had killed and wounded seventy of the garrison, at a cost to ourselves
of one man slightly hurt. Traffic was held up for three days of repair
and investigation. So we did not wholly fail.




CHAPTER XXXV



We left two parties in the neighbourhood to damage the line on the next
day and the next, while we rode to Abdullah's camp on April the first.
Shakir, splendid in habit, held a grand parade on entry, and had
thousands of joy-shots fired in honour of his partial victory. The
easy-going camp made carnival.

In the evening I went wandering in the thorn-grove behind the tents,
till I began to see through the thick branches a wild light, from
bursts of raw flame; and across the flame and smoke came the rhythm of
drums, in tune with hand-clapping, and the deep roar of a tribal
chorus. I crept up quietly, and saw an immense fire, ringed by hundreds
of Ataiba sitting on the ground one by the other, gazing intently on
Shakir, who, upright and alone in their midst, performed the dance of
their song. He had put off his cloak, and wore only his white head-veil
and white robes: the powerful firelight was reflected by these and by
his pale, ravaged face. As he sang he threw back his head, and at the
close of each phrase raised his hands, to let the full sleeves run back
upon his shoulders, while he waved his bare arms weirdly. The tribe
around him beat time with their hands, or bayed out the refrains at his
nod. The grove of trees where I stood outside the circle of light was
thronged with Arabs of stranger tribes, whispering, and watching the
Atban.

In the morning we determined on another visit to the line, for fuller
trial of the automatic mine-action which had half-failed at Aba el
Naam. Old Dakhil-Allah said that he would come with me himself on this
trip; the project of looting a train had tempted him. With us went some
forty of the Juheina, who seemed to me stouter men than the high-bred
Ateiba. However, one of the chiefs of the Ataiba, Sultan el Abbud, a
boon friend of Abdulla and Shakir, refused to be left behind. This
good-tempered but hare-brained fellow, sheikh of a poor section of the
tribe, had had more horses killed under him in battle than any other
Ateibi warrior. He was about twenty-six and a great rider; full of
quips and fond of practical jokes, very noisy: tall and strong, with a
big, square head, wrinkled forehead, and deep-set bright eyes. A young
moustache and beard hid his ruthless jaw and the wide, straight mouth,
with white teeth gleaming and locked like a wolfs.

We took a machine-gun and its soldier-crew of thirteen with us, to
settle our train when caught. Shakir, with his grave courtesy to the
Emir's guest, set us on our road for the first half-hour. This time we
kept to the Wadi Ais almost to its junction with Hamdh, finding it very
green and full of grazing, since it had flooded twice already in this
winter. At last we bore off to the right over a ditch on to a flat, and
there slept in the sand, rather distressed by a shower of rain which
sent little rills over the ground about midnight: but the next morning
was bright and hot, and we rode into the huge plain where the three
great valleys, Tubja, Ais and Jizil, flowed into and became one with
Hamdh. The course of the main stream was overgrown by asla wood, just
as at Abu Zereibat, with the same leprous bed of hummocky sand-blisters:
but the thicket was only two hundred yards broad, and beyond it
the plain with its grained intricacy of shallow torrent-beds
stretched for yet further miles. At noon we halted by a place like a
wilderness garden, waist deep in juicy grass and flowers, upon which
our happy camels gorged themselves for an hour and then sat down, full
and astonished.

The day seemed to be hotter and hotter: the sun drew close, and
scorched us without intervening air. The clean, sandy soil was so baked
that my bare feet could not endure it, and I had to walk in sandals, to
the amusement of the Juheina, whose thick soles were proof even against
slow fire. As the afternoon passed on the light became dim, but the
heat steadily increased with an oppression and sultriness which took me
by surprise. I kept turning my head to see if some mass was not just
behind me, shutting off the air.

There had been long rolls of thunder all morning in the hills, and the
two peaks, Serd and Jasim, were wrapped in folds of dark blue and
yellow vapour, which looked motionless and substantial. At last I saw
that part of the yellow cloud off Serd was coming slowly against the
wind in our direction, raising scores of dust devils before its feet.

The cloud was nearly as high as the hill. While it approached, two
dust-spouts, tight and symmetrical chimneys, advanced, one on the right
and one on the left of its front. Dakhil-Allah responsibly looked ahead
and to each side for shelter, but saw none. He warned me that the storm
would be heavy.

When it got near, the wind, which had been scorching our faces with its
hot breathlessness, changed suddenly; and, after waiting a moment, blew
bitter cold and damp upon our backs. It also increased greatly in
violence, and at the same time the sun disappeared, blotted out by
thick rags of yellow air over our heads. We stood in a horrible light,
ochreous and fitful. The brown wall of cloud from the hills was now
very near, rushing changelessly upon us with a loud grinding sound.
Three minutes later it struck, wrapping about us a blanket of dust and
stinging grains of sand, twisting and turning in violent eddies, and
yet advancing eastward at the speed of a strong gale.

We had put our camels' backs to the storm, to march before it: but
these internal whirling winds tore our tightly-held cloaks from our
hands, filled our eyes, and robbed us of all sense of direction by
turning our camels right or left from their course. Sometimes they were
blown completely round: once we clashed helplessly together in a
vortex, while large bushes, tufts of grass, and even a small tree were
torn up by the roots in dense waves of the soil about them, and driven
against us, or blown over our heads with dangerous force. We were never
blinded--it was always possible to see for seven or eight feet to each
side--but it was risky to look out, as, in addition to the certain
sand-blast, we never knew if we should not meet a flying tree, a rush of
pebbles, or a spout of grass-laden dust.

This storm lasted for eighteen minutes, and then leaped forward from us
as suddenly as it had come. Our party was scattered over a square mile
or more, and before we could rally, while we, our clothes and our
camels were yet smothered in dust, yellow and heavy with it from head
to foot, down burst torrents of thick rain and muddied us to the skin.
The valley began to run in plashes of water, and Dakhil-Allah urged us
across it quickly. The wind chopped once more, this time to the north,
and the rain came driving before it in harsh sheets of spray. It beat
through our woollen cloaks in a moment, and moulded them and our shirts
to our bodies, and chilled us to the bone.

We reached the hill-barrier in mid-afternoon, but found the valley bare
and shelterless, colder than ever. After riding up it for three or four
miles we halted, and climbed a great crag to see the railway which,
they said, lay just beyond. On the height the wind was so terrible that
we could not cling to the wet slippery rocks against the slapping and
bellying of our cloaks and skirts. I took mine off, and climbed the
rest of the way half-naked, more easily, and hardly colder than before.
But the effort proved useless, the air being too thick for observation.
So I worked down, cut and bruised, to the others; and dressed numbly.
On our way back we suffered the only casualty of this trip. Sultan had
insisted on coming with us, and his Ateibi servant, who must follow him
though he had no head for heights, slipped in one bad place with a fall
of forty feet to the stones, and plunged down headlong.

When we got back my hands and feet were too broken to serve me longer,
and I lay down and shivered for an hour or so while the others buried
the dead man in a side valley. On their return they met suddenly an
unknown rider on a camel, crossing their track. He fired at them. They
fired back, snap-shooting through the rain, and the evening swallowed
him. This was disquieting, for surprise was our main ally, and we could
only hope that he would not return to warn the Turks that there were
raiders in the neighbourhood.

After the heavy camels with the explosives caught us, we mounted again
to get closer to the line; but we had no more than started when
brazenly down the visible wind in the misted valley came the food-call
of Turkish bugles. Dakhil-Allah thrust his ear forward in the direction
of the sound, and understood that over there lay Madahrij, the small
station below which we meant to operate. So we steered on the hateful
noise, hateful because it spoke of supper and of tents, whereas we were
shelterless, and on such a night could not hope to make ourselves a
fire and bake bread from the flour and water in our saddle-bags, and
consequently must go hungry.

We did not reach the railway till after ten o'clock at night, in
conditions of invisibility which made it futile to choose a machine-gun
position. At random I pitched upon kilometre 1,121 from Damascus for
the mine. It was a complicated mine, with a central trigger to fire
simultaneous charges thirty yards apart: and we hoped in this way to
get the locomotive whether it was going north or south. Burying the
mine took four hours, for the rain had caked the surface and rotted it.
Our feet made huge tracks on the flat and on the bank, as though a
school of elephants had been dancing there. To hide these marks was out
of the question, so we did the other thing, trampling about for
hundreds of yards, even bringing up our camels to help, until it looked
as though half an army had crossed the valley, and the mine-place was
no better and no worse than the rest. Then we went back a safe
distance, behind some miserable mounds, and cowered down in the open,
waiting for day. The cold was intense. Our teeth chattered, and we
trembled and hissed involuntarily, while our hands drew in like claws.

At dawn the clouds had disappeared, and a red sun promised, over the
very fine broken hills beyond the railway. Old Dakhil-Allah, our active
guide and leader in the night, now took general charge, and sent us out
singly and in pairs to all the approaches of our hiding-place. He
himself crawled up the ridge before us to watch events upon the railway
through his glasses. I was praying that there might be no events till
the sun had gained power and warmed me, for the shivering fit still
jerked me about. However, soon the sun was up and unveiled, and things
improved. My clothes were drying. By noon it was nearly as hot as the
day before, and we were gasping for shade, and thicker clothes, against
the sun.

First of all, though, at six in the morning, Dakhil-Allah reported a
trolley, which came from the south, and passed over the mine
harmlessly--to our satisfaction, for we had not laid a beautiful
compound charge for just four men and a sergeant. Then sixty men
sallied out from Madahrij. This disturbed us till we saw that they were
to replace five telegraph poles blown down by the storm of the
afternoon before. Then at seven-thirty a patrol of eleven men went down
the line: two inspecting each rail minutely, three marching each side
of the bank looking for cross-tracks, and one, presumably the N.C.O.,
walking grandly along the metals with nothing to do.

However, to-day, they did find something, when they crossed our
footprints about kilometre 1,121. They concentrated there upon the
permanent way, stared at it, stamped, wandered up and down, scratched
the ballast; and thought exhaustively. The time of their search passed
slowly for us: but the mine was well hidden, so that eventually they
wandered on contentedly towards the south, where they met the Hedia
patrol, and both parties sat together in the cool shade of a bridge-arch,
and rested after their labours. Meanwhile the train, a heavy train,
came along from the south. Nine of its laden trucks held women and
children from Medina, civil refugees being deported to Syria, with
their household stuff. It ran over the charges without explosion. As
artist I was furious; as commander deeply relieved: women and children
were not proper spoil.

The Juheina raced to the crest where Dakhil-Allah and myself lay
hidden, when they heard the train coming, to see it blown in pieces.
Our stone headwork had been built for two, so that the hilltop, a bald
cone conspicuously opposite the working party, became suddenly and
visibly populous. This was too much for the nerves of the Turks, who
fled back into Madahrij, and thence, at about five thousand yards,
opened a brisk rifle fire. They must also have telephoned to Hedia,
which soon came to life: but since the nearest outpost on that side was
about six miles off, its garrisons held their fire, and contented
themselves with selections on the bugle, played all day. The distance
made it grave and beautiful.

Even the rifle shooting did us no harm; but the disclosure of ourselves
was unfortunate. At Madahrij were two hundred men, and at Hedia eleven
hundred, and our retreat was by the plain of Hamdh on which Hedia
stood. Their mounted troops might sally out and cut our rear. The
Juheina had good camels, and so were safe; but the machine-gun was a
captured German sledge-Maxim: a heavy load for its tiny mule. The
servers were on foot, or on other mules: their top speed would be only
six miles an hour, and their fighting value, with a single gun, not
high. So after a council of war we rode back with them half-way through
the hills, and there dismissed them, with fifteen Juheina, towards Wadi
Ais.

This made us mobile, and Dakhil-Allah, Sultan, Mohammed and I rode back
with the rest of our party for another look at the line. The sunlight
was now terrific, with faint gusts of scorching heat blowing up at us
out of the south. We took refuge about ten o'clock under some spacious
trees, where we baked bread and lunched, in nice view of the line, and
shaded from the worst of the sun. About us, over the gravel, circles of
pale shadow from the crisping leaves ran to and fro, like grey,
indeterminate bugs, as the slender branches dipped reluctantly in the
wind. Our picnic annoyed the Turks, who shot or trumpeted at us
incessantly through the middle day and till evening, while we slept in
turn.

About five they grew quiet, and we mounted and rode slowly across the
open valley towards the railway. Madahrij revived in a paroxysm of
fire, and all the trumpets of Hedia blared again. The monkey-pleasure
of pulling large and impressive legs was upon us. So when we reached
the line we made our camels kneel down beside it, and, led by
Dakhil-Allah as Imam, performed a sunset prayer quietly between the rails.
It was probably the first prayer of the Juheina for a year or so, and I
was a novice, but from a distance we passed muster, and the Turks
stopped shooting in bewilderment This was the first and last time I
ever prayed in Arabia as a Moslem.

After the prayer it was still much too light to hide our actions: so we
sat round on the embankment smoking, till dusk, when I tried to go off
by myself and dig up the mine, to learn, for service on the next
occasion, why it had failed. However, the Juheina were as interested in
that as I. Along they came in a swarm and clustered over the metals
during the search. They brought my heart into my throat, for it took me
an hour to find just where the mine was hidden. Laying a Garland mine
was shaky work, but scrabbling in pitch darkness up and down a hundred
yards of railway, feeling for a hair-trigger buried in the ballast,
seemed, at the time, an almost uninsurable occupation. The two charges
connected with it were so powerful that they would have rooted out
seventy yards of track; and I saw visions of suddenly blowing up, not
only myself, but my whole force, every moment. To be sure, such a feat
would have properly completed the bewilderment of the Turks!

At last I found it, and ascertained by touch that the lock had sunk
one-sixteenth of an inch, due to bad setting by myself or because the
ground had subsided after the rain. I firmed it into its place. Then,
to explain ourselves plausibly to the enemy, we began blowing up things
to the north of the mine. We found a little four-arch bridge and put it
into the air. Afterwards we turned to rails and cut about two hundred:
and while the men were laying and lighting charges I taught Mohammed to
climb a splintery pole; together we cut the wires, and with their
purchase dragged down other poles. All was done at speed, for we feared
lest Turks come after us: and when our explosive work was finished we
ran back like hares to our camels, mounted them, and trotted without
interruption down the windy valley once more to the plain of Hamdh.

There we were in safety, but old Dakhil-Allah was too pleased with the
mess we had made of the line to go soberly. When we were on the sandy
flat he beat up his camel into a canter, and we pounded madly after him
through the colourless moonlight. The going was perfect, and we never
drew rein for three hours, till we over-rode our machine-gun and its
escort camping on the road home. The soldiers heard our rout yelling
through the night, thought us enemies of sorts, and let fly at us with
their Maxim: but it jammed after half a belt, and they, being tailors
from Mecca, were unhandy with it. So no one was hurt, and we captured
them mirthfully.

In the morning we slept lazily long, and breakfasted at Rubiaan, the
first well in Wadi Ais. Afterwards we were smoking and talking, about
to bring in the camels, when suddenly we felt the distant shock of a
great explosion behind us on the railway. We wondered if the mine had
been discovered or had done its duty. Two scouts had been left to
report, and we rode slowly; for them, and because the rain two days ago
had brought down Wadi Ais once more in flood, and its bed was all
flecked over with shallow pools of soft, grey water, between banks of
silvery mud, which the current had rippled into fish-scales. The warmth
of the sun made the surface like fine glue, on which our helpless
camels sprawled comically, or went down with a force and completeness
surprising in such dignified beasts. Their tempers were roughened each
time by our fit of mirth.

The sunlight, the easy march and the expectation of the scouts' news
made everything gay, and we developed social virtues: but our limbs,
stiff from the exertions of yesterday, and our abundant food,
determined us to fall short of Abu Markha for the night. So, near
sunset, we chose a dry terrace in the valley to sleep upon. I rode up
it first and turned and looked at the men reined in below me in a
group, upon their bay camels like copper statues in the fierce light of
the setting sun; they seemed to be burning with an inward flame.

Before bread was baked the scouts arrived, to tell us that at dawn the
Turks had been busy round our damages; and a little later a locomotive
with trucks of rails, and a crowded labour gang on top, had come up
from Hedia, and had exploded the mine fore and aft of its wheels. This
was everything we had hoped, and we rode back to Abdullah's camp on a
morning of perfect springtime, in a singing company. We had proved that
a well-laid mine would fire; and that a well-laid mine was difficult
even for its maker to discover. These points were of importance; for
Newcombe, Garland and Hornby were now out upon the railway, harrying
it: and mines were the best weapon yet discovered to make the regular
working of their trains costly and uncertain for our Turkish enemy.




CHAPTER XXXVI



Despite his kindness and charm, I could not like Abdullah or his camp:
perhaps because I was not sociable, and these people had no personal
solitude: perhaps because their good humour showed me the futility of
my more than Palomides' pains, not merely to seem better than myself,
but to make others better. Whereas nothing was futile in the atmosphere
of higher thinking and responsibility which ruled at Feisal's. Abdulla
passed his merry day in the big cool tent accessible only to friends,
limiting suppliants or new adherents or the hearing of disputes to one
public session in the afternoon. For the rest he read the papers, ate
carefully, slept. Especially he played games, either chess with his
staff or practical jokes with Mohammed Hassan. Mohammed, nominally
Muedhdhin, was really court fool. A tiresome old fool I found him, as
my illness left me less even than usual in jesting mood.

Abdullah and his friends, Shakir, Fauzan, and the two sons of Hamza
among the Sherifs, with Sultan el Abbud and Hoshan, from the Ateiba,
and ibn Mesfer, the guest-master, would spend much of the day and all
the evening hours tormenting Mohammed Hassan. They stabbed him with
thorns, stoned him, dropped sun-heated pebbles down his back, set him
on fire. Sometimes the jest would be elaborate, as when they laid a
powder trail under the rugs, and lured Mohammed Hassan to sit on its
end. Once Abdullah shot a coffee-pot off his head thrice from twenty
yards, and then rewarded his long-suffering servility with three
months' pay.

Abdullah would sometimes ride a little, or shoot a little, and return
exhausted to his tent for massage; and afterwards reciters would be
introduced to soothe his aching head. He was fond of Arabic verses and
exceptionally well read. The local poets found him a profitable
audience. He was also interested in history and letters, and would have
grammatical disputations in his tent and adjudge money prizes.

He affected to have no care for the Hejaz situation, regarding the
autonomy of the Arabs as assured by the promises of Great Britain to
his father, and leaning at ease against this prop. I longed to tell him
that the half-witted old man had obtained from us no concrete or
unqualified undertaking of any sort, and that their ship might founder
on the bar of his political stupidity; but that would have been to give
away my English masters, and the mental tug of war between honesty and
loyalty, after swaying a while, settled again expediently into
deadlock.

Abdulla professed great interest in the war in Europe, and studied it
closely in the Press. He was also acquainted with Western politics, and
had learned by rote the courts and ministries of Europe, even to the
name of the Swiss President. I remarked again how much the comfortable
circumstance that we still had a King made for the reputation of
England in this world of Asia. Ancient and artificial societies like
this of the Sherifs and feudal chieftains of Arabia found a sense of
honourable security when dealing with us in such proof that the highest
place in our state was not a prize for merit or ambition.

Time slowly depressed my first, favourable, opinion of Abdulla's
character. His constant ailments, which once aroused compassion, became
fitter for contempt when their causes were apparent in laziness and
self-indulgence, and when he was seen to cherish them as occupations of
his too-great leisure. His casual attractive fits of arbitrariness now
seemed feeble tyranny disguised as whims; his friendliness became
caprice; his good humour love of pleasure. The leaven of insincerity
worked through all the fibres of his being. Even his simplicity
appeared false upon experience; and inherited religious prejudice was
allowed rule over the keenness of his mind because it was less trouble
to him than uncharted thought. His brain often betrayed its intricate
pattern, disclosing idea twisted tightly over idea into a strong cord
of design; and thus his indolence marred his scheming, too. The webs
were constantly unravelling through his carelessness in leaving them
unfinished. Yet they never separated into straight desires, or grew
into effective desires. Always he watched out of the corner of his
bland and open eye our returns to his innocent-sounding questions,
reading an insect-subtlety of significant meaning into every hesitation
or uncertainty or honest mistake.

One day I entered to find him sitting upright and wide-eyed with a spot
of red in either cheek. Sergeant Frost, his old tutor, had just come
from Colonel Bremond, innocent bearer of a letter which pointed out how
the British were wrapping up the Arabs on all sides--at Aden, at Gaza,
at Bagdad--and hoped that Abdulla realized his situation. He asked hotly
what I thought of it. In answer, I fell back on artifice, and replied
in a pretty phrase that I hoped he would suspect our honesty when he
found us backbiting our allies in private letters. The delicately
poisoned Arabic pleased him, and he paid us the edged compliment of
saying that he knew we were sincere, since otherwise we would not be
represented at Jeddah by Colonel Wilson. There, characteristically, his
subtlety hanged itself, not perceiving the double subtlety which
negatived him. He did not understand that honesty might be the best-paying
cat's paw of rogues, and Wilson, too, downright readily or quickly to
suspect evil in the dignitaries above him.

Wilson never told even a half-truth. If instructed to inform the King
diplomatically that the subsidy of the month could not at present be
increased, he would ring up Mecca and say, 'Lord, Lord, there is no
more money'. As for lying, he was not merely incapable of it, but also
shrewd enough to know that it was the worst gambit against players
whose whole life had passed in a mist of deceits, and whose perceptions
were of the finest. The Arab leaders showed a completeness of instinct,
a reliance upon intuition, the unperceived foreknown, which left our
centrifugal minds gasping. Like women, they understood and judged
quickly, effortlessly, unreasonably. It almost seemed as though the
Oriental exclusion of woman from politics had conferred her particular
gifts upon the men. Some of the speed and secrecy of our victory, and
its regularity, might perhaps be ascribed to this double endowment's
offsetting and emphasizing the rare feature that from end to end of it
there was nothing female in the Arab movement, but the camels.

The outstanding figure of Abdulla's entourage was Sherif Shakir, a man
of twenty-nine, and companion since boyhood of the four Emirs. His
mother was Circassian, as had been his grandmother. From them he
obtained his fair complexion; but the flesh of his face was torn away
by smallpox. From its white ruin two restless eyes looked out, very
bright and big; for the faintness of his eyelashes and eyebrows made
his stare directly disconcerting. His figure was tall, slim, almost
boyish from the continual athletic activity of the man. His sharp,
decided, but pleasant voice frayed out if he shouted. His manner while
delightfully frank, was abrupt, indeed imperious; with a humour as
cracked as his cackling laugh.

This bursting freedom of speech seemed to respect nothing on earth
except King Hussein: towards himself he exacted deference, more so than
did Abdulla, who was always playing tricks with his companions, the
bevy of silk-clad fellows who came about him when he would be easy.
Shakir joined wildly in the sport, but would smartingly punish a
liberty. He dressed simply, but very cleanly, and, like Abdulla, spent
public hours with toothpick and toothstick. He took no interest in
books and never wearied his head with meditation, but was intelligent
and interesting in talk. He was devout, but hated Mecca, and played
backgammon while Abdulla read the Koran. Yet by fits he would pray
interminably.

In war he was the man at arms. His feats made him the darling of the
tribes. He, in return, described himself as a Bedawi, and an Ateibi,
and imitated them. He wore his black hair in plaits down each side of
his face, and kept it glossy with butter, and strong by frequent
washings in camel urine. He encouraged nits, in deference to the Beduin
proverb that a deserted head showed an ungenerous mind: and wore the
BRIM, a plaited girdle of thin leathern thongs wrapped three or four
times round the loins to confine and support the belly. He owned
splendid horses and camels: was considered the finest rider in Arabia:
ready for a match with anyone.

Shakir gave me the sense that he preferred a fit of energy to sustained
effort: but there was balance and shrewdness behind his mad manner.
Sherif Hussein had used him on embassies to Cairo before the war, to
arrange private business with the Khedive of Egypt. The Beduin figure
must have looked strange in the stucco splendour of the Abdin. Abdulla
had unlimited admiration for Shakir and tried to see the world with his
eyes of gay carelessness. Between them they seriously complicated my
mission to Wadi Ais.




CHAPTER XXXVII



Of the tactical situation, Abdulla made very little, pretending
pettishly that it was Feisal's business. He had come to Wadi Ais to
please his younger brother, and there he would stay. He would not go on
raids himself, and hardly encouraged those who did. I detected jealousy
of Feisal in this, as if he wished ostentatiously to neglect military
operations to prevent unbecoming comparison with his brother's
performance. Had Shakir not helped me in the first instance, I might
have had delay and difficulty in getting started, though Abdulla would
have ceded in time and graciously permitted anything not calling
directly upon his own energies. However, there were now two parties on
the railway, with reliefs enough to do a demolition of some sort every
day or so. Much less interference than this would suffice to wreck the
working of trains, and by making the maintenance of the Turkish
garrison at Medina just a shade less difficult than its evacuation
would serve the interests of British and Arab alike. So I judged my
work in Wadi Ais sufficiently done, and well done.

I longed to get north again quit of this relaxing camp. Abdulla might
let me do all I wanted, but would do nothing of his own: whereas for me
the best value of the revolt lay in the things which the Arabs
attempted without our aid. Feisal was the working enthusiast with the
one idea of making his ancient race justify its renown by winning
freedom with its own hands. His lieutenants Nasir or Sharraf or Ali ibn
el Hussein seconded his plans with head and heart, so that my part
became only synthetic. I combined their loose showers of sparks into a
firm flame: transformed their series of unrelated incidents into a
conscious operation.

We left on the morning of April the tenth, after pleasant farewells
from Abdulla. My three Ageyl were again with me; and Arslan, the little
Syrian Punch-figure, very conscious of Arab dress, and of the droll
outlook and manners of all Bedouins. He rode disgracefully and endured
sorrow the whole way at the uneasy steps of his camels: but he salved
his self-respect by pointing out that in Damascus no decent man would
ride a camel, and his humour by showing that in Arabia no one but a
Damascene would ride so bad a camel as his. Mohammed el Kadhi was our
guide, with six Juheina.

We marched up Wadi Tleih as we had come, but branched off to the right,
avoiding the lava. We had brought no food, so stopped at some tents for
hospitality of their rice and millet. This springtime in the hills was
the time of plenty for the Arabs, whose tents were full of sheep-milk
and goat-milk and camel-milk, with everyone well fed and well looking.
Afterwards we rode, in weather like a summer's day in England, for five
hours down a narrow, flood-swept valley, Wadi Osman, which turned and
twisted in the hills hut gave an easy road. The last part of the march
was after dark, and when we stopped, Arslan was missing. We fired
volleys and lit fires hoping he would come upon us; but till dawn there
was no sign, and the Juheina ran back and forward in doubting search.
However, he was only a mile behind, fast asleep under a tree.

A short hour later we stopped at the tents of a wife of Dakhil-Allah,
for a meal. Mohammed allowed himself a bath, a fresh braiding of his
luxuriant hair, and clean clothes. They took very long about the food,
and it was not till near noon that at last it came: a great bowl of
saffron-rice, with a broken lamb littered over it. Mohammed, who felt
it his duty in my honour to be dainty in service, arrested the main
dish, and took from it the fill of a small copper basin for him and me.
Then he waved the rest of the camp on to the large supply. Mohammed's
mother knew herself old enough to be curious about me. She questioned
me about the women of the tribe of Christians and their way of life,
marvelling at my white skin, and the horrible blue eyes which looked,
she said, like the sky shining through the eye-sockets of an empty
skull.

Wadi Osman to-day was less irregular in course, and broadened slowly.
After two hours and a half it twisted suddenly to the right through a
gap, and we found ourselves in Hamdh, in a narrow, cliff-walled gorge.
As usual, the edges of the bed of hard sand were bare; and the middle
bristled with hamdla-asla trees, in grey, salty, bulging scabs. Before
us were flood-pools of sweet water, the largest of them nearly three
hundred feet long, and sharply deep. Its narrow bed was cut into the
light impervious clay. Mohammed said its water would remain till the
year's end, but would soon turn salt and useless.

After drinks we bathed in it, and found it full of little silver fish
like sardines: all ravenous. We loitered after bathing, prolonging our
bodily pleasure; and remounting in the dark, rode for six miles, till
sleepy. Then we turned away to higher ground for the night's camp. Wadi
Hamdh differed from the other wild valleys of Hejaz, in its chill air.
This was, of course, most obvious at night, when a white mist, glazing
the valley with a salt sweat, lifted itself some feet up and stood over
it motionless. But even by day, and in sunshine the Hamdh felt damp and
raw and unnatural.

Next morning we started early and passed large pools in the valley; but
only a few were fit to drink: the rest had gone green and brackish with
the little white fish floating, dead and pickled, in them. Afterwards
we crossed the bed, and struck northward over the plain of Ugila, where
Ross, our flight commander from Wejh, had lately made an aerodrome.
Arab guards were sitting by his petrol, and we breakfasted from them,
and afterwards went along Wadi Methar to a shady tree, where we slept
four hours.

In the afternoon everyone was fresh, and the Juheina began to match
their camels against one another. At first it was two and two, but the
others joined, till they were six abreast. The road was bad, and
finally, one lad cantered his animal into a heap of stones. She
slipped, so that he crashed off and broke an arm. It was a misfortune:
but Mohammed coolly tied him up with rags and camel-girths, and left
him at ease under a tree to rest a little before riding back to Ugila
for the night. The Arabs were casual about broken bones. In a tent at
Wadi Ais I had seen a youth whose forearm had set crookedly; realizing
this, he had dug into himself with a dagger till he had bared the bone,
re-broken it, and set it straight; and there he lay, philosophically
enduring the flies, with his left forearm huge under healing mosses and
clay, waiting for it to be well.

In the morning we pushed on to Khauthila, a well, where we watered the
camels. The water was impure and purged them. We rode again in the
evening for another eight miles, intending to race straight through to
Wejh in a long last day. So we got up soon after midnight, and before
daylight were coming down the long slope from Raal into the plain,
which extended across the mouths of Hamdh into the sea. The ground was
scarred with motor tracks, exciting a lively ambition in the Juheina to
hurry on and see the new wonders of Feisal's army. Fired by this, we
did a straight march of eight hours, unusually long for these Hejaz
Bedouin.

We were then reasonably tired, both men and camels, since we had had no
food after breakfast the day before. Therefore it seemed fit to the boy
Mohammed to run races. He jumped from his camel, took off his clothes,
and challenged us to race to the clump of thorns up the slope in front,
for a pound English. Everybody took the offer, and the camels set off
in a mob. The distance, about three-quarters of a mile, uphill, over
heavy sand, proved probably more than Mohammed had bargained for.
However, he showed surprising strength and won, though by inches: then
he promptly collapsed, bleeding from mouth and nose. Some of our camels
were good, and they went their fastest when pitted against one another.

The air here was very hot and heavy for natives of the hills, and I
feared there might be consequences of Mohammed's exhaustion: but after
we had rested an hour and made him a cup of coffee he got going again
and did the six remaining hours into Wejh as cheerfully as ever;
continuing to play the little pranks which had brightened our long
march from Abu Markha. If one man rode quietly behind another's camel,
poked his stick suddenly up its rump, and screeched, it mistook him for
an excited male, and plunged off at a mad gallop, very disconcerting to
the rider. A second good game was to cannon one galloping camel with
another, and crash it into a near tree. Either the tree went down
(valley trees in the light Hejaz soil were notably unstable things) or
the rider was scratched and torn; or, best of all, he was swept quite
out of his saddle, and left impaled on a thorny branch, if not dropped
violently to the ground. This counted as a bull, and was very popular
with everyone but him.

The Bedu were odd people. For an Englishman, sojourning with them was
unsatisfactory unless he had patience wide and deep as the sea. They
were absolute slaves of their appetite, with no stamina of mind,
drunkards for coffee, milk or water, gluttons for stewed meat,
shameless beggars of tobacco. They dreamed for weeks before and after
their rare sexual exercises, and spent the intervening days titillating
themselves and their hearers with bawdy tales. Had the circumstances of
their lives given them opportunity they would have been sheer
sensualists. Their strength was the strength of men geographically
beyond temptation: the poverty of Arabia made them simple, continent,
enduring. If forced into civilized life they would have succumbed like
any savage race to its diseases, meanness, luxury, cruelty, crooked
dealing, artifice; and, like savages, they would have suffered them
exaggeratedly for lack of inoculation.

If they suspected that we wanted to drive them either they were mulish
or they went away. If we comprehended them, and gave time and trouble
to make things tempting to them, then they would go to great pains for
our pleasure. Whether the results achieved were worth the effort, no
man could tell. Englishmen, accustomed to greater returns, would not,
and, indeed, could not, have spent the time, thought and tact lavished
every day by sheikhs and emirs for such meagre ends. Arab processes
were clear, Arab minds moved logically as our own, with nothing
radically incomprehensible or different, except the premiss: there was
no excuse or reason, except our laziness and ignorance, whereby we
could call them inscrutable or Oriental, or leave them misunderstood.

They would follow us, if we endured with them, and played the game
according to their rules. The pity was, that we often began to do so,
and broke down with exasperation and threw them over, blaming them for
what was a fault in our own selves. Such strictures like a general's
complaint of bad troops, were in reality a confession of our faulty
foresight, often made falsely out of mock modesty to show that, though
mistaken, we had at least the wit to know our fault.




CHAPTER XXXVIII



Cleanliness made me stop outside Wejh and change my filthy clothes.
Feisal, when I reported, led me into the inner tent to talk. It seemed
that everything was well. More cars had arrived from Egypt: Yenbo was
emptied of its last soldiers and stores: and Sharraf himself had come
up, with an unexpected unit, a new machine-gun company of amusing
origin. We had left thirty sick and wounded men in Yenbo when we
marched away; also heaps of broken weapons, with two British
armourer-sergeants repairing them. The sergeants, who found time hang
heavily, had taken mended maxims and patients and combined them into a
machine-gun company so thoroughly trained by dumb show that they were as
good as the best we had.

Rabegh also was being abandoned. The aeroplanes from it had flown up
here and were established. Their Egyptian troops had been shipped after
them, with Joyce and Goslett and the Rabegh staff, who were now in
charge of things at Wejh. Newcombe and Hornby were up country tearing
at the railway day and night, almost with their own hands for lack of
helpers. The tribal propaganda was marching forward: all was for the
best, and I was about to take my leave when Suleiman, the guest-master,
hurried in and whispered to Feisal, who turned to me with shining eyes,
trying to be calm, and said, 'Auda is here'. I shouted, 'Auda abu
Tayi', and at that moment the tent-flap was drawn back, before a deep
voice which boomed salutations to Our Lord, the Commander of the
Faithful. There entered a tall, strong figure, with a haggard face,
passionate and tragic. This was Auda, and after him followed Mohammed,
his son, a child in looks, and only eleven years old in truth.

Feisal had sprung to his feet. Auda caught his hand and kissed it, and
they drew aside a pace or two and looked at each other--a splendidly
unlike pair, typical of much that was best in Arabia, Feisal the
prophet, and Auda the warrior, each filling his part to perfection, and
immediately understanding and liking the other. They sat down. Feisal
introduced us one by one, and Auda with a measured word seemed to
register each person.

We had heard much of Auda, and were banking to open Akaba with his
help; and after a moment I knew, from the force and directness of the
man, that we would attain our end. He had come down to us like a
knight-errant, chafing at our delay in Wejh, anxious only to be
acquiring merit for Arab freedom in his own lands. If his performance
was one-half his desire, we should be prosperous and fortunate. The
weight was off all minds before we went to supper.

We were a cheerful party; Nasib, Faiz, Mohammed el Dheilan Auda's
politic cousin, Zaal his nephew, and Sherif Nasir, resting in Wejh for
a few days between expeditions. I told Feisal odd stories of Abdulla's
camp, and the joy of breaking railways. Suddenly Auda scrambled to his
feet with a loud 'God forbid', and flung from the tent. We stared at
one another, and there came a noise of hammering outside. I went after
to learn what it meant, and there was Auda bent over a rock pounding
his false teeth to fragments with a stone. 'I had forgotten,' he
explained, 'Jemal Pasha gave me these. I was eating my Lord's bread
with Turkish teeth!' Unfortunately he had few teeth of his own, so that
henceforward eating the meat he loved was difficulty and after-pain,
and he went about half-nourished till we had taken Akaba, and Sir
Reginald Wingate sent him a dentist from Egypt to make an Allied set.

Auda was very simply dressed, northern fashion, in white cotton with a
red Mosul head-cloth. He might be over fifty, and his black hair was
streaked with white; but he was still strong and straight, loosely
built, spare, and as active as a much younger man. His face was
magnificent in its lines and hollows. On it was written how truly the
death in battle of Annad, his favourite son, cast sorrow over all his
life when it ended his dream of handing on to future generations the
greatness of the name of Abu Tayi. He had large eloquent eyes, like
black velvet in richness. His forehead was low and broad, his nose very
high and sharp, powerfully hooked: his mouth rather large and mobile:
his beard and moustaches had been trimmed to a point in Howeitat style,
with the lower jaw shaven underneath.

Centuries ago the Howeitat came from Hejaz, and their nomad clans
prided themselves on being true Bedu. Auda was their master type. His
hospitality was sweeping; except to very hungry souls, inconvenient.
His generosity kept him always poor, despite the profits of a hundred
raids. He had married twenty-eight times, had been wounded thirteen
times; whilst the battles he provoked had seen all his tribesmen hurt
and most of his relations killed. He himself had slain seventy-five
men, Arabs, with his own hand in battle: and never a man except in
battle. Of the number of dead Turks he could give no account: they did
not enter the register. His Toweiha under him had become the first
fighters of the desert, with a tradition of desperate courage, a sense
of superiority which never left them while there was life and work to do:
but which had reduced them from twelve hundred men to less than five
hundred, in thirty years, as the standard of nomadic fighting rose.

Auda raided as often as he had opportunity, and as widely as he could.
He had seen Aleppo, Basra, Wejh, and Wadi Dawasir on his expeditions:
and was careful to be at enmity with nearly all tribes in the desert,
that he might have proper scope for raids. After his robber-fashion, he
was as hard-headed as he was hot-headed, and in his maddest exploits
there would be a cold factor of possibility to lead him through. His
patience in action was extreme: and he received and ignored advice,
criticism, or abuse, with a smile as constant as it was very charming.
If he got angry his face worked uncontrollably, and he burst into a fit
of shaking passion, only to be assuaged after he had killed: at such
times he was a wild beast, and men escaped his presence. Nothing on
earth would make him change his mind or obey an order to do the least
thing he disapproved; and he took no heed of men's feelings when his
face was set.

He saw life as a saga. All the events in it were significant: all
personages in contact with him heroic. His mind was stored with poems
of old raids and epic tales of fights, and he overflowed with them on
the nearest listener. If he lacked listeners he would very likely sing
them to himself in his tremendous voice, deep and resonant and loud. He
had no control over his lips, and was therefore terrible to his own
interests and hurt his friends continually. He spoke of himself in the
third person, and was so sure of his fame that he loved to shout out
stories against himself. At times he seemed taken by a demon of
mischief, and in public assembly would invent and utter on oath
appalling tales of the private life of his hosts or guests: and yet
with all this he was modest, as simple as a child, direct, honest,
kind-hearted, and warmly loved even by those to whom he was most
embarrassing--his friends.

Joyce lived near the beach, beside the spread lines of the Egyptian
troops, in an imposing array of large tents and small tents, and we
talked over things done or to do. Every effort was still directed
against the railway. Newcombe and Garland were near Muadhdham with
Sherif Sharraf and Maulud. They had many Billi, the mule-mounted
infantry, and guns and machine-guns, and hoped to take the fort and
railway station there. Newcombe meant then to move ahl Feisal's men
forward very close to Medain Salih, and, by taking and holding a part
of the line, to cut off Medina and compel its early surrender. Wilson
was coming up to help in this operation, and Davenport would take as
many of the Egyptian army as he could transport, to reinforce the Arab
attack.

All this programme was what I had believed necessary for the further
progress of the Arab Revolt when we took Wejh. I had planned and
arranged some of it myself. But now, since that happy fever and
dysentery in Abdulla's camp had given me leisure to meditate upon the
strategy and tactics of irregular war, it seemed that not merely the
details but the essence of this plan were wrong. It therefore became my
business to explain my changed ideas, and if possible to persuade my
chiefs to follow me into the new theory.

So I began with three propositions. Firstly, that irregulars would not
attack places, and so remained incapable of forcing a decision.
Secondly, that they were as unable to defend a line or point as they
were to attack it. Thirdly, that their virtue lay in depth, not in
face.

The Arab war was geographical, and the Turkish Army an accident. Our
aim was to seek the enemy's weakest material link and bear only on that
till time made their whole length fail. Our largest resources, the
Beduin on whom our war must be built, were unused to formal operations,
but had assets of mobility, toughness, self-assurance, knowledge of the
country, intelligent courage. With them dispersal was strength.
Consequently we must extend our front to its maximum, to impose on the
Turks the longest possible passive defence, since that was, materially,
their most costly form of war.

Our duty was to attain our end with the greatest economy of life, since
life was more precious to us than money or time. If we were patient and
superhuman-skilled, we could follow the direction of Saxe and reach
victory without battle, by pressing our advantages mathematical and
psychological. Fortunately our physical weakness was not such as to
demand this. We were richer than the Turks in transport, machine-guns,
cars, high explosive. We could develop a highly mobile, highly equipped
striking force of the smallest size, and use it successively at
distributed points of the Turkish line, to make them strengthen their
posts beyond the defensive minimum of twenty men. This would be a short
cut to success.

We must not take Medina. The Turk was harmless there. In prison in
Egypt he would cost us food and guards. We wanted him to stay at
Medina, and every other distant place, in the largest numbers. Our
ideal was to keep his railway just working, but only just, with the
maximum of loss and discomfort. The factor of food would confine him to
the railways, but he was welcome to the Hejaz Railway, and the
Trans-Jordan railway, and the Palestine and Syrian railways for the
duration of the war, so long as he gave us the other nine hundred and
ninety-nine thousandths of the Arab world. If he tended to evacuate too
soon, as a step to concentrating in the small area which his numbers could
dominate effectually, then we should have to restore his confidence by
reducing our enterprises against him. His stupidity would be our ally,
for he would like to hold, or to think he held, as much of his old
provinces as possible. This pride in his imperial heritage would keep
him in his present absurd position--all flanks and no front.

In detail I criticized the ruling scheme. To hold a middle point of the
railway would be expensive for the holding force might be threatened from
each side. The mixture of Egyptian troops with tribesmen was a moral
weakness. If there were professional soldiers present, the Beduin would
stand aside and watch them work, glad to be excused the leading part.
Jealousy, superadded to inefficiency, would be the outcome. Further,
the Billi country was very dry, and the maintenance of a large force up by
the line technically difficult.

Neither my general reasoning, however, nor my particular objections had
much weight. The plans were made, and the preparations advanced. Everyone
was too busy with his own work to give me specific authority to launch out
on mine. All I gained was a hearing, and a qualified admission that my
counter-offensive might be a useful diversion. I was working out with Auda
abu Tayi a march to the Howeitat in their spring pastures of the Syrian
desert. From them we might raise a mobile camel force, and rush Akaba from
the eastward without guns or machine-guns.

The eastern was the unguarded side, the line of least resistance, the
easiest for us. Our march would be an extreme example of a turning
movement, since it involved a desert journey of six hundred miles to
capture a trench within gunfire of our ships: but there was no practicable
alternative, and it was so entirely in the spirit of my sick-bed
ruminations that its issue might well be fortunate, and would surely be
instructive. Auda thought all things possible with dynamite and money,
and that the smaller clans about Akaba would join us. Feisal, who was
already in touch with them, also believed that they would help if we won a
preliminary success up by Maan and then moved in force against the port.
The Navy raided it while we were thinking, and their captured Turks gave
us such useful information that I became eager to go off at once.

The desert route to Akaba was so long and so difficult that we could take
neither guns nor machine-guns, nor stores nor regular soldiers.
Accordingly the element I would withdraw from the railway scheme was
only my single self; and, in the circumstances, this amount was
negligible, since I felt so strongly against it that my help there would
have been half-hearted. So I decided to go my own way, with or without
orders. I wrote a letter full of apologies to Clayton, telling him that
my intentions were of the best: and went.





BOOK FOUR. Extending to Akaba




CHAPTERS XXXIX TO LIV



THE PORT OF AKABA WAS NATURALLY SO STRONG THAT IT COULD BE TAKEN ONLY
BY SURPRISE FROM INLAND: BUT THE OPPORTUNE ADHERENCE TO FEISAL OF AUDA
ABU TAYI MADE US HOPE TO ENROL ENOUGH TRIBESMEN IN THE EASTERN DESERT
FOR SUCH A DESCENT UPON THE COAST.

NASIR, AUDA, AND I SET OFF TOGETHER ON THE LONG RIDE. HITHERTO FEISAL
HAD BEEN THE PUBLIC LEADER: BUT HIS REMAINING IN WEJH THREW THE
UNGRATEFUL LOAD OF THIS NORTHERN EXPEDITION UPON MYSELF. I ACCEPTED IT
AND ITS DISHONEST IMPLICATION AS OUR ONLY MEANS OF VICTORY. WE TRICKED
THE TURKS AND ENTERED AKABA WITH GOOD FORTUNE.




CHAPTER XXXIX



By May the ninth all things were ready, and in the glare of mid-afternoon
we left Feisal's tent, his good wishes sounding after us from the hill-top
as we marched away. Sherif Nasir led us: his lucent goodness, which
provoked answering devotion even from the depraved, made him the only
leader (and a benediction) for forlorn hopes. When we broke our wishes to
him he had sighed a little, for he was body-weary after months of
vanguard-service, and mind-weary too, with the passing of youth's careless
years. He feared his maturity as it grew upon him, with its ripe thought,
its skill, its finished art; yet which lacked the poetry of boyhood to
make living a full end of life. Physically, he was young yet: but his
changeful and mortal soul was ageing quicker than his body-going to die
before it, like most of ours.

Our short stage was to the fort of Sebeil, inland Wejh, where the
Egyptian pilgrims used to water. We camped by their great brick tank,
in shade of the fort's curtain-wall, or of the palms, and put to rights
the deficiencies which this first march had shown. Auda and his kinsmen
were with us; also Nesib el Bekri, the politic Damascene, to represent
Feisal to the villagers of Syria. Nesib had brains and position, and
the character of a previous, successful, desert-journey: his cheerful
endurance of adventure, rare among Syrians, marked him out as our
fellow, as much as his political mind, his ability, his persuasive
good-humoured eloquence, and the patriotism which often overcame his
native passion for the indirect. Nesib chose Zeki, a Syrian officer, as
his companion. For escort we had thirty-five Ageyl, under ibn
Dgheithir, a man walled into his own temperament: remote, abstracted,
self-sufficient. Feisal made up a purse of twenty thousand pounds in
gold--all he could afford and more than we asked for--to pay the wages of
the new men we hoped to enrol, and to make such advances as should
stimulate the Howeitat to swiftness.

This inconvenient load of four hundredweight of gold we shared out
between us, against the chance of accident upon the road. Sheikh Yusuf,
now back in charge of supply, gave us each a half-bag of flour, whose
forty-five pounds were reckoned a man's pinched ration for six weeks.
This went slung on the riding-saddle, and Nasir took enough on baggage
camels to distribute a further fourteen pounds per man when we had
marched the first fortnight, and had eaten room for it in our bags.

We had a little spare ammunition and some spare rifles as presents; and
loaded six camels with light packs of blasting gelatine for rails or
trains or bridges in the north. Nasir, a great Emir in his own place,
also carried a good tent in which to receive visitors, and a camel load
of rice for their entertainment: but the last we ate between us with
huge comfort, as the unrelieved dietary of water--bread and water, week
after week, grew uninspiring. Being beginners in this style of
travelling, we did not know that dry flour, the lightest food, was
therefore the best for a long journey. Six months later neither Nasir
nor myself wasted transport and trouble on the rice-luxury.

My Ageyl--Mukheymer, Merjan, Ali--had been supplemented by Mohammed, a
blowsy obedient peasant boy from some village in Hauran, and by Gasim,
of Maan, a fanged and yellow-faced outlaw, who fled into the desert to
the Howeitat, after killing a Turkish official in a dispute over cattle
tax. Crimes against tax-gatherers had a sympathetic aspect for all of
us, and this gave Gasim a specious rumour of geniality, which actually
was far from truth.

We seemed a small party to win a new province, and so apparently others
thought; for presently Lamotte, Bremond's representative with Feisal,
rode up to take a farewell photograph of us. A little later Yusuf
arrived, with the good doctor, and Shefik, and Nesib's brothers, to
wish us success on our march. We joined in a spacious evening meal,
whose materials the prudent Yusuf had brought with him. His not-slender
heart perhaps misgave him at the notion of a bread supper: or was it
the beautiful desire to give us a last feast before we were lost in the
wilderness of pain and evil refreshment?

After they had gone we loaded up, and started before midnight on
another stage of our journey to the oasis of Kurr. Nasir, our guide,
had grown to know this country nearly as well as he did his own.

While we rode through the moonlit and starry night, his memory was
dwelling very intimately about his home. He told me of their stone-paved
house whose sunk halls had vaulted roofs against the summer heat,
and of the gardens planted with every kind of fruit tree, in shady
paths about which they could walk at ease, mindless of the sun. He told
me of the wheel over the well, with its machinery of leathern
trip-buckets, raised by oxen upon an inclined path of hard-trodden earth;
and of how the water from its reservoir slid in concrete channels by
the borders of the paths; or worked fountains in the court beside the
great vine-trellised swimming tank, lined with shining cement, within
whose green depth he and his brother's household used to plunge at
midday.

Nasir, though usually merry, had a quick vein of suffering in him, and
to-night he was wondering why he, an Emir of Medina, rich and powerful
and at rest in that garden-palace, had thrown up all to become the weak
leader of desperate adventures in the desert. For two years he had been
outcast, always fighting beyond the front line of Feisal's armies,
chosen for every particular hazard, the pioneer in each advance; and,
meanwhile, the Turks were in his house, wasting his fruit trees and
chopping down his palms. Even, he said, the great well, which had
sounded with the creak of the bullock wheels for six hundred years, had
fallen silent; the garden, cracked with heat, was becoming waste as the
bund hills over which we rode.

After four hours' march we slept for two, and rose with the sun. The
baggage camels, weak with the cursed mange of Wejh, moved slowly,
grazing all day as they went. We riders, light-mounted, might have
passed them easily; but Auda, who was regulating our marches, forbade,
because of the difficulties in front, for which our animals would need
all the fitness we could conserve in them. So we plodded soberly on for
six hours in great heat. The summer sun in this country of white sand
behind Wejh could dazzle the eyes cruelly, and the bare rocks each side
our path threw off waves of heat which made our heads ache and swim.
Consequently, by eleven of the forenoon we were mutinous against Auda's
wish still to hold on. So we halted and lay under trees till half-past
two, each of us trying to make a solid, though shifting shadow for
himself by means of a doubled blanket caught across the thorns of
overhanging boughs.

We rode again, after this break, for three gentle hours over level
bottoms, approaching the walls of a great valley; and found the green
garden of El Kurr lying just in front of us. White tents peeped from
among the palms. While we dismounted, Rasim and Abdulla, Mahmud, the
doctor, and even old Maulud, the cavalryman, came out to welcome us.
They told us that Sherif Sharraf, whom we wished to meet at Abu Raga,
our next stopping place, was away raiding for a few days. This meant
that there was no hurry, so we made holiday at El Kurr for two nights.

It contented me: for the trouble of boils and fever which had shackled
me in Wadi Ais had come afresh, more strongly, making each journey a
pain, and each rest a blessed relaxation of my will strong to go on--a
chance to add patience to a scant reserve. So I lay still, and received
into my mind the sense of peace, the greenness and the presence of
water which made this garden in the desert beautiful and haunting, as
though pre-visited. Or was it merely that long ago we had seen fresh
grass growing in the spring?

The inhabitant of Kurr, the only sedentary Belluwi, hoary Dhaif-Allah,
laboured day and night with his daughters in the little terraced plot
which he had received from his ancestors. It was built out of the south
edge of the valley in a bay defended against flood by a massive wall of
unhewn stone. In its midst opened the well of clear cold water, above
which stood a balance-cantilever of mud and rude poles. By this
Dhaif-Allah, morning and evening when the sun was low, drew up great bowls
of water and spilled them into clay runnels contrived through his garden
among the tree roots. He grew low palms, for their spreading leaves
shaded his plants from the sun which otherwise might in that stark
valley wither them, and raised young tobacco (his most profitable
crop); with smaller plots of beans and melons, cucumbers and egg-plants,
in due season.

The old man lived with his women in a brushwood hut beside the well,
and was scornful of our politics, demanding what more to eat or drink
these sore efforts and bloody sacrifices would bring. We gently teased
him with notions of liberty; with freedom of the Arab countries for the
Arabs. 'This Garden, Dhaif-Allah, should it not be your very own?'
However, he would not understand, but stood up to strike himself
proudly on the chest, crying, 'I--I am Kurr'.

He was free and wanted nothing for others; and only his garden for
himself. Nor did he see why others should not become rich in a like
frugality. His felt skull-cap, greased with sweat to the colour and
consistence of lead, he boasted had been his grandfather's, bought when
Ibrahim Pasha was in Wejh a century before: his other necessary garment
was a shirt, and annually, with his tobacco, he would buy the shirt of
the new year for himself; one for each of his daughters, and one for
the old woman--his wife.

Still we were grateful to him, for, besides that he showed an example
of contentment to us slaves of unnecessary appetite, he sold vegetables
and on them, and on the tinned bounty of Rasim and Abdulla and Mahmud,
we lived richly. Each evening round the fires they had music, not the
monotonous open-throated roaring of the tribes, nor the exciting
harmony of the Ageyl, but the falsetto quarter tones and trills of
urban Syria. Maulud had musicians in his unit; and bashful soldiers
were brought up each evening to play guitars and sing cafe songs of
Damascus or the love verses of their villages. In Abdulla's tent, where
I was lodged, distance, the ripple of the fragrant out-pouring water,
and the tree-leaves softened the music, so that it became dully
pleasant to the ear.

Often, too, Nesib el Bekri would take out his manuscript of the songs
of Selim el Jezairi, that fierce unscrupulous revolutionary who, in his
leisure moments between campaigns, the Staff College, and the bloody
missions he fulfilled for the Young Turks, his masters, had made up
verses in the common speech of the people about the freedom which was
coming to his race. Nesib and his friends had a swaying rhythm in which
they would chant these songs, putting all hope and passion into the
words, their pale Damascus faces moon-large in the firelight, sweating.
The soldier camp would grow dead silent till the stanza ended, and then
from every man would come a sighing, longing echo of the last note.
Only old Dhaif-Allah went on splashing out his water, sure that after
we had finished with our silliness someone would yet need and buy his
greenstuff.




CHAPTER XL



To townsmen this garden was a memory of the world before we went mad
with war and drove ourselves into the desert: to Auda there was an
indecency of exhibition in the plant-richness, and he longed for an
empty view. So we cut short our second night in paradise, and at two in
the morning went on up the valley. It was pitch dark, the very stars in
the sky being unable to cast light into the depths where we were
wandering. To-night Auda was guide, and to make us sure of him he
lifted up his voice in an interminable Tio, ho, ho' song of the
Howeitat; an epic chanted on three bass notes, up and down, back and
forward, in so round a voice that the words were indistinguishable.
After a little we thanked him for the singing, since the path went away
to the left, and our long line followed his turn by the echoes of his
voice rolling about the torn black cliffs in the moonlight.

On this long journey Sherif Nasir and Auda's sour-smiling cousin,
Mohammed el Dheilan, took pains with my Arabic, giving me by turn
lessons in the classical Medina tongue, and in the vivid desert
language. At the beginning my Arabic had been a halting command of the
tribal dialects of the Middle Euphrates (a not impure form), but now it
became a fluent mingling of Hejaz slang and north-tribal poetry with
household words and phrases from the limpid Nejdi, and book forms from
Syria. The fluency had a lack of grammar, which made my talk a
perpetual adventure for my hearers. Newcomers imagined I must be the
native of some unknown illiterate district; a shot-rubbish ground of
disjected Arabic parts of speech.

However, as yet I understood not three words of Auda's, and after half
an hour his chant tired me, while the old moon climbed slowly up the
sky, sailed over the topmost hills and threw a deceitful light, less
sure than darkness, into our valley. We marched until the early sun,
very trying to those who had ridden all night, opposed us.

Breakfast was off our own flour, thus lightening at last, after days of
hospitality, our poor camels' food-load. Sharraf being not yet in Abu
Raga, we made no more of haste than water-difficulties compelled; and,
after food, again put up our blanket roofs and lay till afternoon,
fretfully dodging after their unstable shadow, getting moist with heat
and the constant pricking of flies.

At last Nasir gave the marching signal, and we went on up the defile,
with slightly pompous hills each side, for four hours; when we agreed
to camp again in the valley bed. There was abundant brushwood for fuel;
and up the cliff on our right were rock-pools of fresh water, which
gave us a delicious drink. Nasir was wrought up; he commanded rice for
supper, and the friends to feed with us.

Our rule of march was odd and elaborate. Nasir, Auda, and Nesib were so
many separate, punctilious houses, admitting the supremacy of Nasir
only because I lived with him as a guest and furnished them with the
example of respect. Each required to be consulted on the details of our
going, and where and when we should halt. This was inevitable with
Auda, a child of battle who had never known a master, since, as a tiny
boy, he had first ridden his own camel. It was advisable with Nesib, a
Syrian of the queasy Syrian race; jealous; hostile to merit, or to its
acknowledgement.

Such people demanded a war-cry and banner from outside to combine them,
and a stranger to lead them, one whose supremacy should be based on an
idea: illogical, undeniable, discriminant: which instinct might accept
and reason find no rational basis to reject or approve. For this army
of Feisal's the conceit was that an Emir of Mecca, a descendant of the
prophet, a Sherif, was an otherworldly dignitary whom sons of Adam
might reverence without shame. This was the binding assumption of the
Arab movement; it was this which gave it an effective, if imbecile
unanimity.

In the morning we rode at five. Our valley pinched together, and we
went round a sharp spur, ascending steeply. The track became a bad
goat-path, zigzagging up a hill-side too precipitous to climb except on
all fours. We dropped off our camels and led them by the head-stalls.
Soon we had to help each other, a man urging the camels from behind,
another pulling them from the front, encouraging them over the worst
places, adjusting their loads to ease them.

Parts of the track were dangerous, where rocks bulged out and narrowed
it, so that the near half of the load grazed and forced the animal to
the cliff-edge. We had to re-pack the food and explosives; and, in
spite of all our care, lost two of our feeble camels in the pass. The
Howeitat killed them where they lay broken, stabbing a keen dagger into
the throat-artery near the chest, while the neck was strained tight by
pulling the head round to the saddle. They were at once cut up and
shared out as meat.

The head of the pass we were glad to find not a range but a spacious
plateau which sloped slowly before us to the east. The first yards were
rough and rocky, overgrown with low mats of thorns like ling; but
afterwards we came to a valley of white shingle, in whose bed a Beduin
woman was filling her water-skin with a copper cup, ladling milky
water, quite pure and sweet, from a little hole a foot wide, scraped
elbow deep in the pebbles. This was Abu Saad, and for its name's sake
and for its water, and the joints of red meat bumping on our saddles,
we settled we would stay here one night, filling up yet more of the
time which must be filled before Sharraf came back from his expedition
against the railway.

So we rode on four more miles, to camp under spreading trees, in
close-grown thickets of thorn-scrub, hollow underneath like booths. By
day these made tent-ribs for our blankets stretched against the masterful
sun. At night they were bowers for our sleeping-places. We had learned
to sleep with nothing overhead but moon and stars, and nothing either
side to keep distant the winds and noises of the night; and by contrast
it was strange, but quieting, to rest within walls, with a roof above;
even though walls and roof were only interlacing twigs making a darker
mesh against the star-scattered sky.

For myself, I was ill again; a fever increasing upon me, and my body
very sore with boils and the rubbing of my sweaty saddle. When Nasir,
without my prompting, had halted at the half-stage, I turned and
thanked him warmly, to his astonishment. We were now on the limestone
of the Shefa crest. Before us lay a great dark lava-field, and short of
it a range of red and black banded sandstone cliffs with conical tops.
The air on the high tableland was not so warm; and morning and evening
there blew across us a free current which was refreshing after the
suspended stillness of the valleys.

We breakfasted on our camel meat, and started more gaily the next
morning down a gently-falling plateau of red sandstone. Then we came to
the first break of surface, a sharp passage to the bottom of a
shrub-grown, sandy valley, on each side of which sandstone precipices and
pinnacles, gradually growing in height as we went down, detached
themselves sharply against the morning sky. It was shadowed in the
bottom, and the air tasted wet and decayed, as though sap was drying
out into it. The edges of the cliffs about us were clipped strangely,
like fantastic parapets. We wound on, ever deeper into the earth until,
half an hour later, by a sharp corner we entered Wadi Jizil, the main
gutter of these sandstone regions, whose end we had seen near Hedia.

Jizil was a deep gorge some two hundred yards in width, full of
tamarisk sprouting from the bed of drifted sand, as well as from the
soft twenty-foot banks, heaped up wherever an eddy in flood or wind had
laid the heavier dust under the returns of cliffs. The walls each side
were of regular bands of sandstone, streaked red in many shades. The
union of dark cliffs, pink floors, and pale green shrubbery was
beautiful to eyes sated with months of sunlight and sooty shadow. When
evening came, the declining sun crimsoned one side of the valley with
its glow, leaving the other in purple gloom.

Our camp was on some swelling dunes of weedy sand in an elbow of the
valley, where a narrow cleft had set up a back-wash and scooped out a
basin in which a brackish remnant of last winter's flood was caught. We
sent a man for news up the valley to an oleander thicket where we saw
the white peaks of Sharraf's tents. They expected him next day; so we
passed two nights in this strange-coloured, echoing place. The brackish
pool was fit for our camels, and in it we bathed at noon. Then we ate
and slept generously, and wandered in the nearer valleys to see the
horizontal stripes of pink and brown and cream and red which made up
the general redness of the cliffs, delighting in the varied patterns of
thin pencillings of lighter or darker tint which were drawn over the
plain body of rock. One afternoon I spent behind some shepherd's fold
of sandstone blocks in warm soft air and sunlight, with a low burden of
the wind plucking at the rough wall-top above my head. The valley was
instinct with peace, and the wind's continuing noise made even it seem
patient.

My eyes were shut and I was dreaming, when a youthful voice made me see
an anxious Ageyli, a stranger, Daud, squatting by me. He appealed for
my compassion. His friend Farraj had burned their tent in a frolic, and
Saad, captain of Sharraf's Ageyl was going to beat him in punishment.
At my intercession he would be released. Saad happened, just then, to
visit me, and I put it to him, while Daud sat watching us, his mouth
slightly, eagerly, open; his eyelids narrowed over large, dark eyes,
and his straight brows furrowed with anxiety. Daud's pupils, set a
little in from the centre of the eyeball, gave him an air of acute
readiness.

Saad's reply was not comforting. The pair were always in trouble, and
of late so outrageous in their tricks that Sharraf, the severe, had
ordered an example to be made of them. All he could do for my sake was
to let Daud share the ordained sentence. Daud leaped at the chance,
kissed my hand and Saad's and ran off up the valley; while Saad,
laughing, told me stories of the famous pair. They were an instance of
the eastern boy and boy affection which the segregation of women made
inevitable. Such friendships often led to manly loves of a depth and
force beyond our flesh-steeped conceit. When innocent they were hot and
unashamed. If sexuality entered, they passed into a give and take,
unspiritual relation, like marriage.

Next day Sharraf did not come. Our morning passed with Auda talking of
the march in front, while Nasir with forefinger and thumb flicked
sputtering matches from the box across his tent at us. In the midst of
our merriment two bent figures, with pain in their eyes, but crooked
smiles upon their lips, hobbled up and saluted. These were Daud the
hasty and his love-fellow, Farraj; a beautiful, soft-framed, girlish
creature, with innocent, smooth face and swimming eyes. They said they
were for my service. I had no need of them; and objected that after
their beating they could not ride. They replied they had now come
bare-backed. I said I was a simple man who disliked servants about him.
Daud turned away, defeated and angry; but Farraj pleaded that we must have
men, and they would follow me for company and out of gratitude. While
the harder Daud revolted, he went over to Nasir and knelt in appeal,
all the woman of him evident in his longing. At the end, on Nasir's
advice, I took them both, mainly because they looked so young and
clean.




CHAPTER XLI



Sharraf delayed to come until the third morning, but then we heard him
loudly, for the Arabs of his raiding force fired slow volleys of shots
into the air, and the echoes were thrown about the windings of the
valley till even the barren hills seemed to join in the salute. We
dressed in our cleanest to go and call on him. Auda wore the splendours
he had bought at Wejh: a mouse-coloured greatcoat of broadcloth with
velvet collar, and yellow elastic-sided boots: these below his
streaming hair and ruined face of a tired tragedian! Sharraf was kind
to us, for he had captured prisoners on the line and blown up rails and
a culvert. One piece of his news was that in Wadi Diraa, on our road,
were pools of rain-water, new fallen and sweet. This would shorten our
waterless march to Fejr by fifty miles, and remove its danger of
thirst; a great benefit, for our total water carriage came to about
twenty gallons, for fifty men; too slender a margin of safety.

Next day we left Abu Raga near mid-afternoon, not sorry, for this
beautiful place had been unhealthy for us and fever had bothered us
during our three days in its confined bed. Auda led us up a tributary
valley which soon widened into the plain of the Shegg--a sand flat.
About it, in scattered confusion, sat small islands and pinnacles of
red sandstone, grouped like seracs, wind-eroded at the bases till they
looked very fit to fall and block the road; which wound in and out
between them, through narrows seeming to give no passage, but always
opening into another bay of blind alleys. Through this maze Auda led
unhesitatingly; digging along on his camel, elbows out, hands poised
swaying in the air by his shoulders.

There were no footmarks on the ground, for each wind swept like a great
brush over the sand surface, stippling the traces of the last
travellers till the surface was again a pattern of innumerable tiny
virgin waves. Only the dried camel droppings, which were lighter than
the sand and rounded like walnuts, escaped over its ripples.

They rolled about, to be heaped in corners by the skirling winds. It
was perhaps by them, as much as by his unrivalled road-sense, that Auda
knew the way. For us, the rock shapes were constant speculation and
astonishment; their granular surfaces and red colour and the curved
chiselling of the sand-blast upon them softened the sunlight, to give
our streaming eyes relief.

In the mid-march we perceived five or six riders coming from the
railway. I was in front with Auda, and we had that delicious thrill:
fiend or enemy?' of meeting strangers in the desert, whilst we
circumspectly drew across to the vantage side which kept the rifle-arm
free for a snap shot; but when they came nearer we saw they were of the
Arab forces. The first, riding loosely on a hulking camel, with the
unwieldy Manchester-made timber saddle of the British Camel Corps, was
a fair-haired, shaggy-bearded Englishman in tattered uniform. This we
guessed must be Hornby, Newcombe's pupil, the wild engineer who vied
with him in smashing the railway. After we had exchanged greetings, on
this our first meeting, he told me that Newcombe had lately gone to
Wejh to talk over his difficulties with Feisal and make fresh plans to
meet them.

Newcombe had constant difficulties owing to excess of zeal, and his
habit of doing four times more than any other Englishman would do; ten
times what the Arabs thought needful or wise. Hornby spoke little
Arabic; and Newcombe not enough to persuade, though enough to give
orders; but orders were not in place inland. The persistent pair would
cling for weeks to the railway edge, almost without helpers, often
without food, till they had exhausted either explosives or camels and
had to return for more. The barrenness of the hills made their trips
hungry for camels, and they wore out Feisal's best animals in turn. In
this Newcombe was chief sinner, for his journeys were done at the trot;
also, as a surveyor, he could not resist a look from each high hill
over the country he crossed, to the exasperation of his escort who must
either leave him to his own courses (a lasting disgrace to abandon a
companion of the road), or founder their own precious and irreplaceable
camels in keeping pace with him. 'Newcombe is like fire,' they used to
complain; Tie burns friend and enemy'; and they admired his amazing
energy with nervous shrinking lest they should be his next friendly
victims.

Arabs told me Newcombe would not sleep except head on rails, and that
Hornby would worry the metals with his teeth when gun-cotton failed.
These were legends, but behind them lay a sense of their joint
insatiate savagery in destroying till there was no more to destroy.
Four Turkish labour battalions they kept busy, patching culverts,
relaying sleepers, jointing new rails; and gun-cotton had to come in
increasing tons to Wejh to meet their appetites. They were wonderful,
but their too-great excellence discouraged our feeble teams, making
them ashamed to exhibit their inferior talent: so Newcombe and Hornby
remained as individualists, barren of the seven-fold fruits of
imitation.

At sunset we reached the northern limit of the ruined sandstone land,
and rode up to a new level, sixty feet higher than the old, blue-black
and volcanic, with a scattered covering of worn basalt-blocks, small as
a man's hand, neatly bedded like cobble paving over a floor of fine,
hard, black cinder-debris of themselves. The rain in its long pelting
seemed to have been the agent of these stony surfaces by washing away
the lighter dust from above and between, till the stones, set closely
side by side and as level as a carpet, covered all the face of the
plain and shielded from direct contact with weather the salty mud which
filled the interstices of the lava flow beneath. It grew easier going,
and Auda ventured to carry on after the light had failed, marching upon
the Polar Star.

It was very dark; a pure night enough, but the black stone underfoot
swallowed the light of the stars, and at seven o'clock, when at last we
halted, only four of our party were with us. We had reached a gentle
valley, with a yet damp, soft, sandy bed, full of thorny brushwood,
unhappily useless as camel food. We ran about tearing up these bitter
bushes by the roots and heaping them in a great pyre, which Auda lit.
When the fire grew hot a long black snake wormed slowly out into our
group; we must have gathered it, torpid, with the twigs. The flames
went shining across the dark flat, a beacon to the heavy camels which
had lagged so much to-day that it was two hours before the last group
arrived, the men singing their loudest, partly to encourage themselves
and their hungry animals over the ghostly plain, partly so that we
might know them friends. We wished their slowness slower, because of
our warm fire. In the night some of our camels strayed and our people
had to go looking for them so long, that it was nearly eight o'clock,
and we had baked bread and eaten, before again we started. Our track
lay across more lava-field, but to our morning strength the stones
seemed rarer, and waves or hard surfaces of laid sand often drowned
them smoothly with a covering as good to march on as a tennis court. We
rode fast over this for six or seven miles, and then turned west of a
low cinder-crater across the flat, dark, stony watershed which divided
Jizil from the basin in which the railway ran. These great water
systems up here at their springing were shallow, sandy beds, scoring
involved yellow lines across the blue-black plain. From our height the
lie of the land was patent for miles, with the main features coloured
in layers, like a map.

We marched steadily till noon, and then sat out on the bare ground till
three; an uneasy halt made necessary by our fear that the dejected
camels, so long accustomed only to the sandy tracks of the coastal
plain, might have their soft feet scorched by the sun-baked stones, and
go lame with us on the road. After we mounted, the going became worse,
and we had continually to avoid large fields of piled basalt, or deep
yellow watercourses which cut through the crust into the soft stone
beneath. After a while red sandstone again cropped out in crazy
chimneys, from which the harder layers projected knife-sharp in level
shelves beyond the soft, crumbling rock. At last these sandstone ruins
became plentiful, in the manner of yesterday, and stood grouped about
our road in similar chequered yards of light and shade. Again we
marvelled at the sureness with which Auda guided our little party
through the mazy rocks.

They passed, and we re-entered volcanic ground. Little pimply craters
stood about, often two or three together, and from them spines of high,
broken basalt led down like disordered causeways across the barren
ridges; but these craters looked old, not sharp and well-kept like
those of Ras Gara, near Wadi Ais, but worn and degraded, sometimes
nearly to surface level by a great bay broken into their central
hollow. The basalt which ran out from them was a coarse bubbled rock,
like Syrian dolerite. The sand-laden winds had ground its exposed
surfaces to a pitted smoothness like orange-rind, and the sunlight had
faded out its blue to a hopeless grey.

Between craters the basalt was strewn in small tetrahedra, with angles
rubbed and rounded, stone tight to stone like tesseract upon a bed of
pink-yellow mud. The ways worn across such flats by the constant
passage of camels were very evident, since the slouching tread had
pushed the blocks to each side of the path, and the thin mud of wet
weather had run into these hollows and now inlaid them palely against
the blue. Less-used roads for hundreds of yards were like narrow
ladders across the stone-fields, for the tread of each foot was filled
in with clean yellow mud, and ridges or bars of the blue-grey stone
remained between each stepping place. After a stretch of such stone-laying
would be a field of jet-black basalt cinders, firm as concrete
in tie sun-baked mud, and afterwards a valley of soft, black sand, with
more crags of weathered sandstone rising from the blackness, or from
waves of the wind-blown red and yellow grains of their own decay.

Nothing in the march was normal or reassuring. We felt we were in an
ominous land, incapable of life, hostile even to the passing of life,
except painfully along such sparse roads as time had laid across its
face. We were forced into a single file of weary camels, picking a
hesitant way step by step through the boulders for hour after hour. At
last Auda pointed ahead to a fifty-foot ridge of large twisted blocks,
lying coursed one upon the other as they had writhed and shrunk in
their cooling. There was the limit of lava; and he and I rode on
together and saw in front of us an open rolling plain (Wadi Aish) of
fine scrub and golden sand, with green bushes scattered here and there.
It held a very little water in holes which someone had scooped after
the rainstorm of three weeks ago. We camped by them and drove our
unladen camels out till sunset, to graze for the first adequate time
since Abu Raga.

While they were scattered over the land, mounted men appeared on the
horizon to the east, making towards the water. They came on too quickly
to be honest, and fired at our herdsmen; but the rest of us ran at once
upon the scattered reefs and knolls, shooting or shouting. Hearing us
so many they drew off as fast as their camels would go; and from the
ridge in the dusk we saw them, a bare dozen in all, scampering away
towards the line. We were glad to see them avoid us so thoroughly. Auda
thought they were a Shammar patrol.

At dawn we saddled up for the short stage to Diraa, the water pools of
which Sharraf had told us. The first miles were through the grateful
sand and scrub of Wadi Aish, and afterwards we crossed a simple lava
flat. Then came a shallow valley, more full of sandstone pillars and
mushrooms and pinnacles than anywhere yesterday. It was a mad country,
of nine-pins from ten to sixty feet in height. The sand-paths between
them were wide enough for one only, and our long column wound blindly
through, seldom a dozen of us having common sight at once. This ragged
thicket of stone was perhaps a third of a mile in width, and stretched
like a red copse to right and left across our path.

Beyond it a graded path over black ledges of rotten stone led us to a
plateau strewn with small, loose, blue-black basalt shards. After a
while we entered Wadi Diraa and marched down its bed for an hour or
more, sometimes over loose grey stone, sometimes along a sandy bottom
between low lips of rock. A deserted camp with empty sardine tins gave
proof of Newcombe and Hornby. Behind were the limpid pools, and we
halted there till afternoon; for we were now quite near the railway,
and had to drink our stomachs full and fill our few water-skins, ready
for the long dash to Fejr.

In the halt Auda came down to see Farraj and Daud dress my camel with
butter for relief against the intolerable itch of mange which had
broken out recently on its face. The dry pasturage of the Billi country
and the infected ground of Wejh had played havoc with our beasts. In ahl
Feisal's stud of riding-camels there was not one healthy; in our
little expedition every camel was weakening daily. Nasir was full of
anxiety lest many break down in the forced march before us and leave
their riders stranded in the desert.

We had no medicines for mange and could do little for it in spite of
our need. However, the rubbing and anointing did make my animal more
comfortable, and we repeated it as often as Farraj or Daud could find
butter in our party. These two boys were giving me great satisfaction.
They were brave and cheerful beyond the average of Arab servant-kind.
As their aches and pains wore off they showed themselves active, good
riders, and willing workmen. I liked their freedom towards myself and
admired their instinctive understanding with one another against the
demands of the world.




CHAPTER XLII



By a quarter to four we were in the saddle, going down Wadi Diraa, into
steep and high ridges of shifting sand, sometimes with a cap of harsh
red rock jutting from them. After a while, three or four of us, in
advance of the main body, climbed a sand-peak on hands and knees to spy
out the railway. There was no air, and the exercise was more than we
required; but our reward was immediate, for the line showed itself
quiet and deserted-looking, on a green flat at the mouth of the deep
valley down which the rest of the company was marching circumspectly
with ready weapons.

We checked the men at the bottom of their narrow sand-fold, whilst we
studied the railway. Everything was indeed peaceful and empty, even to
the abandoned blockhouse in a rich patch of rank grass and weeds
between us and the line. We ran to the edge of the rock-shelf, leaped
out from it into the fine dry sand, and rolled down in a magnificent
slide till we came to an abrupt and rather bruising halt in the level
ground beside the column. We mounted, to hurry our camels out to the
grazing, and leaving them there ran over to the railway and shouted the
others on.

This unmolested crossing was blessed, for Sharraf had warned us
seriously against the enemy patrols of mule-riding infantry and camel
corps, reinforced from the entrenched posts by infantry on trolleys
mounting machine-guns. Our riding-beasts we chased into the grass to
feed for a few minutes, while the heavy camels marched over the valley,
the line, and the farther flat, till sheltered in the sand and rock
mouths of the country beyond the railway. Meanwhile the Ageyl amused us
by fixing gun-cotton or gelatine charges about our crossing-place to as
many of the rails as we had time to reach, and when our munching camels
had been dragged away into safety on the far side of the line, we
began, in proper order, to light the fuses, filling the hollow valley
with the echoes of repeated bursts.

Auda had not before known dynamite, and with a child's first pleasure
was moved to a rush of hasty poetry on its powerful glory. We cut three
telegraph wires, and fastened the free ends to the saddles of six
riding-camels of the Howeitat. The astonished team struggled far into
the eastern valleys with the growing weight of twanging, tangling wire
and the bursting poles dragging after them. At last they could no
longer move. So we cut them loose and rode laughing after the caravan.

For five miles we proceeded in the growing dusk, between ridges which
seemed to run down like fingers from some knuckle in front of us. At
last their rise and fall became too sharp to be crossed with safety by
our weak animals in the dark, and we halted. The baggage and the bulk
of our riders were still ahead of us, keeping the advantage they had
gained while we played with the railway. In the night we could not find
them, for the Turks were shouting hard and shooting at shadows from
their stations on the line behind us; and we judged it prudent to keep
quiet ourselves, not lighting fires nor sending up signals to attract
attention.

However, ibn Dgheithir, in charge of the main body, had left a
connecting file behind, and so before we had fallen asleep, two men
came in to us, and reported that the rest were securely camped in the
hidden fold of a steep sand-bank a little further on. We threw our
saddle-bags again across our camels, and plodded after our guides in
the murky dark (to-night was almost the last night of the moon) till we
reached their hushed picket on the ridge, and bedded ourselves down
beside them without words.

In the morning Auda had us afoot before four, going uphill, till at
last we climbed a ridge, and plunged over, down a sand slope. Into it
our camels sank knee-deep, held upright despite themselves by its
clinging. They were able to make forward only by casting themselves on
and down its loose face, breaking their legs out of it by their bodies'
weight. At the bottom we found ourselves in the head-courses of a
valley, which trended towards the railway. Another half-hour took us to
the springing of this, and we breasted the low edge of the plateau
which was the watershed between Hejaz and Sirhan. Ten yards more, and
we were beyond the Red Sea slope of Arabia, fairly embarked upon the
mystery of its central drainage.

Seemingly it was a plain, with an illimitable view downhill to the
east, where one gentle level after another slowly modulated into a
distance only to be called distance because it was a softer blue, and
more hazy. The rising sun flooded this falling plain with a perfect
level of light, throwing up long shadows of almost imperceptible
ridges, and the whole life and play of a complicated ground-system--but
a transient one; for, as we looked at it, the shadows drew in towards
the dawn, quivered a last moment behind their mother-banks, and went
out as though at a common signal. Full morning had begun: the river of
sunlight, sickeningly in the full-face of us moving creatures, poured
impartially on every stone of the desert over which we had to go.

Auda struck out north-eastward, aiming for a little saddle which joined
the low ridge of Ugula to a lofty hill on the divide, to our left or
north about three miles away. We crossed the saddle after four miles,
and found beneath our feet little shallow runnels of water-courses in
the ground. Auda pointed to them, saying that they ran to Nebk in
Sirhan, and that we would follow their swelling bed northward and
eastward to the Howeitat in their summer camp.

A little later we were marching over a low ridge of slivers of
sandstone with the nature of slate, sometimes quite small, but other
times great slabs ten feet each way and, perhaps, four inches thick.
Auda ranged up beside my camel, and pointing with his riding-stick told
me to write down on my map the names and nature of the land. The
valleys on our left were the Seyal Abu Arad, rising in Selhub, and fed
by many successors from the great divide, as it prolonged itself
northward to Jebel Rufeiya by Tebuk. The valleys on our right were the
Siyul el Kelb, from Ugula, Agidat el Jemelein, Lebda and the other
ridges which bent round us in a strung bow eastward and north-eastward
carrying the great divide as it were in a foray out across the plain.
These two water systems united fifty miles before us in Fejr, which was
a tribe, its well, and the valley of its well. I cried Auda mercy of
his names, swearing I was no writer-down of unspoiled countries, or
pandar to geographical curiosity; and the old man, much pleased, began
to tell me personal notes and news of the chiefs with us, and in front
upon our line of march. His prudent talk whiled away the slow passage
of abominable desolation.

The Fejr Bedouin, whose property it was, called our plain El Houl
because it was desolate; and to-day we rode in it without seeing signs
of life; no tracks of gazelle, no lizards, no burrowing of rats, not
even any birds. We, ourselves, felt tiny in it, and our urgent progress
across its immensity was a stillness or immobility of futile effort.
The only sounds were the hollow echoes, like the shutting down of
pavements over vaulted places, of rotten stone slab on stone slab when
they tilted under our camels' feet; and the low but piercing rustle of
the sand, as it crept slowly westward before the hot wind along the
worn sandstone, under the harder overhanging caps which gave each reef
its eroded, rind-like shape.

It was a breathless wind, with the furnace taste sometimes known in
Egypt when a khamsin came; and, as the day went on and the sun rose in
the sky it grew stronger, more filled with the dust of the Nefudh, the
great sand desert of Northern Arabia, close by us over there, but
invisible through the haze. By noon it blew a half-gale, so dry that
our shrivelled lips cracked open, and the skin of our faces chapped;
while our eyelids, gone granular, seemed to creep back and bare our
shrinking eyes. The Arabs drew their head-clothes tightly across their
noses, and pulled the brow-folds forward like vizors with only a
narrow, loose-flapping slit of vision.

At this stifling price they kept their flesh unbroken, for they feared
the sand particles which would wear open the chaps into a painful
wound: but, for my own part, I always rather liked a khamsin, since its
torment seemed to fight against mankind with ordered conscious
malevolence, and it was pleasant to outface it so directly, challenging
its strength, and conquering its extremity. There was pleasure also in
the salt sweat-drops which ran singly down the long hair over my
forehead, and dripped like ice-water on my cheek. At first, I played at
catching them in my mouth; but, as we rode further into the desert and
the hours passed, the wind became stronger, thicker in dust, more
terrible in heat. All semblance of friendly contest passed. My camel's
pace became sufficient increase to the irritation of the choking waves,
whose dryness broke my skin and made my throat so painful that for
three days afterwards I could eat little of our stodgy bread. When
evening at last came to us I was content that my burned face still felt
the other and milder air of darkness.

We plodded on all the day (even without the wind forbidding us there
could have been no more luxury-halts under the shadow of blankets, if
we would arrive unbroken men with strong camels at el Fejr), and
nothing made us widen an eye or think a thought till after three in the
afternoon. Then, above two natural tumuli, we came to a cross-ridge
swelling at last into a hill. Auda huskily spat extra names at me.

Beyond it a long slope, slow degrees of a washed gravel surface with
stripings of an occasional torrent-bed, went down westward. Auda and I
trotted ahead together for relief against the intolerable slowness of
the caravan. This side the sunset glow a modest wall of hills barred
our way to the north. Shortly afterwards the Seil abu Arad, turning
east, swept along our front in a bed a fair mile wide; it was inches
deep with scrub as dry as dead wood, which crackled and split with
little spurts of dust when we began to gather it for a fire to show the
others where we had made the halt. We gathered and gathered vigorously,
till we had a great cock ready for lighting. Then we found that neither
of us had a match.

The mass did not arrive for an hour or more, when the wind had
altogether died away, and the evening, calm and black and full of
stars, had come down on us. Auda set a watch through the night, for
this district was in the line of raiding parties, and in the hours of
darkness there were no friends in Arabia. We had covered about fifty
miles this day; all we could at a stretch, and enough according to our
programme. So we halted the night hours; partly because our camels were
weak and ill, and grazing meant much to them, and partly because the
Howeitat were not intimate with this country, and feared to lose their
way if they should ride too boldly without seeing.




CHAPTER XLIII



Before dawn the following day we started down the bed of Seil Abu Arad
till the white sun came up over the Zibliyat hills ahead of us. We
turned more north to cut off an angle of the valley, and halted for
half an hour till we saw the main body coming. Then Auda, Nasir and
myself, unable longer to endure passively the hammer strokes of the sun
upon our bowed heads, pushed forward at a jerky trot. Almost at once we
lost sight of the others in the lymph-like heat-vapour throbbing across
the flat: but the road was evident, down the scrubby bed of Wadi Fejr.

At the height of noon we reached the well of our desire. It was about
thirty feet deep, stone-steyned, seemingly ancient. The water was
abundant, slightly brackish, but not ill-tasting when drunk fresh:
though it soon grew foul in a skin. The valley had flooded in some
burst of rain the year before, and therefore contained much dry and
thirsty pasturage: to this we loosed our camels. The rest came up, and
drew water and baked bread. We let the camels crop industriously till
nightfall, then watered them again, and pounded them under the bank a
half-mile from the water, for the night: thus leaving the well
unmolested in case raiders should need it in the dark hours. Yet our
sentries heard no one.

As usual we were off before dawn, though we had an easy march before
us; but the heated glare of the desert became so painful that we
designed to pass the midday in some shelter. After two miles the valley
spread out, and later we came to a low, broken cliff on the east bank
opposite the mouth of Seil Raugha. Here the country looked more green,
and we asked Auda to fetch us game. He sent Zaal one way and rode
westward himself across the open plain which stretched beyond view,
while we turned in to the cliffs and found beneath their fallen crags
and undercut ledges abundant shady nooks, cool against the sun and
restful for our unaccustomed eyes.

The hunters returned before noon, each with a good gazelle. We had
filled our water-skins at Fejr, and could use them up, for the water of
Abu Ajaj was near: so there was feasting on bread and meat in our stone
dens. These indulgences, amid the slow fatigue of long unbroken
marches, were grateful to the delicate townsfolk among us: to myself,
and to Zeki, and Nesib's Syrian servants, and in a lesser degree to
Nesib himself. Nasir's courtesy as host, and his fount of native
kindliness made him exquisite in attention to us whenever the road
allowed. To his patient teaching I owed most of my later competence to
accompany tribal Arabs on the march without ruining their range and
speed.

We rested till two in the afternoon, and reached our stage, Khabr Ajaj,
just before sunset, after a dull ride over a duller plain which
prolonged Wadi Fejr to the eastward for many miles. The pool was of
this year's rain, already turned thick; and brackish; but good for
camels and just possible for men to drink. It lay in a shallow double
depression by Wadi Fejr, whose flood had filled it two feet deep over
an area two hundred yards across. At its north end was a low sandstone
dump. We had thought to find Howeitat here; but the ground was grazed
bare and the water fouled by their animals, while they themselves were
gone. Auda searched for their tracks, but could find none: the wind-storms
had swept the sand-face into clean new ripples. However, since
they had come down here from Tubaik, they must have gone on and out
into Sirhan: so, if we went away northward, we should find them.

The following day, despite the interminable lapse of time, was only our
fourteenth from Wejh; and its sun rose upon us again marching. In the
afternoon we at last left Wadi Fejr to steer for Arfaja in Sirhan, a
point rather east of north. Accordingly, we inclined right, over flats
of limestone and sand, and saw a distant corner of the Great Nefudh,
the famous belts of sand-dune which cut off Jebel Shammar from the
Syrian Desert. Palgrave, the Blunts, and Gertrude Bell amongst the
storied travellers had crossed it, and I begged Auda to bear off a
little and let us enter it, and their company: but he growled that men
went to the Nefudh only of necessity, when raiding, and that the son of
his father did not raid on a tottering, mangy camel. Our business was
to reach Arfaja alive.

So we wisely marched on, over monotonous, glittering sand; and over
those worse stretches, 'Giaan', of polished mud, nearly as white and
smooth as laid paper, and often whole miles square. They blazed back
the sun into our faces with glassy vigour, so we rode with its light
raining direct arrows upon our heads, and its reflection glancing up
from the ground through our inadequate eyelids. It was not a steady
pressure, but a pain ebbing and flowing; at one time piling itself up
and up till we nearly swooned; and then falling away coolly, in a
moment of false shadow like a black web crossing the retina: these gave
us a moment's breathing space to store new capacity for suffering, like
the struggles to the surface of a drowning man.

We grew short-answered to one another; but relief came toward six
o'clock, when we halted for supper, and baked ourselves fresh bread. I
gave my camel what was left over of my share, for the poor animal went
tired and hungry in these bad marches. She was the pedigree camel given
by Ibn Saud of Nejd to King Hussein and by him to Feisal; a splendid
beast; rough, but sure-footed on hills, and great-hearted. Arabs of
means rode none but she-camels, since they went smoother under the
saddle than males, and were better tempered and less noisy: also, they
were patient and would endure to march long after they were worn out,
indeed until they tottered with exhaustion and fell in their tracks and
died: whereas the coarser males grew angry, flung themselves down when
tired, and from sheer rage would die there unnecessarily.

After dark we crawled for three hours, reaching the top of a sand-ridge.
There we slept thankfully, after a bad day of burning wind, dust
blizzards, and drifting sand which stung our inflamed faces, and at
times, in the greater gusts, wrapped the sight of our road from us and
drove our complaining camels up and down. But Auda was anxious about
the morrow, for another hot head-wind would delay us a third day in the
desert, and we had no water left: so he called us early in the night,
and we marched down into the plain of the Bisaita (so called in
derision, for its huge size and flatness), before day broke. Its fine
surface-litter of sun-browned flints was restfully dark after sunrise
for our streaming eyes, but hot and hard going for our camels, some of
which were already limping with sore feet.

Camels brought up on the sandy plains of the Arabian coast had delicate
pads to their feet; and if such animals were taken suddenly inland for
long marches over flints or other heat-retaining ground, their soles
would burn, and at last crack in a blister; leaving quick flesh, two
inches or more across, in the centre of the pad. In this state they
could march as ever over sand; but if, by chance, the foot came down on
a pebble, they would stumble, or flinch as though they had stepped on
fire, and in a long march might break down altogether unless they were
very brave. So we rode carefully, picking the softest way, Auda and
myself in front.

As we went, some little puffs of dust scurried into the eye of the
wind. Auda said they were ostriches. A man ran up to us with two great
ivory eggs. We settled to breakfast on this bounty of the Bisaita, and
looked for fuel; but in twenty minutes found only a wisp of grass. The
barren desert was defeating us. The baggage train passed, and my eye
fell on the loads of blasting gelatine. We broached a packet, shredding
it carefully into a fire beneath the egg propped on stones, till the
cookery was pronounced complete. Nasir and Nesib, really interested,
dismounted to scoff at us. Auda drew his silver-hilted dagger and
chipped the top of the first egg. A stink like a pestilence went across
our party. We fled to a clean spot, rolling the second egg hot before
us with gentle kicks. It was fresh enough, and hard as a stone. We dug
out its contents with the dagger on to the flint flakes which were our
platters, and ate it piecemeal; persuading even Nasir, who in his life
before had never fallen so low as egg-meat, to take his share. The
general verdict was: tough and strong, but good in the Bisaita.

Zaal saw an oryx; stalked it on foot, and killed it. The better joints
were tied upon the baggage camels for the next halt, and our march
continued. Afterwards the greedy Howeitat saw more oryx in the distance
and went after the beasts, who foolishly ran a little; then stood still
and stared till the men were near, and, too late, ran away again. Their
white shining bellies betrayed them; for, by the magnification of the
mirage, they winked each move to us from afar.




CHAPTER XLIV



I was too weary, and too little sporting, to go out of the straight way
for all the rare beasts in the world; so I rode after the caravan,
which my camel overhauled quickly with her longer stride. At the tail
of it were my men, walking. They feared that some of their animals
would be dead before evening, if the wind blew stronger, but were
leading them by hand in hope of getting them in. I admired the contrast
between Mohammed the lusty, heavy-footed peasant, and the lithe Ageyl,
with Farraj and Daud dancing along, barefooted, delicate as
thoroughbreds. Only Gasim was not there: they thought him among the
Howeitat, for his surliness offended the laughing soldiery and kept him
commonly with the Beduin, who were more of his kidney.

There was no one behind, so I rode forward wishing to see how his camel
was: and at last found it, riderless, being led by one of the Howeitat.
His saddle-bags were on it, and his rifle and his food, but he himself
nowhere; gradually it dawned on us that the miserable man was lost.
This was a dreadful business, for in the haze and mirage the caravan
could not be seen two miles, and on the iron ground it made no tracks:
afoot he would never overtake us.

Everyone had marched on, thinking him elsewhere in our loose line; but
much time had passed and it was nearly midday, so he must be miles
back. His loaded camel was proof that he had not been forgotten asleep
at our night halt. The Ageyl ventured that perhaps he had dozed in the
saddle and fallen, stunning or killing himself: or perhaps someone of
the party had borne him a grudge. Anyway they did not know. He was an
ill-natured stranger, no charge on any of them, and they did not
greatly care.

True: but it was true also that Mohammed, his countryman and fellow,
who was technically his road-companion, knew nothing of the desert, had
a foundered camel, and could not turn back for him.

If I sent him, it would be murder. That shifted the difficulty to my
shoulders. The Howeitat, who would have helped, were away in the mirage
out of sight, hunting or scouting. Ibn Dgheithir's Ageyl were so
clannish that they would not put themselves about except for one
another. Besides Gasim was my man: and upon me lay the responsibility
of him.

I looked weakly at my trudging men, and wondered for a moment if I
could change with one, sending him back on my camel to the rescue. My
shirking the duty would be understood, because I was a foreigner: but
that was precisely the plea I did not dare set up, while I yet presumed
to help these Arabs in their own revolt. It was hard, anyway, for a
stranger to influence another people's national movement, and doubly
hard for a Christian and a sedentary person to sway Moslem nomads. I
should make it impossible for myself if I claimed, simultaneously, the
privileges of both societies.

So, without saying anything, I turned my unwilling camel round, and
forced her, grunting and moaning for her camel friends, back past the
long line of men, and past the baggage into the emptiness behind. My
temper was very unheroic, for I was furious with my other servants,
with my own play-acting as a Beduin, and most of all with Gasim, a
gap-toothed, grumbling fellow, skrimshank in all our marches,
bad-tempered, suspicious, brutal, a man whose engagement I regretted, and
of whom I had promised to rid myself as soon as we reached a
discharging-place. It seemed absurd that I should peril my weight in the
Arab adventure for a single worthless man.

My camel seemed to feel it also, by her deep grumbling; but that was a
constant recourse of ill-treated camels. From calfhood they were
accustomed to live in droves, and some grew too conventional to march
alone: while none would leave their habitual party without loud grief
and unwillingness, such as mine was showing. She turned her head back
on her long neck, lowing to the rest, and walked very slowly, and
bouncingly. It needed careful guidance to hold her on the road, and a
tap from my stick at every pace to keep her moving. However, after a
mile or two, she felt better, and began to go forward less
constrainedly, but still slowly. I had been noting our direction all
these days with my oil compass, and hoped, by its aid, to return nearly
to our starting place, seventeen miles away.

Before twenty minutes, the caravan was out of sight, and it was borne
in on me how really barren the Bisaita was. Its only marks were the old
sanded samh pits, across all possible of which I rode, because my camel
tracks would show in them, and be so many blazes of the way back. This
samh was the wild flour of the Sherarat; who, poor in all but
camel-stocks, made it a boast to find the desert sufficient for their
every need. When mixed with dates and loosened with butter, it was good
food.

The pits, little threshing floors, were made by pushing aside the
flints over a circle of ten feet across. The flints, heaped up round
the rim of the pit, made it inches deep, and in this hollow place the
women collected and beat out the small red seed. The constant winds,
sweeping since over them, could not indeed put back the flint surface
(that would perhaps be done by the rain in thousands of winters), but
had levelled them up with pale blown sand, so that the pits were grey
eyes in the black stony surface.

I had ridden about an hour and a half, easily, for the following breeze
had let me wipe the crust from my red eyes and look forward almost
without pain: when I saw a figure, or large bush, or at least something
black ahead of me. The shifting mirage disguised height or distance;
but this thing seemed moving, a little east of our course. On chance I
turned my camel's head that way, and in a few minutes saw that it was
Gasim. When I called he stood confusedly; I rode up and saw that he was
nearly blinded and silly, standing there with his arms held out to me,
and his black mouth gaping open. The Ageyl had put our last water in my
skin, and this he spilled madly over his face and breast, in haste to
drink. He stopped babbling, and began to wail out his sorrows. I sat
him, pillion, on the camel's rump; then stirred her up and mounted.

At our turn the beast seemed relieved, and moved forward freely. I set
an exact compass course, so exact that often I found our old tracks, as
little spurts of paler sand scattered over the brown-black flint. In
spite of our double weight the camel began to stride out, and at times
she even put her head down and for a few paces developed that fast and
most comfortable shuffle to which the best animals, while young, were
broken by skilled riders. This proof of reserve spirit in her rejoiced
me, as did the little time lost in search.

Gasim was moaning impressively about the pain and terror of his thirst:
I told him to stop; but he went on, and began to sit loosely; until at
each step of the camel he bumped down on her hinder quarters with a
crash, which, like his crying, spurred her to greater pace. There was
danger in this, for we might easily founder her so. Again I told him to
stop, and when he only screamed louder, hit him and swore that for
another sound I would throw him off. The threat, to which my general
rage gave colour, worked. After it he clung on grimly without sound.

Not four miles had passed when again I saw a black bubble, lunging and
swaying in the mirage ahead. It split into three, and swelled. I
wondered if they were enemy. A minute later the haze unrolled with the
disconcerting suddenness of illusion; and it was Auda with two of
Nasir's men come back to look for me. I yelled jests and scoffs at them
for abandoning a friend in the desert. Auda pulled his beard and
grumbled that had he been present I would never have gone back. Gasim
was transferred with insults to a better rider's saddle-pad, and we
ambled forward together.

Auda pointed to the wretched hunched-up figure and denounced me, 'For
that thing, not worth a camel's price . . .' I interrupted him with
'Not worth a half-crown, Auda', and he, delighted in his simple mind,
rode near Gasim, and struck him sharply, trying to make him repeat,
like a parrot, his price. Gasim bared his broken teeth in a grin of
rage and afterwards sulked on. In another hour we were on the heels of
the baggage camels, and as we passed up the inquisitive line of our
caravan, Auda repeated my joke to each pair, perhaps forty times in
all, till I had seen to the full its feebleness.

Gasim explained that he had dismounted to ease nature, and had missed
the party afterwards in the dark: but, obviously, he had gone to sleep,
where he dismounted, with the fatigue of our slow, hot journeying. We
rejoined Nasir and Nesib in the van. Nesib was vexed with me, for
perilling the lives of Auda and myself on a whim. It was clear to him
that I reckoned they would come back for me. Nasir was shocked at his
ungenerous outlook, and Auda was glad to rub into a townsman the
paradox of tribe and city; the collective responsibility and
group-brotherhood of the desert, contrasted with the isolation and
competitive living of the crowded districts.

Over this little affair hours had passed, and the rest of the day
seemed not so long; though the heat became worse, and the sandblast
stiffened in our faces till the air could be seen and heard, whistling
past our camels like smoke. The ground was flat and featureless till
five o'clock, when we saw low mounds ahead, and a little later found
ourselves in comparative peace, amid sand-hills coated slenderly with
tamarisk. These were the Kaseim of Sirhan. The bushes and the dunes
broke the wind, it was sunset, and the evening mellowed and reddened on
us from the west. So I wrote in my diary that Sirhan was beautiful.

Palestine became a land of milk and honey to those who had spent forty
years in Sinai: Damascus had the name of an earthly paradise to the
tribes which could enter it only after weeks and weeks of painful
marching across the flint-stones of this northern desert: and likewise
the Kaseim of Arfaja in which we spent that night, after five days
across the blazing Houl in the teeth of a sand-storm, looked fresh and
countryfied. They were raised only a few feet above the Bisaita, and
from them valleys seemed to run down towards the east into a huge
depression where lay the well we wanted: but now that we had crossed
the desert and reached the Sirhan safely, the terror of thirst had
passed and we knew fatigue to be our chief ill. So we agreed to camp
for the night where we were, and to make beacon fires for the slave of
Nuri Shaalan, who, like Gasim, had disappeared from our caravan to-day.

We were not greatly perturbed about him. He knew the country and his
camel was under him. It might be that he had intentionally taken the
direct way to Jauf, Nuri's capital, to earn the reward of first news
that we came with gifts. However it was, he did not come that night,
nor next day; and when, months after, I asked Nuri of him, he replied
that his dried body had lately been found, lying beside his unplundered
camel far out in the wilderness. He must have lost himself in the
sand-haze and wandered till his camel broke down; and there died of thirst
and heat. Not a long death--even for the very strongest a second day in
summer was all--but very painful; for thirst was an active malady; a
fear and panic which tore at the brain and reduced the bravest man to a
stumbling babbling maniac in an hour or two: and then the sun killed
him.




CHAPTER XLV



Having not a mouthful of water we of course ate nothing: which made it
a continent night. Yet the certainty of drink on the morrow let us
sleep easily, lying on our bellies to prevent the inflation of
foodlessness. Arab habit was to fill themselves to vomiting point at
each well, and either to go dry to the next; or, if they carried water,
to use it lavishly at the first halt, drinking and bread-making. As my
ambition was to avoid comment upon my difference, I copied them,
trusting with reason that their physical superiority was not great
enough to trap me into serious harm. Actually I only once went ill with
thirst.

Next morning we rode down slopes, over a first ridge, and a second, and
a third; each three miles from the other; till at eight o'clock we
dismounted by the wells of Arfaja, the sweet-smelling bush so called
being fragrant all about us. We found the Sirhan not a valley, but a
long fault draining the country on each side of it and collecting the
waters into the successive depressions of its bed. The ground surface
was of flinty gravel, alternating with soft sand; and the aimless
valleys seemed hardly able to trace their slow and involved levels
between the loose sand-dunes, over which blew the feathery tamarisk;
its whipcord roots binding the slopes together.

The unlined wells were dug about eighteen feet, to water creamy to the
touch with a powerful smell and brackish taste. We found it delicious,
and since there was greenstuff about, good for camel food, decided to
stay here the day while we searched for the Howeitat by sending to
Maigua, the southernmost well of Sirhan. So we should establish whether
they were behind us; and if they were not, could march towards the
north with confidence that we were on their track.

Hardly, however, had our messenger ridden off when one of the Howeitat
saw riders hiding in the scrub to the northward of us.

Instantly they called to arms. Mohammed el Dheilan, first into the
saddle, with other Toweiha galloped out against the supposed enemy;
Nasir and I mustered the Ageyl (whose virtue lay not in fighting
Beduin-fashion with Beduins) and placed them in sets about the dunes so
as reasonably to defend the baggage. However, the enemy got off.
Mohammed returned after half an hour to say that he had not made
relentless pursuit for pity of the condition of his camel. He had seen
only three tracks and supposed that the men had been scouts of a
Shammar raiding party in the neighbourhood, Arfaja being commonly
infested by them.

Auda called up Zaal, his nephew, the keenest eye of all the Howeitat,
and told him to go out and discover the enemy's number and intention.
Zaal was a lithe metallic man, with a bold appraising look, cruel lips,
and a thin laugh, full of the brutality which these nomad Howeitat had
caught from the peasantry. He went off and searched; but found the
thicket of brushwood about us full of tracks; while the tamarisk kept
the wind off the sandy floor, and made it impossible to distinguish
particularly the footprints of to-day.

The afternoon passed peacefully, and we lulled ourselves, though we
kept a sentry on the head of the great dune behind the water-holes. At
sunset I went down and washed myself in the smarting brine; and on my
way back halted at the Ageyl fire to take coffee with them, while
listening to their Nejdi Arabic. They began to tell me long stories of
Captain Shakespear, who had been received by ibn Saud in Riyadh as a
personal friend, and had crossed Arabia from the Persian Gulf to Egypt;
and been at last killed in battle by the Shammar in a set-back which
the champions of Nejd had suffered during one of their periodic wars.

Many of the Ageyl of ibn Dgheithir had travelled with him, as escort or
followers, and had tales of his magnificence and of the strange
seclusion in which he kept himself day and night. The Arabs, who
usually lived in heaps, suspected some ulterior reason for any too
careful privacy. To remember this, and to foreswear all selfish peace
and quiet while wandering with them, was one of the least pleasant
lessons of the desert war: and humiliating, too, for it was a part of
pride with Englishmen to hug solitude; ourselves finding ourselves to
be remarkable, when there was no competition present.

While we talked the roasted coffee was dropped with three grains of
cardamom into the mortar. Abdulla brayed it; with the dring-drang,
dring-drang pestle strokes of village Nejd, two equal pairs of LEGATO
beats. Mohammed el Dheilan heard, came silently across the sand and
sank down, slowly, groaningly, camel-like, on the ground by me.
Mohammed was a companionable fellow; a powerful, thinking man with much
wry humour, and an affection of sour craft, sometimes justified by his
acts, but generally disclosing a friendly cynical nature. In build he
was unusually strong and well-grown, not much under six feet in height;
a man of perhaps thirty-eight, determined and active, with a high-coloured
face ruggedly lined, and very baffling eyes.

He was second man of the Abu Tayi; richer and having more followers
than Auda, and with more taste for the luscious. He had a little house
in Maan, landed property (and it was whispered, 'cattle') near Tafileh.
Under his influence the war parties of the Abu Tayi rode out
delicately, with sunshades to defend them from the fierce rays of the
sun and with bottles of mineral water in their saddle-bags as
refreshment upon the journey. He was the brain of the tribal councils
and directed their politics. His sore-headed critical spirit pleased
me; and often I used his intelligence and greed to convert him to my
party before broaching a new idea.

The long ride in company had made companions of our minds and bodies.
The hazardous goal was in our thoughts, day and night; consciously and
unconsciously we were training ourselves; reducing our wills to the
single purpose which oftenest engrossed these odd moments of talk about
an evening fire. And we were so musing while the coffee-maker boiled up
his coffee, tapped it down again, made a palm-fibre mat to strain it
before he poured (grounds in the cup were evil manners), when there
came a volley from the shadowy dunes east of us and one of the Ageyl
toppled forward into the centre of the firelit circle with a screech.

Mohammed with his massive foot thrust a wave of sand over the fire and
in the quick blinding darkness we rolled behind banks of tamarisk and
scattered to get rifles, while our outlying pickets began to return the
fire, aiming hurriedly towards the flashes. We had unlimited ammunition
in our hand, and did not stint to show it.

Gradually the enemy slackened, astonished perhaps at our preparedness.
Finally his fire stopped, and we held our own, listening for a rush or
for attack from a new quarter. For half an hour we lay still; and
silent, but for the groans, and at last the death struggle of the man
hit with the first volley. Then we were impatient of waiting longer.
Zaal went out to report what was happening to the enemy. After another
half-hour he called to us that no one was left within reach. They had
ridden away: about twenty of them, in his trained opinion.

Despite Zaal's assurances, we passed a restless night, and in the
morning before dawn we buried Assaf, our first casualty, and moved off
northward, keeping the bottom of the hollow, with the sand-hills mostly
on our left. We rode for five hours and then halted for breakfast on
the south bank of a great spill of torrent-beds running down into the
Sirhan from the south-west. Auda told me these were the mouths of Seil
Fejr, the valley whose head we had seen at Selhub and whose bed we had
followed right across the Houl.

The grazing was better than at Arfaja, and we allowed our camels the
four hours of noon to fill themselves--a poor proceeding, for the midday
grazing was not profitable to them, though we enjoyed ourselves in the
shadow of our blankets, sleeping out the sleep we had missed the night
before. Here in the open, away from all possibility of hidden approach,
was no fear of disturbance, and our displayed strength and confidence
might dissuade the invisible enemy. Our desire was to fight Turks, and
this inter-Arab business was sheer waste. In the afternoon we rode on
twelve miles to a sharp group of firm sand-hills, enclosing an open
space big enough for us, and commanding the country round about. We
halted there, in anticipation of another night attack.

Next morning we did a fast march of five hours (our camels being full
of life after their ease of yesterday) to an oasis-hollow of stunted
palm-trees, with tamarisk clumps here and there, and plentiful water,
about seven feet underground, tasting sweeter than the water of Arfaja.
Yet this also upon experience proved 'Sirhan water', the first drink of
which was tolerable, but which refused a lather to soap, and developed
(after two days in closed vessels) a foul smell and a taste destructive
to the intended flavour of coffee, tea, or bread.

Verily we were tiring of Wadi Sirhan, though Nesib and Zeki still
designed works of plantation and reclamation here for the Arab
Government when by them established. Such vaulting imagination was
typical of Syrians, who easily persuaded themselves of possibilities,
and as quickly reached forward to lay their present responsibilities on
others. 'Zeki,' said I one day, 'your camel is full of mange.' 'Alas,
and alack,' agreed he mournfully, 'in the evening, very quickly, when
the sun is low, we shall dress her skin with ointment.'

During our next ride, I mentioned mange once more. 'Aha,' said Zeki,
'it has given me a full idea. Conceive the establishment of a
Veterinary Department of State, for Syria, when Damascus is ours. We
shall have a staff of skilled surgeons, with a school of probationers
and students, in a central hospital, or rather central hospitals, for
camels and for horses, and for donkeys and cattle, even (why not?) for
sheep and goats. There must be scientific and bacteriological branches
to make researches into universal cures for animal disease. And what
about a library of foreign books? . . . and district hospitals to feed
the central, and travelling inspectors. . . .' With Nesib's eager
collaboration he carved Syria into four inspectorates general, and many
sub-inspectorates.

Again on the morrow there was mention of mange. They had slept on their
labour, and the scheme was rounding out. 'Yet, my dear, it is
imperfect; and our nature stops not short of perfection. We grieve to
see you thus satisfied to snatch the merely opportune. It is an English
fault.' I dropped into their vein. 'O Nesib,' said I, 'and O Zeki, will
not perfection, even in the least of things, entail the ending of this
world? Are we ripe for that? When I am angry I pray God to swing our
globe into the fiery sun, and prevent the sorrows of the not-yet-born:
but when I am content, I want to lie for ever in the shade, till I
become a shade myself.' Uneasily they shifted the talk to stud farms,
and on the sixth day the poor camel died. Very truly, 'Because', as
Zeki pointed out, 'you did not dress her'. Auda, Nasir, and the rest of
us kept our beasts going by constant care. We could, perhaps, just
stave the mange off till we should reach the camp of some well-provided
tribe, and be able to procure medicines, with which to combat the
disease whole-heartedly.

A mounted man came bearing down upon us. Tension there was, for a
moment; but then the Howeitat hailed him. He was one of their herdsmen,
and greetings were exchanged in an unhurried voice, as was proper in
the desert, where noise was a low-bred business at the best, and urban
at its worst.

He told us the Howeitat were camped in front, from Isawiya to Nebk,
anxiously waiting our news. All was well with their tents. Auda's
anxiety passed and his eagerness kindled. We rode fast for an hour to
Isawiya and the tents of Ali abu Fitna, chief of one of Auda's clans.
Old Ah', rheumy-eyed, red and unkempt, into whose jutting beard a long
nose perpetually dripped, greeted us warmly and urged us to the
hospitality of his tent. We excused ourselves as too many, and camped
near by under some thorns, while he and the other tent-holders made
estimate of our numbers, and prepared feasts for us in the evening, to
each group of tents its little batch of visitors. The meal took hours
to produce, and it was long after dark when they called us to it. I
woke and stumbled across, ate, made my way back to our couched camels
and slept again.

Our march was prosperously over. We had found the Howeitat: our men
were in excellent fettle: we had our gold and our explosives still
intact. So we drew happily together in the morning to a solemn council
on action. There was agreement that first we should present six
thousand pounds to Nuri Shaalan, by whose sufferance we were in Sirhan.
We wanted from him liberty to stay while enrolling and preparing our
fighting men; and when we moved off we wanted him to look after their
families and tents and herds.

These were great matters. It was determined that Auda himself should
ride to Nuri on embassy, because they were friends. Nuri's was too near
and too big a tribe for Auda to fight, however lordly his delight in
war. Self-interest, accordingly, had prompted the two great men to an
alliance: and acquaintance had bred a whimsical regard, by virtue of
which each suffered the other's oddities with patience. Auda would
explain to Nuri what we hoped to do, and Feisal's desire that he make a
public demonstration of adherence to Turkey. Only so could he cover us,
while still pleasing the Turks.




CHAPTER XLVI



Meanwhile we would stay with Ali abu Fitna, moving gently northward
with him towards Nebk, where Auda would tell all the Abu Tayi to
collect. He would be back from Nuri before they were united. This was
the business, and we laded six bags of gold into Auda's saddle-bags,
and off he went. Afterwards the chiefs of the Fitenna waited on us, and
said that they were honoured to feast us twice a day, forenoon and
sunset, so long as we remained with them; and they meant what they
said. Howeitat hospitality was unlimited--no three-day niggardliness
for them of the nominal desert law--and importunate, and left us no
honourable escape from the entirety of the nomad's dream of well-being.

Each morning, between eight and ten, a little group of blood mares
under an assortment of imperfect saddlery would come to our camping
place, and on them Nasir, Nesib, Zeki and I would mount, and with
perhaps a dozen of our men on foot would move solemnly across the
valley by the sandy paths between the bushes. Our horses were led by
our servants, since it would be immodest to ride free or fast. So
eventually we would reach the tent which was to be our feast-hall for
that time; each family claiming us in turn, and bitterly offended if
Zaal, the adjudicator, preferred one out of just order.

As we arrived, the dogs would rush out at us, and be driven off by
onlookers--always a crowd had collected round the chosen tent--and we
stepped in under the ropes to its guest half, made very large for the
occasion and carefully dressed with its wall-curtain on the sunny side
to give us the shade. The bashful host would murmur and vanish again
out of sight. The tribal rugs, lurid red things from Bey-rout, were
ready for us, arranged down the partition curtain, along the back wall
and across the dropped end, so that we sat down on three sides of an
open dusty space. We might be fifty men in all.

The host would reappear, standing by the pole; our local fellow-guests,
el Dheilan, Zaal and other sheikhs, reluctantly let themselves be
placed on the rugs between us, sharing our elbow-room on the pack-saddles,
padded with folded felt rugs, over which we leaned. The front
of the tent was cleared, and the dogs were frequently chased away by
excited children, who ran across the empty space pulling yet smaller
children after them. Their clothes were less as their years were less,
and their pot-bodies rounder. The smallest infants of all, out of their
fly-black eyes, would stare at the company, gravely balanced on spread
legs, stark-naked, sucking their thumbs and pushing out expectant
bellies towards us.

Then would follow an awkward pause, which our friends would try to
cover, by showing us on its perch the household hawk (when possible a
sea-bird taken young on the Red Sea coast) or their watch-cockerel, or
their greyhound. Once a tame ibex was dragged in for our admiration:
another time an oryx. When these interests were exhausted they would
try and find a small talk to distract us from the household noises, and
from noticing the urgent whispered cookery-directions wafted through
the dividing curtain with a powerful smell of boiled fat and drifts of
tasty meat-smoke.

After a silence the host or a deputy would come forward and whisper,
'Black or white?' an invitation for us to choose coffee or tea. Nasir
would always answer 'Black', and the slave would be beckoned forward
with the beaked coffee-pot in one hand, and three or four clinking cups
of white ware in the other. He would dash a few drops of coffee into
the uppermost cup, and proffer it to Nasir; then pour the second for
me, and the third for Nesib; and pause while we turned the cups about
in our hands, and sucked them carefully, to get appreciatively from
them the last richest drop.

As soon as they were empty his hand was stretched to clap them noisily
one above the other, and toss them out with a lesser flourish for the
next guest in order, and so on round the assembly till all had drunk.
Then back to Nasir again. This second cup would be tastier than the
first, partly because the pot was yielding deeper from the brew, partly
because of the heel-taps of so many previous drinkers present in the
cups; whilst the third and fourth rounds, if the serving of the meat
delayed so long, would be of surprising flavour.

However, at last, two men came staggering through the thrilled crowd,
carrying the rice and meat on a tinned copper tray or shallow bath,
five feet across, set like a great brazier on a foot. In the tribe
there was only this one food-bowl of the size, and an incised
inscription ran round it in florid Arabic characters: 'To the glory of
God, and in trust of mercy at the last, the property of His poor
suppliant, Auda abu Tayi.' It was borrowed by the host who was to
entertain us for the time; and, since my urgent brain and body made me
wakeful, from my blankets in the first light I would see the dish going
across country, and by marking down its goal would know where we were
to feed that day.

The bowl was now brim-full, ringed round its edge by white rice in an
embankment a foot wide and six inches deep, filled with legs and ribs
of mutton till they toppled over. It needed two or three victims to
make in the centre a dressed pyramid of meat such as honour prescribed.
The centre-pieces were the boiled, upturned heads, propped on their
severed stumps of neck, so that the ears, brown like old leaves,
flapped out on the rice surface. The jaws gaped emptily upward, pulled
open to show the hollow throat with the tongue, still pink, clinging to
the lower teeth; and the long incisors whitely crowned the pile, very
prominent above the nostrils' pricking hair and the lips which sneered
away blackly from them.

This load was set down on the soil of the cleared space between us,
where it steamed hotly, while a procession of minor helpers bore small
cauldrons and copper vats in which the cooking had been done. From
them, with much-bruised bowls of enamelled iron, they ladled out over
the main dish all the inside and outside of the sheep; little bits of
yellow intestine, the white tail-cushion of fat, brown muscles and meat
and bristly skin, all swimming in the liquid butter and grease of the
seething. The bystanders watched anxiously, muttering satisfactions
when a very juicy scrap plopped out.

The fat was scalding. Every now and then a man would drop his baler
with an exclamation, and plunge his burnt fingers, not reluctantly, in
his mouth to cool them: but they persevered till at last their scooping
rang loudly on the bottoms of the pots; and, with a gesture of triumph,
they fished out the intact livers from their hiding place in the gravy
and topped the yawning jaws with them.

Two raised each smaller cauldron and tilted it, letting the liquid
splash down upon the meat till the rice-crater was full, and the loose
grains at the edge swam in the abundance: and yet they poured, till,
amid cries of astonishment from us, it was running over, and a little
pool congealing in the dust. That was the final touch of splendour, and
the host called us to come and eat.

We feigned a deafness, as manners demanded: at last we heard him, and
looked surprised at one another, each urging his fellow to move first;
till Nasir rose coyly, and after rum we all came forward to sink on one
knee round the tray, wedging in and cuddling up till the twenty-two for
whom there was barely space were grouped around the food. We turned
back our right sleeves to the elbow, and, taking lead from Nasir with a
low 'In the name of God the merciful, the loving-kind', we dipped
together.

The first dip, for me, at least, was always cautious, since the liquid
fat was so hot that my unaccustomed fingers could seldom bear it: and
so I would toy with an exposed and cooling lump of meat till others'
excavations had drained my rice-segment. We would knead between the
fingers (not soiling the palm), neat balls of rice and fat and liver
and meat cemented by gentle pressure, and project them by leverage of
the thumb from the crooked fore-finger into the mouth. With the right
trick and the right construction the little lump held together and came
clean off the hand; but when surplus butter and odd fragments clung,
cooling, to the fingers, they had to be licked carefully to make the
next effort slip easier away.

As the meat pile wore down (nobody really cared about rice: flesh was
the luxury) one of the chief Howeitat eating with us would draw his
dagger, silver hilted, set with turquoise, a signed masterpiece of
Mohammed ibn Zari, of Jauf, and would cut criss-cross from the larger
bones long diamonds of meat easily torn up between the fingers; for it
was necessarily boiled very tender, since all had to be disposed of
with the right hand which alone was honourable.

Our host stood by the circle, encouraging the appetite with pious
ejaculations. At top speed we twisted, tore, cut and stuffed: never
speaking, since conversation would insult a meal's quality; though it
was proper to smile thanks when an intimate guest passed a select
fragment, or when Mohammed el Dheilan gravely handed over a huge barren
bone with a blessing. On such occasions I would return the compliment
with some hideous impossible lump of guts, a flippancy which rejoiced
the Howeitat, but which the gracious, aristocratic Nasir saw with
disapproval.

At length some of us were nearly filled, and began to play and pick;
glancing sideways at the rest till they too grew slow, and at last
ceased eating, elbow on knee, the hand hanging down from the wrist over
the tray edge to drip, while the fat, butter and scattered grains of
rice cooled into a stiff white grease which gummed the fingers
together. When all had stopped, Nasir meaningly cleared his throat, and
we rose up together in haste with an explosive 'God requite it you, O
host', to group ourselves outside among the tent-ropes while the next
twenty guests inherited our leaving.

Those of us who were nice would go to the end of the tent where the
flap of the roof-cloth, beyond the last poles, drooped down as an end
curtain; and on this clan handkerchief (whose coarse goat-hair mesh was
pliant and glossy with much use) would scrape the thickest of the fat
from the hands. Then we would make back to our seats, and re-take them
sighingly; while the slaves, leaving aside their portion, the skulls of
the sheep, would come round our rank with a wooden bowl of water, and a
coffee-cup as dipper, to splash over our fingers, while we rubbed them
with the tribal soap-cake.

Meantime the second and third sittings by the dish were having their
turn, and then there would be one more cup of coffee, or a glass of
syrup-like tea; and at last the horses would be brought and we would
slip out to them, and mount, with a quiet blessing to the hosts as we
passed by. When our backs were turned the children would run in
disorder upon the ravaged dish, tear our gnawed bones from one another,
and escape into the open with valuable fragments to be devoured in
security behind some distant bush: while the watchdogs of all the camp
prowled round snapping, and the master of the tent fed the choicest
offal to his greyhound.




CHAPTER XLVII



We feasted on the first day once, on the second twice, on the third
twice; at Isawiya: and then, on May the thirtieth, we saddled and rode
easily for three hours, past an old sanded lava-field to a valley in
which seven-foot wells of the usual brackish water lay all about us.
The Abu Tayi struck camp when we struck, and journeyed at our side, and
camped around us: so to-day for the first time I was spectator from the
midst of an Arab tribe, and actor in the routine of its march.

It was strangely unlike the usual desert-constancy. All day the grey-green
expanse of stones and bushes quivered like a mirage with the
movement of men on foot; and horsemen; men on camels; camels bearing
the hunched black loads which were the goat-hair tent-cloths; camels
swaying curiously, like butterflies, under the winged and fringed
howdahs of the women; camels tusked like mammoths or tailed like birds
with the cocked or dragging tent-poles of silvery poplar. There was no
order nor control nor routine of march, other than the wide front, the
self-contained parties, the simultaneous start, which the insecurity of
countless generations had made instinctive. The difference was that the
desert, whose daily sparseness gave value to every man, to-day seemed
with their numbers suddenly to come alive.

The pace was easy; and we, who had been guarding our own lives for
weeks, found it a relaxation beyond feeling to know ourselves so
escorted as to share the light liability of danger with a host. Even
our most solemn riders let themselves go a little, and the wilder ones
became licentious. First amongst these, of course, were Farraj and
Daud, my two imps, whose spirits not all the privations of our road had
quelled for a moment. About their riding places in our line of march
centred two constant swirls of activity or of accident, according as
their quenchless mischief found a further expression.

On my dry patience they grated a little, because the plague of snakes
which had been with us since our first entry into Sirhan today rose to
memorable height, and became a terror. In ordinary times, so the Arabs
said, snakes were little worse here than elsewhere by water in the
desert: but this year the valley seemed creeping with horned vipers and
puff-adders, cobras and black snakes. By night movement was dangerous:
and at last we found it necessary to walk with sticks, beating the
bushes each side while we stepped warily through on bare feet.

We could not lightly draw water after dark, for there were snakes
swimming in the pools or clustering in knots around their brinks. Twice
puff-adders came twisting into the alert ring of our debating
coffee-circle. Three of our men died of bites; four recovered after great
fear and pain, and a swelling of the poisoned limb. Howeitat treatment was
to bind up the part with snake-skin plaster, and read chapters of the
Koran to the sufferer until he died. They also pulled thick Damascene
ankle-boots, red, with blue tassels and horse-shoe heels, over their
horny feet when they went late abroad.

A strange' thing was the snakes' habit, at night, of lying beside us,
probably for warmth, under or on the blanket. When we learned this our
rising was with infinite care, and the first up would search round his
fellows with a stick till he could pronounce them unencumbered. Our
party of fifty men killed perhaps twenty snakes daily; at last they got
so on our nerves that the boldest of us feared to touch ground; while
those who, like myself, had a shuddering horror of all reptiles longed
that our stay in Sirhan might end.

Not so Farraj and Daud. To them, this was a new and splendid game. They
troubled us continually with alarms, and furious beatings upon the head
of every harmless twig or root which caught their fancy. At last, in
our noon-halt, I charged them strictly not to let the cry of snake
again pass their lips aloud; and then, sitting by our traps upon the
sand, we had peace. To live on the floor, whence it was so far to arise
and walk, disposed to inaction, and there was much to think about so
that it may have been an hour afterwards before I noticed the offending
pair smiling and nudging one another. My eyes idly followed their eyes
to the neighbouring bush under which a brown snake lay coiled,
glittering at me.

Quickly I moved myself, and cried to Ali, who jumped in with his
riding-cane and settled it. I told him to give the two boys a swinging
half-dozen each, to teach them not again to be literal at my expense.
Nasir, slumbering behind me, heard and with joy shouted to add six from
himself. Nesib copied him, and then Zeki, and then ibn Dgheithir, till
half the men were clamouring for revenge. The culprits were abashed
when they saw that all the hides and all the sticks in the party would
hardly expiate their account: however, I saved them the weight of it,
and instead we proclaimed them moral bankrupts, and set them under the
women to gather wood and draw water for the tents.

So they laboured shamefully for the two days we spent at Abu Tarfeiyat;
where on the first day we feasted twice and on the second day twice.
Then Nesib broke down, and on plea of illness took refuge inside
Nasir's tent, and ate dry bread thankfully. Zeki had been ailing on the
road, and his first effort at the Howeitat sodden meat and greasy rice
had prostrated him. He also lay within the tent, breathing disgust and
dysentery against us. Nasir's stomach had had long experience of tribal
ways and stood the test grandly. It was incumbent on him, for the
honour of our guesting, to answer every call; and for greater honour,
he constrained me always to go with him. So we two leaders represented
the camp each day, with a decent proportion of the hungering Ageyl.

Of course it was monotonous; but the crystal happiness in our hosts was
a return satisfaction for our eyes, and to have shattered it a crime.
Oxford or Medina had tried to cure Nasir and me of superstitious
prejudice; and had complicated us to the point of regaining simplicity.
These people were achieving in our cause the height of nomadic
ambition, a continued orgy of seethed mutton. My heaven might have been
a lonely, soft arm-chair, a book-rest, and the complete poets, set in
Caslon, printed on tough paper: but I had been for twenty-eight years
well-fed, and if Arab imagination ran on food-bowls, so much the more
attainable their joy. They had been provident expressly on our account.
A few days before we came, a drover had guested with them; and, by
Auda's order, they had bought his fifty sheep to entertain us worthily.
In fifteen meals (a week) we had consumed them all, and the hospitality
guttered out.

Digestion returned, and with it our power of movement. We were very
weary of Sirhan. The landscape was of a hopelessness and sadness deeper
than all the open deserts we had crossed. Sand, or flint, or a desert
of bare rocks was exciting sometimes, and in certain lights had the
monstrous beauty of sterile desolation: but there was something
sinister, something actively evil in this snake-devoted Sirhan,
proliferant of salt water, barren palms, and bushes which served
neither for grazing nor for firewood.

Accordingly we marched one day, and another, beyond Ghutti, whose weak
well was nearly sweet. When we got near Ageila, we saw that it was held
by many tents, and presently a troop came out to meet us. They were
Auda abu Tayi, safely back from Nuri Shaa-lan, with the one-eyed Durzi
ibn Dughmi, our old guest at Wejh. His presence proved Nuri's favour,
as did their strong escort of Rualla horse; who, bareheaded and
yelling, welcomed us to Nuri's empty house with a great show of spears
and wild firing of rifles and revolvers at full gallop through the dust.

This modest manor had some fruitful palms, enclosed, and they had
pitched beside the garden a Mesopotamian tent of white canvas. Here,
also, stood Auda's tent, a huge hall seven poles long and three wide;
and Zaal's tent was near it, and many others; and through the afternoon
we received fusillades of honour, deputations, and gifts of ostrich
eggs, or Damascus dainties, or camels, or scraggy horses, while the air
was loud about us with the cries of Auda's volunteers demanding
service, immediate service, against the Turks.

Affairs looked well, and we set three men to make coffee for the
visitors, who came in to Nasir one by one or group by group, swearing
allegiance to Feisal and to the Arab Movement, in the Wejh formula; and
promising to obey Nasir, and to follow after HIM with their
contingents. Besides their formal presents, each new party deposited on
our carpet their privy, accidental gift of lice; and long before sunset
Nasir and I were in a fever, with relay after relay of irritation. Auda
had a stiff arm, the effect of an old wound in the elbow joint, and so
could not scratch all of himself; but experience had taught him a way
of thrusting a cross-headed camel-stick up his left sleeve and turning
it round and round inside against his ribs, which method seemed to
relieve his itch more than our claws did ours.




CHAPTER XLVIII



Nebk, to be our next halt, had plentiful water, with some grazing. Auda
had appointed it our rallying place, because of the convenient nearness
of the Blaidat, or 'salt hamlets'. In it he and Sherif Nasir sat down
for days, to consider enrolling the men, and to prepare the road along
which we would march, by approaching the tribes and the sheikhs who
lived near. Leisure remained for Nasib, Zeki and myself. As usual, the
unstable Syrian judgement, not able to consist in the narrow point of
virtue, staggered to the circumference. In the heady atmosphere of
first enthusiasm they ignored Akaba, and despised the plain purpose
which had led us here. Nesib knew the Shaalans and the Druses. His mind
enrolled them, not the Howeitat; struck at Deraa, not Maan: occupied
Damascus, not Akaba. He pointed out that the Turks were all unready:
that we were sure to gain our first objective, by sheer surprise: that
therefore our objective should be the highest. Damascus was indicated
by the finger of inevitable fate.

I pointed him in vain to Feisal yet in Wejh: to the British yet the
wrong side of Gaza: to the new Turkish army massing in Aleppo to
recover Mesopotamia. I showed how we in Damascus would be unsupported:
without resources or organization: without a base: without even a line
of communication with our friends. But Nesib was towering above
geography, and beyond tactics, and only sordid means would bring him
down. So I went to Auda, and said that with the new objective cash and
credit would go to Nuri Shaalan, and not to him: I went to Nasir, and
used influence and our liking for one another to keep HIM on my plan;
fanning high the too easily-lit jealousy between a Sherif and a
Damascene; between an authentic Shia descendant of Ali and the martyred
Hussein, and a very doubtfully reputed descendant of the 'successor'
Abu Bekr.

For our movement, the point was life and death. I was sure that if we
took Damascus we should not hold it six weeks, for Murray could not
instantly attack the Turks, nor would sea-transport be available at the
moment's notice to land a British army at Beyrout: and in losing
Damascus we should lose our supporters (only their first flush was
profitable: a rebellion which stood still or went back was lost)
without having gained Akaba, which was the last base in safe water; and
in my judgement the only door, except the Middle Euphrates, which we
could unlock for an assuredly successful entry into Syria.

Akaba's special value to the Turks was that, when they pleased, it
might be constituted a threat to the right flank of the British army.
At the end of 1914 their higher command had thought to make it their
main route to the Canal: but they found the food and water difficulties
great, and adopted the Beersheba route. Now, however, the British had
left the Canal positions and had thrust forward to Gaza and Beersheba.
This made the feeding of the Turkish army easier by shortening its
line. Consequently, the Turks had surplus transport. Akaba was also of
greater geographical value than of old, since it now lay behind the
British right, and a small force operating from it would threaten
either El Arish or Suez effectively.

The Arabs needed Akaba: firstly, to extend their front, which was their
tactical principle; and, secondly, to link up with the British. If they
took it the act gave them Sinai, and made positive junction between
them and Sir Archibald Murray. Thus having become really useful, they
would obtain material help. The human frailty of Murray's Staff was
such that nothing but physical contact with our success could persuade
them of our importance. Murray was friendly: but if we became his right
wing he would equip us properly, almost without the asking.
Accordingly, for the Arabs, Akaba spelt plenty in food, money, guns,
advisers. I wanted contact with the British; to act as the right wing
of the Allies in the conquest of Palestine and Syria; and to assert the
Arabic-speaking peoples' desire or desert of freedom and self-government.
In my view, if the revolt did not reach the main battlefield against
Turkey it would have to confess failure, and remain a side-show of a
side-show. I had preached to Feisal, from our first meeting, that freedom
was taken, not given.

Both Nasir and Auda fortunately answered to my whispers; and, after
recriminations, Nesib left us, and rode with Zeki to the Druse
Mountain, there to do the preliminary work necessary to the launching
of his great Damascus scheme. I knew his incapacity to create; but it
was not in my mind to permit even a half-baked rising there, to spoil
our future material. So I was careful to draw his teeth before he
started, by taking from him most of the money Feisal had shared out to
him. The fool made this easy for me, as he knew he had not enough for
all he wanted; and, measuring the morality of England by his own
pettiness, came to me for the promise of more if he raised a Syrian
movement independent of Feisal, under his own leadership. I had no fear
of so untoward a miracle; and, instead of calling him rat, gave my
ready promise for future help, if he would for the present give me his
balance, to get us to Akaba, where I would make funds available for the
general need. He yielded to my condition with a bad grace; and Nasir
was delighted to get two bags of money unexpectedly.

Yet the optimism of Nesib had its effect upon me; while I still saw the
liberation of Syria happening in steps, of which Akaba was the
indispensable first, I now saw these steps coming close together; and
as soon as Nesib was out of the way planned to go off myself, rather in
his fashion, on a long tour of the north country. I felt that one more
sight of Syria would put straight the strategic ideas given me by the
Crusaders and the first Arab conquest, and adjust them to the two new
factors--the railways, and Murray in Sinai.

Also a rash adventure suited my abandoned mood. It should have been
happiness, this lying out free as air, with the visible life striving
its utmost along my own path; but the knowledge of the axe I was
secretly grinding destroyed all my assurance.

The Arab Revolt had begun on false pretences. To gain the Sherif's help
our Cabinet had offered, through Sir Henry McMahon, to support the
establishment of native governments in parts of Syria and Mesopotamia,
'saving the interests of our ally, France'. The last modest clause
concealed a treaty (kept secret, till too late, from McMahon, and
therefore from the Sherif) by which France, England and Russia agreed
to annex some of these promised areas, and to establish their
respective spheres of influence over all the rest.

Rumours of the fraud reached Arab ears, from Turkey. In the East
persons were more trusted than institutions. So the Arabs, having
tested my friendliness and sincerity under fire, asked me, as a free
agent, to endorse the promises of the British Government. I had had no
previous or inner knowledge of the McMahon pledges and the Sykes-Picot
treaty, which were both framed by war-time branches of the Foreign
Office. But, not being a perfect fool, I could see that if we won the
war the promises to the Arabs were dead paper. Had I been an honourable
adviser I would have sent my men home, and not let them risk their
lives for such stuff. Yet the Arab inspiration was our main tool in
winning the Eastern war. So I assured them that England kept her word
in letter and spirit. In this comfort they performed their fine things:
but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was
continually and bitterly ashamed.

Clear sight of my position came to me one night, when old Nuri Shaalan
in his aisled tent brought out a file of documents and asked which
British pledge was to be believed. In his mood, upon my answer, lay the
success or failure of Feisal. My advice, uttered with some agony of
mind, was to trust the latest in date of the contradictions. This
disingenuous answer promoted me, in six months, to be chief
confidence-man. In Hejaz the Sherifs were everything, and I had allayed
my conscience by telling Feisal how hollow his basis was. In Syria England
was mighty and the Sherif very low. So I became the principal.

In revenge I vowed to make the Arab Revolt the engine of its own
success, as well as handmaid to our Egyptian campaign: and vowed to
lead it so madly in the final victory that expediency should counsel to
the Powers a fair settlement of the Arabs' moral claims. This presumed
my surviving the war, to win the later battle of the Council
Chamber--immodest presumptions, which still balance in fulfilment.
Yet the issue of the fraud was beside the point.

Clearly I had no shadow of leave to engage the Arabs, unknowing, in a
gamble of life and death. Inevitably and justly we should reap
bitterness, a sorry fruit of heroic endeavour. So in resentment at my
false place (did ever second lieutenant so lie abroad for his betters?)
I undertook this long, dangerous ride, in which to see the more
important of Feisal's secret friends, and to study key-positions of our
future campaigns: but the results were incommensurate with the risks,
and the act artistically unjustifiable, like the motive. I had
whispered to myself 'Let me chance it, now, before we begin', seeing
truly that this was the last chance, and that after a successful
capture of Akaba I would never again possess myself freely, without
association, in the security lurking for the obscure in their
protective shadow.

Before me lay a vista of responsibility and command, which disgusted my
thought-riddled nature. I felt mean, to fill the place of a man of
action; for my standards of value were a wilful reaction against
theirs, and I despised their happiness. Always my soul hungered for
less than it had, since my senses, sluggish beyond the senses of most
men, needed the immediacy of contact to achieve perception; they
distinguished kinds only, not degrees.

When I returned it was June the sixteenth, and Nash was still labouring
in his tent. He and Auda had been seeing too much of one another for
their good, and lately there had been a breach; but this was easily
healed, and after a day the old chief was as much with us as ever, and
as kind and difficult. We stood up always when he entered; not for his
sheikhhood, for sitting we received sheikhs of much older rank: but
because he was Auda, and Auda was such a splendid thing to be. The old
man loved it, and however much we might wrangle, everyone knew that
really we were his friends.

We were now five weeks out from Wejh: we had spent nearly all the money
we had brought with us: we had eaten all the Howeitat sheep: we had
rested or replaced all our old camels: nothing hindered the start. The
freshness of the adventure in hand consoled us for everything; and
Auda, importing more mutton, gave a farewell feast, the greatest of the
whole series, in his huge tent the eve before we started. Hundreds were
present, and five fills of the great tray were eaten up in relay as
fast as they were cooked and carried in.

Sunset came down, delightfully red, and after the feast the whole party
lay round the outside coffee-hearth lingering under the stars, while
Auda and others told us stories. In a pause I remarked casually that I
had looked for Mohammed el Dheilan in his tent that afternoon, to thank
him for the milch camel he had given me, but had not found him. Auda
shouted for joy, till everybody looked at him; and then, in the silence
which fell that they might learn the joke, he pointed to Mohammed
sitting dismally beside the coffee mortar, and said in his huge voice:--

'Ho! Shall I tell why Mohammed for fifteen days has not slept in his
tent?' Everybody chuckled with delight, and conversation stopped; all
the crowd stretched out on the ground, chins in hands, prepared to take
the good points of the story which they had heard perhaps twenty times.
The women, Auda's three wives, Zaal's wife, and some of Mohammed's, who
had been cooking, came across, straddling their bellies in the billowy
walk which came of carrying burdens on their heads, till they were near
the partition-curtain; and there they listened like the rest while Auda
told at length how Mohammed had bought publicly in the bazaar at Wejh a
costly string of pearls, and had not given it to any of his wives, and
so they were all at odds, except in their common rejection of him.

The story was, of course, a pure invention--Auda's elvish humour
heightened by the stimulus of Revolt--and the luckless Mohammed, who had
dragged through the fortnight guesting casually with one or other of
the tribesmen, called upon God for mercy, and upon me for witness that
Auda lied. I cleared my throat solemnly. Auda asked for silence, and
begged me to confirm his words.

I began with the introducing phrase of a formal tale: In the name of
God the merciful, the loving-kind. We were six in Wejh. There were
Auda, and Mohammed, and Zaal, Gasim el Shimt, Mufaddhi and the poor man
(myself); and one night just before dawn, Auda said, 'Let us make a
raid against the market'. And we said, 'in the name of God'. And we
went; Auda in a white robe and a red head-cloth, and Kasim sandals of
pieced leather; Mohammed in a silken tunic of 'seven kings' and
barefoot; Zaal . . . I forget Zaal. Gasim wore cotton, and Mufaddhi was
in silk of blue stripes with an embroidered head-cloth. Your servant
was as your servant.'

My pause was still with astonishment. This was a close parody of Auda's
epic style; and I mimicked also his wave of the hand, his round voice,
and the rising and dropping tone which emphasized the points, or what
he thought were points, of his pointless stories. The Howeitat sat
silent as death, twisting their full bodies inside their sweat-stiffened
shirts for joy, and staring hungrily at Auda; for they all recognized the
original, and parody was a new art to them and to him. The coffee man,
Mufaddhi, a Shammar refugee from the guilt of blood, himself a character,
forgot to pile fresh thorns on his fire for fixity of listening to the
tale.

I told how we left the tents, with a list of the tents, and how we
walked down towards the village, describing every camel and horse we
saw, and all the passers-by, and the ridges, 'all bare of grazing, for
by God that country was barren. And we marched: and after we had
marched the time of a smoked cigarette, we heard something, and Auda
stopped and said, 'Lads, I hear something'. And Mohammed stopped and
said, 'Lads, I hear something'. And Zaal, 'By God, you are right'. And
we stopped to listen, and there was nothing, and the poor man said, 'By
God, I hear nothing'. And Zaal said, 'By God, I hear nothing'. And
Mohammed said, 'By God, I hear nothing'. And Auda said, 'By God, you
are right'.

'And we marched and we marched, and the land was barren, and we heard
nothing. And on our right hand came a man, a negro, on a donkey. The
donkey was grey, with black ears, and one black foot, and on its
shoulder was a brand like this' (a scrabble in the air), 'and its tail
moved and its legs: Auda saw it, and said, 'By God, a donkey'. And
Mohammed said, 'By the very God, a donkey and a slave'. And we marched.
And there was a ridge, not a great ridge, but a ridge as great as from
the here to the what-do-you-call-it (HI BILIYEH EL HOK) that is yonder:
and we marched to the ridge and it was barren. That land is barren:
barren: barren.

'And we marched: and beyond the what-do-you-call-it there was a
what-there-is as far as hereby from thence, and thereafter a ridge: and
we came to that ridge, and went up that ridge: it was barren, all that
land was barren: and as we came up that ridge, and were by the head of
that ridge, and came to the end of the head of that ridge, by God, by
my God, by very God, the sun rose upon us.'

It ended the session. Everyone had heard that sunrise twenty times, in
its immense bathos; an agony piled up of linked phrases, repeated and
repeated with breathless excitement by Auda to carry over for hours the
thrill of a raiding story in which nothing happened; and the trivial
rest of it was exaggerated the degree which made it like one of Auda's
tales; and yet, also, the history of the walk to market at Wejh which
many of us had taken. The tribe was in waves of laughter on the ground.

Auda laughed the loudest and longest, for he loved a jest upon himself;
and the fatuousness of my epic had shown him his own sure mastery of
descriptive action. He embraced Mohammed, and confessed the invention
of the necklace. In gratitude Mohammed invited the camp to breakfast
with him in his regained tent on the morrow, an hour before we started
for the swoop on Akaba. We should have a sucking camel-calf boiled in
sour milk by his wives: famous cooks, and a legendary dish!

Afterwards we sat by the wall of Nuri's manor, and saw the women take
down the great tent, greater than Auda's, eight-bayed of twenty-four
poles in all, longer and broader and loftier than any other in the
tribe, and new, like the rest of Mohammed's goods. The Abu Tayi were
rearranging their camp, for security when their fighting men marched
away. Throughout the afternoon tents were coming in and being pitched
by us. The oblong cloth was stretched flat upon the ground; the ropes
at the end, in the sides, by the pole-gussets, strained out and tied to
pegs. Then the housewife would insert the light poles one by one, under
the cloth, and lever it up by them, until the whole was in place,
pitched single-handed by the one weak woman, however rough the wind.

If it rained one row of poles was drawn in at the foot, so slanting the
roof-cloth obliquely to the shower, and making it reasonably
waterproof. In summer the Arab tent was less hot than our canvas tents,
for the sun-heat was not absorbed in this loose woven fabric of hair
and wool, with the air spaces and currents between its threads.




CHAPTER XLIX



We started an hour before noon. Nasir led us, riding his Ghazala--a
camel vaulted and huge-ribbed as an antique ship; towering a good foot
above the next of our animals, and yet perfectly proportioned, with a
stride like an ostrich's--a lyrical beast, noblest and best bred of the
Howeitat camels, a female of nine remembered dams. Auda was beside him,
and I skirmished about their gravities on Naama, 'the hen-ostrich', a
racing camel and my last purchase. Behind me rode my Ageyl, with
Mohammed, the clumsy. Mohammed was now companioned by Ahmed, another
peasant, who had been for six years living among the Howeitat by force
of his thews and wits--a knowing eager ruffian. Sixty feet of a rise
took us out of Sirhan to the first terrace of the Ard el Suwan--a
country of black flints upon marly limestone; not very solid, but hard
enough in the tracks which the feet of passing centuries of camels had
worn an inch or two into the surface. Our aim was Bair, a historic
group of Ghassanid wells and ruins in the desert thirty or forty miles
east of the Hejaz Railway. It lay some sixty miles ahead, and there we
would camp a few days, while our scouts brought us flour from the hill
villages above the Dead Sea. Our food from Wejh was nearly finished
(except that Nasir still had some of the precious rice for great
occasions), and we could not yet certainly forecast the date of our
arrival in Akaba.

Our present party totalled more than five hundred strong; and the sight
of this jolly mob of hardy, confident northerners chasing gazelle
wildly over the face of the desert, took from us momentarily all sorry
apprehension as to the issue of our enterprise. We felt it was a
rice-night, and the chiefs of the Abu Tayi came to sup with us.
Afterwards, with the embers of our coffee-fire pleasantly red between us
against the cool of this upland north-country, we sat about on the carpets
chatting discursively of this remote thing and that.

Nasir rolled over on his back, with my glasses, and began to study the
stars, counting aloud first one group and then another; crying out with
surprise at discovering little lights not noticed by his unaided eye.
Auda set us on to talk of telescopes--of the great ones--and of how man
in three hundred years had so far advanced from his first essay that
now he built glasses as long as a tent, through which he counted
thousands of unknown stars. 'And the stars--what are they?' We slipped
into talk of suns beyond suns, sizes and distance beyond wit. 'What
will now happen with this knowledge?' asked Mohammed. 'We shall set to,
and many learned and some clever men together will make glasses as more
powerful than ours, as ours than Galileo's; and yet more hundreds of
astronomers will distinguish and reckon yet more thousands of now
unseen stars, mapping them, and giving each one its name. When we see
them all, there will be no night in heaven.'

Why are the Westerners always wanting all?' provokingly said Auda.
'Behind our few stars we can see God, who is not behind your millions.'
We want the world's end, Auda.' 'But that is God's,' complained Zaal,
half angry. Mohammed would not have his subject turned. 'Are there men
on these greater worlds?' he asked. 'God knows.' 'And has each the
Prophet and heaven and hell?' Auda broke in on him. 'Lads, we know our
districts, our camels, our women. The excess and the glory are to God.
If the end of wisdom is to add star to star our foolishness is
pleasing.' And then he spoke of money, and distracted their minds till
they all buzzed at once. Afterwards he whispered to me that I must get
him a worthy gift from Feisal when he won Akaba.

We marched at dawn, and in an hour topped the Wagf, the water-shed, and
rode down its far side. The ridge was only a bank of chalk, flint-capped,
a couple of hundred feet high. We were now in the hollow between
the Snainirat on the south and, on the north, the three white
heads of the Thlaithukhwat, a cluster of conical hills which shone
brilliant as snow in the sunshine. Soon we entered Wadi Bair, and
marched up and across it for hours. There had been a flood there in the
spring, producing a rich growth of grasses between the scrubby bushes.
It was green and pleasant to the eye and to our camels' hungry palates,
after the long hostility of the Sirhan.

Presently Auda told me he was riding ahead to Bair, and would I come?
We went fast, and in two hours came upon the place suddenly, under a
knoll. Auda had hurried on to visit the tomb of his son Annad, who had
been waylaid by five of his Motalga cousins in revenge for Abtan, their
champion, slain by Annad in single combat. Auda told me how Annad had
ridden at them, one against five, and had died as he should; but it
left only little Mohammed between him and childlessness. He had brought
me along to hear him greatly lament his dead.

However, as we rode down towards the graves, we were astonished to see
smoke wreathing from the ground about the wells. We changed direction
sharply, and warily approached the ruins. It seemed there was no one
there; but the thick dung-cake round the well-brink was charred, and
the well itself shattered at the top. The ground was torn and blackened
as if by an explosion; and when we looked down the shaft we saw its
steyning stripped and split, and many blocks thrown down the bore half
choking it and the water in the bottom. I sniffed the air and thought
the smell was dynamite.

Auda ran to the next well, in the bed of the valley below the graves;
and that, too, was ragged about the head and choked with fallen stones.
This,' said he, 'is Jazi work.' We walked across the valley to the
third--the Beni Sakhr--well. It was only a crater of chalk. Zaal arrived,
grave at sight of the disaster. We explored the ruined khan, in which
were night-old traces of perhaps a hundred horse. There was a fourth
well, north of the ruins in the open flat, and to it we went
hopelessly, wondering what would become of us if Bair were all
destroyed. To our joy it was uninjured.

This was a Jazi well, and its immunity gave strong colour to Auda's
theory. We were disconcerted to find the Turks so ready, and began to
fear that perhaps they had also raided El Jefer, east of Maan, the
wells at which we planned to concentrate before we attacked. Their
blocking would be a real embarrassment. Meanwhile, thanks to the fourth
well, our situation, though uncomfortable, was not dangerous. Yet its
water facilities were altogether insufficient for five hundred camels;
so it became imperative to open the least damaged of the other
wells--that in the ruins, about whose lip the turf smouldered. Auda and I
went off with Nasir to look again at it.

An Ageyli brought us an empty case of Nobel's gelignite, evidently the
explosive which the Turks had used. From scars in the ground it was
clear that several charges had been fired simultaneously round the
well-head, and in the shaft. Staring down it till our eyes were
adjusted to its dark, we suddenly saw many niches cut in the shaft less
than twenty feet below. Some were still tamped, and had wires hanging
down.

Evidently there was a second series of charges, either inefficiently
wired, or with a very long time-fuse. Hurriedly we unrolled our
bucket-ropes, twined them together, and hung them freely down the middle
of the well from a stout cross-pole, the sides being so tottery that the
scrape of a rope might have dislodged their blocks. I then found that
the charges were small, not above three pounds each, and had been wired
in series with field telephone cable. But something had gone wrong.
Either the Turks had scamped their job or their scouts had seen us
coming before they had had time to re-connect.

So we soon had two fit wells, and a clear profit of thirty pounds of
enemy gelignite. We determined to stay a week in this fortunate Bair. A
third object--to discover the condition of the Jefer wells--was now
added to our needs for food, and for news of the state of mind of the
tribes between Maan and Akaba. We sent a man to Jefer. We prepared a
little caravan of pack-camels with Howeitat brands and sent them across
the line to Tafileh with three or four obscure clansmen-people who
would never be suspected of association with us. They would buy all the
flour they could and bring it back to us in five or six days' time.

As for the tribes about the Akaba road, we wanted their active help
against the Turks to carry out the provisional plan we had made at
Wejh. Our idea was to advance suddenly from El Jefer, to cross the
railway-line and to crown the great pass--Nagb el Shtar--down which the
road dipped from the Maan plateau to the red Guweira plain. To hold
this pass we should have to capture Aba el Lissan, the large spring at
its head, about sixteen miles from Maan; but the garrison was small,
and we hoped to overrun it with a rush. We would then be astride the
road, whose posts at the end of the week should fall from hunger;
though probably before that the hill tribes, hearing of our successful
beginning, would join us to wipe them out.

Crux of our plan was the attack on Aba el Lissan, lest the force in
Maan have time to sally out, relieve it, and drive us off the head of
Shtar. If, as at present, they were only a battalion, they would hardly
dare move; and should they let it fall while waiting for reinforcements
to arrive, Akaba would surrender to us, and we should be based on the
sea and have the advantageous gorge of Itm between us and the enemy. So
our insurance for success was to keep Maan careless and weak, not
suspecting our malevolent presence in the neighbourhood.

It was never easy for us to keep our movements secret, as we lived by
preaching to the local people, and the unconvinced would tell the
Turks. Our long march into Wadi Sirhan was known to the enemy, and the
most civilian owl could not fail to see that the only fit objective was
Akaba. The demolition of Bair (and Jefer, too, for we had it confirmed
that the seven wells of Jefer were destroyed) showed that the Turks
were to that extent on the alert.

However, there was no measuring the stupidity of the Turkish Army; a
point which helped us now and again, and harmed us constantly, for we
could not avoid despising them for it (Arabs being a race gifted with
uncommon quickness of mind, and over-valuing it) and an army suffered
when unable to yield honour to the enemy. For the moment the stupidity
might be made use of; and so we had undertaken a prolonged campaign of
deception, to convince them that our objective lay nearer to Damascus.

They were susceptible to pressure in that neighbourhood, for the
railway from Damascus, north to Deraa and south to Amman, was the
communication, not merely of Hejaz, but of Palestine; and if we
attacked it we should do double damage. So, in my long trip round the
north country, I had dropped hints of our near arrival in Jebel Druse;
and I had been glad to let the notorious Nesib go up there, noisily,
but with small resources. Nuri Shaalan had warned the Turks for us in
the same sense; and Newcombe, down near Wejh, had contrived to lose
official papers, including a plan (in which we were advance guard) for
marching from Wejh, by Jefer and the Sirhan, to Tadmor, to attack
Damascus and Aleppo. The Turks took the documents very seriously, and
chained up an unfortunate garrison in Tadmor till the end of the war,
much to our advantage.




CHAPTER L



It seemed wise to make some concrete effort in the same direction
during the week that we must spend in Bair, and Auda decided that Zaal
should ride with me in command of a party to attack the line near
Deraa. Zaal chose one hundred and ten men, individually, and we rode
hard, in six-hour spells with one--or two--hour intervals, day and
night. For me it was an eventful trip, for those reasons which made it
dull to the Arabs; namely, that we were an ordinary tribal raiding
party, riding on conventional lines, in the formation and after the
pattern which generations of practice had proved efficient.

In the second afternoon we reached the railway just above Zerga, the
Circassian village north of Amman. The hot sun and fast riding had
tried our camels, and Zaal decided to water them at a ruined Roman
village, the underground cisterns of which had been filled by the late
rains. It lay within a mile of the railway, and we had to be
circumspect, for the Circassians hated the Arabs, and would have been
hostile had they seen us. Also there was a military post of two tents
on a tall bridge just down the line. The Turks seemed active. Later we
heard that a general's inspection was pending.

After the watering we rode another six miles, and in the early dark
turned to Dhuleil bridge, which Zaal reported as a big one, good to
destroy. The men and camels stayed on the high ground east of the
railway to cover our retreat if anything untoward happened, while Zaal
and I went down to the bridge to look it over. There were Turks two
hundred yards beyond it, with many tents and cooking fires. We were
puzzled to explain their strength, until we reached the bridge and
found it being rebuilt; the spring flood had washed away four of its
arches, and the line was temporarily laid on a deviation. One of the
new arches was finished, another had the vault just turned, and the
timber centring was set ready for a third.

Useless, of course, it was, bothering to destroy a bridge in such a
state; so we drew off quietly (not to alarm the workmen), walking over
loose stones which turned under our bare feet in a way imposing care if
we would avoid risk of sprain. Once I put my foot on something moving,
soft and cold; and stepped heavily, on chance it was a snake; but no
harm followed. The brilliant stars cast about us a false light, not
illumination, but rather a transparency of air lengthening slightly the
shadow below each stone, and making a difficult greyness of the ground.

We decided to go further north, towards Minifir, where Zaal thought the
land propitious for mining a train. A train would be better than a
bridge, for our need was political, to make the Turks think that our
main body was at Azrak in Sirhan, fifty miles away to the east. We came
out on a flat plain, crossed by a very occasional shallow bed of fine
shingle. Over this we were going easily when we heard a long rumble. We
pricked ears, wondering: and there came out of the north a dancing
plume of flame bent low by the wind of its speed. It seemed to light
us, extending its fire-tagged curtain of smoke over our heads, so near
were we to the railway; and we shrank back while the train rushed on.
Two minutes' warning and I would have blown its locomotive into scrap.

Afterwards our march was quiet till the dawn, when we found ourselves
riding up a narrow valley. At its head was a sharp turn to the left,
into an amphitheatre of rock where the hill went up by step after step
of broken cliff to a crest on which stood a massive cairn. Zaal said
the railway was visible thence, and if this were true the place was an
ideal ambush, for the camels could be herded without any guardians into
the pit of excellent pasture.

I climbed at once to the cairn, the ruin of an Arab watch-tower of the
Christian period, commanding a most gracious view of rich pastoral
uplands beyond the line, which ran round the foot of our slope in a
lazy curve, open to sight for perhaps five miles. Below on our left was
the square box of the 'coffee-house', a railway halt, about which a few
little soldiers were slouching peacefully. We lay alternately watching
and sleeping, for many hours, during which a train ground slowly past
up the stiff gradient. We made plans to descend upon the line that
night, wherever seemed best for mining.

However, in mid-morning a dark mass approached from the northward.
Eventually we made it out to be a force of perhaps one hundred and
fifty mounted men, riding straight for our hill. It looked as though we
had been reported; A quite possible thing, since all this area was
grazed over by the sheep of the Belga tribes, whose shepherds, when
they saw our stealthiness, would have taken us for robber-enemies and
alarmed their tents.

Our position, admirable against the railway, was a death-trap in which
to be caught by superior mobile forces: so we sent down the alarm,
mounted and slipped across the valley of our entry, and over its
eastern ridge into a small plain, where we could canter our animals. We
made speed to low mounds on its further side, and got behind them
before the enemy were in a position to see us.

There the terrain better suited our tactics and we waited for them; but
they were at least imperfectly informed, for they rode past our old
hiding-place and quickly away towards the south, leaving us puzzled.
There were no Arabs among them--all were regulars--so we had not to fear
being tracked, but here again it seemed as though the Turks were on the
alert. This was according to my wish, and I was glad, but Zaal, on whom
fell the military responsibility, was disquieted. He held a council
with those others who knew the country, and eventually we remounted,
and jogged off to another hill, rather north of our old one, but
satisfactory enough. Particularly it happened to be free of tribal
complications.

This was Minifir proper, a round-headed, grass-grown hill of two
shoulders. The high neck between provided us, on its eastern face, a
broad track perfectly covered from north and south and west, which
afforded a safe retreat into the desert. At the top the neck was
cupped, so that collected rain had made the soil rich, and the grazing
sumptuous; but loosed camels required constant care, for if they
wandered two hundred paces forward they became visible from the
railway, a further four hundred yards down the western face of the
hill. On each side the shoulders pushed forward in spurs which the line
passed in shallow cuttings. The excavated material had been thrown
across the hollow in an embankment; through the centre of which a lofty
culvert let the drainage of the little zigzag gully from the neck run
down into a larger transverse valley bed beyond.

Northward the line curved away, hard uphill, to the wide level of the
southern Hauran, spread out like a grey sky, and flecked with small
dark clouds which were the dead basalt towns of Byzantine Syria.
Southward was a cairn from which we could look down the railway for six
miles or more.

The high land facing us to the west, the Belga, was spotted with black
tent-villages of peasants in summer quarters. They could see us too, in
our hill-cup, so we sent word who we were. Whereupon they kept silent
till we had gone, and then were fervid and eloquent in proving that we
fled eastward, to Azrak. When our messengers came back we had bread to
eat--a luxury; since the dearth in Bair had reduced us to parched corn
which, for lack of cooking-opportunity the men had been chewing raw.
The trial was too steep for my teeth, so that I rode fasting.

Zaal and I buried that night on the culvert a great Garland mine,
automatic-compound, to explode three charges in parallel by
instantaneous fuse; and then lay down to sleep, sure that we would hear
noises if a train came along in the dark and fired it. However, nothing
happened, and at dawn I removed the detonators which (additional to the
trigger action) had been laid on the metals. Afterwards we waited all
day, fed and comfortable, cooled by a high wind which hissed like surf
as it ruffled up the stiff-grassed hill.

For hours nothing came along: but at last there was a flutter among the
Arabs, and Zaal, with the Hubsi and some of the more active men, dashed
down towards the line. We heard two shots under us in the dead ground,
and after half an hour the party reappeared, leading two ragged Turkish
deserters from the mounted column of the day before. One had been badly
wounded, while attempting to escape up the line; and in the afternoon
he died, most miserable about himself and his fate. Exceptionally: for
when death became certain most men felt the quietness of the grave
waiting for them, and went to it not unwillingly. The other man was
hurt also, a clean gunshot in the foot; but he was very feeble and
collapsed when the wound grew painful with the cold. His thin body was
so covered with bruises, tokens of army service and cause of his
desertion, that he dared lie only on his face. We offered him the last
of our bread and water and did what else we could for him: which was
little.

Late in the afternoon came a thrill when the mule-mounted infantry
reappeared, heading up-line towards us. They would pass below our
ambush, and Zaal and the men were urgent to attack them on the sudden.
We were one hundred, they little over two hundred. We had the upper
ground, could hope to empty some of their saddles by our first volley,
and then would camel-charge upon them. Camels, especially down a gentle
slope, would overtake mules in a few strides, and their moving bulk
would send spinning the lighter animals and their riders. Zaal gave me
his word that no regular cavalry, let alone mere mounted infantry,
could cope with tribal camels in a running fight We should take not
only the men, but their precious animals.

I asked him how many casualties we might incur. He guessed five or six,
and then I decided to do nothing, to let them pass. We had one
objective only, the capture of Akaba, and had come up here solely to
make that easier by leading the Turks off on the false scent of
thinking that we were at Azrak. To lose five or six men in such a
demonstration, however profitable it proved financially, would be
fatuous, or worse, because we might want our last rifle to take Akaba,
the possession of which was vital to us. After Akaba had fallen we
might waste men, if we felt callous; but not before.

I told Zaal, who was not content; while the furious Howeitat threatened
to run off downhill at the Turks, willy-nilly. They wanted a booty of
mules; and I, particularly, did not, for it would have diverted us.
Commonly, tribes went to war to gain honour and wealth. The three noble
spoils were arms, riding-animals, and clothes. If we took these two
hundred mules, the proud men would throw up Akaba and drive them home
by way of Azrak to their tents, to triumph before the women. As for
prisoners, Nasir would not be grateful for two hundred useless mouths:
so we should have to kill them; or let them go, revealing our numbers
to the enemy.

We sat and gnashed our teeth at them and let them pass: a severe
ordeal, from which we only just emerged with honour. Zaal did it. He
was on his best behaviour, expecting tangible gratitude from me later;
and glad, meanwhile, to show me his authority over the Beduin. They
respected him as Auda's deputy, and as a famous fighter, and in one or
two little mutinies he had shown a self-conscious mastery.

Now he was tested to the utmost. The Hubsi, Auda's cousin, A. spirited
youth, while the Turks were defiling innocently not three hundred yards
from our itching rifle-muzzles, sprang to his feet and ran forward
shouting to attract them, and compel a battle; but Zaal caught him in
ten strides, threw him down and bludgeoned him savagely time and again
till we feared lest the lad's now very different cries fulfil his
former purpose.

It was sad to see a sound and pleasant little victory pass voluntarily
out of our hands, and we were gloomy till evening came down and
confirmed our sense that once more there would be no train. This was
the final occasion, for thirst was hanging over us, and on the morrow
the camels must be watered. So after nightfall we returned to the line,
laid thirty charges of gelignite against the most-curved rails and
fired them leisurely. The curved rails were chosen since the Turks
would have to bring down new ones from Damascus. Actually, this took
them three days; and then their construction train stepped on our mine
(which we had left as hook behind the demolition's bait) and hurt its
locomotive. Traffic ceased for three other days while the line was
picked over for traps.

For the moment, of course, we could anticipate none of these good
things. We did the destruction, returned sorrowfully to our camels, and
were off soon after midnight. The prisoner was left behind on his
hill-top, for he could neither walk nor ride, and we had no carriage for
him. We feared he would starve to death where he lay: and, indeed,
already he was very ill: so on a telegraph pole, felled across the
rails by the damaged stretch, we put a letter in French and German, to
give news of where he was, and that we had captured him wounded after a
hard fight.

We hoped this might save him the penalties which the Turks inflicted on
red-handed deserters, or from being shot if they thought he had been in
collusion with us: but when we came back to Minifir six months later
the picked bones of the two bodies were lying scattered on our old
camping ground. We felt sorry always for the men of the Turkish Army.
The officers, volunteer and professional, had caused the war by their
ambition--almost by their existence--and we wished they could receive not
merely their proportionate deserts, but all that the conscripts had to
suffer through their fault.




CHAPTER LI



In the night we lost our way among the stony ridges and valleys of
Dhuleil, but kept moving until dawn, so that half an hour after
sunrise, while the shadows were yet long across the green hollows, we
had reached our former watering-place, Khau, whose ruins broke from the
hill-top against Zerga like a scab. We were working hard at the two
cisterns, watering our camels for the return march to Bair, when a
young Circassian came in sight, driving three cows towards the rich
green pasture of the ruins.

This would not do, so Zaal sent off his too-energetic offenders of the
day previous to show their proper mettle by stalking him: and they
brought him in, unharmed, but greatly frightened. Circassians were
swaggering fellows, inordinate bullies in a clear road; but if firmly
met they cracked; and so this lad was in a head-and-tail flux of
terror, offending our sense of respect. We drenched him with water till
he recovered, and then in disposal set him to fight at daggers with a
young Sherari, caught stealing on the march; but after a scratch the
prisoner threw himself down weeping.

Now he was a nuisance, for if we left him he would give the alarm, and
send the horsemen of his village out against us. If we tied him up in
this remote place he would die of hunger or thirst; and, besides, we
had not rope to spare. To kill him seemed unimaginative: not worthy of
a hundred men. At last the Sherari boy said if we gave him scope he
would settle his account and leave him living.

He looped his wrist to the saddle and trotted him off with us for the
first hour, till he was dragging breathlessly. We were still near the
railway, but four or five miles from Zerga. There he was stripped of
presentable clothes, which fell, by point of honour, to his owner. The
Sherari threw him on his face, picked up his feet, drew a dagger, and
chopped him with it deeply across the soles. The Circassian howled with
pain and terror, as if he thought he was being killed.

Odd as was the performance, it seemed effective, and more merciful than
death. The cuts would make him travel to the railway on hands and
knees, a journey of an hour; and his nakedness would keep him in the
shadow of the rocks, till the sun was low. His gratitude was not
coherent; but we rode away, across undulations very rich in grazing.
The camels, with their heads down snatching plants and grass, moved
uncomfortably for us cocked over the chute of their sloped necks; yet
we must let them eat, since we were marching eighty miles a day, with
halts to breathe only in the brief gloamings of dawn and sunset.

Soon after daylight we turned west, and dismounted, short of the
railway among broken reefs of limestone, to creep carefully forward
until Atwi station lay beneath us. Its two stone houses (the first only
one hundred yards away) were in line, one obscuring the other. Men were
singing in them without disquietude. Their day was beginning, and from
the guard-room thin blue smoke curled into the air, while a soldier
drove out a flock of young sheep to crop the rich meadow between the
station and the valley.

This flock sealed the business, for after our horse-diet of dry corn we
craved meat. The Arabs' teeth gritted as they counted ten, fifteen,
twenty-five, twenty-seven. Zaal dropped into the valley bed where the
line crossed a bridge, and, with a party in file behind him, crept
along till he faced the station across the meadow.

From our ridge we covered the station yard. We saw Zaal lean his rifle
on the bank, shielding his head with infinite precaution behind grasses
on the brink. He took slow aim at the coffee-sipping officers and
officials in shaded chairs, outside the ticket office. As he pressed
the trigger, the report overtook the crash of the bullet against the
stone wall, while the fattest man bowed slowly in his chair and sank to
the ground under the frozen stare of his fellows.

An instant later Zaal's men poured in their volleys, broke from the
valley, and rushed forward: but the door of the northern house clanged
to, and rifles began to speak from behind its steel window shutters. We
replied, but soon saw our impotence, and ceased fire, as did the enemy.
The Sherarat drove the guilty sheep eastward into the hills, where were
the camels; everyone else ran down to join Zaal, who was busy about the
nearer and undefended building.

Near the height of plundering came a pause and panic. The Arabs were
such accustomed scouts that almost they felt danger before it came,
sense taking precautions before mind was persuaded. Swinging down the
line from the south was a trolley with four men, to whose ears the
grinding wheels had deadened our shots. The Rualla section crept under
a culvert three hundred yards up, while the rest of us crowded silently
by the bridge.

The trolley rolled unsuspectingly over the ambush, who came out to line
the bank behind, while we filed solemnly across the green in front. The
Turks slowed in horror, jumped off, and ran into the rough: but our
rifles cracked once more and they were dead. The trolley brought to our
feet its load of copper wire and telegraph tools, with which we put
'earths' in the long-distance wire. Zaal fired our half of the station,
whose petrol-splashed woodwork caught freely. The planks and cloth
hangings twisted and jerked convulsively as the flames licked them up.
Meanwhile the Ageyl were measuring out gelatine, and soon we lit their
charges and destroyed a culvert, many rails, and furlongs of telegraph.
With the roar of the first explosion our hundred knee-haltered camels
rose smartly to their feet, and at each following burst hopped more
madly on three legs till they shook off the rope-hitch about the
fourth, and drove out every way like scattered starlings into the void.
Chasing them and chasing the sheep took us three hours, for which
graciously the Turks gave law, or some of us would have had to walk
home.

We put a few miles between us and the railway before we sat down to our
feast of mutton. We were short of knives, and, after killing the sheep
in relay, had recourse to stray flints to cut them up. As men
unaccustomed to such expedients, we used them in the eolithic spirit;
and it came to me that if iron had been constantly rare we should have
chipped our daily tools skilfully as palasoliths: whilst had we had no
metal whatever, our art would have been lavished on perfect and
polished stones. Our one hundred and ten men ate the best parts of
twenty-four sheep at the sitting, while the camels browsed about, or
ate what we left over; for the best riding-camels were taught to like
cooked meat. When it was finished we mounted, and rode through the
night towards Bair: which we entered without casualty, successful,
well-fed, and enriched, at dawn.




CHAPTER LII



Nasir had done great work. A week's flour for us had come from Tafileh,
to restore our freedom of movement. We might well take Akaba before we
starved again. He had good letters from the Dhumaniyeh, the Darausha,
and the Dhiabat, three Howeitat clans on Nagb el Shtar, the first
difficult pass of the Maan-Akaba road. They were willing to help us,
and if they struck soon and strongly at Aba el Lissan the great factor
of surprise would probably mean success to their effort.

My hopefulness misled me into another mad ride, which miscarried. Yet
the Turks did not take alarm. As my party rode in there came a
messenger post-haste from Nuri Shaalan. He brought greetings, and
Nuri's news that the Turks had called upon his son Nawaf, as guide
hostage, to take four hundred cavalry from Deraa down the Sirhan in
search of us. Nuri had sent his better-spared nephew Trad, who was
conducting them by devious routes in which men and horses were
suffering terribly from thirst. They were near Nebk, our old camping
ground. The Turkish Government would believe us still in the Wadi till
their cavalry returned. For Maan especially they had no anxiety since
the engineers who had blown up Bair reported every source of water
utterly destroyed, while the wells of Jefer had been dealt with a few
days earlier.

It might be that Jefer really was denied to us; but we were not without
hope that there, too, we should find the technical work of demolition
ill-done by these pitiful Turks. Dhaif-Allah, a leading man of the Jazi
Howeitat, one who came down to Wejh and swore allegiance, had been
present in Jefer when the King's Well was fired by dynamite placed
about its lip; and sent us secret word from Maan that he had heard the
upper stones clap together and key over the mouth of the well. His
conviction was that the shaft was intact, and the clearing of it a few
hours' work. We hoped so; and rode away from Bair all in order, on June
the twenty-eighth, to find out.

Quickly we crossed the weird plain of Jefer. Next day by noon we were
at the wells. They seemed most thoroughly destroyed; and the fear grew
that we might find in them the first check to our scheme of operations,
a scheme so much too elaborate that a check might be far reaching.

However, we went to the well--Auda's family property--of which Dhaif
Allah had told us the tale, and began to sound about it. The ground
rang hollow under our mallet, and we called for volunteers able to dig
and build. Some of the Ageyl came forward, led by the Mirzugi, a
capable camel boy of Nasir's. They started with the few tools we had.
The rest of us formed a ring round the well-depression and watched them
work, singing to them and promising rewards of gold when they had found
the water.

It was a hot task in the full glare of the summer sun; for the Jefer
plain was of hard mud, flat as the hand, blinding white with salt, and
twenty miles across; but time pressed, because if we failed we might
have to ride fifty miles in the night to the next well. So we pushed
the work by relays at speed through the midday heat, turning into
labourers all our amenable fellows. It made easy digging, for the
explosion which shifted the stones had loosened the soil.

As they dug and threw out the earth, the core of the well rose up like
a tower of rough stones in the centre of the pit. Very carefully we
began to take away the ruined head of the pile: difficult work, for the
stones had become interlocked in their fall; but this was the better
sign, and our spirits rose. Before sunset the workers shouted that
there was no more packing-soil, that the interstices between the blocks
were clear, and they heard the mud fragments which slipped through
splashing many feet below.

Half an hour later came a rush and rumble of stones in the mouth,
followed by a heavy splash and yells. We hurried down, and by the
Mirzugi's torch saw the well yawning open, no longer a tube, but a deep
bottle-shouldered pit, twenty feet across at the bottom, which was
black with water and white in the middle with spray where the Ageyli
who had been clearing when the key slipped was striking out lustily in
the effort not to drown. Everybody laughed down the well at him, till
at last Abdulla lowered him a noose of rope, and we drew him up, very
wet and angry, but in no way damaged by his fall.

We rewarded the diggers, and feasted them on a weak camel, which had
failed in the march to-day; and then all night we watered, while a
squad of Ageyl, with a long chorus, steyned up to ground level an
eight-foot throat of mud and stones. At dawn the earth was stamped in
round this, and the well stood complete, as fit in appearance as ever.
Only the water was not very much. We worked it the twenty-four hours
without rest, and ran it to a cream; and still some of our camels were
not satisfied.

From Jefer we took action. Riders went forward into the Dhumaniyeh
tents to lead their promised attack against Fuweilah, the block-house
which covered the head of the pass of Aba el Lissan. Our attack was
planned for two days before the weekly caravan which, from Maan,
replenished the client garrisons. Starvation would make reduction of
these distant places easier, by impressing on them how hopelessly they
were cut off from their friends.

We sat in Jefer meanwhile, waiting to hear the fortune of the attack.
On its success or failure would depend the direction of our next march.
The halt was not unpleasant, for our position had its comic side. We
were within sight of Maan, during those minutes of the day in which the
mirage did not make eyes and glasses useless; and yet we strolled about
admiring our new well-lip in complete security, because the Turkish
garrison believed water impossible here or at Bair, and were hugging
the pleasant idea that we were now desperately engaged with their
cavalry in Sirhan.

I hid under some bushes near the well for hours, against the heat, very
lazy, pretending to be asleep, the wide silk sleeve of my pillow-arm
drawn over my face as veil against the flies. Auda sat up and talked
like a river, telling his best stories in great form. At last I
reproved him with a smile, for talking too much and doing too little.
He sucked his lips with pleasure of the work to come.

In the following dawn a tired horseman rode into our camp with news
that the Dhumaniyeh had fired on the Fuweilah post the afternoon before
as soon as our men had reached them. The surprise had not been quite
complete; the Turks manned their dry stone breastworks and drove them
off. The crestfallen Arabs drew back into cover, and the enemy
believing it only an ordinary tribal affray, had made a mounted sortie
upon the nearest encampment.

One old man, six women and seven children were its only occupants. In
their anger at finding nothing actively hostile or able-bodied, the
troopers smashed up the camp and cut the throats of its helpless ones.
The Dhumaniyeh on the hill-tops heard and saw nothing till it was too
late; but then, in their fury, they dashed down across the return road
of the murderers and cut them off almost to the last man. To complete
their vengeance they assaulted the now weakly-garrisoned fort, carried
it in the first fierceness of their rush, and took no prisoners.

We were ready saddled; and within ten minutes had loaded and marched
for Ghadir el Haj, the first railway station south of Maan, on our
direct road for Aba el Lissan. Simultaneously, we detached a small
party to cross the railway just above Maan and create a diversion on
that side. Especially they were to threaten the great herds of sick
camels, casualties of the Palestine front, which the Turks pastured in
the Shobek plains till once more fit for service.

We calculated that the news of their Fuweilah disaster would not have
reached Maan till the morning, and that they could not drive in these
camels (supposing our northern party missed them) and fit out a relief
expedition, before nightfall; and if we were then attacking the line at
Ghadir el Haj, they would probably divert the relief thither, and so
let us move on Akaba unmolested.

With this hope we rode steadily through the flowing mirage till
afternoon, when we descended on the line; and, having delivered a long
stretch of it from guards and patrols, began on the many bridges of the
captured section. The little garrison of Ghadir el Haj sallied out with
the valour of ignorance against us, but the heat-haze blinded them, and
we drove them off with loss.

They were on the telegraph, and would notify Maan, which beside, could
not fail to hear the repeated thuds of our explosion. It was our aim to
bring the enemy down upon us in the night; or rather down here, where
they would find no people but many broken bridges, for we worked fast
and did great damage. The drainage holes in the spandrils held from
three to five pounds of gelatine each. We, firing our mines by short
fuses, brought down the arch, shattered the pier, and stripped the side
walls, in no more than six minutes' work. So we ruined ten bridges and
many rails, and finished our explosive.

After dusk, when our departure could not be seen, we rode five miles
westward of the line, to cover. There we made fires and baked bread.
Our meal, however, was not cooked before three horsemen cantered up to
report that a long column of new troops--infantry and guns--had just
appeared at Alba el Lissan from Maan. The Dhumaniyeh, disorganized with
victory, had had to abandon their ground without fighting. They were at
Batra waiting for us. We had lost Aba el Lissan, the blockhouse, the
pass, the command of the Akaba road: without a shot being fired.

We learned afterwards that this unwelcome and unwonted vigour on the
part of the Turks was accident. A relief battalion had reached Maan
that very day. The news of an Arab demonstration against Fuweilah
arrived simultaneously; and the battalion, which happened to be formed
up ready with its transport in the station yard, to march to barracks,
was hurriedly strengthened by a section of pack artillery and some
mounted men, and moved straight out as a punitive column to rescue the
supposedly besieged post.

They had left Maan in mid-morning and marched gently along the motor
road, the men sweating in the heat of this south country after their
native Caucasian snows, and drinking thirstily of every spring. From
Aba el Lissan they climbed uphill towards the old blockhouse, which was
deserted except for the silent vultures flying above its walls in slow
uneasy rings. The battalion commander feared lest the sight be too much
for his young troops, and led them back to the roadside spring of Aba
el Lissan, in its serpentine narrow valley, where they camped all night
in peace about the water.




CHAPTER LIII



Such news shook us into quick life. We threw our baggage across our
camels on the instant and set out over the rolling downs of this end of
the tableland of Syria. Our hot bread was in our hands, and, as we ate,
there mingled with it the taste of the dust of our large force crossing
the valley bottoms, and some taint of the strange keen smell of the
wormwood which overgrew the slopes. In the breathless air of these
evenings in the hills, after the long days of summer, everything struck
very acutely on the senses: and when marching in a great column, as we
were, the front camels kicked up the aromatic dust-laden branches of
the shrubs, whose scent-particles rose into the air and hung in a long
mist, making fragrant the road of those behind.

The slopes were clean with the sharpness of wormwood, and the hollows
oppressive with the richness of their stronger, more luxuriant growths.
Our night-passage might have been through a planted garden, and these
varieties part of the unseen beauty of successive banks of flowers. The
noises too were very clear. Auda broke out singing, away in front, and
the men joined in from time to time, with the greatness, the catch at
heart, of an army moving into battle.

We rode all night, and when dawn came were dismounting on the crest of
the hills between Batra and Aba el Lissan, with a wonderful view
westwards over the green and gold Guweira plain, and beyond it to the
ruddy mountains hiding Akaba and the sea. Gasim abu Dumeik, head of the
Dhumaniyeh, was waiting anxiously for us, surrounded by his hard-bitten
tribesmen, their grey strained faces flecked with the blood of the
fighting yesterday. There was a deep greeting for Auda and Nasir. We
made hurried plans, and scattered to the work, knowing we could not go
forward to Akaba with this battalion in possession of the pass. Unless
we dislodged it, our two months' hazard and effort would fail before
yielding even first-fruits.

Fortunately the poor handling of the enemy gave us an unearned
advantage. They slept on, in the valley, while we crowned the hills in
wide circle about them unobserved. We began to snipe them steadily in
their positions under the slopes and rock-faces by the water, hoping to
provoke them out and up the hill in a charge against us. Meanwhile,
Zaal rode away with our horsemen and cut the Maan telegraph and
telephone in the plain.

This went on all day. It was terribly hot--hotter than ever before I had
felt it in Arabia--and the anxiety and constant moving made it hard for
us. Some even of the tough tribesmen broke down under the cruelty of
the sun, and crawled or had to be thrown under rocks to recover in
their shade. We ran up and down to supply our lack of numbers by
mobility, ever looking over the long ranges of hill for a new spot from
which to counter this or that Turkish effort. The hill-sides were
steep, and exhausted our breath, and the grasses twined like little
hands about our ankles as we ran, and plucked us back. The sharp reefs
of limestone which cropped out over the ridges tore our feet, and long
before evening the more energetic men were leaving a rusty print upon
the ground with every stride.

Our rifles grew so hot with sun and shooting that they seared our
hands; and we had to be grudging of our rounds, considering every shot
and spending great pains to make it sure. The rocks on which we flung
ourselves for aim were burning, so that they scorched our breasts and
arms, from which later the skin drew off in ragged sheets. The present
smart made us thirst. Yet even water was rare with us; we could not
afford men to fetch enough from Batra, and if all could not drink, it
was better that none should.

We consoled ourselves with knowledge that the enemy's enclosed valley
would be hotter than our open hills: also that they were Turks, men of
white meat, little apt for warm weather. So we clung to them, and did
not let them move or mass or sortie out against us cheaply. They could
do nothing valid in return. We were no targets for their rifles, since
we moved with speed, eccentrically. Also we were able to laugh at the
little mountain guns which they fired up at us. The shells passed over
our heads, to burst behind us in the air; and yet, of course, for all
that they could see from their hollow place, fairly amongst us above
the hostile summits of the hill.

Just after noon I had a heat-stroke, or so pretended, for I was dead
weary of it all, and cared no longer how it went. So I crept into a
hollow where there was a trickle of thick water in a muddy cup of the
hills, to suck some moisture off its dirt through the filter of my
sleeve. Nasir joined me, panting like a winded animal, with his cracked
and bleeding lips shrunk apart in his distress: and old Auda appeared,
striding powerfully, his eyes bloodshot and staring, his knotty face
working with excitement.

He grinned with malice when he saw us lying there, spread out to find
coolness under the bank, and croaked at me harshly, 'Well, how is it
with the Howeitat? All talk and no work?' 'By God, indeed,' spat I back
again, for I was angry with everyone and with myself, 'they shoot a lot
and hit a little.' Auda almost pale with rage, and trembling, tore his
head-cloth off and threw it on the ground beside me. Then he ran back
up the hill like a madman, shouting to the men in his dreadful strained
and rustling voice.

They came together to him, and after a moment scattered away downhill.
I feared things were going wrong, and struggled to where he stood alone
on the hill-top, glaring at the enemy: but all he would say to me was,
'Get your camel if you want to see the old man's work'. Nasir called
for his camel and we mounted.

The Arabs passed before us into a little sunken place, which rose to a
low crest; and we knew that the hill beyond went down in a facile slope
to the main valley of Aba el Lissan, somewhat below the spring. All our
four hundred camel men were here tightly collected, just out of sight
of the enemy. We rode to their head, and asked the Shimt what it was
and where the horsemen had gone.

He pointed over the ridge to the next valley above us, and said, 'With
Auda there': and as he spoke yells and shots poured up in a sudden
torrent from beyond the crest. We kicked our camels furiously to the
edge, to see our fifty horsemen coming down the last slope into the
main valley like a run-away, at full gallop, shooting from the saddle.
As we watched, two or three went down, but the rest thundered forward
at marvellous speed, and the Turkish infantry, huddled together under
the cliff ready to cut their desperate way out towards Maan, in the
first dusk began to sway in and out, and finally broke before the rush,
adding their flight to Auda's charge.

Nasir screamed at me, 'Come on', with his bloody mouth; and we plunged
our camels madly over the hill, and down towards the head of the
fleeing enemy. The slope was not too steep for a camel-gallop, but
steep enough to make their pace terrific, and their course
uncontrollable: yet the Arabs were able to extend to right and left and
to shoot into the Turkish brown. The Turks had been too bound up in the
terror of Auda's furious charge against their rear to notice us as we
came over the eastward slope: so we also took them by surprise and in
the flank; and a charge of ridden camels going nearly thirty miles an
hour was irresistible.

My camel, the Sherari racer, Naama, stretched herself out, and hurled
downhill with such might that we soon out-distanced the others. The
Turks fired a few shots, but mostly only shrieked and turned to run:
the bullets they did send at us were not very harmful, for it took much
to bring a charging camel down in a dead heap.

I had got among the first of them, and was shooting, with a pistol of
course, for only an expert could use a rifle from such plunging beasts;
when suddenly my camel tripped and went down emptily upon her face, as
though pole-axed. I was torn completely from the saddle, sailed grandly
through the air for a great distance, and landed with a crash which
seemed to drive all the power and feeling out of me. I lay there,
passively waiting for the Turks to kill me, continuing to hum over the
verses of a half-forgotten poem, whose rhythm something, perhaps the
prolonged stride of the camel, had brought back to my memory as we
leaped down the hill-side:

For Lord I was free of all Thy flowers, but I chose the world's sad
roses, And that is why my feet are torn and mine eyes are blind with
sweat.

While another part of my mind thought what a squashed thing I should
look when all that cataract of men and camels had poured over.

After a long time I finished my poem, and no Turks came, and no camel
trod on me: a curtain seemed taken from my ears: there was a great
noise in front. I sat up and saw the battle over, and our men driving
together and cutting down the last remnants of the enemy. My camel's
body had lain behind me like a rock and divided the charge into two
streams: and in the back of its skull was the heavy bullet of the fifth
shot I fired.

Mohammed brought Obeyd, my spare camel, and Nasir came back leading the
Turkish commander, whom he had rescued, wounded, from Mohammed el
Dheilan's wrath. The silly man had refused to surrender, and was trying
to restore the day for his side with a pocket pistol. The Howeitat were
very fierce, for the slaughter of their women on the day before had
been a new and horrible side of warfare suddenly revealed to them. So
there were only a hundred and sixty prisoners, many of them wounded;
and three hundred dead and dying were scattered over the open valleys.

A few of the enemy got away, the gunners on their teams, and some
mounted men and officers with their Jazi guides. Mohammed el Dheilan
chased them for three miles into Mreigha, hurling insults as he rode,
that they might know him and keep out of his way. The feud of Auda and
his cousins had never applied to Mohammed, the political-minded, who
showed friendship to all men of his tribe when he was alone to do so.
Among the fugitives was Dhaif-Allah, who had done us the good turn
about the King's Well at Jefer.

Auda came swinging up on foot, his eyes glazed over with the rapture of
battle, and the words bubbling with incoherent speed from his mouth.
'Work, work, where are words, work, bullets, Abu Tayi' . . . and he
held up his shattered field-glasses, his pierced pistol-holster, and
his leather sword-scabbard cut to ribbons. He had been the target of a
volley which had killed his mare under him, but the six bullets through
his clothes had left him scathless.

He told me later, in strict confidence, that thirteen years before he
had bought an amulet Koran for one hundred and twenty pounds and had
not since been wounded. Indeed, Death had avoided his face, and gone
scurvily about killing brothers, sons and followers. The book was a
Glasgow reproduction, costing eighteen pence; but Auda's deadliness did
not let people laugh at his superstition.

He was wildly pleased with the fight, most of all because he had
confounded me and shown what his tribe could do. Mohammed was wroth
with us for a pair of fools, calling me worse than Auda, since I had
insulted him by words like flung stones to provoke the folly which had
nearly killed us all: though it had killed only two of us, one Rueili
and one Sherari.

It was, of course, a pity to lose any one of our men, but time was of
importance to us, and so imperative was the need of dominating Maan, to
shock the little Turkish garrisons between us and the sea into surrender,
that I would have willingly lost much more than two. On occasions like
this Death justified himself and was cheap.

I questioned the prisoners about themselves, and the troops in Maan;
but the nerve crisis had been too severe for them. Some gaped at me and
some gabbled, while others, with helpless weepings, embraced my knees,
protesting at every word from us that they were fellow Moslems and my
brothers in the faith.

Finally I got angry and took one of them aside and was rough to him,
shocking him by new pain into a half-understanding, when he answered
well enough, and reassuringly, that their battalion was the only
reinforcement, and it merely a reserve battalion; the two companies in
Maan would not suffice to defend its perimeter.

This meant we could take it easily, and the Howeitat clamoured to be
led there, lured by the dream of unmeasured loot, though what we had
taken here was a rich prize. However, Nasir, and afterwards Auda,
helped me stay them. We had no supports, no regulars, no guns, no base
nearer than Wejh, no communications, no money even, for our gold was
exhausted, and we were issuing our own notes, promises to pay 'when
Akaba is taken', for daily expenses. Besides, a strategic scheme was
not changed to follow up a tactical success. We must push to the coast,
and re-open sea-contact with Suez.

Yet it would be good to alarm Maan further: so we sent mounted men to
Mriegha and took it; and to Waheida and took it. News of this advance,
of the loss of the camels on the Shobek road, of the demolition of El
Haj, and of the massacre of their relieving battalion all came to Maan
together, and caused a very proper panic. The military headquarters
wired for help, the civil authorities loaded their official archive
into trucks, and left, hot-speed, for Damascus.




CHAPTER LIV



Meanwhile our Arabs had plundered the Turks, their baggage train, and
their camp; and soon after moonrise, Auda came to us and said that we
must move. It angered Nasir and myself. To-night there was a dewy west
wind blowing, and at Aba el Lissan's four thousand feet, after the heat
and burning passion of the day, its damp chill struck very sharply on
our wounds and bruises. The spring itself was a thread of silvery water
in a runnel of pebbles across delightful turf, green and soft, on which
we lay, wrapped in our cloaks, wondering if something to eat were worth
preparing: for we were subject at the moment to the physical shame of
success, a reaction of victory, when it became clear that nothing was
worth doing, and that nothing worthy had been done.

Auda insisted. Partly it was superstition--he feared the newly-dead
around us; partly lest the Turks return in force; partly lest other
clans of the Howeitat take us, lying there broken and asleep. Some were
his blood enemies; others might say they came to help our battle, and
in the darkness thought we were Turks and fired blindly. So we roused
ourselves, and jogged the sorry prisoners into line.

Most had to walk. Some twenty camels were dead or dying from wounds
which they had got in the charge, and others were over weak to take a
double burden. The rest were loaded with an Arab and a Turk; but some
of the Turkish wounded were too hurt to hold themselves on pillion. In
the end we had to leave about twenty on the thick grass beside the
rivulet, where at least they would not die of thirst, though there was
little hope of life or rescue for them.

Nasir set himself to beg blankets for these abandoned men, who were
half-naked; and while the Arabs packed, I went off down the valley
where the fight had been, to see if the dead had any clothing they
could spare. But the Beduin had been beforehand with me, and had
stripped them to the skin. Such was their point of honour.

To an Arab an essential part of the triumph of victory was to wear the
clothes of an enemy: and next day we saw our force transformed (as to
the upper half) into a Turkish force, each man in a soldier's tunic:
for this was a battalion straight from home, very well found and
dressed in new uniforms.

The dead men looked wonderfully beautiful. The night was shining gently
down, softening them into new ivory. Turks were white-skinned on their
clothed parts, much whiter than the Arabs; and these soldiers had been
very young. Close round them lapped the dark wormwood, now heavy with
dew, in which the ends of the moonbeams sparkled like sea-spray. The
corpses seemed flung so pitifully on the ground, huddled anyhow in low
heaps. Surely if straightened they would be comfortable at last. So I
put them all in order, one by one, very wearied myself, and longing to
be of these quiet ones, not of the restless, noisy, aching mob up the
valley, quarrelling over the plunder, boasting of their speed and
strength to endure God knew how many toils and pains of this sort; with
death, whether we won or lost, waiting to end the history.

In the end our little army was ready, and wound slowly up the height
and beyond into a hollow sheltered from the wind; and there, while the
tired men slept, we dictated letters to the Sheikhs of the coastal
Howeitat, telling them of the victory, that they might invest their
nearest Turks, and hold them till we came. We had been kind to one of
the captured officers, a policeman despised by his regular colleagues,
and him we persuaded to be our Turkish scribe to the commandants of
Guweira, Kethera, and Hadra, the three posts between us and Akaba,
telling them that if our blood was not hot we took prisoners, and that
prompt surrender would ensure their good treatment and safe delivery to
Egypt.

This lasted till dawn, and then Auda marshalled us for the road, and
led us up the last mile of soft heath-clad valley between the rounded
hills. It was intimate and homelike till the last green bank; when
suddenly we realized it was the last, and beyond lay nothing but clear
air. The lovely change this time checked me with amazement; and
afterwards, however often we came, there was always a catch of
eagerness in the mind, a pricking forward of the camel and
straightening up to see again over the crest into openness.

Shtar hill-side swooped away below us for hundreds and hundreds of
feet, in curves like bastions, against which summer-morning clouds were
breaking: and from its foot opened the new earth of the Guweira plain.
Aba el Lissan's rounded limestone breasts were covered with soil and
heath, green, well watered. Guweira was a map of pink sand, brushed
over with streaks of watercourses, in a mantle of scrub: and, out of
this, and bounding this, towered islands and cliffs of glowing
sandstone, wind-scarped and rain-furrowed, tinted celestially by the
early sun.

After days of travel on the plateau in prison valleys, to meet this
brink of freedom was a rewarding vision, like a window in the wall of
life. We walked down the whole zigzag pass of Shtar, to feel its
excellence, for on our camels we rocked too much with sleep to dare see
anything. At the bottom the animals found a matted thorn which gave
their jaws pleasure; we in front made a halt, rolled on to sand soft as
a couch, and incontinently slept.

Auda came. We pleaded that it was for mercy upon our broken prisoners.
He replied that they alone would die of exhaustion if we rode, but if
we dallied, both parties might die: for truly there was now little
water and no food. However, we could not help it, and stopped that
night short of Guweira, after only fifteen miles. At Guweira lay Sheikh
ibn Jad, balancing his policy to come down with the stronger: and to-day
we were the stronger, and the old fox was ours. He met us with
honeyed speeches. The hundred and twenty Turks of the garrison were his
prisoners; we agreed with him to carry them at his leisure and their
ease to Akaba.

To-day was the fourth of July. Time pressed us, for we were hungry, and
Akaba was still far ahead behind two defences. The nearer post,
Kethira, stubbornly refused parley with our flags. Their cliff
commanded the valley--a strong place which it might be costly to take.
We assigned the honour, in irony, to ibn Jad and his unwearied men,
advising him to try it after dark. He shrank, made difficulties,
pleaded the full moon: but we cut hardly into this excuse, promising
that to-night for a while there should be no moon. By my diary there
was an eclipse. Duly it came, and the Arabs forced the post without
loss, while the superstitious soldiers were firing rifles and clanging
copper pots to rescue the threatened satellite.

Reassured we set out across the strandlike plain. Niazi Bey, the
Turkish battalion commander, was Nasir's guest, to spare him the
humiliation of Beduin contempt. Now he sidled up by me, and, his
swollen eyelids and long nose betraying the moroseness of the man,
began to complain that an Arab had insulted him with a gross Turkish
word. I apologized, pointing out that it must have been learnt from the
mouth of one of his Turkish fellow-governors. The Arab was repaying
Caesar.

Caesar, not satisfied, pulled from his pocket a wizened hunch of bread
to ask if it was fit breakfast for a Turkish officer. My heavenly
twins, foraging in Guweira, had bought, found, or stolen a Turkish
soldier's ration loaf; and we had quartered it. I said it was not
breakfast, but lunch and dinner, and perhaps to-morrow's meals as well.
I, a staff officer of the British Army (not less well fed than the
Turkish), had eaten mine with the relish of victory. It was defeat, not
bread, which stuck in his gullet, and I begged him not to blame me for
the issue of a battle imposed on both our honours.

The narrows of Wadi Itm increased in intricate ruggedness as we
penetrated deeper. Below Kethira we found Turkish post after Turkish
post, empty. Their men had been drawn in to Khadra, the entrenched
position (at the mouth of Itm), which covered Akaba so well against a
landing from the sea. Unfortunately for them the enemy had never
imagined attack from the interior, and of ahl their great works not one
trench or post faced inland. Our advance from so new a direction threw
them into panic.

In the afternoon we were in contact with this main position, and heard
from the local Arabs that the subsidiary posts about Akaba had been
called in or reduced, so that only a last three hundred men barred us
from the sea. We dismounted for a council, to hear that the enemy were
resisting firmly, in bomb-proof trenches with a new artesian well. Only
it was rumoured that they had little food.

No more had we. It was a deadlock. Our council swayed this way and
that. Arguments bickered between the prudent and the bold. Tempers were
short and bodies restless in the incandescent gorge whose granite peaks
radiated the sun in a myriad shimmering points of light, and into the
depths of whose tortuous bed no wind could come to relieve the slow
saturation of the air with heat.

Our numbers had swollen double. So thickly did the men crowd in the
narrow space, and press about us, that we broke up our council twice or
thrice, partly because it was not good they should overhear us
wrangling, partly because in the sweltering confinement our unwashed
smells offended us. Through our heads the heavy pulses throbbed like
clocks.

We sent the Turks summonses, first by white flag, and then by Turkish
prisoners, but they shot at both. This inflamed our Beduin, and while
we were yet deliberating a sudden wave of them burst up on to the rocks
and sent a hail of bullets spattering against the enemy. Nasir ran out
barefoot, to stop them, but after ten steps on the burning ground
screeched for sandals; while I crouched in my atom of shadow, too
wearied of these men (whose minds all wore my livery) to care who
regulated their febrile impulses.

However, Nasir prevailed easily. Farraj and Daud had been ringleaders.
For correction they were set on scorching rocks till they should beg
pardon. Daud yielded immediately; but Farraj, who, for all his soft
form, was of whipcord and much the master-spirit of the two, laughed
from his first rock, sat out the second sullenly, and gave way with a
bad grace only when ordered to a third.

His stubbornness should have been stringently visited: but the only
punishment possible to our hands in this vagrant life was corporal, which
had been tried upon the pair so often and so uselessly that I was sick
of it. If confined this side of cruelty the surface pain seemed only to
irritate their muscles into activities wilder than those for which they
had been condemned. Their sins were elvish gaiety, the thoughtlessness
of unbalanced youth, the being happy when we were not; and for such
follies to hurt them mercilessly like criminals till their self-control
melted and their manhood was lost under the animal distress of their
bodies, seemed to me degrading, almost an impiety towards two sunlit
beings, on whom the shadow of the world had not yet fallen--the most
gallant, the most enviable, I knew.

We had a third try to communicate with the Turks, by means of a little
conscript, who said that he understood how to do it. He undressed, and
went down the valley in little more than boots. An hour later he
proudly brought us a reply, very polite, saying that in two days, if
help did not come from Maan, they would surrender.

Such folly (for we could not hold our men indefinitely) might mean the
massacre of every Turk. I held no great brief for them, but it was
better they be not killed, if only to spare us the pain of seeing it.
Besides, we might have suffered loss. Night operations in the staring
moon would be nearly as exposed as day. Nor was this, like Aba el
Lissan, an imperative battle.

We gave our little man a sovereign as earnest of reward, walked down
close to the trenches with him, and sent in for an officer to speak
with us. After some hesitation this was achieved, and we explained the
situation on the road behind us; our growing forces; and our short
control over their tempers. The upshot was that they promised to
surrender at daylight. So we had another sleep (an event rare enough to
chronicle) in spite of our thirst.

Next day at dawn fighting broke out on all sides, for hundreds more
hill-men, again doubling our number, had come in the night; and, not
knowing the arrangement, began shooting at the Turks, who defended
themselves. Nasir went out, with ibn Dgheithir and his Ageyl marching
in fours, down the open bed of the valley. Our men ceased fire. The
Turks then stopped, for their rank and file had no more fight in them
and no more food, and thought we were well supplied. So the surrender
went off quietly after all.

As the Arabs rushed in to plunder I noticed an engineer in grey
uniform, with red beard and puzzled blue eyes; and spoke to him in
German. He was the well-borer, and knew no Turkish. Recent doings had
amazed him, and he begged me to explain what we meant. I said that we
were a rebellion of the Arabs against the Turks. This, it took him time
to appreciate. He wanted to know who was our leader. I said the Sherif
of Mecca. He supposed he would be sent to Mecca. I said rather to
Egypt. He inquired the price of sugar, and when I replied, 'cheap and
plentiful', he was glad.

The loss of his belongings he took philosophically, but was sorry for
the well, which a little work would have finished as his monument. He
showed me where it was, with the pump only half-built. By pulling on
the sludge bucket we drew enough delicious clear water to quench our
thirsts. Then we raced through a driving sandstorm down to Akaba, four
miles further, and splashed into the sea on July the sixth, just two
months after our setting out from Wejh.





BOOK FIVE. Marking Time




CHAPTERS LV TO LXVIII



OUR CAPTURE OF AKABA CLOSED THE HEJAZ WAR, AND GAVE US THE TASK OF
HELPING THE BRITISH INVADE SYRIA. THE ARABS WORKING FROM AKABA BECAME
VIRTUAL RIGHT WING OF ALLENBY'S ARMY IN SINAI.

TO MARK THE CHANGED RELATION FEISAL, WITH HIS ARMY, WAS TRANSFERRED TO
ALLENBY'S COMMAND. ALLENBY NOW BECAME RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OPERATIONS
AND EQUIPMENT. MEANWHILE WE ORGANIZED THE AKABA AREA AS AN UNASSAILABLE
BASE, FROM WHICH TO HINDER THE HEJAZ RAILWAY.




CHAPTER LV



Through the whirling dust we perceived that Akaba was all a ruin.
Repeated bombardments by French and English warships had degraded the
place to its original rubbish. The poor houses stood about in a litter,
dirty and contemptible, lacking entirely that dignity which the
durability of their time-challenging bones conferred on ancient
remains.

We wandered into the shadowed grove of palms, at the very break of the
splashing waves, and there sat down to watch our men streaming past as
lines of flushed vacant faces without message for us. For months Akaba
had been the horizon of our minds, the goal: we had had no thought, we
had refused thought, of anything beside. Now, in achievement, we were a
little despising the entities which had spent their extremest effort on
an object whose attainment changed nothing radical either in mind or
body.

In the blank light of victory we could scarcely identify ourselves. We
spoke with surprise, sat emptily, fingered upon our white skirts;
doubtful if we could understand or learn whom we were. Others' noise
was a dreamlike unreality, a singing in ears drowned deep in water.
Against the astonishment of this unasked-for continued life we did not
know how to turn our gift to account. Especially for me was it hard,
because though my sight was sharp, I never saw men's features: always I
peered beyond, imagining for myself a spirit-reality of this or that:
and to-day each man owned his desire so utterly that he was fulfilled
in it, and became meaningless.

Hunger called us out of our trance. We had now seven hundred prisoners
in addition to our own five hundred men and two thousand expectant
allies. We had not any money (or, indeed, a market); and the last meal
had been two days ago. In our riding-camels we possessed meat enough
for six weeks, but it was poor diet, and a dear one, indulgence in
which would bring future immobility upon us.

Green dates loaded the palms overhead. Their taste, raw, was nearly as
nasty as the want they were to allay. Cooking left them still
deplorable; so we and our prisoners sadly faced a dilemma of constant
hunger, or of violent diurnal pains more proper to gluttony than to our
expedient eating. The assiduous food-habit of a lifetime had trained
the English body to the pitch of producing a punctual nervous
excitation in the upper belly at the fixed hour of each meal: and we
sometimes gave the honoured name of hunger to this sign that our gut
had cubic space for more stuff. Arab hunger was the cry of a long-empty
labouring body fainting with weakness. They lived on a fraction of our
bulk-food, and their systems made exhaustive use of what they got A
nomad army did not dung the earth richly with by-products.

Our forty-two officer prisoners were an intolerable nuisance. They were
disgusted when they found how ill-provided we were: indeed they refused
to believe it was not a fraud to annoy them, and plagued us for
delicacies, as though Cairo lay hidden in our saddlebags. To escape
them Nasir and I slept. Always we tried to signalize each accomplished
stage by this little extra peace; for in the desert we were only left
alone by men and flies when lying on our backs, with a cloak to shield
our faces, asleep or feigning sleep.

In the evening, our first reaction against success having passed off,
we began to think how we should keep Akaba, having gained it. We
settled that Auda should return to Guweira. He would there be covered
by the descent of Shtar, and the Guweira sands. In fact, as safe as
need be. But we would make him safer yet, in excess of precaution. We
would put an outpost twenty miles to his north, in the impregnable
rock-ruins of Nabathean Petra, and link them to him by a post at
Delagha. Auda should also send men to Batra so that his Howeitat lie in
a semicircle of four positions round the edge of the Maan highlands,
covering every way towards Akaba.

These four positions existed independently. The enemy had swallowed
Goltz' impertinent generalities about the interdependence of strong-posts.
We looked to their delivering a spirited drive against one, and
sitting afterwards in it dazed for an uncomfortable month, unable to
advance for the threat of the remaining three, scratching their heads
and wondering why the others did not fall.

Supper taught us the urgent need to send news over the one hundred and
fifty miles to the British at Suez for a relief-ship. I decided to go
across myself with a party of eight, mostly Howeitat, on the best
camels in the force--one even was the famous Jedhah, the seven-year-old
for whom the Nowasera had fought the beni Sakhr. As we rode round the
bay we discussed the manner of our journey. If we went gently, sparing
the animals, they might fail with hunger. If we rode hard they might
break down with exhaustion or sore feet in mid-desert.

Finally we agreed to keep at a walk, however tempting the surface, for
so many hours of the twenty-four as our endurance would allow. On such
time-tests the man, especially if he were a foreigner, usually
collapsed before the beast: in particular, I had ridden fifty miles a
day for the last month, and was near my limit of strength. If I held
out, we should reach Suez in fifty hours of a march; and, to preclude
cooking-halts upon the road, we carried lumps of boiled camel and
broiled dates in a rag behind our saddles.

We rode up the Sinai scarp by the pilgrims' granite-hewn road with its
gradient of one in three and a half. The climb was severe, because
hasty, and when we reached the crest before sunset both men and camels
were trembling with fatigue. One camel we thence sent back as unfit for
the trip: with the others we pushed out across the plain to some
thorn-scrub, where they cropped for an hour.

Near midnight we reached Themed, the only wells on our route, in a
clean valley-sweep below the deserted guard-house of the Sinai police.
We let the camels breathe, gave them water and drank ourselves. Then
forward again, plodding through a silence of night so intense that
continually we turned round in the saddles at fancied noises away there
by the cloak of stars. But the activity lay in ourselves, in the
crackling of our passage through the undergrowth perfumed like
ghost-flowers about us.

We marched into the very slow dawn. At sun-up we were far out in the
plain through which sheaves of watercourses gathered towards Arish: and
we stopped to give our camels a few minutes' mockery of pasture. Then
again in the saddle till noon, and past noon, when behind the mirage
rose the lonely ruins of Nakhl. These we left on our right. At sunset
we halted for an hour.

Camels were sluggish, and ourselves utterly wearied; but Motlog, the
one-eyed owner of Jedhah, called us to action. We remounted, and at a
mechanical walk climbed the Mitla Hills. The moon came out and their
tops, contoured in form-lines of limestone strata, shone as though
crystalline with snow.

In the dawn we passed a melon field, sown by some adventurous Arab in
this no-man's-land between the armies. We halted another of our
precious hours, loosing the disgusted camels to search the sand-valleys
for food while we cracked the unripe melons and cooled our chapped lips
on their pithy flesh. Then again forward, in the heat of the new day;
though the canal valley, constantly refreshed by breezes from the Gulf
of Suez, was never too oppressive.

By midday we were through the dunes, after a happy switchback ride up
and down their waves, and out on the flatter plain. SUEZ was to be
guessed at, as the frise of indeterminate points mowing and bobbing in
the mirage of the canal-hollow far in front.

We reached great trench-lines, with forts and barbed wire, roads and
railways, falling to decay. We passed them without challenge. Our aim
was the Shatt, a post opposite Suez on the Asiatic bank of the Canal,
and we gained it at last near three in the afternoon, forty-nine hours
out of Akaba. For a tribal raid this would have been fair time, and we
were tired men before ever we started.

Shatt was in unusual disorder, without even a sentry to stop us, plague
having appeared there two or three days before. So the old camps had
been hurriedly cleared, left standing, while the troops bivouacked out
in the clean desert. Of course we knew nothing of this, but hunted in
the empty offices till we found a telephone. I rang up Suez
headquarters and said I wanted to come across.

They regretted that it was not their business. The Inland Water
Transport managed transit across the Canal, after their own methods.
There was a sniff of implication that these methods were not those of
the General Staff. Undaunted, for I was never a partisan of my nominal
branch of the service, I rang up the office of the Water Board, and
explained that I had just arrived in Shatt from the desert with urgent
news for Headquarters. They were sorry, but had no free boats just
then. They would be sure to send first thing in the morning, to carry
me to the Quarantine Department: and rang off.




CHAPTER LVI



Now I had been four months in Arabia continually on the move. In the
last four weeks I had ridden fourteen hundred miles by camel, not
sparing myself anything to advance the war; but I refused to spend a
single superfluous night with my familiar vermin. I wanted a bath, and
something with ice in it to drink: to change these clothes, all
sticking to my saddle sores in filthiness: to eat something more
tractable than green date and camel sinew. I got through again to the
Inland Water Transport and talked like Chrysostom. It had no effect, so
I became vivid. Then, once more, they cut me off. I was growing very
vivid, when friendly northern accents from the military exchange
floated down the line: It's no bluidy good, sir, talking to them fookin
water boogers.'

This expressed the apparent truth; and the broad-spoken operator worked
me through to the Embarkation Office. Here, Lyttleton, a major of the
busiest, had added to his innumerable labours that of catching Red Sea
warships one by one as they entered Suez roads and persuading them (how
some loved it!) to pile high their decks with stores for Wejh or Yenbo.
In this way he ran our thousands of bales and men, free, as a by-play
in his routine; and found time as well to smile at the curious games of
us curious folk.

He never failed us. As soon as he heard who and where I was, and what
was not happening in the Inland Water Transport, the difficulty was
over. His launch was ready: would be at the Shatt in half an hour. I
was to come straight to his office: and not explain (till perhaps now
after the war) that a common harbour launch had entered the sacred
canal without permission of the Water Directorate. All fell out as he
said. I sent my men and camels north to Kubri; where, by telephone from
Suez, I would prepare them rations and shelter in the animal camp on
the Asiatic shore. Later, of course, came their reward of hectic and
astonishing days in Cairo.

Lyttleton saw my weariness and let me go at once to the hotel. Long ago
it had seemed poor, but now was become splendid; and, after conquering
its first hostile impression of me and my dress, it produced the hot
baths and the cold drinks (six of them) and the dinner and bed of my
dreams. A most willing intelligence officer, warned by spies of a
disguised European in the Sinai Hotel, charged himself with the care of
my men at Kubri and provided tickets and passes for me to Cairo next
day.

The strenuous 'control' of civilian movement in the canal zone
entertained a dull journey. A mixed body of Egyptian and British
military police came round the train, interrogating us and scrutinizing
our passes. It was proper to make war on permit-men, so I replied
crisply in fluent English, 'Sherif of Mecca-Staff, to their Arabic
inquiries. They were astonished. The sergeant begged my pardon: he had
not expected to hear. I repeated that I was in the Staff uniform of the
Sherif of Mecca. They looked at my bare feet, white silk robes and gold
head-rope and dagger. Impossible! 'What army, sir?' 'Meccan.' 'Never
heard of it: don't know the uniform.' 'Would you recognize a
Montenegrin dragoon?'

This was a home-thrust. Any Allied troops in uniform might travel
without pass. The police did not know all the Allies, much less their
uniforms. Mine might really be some rare army. They fell back into the
corridor and watched me while they wired up the line. Just before
Ismailia, a perspiring intelligence officer in wet khaki boarded the
train to check my statements. As we had almost arrived I showed him the
special pass with which the forethought of Suez had twice-armed my
innocence. He was not pleased.

At Ismailia passengers for Cairo changed, to wait until the express
from Port Said was due. In the other train shone an opulent saloon,
from which descended Admiral Wemyss and Burmester and Neville, with a
very large and superior general. A terrible tension grew along the
platform as the party marched up and down it in weighty talk. Officers
saluted once: twice: still they marched up and down. Three times was
too much. Some withdrew to the fence and stood permanently to
attention: these were the mean souls. Some fled: these were the
contemptibles. Some turned to the bookstall and studied book-backs
avidly: these were shy. Only one was blatant.

Burmester's eye caught my staring. He wondered who it was, for I was
burned crimson and very haggard with travel. (Later I found my weight
to be less than seven stone.) However, he answered; and I explained the
history of our unannounced raid on Akaba. It excited him. I asked that
the admiral send a storeship there at once. Burmester said the
DUFFERIN, which came in that day, should load all the food in Suez, go
straight to Akaba, and bring back the prisoners. (Splendid!) He would
order it himself, not to interrupt the Admiral and Allenby.

'Allenby! what's he doing here?' cried I. 'Oh, he's in command now.'
'And Murray?' 'Gone home.' This was news of the biggest, importantly
concerning me: and I climbed back and fell to wondering if this heavy,
rubicund man was like ordinary generals, and if we should have trouble
for six months teaching him. Murray and Belinda had begun so tiresomely
that our thought those first days had been, not to defeat the enemy,
but to make our own chiefs let us live. Only by time and performance
had we converted Sir Archibald and his Chief of Staff, who in their
last months, wrote to the War Office commending the Arab venture, and
especially Feisal in it. This was generous of them and our secret
triumph, for they were an odd pair in one chariot--Murray all brains and
claws, nervous, elastic, changeable; Lynden Bell so solidly built up of
layers of professional opinion, glued together after Government testing
and approval, and later trimmed and polished to standard pitch.

At Cairo my sandalled feet slip-slapped up the quiet Savoy corridors to
Clayton, who habitually cut the lunch hour to cope with his thronging
work. As I entered he glanced up from his desk with a muttered 'Mush
fadi' (Anglo-Egyptian for 'engaged') but I spoke and got a surprised
welcome. In Suez the night before I had scribbled a short report; so we
had to talk only of what needed doing. Before the hour ended, the
Admiral rang up to say that the DUFFERIN was loading flour for her
emergency trip.

Clayton drew sixteen thousand pounds in gold and got an escort to take
it to Suez by the three o'clock train. This was urgent, that Nasir
might be able to meet his debts. The notes we had issued at Bair, Jefer
and Guweira were pencilled promises, on army telegraph forms, to pay so
much to bearer in Akaba. It was a great system, but no one had dared
issue notes before in Arabia, because the Beduins had neither pockets
in their shirts nor strong-rooms in their tents, and notes could not be
buried for safety. So there was an unconquerable prejudice against
them, and for our good name it was essential that they be early
redeemed.

Afterwards, in the hotel, I tried to find clothes less publicly
exciting than my Arab get-up; but the moths had corrupted all my former
store, and it was three days before I became normally ill-dressed.

Meanwhile I heard of Allenby's excellence, and of the last tragedy of
Murray, that second attack on Gaza, which London forced on one too weak
or too politic to resist; and how we went into it, everybody, generals
and staff-officers, even soldiers, convinced that we should lose. Five
thousand eight hundred was the casualty bill. They said Allenby was
getting armies of fresh men, and hundreds of guns, and all would be
different.

Before I was clothed the Commander-in-Chief sent for me, curiously. In
my report, thinking of Saladin and Abu Obeida, I had stressed the
strategic importance of the eastern tribes of Syria, and their proper
use as a threat to the communications of Jerusalem. This jumped with
his ambitions, and he wanted to weigh me.

It was a comic interview, for Allenby was physically large and
confident, and morally so great that the comprehension of our
littleness came slow to him. He sat in his chair looking at me--not
straight, as his custom was, but sideways, puzzled. He was newly from
France, where for years he had been a tooth of the great machine
grinding the enemy. He was full of Western ideas of gun power and
weight--the worst training for our war--but, as a cavalryman, was already
half persuaded to throw up the new school, in this different world of
Asia, and accompany Dawnay and Chetwode along the worn road of
manoeuvre and movement; yet he was hardly prepared for anything so odd
as myself--a little bare-footed silk-skirted man offering to hobble the
enemy by his preaching if given stores and arms and a fund of two
hundred thousand sovereigns to convince and control his converts.

Allenby could not make out how much was genuine performer and how much
charlatan. The problem was working behind his eyes, and I left him
unhelped to solve it. He did not ask many questions, nor talk much, but
studied the map and listened to my unfolding of Eastern Syria and its
inhabitants. At the end he put up his chin and said quite directly,
Well, I will do for you what I can', and that ended it. I was not sure
how far I had caught him; but we learned gradually that he meant
exactly what he said; and that what General Allenby could do was enough
for his very greediest servant.




CHAPTER LVII



Upon Clayton I opened myself completely. Akaba had been taken on my
plan by my effort. The cost of it had fallen on my brains and nerves.
There was much more I felt inclined to do, and capable of doing:--if he
thought I had earned the right to be my own master. The Arabs said that
each man believed his ticks to be gazelles: I did, fervently.

Clayton agreed they were spirited and profitable ticks; but objected
that actual command could not be given to an officer junior to the
rest. He suggested Joyce as commanding officer at Akaba: a notion which
suited me perfectly. Joyce was a man in whom one could rest against the
world: a serene, unchanging, comfortable spirit. His mind, like a
pastoral landscape, had four corners to its view: cared-for, friendly,
limited, displayed.

He had won golden opinions at Rabegh and Wejh, practising that very
labour of building up an army and a base, which would be necessary at
Akaba. Clayton-like, he was a good cartilage to set between opposing
joints, but he had more laughter than Clayton, being broad and Irish
and much over six feet in height. His nature was to be devoted to the
nearest job without straining on his toes after longer horizons. Also,
he was more patient than any recorded archangel, and only smiled that
jolly smile of his whenever I came in with revolutionary schemes, and
threw new ribbons of fancy about the neck of the wild thing he was
slowly rearing.

The rest was easy. For supply officer we would have Goslett, the London
business man who had made chaotic Wejh so prim. The aeroplanes could
not yet be moved; but the armoured cars might come straight away, and a
guard-ship if the Admiral was generous. We rang up Sir Rosslyn Wemyss,
who was very generous: his flagship, the EURYALUS, should sit there for
the first few weeks.

Genius, this was, for in Arabia ships were esteemed by number of
funnels, and the EURYALUS, with four, was exceptional in ships. Her
great reputation assured the mountains that we were indeed the winning
side: and her huge crew, by the prompting of Everard Feilding, for fun
built us a good pier.

On the Arab side, I asked that the expensive and difficult Wejh be
closed down, and Feisal come to Akaba with his full army. A sudden
demand, it seemed to Cairo. So I went further, pointing out that the
Yenbo-Medina sector also became a back-number; and advised the transfer
to Akaba of the stores, money, and officers now devoted to Ah' and
Abdulla. This was ruled to be impossible. But my wish regarding Wejh
was granted me in compromise.

Then I showed that Akaba was Allenby's right flank, only one hundred
miles from his centre, but eight hundred miles from Mecca. As the Arabs
prospered their work would be done more and more in the Palestine
sphere. So it was logical that Feisal be transferred from the area of
King Hussein to become an army commander of the Allied expedition of
Egypt under Allenby.

This idea held difficulties. Would Feisal accept?5 I had talked it over
with him in Wejh months ago. The High Commissioner?' Feisal's army had
been the largest and most distinguished of the Hejaz units: its future
would not be dull. General Wingate had assumed full responsibility for
the Arab Movement in its darkest moment, at great risk in reputation:
dare we ask him to relinquish its advance-guard now on the very
threshold of success?

Clayton, knowing Wingate very well, was not afraid to broach the idea
to him: and Wingate replied promptly that if Allenby could make direct
and large use of Feisal, it would be both his duty and his pleasure to
give him up for the good of the show.

A third difficulty of the transfer might be King Hussein: an obstinate,
narrow-minded, suspicious character, little likely to sacrifice a pet
vanity for unity of control. His opposition would endanger the scheme:
and I offered to go down to talk him over, calling on the way to get
from Feisal such recommendations of the change as should fortify the
powerful letters which Wingate was writing to the King. This was
accepted. The DUFFERIN on returning from Akaba, was detailed to take me
to Jidda for the new mission.

She took two days to reach Wejh. Feisal, with Joyce, Newcombe, and all
the army, was at Jeida, one hundred miles inland. Stent, who had
succeeded Ross in command of the Arabian flight, sent me up by air; so
we crossed comfortably at sixty miles an hour the hills learned
toilsomely on camel-back.

Feisal was eager to hear the details of Akaba, and laughed at our
prentice wars. We sat and made plans the whole night. He wrote to his
father; ordered his camel corps to march upon Akaba forthwith; and made
first arrangements towards getting Jaafar Pasha and his army ferried up
in the long-suffering HARDINGE.

At dawn they flew me back to Wejh, and, an hour after, the DUFFERIN was
making for Jidda, where things became easy for me with Wilson's
powerful help. To render Akaba, our most promising sector, strong, he
sent up a shipload of reserve stores and ammunition, and offered us any
of his officers. Wilson was of the Wingate school.

The King came down from Mecca and talked discursively. Wilson was the
royal touchstone, by which to try doubtful courses. Thanks to him, the
proposed transfer of Feisal to Allenby was accepted at once, King
Hussein taking the opportunity to stress his complete loyalty to our
alliance. Then, changing his subject, as usual without obvious
coherence, he began to expose his religious position, neither strong
Shia nor strong Surini, aiming rather at a simple pre-schism
interpretation of the faith. In foreign politics he betrayed a mind as
narrow as it had been broad in unworldly things; with much of that
destructive tendency of little men to deny the honesty of opponents. I
grasped something of the fixed jealousy which made the modern Feisal
suspect in his father's court; and realized how easily mischief-makers
could corrode the King.

While we played so interestingly at Jidda, two abrupt telegrams from
Egypt shattered our peace. The first reported that the Howei-tat were
in treasonable correspondence with Maan. The second connected Auda with
the plot. This dismayed us. Wilson had travelled with Auda, and formed
the inevitable judgement of his perfect sincerity: yet Mohammed el
Dheilan was capable of double play, and ibn Jad and his friends were
still uncertain. We prepared to leave at once for Akaba. Treachery had
not been taken into account when Nasir and I had built our plan for the
town's defence.

Fortunately the HARDINGE was in harbour for us. On the third afternoon
we were in Akaba, where Nasir had no notion that anything was wrong. I
told him only of my wish to greet Auda: he lent me a swift camel and a
guide; and at dawn we found Auda and Mohammed and Zaal all in a tent at
Guweira. They were confused when I dropped in on them, unheralded; but
protested that all was well. We fed together as friends.

Others of the Howeitat came in, and there was gay talk about the war. I
distributed the King's presents; and told them, to their laughter, that
Nasir had got his month's leave to Mecca. The King, an enthusiast for
the revolt, believed that his servants should work as manfully. So he
would not allow visits to Mecca, and the poor men found continual
military service heavy banishment from their wives. We had jested a
hundred times that, if he took Akaba, Nasir would deserve a holiday;
but he had not really believed in its coming until I gave him Hussein's
letter the evening before. In gratitude he sold me Ghazala, the regal
camel he won from the Howeitat As her owner I became of new interest to
the Abu Tayi.

After lunch, by pretence of sleep, I got rid of the visitors; and then
abruptly asked Auda and Mohammed to walk with me to see the ruined fort
and reservoir. When we were alone I touched on their present
correspondence with the Turks. Auda began to laugh; Mohammed to look
disgusted. At last they explained elaborately that Mohammed had taken
Auda's seal and written to the Governor of Maan, offering to desert the
Sherif's cause. The Turk had replied gladly, promising great rewards.
Mohammed asked for something on account. Auda then heard of it, waited
till the messenger with presents was on his way, caught him, robbed him
to the skin: and was denying Mohammed a share of the spoils. A farcical
story, and we laughed richly over it: but there was more behind.

They were angry that no guns or troops had yet come to their support;
and that no rewards had been given them for taking Akaba. They were
anxious to know how I had learnt of their secret dealings, and how much
more I knew. We were on a slippery ledge. I played on their fear by my
unnecessary amusement, quoting in careless laughter, as if they were my
own words, actual phrases of the letters they had exchanged. This
created the impression desired.

Parenthetically I told them Feisal's entire army was coming up; and how
Allenby was sending rifles, guns, high explosive, food and money to
Akaba. Finally I suggested that Auda's present expenses in hospitality
must be great; would it help if I advanced something of the great gift
Feisal would make him, personally, when he arrived? Auda saw that the
immediate moment would not be unprofitable: that Feisal would be highly
profitable: and that the Turks would be always with him if other
resources failed. So he agreed, in a very good temper, to accept my
advance: and with it to keep the Howeitat well-fed and cheerful.

It was near sunset. Zaal had killed a sheep and we ate again in real
amity. Afterwards I remounted, with Mufaddih (to draw Auda's
allowance), and Abd el Rahman, a servant of Mohammed's who, so he
whispered me, would receive any little thing I wished to send him
separately. We rode all night towards Akaba, where I roused Nasir from
sleep, to run over our last business. Then I paddled out in a derelict
canoe from 'Euryalus jetty' to the HARDINGE just as the first dawn
crept down the western peaks.

I went below, bathed, and slept till mid-morning. When I came on deck
the ship was rushing grandly down the narrow gulf under full steam for
Egypt. My appearance caused a sensation, for they had not dreamed I
could reach Guweira, assure myself, and get back in less than six or
seven days, to catch a later steamer.

We rang up Cairo and announced that the situation at Guweira was
thoroughly good, and no treachery abroad. This may have been hardly
true; but since Egypt kept us alive by stinting herself, we must reduce
impolitic truth to keep her confident and ourselves a legend. The crowd
wanted book-heroes, and would not understand how more human old Auda
was because, after battle and murder, his heart yearned towards the
defeated enemy now subject, at his free choice, to be spared or killed:
and therefore never so lovely.




CHAPTER LVIII



Again there fell a pause in my work and again my thoughts built
themselves up. Till Feisal and Jaafar and Joyce and the army came we
could do little but think: yet that, for our own credit, was the
essential process. So far our war had had but the one studied
operation--the march on Akaba. Such haphazard playing with the men and
movements of which we had assumed the leadership disgraced our minds. I
vowed to know henceforward, before I moved, where I was going and by
what roads.

At Wejh the Hejaz war was won: after Akaba it was ended. Feisal's army
had cleared off its Arabian liabilities and now, under General Allenby
the joint Commander-in-Chief, its role was to take part in the military
deliverance of Syria.

The difference between Hejaz and Syria was the difference between the
desert and the sown. The problem which faced us was one of character--the
learning to become civil. Wadi Musa village was our first peasant
recruit. Unless we became peasants too, the independence movement would
get no further.

It was good for the Arab Revolt that so early in its growth this change
imposed itself. We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands;
to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God, that
upas certainty which forbade all hope. Among the tribes our creed could
be only like the desert grass--a beautiful swift seeming of spring;
which, after a day's heat, fell dusty. Aims and ideas must be
translated into tangibility by material expression. The desert men were
too detached to express the one; too poor in goods, too remote from
complexity, to carry the other. If we would prolong our life, we must
win into the ornamented lands; to the villages where roofs or fields
held men's eyes downward and near; and begin our campaign as we had
begun that in Wadi Ais, by a study of the map, and a recollection of
the nature of this our battleground of Syria.

Our feet were upon its southern boundary. To the east stretched the
nomadic desert. To the west Syria was limited by the Mediterranean,
from Gaza to Alexandretta. On the north the Turkish populations of
Anatolia gave it an end. Within these limits the land was much
parcelled up by natural divisions. Of them the first and greatest was
longitudinal; the rugged spine of mountains which, from north to south,
divided a coast strip from a wide inland plain. These areas had
climatic differences so marked that they made two countries, two races
almost, with their respective populations. The shore Syrians lived in
different houses, fed and worked differently, used an Arabic differing
by inflection and in tone from that of the inlanders. They spoke of the
interior unwillingly, as of a wild land of blood and terror.

The inland plain was sub-divided geographically into strips by rivers.
These valleys were the most stable and prosperous tillages of the
country. Their inhabitants reflected them: contrasting, on the desert
side, with the strange, shifting populations of the borderland,
wavering eastward or westward with the season, living by their wits,
wasted by drought and locusts, by Beduin raids; or, if these failed
them, by their own incurable blood feuds.

Nature had so divided the country into zones. Man, elaborating nature,
had given to her compartments an additional complexity. Each of these
main north-and-south strip divisions was crossed and walled off
artificially into communities at odds. We had to gather them into our
hands for offensive action against the Turks. Feisal's opportunities
and difficulties lay in these political complications of Syria which we
mentally arranged in order, like a social map.

In the very north, furthest from us, the language-boundary followed,
not inaptly, the coach road from Alexandretta to Aleppo, until it met
the Baghdad Railway, up which it went to the Euphrates valley; but
enclaves of Turkish speech lay to the south of this general line in the
Turkoman villages north and south of Antioch, and in the Armenians who
were sifted in among them.

Otherwise, a main component of the coast population was the community
of Ansariya, those disciples of a cult of fertility, sheer pagan,
anti-foreign, distrustful of Islam, drawn at moments towards Christians by
common persecution. The sect, vital in itself, was clannish in feeling
and politics. One Nosairi would not betray another, and would hardly
not betray an unbeliever. Their villages lay in patches down the main
hills to the Tripoli gap. They spoke Arabic, but had lived there since
the beginning of Greek letters in Syria. Usually they stood aside from
affairs, and left the Turkish Government alone in hope of reciprocity.

Mixed among the Ansariyeh were colonies of Syrian Christians; and in
the bend of the Orontes had been some firm blocks of Armenians,
inimical to Turkey. Inland, near Harim were Druses, Arabic in origin;
and some Circassians from the Caucasus. These had their hand against
all. North-east of them were Kurds, settlers of some generations back,
who were marrying Arabs and adopting their politics. They hated native
Christians most; and, after them, they hated Turks and Europeans.

Just beyond the Kurds existed a few Yezidis, Arabic-speaking, but in
thought affected by the dualism of Iran, and prone to placate the
spirit of evil. Christians, Mohammedans, and Jews, peoples who placed
revelation before reason, united to spit upon Yezid. Inland of them
stood Aleppo, a town of two hundred thousand people, an epitome of all
Turkey's races and religions. Eastward of Aleppo, for sixty miles, were
settled Arabs whose colour and manner became more and more tribal as
they neared the fringe of cultivation where the semi-nomad ended and
the Bedawi began.

A section across Syria from sea to desert, a degree further south,
began in colonies of Moslem Circassians near the coast. In the new
generation they spoke Arabic and were an ingenious race, but
quarrelsome, much opposed by their Arab neighbours. Inland of them were
Ismailiya. These Persian immigrants had turned Arab in the course of
centuries, but revered among themselves one Mohammed, who in the flesh,
was the Agha Khan. They believed him to be a great and wonderful
sovereign, honouring the English with his friendship. They shunned
Moslems, but feebly hid their beastly opinions under a veneer of
orthodoxy.

Beyond them were the strange sights of villages of Christian tribal
Arabs, under sheikhs. They seemed very sturdy Christians, quite unlike
their snivelling brethren in the hills. They lived as the Sunni about
them, dressed like them, and were on the best terms with them. East of
the Christians lay semi-pastoral Moslem communities; and on the last
edge of cultivation, some villages of Ismailia outcasts, in search of
the peace men would not grant. Beyond were Beduin.

A third section through Syria, another degree lower, fell between
Tripoli and Beyrout. First, near the coast, were Lebanon Christians;
for the most part Maronites or Greeks. It was hard to disentangle the
politics of the two Churches. Superficially, one should have been
French and one Russian; but a part of the population, to earn a living,
had been in the United States, and there developed an Anglo-Saxon vein,
not the less vigorous for being spurious. The Greek Church prided
itself on being Old Syrian, autochthonous, of an intense localism which
might ally it with Turkey rather than endure irretrievable domination
by a Roman Power.

The adherents of the two sects were at one in unmeasured slander, when
they dared, of Mohammedans. Such verbal scorn seemed to salve their
consciousness of inbred inferiority. Families of Moslems lived among
them, identical in race and habit, except for a less mincing dialect,
and less parade of emigration and its results.

On the higher slopes of the hills clustered settlements of Metawala,
Shia Mohammedans from Persia generations ago. They were dirty,
ignorant, surly and fanatical, refusing to eat or drink with infidels;
holding the Sunni as bad as Christians; following only their own
priests and notables. Strength of character was their virtue: a rare
one in garrulous Syria. Over the hill-crest lay villages of Christian
yeomen living in free peace with their Moslem neighbours as though they
had never heard the grumbles of Lebanon. East of them were semi-nomad
Arab peasantry; and then the open desert.

A fourth section, a degree southward, would have fallen near Acre,
where the inhabitants, from the seashore, were first Sunni Arabs, then
Druses, then Metawala. On the banks of the Jordan valley lived
bitterly-suspicious colonies of Algerian refugees, facing villages of
Jews. The Jews were of varied sorts. Some, Hebrew scholars of the
traditionalist pattern, had developed a standard and style of living
befitting the country: while the later comers, many of whom were
German-inspired, had introduced strange manners, and strange crops, and
European houses (erected out of charitable funds) into this land of
Palestine, which seemed too small and too poor to repay in kind their
efforts: but the land tolerated them. Galilee did not show the deep-seated
antipathy to its Jewish colonists which was an unlovely feature
of the neighbouring Judea.

Across the eastern plains (thick with Arabs) lay a labyrinth of
crackled lava, the Leja, where the loose and broken men of Syria had
foregathered for unnumbered generations. Their descendants lived there
in lawless villages, secure from Turk and Beduin, and worked out their
internecine feuds at leisure. South and south-west of them opened the
Hauran, a huge fertile land; populous with warlike, self-reliant' and
prosperous Arab peasantry.

East of them were the Druses, heterodox Moslem followers of a mad and
dead Sultan of Egypt. They hated Maronites with a bitter hatred; which,
when encouraged by the Government and the fanatics of Damascus, found
expression in great periodic killings. None the less the Druses were
disliked by the Moslem Arabs and despised them in return. They were at
feud with the Beduins, and preserved in their mountain a show of the
chivalrous semi-feudalism of Lebanon in the days of their autonomous
Emirs.

A fifth section in the latitude of Jerusalem would have begun with
Germans and with German Jews, speaking German or German-Yiddish, more
intractable even than the Jews of the Roman era, unable to endure
contact with others not of their race, some of them farmers, most of
them shopkeepers, the most foreign, uncharitable part of the whole
population of Syria. Around them glowered their enemies, the sullen
Palestine peasants, more stupid than the yeomen of North Syria,
material as the Egyptians, and bankrupt.

East of them lay the Jordan depth, inhabited by charred serfs; and
across it group upon group of self-respecting village Christians who
were, after their agricultural co-religionists of the Orontes valley,
the least timid examples of our original faith in the country. Among
them and east of them were tens of thousands of semi-nomad Arabs,
holding the creed of the desert, living on the fear and bounty of their
Christian neighbours. Down this debatable land the Ottoman Government
had planted a line of Circassian immigrants from the Russian Caucasus.
These held their ground only by the sword and the favour of the Turks,
to whom they were, of necessity, devoted.




CHAPTER LIX



The tale of Syria was not ended in this count of odd races and
religions. Apart from the country-folk, the six great towns--Jerusalem,
Beyrout, Damascus, Horns, Hama, and Aleppo--were entities, each with its
character, direction, and opinion. The southernmost, Jerusalem, was a
squalid town, which every Semitic religion had made holy. Christians
and Mohammedans came there on pilgrimage to the shrines of its past,
and some Jews looked to it for the political future of their race.
These united forces of the past and the future were so strong that the
city almost failed to have a present. Its people, with rare exceptions,
were characterless as hotel servants, living on the crowd of visitors
passing through. Ideals of Arab nationality were far from them, though
familiarity with the differences of Christians at their moment of most
poignant sentience had led the classes of Jerusalem to despise us all.

Beyrout was altogether new. It would have been bastard French in
feeling as in language but for its Greek harbour and American college.
Public opinion in it was that of the Christian merchants, fat men
living by exchange; for Beyrout itself produced nothing. The next
strongest component was the class of returned emigrants, happy on
invested savings in the town of Syria which most resembled that
Washington Street where they had made good. Beyrout was the door of
Syria, a chromatic Levantine screen through which cheap or shop-soiled
foreign influences entered: it represented Syria as much as Soho the
Home Counties.

Yet Beyrout, because of its geographical position, because of its
schools, and the freedom engendered by intercourse with foreigners, had
contained before the war a nucleus of people, talking, writing,
thinking like the doctrinaire Cyclopasdists who paved the way for
revolution in France. For their sake, and for its wealth, and its
exceeding loud and ready voice, Beyrout was to be reckoned with.

Damascus, Horns, Hama and Aleppo were the four ancient cities in which
native Syria took pride. They stretched like a chain along the fertile
valleys between the desert and the hills. Because of their setting they
turned their backs upon the sea and looked eastward. They were Arab,
and knew themselves such. Of them, and of Syria, Damascus was the
inevitable head; the seat of lay government; and the religious centre.
Its sheikhs were leaders of opinion, more 'Meccan' than others
elsewhere. Its fresh and turbulent citizens, always willing to strike,
were as extreme in thought and word as in pleasure. The city boasted to
move before any part of Syria. The Turks made it military headquarters,
just as certainly as the Arab Opposition, and Oppenheim, and Sheikh
Shawish there established themselves. Damascus was a lode-star to which
Arabs were naturally drawn: a capital which would not smoothly be
subservient to any alien race.

Horns and Hama were twins disliking one another. All in them
manufactured things: in Horns often cotton and wool, in Hama brocaded
silks. Their industries were prosperous and increasing, their merchants
quick to find new outlets, or to meet new tastes, in North Africa, the
Balkans, Asia Minor, Arabia, Mesopotamia. They demonstrated the
productive ability of Syria, unguided by foreigners, as Beyrout proved
its skill in distribution. Yet while the prosperity of Beyrout made it
Levantine, the prosperity of Horns and Kama reinforced their localism;
made them more firmly native, more jealously native. Almost it seemed
as though familiarity with plant and power taught people that their
fathers' manners were best.

Aleppo was a great city in Syria, but not of it, nor of Anatolia, nor
of Mesopotamia. There the races, creeds, and tongues of the Ottoman
Empire met and knew one another in a spirit of compromise. The clash of
characteristics, which made its streets a kaleidoscope, imbued the
Aleppine with a lewd thoughtfulness which corrected in him what was
blatant in the Damascene. Aleppo had shared in all the civilizations
which turned about it: the result seemed to be a lack of zest in its
people's belief. Even so, they surpassed the rest of Syria. They fought
and traded more; were more fanatical and vicious; and made most
beautiful things: but all with a dearth of conviction which rendered
barren their multitudinous strength.

It was typical of Aleppo that in it, while yet Mohammedan feeling ran
high, more fellowship should rule between Christian and Mohammedan,
Armenian, Arab, Turk, Kurd and Jew, than in perhaps any other great
city of the Ottoman Empire, and that more friendliness, though little
licence, should have been accorded to Europeans. Politically, the town
stood aside altogether, save in Arab quarters which, like overgrown
half-nomad villages scattered over with priceless mediaeval mosques,
extended east and south of the mural crown of its great citadel. The
intensity of their self-sown patriotism tinged the bulk of the citizens
outside them with a colour of local consciousness which was by so much
less vivid than the Beyrout-acquired unanimity of Damascus.

All these peoples of Syria were open to us by the master-key of their
common Arabic language. Their distinctions were political and
religious: morally they differed only in the steady gradation from
neurotic sensibility on the sea coast to reserve inland. They were
quick-minded; admirers, but not seekers of truth; self-satisfied; not
(like the Egyptians) helpless before abstract ideas, but unpractical;
and so lazy in mind as to be habitually superficial. Their ideal was
ease in which to busy themselves with others' affairs.

From childhood they were lawless, obeying their fathers only from
physical fear; and their government later for much the same reason: yet
few races had the respect of the upland Syrian for customary law. All
of them wanted something new, for with their superficiality and
lawlessness went a passion for politics, a science fatally easy for the
Syrian to smarter, but too difficult for him to master. They were
discontented always with what government they had; such being their
intellectual pride; but few of them honestly thought out a working
alternative, and fewer still agreed upon one.

In settled Syria there was no indigenous political entity larger than
the village, in patriarchal Syria nothing more complex than the clan;
and these units were informal and voluntary, devoid of sanction, with
heads indicated from the entitled families only by the slow cementing
of public opinion. All higher constitution was the imported bureau-system
of the Turk, in practice either fairly good or very bad according to
the frailty of the human instruments (generally gendarmes) through which,
in the last resort, it worked.

The people, even the best-taught, showed a curious blindness to the
unimportance of their country, and a misconception of the selfishness
of great powers whose normal course was to consider their own interests
before those of unarmed races. Some cried aloud for an Arab kingdom.
These were usually Moslems; and the Catholic Christians would counter
them by demanding European protection of a thelemic order, conferring
privileges without obligation. Both proposals were, of course, far from
the hearts of the national groups, who cried for autonomy for Syria,
having a knowledge of what autonomy was, but not knowing Syria; for in
Arabic there was no such name, nor any name for all the country any of
them meant. The verbal poverty of their Rome-borrowed name indicated a
political disintegration. Between town and town, village and village,
family and family, creed and creed, existed intimate jealousies
sedulously fostered by the Turks.

Time seemed to have proclaimed the impossibility of autonomous union
for such a land. In history, Syria had been a corridor between sea and
desert, joining Africa to Asia, Arabia to Europe. It had been a
prize-ring, a vassal, of Anatolia, of Greece, of Rome, of Egypt, of
Arabia, of Persia, of Mesopotamia. When given a momentary independence by
the weakness of neighbours it had fiercely resolved into discordant
northern, southern, eastern and western 'kingdoms' with the area at
best of Yorkshire, at worst of Rutland; for if Syria was by nature a
vassal country it was also by habit a country of tireless agitation and
incessant revolt.

The master-key of opinion lay in the common language: where also, lay
the key of imagination. Moslems whose mother tongue was Arabic looked
upon themselves for that reason as a chosen people. Their heritage of
the Koran and classical literature held the Arabic-speaking peoples
together. Patriotism, ordinarily of soil or race, was warped to a
language.

A second buttress of a polity of Arab motive was the dim glory of the
early Khalifate, whose memory endured among the people through
centuries of Turkish misgovernment. The accident that these traditions
savoured rather of the Arabian Nights than of sheer history maintained
the Arab rank and file in their conviction that their past was more
splendid than the present of the Ottoman Turk.

Yet we knew that these were dreams. Arab Government in Syria, though
buttressed on Arabic prejudices, would be as much 'imposed' as the
Turkish Government, or a foreign protectorate, or the historic
Caliphate. Syria remained a vividly coloured racial and religious
mosaic. Any wide attempt after unity would make a patched and parcelled
thing, ungrateful to a people whose instincts ever returned towards
parochial home rule.

Our excuse for over-running expediency was War. Syria, ripe for
spasmodic local revolt, might be seethed up into insurrection, if a new
factor, offering to realize that centripetal nationalism of the Beyrout
Cyclopaedists, arose to restrain the jarring sects and classes. Novel
the factor must be, to avoid raising a jealousy of itself: not foreign,
since the conceit of Syria forbade.

Within our sight the only independent factor with acceptable groundwork
and fighting adherents was a Sunni prince, like Feisal, pretending to
revive the glories of Ommayad or Ayubid. He might momentarily combine
the inland men until success came with its need to transfer their
debauched enthusiasm to the service of ordered government. Then would
come reaction; but only after victory; and for victory everything
material and moral might be pawned.

There remained the technique and direction of the new revolts: but the
direction a blind man could see. The critical centre of Syria in all
ages had been the Yarmuk Valley, Hauran, and Deraa. When Hauran joined
us our campaign would be well ended. The process should be to set up
another ladder of tribes, comparable to that from Wejh to Akaba: only
this time our ladder would be made of steps of Howeitat, Beni Sakhr,
Sherarat, Rualla, and Serahin, to raise us three hundred miles to
Azrak, the oasis nearest Hauran and Jebel Druse.

In character our operations of development for the final stroke should
be like naval war, in mobility, ubiquity, independence of bases and
communications, ignoring of ground features, of strategic areas, of
fixed directions, of fixed points. 'He who commands the sea is at great
liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war as he will.' And
we commanded the desert. Camel raiding parties, self-contained like
ships, might cruise confidently along the enemy's cultivation-frontier,
sure of an unhindered retreat into their desert-element which the Turks
could not explore.

Discrimination of what point of the enemy organism to disarrange would
come to us with war practice. Our tactics should be tip and run: not
pushes, but strokes. We should never try to improve an advantage. We
should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest
place.

The necessary speed and range for distant war we would attain through
the frugality of the desert men, and their efficiency on camels. The
camel, that intricate, prodigious piece of nature, in expert hands
yielded a remarkable return. On them we were independent of supply for
six weeks, if each man had a half-bag of flour, forty-five pounds in
weight, slung on his riding-saddle.

Of water we would not want to carry more than a pint each. The camels
must drink, and there was no gain in making ourselves richer than our
mounts. Some of us never drank between wells, but those were hardy men:
most drank fully at each well, and carried a drink for an intermediate
dry day. In summer the camels would do about two hundred and fifty
miles after a watering; a three days' vigorous march. An easy stage was
fifty miles: eighty was good: in an emergency we might do one hundred
and ten miles in the twenty-four hours: twice the Ghazala, our greatest
camel, did one hundred and forty-three alone with me. Wells were seldom
a hundred miles apart, so the pint reserve was latitude enough.

Our six weeks' food gave us capacity for a thousand miles out and home.
The endurance of our camels made it possible for us (for me, the
camel-novice in the army, 'painful' would be the fitter word) to ride
fifteen hundred miles in thirty days, without fear of starvation; because,
even if we exceeded in time, each of us sat on two hundred pounds of
potential meat, and the man made camel-less could double-bank another,
riding two-up, in emergency.

The equipment of the raiding parties should aim at simplicity; with,
nevertheless, a technical superiority over the Turks in the critical
department. I sent to Egypt demands for great quantities of light
automatic guns, Hotchkiss or Lewis, to be used as snipers' tools. The
men we trained to them were kept deliberately ignorant of the
mechanism, not to waste speed in action upon efforts at repair. Ours
were battles of minutes, fought at eighteen miles an hour. If a gun
jammed, the gunner must throw it aside and go in with his rifle.

Another distinguishing feature might be high explosives. We evolved
special dynamite methods, and by the end of the war could demolish any
quantity of track and bridges with economy and safety. Allenby was
generous with explosive. It was only guns we never got until the last
month--and the pity of it! In manoeuvre war one long-range gun
outweighed ninety-nine short.

The distribution of the raiding parties was unorthodox. We could not
mix or combine tribes, because of their distrusts: nor could we use one
in the territory of another. In compensation we aimed at the widest
dissipation of force; and we added fluidity to speed by using one
district on Monday, another on Tuesday, a third on Wednesday. Thus
natural mobility was reinforced. In pursuit, our ranks refilled with
fresh men at each new tribe, and maintained the pristine energy. In a
real sense maximum disorder was our equilibrium.

The internal economy of our raiding parties achieved irregularity and
extreme articulation. Our circumstances were not twice similar, so no
system could fit them twice: and our diversity threw the enemy
intelligence off the track. By identical battalions and divisions
information built itself up, until a corps could be inferred on corpses
from three companies. Our strengths depended upon whim.

We were serving a common ideal, without tribal emulation, and so could
not hope for ESPRIT DE CORPS. Ordinary soldiers were made a caste
either by great rewards in pay, dress and privilege: or by being cut
off from life by contempt. We could not so knit man to man, for our
tribesmen were in arms willingly. Many armies had been voluntarily
enlisted: few served voluntarily. Any of our Arabs could go home
without penalty whenever the conviction failed him: the only contract
was honour.

Consequently we had no discipline in the sense in which it was
restrictive, submergent of individuality, the Lowest Common Denominator
of men. In peace-armies discipline meant the hunt, not of an average
but of an absolute; the hundred per cent standard in which the ninety-nine
were played down to the level of the weakest man on parade. The
aim was to render the unit a unit, the man a type; in order that their
effort might be calculable, and the collective output even in grain and
bulk. The deeper the discipline, the lower was the individual
excellence; also the more sure the performance.

By this substitution of a sure job for a possible masterpiece, military
science made a deliberate sacrifice of capacity in order to reduce the
uncertain element, the bionomic factor, in enlisted humanity.
Discipline's necessary accompaniment was compound or social war--that
form in which the fighting man was the product of the multiplied
exertions of a long hierarchy, from workshop to supply unit, which kept
him active in the field.

The Arab war should react against this, and be simple and individual.
Every enrolled man should serve in the line of battle and be
self-contained there. The efficiency of our forces was the personal
efficiency of the single man. It seemed to me that, in our articulated
war, the sum yielded by single men would at least equal the product of
a compound system of the same strength.

In practice we should not employ in the firing line the great numbers
which a simple system put theoretically at our disposal, lest our
attack (as contrasted with our threat) become too extended. The moral
strain of isolated fighting made 'simple' war very hard upon the
soldier, exacting from him special initiative, endurance, enthusiasm.
Irregular war was far more intellectual than a bayonet charge, far more
exhausting than service in the comfortable imitative obedience of an
ordered army. Guerillas must be allowed liberal work room: in irregular
war, of two men together, one was being wasted. Our ideal should be to
make our battle a series of single combats, our ranks a happy alliance
of agile commanders-in-chief.




CHAPTER LX



Vessels steamed up the Gulf of Akaba. Feisal landed, and with him
Jaafar, his staff, and Joyce, the fairy godmother. There came the
armoured cars, Goslett, Egyptian labourers and thousands of troops. To
repair the six weeks' peace, Falkenhayn had been down to advise the
Turks, and his fine intelligence made them worthier our opposition.
Maan was a special command, under Behjet, the old G.O.C. Sinai. He had
six thousand infantry, a regiment of cavalry and mounted infantry, and
had entrenched Maan till it was impregnable according to the standard
of manoeuvre war. A flight of aeroplanes operated daily thence. Great
supply dumps had been collected.

By now the Turkish preparations were complete; they began to move,
disclosing that their objective was Guweira, the best road for Akaba.
Two thousand infantry pushed out to Aba el Lissan, and fortified it.
Cavalry kept the outskirts, to contain a possible Arab counter-stroke
from the Wadi Musa side.

This nervousness was our cue. We would play with them and provoke them
to go for us in Wadi Musa, where the natural obstacles were so
tremendous that the human defending factor might behave as badly as it
liked, and yet hold the place against attack.

To bait the hook, the men of neighbouring Delagha were set busy. The
Turks, full of spirit, put in a counter-stroke, and suffered sharply.
We rubbed into the peasantry of Wadi Musa the rich booty now enjoyed by
their rivals of Delagha. Maulud, the old war-horse, went up with his
mule-mounted regiment, and quartered himself among the famous ruins of
Petra. The encouraged Liathena, under their one-eyed sheikh, Khalil,
began to foray out across the plateau, and to snap up by twos and
threes Turkish riding or transport animals, together with the rifles of
their occasional guards. This went on for weeks, while the irritated
Turks grew hotter and hotter.

We could also prick the Turks into discomfort by asking General Salmond
for his promised long-distance air raid on Maan. As it was difficult,
Salmond had chosen Stent, with other tried pilots of Rabegh or Wejh,
and told them to do their best. They had experience of forced landing
on desert surfaces and could pick out an unknown destination across
unmapped hills: Stent spoke Arabic perfectly. The flight had to be
air-contained, but its commander was full of resource and display, like
other bundles of nerves, who, to punish themselves, did outrageous
things. On this occasion he ordered low flying, to make sure the aim;
and profited by reaching Maan, and dropping thirty-two bombs in and
about the unprepared station. Two bombs into the barracks killed
thirty-five men and wounded fifty. Eight struck the engine-shed,
heavily damaging the plant and stock. A bomb in the General's kitchen
finished his cook and his breakfast. Four fell on the aerodrome.
Despite the shrapnel our pilots and engines returned safely to their
temporary landing ground at Kuntilla above Akaba.

That afternoon they patched the machines, and after dark slept under
their wings. In the following dawn they were off once more, three of
them this time, to Aba el Lissan, where the sight of the great camp had
made Stent's mouth water. They bombed the horse lines and stampeded the
animals, visited the tents and scattered the Turks. As on the day
before, they flew low and were much hit, but not fatally. Long before
noon they were back in Kuntilla.

Stent looked over the remaining petrol and bombs, and decided they were
enough for one more effort. So he gave directions to everyone to look
for the battery which had troubled them in the morning. They started in
the midday heat. Their loads were so heavy they could get no height,
and therefore came blundering over the crest behind Aba el Lissan, and
down the valley at about three hundred feet. The Turks, always
somnolent at noon, were taken completely by surprise. Thirty bombs were
dropped: one silenced the battery, the others killed dozens of men and
animals. Then the lightened machines soared up and home to El Arish.
The Arabs rejoiced: the Turks were seriously alarmed. Behjet Pasha set
his men to digging shelters, and when his aeroplanes had been repaired,
he disposed them innocuously about the plateau for camp defence.

By air we had perturbed the Turks: by irritative raids we were luring
them towards a wrong objective. Our third resource to ruin their
offensive was to hinder the railway, whose need would make them split
up the striking force on defensive duties. Accordingly we arranged many
demolitions for mid-September.

I decided also to revive the old idea of mining a train. Something more
vigorous and certain than automatic mines was indicated, and I had
imagined a direct firing, by electricity, of a charge under the
locomotive. The British sappers encouraged me to try, especially
General Wright, the chief engineer in Egypt, whose experience took a
sporting interest in my irregularities. He sent me the recommended
tools: an exploder and some insulated cable. With them I went on board
H.M.S. NUMBER, our new guard-ship, and introduced myself to Captain
Snagge, in command.

Snagge was fortunate in his ship, which had been built for Brazil, and
was much more comfortably furnished than British monitors; and we were
doubly fortunate in him and in this, for he was the spirit of
hospitality. His inquiring nature took interest in the shore, and saw
the comic side even of our petty disasters. To tell him the story of a
failure was to laugh at it, and always for a good story he gave me a
hot bath, and tea with civilized trappings, free from every suspicion
of blown sand. His kindness and help served us in lieu of visits to
Egypt for repairs, and enabled us to hammer on against the Turks
through month after month of feckless disappointment.

The exploder was in a formidable locked white box, very heavy. We split
it open, found a ratchet handle, and pushed it down without harming the
ship. The wire was heavy rubber-insulated cable. We cut it in half,
fastened the ends to screw terminals on the box, and transmitted shocks
to one another convincingly. It worked.

I fetched detonators. We stuffed the free ends of the cable into one
and pumped the handle: nothing followed. We tried again and again
ineffectually, grieving over it. At last Snagge rang his bell for the
gunner warrant officer who knew all about circuits. He suggested
special electric detonators. The ship carried six, and gave me three of
them. We joined one up with our box, and when the handle was crashed
down it popped off beautifully. So I felt that I knew all about it and
turned to arrange the details of the raid.

Of targets, the most promising and easiest-reached seemed Mudowwara, a
water station eighty miles south of Maan. A smashed train there would
embarrass the enemy. For men, I would have the tried Howeitat; and, at
the same time, the expedition would test the three Haurani peasants
whom I had added to my personal followers. In view of the new
importance of the Hauran, there was need for us to learn its dialect,
the construction and jealousies of its clan-framework, and its names
and roads. These three fellows, Rahail, Assaf and Hemeid would teach me
their home-affairs imperceptibly, as we rode on business, chatting.

To make sure of the arrested train required guns and machine-guns. For
the first, why not trench-mortars? For the second, Lewis guns?
Accordingly, Egypt chose two forceful sergeant-instructors from the
Army School at Zeitun, to teach squads of Arabs in Akaba how to use
such things. Snagge gave them quarters in his ship, since we had, as
yet, no convenient English camp ashore.

Their names may have been Yells and Brooke, but became Lewis and Stokes
after their jealously-loved tools. Lewis was an Australian, long, thin
and sinuous, his supple body lounging in unmilitary curves. His hard
face, arched eyebrows, and predatory nose set off the peculiarly
Australian air of reckless willingness and capacity to do something
very soon. Stokes was a stocky English yeoman, workmanlike and silent;
always watching for an order to obey.

Lewis, full of suggestion, emerged bursting with delight at what had
been well done whenever a thing happened. Stokes never offered opinion
until after action, when he would stir his cap reflectively, and
painstakingly recount the mistakes he must next time avoid. Both were
admirable men. In a month, without common language or interpreter, they
got on terms with their classes and taught them their weapons with
reasonable precision. More was not required: for an empirical habit
appeared to agree with the spirit of our haphazard raids better than
complete scientific knowledge.

As we worked at the organization of the raid, our appetites rose.
Mudowwara station sounded vulnerable. Three hundred men might rush it
suddenly. That would be an achievement, for its deep well was the only
one in the dry sector below Maan. Without its water, the train service
across the gap would become uneconomic in load.




CHAPTER LXI



Lewis, the Australian, at such an ambitious moment, said that he and
Stokes would like to be of my party. A new, attractive idea. With them
we should feel sure of our technical detachments, whilst attacking a
garrisoned place. Also, the sergeants wanted to go very much, and their
good work deserved reward. They were warned that their experiences
might not at the moment seem altogether joyful. There were no rules;
and there could be no mitigation of the marching, feeding, and
fighting, inland. If they went they would lose their British Army
comfort and privilege, to share and share with the Arabs (except in
booty!) and suffer exactly their hap in food and discipline. If
anything went wrong with me, they, not speaking Arabic, would be in a
tender position.

Lewis replied that he was looking for just this strangeness of life.
Stokes supposed that if we did it, he could. So they were lent two of
my best camels (their saddle-bags tight with bully-beef and biscuits)
and on September the seventh we went together up Wadi Itm, to collect
our Howeitat from Auda in Guweira.

For the sergeants' sake, to harden them gently, things were made better
than my word. We marched very easily for to-day, while we were our own
masters. Neither had been on a camel before, and there was risk that
the fearful heat of the naked granite walls of Itm might knock them out
before the trip had properly begun. September was a bad month. A few
days before, in the shade of the palm-gardens of Akaba beach, the
thermometer had shown a hundred and twenty degrees. So we halted for
midday under a cliff, and in the evening rode only ten miles to camp
for the night.

We were comfortable with cans of hot tea, and rice and meat; and it was
covertly enjoyable to watch the percussion of their surroundings on the
two men. Each reacted to the type expected.

The Australian from the first seemed at home, and behaved freely
towards the Arabs. When they fell into his spirit, and returned the
fellowship, he was astonished: almost resentful: having never imagined
that they would be misled by his kindness to forget the difference
between a white man and a brown.

It added humour to the situation that he was browner by far than my new
followers, of whom the youngest interested me most. He, Rahail, was
quite a lad: a free-built, sturdy fellow, too fleshy for the life we were
to lead, but for that the more tolerant of pains. His face was
high-coloured; his cheeks a little full and low-pouched, almost pendent.
The mouth was budded and small, the chin very pointed. This, added to the
high, strong brows and antimony-enlarged eyes, gave him a mixed air of
artifice and petulance, with weary patience self-imposed upon a base of
pride. He was blowsy-spoken (mouthing his Arabic); vulgar in dialect;
forward and impudent in speech; always thrusting, flaunting, restless
and nervous. His spirit was not as strong as his body, but mercurial.
When exhausted or cross he broke into miserable tears easily chased
away by any interference; and after, was fit for more endurance. My
followers, Mohammed and Ahmed, with Rashid and Assaf, the probationers,
gave Rahail much licence of behaviour; partly because of his animal
attractiveness, and of his tendency to advertise his person. He had to
be checked once or twice for taking liberties with the sergeants.

Stokes, the Englishman, was driven by the Arab strangeness to become
more himself; more insular. His shy correctness reminded my men in
every movement that he was unlike them, and English. Such consideration
elicited a return of respect. To them he was 'the sergeant', while
Lewis was 'the long one'.

These were points of character, which all showed in their degree. It
was humiliating to find that our book-experience of all countries and
ages still left us prejudiced like washerwomen, but without their
verbal ability to get on terms with strangers. The Englishmen in the
Middle East divided into two classes. Class one, subtle and
insinuating, caught the characteristics of the people about him, their
speech, their conventions of thought, almost their manner. He directed
men secretly, guiding them as he would. In such frictionless habit of
influence his own nature lay hid, unnoticed.

Class two, the John Bull of the books, became the more rampantly
English the longer he was away from England. He invented an Old Country
for himself, a home of all remembered virtues, so splendid in the
distance that, on return, he often found reality a sad falling off and
withdrew his muddle-headed self into fractious advocacy of the good old
times. Abroad, through his armoured certainty, he was a rounded sample
of our traits. He showed the complete Englishman. There was friction in
his track, and his direction was less smooth than that of the
intellectual type: yet his stout example cut wider swathe.

Both sorts took the same direction in example, one vociferously, the
other by implication. Each assumed the Englishman a chosen being,
inimitable, and the copying him blasphemous or impertinent. In this
conceit they urged on people the next best thing. God had not given it
them to be English; a duty remained to be good of their type.
Consequently we admired native custom; studied the language; wrote
books about its architecture, folklore, and dying industries. Then one
day, we woke up to find this chthonic spirit turned political, and
shook our heads with sorrow over its ungrateful nationalism--truly the
fine flower of our innocent efforts.

The French, though they started with a similar doctrine of the
Frenchman as the perfection of mankind (dogma amongst them, not secret
instinct), went on, contrarily, to encourage their subjects to imitate
them; since, even if they could never attain the true level, yet their
virtue would be greater as they approached it. We looked upon imitation
as a parody; they as a compliment.

Next day, in the early heat, we were near Guweira, comfortably crossing
the sanded plain of restful pink with its grey-green undergrowth, when
there came a droning through the air. Quickly we drove the camels off
the open road into the bush-speckled ground, where their irregular
colouring would not be marked by the enemy airmen; for the loads of
blasting gelatine, my favourite and most powerful explosive, and the
many ammonal-filled shells of the Stokes' gun would be ill neighbours
in a bombing raid. We waited there, soberly, in the saddle while our
camels grazed the little which was worth eating in the scrub, until the
aeroplane had circled twice about the rock of Guweira in front of us,
and planted three loud bombs.

We collected our caravan again on the path and paced gently into camp.
Guweira was thronged with life, and a mart for the Howeitat of both
hills and highlands. As far as the eye reached the plain was softly
moving with herded camels, whose multitude drained the near water-holes
each morning before dawn, so that late risers must travel many miles to
drink.

This was little matter, for the Arabs had nothing to do but wait for
the morning aeroplane; and after its passing, nothing but talk to kill
time till night was full enough for sleep. The talk and leisure were
too plentiful and had revived old jealousies. Auda was ambitious to
take advantage of our dependence on his help to assort the tribes. He
drew the bulk-wages for the Howeitat; and, by the money, sought to
compel the smaller free-sections to his leadership.

They resented it, and were threatening either to retire into their
hills or to re-open touch with the Turks. Feisal sent up Sherif Mastur
as mediator. The thousands of Howeitat, in hundreds of sections, were
uncompromising, hard-headed, greedy land-lawyers. To hold them content
without angering Auda was task delicate enough for the most fastidious
mind. Also, it was one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and the
shade was a surge of flies.

The three southern clans on whom we had been counting for our raid were
among the dissidents. Mastur spoke to them, the chiefs of the Abu Tayi
spoke, we all spoke, without effect. It seemed as though our plans were
to break down at the start.

One day, going along before noon under the rock, Mastur met me with
news that the southerners were mounting to desert our camp and
movement. Full of vexation, I swung round into Auda's tent. He sat on
its sand-floor, feeding on boiled bread with his latest wife, a jolly
girl, whose brown skin was blue with the indigo dye from her new smock.
When I suddenly burst in, the little woman whisked away through the
back-flap like a rabbit. To gain ground with him, I began to jeer at
the old man for being so old and yet so foolish like the rest of his
race, who regarded our comic reproductive processes not as an
unhygienic pleasure, but as a main business of life.

Auda retorted with his desire for heirs. I asked if he had found life
good enough to thank his haphazard parents for bringing him into it? or
selfishly to confer the doubtful gift upon an unborn spirit?

He maintained himself. 'Indeed, I am Auda,' said he, firmly, 'and you
know Auda. My father (to whom God be merciful) was master, greater than
Auda; and he would praise my grandfather. The world is greater as we go
back.' 'But, Auda, we say honour our sons and daughters, the heirs of
our accumulated worth, fulfillers of our broken wisdom. With each
generation the earth is older, mankind more removed from its
childhood . . .'

The old thing, not to-day to be teased, looked at me through his
narrowed eyes with a benign humour, and pointed to Abu Tayi, his son,
out on the plain before us trying a new camel, banging it on the neck
with his stick in vain effort to make it pace like a thoroughbred. 'O
world's imp,' said he, 'if God please he has inherited my worth, but
thank God not yet my strength; and if I find fault with him I will
redden his tail. No doubt you are very wise.' The upshot of our talk
was that I should go off to a clean spot, to wait events. We hired
twenty camels to carry the explosives; and the morrow, two hours after
the aeroplane, was fixed for our start.

The aeroplane was the quaint regulator of public business in the
Guweira camp. The Arabs, up as ever before dawn, waited for it: Mastur
set a slave on the crag's peak to sound the first warning. When its
constant hour drew near the Arabs would saunter, chatting in parade of
carelessness, towards the rock. Arrived beneath it, each man climbed to
the ledge he favoured. After Mastur would climb the bevy of his slaves,
with his coffee on the brazier, and his carpet. In a shaded nook he and
Auda would sit and talk till the little shiver of excitement tightened
up and down the crowded ledges when first was heard the song of the
engine over the pass of Shtar.

Everyone pressed back against the wall and waited stilly while the
enemy circled vainly above the strange spectacle of this crimson rock
banded with thousands of gaily-dressed Arabs, nesting like ibises in
every cranny of its face. The aeroplane dropped three bombs, or four
bombs, or five bombs, according to the day of the week. Their bursts of
dense smoke sat on the sage-green plain compactly like cream-puffs;
writhing for minutes in the windless air before they slowly spread and
faded. Though we knew there was no menace in it, yet we could not but
catch our breath when the sharp-growing cry of the falling bombs came
through the loud engine overhead.




CHAPTER LXII



Gladly we left the noise and heart-burning of Guweira. So soon as we
had lost our escort of flies we halted: indeed there was no need of
haste, and the two unfortunate fellows with me were tasting of such
heat as they had never known: for the stifling air was like a metal
mask over our faces. It was admirable to see them struggle not to speak
of it, that they might keep the spirit of the Akaba undertaking to
endure as firmly as the Arabs; but by this silence the sergeants went
far past their bond. It was ignorance of Arabic which made them so
superfluously brave, for the Arabs themselves were loud against the
tyrannous sun and the breathlessness; but the test-effect was
wholesome; and, for effect, I played about, seeming to enjoy myself.

In the late afternoon we marched further and stopped for the night
under a thick screen of tamarisk-trees. The camp was very beautiful,
for behind us rose a cliff, perhaps four hundred feet in height, a deep
red in the level sunset. Under our feet was spread a floor of
buff-coloured mud, as hard and muffled as wood-paving, flat like a lake
for half a mile each way: and on a low ridge to one side of it stood the
grove of tamarisk-stems of brown wood, edged with a sparse and dusty
fringe of green, which had been faded by drought and sunshine till it
was nearly of the silvered grey below the olive-leaves about Les Baux,
when a wind from the river-mouth rustled up the valley-grass and made
the trees turn pale.

We were riding for Rumm, the northern water of the Beni Atiyeh: A place
which stirred my thought, as even the unsentimental Howei-tat had told
me it was lovely. The morrow would be new with our entry to it: but
very early, while the stars were yet shining, I was roused by Aid, the
humble Harithi Sherif accompanying us. He crept to me, and said in a
chilled voice, 'Lord, I am gone blind'. I made him lie down, and felt
that he shivered as if cold; but all he could tell me was that in the
night, waking up, there had been no sight, only pain in his eyes. The
sun-blink had burned them out.

Day was still young as we rode between two great pikes of sandstone to
the foot of a long, soft slope poured down from the domed hills in
front of us. It was tamarisk-covered: the beginning of the Valley of
Rumm, they said. We looked up on the left to a long wall of rock,
sheering in like a thousand-foot wave towards the middle of the valley;
whose other arc, to the right, was an opposing line of steep, red
broken hills. We rode up the slope, crashing our way through the
brittle undergrowth.

As we went, the brushwood grouped itself into thickets whose massed
leaves took on a stronger tint of green the purer for their contrasted
setting in plots of open sand of a cheerful delicate pink. The ascent
became gentle, till THE valley was a confined tilted plain. The hills
on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other
side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They
drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering
gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet
above us, ran forward in an avenue for miles.

They were not unbroken walls of rock, but were built sectionally, in
crags like gigantic buildings, along the two sides of their street.
Deep alleys, fifty feet across, divided the crags, whose plans were
smoothed by the weather into huge apses and bays, and enriched with
surface fretting and fracture, like design. Caverns high up on the
precipice were round like windows: others near the foot gaped like
doors. Dark stains ran down the shadowed front for hundreds of feet,
like accidents of use. The cliffs were striated vertically, in their
granular rock; whose main order stood on two hundred feet of broken
stone deeper in colour and harder in texture. This plinth did not, like
the sandstone, hang in folds like cloth; but chipped itself into loose
courses of scree, horizontal as the footings of a wall.

The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body
of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance
of Byzantine architecture to this irresistible place: this processional
way greater than imagination. The Arab armies would have been lost in
the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of
aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew
self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its
smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills.

Landscapes, in childhood's dream, were so vast and silent. We looked
backward through our memory for the prototype up which all men had
walked between such walls toward such an open square as that in front
where this road seemed to end. Later, when we were often riding inland,
my mind used to turn me from the direct road, to clear my senses by a
night in Rumm and by the ride down its dawn-lit valley towards the
shining plains, or up its valley in the sunset towards that glowing
square which my timid anticipation never let me reach. I would say,
'Shall I ride on this time, beyond the Khazail, and know it all?' But
in truth I liked Rumm too much.

To-day we rode for hours while the perspectives grew greater and more
magnificent in ordered design, till a gap in the cliff-face opened on
our right to a new wonder. The gap, perhaps three hundred yards across,
was a crevice in such a wall; and led to an amphitheatre, oval in
shape, shallow in front, and long-lobed right and left. The walls were
precipices, like all the walls of Rumm; but appeared greater, for the
pit lay in the very heart of a ruling hill, and its smallness made the
besetting heights seem overpowering.

The sun had sunk behind the western wall, leaving the pit in shadow;
but its dying glare flooded with startling red the wings each side of
the entry, and the fiery bulk of the further wall across the great
valley. The pit-floor was of damp sand, darkly wooded with shrubs;
while about the feet of all the cliffs lay boulders greater than
houses, sometimes, indeed, like fortresses which had crashed down from
the heights above. In front of us a path, pale with use, zigzagged up
the cliff-plinth to the point from which the main face rose, and there
it turned precariously southward along a shallow ledge outlined by
occasional leafy trees. From between these trees, in hidden crannies of
the rock, issued strange cries; the echoes, turned into music, of the
voices of the Arabs watering camels at the springs which there flowed
out three hundred feet above ground.

The rains, falling on the grey domes of the hill-top, seemed to have
soaked slowly into the porous rock; and my mind followed them,
filtering inch by inch downward through those mountains of sandstone
till they came against the impervious horizontal layer of the plinth,
and ran along its top under pressure, in jets which burst out on the
cliff-face at the junction of the two rocky layers.

Mohammed turned into the amphitheatre's left hand lobe. At its far end
Arab ingenuity had cleared a space under an overhanging rock: there we
unloaded and settled down. The dark came upon us quickly in this high
prisoned place; and we felt the water-laden air cold against our
sunburnt skin. The Howeitat who had looked after the loads of explosive
collected their camel drove, and led them with echo-testing shouts up
the hill-path to water against their early return to Guweira. We lit
fires and cooked rice to add to the sergeants' bully-beef, while my
coffee men prepared for the visitors who would come to us.

The Arabs in the tents outside the hollow of the springs had seen us
enter, and were not slow to learn our news. In an hour we had the head
men of the Darausha, Zelebani, Zuweida and Togatga clans about us; and
there mounted great talk, none too happy. Aid, the Sherif, was too cast
down in heart by his blindness to lift the burden of entertainment from
my shoulders; and a work of such special requirements was not to be
well done by me. These smaller clans, angry with the Abu Tayi,
suspected us of abetting Auda in his ambition to win a predominance
over them. They were unwilling to serve the Sherif till assured of his
support of their extremest claims.

Gasim abu Dumeik, the fine horseman who had led the highland men on the
day of Aba el Lissan, seemed particularly vicious. He was a dark man
with an arrogant face and thin-lipped smile: good enough at heart, but
crusted. To-day, he flamed with jealousy of the Toweiha. Alone, I could
never win him, so to make patent his hostility I took him as adversary
and fought him fiercely with my tongue till he was silenced. In shame
his audience deserted him and rallied ever so little to my side. Their
flickering judgements began to murmur at the chiefs, and to advocate
marching off with me. I took the chance to say that Zaal would be here
in the morning, and that he and I would accept the help of all except
the Dhumaniyeh; who, made impossible by Gasim's words, would be erased
from Feisal's book and forfeit their earned goodwill and rewards.
Gasim, swearing he would join the Turks at once, withdrew from the
fireside in great anger, while cautious friends tried vainly to stop
his mouth.




CHAPTER LXIII



Next morning there he was, with his men, ready to join or oppose us, as
the whim went. While he hesitated Zaal arrived. Gasim's dourness soon
clashed upon Zaal's metallic cruelty, and the pair had high words. We
got between them before a fight could start, but enough passed to
overthrow the weak arrangement of the night. The other clans, disgusted
at Gasim's fierceness, came to us quietly in twos and threes, as
volunteers; but begged me to make their loyalty known to Feisal before
we started.

Their doubts determined me to communicate at once with him, partly that
this trouble might be composed, and partly to raise camels for carrying
the explosives. To hire Dhumaniyeh camels would not be fitting; and
there were no others here. The best way was to go myself; because while
Gasim might stop a messenger, he would not dare hinder me. The two
sergeants were commended to Zaal, who swore to answer for their lives;
and off went Ahmed and myself on stripped camels, meaning to hurry to
Akaba and back.

We knew only the very long way by Wadi Itm. A short cut existed, but we
could find no guide to it. Vainly we searched up and down the valley;
and were in despair when a boy blurted out that we should go along the
next valley to our right. By it, after an hour, we were on a watershed
from which valleys trended away westward. They could lead only into
Wadi Itm, for there was no other drainage hereabouts through the hills
to the sea; and we raced down them, ever and again cutting at a venture
across ridges on our right into parallel tributaries, to shorten the
assumed line.

In the beginning it was clean sandstone country, of pleasant rock-shapes:
but as we went spines of granite, the material of the shore,
rose up in front of us, and after thirty miles of good trotting
gradient we passed, by the southern Itm, into the main valley, just
above the well of the surrender of Akaba. The journey took us only six
hours.

In Akaba we rode straight to Feisal's house. My sudden return scared
him, but a word explained the little drama which was being played at
Rumm. After we had fed we took the necessary steps. The twenty baggage
camels should start up in two days with enough of Feisal's camel-men to
transport the explosives, and a few of his personal slaves to guard
them. He would lend me Sherif Abdulla el Feir, the best of his henchmen
now in camp, as mediator. The families of the men who rode with me to
the railway should draw provisions from his stores on my certificate.

Abdulla and I went off before dawn, and in the afternoon, after a
friendly ride, reached Rumm to find all safe: so anxiety was lifted.
Sherif Abdulla at once got to work. Having collected the Arabs,
including the recalcitrant Gasim, he began to smooth over their griefs
with that ready persuasiveness which was the birthmark of an Arab
leader, and which all his experience served to whet.

In the idleness forced on him by our absence, Lewis had explored the
cliff, and reported the springs very good for washing in; so, to get
rid of the dust and strain after my long rides, I went straight up the
gully into the face of the hill, along the ruined wall of the conduit
by which a spout of water had once run down the ledges to a Nabatasan
well-house on the valley floor. It was a climb of fifteen minutes to a
tired person, and not difficult. At the top, the waterfall, el Shellala
as the Arabs named it, was only a few yards away.

Its rushing noise came from my left, by a jutting bastion of cliff over
whose crimson face trailed long falling runners of green leaves. The
path skirted it in an undercut ledge. On the rock-bulge above were
clear-cut Nabathaean inscriptions, and a sunk panel incised with a
monogram or symbol. Around and about were Arab scratches, including
tribe-marks, some of which were witnesses of forgotten migrations: but
my attention was only for the splashing of water in a crevice under the
shadow of the overhanging rock.

From this rock a silver runlet issued into the sunlight. I looked in to
see the spout, a little thinner than my wrist, jetting out firmly from
a fissure in the roof, and falling with that clean sound into a
shallow, frothing pool, behind the step which served as entrance. The
walls and roof of the crevice dripped with moisture. Thick ferns and
grasses of the finest green made it a paradise just five feet square.

Upon the water-cleansed and fragrant ledge I undressed my soiled body,
and stepped into the little basin, to taste at last a freshness of
moving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool. I
lay there quietly, letting the clear, dark red water run over me in a
ribbly stream, and rub the travel-dirt away. While I was so happy, a
grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and
weariness, came slowly along the path till opposite the spring; and
there he let himself down with a sigh upon my clothes spread out over a
rock beside the path, for the sun-heat to chase out their thronging
vermin.

He heard me and leaned forward, peering with rheumy eyes at this white
thing splashing in the hollow beyond the veil of sun-mist. After a long
stare he seemed content, and closed his eyes, groaning, 'The love is
from God; and of God; and towards God'.

His low-spoken words were caught by some trick distinctly in my water
pool. They stopped me suddenly. I had believed Semites unable to use
love as a link between themselves and God, indeed, unable to conceive
such a relation except with the intellectuality of Spinoza, who loved
so rationally and sexlessly, and transcendently that he did not seek,
or rather had not permitted, a return. Christianity had seemed to me
the first creed to proclaim love in this upper world, from which the
desert and the Semite (from Moses to Zeno) had shut it out: and
Christianity was a hybrid, except in its first root not essentially
Semitic.

Its birth in Galilee had saved it from being just one more of the
innumerable revelations of the Semite. Galilee was Syria's non-Semitic
province, contact with which was almost uncleanness for the perfect
Jew. Like Whitechapel to London, it lay alien to Jerusalem. Christ by
choice passed his ministry in its intellectual freedom; not among the
mud-huts of a Syrian village, but in polished streets among fora and
pillared houses and rococo baths, products of an intense if very exotic
provincial and corrupt Greek civilization.

The people of this stranger-colony were not Greek--at least not in the
majority--but Levantines of sorts, aping a Greek culture; and in revenge
producing, not the correct banal Hellenism of the exhausted homeland,
but a tropical rankness of idea, in which the rhythmical balance of
Greek art and Greek ideality blossomed into novel shapes tawdry with
the larded passionate colours of the East.

Gadarene poets, stuttering their verses in the prevailing excitement,
held a mirror to the sensuality and disillusioned fatalism, passing
into disordered lust, of their age and place; from whose earthiness the
ascetic Semite religiosity perhaps caught the tang of humanity and real
love that made the distinction of Christ's music, and fitted it to
sweep across the hearts of Europe in a fashion which Judaism and Islam
could not achieve.

And then Christianity had had the fortune of later architects of
genius; and in its passage through time and clime had suffered sea-changes
incomparably greater than the unchanging Jewry, from the abstraction
of Alexandrian bookishness into Latin prose, for the mainland of
Europe: and last and most terrible passing of all, when it became
Teuton, with a formal synthesis to suit our chilly disputatious
north. So remote was the Presbyterian creed from the Orthodox faith of
its first or second embodiment that, before the war, we were able to
send missionaries to persuade these softer Oriental Christians to our
presentation of a logical God.

Islam, too, had inevitably changed from continent to continent. It had
avoided metaphysics, except in the introspective mysticism of Iranian
devotees: but in Africa it had taken on colours of fetishism (to
express in a loose word the varied animalities of the dark continent),
and in India, it had to stoop to the legality and literalism of its
converts' minds. In Arabia, however, it had kept a Semitic character,
or rather the Semitic character had endured through the phase of Islam
(as through all the phases of the creeds with which the town-dwellers
continually vested the simplicity of faith), expressing the monotheism
of open spaces, the pass-through-infinity of pantheism and its everyday
usefulness of an all-pervading, household God.

By contrast with this fixity, or with my reading of it, the old man of
Rumm loomed portentous in his brief, single sentence, and seemed to
overturn my theories of the Arab nature. In fear of a revelation, I put
an end to my bath, and advanced to recover my clothes. He shut his eyes
with his hands and groaned heavily. Tenderly I persuaded him to rise up
and let me dress, and then to come with me along the crazy path which
the camels had made in their climbing to and from the other water-springs.
He sat down by our coffee-place, where Mohammed blew up the fire while I
sought to make him utter doctrine.

When the evening meal was ready we fed him, so checking for some
minutes his undercurrent of groans and broken words. Late at night, he
rose painfully to his feet and tottered deafly into the night, taking
his beliefs, if any, with him. The Howeitat told me that lifelong he
had wandered among them moaning strange things, not knowing day or
night, not troubling himself for food or work or shelter. He was given
bounty of them all, as an afflicted man: but never replied a word, or
talked aloud, except when abroad by himself or alone among the sheep
and goats.




CHAPTER LXIV



Abdulla made progress with his settlement. Gasim, no longer defiant,
but sulky, would not give public counsel: so about a hundred men of the
smaller clans dared defy him by promising to ride with us. We talked it
over with Zaal, and decided to try our fortune to the utmost of this
power. By longer delay we risked adherents whom we now had, with little
hope of getting others in the present temper of the tribes.

It was a tiny party, only a third of what had been hoped. Our weakness
would modify our plans regrettably: also we lacked an assured leader.
Zaal, as ever, showed himself capable of being chief, prescient and
active in all concrete preparations. He was a man of great mettle, but
too close to Auda to suit the others; and his sharp tongue and the
sneer hovering on his blue, wet lips fanned distrust and made men
reluctant to obey even his good advice.

Next day the baggage camels came from Feisal, twenty of them in charge
of ten freedmen, and guarded by four of his body-slaves. These were the
trustiest attendants in the army, with a quite particular reading of
the duties of personal service. They would have died to save their
master hurt, or have died with him if he were hurt. We attached two to
each sergeant, so that whatever happened to me their safe return would
be assured. The loads needed for the reduced raid were sorted out and
all made ready for an early start.

Accordingly at dawn on September the sixteenth we rode out from Rumm.
Aid, the blind Sherif, insisted on coming, despite his lost sight;
saying he could ride, if he could not shoot, and that if God prospered
us he would take leave from Feisal in the flush of the success, and go
home, not too sorry, to the blank life which would be left. Zaal led
his twenty-five Nowasera, a clan of Auda's Arabs who called themselves
my men, and were famous the desert over for their saddle-camels. My
hard riding tempted them to my company.

Old Motlog el Awar, owner of el Jedha, the finest she-camel in North
Arabia, rode her in our van. We looked at her with proud or greedy
eyes, according to our relationship with him. My Ghazala was taller and
more grand, with a faster trot, but too old to be galloped. However she
was the only other animal in the party, or, indeed, in this desert, to
be matched with the Jedha, and my honour was increased by her dignity.

The rest of our party strayed like a broken necklace. There were groups
of Zuweida, Darausha, Togatga, and Zelebani; and it was on this ride
that the virtue of Hammad el Tugtagi was first brought to my mind. Half
an hour after we started there rode out from a side-valley some
shame-faced men of the Dhumaniyeh, unable to endure others raiding while
they idled with the women.

No one group would ride or speak with another, and I passed back and
forth all day like a shuttle, talking first to one lowering sheikh, and
then to another, striving to draw them together, so that before a cry
to action came there might be solidarity. As yet they agreed only in
not hearing any word from Zaal as to the order of our march; though he
was admitted the most intelligent warrior, and the most experienced.
For my private part he was the only one to be trusted further than
eyesight. Of the others, it seemed to me that neither their words nor
their counsels, perhaps not their rifles, were sure.

Poor Sherif Aid's uselessness, even as nominal leader, forced me to
assume the direction myself, against both principle and judgement;
since the special arts of tribal raiding and the details of food-halts
and pasturage, road-direction, pay, disputes, division of spoils, feuds
and march order were much outside the syllabus of the Oxford School of
Modern History. The need to vamp these matters kept me too busied to
see the country, and prevented my worrying out how we must assault
Mudowwara, and the best surprise uses of explosive.

We put our midday halt in a fertile place, where the late spring rain,
falling on a sandy talus, had brought up a thick tufting of silvery
grass which our camels loved. The weather was mild, perfect as an
August in England, and we lingered in great content, recovered at last
from the bickering appetites of the days before the start, and from
that slight rending of nerve inevitable when leaving even a temporary
settlement. Man, in our circumstances, took root so soon.

Late in the day we rode again, winding downhill in a narrow valley
between moderate sandstone walls: till before sunset we were out on
another flat of laid yellow mud, like that which had been so wonderful
a prelude to Rumm's glory. By its edge we camped. My care had borne
fruit, for we settled in only three parties, by bright fires of
crackling, flaring tamarisk. At one supped my men; at the second Zaal;
at the third the other Howeitat; and late at night, when all the chiefs
had been well adjusted with gazelle meat and hot bread, it became
possible to bring them to my neutral fire, and discuss sensibly our
course for the morrow.

It seemed that about sunset we should water at Mudowwara well, two or
three miles this side of the station, in a covered valley. Then, in the
early night, we might go forward to examine the station and see if, in
our weakness, we might yet attempt some stroke against it. I held
strongly to this (against the common taste) for it was by so much the
most critical point of the line. The Arabs could not see it, since
their minds did not hold a picture of the long, linked Turkish front
with its necessitous demands. However, we had reached internal harmony,
and scattered confidently to sleep.

In the morning we delayed to eat again, having only six hours of march
before us; and then pushed across the mud-flat to a plain of firm
limestone rag, carpeted with brown, weather-blunted flint. This was
succeeded by low hills, with occasional soft beds of sand, under the
steeper slopes where eddying winds had dropped their dust. Through
these we rode up shallow valleys to a crest; and then by like valleys
down the far side, whence we issued abruptly, from dark, tossed
stone-heaps into the sun-steeped wideness of a plain. Across it an
occasional low dune stretched a drifting line.

We had made our noon halt at the first entering of the broken country;
and, rightly, in the late afternoon came to the well. It was an open
pool, a few yards square, in a hollow valley of large stone-slabs and
flint and sand. The stagnant water looked uninviting. Over its face lay
a thick mantle of green slime, from which swelled curious bladder-islands
of floating fatty pink. The Arabs explained that the Turks had
thrown dead camels into the pool to make the water foul; but that time
had passed and the effect was grown faint. It would have been fainter
had the criterion of their effort been my taste.

Yet it was all the drink we should get up here unless we took
Mudowwara, so we set to and filled our water-skins. One of the
Howeitat, while helping in this, slipped off the wet edge into the
water. Its green carpet closed oilily over his head and hid him for an
instant: then he came up, gasping vigorously, and scrambled out amid
our laughter; leaving behind him a black hole in the scum from which a
stench of old meat rose like a visible pillar, and hung about us and
him and the valley, disconcertingly.

At dusk, Zaal and I, with the sergeants and others, crept forward
quietly. In half an hour we were at the last crest, in a place where
the Turks had dug trenches and stoned up an elaborate outpost of
engrailed sangars which on this black new-moon night of our raid were
empty. In front and below lay the station, its doors and windows
sharply marked by the yellow cooking fires and lights of the garrison.
It seemed close under our observation; but the Stokes gun would carry
only three hundred yards. Accordingly we went nearer, hearing the enemy
noises, and attentively afraid lest their barking dogs uncover us.
Sergeant Stokes made casts out to left and right, in search of
gun-positions, but found nothing that was satisfactory.

Meanwhile, Zaal and I crawled across the last flat, till we could count
the unlighted tents and hear the men talking. One came out a few steps
in our direction, then hesitated. He struck a match to light a
cigarette, and the bold light flooded his face, so that we saw him
plainly, a young, hollow-faced sickly officer. He squatted, busy for a
moment, and returned to his men, who hushed as he passed.

We moved back to our hill and consulted in whispers. The station was
very long, of stone buildings, so solid that they might be proof
against our time-fused shell. The garrison seemed about two hundred. We
were one hundred and sixteen rifles and not a happy family. Surprise
was the only benefit we could be sure of.

So, in the end, I voted that we leave it, unalarmed, for a future
occasion, which might be soon. But, actually, one accident after
another saved Mudowwara; and it was not until August, 1918, that
Buxton's Camel Corps at last measured to it the fate so long overdue.




CHAPTER LXV



Quietly we regained our camels and slept. Next morning we returned on
our tracks to let a fold of the plain hide us from the railway, and
then marched south across the sandy flat; seeing tracks of gazelle,
oryx and ostrich; with, in one spot, stale padmarks of leopard. We were
making for the low hills bounding the far side, intending to blow up a
train; for Zaal said that where these touched the railway was such a
curve as we needed for mine-laying, and that the spurs commanding it
would give us ambush and a field of fire for our machine-guns.

So we turned east in the southern ridges till within half a mile of the
line. There the party halted in a thirty-foot valley, while a few of us
walked down to the line, which bent a little eastward to avoid the
point of higher ground under our feet. The point ended in a flat table
fifty feet above the track, facing north across the valley.

The metals crossed the hollow on a high bank, pierced by a two-arched
bridge for the passage of rain-water. This seemed an ideal spot to lay
the charge. It was our first try at electric mining and we had no idea
what would happen; but it stood to our reason that the job would be
more sure with an arch under the explosive because, whatever the effect
on the locomotive, the bridge would go, and the succeeding coaches be
inevitably derailed.

The ledge would make an admirable position for Stokes. For the
automatics, it was rather high; but the enfilade would be masterful
whether the train was going up or down the line. So we determined to
put up with the disadvantages of plunging fire. It was good to have my
two British responsibilities in one place, safe from surprise and with
an independent retreat into the rough: for to-day Stokes was in pain
with dysentery. Probably the Mudowwara water had upset his stomach. So
few Englishmen seemed to have been endowed by their upbringing with any
organic resistance to disease.

Back with our camels, we dumped the loads, and sent the animals to safe
pasture near some undercut rocks from which the Arabs scraped salt. The
freedmen carried down the Stokes gun with its shells; the Lewis guns;
and the gelatine with its insulated wire, magneto and tools to the
chosen place. The sergeants set up their toys on a terrace, while we
went down to the bridge to dig a bed between the ends of two steel
sleepers, wherein to hide my fifty pounds of gelatine. We had stripped
off the paper wrapping of the individual explosive plugs and kneaded
them together by help of the sun-heat into a shaking jelly in a sand-bag.

The burying of it was not easy. The embankment was steep, and in the
sheltered pocket between it and the hill-side was a wind-laid bank of
sand. No one crossed this but myself, stepping carefully; yet I left
unavoidable great prints over its smoothness. The ballast dug out from
the track I had to gather in my cloak for carriage in repeated journeys
to the culvert, whence it could be tipped naturally over the shingle
bed of the watercourse.

It took me nearly two hours to dig in and cover the charge: then came
the difficult job of unrolling the heavy wires from the detonator to
the hills whence we would fire the mine. The top sand was crusted and
had to be broken through in burying the wires. They were stiff wires,
which scarred the wind-rippled surface with long lines like the belly
marks of preposterously narrow and heavy snakes. When pressed down in
one place they rose into the air in another. At last they had to be
weighted down with rocks which, in turn, had to be buried at the cost
of great disturbance of the ground.

Afterwards it was necessary, with a sand-bag, to stipple the marks into
a wavy surface; and, finally, with a bellows and long fanning sweeps of
my cloak, to simulate the smooth laying of the wind. The whole job took
five hours to finish; but then it was well finished: neither myself nor
any of us could see where the charge lay, or that double wires led out
underground from it to the firing point two hundred yards off, behind
the ridge marked for our riflemen.

The wires were just long enough to cross from this ridge into a
depression. There we brought up the two ends and connected them with
the electric exploder. It was an ideal place both for it and for the
man who fired it, except that the bridge was not visible thence.

However, this only meant that someone would have to press the handle at
a signal from a point fifty yards ahead, commanding the bridge and the
ends of the wires alike. Salem, Feisal's best slave, asked for this
task of honour, and was yielded it by acclamation. The end of the
afternoon was spent in showing him (on the disconnected exploder) what
to do, till he was act-perfect and banged down the ratchet precisely as
I raised my hand with an imaginary engine on the bridge.

We walked back to camp, leaving one man on watch by the line. Our
baggage was deserted, and we stared about in a puzzle for the rest,
till we saw them suddenly sitting against the golden light of sunset
along a high ridge. We yelled to them to lie down or come down, but
they persisted up there on their perch like a school of hooded crows,
in full view of north and south.

At last we ran up and threw them off the skyline, too late. The Turks
in a little hill-post by Hallat Ammar, four miles south of us, had seen
them, and opened fire in their alarm upon the long shadows which the
declining sun was pushing gradually up the slopes towards the post.
Beduin were past masters in the art of using country, but in their
abiding contempt for the stupidity of the Turks they would take no care
to fight them. This ridge was visible at once from Mudowwara and Hallat
Ammar, and they had frightened both places by their sudden ominous
expectant watch.

However, the dark closed on us, and we knew we must sleep away the
night patiently in hope of the morrow. Perhaps the Turks would reckon
us gone if our place looked deserted in the morning. So we lit fires in
a deep hollow, baked bread and were comfortable. The common tasks had
made us one party, and the hill-top folly shamed everyone into
agreement that Zaal should be our leader.

Day broke quietly, and for hours we watched the empty railway with its
peaceful camps. The constant care of Zaal and of his lame cousin
Howeimil, kept us hidden, though with difficulty, because of the
insatiate restlessness of the Beduin, who would never sit down for ten
minutes, but must fidget and do or say something. This defect made them
very inferior to the stolid English for the long, tedious strain of a
waiting war. Also it partly accounted for their uncertain stomachs in
defence. To-day they made us very angry.

Perhaps, after all, the Turks saw us, for at nine o'clock some forty
men came out of the tents on the hill-top by Hallat Ammar to the south
and advanced in open order. If we left them alone, they would turn us
off our mine in an hour; if we opposed them with our superior strength
and drove them back, the railway would take notice, and traffic be held
up. It was a quandary, which eventually we tried to solve by sending
thirty men to check the enemy patrol gradually; and, if possible, to
draw them lightly aside into the broken hills. This might hide our main
position and reassure them as to our insignificant strength and
purpose.

For some hours it worked as we had hoped; the firing grew desultory and
distant. A permanent patrol came confidently up from the south and
walked past our hill, over our mine and on towards Mudowwara without
noticing us. There were eight soldiers and a stout corporal, who mopped
his brow against the heat, for it was now after eleven o'clock and
really warm. When he had passed us by a mile or two the fatigue of the
tramp became too much for him. He marched his party into the shade of a
long culvert, under whose arches a cool draught from the east was
gently flowing, and there in comfort they lay on the soft sand, drank
water from their bottles, smoked, and at last slept. We presumed that
this was the noon-day rest which every solid Turk in the hot summer of
Arabia took as a matter of principle, and that their allowing
themselves the pause showed that we were disproved or ignored. However,
we were in error.




CHAPTER LXVI



Noon brought a fresh care. Through my powerful glasses we saw a hundred
Turkish soldiers issue from Mudowwara Station and make straight across
the sandy plain towards our place. They were coming very slowly, and no
doubt unwillingly, for sorrow at losing their beloved midday sleep: but
at their very worst marching and temper they could hardly take more
than two hours before they reached us.

We began to pack up, preparatory to moving off, having decided to leave
the mine and its leads in place on chance that the Turks might not find
them, and we be able to return and take advantage of all the careful
work. We sent a messenger to our covering party on the south, that they
should meet us farther up, near those scarred rocks which served as
screen for our pasturing camels.

Just as he had gone, the watchman cried out that smoke in clouds was
rising from Hallat Ammar. Zaal and I rushed uphill and saw by its shape
and volume that indeed there must be a train waiting in that station.
As we were trying to see it over the hill, suddenly it moved out in our
direction. We yelled to the Arabs to get into position as quick as
possible, and there came a wild scramble over sand and rock. Stokes and
Lewis, being booted, could not win the race; but they came well up,
their pains and dysentery forgotten.

The men with rifles posted themselves in a long line behind the spur
running from the guns past the exploder to the mouth of the valley.
From it they would fire directly into the derailed carriages at less
than one hundred and fifty yards, whereas the ranges for the Stokes and
Lewis guns were about three hundred yards. An Arab stood up on high
behind the guns and shouted to us what the train was doing--a necessary
precaution, for if it carried troops and detrained them behind our
ridge we should have to face about like a flash and retire fighting up
the valley for our lives. Fortunately it held on at all the speed the
two locomotives could make on wood fuel.

It drew near where we had been reported, and opened random fire into
the desert. I could hear the racket coming, as I sat on my hillock by
the bridge to give the signal to Salem, who danced round the exploder
on his knees, crying with excitement, and calling urgently on God to
make him fruitful. The Turkish fire sounded heavy, and I wondered with
how many men we were going to have affair, and if the mine would be
advantage enough for our eighty fellows to equal them. It would have
been better if the first electrical experiment had been simpler.

However, at that moment the engines, looking very big, rocked with
screaming whistles into view around the bend. Behind them followed ten
box-waggons, crowded with rifle-muzzles at the windows and doors; and
in little sand-bag nests on the roofs Turks precariously held on, to
shoot at us. I had not thought of two engines, and on the moment
decided to fire the charge under the second, so that however little the
mine's effect, the uninjured engine should not be able to uncouple and
drag the carriages away.

Accordingly, when the front 'driver' of the second engine was on the
bridge, I raised my hand to Salem. There followed a terrific roar, and
the line vanished from sight behind a spouting column of black dust and
smoke a hundred feet high and wide. Out of the darkness came shattering
crashes and long, loud metallic clangings of ripped steel, with many
lumps of iron and plate; while one entire wheel of a locomotive whirled
up suddenly black out of the cloud against the sky, and sailed
musically over our heads to fall slowly and heavily into the desert
behind. Except for the flight of these, there succeeded a deathly
silence, with no cry of men or rifle-shot, as the now grey mist of the
explosion drifted from the line towards us, and over our ridge until it
was lost in the hills.

In the lull, I ran southward to join the sergeants. Salem picked up his
rifle and charged out into the murk. Before I had climbed to the guns
the hollow was alive with shots, and with the brown figures of the
Beduin leaping forward to grips with the enemy. I looked round to see
what was happening so quickly, and saw the train stationary and
dismembered along the track, with its waggon sides jumping under the
bullets which riddled them, while Turks were falling out from the far
doors to gain the shelter of the railway embankment.

As I watched, our machine-guns chattered out over my head, and the long
rows of Turks on the carriage roofs rolled over, and were swept off the
top like bales of cotton before the furious shower of bullets which
stormed along the roofs and splashed clouds of yellow chips from the
planking. The dominant position of the guns had been an advantage to us
so far.

When I reached Stokes and Lewis the engagement had taken another turn.
The remaining Turks had got behind the bank, here about eleven feet
high, and from cover of the wheels were firing point-blank at the
Beduin twenty yards away across the sand-filled dip. The enemy in the
crescent of the curving line were secure from the machine-guns; but
Stokes slipped in his first shell, and after a few seconds there came a
crash as it burst beyond the train in the desert.

He touched the elevating screw, and his second shot fell just by the
trucks in the deep hollow below the bridge where the Turks were taking
refuge. It made a shambles of the place. The survivors of the group
broke out in a panic across the desert, throwing away their rifles and
equipment as they ran. This was the opportunity of the Lewis gunners.
The sergeant grimly traversed with drum after drum, till the open sand
was littered with bodies. Mushagraf, the Sherari boy behind the second
gun, saw the battle over, threw aside his weapon with a yell, and
dashed down at speed with his rifle to join the others who were
beginning, like wild beasts, to tear open the carriages and fall to
plunder. It had taken nearly ten minutes.

I looked up-line through my glasses and saw the Mudowwara patrol
breaking back uncertainly towards the railway to meet the train-fugitives
running their fastest northward. I looked south, to see our thirty
men cantering their camels neck and neck in our direction to share
the spoils. The Turks there, seeing them go, began to move after them
with infinite precaution, firing volleys. Evidently we had a half-hour
respite, and then a double threat against us.

I ran down to the ruins to see what the mine had done. The bridge was
gone; and into its gap was fallen the front waggon, which had been
filled with sick. The smash had killed all but three or four and had
rolled dead and dying into a bleeding heap against the splintered end.
One of those yet alive deliriously cried out the word typhus. So I
wedged shut the door, and left them there, alone.

Succeeding waggons were derailed and smashed: some had frames
irreparably buckled. The second engine was a blanched pile of smoking
iron. Its driving wheels had been blown upward, taking away the side of
the fire-box. Cab and tender were twisted into strips, among the piled
stones of the bridge abutment. It would never run again. The front
engine had got off better: though heavily derailed and lying half-over,
with the cab burst, yet its steam was at pressure, and driving-gear
intact.

Our greatest object was to destroy locomotives, and I had kept in my
arms a box of gun-cotton with fuse and detonator ready fixed, to make
sure such a case. I now put them in position on the outside cylinder.
On the boiler would have been better, but the sizzling steam made me
fear a general explosion which would sweep across my men (swarming like
ants over the booty) with a blast of jagged fragments. Yet they would
not finish their looting before the Turks came. So I lit the fuse, and
in the half-minute of its burning drove the plunderers a little back,
with difficulty. Then the charge burst, blowing the cylinder to
smithers, and the axle too. At the moment I was distressed with
uncertainty whether the damage were enough; but the Turks, later, found
the engine beyond use and broke it up.

The valley was a weird sight. The Arabs, gone raving mad, were rushing
about at top speed bareheaded and half-naked, screaming, shooting into
the air, clawing one another nail and fist, while they burst open
trucks and staggered back and forward with immense bales, which they
ripped by the rail-side, and tossed through, smashing what they did not
want. The train had been packed with refugees and sick men, volunteers
for boat-service on the Euphrates, and families of Turkish officers
returning to Damascus.

There were scores of carpets spread about; dozens of mattresses and
flowered quilts; blankets in heaps, clothes for men and women in full
variety; clocks, cooking-pots, food, ornaments and weapons. To one side
stood thirty or forty hysterical women, unveiled, tearing their clothes
and hair; shrieking themselves distracted. The Arabs without regard to
them went on wrecking the household goods; looting their absolute fill.
Camels had become common property. Each man frantically loaded the
nearest with what it could carry and shooed it westward into the void,
while he turned to his next fancy.

Seeing me tolerably unemployed, the women rushed, and caught at me with
howls for mercy. I assured them that all was going well: but they would
not get away till some husbands delivered me. These knocked their wives
off and seized my feet in a very agony of terror of instant death. A
Turk so broken down was a nasty spectacle: I kicked them off as well as
I could with bare feet, and finally broke free.

Next a group of Austrians, officers and non-commissioned officers,
appealed to me quietly in Turkish for quarter. I replied with my
halting German; whereupon one, in English, begged a doctor for his
wounds. We had none: not that it mattered, for he was mortally hurt and
dying. I told them the Turks would return in an hour and care for them.
But he was dead before that, as were most of the others (instructors in
the new Skoda mountain howitzers supplied to Turkey for the Hejaz war),
because some dispute broke out between them and my own bodyguard, and
one of them fired a pistol shot at young Rahail. My infuriated men cut
them down, all but two or three, before I could return to interfere.

So far as could be seen in the excitement, our side had suffered no
loss. Among the ninety military prisoners were five Egyptian soldiers,
in their underclothes. They knew me, and explained that in a night raid
of Davenport's, near Wadi Ais, they had been cut off by the Turks and
captured. They told me something of Davenport's work: of his continual
pegging away in Abdulla's sector, which was kept alive by him for month
after month, without any of the encouragement lent to us by success and
local enthusiasm. His best helpers were such stolid infantrymen as
these, whom I made lead the prisoners away to our appointed rallying
place at the salt rocks.




CHAPTER LXVII



Lewis and Stokes had come down to help me. I was a little anxious about
them; for the Arabs, having lost their wits, were as ready to assault
friend as foe. Three times I had had to defend myself when they
pretended not to know me and snatched at my things. However, the
sergeants' war-stained khaki presented few attractions. Lewis went out
east of the railway to count the thirty men he had slain; and,
incidentally, to find Turkish gold and trophies in their haversacks.
Stokes strolled through the wrecked bridge, saw there the bodies of
twenty Turks torn to pieces by his second shell, and retired hurriedly.

Ahmed came up to me with his arms full of booty and shouted (no Arab
could speak normally in the thrill of victory) that an old woman in the
last waggon but one wished to see me. I sent him at once, empty-handed,
for my camel and some baggage camels to remove the guns; for the
enemy's fire was now plainly audible, and the Arabs, sated with spoils
were escaping one by one towards the hills, driving tottering camels
before them into safety. It was bad tactics to leave the guns until the
end: but the confusion of a first, overwhelmingly successful,
experiment had dulled our judgement.

In the end of the waggon sat an ancient and very tremulous Arab dame,
who asked me what it was all about. I explained. She said that though
an old friend and hostess of Feisal, she was too infirm to travel and
must wait her death there. I replied that she would not be harmed. The
Turks were almost arrived and would recover what remained of the train.
She accepted this, and begged me to find her old negress, to bring her
water. The slave woman filled a cup from the spouting tender of the
first engine (delicious water, from which Lewis was slaking his
thirst), and then I led her to her grateful mistress. Months after
there came to me secretly from Damascus a letter and a pleasant little
Baluchi carpet from the lady Ayesha, daughter of Jellal el Lei, of
Medina, in memory of an odd meeting.

Ahmed never brought the camels. My men, possessed by greed, had
dispersed over the land with the Beduins. The sergeants and I were
alone by the wreck, which had a strange silence now. We began to fear
that we must abandon the guns and run for it, but just then saw two
camels dashing back. Zaal and Howeimil had missed me and had returned
in search.

We were rolling up the insulated cable, our only piece. Zaal dropped
from his camel and would have me mount and ride; but, instead, we
loaded it with the wire and the exploder. Zaal found time to laugh at
our quaint booty, after all the gold and silver in the train. Howeimil
was dead lame from an old wound in the knee and could not walk, but we
made him couch his camel, and hoisted the Lewis guns, tied butt to butt
like scissors, behind his saddle. There remained the trench mortars;
but Stokes reappeared, unskilfully leading by the nose a baggage camel
he had found straying. We packed the mortars in haste; put Stokes (who
was still weak with his dysentery) on Zaal's saddle, with the Lewis
guns, and sent off the three camels in charge of Howeimil, at their
best pace.

Meanwhile, Lewis and Zaal, in a sheltered and invisible hollow behind
the old gun-position, made a fire of cartridge boxes, petrol and waste,
banked round it the Lewis drums and the spare small-arms ammunition;
and, gingerly, on the top, laid some loose Stokes' shells. Then we ran.
As the flames reached the cordite and ammonal there was a colossal and
continuing noise. The thousands of cartridges exploded in series like
massed machine-guns, and the shells roared off in thick columns of dust
and smoke. The outflanking Turks, impressed by the tremendous defence,
felt that we were in strength and strongly posted. They halted their
rush, took cover, and began carefully to surround our position and
reconnoitre it according to rule, while we sped panting into
concealment among the ridges.

It seemed a happy ending to the affair, and we were glad to get off
with no more loss than my camels and baggage; though this included the
sergeants' cherished kits. However, there was food at Rumm, and Zaal
thought perhaps we should find our property with the others, who were
waiting ahead. We did. My men were loaded with booty, and had with them
all our camels whose saddles were being suddenly delivered of spoils to
look ready for our mounting.

Softly I explained what I thought of the two men who had been ordered
to bring up the camels when the firing ceased. They pleaded that the
explosion had scattered everyone in fright, and afterwards the Arabs
had appropriated each man any animal he saw. This was probably true;
but my men also were able-bodied and might have helped themselves. We
asked if anyone were hurt, and a voice said that the Shunt's boy--a very
dashing fellow--had been killed in the first rush forward at the train.
This rush was a mistake, made without instructions, as the Lewis and
Stokes guns were sure to end the business if the mine worked properly.
So I felt that his loss was not directly my reproach.

Three men had been slightly wounded. Then one of Feisal's slaves
vouchsafed that Salem was missing. We called everyone together and
questioned them. At last an Arab said that he had seen him lying hit,
just beyond the engine. This reminded Lewis, who, ignorant that he was
one of us, had seen a negro on the ground there, badly hurt. I had not
been told and was angry, for half the Howeitat must have known of it,
and that Salem was in my charge. By their default now, for the second
time, I had left a friend behind.

I asked for volunteers to come back and find him. After a little Zaal
agreed, and then twelve of the Nowasera. We trotted fast across the
plain towards the line. As we topped the last ridge but one we saw the
train-wreck with Turks swarming over it. There must have been one
hundred and fifty of them, and our attempt was hopeless. Salem would
have been dead, for the Turks did not take Arab prisoners. Indeed, they
used to kill them horribly; so, in mercy, we were finishing those of
our badly wounded who would have to be left helpless on abandoned
ground.

We must give up Salem; but, to make some profit out of our return, I
suggested to Zaal that we slip up-valley and recover the sergeants'
kits. He was willing, and we rode till the Turks' shooting drove us to
cover behind a bank. Our camp had been in the next hollow, across a
hundred yards of flat. So, watching the time, one or two of the quicker
youths nipped across to drag back the saddlebags. The Turks were
distant, and Turkish long-range fire was always bad; but for our third
trip they got up a machine-gun, and the dusty splashes of the bullets
on the dark flints let them group well about us.

I sent the running boys away, picked out what was light and best of the
remaining baggage, and rejoined the party. We pounded down the slope
and across. In the open the Turks could clearly count our fewness. They
grew bold and ran forward on both flanks to cut us off. Zaal threw
himself from his camel, climbed with five men to the peak of the ridge
we had just crossed, and fired back at them. He was a marvellous shot,
whom I had seen to bring down a running gazelle from the saddle with
his second bullet at three hundred yards, and his fire checked them.

He called to us laden men to hurry across the next hollow and hold it
while he fell back on us, and in this fashion we retired from ridge to
ridge, putting up a good delay action and hitting thirteen or fourteen
Turks at a cost of four camels wounded. At last, when we were only two
ridges from our supports, and were feeling sure that we should do it
easily, a solitary rider appeared, coming up. It was Lewis, with a
Lewis gun held efficiently across his thighs. He had heard the rapid
fire, and thought to see if we needed help.

He changed our strength very much, and my mind, for I was angry with
the Turks, who had got Salem and had chased us breathless so far in
dust and heat and streaming sweat. Therefore we took place to give our
pursuers a knock; but either they suspected our silence, or they feared
the distance they had come; anyway, we saw no more of them. After a few
minutes we became cool, and wise-headed enough to ride off after the
others.

They had marched very heavy-laden. Of our ninety prisoners, ten were
friendly Medina women electing to go to Mecca by way of Feisal. There
had been twenty-two riderless camels. The women had climbed on to five
pack-saddles, and the wounded were in pairs on the residue. It was late
in the afternoon. We were exhausted, the prisoners had drunk all our
water. We must re-fill from the old well at Mudowwara that night to
sustain ourselves so far as Rumm.

As the well was close to the station, it was highly desirable that we
get to it and away, lest the Turks divine our course and find us there
defenceless. We broke up into little parties and struggled north.
Victory always undid an Arab force, so we were no longer a raiding
party, but a stumbling baggage caravan, loaded to breaking point with
enough household goods to make rich an Arab tribe for years.

My sergeants asked me for a sword each, as souvenir of their first
private battle. As I went down the column to look out something,
suddenly I met Feisal's freedmen; and to my astonishment on the crupper
behind one of them, strapped to him, soaked with blood, unconscious,
was the missing Salem.

I trotted up to Ferhan and asked wherever he had found him. He told me
that when the Stokes gun fired its first shell, Salem rushed past the
locomotive, and one of the Turks shot him in the back. The bullet had
come out near his spine, without, in their judgement, hurting him
mortally. After the train was taken, the Howeitat had stripped him of
cloak, dagger, rifle and head-gear. Mijbil, one of the freedmen, had
found him, lifted HIM straight to his camel, and trekked off homeward
without telling us. Ferhan, overtaking him on the road, had relieved
him of Salem; who, when he recovered, as later he did, perfectly, bore
me always a little grudge for having left him behind, when he was of my
company and wounded. I had failed in staunchness. My habit of hiding
behind a Sherif was to avoid measuring myself against the pitiless Arab
standard, with its no-mercy for foreigners who wore its clothes, and
aped its manners. Not often was I caught with so poor a shield as blind
Sherif Aid.

We reached the well in three hours and watered without mishap.
Afterwards we moved off another ten miles or so, beyond fear of
pursuit. There we lay down and slept, and in the morning found
ourselves happily tired. Stokes had had his dysentery heavy upon him
the night before, but sleep and the ending of anxiety made him well. He
and I and Lewis, the only unburdened ones, went on in front across one
huge mud-flat after another till just before sunset we were at the
bottom of Wadi Rumm.

This new route was important for our armoured cars, because its twenty
miles of hard mud might enable them to reach Mudowwara easily. If so,
we should be able to hold up the circulation of trains when we pleased.
Thinking of this, we wheeled into the avenue of Rumm, still gorgeous in
sunset colour; the cliffs as red as the clouds in the west, like them
in scale and in the level bar they raised against the sky. Again we
felt how Rumm inhibited excitement by its serene beauty. Such whelming
greatness dwarfed us, stripped off the cloak of laughter in which we
had ridden over the jocund flats.

Night came down, and the valley became a mind-landscape. The invisible
cliffs boded as presences; imagination tried to piece out the plan of
their battlements by tracing the dark pattern they cut in the canopy of
stars. The blackness in the depth was very real--it was a night to
despair of movement. We felt only our camels' labour, as hour after
hour monotonously and smoothly they shouldered their puny way along the
unfenced level, with the wall in front no nearer and the wall behind no
further than at first.

About nine at night we were before the pit in which lay the water and
our old camp. We knew its place because the deep darkness there grew
humidly darker. We turned our camels to the right and advanced towards
the rock, which reared its crested domes so high over us that the ropes
of our head-cloths slipped back round our necks as we stared up. Surely
if we stretched out even our camel-sticks in front of us we should
touch the facing walls: yet for many paces more we crept in under their
horns.

At last we were in the tall bushes: then we shouted. An Arab shouted
back. The echoes of my voice rolling down from the cliff met his rising
cry, and the sounds wrapped themselves together and wrestled among the
crags. A flame flickered palely on the left, and we found Musa our
watchman there. He lit a fire of powerfully scented wood, and by its
light we broke open bully-beef and fed ravenously; gulping down,
through our food, bowl after bowl of the delicious water, ice-cold, and
heady after the foul drink of Mudowwara; which, for days, had seared
our throats.

We slept through the coming of the rest. Two days later we were at
Akaba; entering in glory, laden with precious things, and boasting that
the trains were at our mercy. From Akaba the two sergeants took hurried
ship to Egypt. Cairo had remembered them and gone peevish because of
their non-return. However, they could pay the penalty of this
cheerfully. They had won a battle single-handed; had had dysentery;
lived on camel-milk; and learned to ride a camel fifty miles a day
without pain. Also Allenby gave them a medal each.




CHAPTER LXVIII



Days passed, talking politics, organization and strategy with Feisal,
while preparations for a new operation went forward. Our luck had
quickened the camp; and the mining of trains promised to become
popular, if we were able to train in the technique of the work enough
men for several parties. Captain Pisani was first volunteer. He was the
experienced commander of the French at Akaba, an active soldier who
burned for distinction--and distinctions. Feisal found me three young
Damascenes of family, who were ambitious to lead tribal raids. We went
to Rumm and announced that this raid was specially for Gasim's clan.
Such coals of fire scorched them; but greed would not let them refuse.
Everyone for days around flocked to join. Most were denied:
nevertheless, we started out with one hundred and fifty men and a huge
train of empty pack-camels for the spoils.

For variety we determined to work by Maan. So we rode up to Batra,
climbing out of heat into cold, out of Arabia into Syria, from tamarisk
to wormwood. As we topped the pass and saw the blood-red stain on the
hills above the leech-infested wells, there met us A first breath of
the northern desert; that air too fine to describe, which told of
perfect loneliness, dried grass, and the sun on burning flints.

The guides said that Kilometre 475 would be good for mining: but we
found it beset by blockhouses, and had to creep shyly away. We marched
down the line till it crossed a valley on a high bank, pierced by
bridges on each side and in the middle. There, after midnight, we laid
an automatic mine of a new and very powerful luddite type. The burying
took hours, and dawn caught us as we worked. There was no perceptible
lightening, and when we stared round to know where the dark was
yielding, we could see no special onset of the day. Long minutes
afterwards the sun disclosed itself, high above the earth's rim, over a
vignetted bank of edgeless mist.

We retired a thousand yards up the valley's scrubby bed to ambush for
the intolerable day. As the hours passed the sun increased, and shone
so closely upon our radiant trench that we felt crowded by its rays.
The men were a mad lot, sharpened to distraction by hope of success.
They would listen to no word but mine, and brought me their troubles
for judgement. In the six days' raid there came to a head, and were
settled, twelve cases of assault with weapons, four camel-liftings, one
marriage, two thefts, a divorce, fourteen feuds, two evil eyes, and a
bewitchment.

These decisions were arrived at despite my imperfect knowledge of
Arabic. The fraudulence of my business stung me. Here were more fruits,
bitter fruits, of my decision, in front of Akaba, to become a principal
of the Revolt. I was raising the Arabs on false pretences, and
exercising a false authority over my dupes, on little more evidence
than their faces, as visible to my eyes weakly watering and stinging
after a year's exposure to the throb, throb of sunlight.

We waited that day, and night. At sunset a scorpion scuttled out of the
bush by which I had lain down to make note of the day's weariness, and
fastening on my left hand struck me, it seemed repeatedly. The pain of
my swollen arm kept me awake until the second dawn: to the relief of my
overburdened mind, for its body became clamant enough to interrupt my
self-questioning when the fire of some such surface injury swept the
sluggish nerves.

Yet pain of this quality never endured long enough really to cure
mind-sickness. After a night it would give way to that unattractive, and
not honourable, internal ache which in itself provoked thought and left
its victim yet weaker to endure. In such conditions the war seemed as
great a folly as my sham leadership a crime; and, sending for our sheikhs,
I was about to resign myself and my pretensions into their puzzled hands,
when the fugleman announced a train.

It came down from Maan, a water-train, and passed over the mine without
accident. The Arabs thanked me, for a booty of water was not their
dream. The mine-action had failed; so at noon, with my pupils, I went
down to lay an electric mine over the lyddite, that the detonation of
one might fire the other. For concealment we trusted to the mirage and
midday drowsiness of the Turks; justifiably, for there was no alarm in
the hour we spent burying the charge.

From the southern bridge we brought the electric leads to the middle
bridge, whose arch would conceal the exploder from a train overhead.
The Lewis guns we put under the northern bridge, to rake the far side
of the train when the mine went off. The Arabs would line the bushes of
a cross-channel of the valley three hundred yards our side of the
railway. We waited afterwards throughout a day of sunlight and flies.
Enemy patrols marched actively along the line morning, afternoon and
evening.

On the second day, about eight in the morning, a pillar of smoke left
Maan. At the same time the first patrol approached. They were only half
a dozen men, but their warning would deter the train; and we watched
strainingly, in wonder which would win the race. The train was very
slow, and sometimes the patrol halted.

We calculated they might be two or three hundred yards short of us when
the train came. So we ordered everybody to stations. With twelve loaded
waggons the engine panted on the up grade. However, it held on
steadily. I sat by a bush in the stream-bed, a hundred yards from the
mine; in view of it and of the exploder-party and of the machine-guns.
When Faiz and Bedri heard the engine over their arch, they danced a
war-dance round their little electric box. The Arabs in the ditch were
hissing softly to me that it was time to fire: but not until the engine
was exactly over the arch did I jump up and wave my cloak. Faiz
instantly pressed his handle, and the great noise and dust and
blackness burst up, as at Mudow-wara a week before, and enveloped me
where I sat, while the green-yellow sickly smoke of lyddite hung
sluggishly about the wreck. The Lewis guns rattled out suddenly, three
or four short bursts: there was a yell from the Arabs, and, headed by
Pisani sounding the women's vibrant battle-cry, they rushed in a wild
torrent for the train.

A Turk appeared upon the buffers of the fourth truck from the end,
loosed the couplings, and let the tail of the train slip back down the
gradient. I made a languid effort to get behind the wheel with a stone,
but scarcely cared enough to do it well. It seemed fair and witty that
this much of the booty should escape. A Turkish colonel from the window
fired at me with a Mauser pistol, cutting the flesh of my hip. I
laughed at his too-great energy, which thought, like a regular officer,
to promote the war by the killing of an individual.

Our mine had taken out the near arch of the bridge. Of the locomotive,
the fire-box was torn open, and many tubes burst. The cab was cleared
out, a cylinder gone, the frame buckled, two driving wheels and their
journals shattered. The tender and first waggon had telescoped. About
twenty Turks were dead, and others prisoners, including four officers,
who stood by the line weeping for the life which the Arabs had no mind
to take.

The contents of the trucks were food-stuffs, some seventy tons of them;
'urgently needed', according to the way-bill, in Medain Salih. We sent
one way-bill to Feisal, as detailed report of our success, and left the
other receipted in the van. We also kicked northward some dozen
civilians, who had thought they were going to Medina.

Pisani superintended the carrying off or destruction of the booty. As
before, the Arabs were now merely camel-drivers, walking behind laden
pack-animals. Farraj held my camel, while Salem and Dheilan helped with
the exploder and the too-heavy wire. Rescue parties of Turks were four
hundred yards away when we had finished, but we rode off without a man
killed or wounded.

My pupils practised the art of mining afterwards by themselves, and
taught others. Rumour of their fortune rolled about the tribes in a
growing wave: not always intelligently. 'Send us a lurens and we will
blow up trains with it', wrote the Beni Atiyeh to Feisal. He lent them
Saad, a cut-and-thrust Ageyli, by whose help they got an important
train carrying Suleiman Rifada, our old nuisance of Wejh, with twenty
thousand pounds in gold, and precious trophies. Saad repeated history
by saving only the wire for his share.

In the next four months our experts from Akaba destroyed seventeen
locomotives. Travelling became an uncertain terror for the enemy. At
Damascus people scrambled for the back seats in trains, even paid extra
for them. The engine-drivers struck. Civilian traffic nearly ceased;
and we extended our threat to Aleppo by the mere posting a notice one
night on Damascus Town Hall, that good Arabs would henceforward travel
by the Syrian railway at their own risk. The loss of the engines was
sore upon the Turks. Since the rolling stock was pooled for Palestine
and Hejaz, our destructions not merely made the mass evacuation of
Medina impossible, but began to pinch the army about Jerusalem, just as
the British threat grew formidable.

Meanwhile Egypt had wired for me. An aeroplane carried me to G.H.Q.,
where Allenby by splendour of will was re-creating the broken British
Army. He asked what our railway efforts meant; or rather if they meant
anything beyond the melodramatic advertisement they gave Feisal's
cause.

I explained my hope to leave the line just working, but only just, to
Medina; where Fakhri's corps fed itself at less cost than if in prison
at Cairo. The surest way to limit the line without killing it was by
attacking trains. The Arabs put into mining a zest absent from their
pure demolitions. We could not yet break the line, since railhead was
the strongest point of a railway, and we preferred weakness in the
nearest enemy neighbour till our regular army was trained and equipped
and numerous enough to invest Maan.

He asked about Wadi Musa, because Turkish messages showed their
intention to assault it at once. I explained that we had tried to
provoke the Turks to attack Wadi Musa, and were about to be rewarded by
their falling, foxed and fogged, into our trap. We went about in
parties, not in stiff formation, and their aeroplanes failed to
estimate us. No spies could count us, either, since even ourselves had
not the smallest idea of our strength at any given moment.

On the other hand, we knew them exactly; each single unit, and every
man they moved. They treated us as regulars, and before venturing a
move against us calculated the total force we could meet them with. We,
less orthodox, knew exactly what they would meet us with. This was our
balance. For these years the Arab Movement lived on the exhilarating
but slippery tableland between 'could' and 'would'. We allowed no
margin for accident: indeed 'no margins' was the Akaba motto,
continuously in the mouths of all.

When at last it came, Jemal's great attack on Wadi Musa made no noise.
Maulud presided beautifully. He opened his centre, and with the
greatest of humour let in the Turks until they broke their faces
against the vertical cliffs of the Arab refuge. Then, while they were
still puzzled and hurt, he came down simultaneously on both flanks.
They never again attacked a prepared Arab position. Their losses had
been heavy, but the loss of nerve at finding us invisible and yet full
of backlash cost them more than the casualties. Thanks to Maulud, Akaba
became quit of all concern for its own present safety.





BOOK SIX. The Raid upon the Bridges




CHAPTERS LXIX TO LXXXI



BY NOVEMBER, 1917, ALLENBY WAS READY TO OPEN A GENERAL ATTACK AGAINST
THE TURKS ALONG HIS WHOLE FRONT. THE ARABS SHOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME IN
THEIR SECTOR: BUT I WAS AFRAID TO PUT EVERYTHING ON A THROW, AND
DESIGNED INSTEAD THE SPECIOUS OPERATION OF CUTTING THE YARMUK VALLEY
RAILWAY, TO THROW INTO DISORDER THE EXPECTED TURKISH RETREAT. THIS
HALF-MEASURE MET WITH THE FAILURE IT DESERVED.




CHAPTER LXIX



October, accordingly, was a month of anticipation for us, in the
knowledge that Allenby, with Bols and Dawnay, was planning to attack
the Gaza-Beersheba line; while the Turks, a quite small army strongly
entrenched, with excellent lateral communications, had been puffed up
by successive victories to imagine that all British generals were
incompetent to keep what their troops had won for them by dint of sheer
hard fighting.

They deceived themselves. Allenby's coming had re-made the English. His
breadth of personality swept away the mist of private or departmental
jealousies behind which Murray and his men had worked. General Lynden
Bell made way for General Bols, Allenby's chief of staff in France, a
little, quick, brave, pleasant man; a tactical soldier perhaps, but
principally an admirable and effaced foil to Allenby, who used to relax
himself on Bols. Unfortunately, neither of them had the power of
choosing men; but Chetwode's judgement completed them with Guy Dawnay
as third member of the staff.

Bols had never an opinion, nor any knowledge. Dawnay was mainly
intellect. He lacked the eagerness of Bols, and the calm drive and
human understanding of Allenby, who was the man the men worked for, the
image we worshipped. Dawnay's cold, shy mind gazed upon our efforts
with bleak eye, always thinking, thinking. Beneath this mathematical
surface he hid passionate many-sided convictions, a reasoned
scholarship in higher warfare, and the brilliant bitterness of a
judgement disappointed with us, and with life.

He was the least professional of soldiers, a banker who read Greek
history, a strategist unashamed, and a burning poet with strength over
daily things. During the war he had had the grief of planning the
attack at Suvla (spoiled by incompetent tacticians) and the battle for
Gaza. As each work of his was ruined he withdrew further into the
hardnesses of frosted pride, for he was of the stuff of fanatics.

Allenby, by not seeing his dissatisfaction, broke into him; and Dawnay
replied by giving for the Jerusalem advance all the talent which he
abundantly possessed. A cordial union of two such men made the Turks'
position hopeless from the outset.

Their divergent characters were mirrored in the intricate plan. Gaza
had been entrenched on a European scale with line after line of
defences in reserve. It was so obviously the enemy's strongest point,
that the British higher command had twice chosen it for frontal attack.
Allenby, fresh from France, insisted that any further assault must be
delivered by overwhelming numbers of men and guns, and their thrust
maintained by enormous quantities of all kinds of transport. Bols
nodded his assent.

Dawnay was not the man to fight a straight battle. He sought to destroy
the enemy's strength with the least fuss. Like a master politician, he
used the bluff Chief as a cloak for the last depth of justifiable
slimness. He advised a drive at the far end of the Turkish line, near
Beersheba. To make his victory cheap he wanted the enemy main force
behind Gaza, which would be best secured if the British concentration
was hidden so that the Turks would believe the flank attack to be a
shallow feint. Bols nodded his assent.

Consequently the movements were made in great secrecy; but Dawnay found
an ally in his intelligence staff who advised him to go beyond negative
precautions, and to give the enemy specific (and speciously wrong)
information of the plans he matured.

This ally was Meinertzhagen, a student of migrating birds drifted into
soldiering, whose hot immoral hatred of the enemy expressed itself as
readily in trickery as in violence. He persuaded Dawnay: Allenby
reluctantly agreed: Bols assented, and the work began.

Meinertzhagen knew no half measures. He was logical, an idealist of the
deepest, and so possessed by his convictions that he was willing to
harness evil to the chariot of good. He was a strategist, a geographer,
and a silent laughing masterful man; who took as blithe a pleasure in
deceiving his enemy (or his friend) by some unscrupulous jest, as in
spattering the brains of a cornered mob of Germans one by one with his
African knob-kerri. His instincts were abetted by an immensely powerful
body and a savage brain, which chose the best way to its purpose,
unhampered by doubt or habit Meiner thought out false Army papers,
elaborate and confidential, which to a trained staff officer would
indicate wrong positions for Allenby's main formation, a wrong
direction of the coming attack, and a date some days too late. This
information was led up to by careful hints given in code wireless
messages. When he knew the enemy had picked these up, Meinertzhagen
rode out with his note books, on reconnaissance. He pushed forward
until the enemy saw him. In the ensuing gallop he lost all his loose
equipment and very nearly himself, but was rewarded by seeing the enemy
reserves held behind Gaza and their whole preparations swung towards
the coast and made less urgent. Simultaneously, an Army order by Ali
Fuad Pasha cautioned his staff against carrying documents into the
line.

We on the Arab front were very intimate with the enemy. Our Arab
officers had been Turkish Officers, and knew every leader on the other
side personally. They had suffered the same training, thought the same,
took the same point of view. By practising modes of approach upon the
Arabs we could explore the Turks: understand, almost get inside, their
minds. Relation between us and them was universal, for the civil
population of the enemy area was wholly ours without pay or persuasion.
In consequence our intelligence service was the widest, fullest and
most certain imaginable.

We knew, better than Allenby, the enemy hollowness, and the magnitude
of the British resources. We under-estimated the crippling effect of
Allenby's too plentiful artillery, and the cumbrous intricacy of his
infantry and cavalry, which moved only with rheumatic slowness. We
hoped Allenby would be given a month's fine weather; and, in that case,
expected to see him take, not merely Jerusalem, but Haifa too, sweeping
the Turks in ruin through the hills.

Such would be our moment, and we needed to be ready for it in the spot
where our weight and tactics would be least expected and most damaging.
For my eyes, the centre of attraction was Deraa, the junction of the
Jerusalem-Haifa-Damascus-Medina railways, the navel of the Turkish
Armies in Syria, the common point of all their fronts; and, by chance,
an area in which lay great untouched reserves of Arab fighting men,
educated and armed by Feisal from Akaba. We could there use Rualla,
Serahin, Serdiyeh, Khoreisha; and, far stronger than tribes, the
settled peoples of Hauran and Jebel Druse.

I pondered for a while whether we should not call up all these
adherents and tackle the Turkish communications in force. We were
certain, with any management, of twelve thousand men: enough to rush
Deraa, to smash all the railway lines, even to take Damascus by
surprise. Any one of these things would make the position of the
Beersheba army critical: and my temptation to stake our capital
instantly upon the issue was very sore.

Not for the first or last time service to two masters irked me. I was
one of Allenby's officers, and in his confidence: in return, he
expected me to do the best I could for him. I was Feisal's adviser, and
Feisal relied upon the honesty and competence of my advice so far as
often to take it without argument. Yet I could not explain to Allenby
the whole Arab situation, nor disclose the full British plan to Feisal.

The local people were imploring us to come. Sheikh Talal el Hareidhin,
leader of the hollow country about Deraa, sent in repeated messages
that, with a few of our riders as proof of Arab support, he would give
us Deraa. Such an exploit would have done the Allenby business, but was
not one which Feisal could scrupulously afford unless he had a fair
hope of then establishing himself there. Deraa's sudden capture,
followed by a retreat, would have involved the massacre, or the ruin of
all the splendid peasantry of the district.

They could only rise once, and their effort on that occasion must be
decisive. To call them out now was to risk the best asset Feisal held
for eventual success, on the speculation that Allenby's first attack
would sweep the enemy before it, and that the month of November would
be rainless, favourable to a rapid advance.

I weighed the English army in my mind, and could not honestly assure
myself of them. The men were often gallant fighters, but their generals
as often gave away in stupidity what they had gained in ignorance.
Allenby was quite untried, sent to us with a not-blameless record from
France, and his troops had broken down in and been broken by the Murray
period. Of course, we were fighting for an Allied victory, and since
the English were the leading partners, the Arabs would have, in the
last resort, to be sacrificed for them. But was it the last resort? The
war generally was going neither well nor very ill, and it seemed as
though there might be time for another try next year. So I decided to
postpone the hazard for the Arabs' sake.




CHAPTER LXX



However, the Arab Movement lived on Allenby's good pleasure, so it was
needful to undertake some operation, less than a general revolt, in the
enemy rear: an operation which could be achieved by a raiding party
without involving the settled peoples; and yet one which would please
him by being of material help to the British pursuit of the enemy.
These conditions and qualifications pointed, upon consideration, to an
attempted cutting of one of the great bridges in the Yarmuk Valley.

It was by the narrow and precipitous gorge of the Biver Yarmuk that the
railway from Palestine climbed to Hauran, on its way to Damascus. The
depth of the Jordan depression, and the abruptness of the eastern
plateau-face made this section of the line most difficult to build. The
engineers had to lay it in the very course of the winding river-valley:
and to gain its development the line had to cross and recross the
stream continually by a series of bridges, the farthest west and the
farthest east of which were hardest to replace.

To cut either of these bridges would isolate the Turkish army in
Palestine, for one fortnight, from its base in Damascus, and destroy
its power of escaping from Allenby's advance. To reach the Yarmuk we
should need to ride from Akaba, by way of Azrak, some four hundred and
twenty miles. The Turks thought the danger from us so remote that they
guarded the bridges insufficiently.

Accordingly we suggested the scheme to Allenby, who asked that it be
done on November the fifth, or one of the three following days. If it
succeeded, and the weather held up afterwards for a fortnight, the odds
were that no coherent unit of von Rress's army would survive its
retreat to Damascus. The Arabs would then have their opportunity to
carry their wave forward into the great capital, taking up at the half-way
point from the British, whose original impulse would then be nearly
exhausted, with the exhaustion of their transport.

For such an eventuality we needed at Azrak an authority to lead the
potential local adherents. Nasir, our usual pioneer, was absent: but
out with the Beni Sakhr was Ali ibn el Hussein, the youthful and
attractive Harith Sherif, who had distinguished himself in Feisal's
early desperate days about Medina, and later had out-newcombed Newcombe
about el Ula.

Ah', having been Jemal's guest in Damascus, had learned something of
Syria: so I begged a loan of him from Feisal. His courage, his
resource, and his energy were proven. There had never been any
adventure, since our beginning, too dangerous for Ali to attempt, nor a
disaster too deep for him to face with his high yell of a laugh.

He was physically splendid: not tall nor heavy, but so strong that he
would kneel down, resting his forearms palm-up on the ground, and rise
to his feet with a man on each hand. In addition, Ali could outstrip a
trotting camel on his bare feet, keep his speed over half a mile and
then leap into the saddle. He was impertinent, headstrong, conceited;
as reckless in word as in deed; impressive (if he pleased) on public
occasions, and fairly educated for a person whose native ambition was
to excel the nomads of the desert in war and sport.

Ali would bring us the Beni Sakhr. We had good hopes of the Serahin,
the tribe at Azrak. I was in touch with the Beni Hassan. The Rualla, of
course, at this season were away at their winter quarters, so that our
greatest card in the Hauran could not be played. Faiz el Ghusein had
gone into the Lejah to prepare for action against the Hauran Railway if
the signal came. Explosives were stored in desirable places. Our
friends in Damascus were warned; and Ah' Riza Pasha Rikabi, the city's
military governor for the innocent Turks, and at the same time chief
agent and conspirator for the Sherif, took quiet steps to retain
control if the emergency arose.

My detailed plan was to rush from Azrak, under guidance of Rafa (that
most gallant sheikh who had convoyed me in June), to Um Keis, in one or
two huge marches with a handful of, perhaps, fifty men. Um Keis was
Gadara, very precious with its memories of Menippus and of Meleager,
the immoral Greek-Syrian whose self-expression marked the highest point
of Syrian letters. It stood just over the westernmost of the Yarmuk
bridges, a steel masterpiece whose destruction would fairly enrol me in
the Gadarene school. Only half a dozen sentries were stationed actually
on the girders and abutments. Reliefs for them were supplied from a
garrison of sixty, in the station buildings of Hemme, where the hot
springs of Gadara yet gushed out to the advantage of local sick. My
hope was to persuade some of the Abu Tayi under Zaal to come with me.
These men-wolves would make certain the actual storming of the bridge.
To prevent enemy reinforcements coming up we would sweep the approaches
with machine-guns, handled by Captain Bray's Indian volunteers from the
cavalry division in France, under Jemadar Hassan Shah, a firm and
experienced man. They had been months up country, rail-cutting, from
Wejh, and might fairly be assumed to have become experts on camel-back,
fit for the forced marches in prospect.

The demolition of great underslung girders with limited weights of
explosive was a precise operation, and demanded a necklace of blasting
gelatine, fired electrically. The HUMBER made us canvas straps and
buckles, to simplify the fixing. None the less, the job remained a
difficult one to do under fire. For fear of a casualty, Wood, the base
engineer at Akaba, the only sapper available, was invited to come along
and double me. He immediately agreed, though knowing he had been
condemned medically for active service as the result of a bullet
through the head in France. George Lloyd, who was spending a last few
days in Akaba before going to Versailles on a regretted inter-allied
Commission, said that he would ride up with us to Jefer: as he was one
of the best fellows and least obtrusive travellers alive, his coming
added greatly to our forlorn anticipation.

We were making our last preparations when an unexpected ally arrived in
Emir Abd el Kader el Jezairi, grandson of the chivalrous defender of
Algiers against the French. The exiled family had lived in Damascus for
a generation. One of them, Omar, had been hanged by Jemal for treason
disclosed in the Picot papers. The others had been deported, and Abd el
Kader told us a long story of his escape from Brusa, and his journey,
with a thousand adventures, across Anatolia to Damascus. In reality, he
had been enlarged by the Turks upon request of the Khedive Abbas Hilmi,
and sent down by him on private business to Mecca. He went there, saw
King Hussein, and came back with a crimson banner, and noble gifts, his
crazy mind half-persuaded of our right, and glowing jerkily with
excitement.

To Feisal he offered the bodies and souls of his villagers, sturdy,
hard-smiting Algerian exiles living compactly along the north bank of
the Yarmuk. We seized at the chance this would give us to control for a
little time the middle section of the Valley railway, including two or
three main bridges, without the disability of raising the country-side;
since the Algerians were hated strangers and the Arab peasantry would
not join them. Accordingly, we put off calling Rafa to meet us at
Azrak, and said not a word to Zaal, concentrating our thoughts instead
on Wadi Khalid and its bridges.

While we were in this train of mind arrived a telegram from Colonel
Bremond, warning us that Abd el Kader was a spy in pay of the Turks. It
was disconcerting. We watched him narrowly, but found no proof of the
charge, which was not to be accepted blindly, as from Bremond, who was
more a liability than our colleague; his military temper might have
carried away his judgement when he heard Abd el Kader's outspoken
public and private denunciations of France. The French conception of
their country as a fair woman lent to them a national spitefulness
against those who scorned her charms.

Feisal told Abd el Kader to ride with Ali and myself, and said to me,
'I know he is mad. I think he is honest. Guard your heads and use him'.
We carried on, showing him our complete confidence, on the principle
that a crook would not credit our honesty, and that an honest man was
made a crook soonest by suspicion. As a matter of fact, he was an
Islamic fanatic, half-insane with religious enthusiasm and a most
violent belief in himself. His Moslem susceptibilities were outraged by
my undisguised Christianity. His pride was hurt by our companionship;
for the tribes greeted Ali as greater, and treated me as better, than
himself. His bullet-headed stupidity broke down Ali's self-control
twice or thrice into painful scenes: while his final effort was to
leave us in the lurch at a desperate moment, after hindering our march
and upsetting ourselves and our plans as far as he could.




CHAPTER LXXI



Starting was as difficult as ever. For my bodyguard I took six
recruits. Of these Mahmud was a native of the Yarmuk. He was an alert
and hot-tempered lad of nineteen, with the petulance often accompanying
curly hair. Another, Aziz, of Tafas, an older fellow, had spent three
years with the Beduin in avoidance of military service. Though capable
with camels, he was a shallow spirit, almost rabbit-mouthed, but proud.
A third was Mustafa, a gentle boy from Deraa, very honest, who went
about sadly by himself because he was deaf, and ashamed of his
infirmity. One day on the beach, in a short word he had begged
admittance to my bodyguard. So evidently did he expect to be refused
that I took him; and it was a good choice for the others, since he was
a mild peasant, whom they could bully into all the menial tasks. Yet
he, too, was happy, for he was among desperate fellows, and the world
would think him desperate. To balance his inefficiency on the march I
enrolled Showak and Salem, two Sherari camel-herds, and Abd el Rahman,
a runaway slave from Riyadth.

Of the old bodyguard I gave Mohammed and Ali a rest. They were tired
after train-wrecking adventures; and, like their camels, needed to
pasture quietly awhile. This left Ahmed the inevitable head man. His
ruthless energy deserved promotion, but the obvious choice as ever
failed. He misused his power and became oppressive; so it was his last
march with me. I took Kreim for the camels; and Rahail, the lusty,
conceited Haurani lad, for whom overwork was the grace which kept him
continent. Matar, a parasite fellow of the Beni Hassan, attached
himself to us. His fat peasant's buttocks filled his camel-saddle, and
took nearly as large a share in the lewd or lurid jokes which, on
march, helped pass my guards' leisure. We might enter Beni Hassan
territory, where he had some influence. His unblushing greed made us
sure of him, till his expectations failed.

My service was now profitable, for I knew my worth to the movement, and
spent freely to keep myself safe. Rumour, for once in a helpful mood,
gilded my open hand. Farraj and Daud, with Khidr and Mijbil, two
Biasha, completed the party.

Farraj and Daud were capable and merry on the road, which they loved as
all the lithe Ageyl loved it; but in camp their excess of spirit led
them continually into dear affairs. This time they surpassed themselves
by disappearing on the morning of our departure. At noon came a message
from Sheikh Yusuf that they were in his prison, and would I talk to him
about it? I went up to the house and found his bulk shaking between
laughter and rage. He had just bought a cream-coloured riding-camel of
purest blood. The beast had strayed in the evening into the palm-garden
where my Ageyl were camped. They never suspected she belonged to the
Governor, but laboured till dawn dyeing her head bright red with henna,
and her legs blue with indigo, before turning her loose.

Akaba bubbled immediately in an uproar about this circus beast. Yusuf
recognized her with difficulty and hurled all his police abroad to find
the criminals. The two friends were dragged before the judgement seat,
stained to the elbows with dye, and loudly protesting their entire
innocence. Circumstances, however, were too strong; and Yusuf after
doing his best with a palm-rib to hurt their feelings, put them in
irons for a slow week's meditation. My concern made good his damage by
the loan of a camel till his own should be respectable. Then I
explained our instant need of the sinners, and promised another dose of
his treatment for them when their skins were fit: so he ordered their
release. They were delighted to escape the verminous prison on any
terms, and rejoined us singing.

This business had delayed us. So we had an immense final meal in the
luxury of camp, and started in the evening. For four hours we marched
slowly: a first march was always slow, and both camels and men hated
the setting out on a new hazard. Loads slipped, saddles had to be
re-girthed, and riders changed. In addition to my own camels (Ghazala, the
old grandmother, now far gone in foal, and Rima, a full-pointed Sherari
camel which the Sukhur had stolen from the Rualla) and those of the
bodyguard, I had mounted the Indians, and lent one to Wood (who was
delicate in the saddle and rode a fresh animal nearly every day), and
one to Thorne, Lloyd's yeomanry trooper, who sat his saddle like an
Arab and looked workmanlike in a head-cloth, with a striped cloak over
his khaki. Lloyd himself was on a thoroughbred Dheraiyeh which Feisul
had lent him: a fine, fast-looking animal, but clipped after mange and
thin.

Our party straggled. Wood fell behind, and my men, being fresh, and
having much work to keep the Indians together, lost touch with him. So
he found himself alone with Thorne, and missed our turn to the east, in
the blackness which always filled the depths of the Itm gorge by night,
except when the moon was directly overhead. They went on up the main
track towards Guweira, riding for hours; but at last decided to wait
for day in a side valley. Both were new to the country, and not sure of
the Arabs, so they took turns to keep watch. We guessed what had
happened when they failed to appear at our midnight halt, and before
dawn Ahmed, Aziz and Abd el Rahman went back, with orders to scatter up
the three or four practicable roads and bring the missing pair to Rumm.

I stayed with Lloyd and the main body as their guide across the curved
slopes of pink sandstone and tamarisk-green valleys to Rumm. Air and
light were so wonderful that we wandered without thinking in the least
of to-morrow. Indeed, had I not Lloyd to talk to? The world became very
good. A faint shower last evening had brought earth and sky together in
the mellow day. The colours in cliffs and trees and soil were so pure,
so vivid, that we ached for real contact with them, and at our tethered
inability to carry anything of them away. We were full of leisure. The
Indians proved bad camel-masters, while Farraj and Daud pleaded a new
form of saddle-soreness, called Tusufiyeh', which made them walk mile
after mile.

We entered Ruinm at last, while the crimson sunset burned on its
stupendous cliffs and slanted ladders of hazy fire down the walled
avenue. Wood and Thorne were there already, in the sandstone
amphitheatre of the springs. Wood was ill, and lying on the platform of
my old camp. Abd el Rahman had caught them before noon, and persuaded
them to follow him after a good deal of misunderstanding, for their few
words of Egyptian did not help much with his clipped Aridh dialect or
the Howeiti slang with which he eked it out. He had cut across the
hills by a difficult path to their great discomfort.

Wood had been hungry and hot and worried, angry to the point of
refusing the native mess which Abd el Rahman contrived them in a wayside
tent. He had begun to believe that he would never see us again,
and was ungrateful when we proved too overcome with the awe that Rumm
compelled on her visitors to sympathize deeply with his sufferings. In
fact, we stared and said 'Yes', and left him lying there while we
wandered whispering about the wonder of the place. Fortunately Ahmed
and Thorne thought more of food: and with supper friendly relations
were restored.

Next day, while we were saddling, Ah' and Abd el Kader appeared. Lloyd
and I had a second lunch with them, for they were quarrelling, and to
have guests held them in check. Lloyd was the rare sort of traveller
who could eat anything with anybody, anyhow and at any time. Then,
making pace, we pushed after our party down the giant valley, whose
hills TELL short of architecture only in design.

At the bottom we crossed the flat Gaa, matching our camels in a burst
over its velvet surface, until we overtook the main body, and scattered
them with the excitement of our gallop. The Indians' soberly laden
camels danced like ironmongery till they had shed their burdens. Then
we calmed ourselves, and plodded together gently up Wadi Hafira, a gash
like a sword-cut into the plateau. At its head lay a stiff pass to the
height of Batra; but to-day we fell short of this, and out of laziness
and craving for comfort stopped in the sheltered bottom of the valley.
We lit great fires, which were cheerful in the cool evening. Farraj
prepared rice in his manner for me as usual. Lloyd and Wood and Thorne
had brought with them bully beef in tins and British army biscuits. So
we joined ranks and feasted.

Next day we climbed the zigzag broken pass, the grassy street of Hafira
below us framing a cone-hill in its centre, with, as background, the
fantastic grey domes and glowing pyramids of the mountains of Rumm,
prolonged to-day into wider fantasies by the cloud-masses brooding over
them. We watched our long train wind upwards, till before noon the
camels, Arabs, Indians and baggage had reached the top without
accident. Contentedly we plumped ourselves down in the first green
valley over the crest, sheltered from the wind, and warmed by the faint
sunshine which tempered the autumn chill of this high tableland.
Someone began to talk again about food.




CHAPTER LXXII



I went away north, scouting with Awad, a Sherari camel boy, engaged in
Rumm without investigation. There were so many baggage camels in our
party, and the Indians proved such novices at loading and leading them,
that my bodyguard were being diverted from their proper duty of riding
with me. So when Showakh introduced his cousin, a Khayal Sherari who
would serve with me on any conditions, I accepted him at the glance:
and now set out to measure his worth in a predicament.

We circled round Aba el Lissan to make sure that the Turks were in
seemly idleness, for they had a habit of rushing a mounted patrol over
the Batra sites at sudden notice, and I had no mind to put our party
into unnecessary action yet. Awad was a ragged, brown-skinned lad of
perhaps eighteen, splendidly built, with the muscles and sinews of an
athlete, active as a cat, alive in the saddle (he rode magnificently)
and not ill-looking, though with something of the base appearance of
the Sherarat, and in his savage eye an air of constant and rather
suspicious expectancy, as though he looked any moment for something new
from life, and that something not of his seeking or ordering, nor
wholly grateful.

These Sherarat helots were an enigma of the desert. Other men might
have hopes or illusions. Sherarat knew that nothing better than
physical existence was willingly permitted them by mankind in this
world or another. Such extreme degradation was a positive base on which
to build a trust. I treated them exactly like the others in my
bodyguard. This they found astonishing; and yet pleasant, when they had
learned that my protection was active and sufficient. While they served
me they became wholly my property, and good slaves they were, for
nothing practicable in the desert was beneath their dignity, or beyond
their tempered strength and experience.

Awad before me showed himself confused and self-conscious, though with
his fellows he could be merry and full of japes. His engagement was a
sudden fortune beyond dreams, and he was pitifully determined to suit
my mind. For the moment this was to wander across the Maan high road in
order to draw the Turks' notice. When we had succeeded, and they
trotted out in chase, we returned back, doubled again, and so tricked
their mule-riders away northward out of the direction of danger. Awad
took gleeful concern in the game and handled his new rifle well.

Afterwards I climbed with him to the top of a hill overlooking Batra,
and the valleys which sloped to Aba el Lissan, and we lay there lazily
till afternoon, watching the Turks riding in a vain direction, and our
fellows asleep, and their pasturing camels, and the shadows of the low
clouds seeming like gentle hollows as they chased over the grass in the
pale sunlight. It was peaceful, chilly, and very far from the fretting
world. The austerity of height shamed back the vulgar baggage of our
cares. In the place of consequence it set freedom, power to be alone,
to slip the escort of our manufactured selves; a rest and forgetfulness
of the chains of being.

But Awad could not forget his appetite and the new sensation of power
in my caravan to satisfy it regularly each day: so he fidgeted about
the ground on his belly chewing innumerable stalks of grass, and
talking to me of his animal joys in jerky phrases with averted face,
till we saw Ali's cavalcade beginning to lip over the head of the pass.
Then we ran down the slopes to meet them, and heard how he had lost
four camels on the pass, two broken by falls, two failing through
weakness as they mounted the rocky ledges. Also, he had fallen out
again with Abd el Kader, from whose deafness and conceit and boorish
manners he prayed God to deliver him. The Emir moved so cumbrously,
having no sense of the road: and flatly refused to join with Lloyd and
myself into one caravan, for safety.

We left them to follow us after dark, and as they had no guide, I
loaned them Awad. We would meet again in Auda's tents. Then we moved
forward over shallow valleys and cross-ridges till the sun set behind
the last high bank, from whose top we saw the square box of the station
at Ghadir el Haj breaking artificially out of the level, miles and
miles away. Behind us in the valley were broom bushes, so we called a
halt, and made our supper-fires. This evening Hassan Shah devised a
pleasant notion (later to become a habit) of winding up our meal by an
offering of his Indian tea. We were too greedy and grateful to refuse,
and shamelessly exhausted his tea and sugar before fresh rations could
be sent him from the base.

Lloyd and I marked the bearing of the railway where we purposed to
cross just below Shedia. As the stars rose we agreed that we must march
upon Orion. So we started and marched on Orion for hour after hour,
with effect that Orion seemed no nearer, and there were no signs of
anything between us and him. We had debouched from the ridges upon the
plain, and the plain was never-ending, and monotonously striped by
shallow wadi-beds, with low, flat, straight banks, which in the milky
star-light looked always like the earthwork of the expected railway.
The going underfoot was firm, and the cool air of the desert in our
faces made the camels swing out freely.

Lloyd and I went in front to spy out the line, that the main body might
not be involved if chance put us against a Turkish blockhouse or
night-patrol. Our fine camels, lightly ridden, set too long a stride; so
that, without knowing, we drew more and more ahead of the laden
Indians. Hassan Shah the Jemadar threw out a man to keep us in sight,
and then another, and after that a third, till his party was a hurrying
string of connecting files. Then he sent up an urgent whisper to go
slowly, but the message which reached us after its passage through
three languages was unintelligible.

We halted and so knew that the quiet night was full of sounds, while
the scents of withering grass ebbed and flowed about us with the dying
wind. Afterwards we marched again more slowly, as it seemed for hours,
and the plain was still barred with deceitful dykes, which kept our
attention at unprofitable stretch. We felt the stars were shifting and
that we were steering wrong. Lloyd had a compass somewhere. We halted
and groped in his deep saddle-bags. Thorne rode up and found it. We
stood around calculating on its luminous arrow-head, and deserted Orion
for a more auspicious northern star. Then again interminably forward
till as we climbed a larger bank Lloyd reined up with a gasp and
pointed. Fair in our track on the horizon were two cubes blacker than
the sky, and by them a pointed roof. We were bearing straight for
Shedia station, nearly into it.

We swung to the right, and jogged hastily across an open space, a
little nervous lest some of the caravan strung out behind us should
miss the abrupt change of course: but all was well, and a few minutes
later in the next hollow we exchanged our thrill in English and
Turkish, Arabic and Urdu. Behind us broke out a faint pulse-quickening
clamour of dogs in the Turkish camp.

We now knew our place, and took a fresh bearing to avoid the first
blockhouse below Shedia. We led off confidently, expecting in a little
to cross the line. Yet again time dragged and nothing showed itself. It
was midnight, we had marched for six hours, and Lloyd began to speak
bitterly of reaching Bagdad in the morning. There could be no railway
here. Thorne saw a row of trees, and saw them move; the bolts of our
rifles clicked, but they were only trees.

We gave up hope, and rode carelessly, nodding in our saddles, letting
our tired eyes lid themselves. My Rima lost her temper suddenly. With a
squeal she plunged sideways, nearly unseating me, pranced wildly over
two banks and a ditch and flung herself flat in a dusty place. I hit
her over the head, and she rose and paced forward nervously. Again the
Indians lagged far behind our hasty selves; but after an hour the last
bank of to-night loomed differently in front of us. It took straight
shape, and over its length grew darker patches which might be the
shadowed mouths of culverts. We spurred our minds to a fresh interest,
and drove our animals swiftly and silently forward. When we were nearer
it, the bank put up a fencing of sharp spikes along its edge. These
were the telegraph poles. A white-headed figure checked us for a
moment, but he never stirred, and so we judged him a kilometre post.

Quickly we halted our party and rode to one side and then straight in,
to challenge what lay behind the quiet of the place, expecting the
darkness to spout fire at us suddenly, and the silence to volley out in
rifle shots. But there was no alarm. We reached the bank and found it
deserted. We dismounted and ran up and down each way two hundred yards:
nobody. There was room for our passage.

We ordered the others immediately over into the empty, friendly desert
on the east, and sat ourselves on the metals under the singing wires,
while the long line of shadowy bulks wavered up out of the dark,
shuffled a little on the bank and its ballast, and passed down behind
us into the dark in that strained noiselessness which was a night march
of camels. The last one crossed. Our little group collected about a
telegraph post. Out of a short scuffle Thorne rose slowly up the pole
to catch the lowest wire and swing himself to its insulator-bracket. He
reached for the top, and a moment later there was a loud metallic twang
and shaking of the post as the cut wire leaped back each way into the
air, and slapped itself free from six or more poles on either side. The
second and third wires followed it, twisting noisily along the stony
ground, and yet no answering sound came out of the night, showing that
we had passed lightly in the empty distance of two blockhouses. Thorne,
with splintery hands, slid down the tottering pole. We walked to our
kneeling camels, and trotted after the company. Another hour, and we
ordered a rest till dawn; but before then were roused by a brief flurry
of rifle fire and the tapping of a machine-gun far away to the north.
Little Ali and Abd el Kadir were not making so clean a crossing of the
line.

Next morning, in a cheerful sunshine, we marched up parallel with the
line to salute the first train from Maan, and then struck inland over
the strange Jefer plain. The day was close, and the sun's power
increased, making mirages on all the heated flats. Riding apart from
our straggling party, we saw some of them drowned in the silver flood,
others swimming high over its changing surface, which stretched and
shrank with each swaying of the camel, or inequality of ground.

Early in the afternoon we found Auda camped unobtrusively in the
broken, bushy expanse south-west of the wells. He received us with
constraint. His large tents, with the women, had been sent away beyond
reach of the Turkish aeroplanes. There were few Toweiha present: and
those in violent dispute over the distribution of tribal wages. The old
man was sad we should find him in such weakness.

I did my best tactfully to smooth the troubles by giving their minds a
new direction and countervailing interests. Successfully too, for they
smiled, which with Arabs was often half the battle. Enough advantage
for the time; we adjourned to eat with Mohammed el Dheilan. He was a
better diplomat, because less open than Auda; and would have looked
cheerful if he thought proper, whatever the truth. So we were made very
welcome to his platter of rice and meat and dried tomatoes. Mohammed, a
villager at heart, fed too well.

After the meal, as we were wandering back over the grey dry ditches,
like mammoth-wallows, which floods had hacked deeply into the fibrous
mud, I broached to Zaal my plans for an expedition to the Yarmuk
bridges. He disliked the idea very much. Zaal in October was not the
Zaal of August. Success was changing the hard-riding gallant of spring
into a prudent man, whose new wealth made life precious to him. In the
spring he would have led me anywhere; but the last raid had tried his
nerve, and now he said he would mount only if I made a personal point
of it.

I asked what party we could make up; and he named three of the men in
the camp as good fellows for so desperate a hope. The rest of the tribe
were away, dissatisfied. To take three Toweiha would be worse than
useless, for their just conceit would inflame the other men, while they
themselves were too few to suffice alone: so I said I would try
elsewhere. Zaal showed his relief.

While we were still discussing what we ought to do (for I needed the
advice of Zaal, one of the finest raiders alive, and most competent to
judge my half-formed scheme), a scared lad rushed to our coffee-hearth
and blurted that riders in a dust-cloud were coming up fast from the
side of Maan. The Turks there had a mule-regiment and a cavalry
regiment, and were always boasting that they would some day visit the
Abu Tayi. So we jumped up to receive them.

Auda had fifteen men, of whom five were able-bodied, and the rest
greybeards or boys, but we were thirty strong, and I pondered the hard
luck of the Turkish commander who had chosen for his surprise the day
on which there happened to be guesting with the Howeitat a section of
Indian machine-gunners who knew their business. We couched and
knee-haltered the camels in the deeper water-cuts, and placed the Vickers
and Lewis in others of these natural trenches, admirably screened with
alkali bushes, and commanding a flat field eight hundred yards each
way. Auda dropped his tents, and threw out his riflemen to supplement
our fire; and then we waited easily till the first horseman rode up the
bank on to our level, and we saw they were Ali ibn el Hussein and Abd
el Kadir, coming to Jefer from the enemy direction. We foregathered
merrily, while Mohammed produced a second edition of tomato-rice for
Ali's comfort. They had lost two men and a mare in the shooting on the
railway in the night.




CHAPTER LXXIII



Lloyd was to go back from here to Versailles, and we asked Auda for a
guide to take him across the line. About the man there was no
difficulty, but great difficulty in mounting him; for the Howeitat
camels were at pasture: and the nearest pasture lay a full day's
journey south-east of these barren wells. I cut this difficulty by
providing a mount for the new guide from my own beasts. Choice fell on
my ancient Ghazala, whose pregnancy had proved more heavy than we
thought. Before our long expedition ended she would be unfit for fast
work. So, in honour of his good seat and cheerful spirit, Thorne was
transferred to her, while the Howeitat stared open-mouthed. They
esteemed Ghazala above all the camels of their desert and would have
paid much for the honour of riding her, and here she was given to a
soldier, whose pink face and eyes swollen with ophthalmia made him look
feminine and tearful; a little, said Lloyd, like an abducted nun. It
was a sorry thing to see Lloyd go. He was understanding, helped wisely,
and wished our cause well. Also he was the one fully-taught man with us
in Arabia, and in these few days together our minds had ranged abroad,
discussing any book or thing in heaven or earth which crossed our
fancy. When he left we were given over again to war and tribes and
camels without end.

The night began with a surfeit of such work. The matter of the Howeitat
must be put right. After dark we gathered round Auda's hearth, and for
hours I was reaching out to this circle of fire-lit faces, playing on
them with all the tortuous arts I knew, now catching one, now another
(it was easy to see the flash in their eyes when a word got home); or
again, taking a false line, and wasting minutes of precious time
without response. The Abu Tayi were as hard-minded as they were
hard-bodied, and the heat of conviction had burned out of their long since
in stress of work.

Gradually I won my points, but the argument was yet marching near
midnight when Auda held up his stick and called silence. We listened,
wondering what the danger was, and after a while we felt a creeping
reverberation, a cadence of blows too dull, too wide, too slow easily
to find response in our ears. It was like the mutter of a distant, very
lowly thunderstorm. Auda raised his haggard eyes towards the west, and
said, The English guns'. Allenby was leading off in preparation, and
his helpful sounds closed my case for me beyond dispute.

Next morning the atmosphere of the camp was serene and cordial. Old
Auda, his difficulties over for this time, embraced me warmly, invoking
peace upon us. At the last, whilst I was standing with my hand on my
couched camel, he ran out, took me in his arms again, and strained me
to him. I felt his harsh beard brush my ear as he whispered to me
windily, 'Beware of Abd el Kader'. There were too many about us to say
more.

We pushed on over the unending but weirdly beautiful Jefer flats, till
night fell on us at the foot of a flint scarp, like a cliff above the
plain. We camped there, in a snake-infested pocket of underwood. Our
marches were short and very leisurely. The Indians had proved novices
on the road. They had been for weeks inland from Wejh, and I had rashly
understood that they were riders; but now, on good animals, and trying
their best, they could average only thirty-five miles a day, a holiday
for the rest of the party.

So for us each day was an easy movement, without effort, quite free
from bodily strain. A golden weather of misty dawns, mild sunlight, and
an evening chill added a strange peacefulness of nature to the
peacefulness of our march. This week was a St. Martin's summer, which
passed like a remembered dream. I felt only that it was very gentle,
very comfortable, that the air was happy, and my friends content.
Conditions so perfect must needs presage the ending of our time; but
this certainty, because of its being unchallenged by any rebellious
hope, served only to deepen the quiet of the autumnal present. There
was no thought or care at all. My mind was as near stilled those days
as ever in my life.

We camped for lunch and for a midday rest--the soldiers had to have
three meals a day. Suddenly there was an alarm. Men on horses and
camels appeared from the west and north and closed quickly on us. We
snatched our rifles. The Indians, getting used to short notices, now
carried their Vickers and Lewis mounted for action. After thirty
seconds we were in complete posture of defence, though in this shallow
country our position held little of advantage. To the front on each
flank were my bodyguards in their brilliant clothes, lying spread out
between the grey tufts of weed, with their rifles lovingly against
their cheeks. By them the four neat groups of khaki Indians crouched
about their guns. Behind them lay Sherif Ali's men, himself in their
midst, bareheaded and keen, leaning easily upon his rifle. In the
background the camel men were driving in our grazing animals to be
under cover of our fire.

It was a picture that the party made. I was admiring ourselves and
Sherif Ali was exhorting us to hold our fire till the attack became
real, when Awad, with a merry laugh sprang up and ran out towards the
enemy, waving his full sleeve over his head in sign of friendliness.
They fired at, or over him, ineffectually. He lay down and shot back,
one shot, aimed just above the head of the foremost rider. That, and
our ready silence perplexed them. They pulled off in a hesitant group,
and after a minute's discussion, flagged back their cloaks in half-hearted
reply to our signal.

One of them rode towards us at a foot's pace. Awad, protected by our
rifles, went two hundred yards to meet him, and saw that he was a
Sukhurri, who, when he heard our names, feigned shock. We walked
together to Sherif Ali, followed at A distance by the rest of the
newcomers, after they had seen our peaceful greeting. They were a
raiding party from the Zebn Sukhur, who were camped, as we had
expected, in front at Bair.

Ali, furious with them, for their treacherous attack on us, threatened
all sorts of pains. They accepted his tirade sullenly, saying that it
was a Beni Sakhr manner to shoot over strangers. Ali accepted this as
their habit, and a good habit in the desert, but protested that their
unheralded appearance against us from three sides showed a premeditated
ambush. The Beni Sakhr were a dangerous gang, not pure enough nomads to
hold the nomadic code of honour or to obey the desert law in spirit,
and not villagers enough to have abjured the business of rapine and
raid.

Our late assailants went into Bair to report our coming. Mifleh, chief
of their clan, thought it best to efface the ill-reception by a public
show in which all men and horses in the place turned out to welcome us
with wild cheers and gallopings and curvettings, and much firing of
shots and shouting. They whirled round and round us in desperate chase,
clattering over rocks with reckless horsemanship and small regard for
our staidness, as they broke in and out of the ranks and let off their
rifles under our camels' necks continually.

Clouds of parching chalk dust arose, so that men's voices croaked.

Eventually the parade eased off, but then Abd el Kader, thinking the
opinion even of fools desirable, felt it upon him to assert his virtue.
They were shouting to Ali ibn el Hussein 'God give victory to our
Sherif' and were reining back on their haunches beside me with Welcome,
Aurans, harbinger of action'. So he climbed up his mare, into her high
Moorish saddle, and with his seven Algerian servants behind HIM in
stiff file, began to prance delicately in slow curves, crying out
'Houp, Houp', in his throaty voice, and firing a pistol unsteadily in
the air.

The Bedu, astonished at this performance, gaped silently; till Mifleh
came to us, and said, in his wheedling way, 'Lords, pray call off your
servant, for he can neither shoot nor ride, and if he hits someone he
will destroy our good fortune of today.' Mifleh did not know the family
precedent for his nervousness. Abd el Kader's brother held what might
well be a world's record for three successive fatal accidents with
automatic pistols in the circle of his Damascus friends. Ah' Riza
Pasha, chief local gladiator, had said Three things are notably
impossible: One, that Turkey win this war; one, that the Mediterranean
become champagne; one, that I be found in the same place with Mohammed
Said, and he armed'.

We off-loaded by the ruins. Beyond us the black tents of the Beni Sakhr
were like a herd of goats spotting the valley. A messenger bade us to
Mifleh's tent. First, however, Ali had an inquiry to make. At the
request of the Beni Sakhr, Feisal had sent a party of Bisha masons and
well-sinkers to reline the blasted well from which Nasir and I had
picked the gelignite on our way to Akaba. They had been for months in
Bair and yet reported that the work was not nearly finished. Feisal had
deputed us to inquire into the reasons for the costly delay. Ali found
that the Bisha men had been living at ease and forcing the Arabs to
provide them with meat and flour. He charged them with it. They
prevaricated, vainly, for Sherifs had a trained judicial instinct, and
Mifleh was preparing a great supper for us. My men whispered excitedly
that sheep had been seen to die behind his tent high on the knoll above
the graves. So Ali's justice moved on wings before the food-bowls could
be carried up. He heard and condemned the blacks all in a moment, and
had judgement inflicted on them by his slaves inside the ruins. They
returned, a little self-conscious, kissed hands in sign of amenity and
forgiveness, and a reconciled party knelt together to meat.

Howeitat feasts had been wet with butter; the Beni Sakhr were
overflowing. Our clothes were splashed, our mouths running over, the
tips of our fingers scalded with its heat. As the sharpness of hunger
was appeased the hands dipped more slowly; but the meal was still far
from its just end when Abd el Kader grunted, rose suddenly to his feet,
wiped his hands on a handkerchief, and sat back on the carpets by the
tent wall. We hesitated, but Ali muttered the fellahs and the work
continued until all the men of our sitting were full, and the more
frugal of us had begun to lick the stiff fat from our smarting fingers.

Ali cleared his throat, and we returned to our carpets while the second
and third relays round the pans were satisfied. One little thing, of
five or six, in a filthy smock, sat there stuffing solemnly with both
hands from first to last, and, at the end, with swollen belly and face
glistening with grease, staggered off speechlessly hugging a huge
unpicked rib in triumph to its breast.

In front of the tent the dogs cracked the dry bones loudly, and
Mifleh's slave in the corner split the sheep's skull and sucked out the
brains. Meanwhile, Abd el Kader sat spitting and belching and picking
his teeth. Finally, he sent one of his servants for his medicine chest,
and poured himself out a draught, grumbling that tough meat was bad for
his digestion. He had meant by such unmannerliness to make himself a
reputation for grandeur. His own villagers could no doubt be browbeaten
so, but the Zebn were too near the desert to be measured by a purely
peasant-measure. Also to-day they had before their eyes the contrary
example of Sherif Ali ibn el Hussein, a born desert-lord.

His fashion of rising all at once from the food was of the central
deserts. On fringes of cultivation, among the semi-nomadic, each guest
slipped aside as he was full. The Anazeh of the extreme north set the
stranger by himself, and in the dark, that he be not ashamed of his
appetite. All these were modes; but among the considerable clans the
manner of the Sherifs was generally praised. So poor Abd el Kader was
not understood.

He took himself off, and we sat in the tent-mouth, above the dark
hollow, now set out in little constellations of tent-fires, seeming to
mimic or reflect the sky above. It was a calm night, except when the
dogs provoked one another to choral bowlings, and as these grew rarer
we heard again the quiet, steady thudding of the heavy guns preparing
assault in Palestine.

To this artillery accompaniment we told Mifleh that we were about to
raid the Deraa district, and would be glad to have him and some fifteen
of his tribesmen with us, all on camels. After our failure with the
Howeitat, we had decided not to announce our plain object, lest its
forlorn character dissuade our partisans. However, Mifleh agreed at
once, apparently with haste and pleasure, promising to bring with him
the fifteen best men in the tribe and his own son. This lad, Turki by
name, was an old love of Ali ibn el Hussein; the animal in each called
to the other, and they wandered about inseparably, taking pleasure in a
touch and silence. He was a fair, open-faced boy of perhaps seventeen;
not tall, but broad and powerful, with a round freckled face, upturned
nose, and very short upper lip, showing his strong teeth, but giving
his full mouth rather a sulky look, belied by the happy eyes.

We found him plucky and faithful on two critical occasions. His good
temper atoned for his having caught a little of the begging habit of
his father, whose face was eaten up with greed. Turki's great anxiety
was to be sure that he was reckoned a man among the men, and he was
always looking to do something bold and wonderful which would let him
flaunt his courage before the girls of his tribe. He rejoiced
exceedingly in a new silk robe which I gave him at dinner, and walked,
to display it, twice through the tent-village without his cloak,
railing at those who seemed laggard from our meet.




CHAPTER LXXIV



Dark had fallen long before our caravan left Bair, after watering. We
chiefs waited longer still while the Zebn got ready. Mifleh's
preparations included a visit to Essad, the supposed ancestor of the
clan, in his bedecked tomb near Annad's grave. The Beni Sakhr were
already settled enough to have dressed themselves in the Semitic
village-superstitions of sacred places, holy trees, and funerary
shrines. Sheikh Mifleh thought the occasion warranted his adding
another head-cord to the ragged collection looped round Essad's
headstone, and characteristically asked us to provide the offering. I
handed over one of my rich red-and-silk-silver Mecca ornaments,
remarking that the virtue lay with the donor. The thrifty Mifleh
pressed upon me one halfpenny in exchange, that he might plead
purchase; and when I came past a few weeks later and saw that the gaud
was gone, he cursed loudly in my hearing the sacrilege of some godless
Sherari, who had robbed his ancestor. Turki would have told me more.

A steep old pathway took us out of Wadi Bair. Near the crest of a ridge
we found the others camped for the night round a fire, but there passed
no talk or coffee-making for this time. We lay close together, hushed
and straining the ears to catch the throbbing of Allenby's guns. They
spoke eloquently: and sheet lightning in the west made gun-flashes for
them.

Next day we passed to the left of the Thlaithukhwat, the Three Sisters'
whose clean white peaks were landmarks on their lofty watershed for a
day's journey all about; and went down the soft rolling slopes beyond
them. The exquisite November morning had a softness in it like an
English summer; but its beauty had to be fought off. I was spending the
halts, and riding the stages, in the ranks of the Beni Sakhr teaching
my ear their dialect, and storing in my memory the tribal, family or
personal notes they let drop.

In the little-peopled desert every worshipful man knew every other; and
instead of books they studied their generation. To have fallen short in
such knowledge would have meant being branded either as ill-bred, or as
a stranger; and strangers were not admitted to familiar intercourse or
councils, or confidences. There was nothing so wearing, yet nothing so
important for the success of my purpose, as this constant mental
gymnastic of apparent omniscience at each time of meeting a new tribe.

At nightfall we camped in an affluent of Wadi Jesha, by some bushes of
faint grey-green foliage, which pleased our camels and gave us
firewood. That night the guns were very clear and loud, perhaps because
the intervening hollow of the Dead Sea drummed the echoes up and over
our high plateau. The Arabs whispered 'They are nearer; the English are
advancing; God deliver the men under that rain'. They were thinking
compassionately of the passing Turks, so long their weak oppressors;
whom, for their weakness, though oppressors, they loved more than the
strong foreigner with his blind indiscriminate justice.

The Arab respected force a little: he respected craft more, and often
had it in enviable degree: but most of all he respected blunt sincerity
of utterance, nearly the sole weapon God had excluded from his
armament. The Turk was all things by turn, and so commended himself to
the Arabs for such while as he was not corporately feared. Much lay in
this distinction of the corporate and the personal. There were
Englishmen whom, individually, the Arabs preferred to any Turk, or
foreigner; but, on the strength of this, to have generalized and called
tie Arabs pro-English, would have been a folly. Each stranger made his
own poor bed among them.

We were up early, meaning to push the long way to Ammari by sunset. We
crossed ridge after carpeted ridge of sun-burned flints, grown over
with a tiny saffron plant so bright and close that all the view was
gold. Safra el Jesha, the Sukhur called it. The valleys were only
inches deep, their beds grained like morocco leather, in an intricate
curving mesh, by innumerable rills of water after the last rain. The
swell of every curve was a grey breast of sand set hard with mud,
sometimes glistening with salt-crystals, and sometimes rough with the
projecting brush of half-buried twigs which had caused it. These
tailings of valleys running into Sirhan were always rich in grazing.
When there was water in their hollows the tribes collected, and peopled
them with tent-villages. The Beni Sakhr with us had so camped; and, as
we crossed the monotonous downs they pointed first to one indistinctive
hollow with hearth and straight gutter-trenches and then to another
saying, There was my tent and there lay Hamdan el Saih. Look at the dry
stones for my bed-place, and for Tarfa's next it. God have mercy upon
her, she died the year of samh, in the Snainirat, of a puff-adder.'

About noon a party of trotting camels appeared over the ridge, moving
fast, and openly towards us. Little Turki cantered out on his old
she-camel, with cocked carbine across his thighs, to find what they meant.
'Ha,' cried Mifleh to me while they were still a mile off, 'that is
Fahad, on his Shaara, in the front. These are our kinsmen,' and sure
enough they were. Fahad and Adhub, chief war-leaders of the Zebn, had
been camped west of the railway by Ziza, when a Gomani came in with
news of our march. They had saddled at once, and by hard riding caught
us only half-way on the road. Fahad, in courteous fashion, chided me
gently for presuming to ride their district on an adventure while his
father's sons lay in their tent.

Fahad was a melancholy, soft-voiced, little-spoken man of perhaps
thirty, with a white face, trim beard and tragic eyes. His young
brother Adhub was taller and stronger, yet not above middle height.
Unlike Fahad, he was active, noisy, uncouth-looking; with a snub nose,
hairless boy's face and gleaming green eyes flickering hungrily from
object to object. His commonness was pointed by his dishevelled hair
and dirty clothes. Fahad was neater, but still very plainly dressed,
and the pair, on their shaggy home-bred camels, looked as little like
sheikhs of their reputation as can be conceived. However, they were
famous fighters.

At Ammari a high cold night wind was stirring the ashen dust of the
salt-ground about the wells into a haze, which gritted in our teeth
like the stale breath of an eruption; and we were ungrateful for the
water. It was on the surface, like so much of Sirhan, but most of the
pools were too bitter to drink. One notable one, however, called Bir el
Emir was thought very good by contrast. It lay in a little floor of
bare limestone among sand-hummocks.

The water (opaque and tasting of mixed brine and ammonia) was just
below the level of the rock-slab, in a stone bath with ragged undercut
lips. Its depth Daud proved, by hurling Farraj fully-dressed into it.
He sank out of view in its yellowness, and afterwards rose quietly to
the surface under the rock-edge where he could not be seen in the dusk.
Daud waited a strained minute; but when his victim did not appear tore
off his cloak and plunged after--to find him smiling under the
overhanging ledge. Pearl-diving in the gulf had made them like fishes
in the water.

They were dragged out, and then had a wild struggle in the sand beside
the water-hole. Each sustained hurt, and they returned to my fire
dripping wet, in rags, bleeding, with their hair and faces, legs, arms
and bodies covered with mud and thorns, more like the devils of a
whirlwind than their usual suave delicate presences. They said they had
been dancing, and had tripped over a bush; it would be like my
generosity to make them a gift of new clothes. I blasted their hopes,
and sent them off to repair damages.

My bodyguard, more especially the Ageyl in it, were by nature foppish,
and spent their wages on dress or ornaments, and much time in braiding
their plaits of shining hair. Butter gave it the polish; and to keep
down the vermin they frequently dragged the scalp with a fine-toothed
comb, and sprinkled it with camel-staling. A German doctor at
Beersheba, in their Turkish days (these were the men who one misty dawn
rushed our Yeomanry in Sinai and wiped out a post) had taught them to
be clean by prisoning the lousy ones in army latrines until they had
swallowed their lice.

The wind became faint at dawn, and we moved forward for Azrak, half a
march ahead. Hardly, however, were we dear of the drifts beside the
wells when there was an alarm. Mounted men had been seen in the
brushwood. This country was a torn-tiddler's ground of raiding parties.
We drew together in the best place and halted. The Indian section chose
a tiny ridge hacked about with narrow ruts of water-channels. They
couched camels in the hollow behind, and had their guns mounted in due
order in a moment. Ali and Abd el Kader threw out their great crimson
banners in the intermittent breeze. Our skirmishers headed by Ahmed and
Awad, ran out to right and left, and long shots were exchanged. All of
it ended suddenly. The enemy broke cover and marched in line towards
us, waving their cloaks and sleeves in the air and chanting their
war-march of welcome. They were the fighting men of the Serhan tribe on
their way to swear allegiance to Feisal. When they heard our news they
turned back with us, rejoicing to be spared the road, for this tribe
was not ordinarily warlike or nomadic. They made some little pomp over
our joint entry to their tents at Ain el Beidha, a few miles east of
Azrak, where the whole tribe was gathered; and our reception was loud,
because there had been fear and lamentation among the women that
morning when they saw their men march away on the hazard of rebellion.

However, here they were returning the same day, with a Sherif of their
own, and Arab banners, and machine-guns, marching a ragged hundred men
abreast, and singing as merrily as when they started out. My eyes were
upon a notable red camel, perhaps a seven-year-old, under a Sirhani in
the second line. The tall beast would not be put upon, but with a long,
swinging pace, of which there was no equal in the crowd of us, forged
to the front, and kept there. Ahmed slipped off to get acquainted with
her owner.

In camp the chief men distributed our party among their tents for the
privilege of entertainment. Ali, Abd el Kader, Wood and myself were
taken in by Mteir, the paramount sheikh of the tribe, an old,
toothless, friendly thing, whose loose jaw sagged in his supporting
hand all the while he talked. He gave us a fussy greeting and abundant
hospitality of seethed sheep and bread. Wood and Abd el Kader were,
perhaps, a little squeamish, for the Serahin seemed primitive in
food-discipline, and at the common bowl there was more splashing and
spluttering than was proper in the best tents. Afterwards, by
constraint of Mteir's urgency, we lay on his rugs for the one night.
Round our fresh bodies, for the change of food, collected all such
local ticks, fleas and lice as were sick of a diet of unmitigated
Serhan. Their delight made them so ravenous that with the best will in
the world I could not go on feasting them. Nor apparently could Ali;
for he, too, sat up and said that he felt wakeful. So we roused Sheikh
Mteir, and sent for Mifleh ibn Bani, a young, active man, accustomed to
command their battles. To them we explained Feisal's needs, and our
plan to relieve him.

Gravely they heard us. The western bridge, they said, was quite
impossible. The Turks had just filled its country with hundreds of
military wood-cutters. No hostile party could slip through undetected.
They professed great suspicion of the Moorish villages, and of Abd el
Kader. Nothing would persuade them to visit the one under the guidance
of the other. For Tell el Shehab, the nearest bridge, they feared lest
the villagers, their inveterate enemies, attack them in the rear. Also
if it rained the camels would be unable to trot back across the muddy
plains by Remthe, and the whole party would be cut off and killed.

We were now in deep trouble. The Serahin were our last resource, and if
they refused to come with us we should be unable to carry out Allenby's
project by the appointed time. Accordingly Ali collected about our
little fire more of the better men of the tribe, and fortified the part
of courage by bringing in Fahad, and Mifleh, and Adhub. Before them we
began to combat in words this crude prudence of the Serahin, which
seemed all the more shameful to us after our long sojourn in the
clarifying wilderness.

We put it to them, not abstractedly, but concretely, for their case,
how life in mass was sensual only, to be lived and loved in its
extremity. There could be no rest-houses for revolt, no dividend of joy
paid out. Its spirit was accretive, to endure as far as the senses
would endure, and to use each such advance as base for further
adventure, deeper privation, sharper pain. Sense could not reach back
or forward. A felt emotion was a conquered emotion, an experience gone
dead, which we buried by expressing it.

To be of the desert was, as they knew, a doom to wage unending battle
with an enemy who was not of the world, nor life, nor anything, but
hope itself; and failure seemed God's freedom to mankind. We might only
exercise this our freedom by not doing what it lay within our power to
do, for then life would belong to us, and we should have mastered it by
holding it cheap. Death would seem best of all our works, the last free
loyalty within our grasp, our final leisure: and of these two poles,
death and life, or, less finally, leisure and subsistence, we should
shun subsistence (which was the stuff of life) in all save its faintest
degree, and cling close to leisure. Thereby we would serve to promote
the not-doing rather than the doing. Some men, there might be,
uncreative; whose leisure was barren; but the activity of these would
have been material only. To bring forth immaterial things, things
creative, partaking of spirit, not of flesh, we must be jealous of
spending time or trouble upon physical demands, since in most men the
soul grew aged long before the body. Mankind had been no gainer by its
drudges.

There could be no honour in a sure success, but much might be wrested
from a sure defeat. Omnipotence and the Infinite were our two worthiest
foemen, indeed the only ones for a full man to meet, they being
monsters of his own spirit's making; and the stoutest enemies were
always of the household. In fighting Omnipotence, honour was proudly to
throw away the poor resources that we had, and dare Him empty-handed;
to be beaten, not merely by more mind, but by its advantage of better
tools. To the clear-sighted, failure was the only goal. We must
believe, through and through, that there was no victory, except to go
down into death fighting and crying for failure itself, calling in
excess of despair to Omnipotence to strike harder, that by His very
striking He might temper our tortured selves into the weapon of His own
ruin.

This was a halting, half-coherent speech, struck out desperately,
moment by moment, in our extreme need, upon the anvil of those white
minds round the dying fire; and hardly its sense remained with me
afterwards; for once my picture-making memory forgot its trade and only
felt the slow humbling of the Serahin, the night-quiet in which their
worldliness faded, and at last their flashing eagerness to ride with us
whatever the bourne. Before daylight we called old Abd el Kader, and,
taking him aside among the sandy thickets, screamed into his dense ear
that the Serahin would start with us, under his auspices, for Wadi
Khalid, after sunrise. He grunted that it was well: and we said to one
another that never, if life and opportunity were prolonged for us,
would we take a deaf man for a conspirator again.




CHAPTER LXXV



Exhausted, we lay down a moment, but were astir again very early to
review the camel-men of the Sirhan. They made a wild and ragged show,
dashing past, but we thought them loose riders, and they blustered too
much to be quite convincing. It was a pity they had no real leader.
Mteir was too old for service, and ibn Bani was an indistinct man,
ambitious rather as a politician than as a fighter. However, they were
the force we had, so there was an end to it, and at three in the
afternoon we mounted for Azrak, since another night in the tent would
have left us picked to dry bones. Abd el Kader and his servants mounted
their mares, as sign that the fighting line was near. They rode just
behind us.

It was to be Ali's first view of Azrak, and we hurried up the stony
ridge in high excitement, talking of the wars and songs and passions of
the early shepherd kings, with names like music, who had loved this
place; and of the Roman legionaries who languished here as garrison in
yet earlier times. Then the blue fort on its rock above the rustling
palms, with the fresh meadows and shining springs of water, broke on
our sight. Of Azrak, as of Rumm, one said 'NUMEN INEST'. Both were
magically haunted: but whereas Rumm was vast and echoing and God-like,
Azrak's unfathomable silence was steeped in knowledge of wandering
poets, champions, lost kingdoms, all the crime and chivalry and dead
magnificence of Hira and Ghassan. Each stone or blade of it was radiant
with half-memory of the luminous, silky Eden, which had passed so long
ago.

At last Ah' shook his rein, and his camel picked her careful way down
the lava flow to the rich turf behind the springs. Our puckered eyes
opened wide with relief that the bitterness of many weeks was gone out
of the reflected sunlight. Ah' screamed 'Grass', and flung himself off
the saddle to the ground on hands and feet, his face bowed down among
the harsh stems which seemed so kindly in the desert. He leaped up,
flushed, with his Harith war-cry, tore his head-cloth off, and raced
along the marsh, bounding over the red channels where water clotted
among the reeds. His white feet flashed beneath the tossed folds of his
cashmere robes. We in the West seldom experienced that added beauty
when the body was seen lightly poised on bare feet; when the rhythm and
grace of movement became visible, with the play of muscle and sinew
pointing the mechanism of each stride and the balance of repose.

When we turned again to business, there was no Abd el Kader. We looked
for him in the castle, in the palm-garden, over by the spring.
Eventually we sent our men away to search, and they came back with
Arabs, who told us that from just after the start he had ridden off
northward through the flaky hillocks, towards Jebel Druse. The rank and
file did not know our plans, hated him, and had been glad to see him
go: but it was bad news for us.

Of our three alternatives, Um Keis had been abandoned: without Abd el
Kader, Wadi Khalid was impossible: this meant that we must necessarily
attempt the bridge at Tell el Shehab. To reach it we had to cross the
open land between Remthe and Deraa. Abd el Kader was gone up to the
enemy, with information of our plans and strength. The Turks, if they
took the most reasonable precautions, would trap us at the bridge. We
took council with Fahad and decided to push on none the less, trusting
to the usual incompetence of our enemy. It was not a confident
decision. While we took it the sunshine seemed less lambent, and Azrak
not so aloof from fear.

Next morning we wound pensively along a flinty valley and over a ridge
into Wadi el Harith, whose green course had a sickening likeness to
some lands at home. Ah' rejoiced to see a rich pasture-valley bearing
his family name, and was as glad as our camels when we found limpid
pools of last week's rain-water in hollows among the bushes. We stopped
and used the discovery for lunch, making a long halt. Adhub went off
with Ahmed and Awad to look for gazelle. He came back with three. So we
stopped yet longer and made a second lunch, like a feast, of meat
gobbets roasted on ramrods till the outside was black as coal, while
the heart remained juicily sweet. So-journers in the desert loved its
accidental bounty; also on this trip a reluctance weighed down our
daily marching, to make us glad of each delay.

Unhappily my rest time was spoiled by a bed of justice. The feud
between Ahmed and Awad broke out during this gazelle chase into a duel.
Awad shot off Ahmed's head-rope; Ahmed holed Awad's cloak. I disarmed
them and gave loud order that the right thumb and forefinger of each be
cut off. The terror of this drove them into an instant, violent and
public kissing of peace. A little later all my men went capital bail
that the trouble had ended. I referred the case to Ali ibn el Hussein,
who set them at liberty on probation, after sealing their promise with
the ancient and curious nomad penance of striking the head sharply with
the edge of a weighty dagger again and again till the issuing blood had
run down to the waist belt. It caused painful but not dangerous scalp
wounds, whose ache at first and whose scars later were supposed to
remind the would-be defaulter of the bond he had given.

We pushed on again for miles over perfect going, through rich country
for the camels, till at Abu Sawana we found a flinty hollow, brim-full
of deliciously clear rain-water in a narrow channel two feet deep, and
perhaps ten feet wide, but half a mile long. This would serve as
starting point for our bridge-raid. To be sure of its safety, we rode a
few yards further, to the top of a stony knoll; and there found
ourselves looking down upon a retreating party of Circassian horsemen,
sent out by the Turks to report if the waters were occupied. They had
missed us, to our mutual benefit, by five minutes.

Next morning we filled our water-skins, since we should find nothing to
drink between here and the bridge; and then marched leisurely until the
desert ended in a three-foot depression at the edge of a clean plain,
which extended flatly to the metals of the railway some miles off. We
halted for dusk to make its crossing possible. Our plan was to slip
over secretly, and hide in the further foothills, below Deraa. In the
spring these hills were full of grazing sheep, for the rain cloaked
their low sides in new grass and flowers. With the coming of summer
they dried, and became deserted save for chance travellers on obscure
errands. We might fairly calculate on lying in their folds for a day
undisturbed.

We made our halt another opportunity of food, for we were recklessly
eating all we could as often as we had the chance. It lightened our
stores, and kept us from thinking: but even with this help the day was
very long. At last sunset came. The plain shivered once, as the
darkness, which for an hour had been gathering among the facing hills,
flowed slowly out and drowned it. We mounted. Two hours later after a
quick march over gravel, Fahad and myself, out scouting ahead, came to
the railway; and without difficulty found a stony place where our
caravan would make no signs of passage. The Turkish rail-guards were
clearly at their ease, which meant that Abd el Kader had not yet caused
a panic by what news he brought.

We rode the other side of the line for half an hour, and then dipped
into a very slight rocky depression full of succulent plants. This was
Ghadir el Abyadh, recommended by Mifleh as our ambush. We took his
surprising word that we were in cover, and lay down among or alongside
our loaded beasts for a short sleep. Dawn would show us how far we were
safe and hidden.

As day was breaking, Fahad led me to the edge of our pit, some fifteen
feet above, and from it we looked straight across a slowly-dropping
meadow to the railway, which seemed nearly within shot. It was most
inconveniently close, but the Sukhur knew no better place. We had to
stand-to all the day. Each time something was reported, our men ran to
look at it, and the low bank would grow a serried frieze of human
heads. Also, the grazing camels required many guards to keep them from
straying into view. Whenever a patrol passed we had to be very gentle
in controlling the beasts, since if one of them had roared or ruckled
it would have drawn the enemy. Yesterday had been long: to-day was
longer: we could not feed, as our water had to be husbanded with
jealous care against the scarcity of to-morrow. The very knowledge made
us thirsty.

Ali and I worked at the last arrangements for our ride. We were penned
here until sunset; and must reach Tell el Shehab, blow up the bridge,
and get back east of the railway by dawn. This meant a ride of at least
eighty miles in the thirteen hours of darkness, with an elaborate
demolition thrown in. Such a performance was beyond the capacity of
most of the Indians. They were not good riders, and had broken up their
camels in the march from Akaba. An Arab by saving his beast, could
bring it home in fair condition after hard work. The Indians had done
their best; but the discipline of their cavalry training had tired out
them and the animals in our easy stages.

So we picked out the six best riders and put them on the six best
camels, with Hassan Shah, their officer and greatest-hearted man, to
lead them. He decided that this little party would be fittest armed
with just one Vickers gun. It was a very serious reduction of our
offensive power. The more I looked at it, the less fortunate seemed the
development of this Yarmuk plan of ours.

The Beni Sakhr were fighting men; but we distrusted the Serahin. So Ah'
and I decided to make the Beni Sakhr, under Fahad, our storming party.
We would leave some Serahin to guard the camels while the others
carried the blasting gelatine in our dismounted charge upon the bridge.
To suit the hurried carriage down steep hill-sides in the dark we
changed the explosive loads into thirty-pound lumps, which were put,
for visibility, each lump into its own white bag. Wood undertook to
repack the gelatine, and shared the rare headache all got from handling
it. This helped pass the time.

My bodyguard had to be carefully distributed. One good rider was told
off to each of the less expert local men, whose virtue was that they
knew the country: the pairs so made were attached to one or other of my
foreign liabilities, with instructions to keep close to him all night.
Ali ibn el Hussein took six of his servants, and the party was
completed by twenty Beni Sakhr and forty Serahin. We left the lame and
weak camels behind at Abyadh in charge of the balance of our men, with
instructions to get back to Abu Sawana before dawn to-morrow and wait
there for our news. Two of my men developed sudden illnesses, which
made them feel unable to ride with us. I excused them for the night,
and afterward from all duties whatsoever.




CHAPTER LXXVI



Just at sunset we said good-bye to them, and went off up our valley,
feeling miserably disinclined to go on at all. Darkness gathered as we
rode over the first ridge and turned west, for the abandoned pilgrim
road, whose ruts would be our best guide. We were stumbling down the
irregular hill-side, when the men in front suddenly dashed forward. We
followed and found them surrounding a terrified pedlar, with two wives
and two donkeys laden with raisins, flour and cloaks. They had been
going to Mafrak, the station just behind us. This was awkward; and in
the end we told them to camp, and left a Sirhani to see they did not
stir: he was to release them at dawn, and escape over the line to Abu
Sawana.

We went plodding across country in the now absolute dark till we saw
the gleam of the white furrows of the pilgrim road. It was the same
road along which the Arabs had ridden with me on my first night in
Arabia out by Rabegh. Since then in twelve months we had fought up it
for some twelve hundred kilometres, past Medina and Hedia, Dizad,
Mudowwara and Maan. There remained little to its head in Damascus where
our armed pilgrimage should end.

But we were apprehensive of to-night: our nerves had been shaken by the
flight of Abd el Kader, the solitary traitor of our experience. Had we
calculated fairly we should have known that we had a chance in spite of
him: yet a dispassionate judgement lay not in our mood, and we thought
half-despairingly how the Arab Revolt would never perform its last
stage, but would remain one more example of the caravans which started
out ardently for a cloud-goal, and died man by man in the wilderness
without the tarnish of achievement.

Some shepherd or other scattered these thoughts by firing his rifle at
our caravan, seen by him approaching silently and indistinctly in the
dark. He missed widely, but began to cry out in extremity of terror
and, as he fled, to pour shot after shot into the brown of us.

Mifleh el Gomaan, who was guiding, swerved violently, and in a blind
trot carried our plunging line down a slope, over a breakneck bottom,
and round the shoulder of a hill. There we had peaceful unbroken night
once more, and swung forward in fair order under the stars. The next
alarm was A. barking dog on the left, and then a camel unexpectedly
loomed up in our track. It was, however, a stray, and riderless. We
moved on again.

Mifleh made me ride with him, calling me 'Arab' that my known name
might not betray me to strangers in the blackness. We were coming down
into a very thick hollow when we smelt ashes, and the dusky figure of a
woman leaped from a bush beside the track and rushed shrieking out of
sight. She may have been a gipsy, for nothing followed. We came to a
hill. At the top was a village which blazed at us while we were yet
distant. Mifleh bore off to the right over a broad stretch of plough;
we climbed it slowly, with creaking saddles. At the edge of the crest
we halted.

Away to the north below our level were some brilliant clusters of
lights. These were the flares of Deraa station, lit for army traffic:
and we felt something reassuring perhaps, but also a little blatant in
this Turkish disregard for us. [It was our revenge to make it then-last
illumination: Deraa was obscured from the morrow for a whole year until
it fell.] In a close group we rode to the left along the summit and
down a long valley into the plain of Remthe, from which village an
occasional red spark glowed out, in the darkness to the north-west. The
going became flat; but it was land half-ploughed, and very soft with a
labyrinth of cony-burrows, so that our plunging camels sank fetlock-in
and laboured. None the less, we had to put on speed, for the incidents
and roughness of the way had made us late. Mifleh urged his reluctant
camel into a trot.

I was better mounted than most, on the red camel which had led our
procession into Beidha. She was a long, raking beast, with a huge
piston-stride very hard to suffer: pounding, yet not fully mechanical,
because there was courage in the persistent effort which carried her
sailing to the head of the line. There, all competitors outstripped,
her ambition died into a solid step, longer than normal by some inches,
but like any other animal's, except that it gave a confident feeling of
immense reserves in strength and endurance. I rode back down the ranks
and told them to press forward faster. The Indians, riding wooden, like
horsemen, did their best, as did most of our number; but the ground was
so bad that the greatest efforts were not very fruitful, and as hours
went on first one and then another rider dropped behind. Thereupon I
chose the rear position, with Ali ibn el Hussein who was riding a rare
old racing camel. She may have been fourteen years old, but never
flagged nor jogged the whole night. With her head low she shuffled
along in the quick, hang-kneed Nejd pace which was so easy for the
rider. Our speed and camel-sticks made life miserable for the last men
and camels.

Soon after nine o'clock we left the plough. The going should have
improved: but it began to drizzle, and the rich surface of the land
grew slippery. A Sirhani camel fell. Its rider had it up in a moment
and trotted forward. One of the Beni Sakhr came down. He also was
unhurt, and remounted hastily. Then we found one of Ali's servants
standing by his halted camel. Ah' hissed him on, and when the fellow
mumbled an excuse cut him savagely across the head with his cane. The
terrified camel plunged forward, and the slave, snatching at the hinder
girth, was able to swing himself into the saddle. Ali pursued him with
a rain of blows. Mustafa, my man, an inexperienced rider, fell off
twice. Awad, his rank-man, each time caught his halter, and had helped
him up before we overtook them.

The rain stopped, and we went faster. Downhill, now. Suddenly Mifleh,
rising in his saddle, slashed at the air overhead. A sharp metallic
contact from the night showed we were under the telegraph line to
Mezerib. Then the grey horizon before us went more distant. We seemed
to be riding on the camber of an arc of land, with a growing darkness
at each side and in front. There came to our ears a faint sighing, like
wind among trees very far away, but continuous and slowly increasing.
This must be from the great waterfall below Tell el Shehab, and we
pressed forward confidently.

A few minutes later Mifleh pulled up his camel and beat her neck very
gently till she sank silently on her knees. He threw himself off, while
we reined up beside him on this grassy platform by a tumbled cairn.
Before us from a lip of blackness rose very loudly the rushing of the
river which had been long dinning our ears. It was the edge of the
Yarmuk gorge, and the bridge lay just under us to the right.

We helped down the Indians from their burdened camels, that no sound
betray us to listening ears; then mustered, whispering, on the clammy
grass. The moon was not yet over Hermon, but the night was only half-dark
in the promise of its dawn, with wild rags of tattered clouds
driving across a livid sky. I served out the explosives to the fifteen
porters, and we started. The Beni Sakhr under Adhub sank into the dark
slopes before us to scout the way. The rainstorm had made the steep
hill treacherous, and only by driving our bare toes sharply into the
soil could we keep a sure foothold. Two or three men fell heavily.

When we were in the stiffest part, where rocks cropped out brokenly
from the face, a new noise was added to the roaring water as a train
clanked slowly up from Galilee, the flanges of its wheels screaming on
the curves and the steam of its engine panting out of the hidden depths
of the ravine in white ghostly breaths. The Serahin hung back. Wood
drove them after us. Fahad and I leaped to the right, and in the light
of the furnace-flame saw open trucks in which were men in khaki,
perhaps prisoners going up to Asia Minor.

A little farther; and at last, below our feet, we saw a something
blacker in the precipitous blackness of the valley, and at its other
end a speck of flickering light. We halted to examine it with glasses.
It was the bridge, seen from this height in plan, with a guard-tent
pitched under the shadowy village-crested wall of the opposite bank.
Everything was quiet, except the river; everything was motionless,
except the dancing flame outside the tent.

Wood, who was only to come down if I were hit, got the Indians ready to
spray the guard-tent if affairs became general; while Ali, Fahad,
Mifleh and the rest of us, with Beni Sakhr and explosive porters, crept
on till we found the old construction path to the near abutment. We
stole along this in single file, our brown cloaks and soiled clothes
blending perfectly with the limestone above us, and the depths below,
until we reached the metals just before they curved to the bridge.
There the crowd halted, and I crawled on with Fahad.

We reached the naked abutment, and drew ourselves forward on our faces
in the shadow of its rails till we could nearly touch the grey skeleton
of underhung girders, and see the single sentry leaning against the
other abutment, sixty yards across the gulf. Whilst we watched, he
began to move slowly up and down, up and down, before his fire, without
ever setting foot on the dizzy bridge. I lay staring at him fascinated,
as if planless and helpless, while Fahad shuffled back by the abutment
wall where it sprang clear of the hillside.

This was no good, for I wanted to attack the girders themselves; so I
crept away to bring the gelatine bearers. Before I reached them there
was the loud clatter of a dropped rifle and a scrambling fall from up
the bank. The sentry started and stared up at the noise. He saw, high
up, in the zone of light with which the rising moon slowly made
beautiful the gorge, the machine-gunners climbing down to a new
position in the receding shadow. He challenged loudly, then lifted his
rifle and fired, while yelling the guard out.

Instantly all was complete confusion. The invisible Beni Sakhr,
crouched along the narrow path above our heads, blazed back at random.
The guard rushed into trenches, and opened rapid fire at our flashes.
The Indians, caught moving, could not get their Vickers in action to
riddle the tent before it was empty. Firing became general. The volleys
of the Turkish rifles, echoing in the narrow place, were doubled by the
impact of their bullets against the rocks behind our party. The Serahin
porters had learned from my bodyguard that gelatine would go off if
hit. So when shots spattered about them they dumped the sacks over the
edge and fled. Ali leaped down to Fahad and me, where we stood on the
obscure abutment unperceived, but with empty hands, and told us that
the explosives were now somewhere in the deep bed of the ravine.

It was hopeless to think of recovering them, with such hell let loose,
so we scampered, without accident, up the hill-path through the Turkish
fire, breathlessly to the top. There we met the disgusted Wood and the
Indians, and told them it was all over. We hastened back to the cairn
where the Serahin were scrambling on their camels. We copied them as
soon as might be, and trotted off at speed, while the Turks were yet
rattling away in the bottom of the valley. Turra, the nearest village,
heard the clamour and joined in. Other villages awoke, and lights began
to sparkle everywhere across the plain.

Our rush over-ran a party of peasants returning from Deraa. The
Serahin, sore at the part they had played (or at what I said in the
heat of running away) were looking for trouble, and robbed them bare.

The victims dashed off through the moonlight with their women, raising
the ear-piercing Arab call for help. Remthe heard them. Its massed
shrieks alarmed every sleeper in the neighbourhood. Their mounted men
turned out to charge our flank, while settlements for miles about
manned their roofs and fired volleys.

We left the Serahin offenders with their encumbering loot, and drove on
in grim silence, keeping together in what order we could, while my
trained men did marvellous service helping those who fell, or mounting
behind them those whose camels got up too hurt to canter on. The ground
was still muddy, and the ploughed strips more laborious than ever; but
behind us was the riot, spurring us and our camels to exertion, like a
pack hunting us into the refuge of the hills. At length we entered
these, and cut through by a better road towards peace, yet riding our
jaded animals as hard as we could, for dawn was near. Gradually the
noise behind us died away, and the last stragglers fell into place,
driven together, as on the advance, by the flail of Ali ibn el Hussein
and myself in the rear.

The day broke just as we rode down to the railway, and Wood, Ali and
the chiefs, now in front to test the passage, were amused by cutting
the telegraph in many places while the procession marched over. We had
crossed the line the night before to blow up the bridge at Tell el
Shehab, and so cut Palestine off from Damascus, and we were actually
cutting the telegraph to Medina after all our pains and risks!
Allenby's guns, still shaking the air away there on our right, were
bitter recorders of the failure we had been.

The grey dawn drew on with gentleness in it, foreboding the grey
drizzle of rain which followed, a drizzle so soft and hopeless that it
seemed to mock our broken-footed plodding towards Abu Sawana. At sunset
we reached the long water-pool; and there the rejects of our party were
curious after the detail of our mistakes. We were fools, all of us
equal fools, and so our rage was aimless. Ahmed and Awad had another
fight; young Mustafa refused to cook rice; Farraj and Daud knocked him
about until he cried; Ali had two of his servants beaten: and none of
us or of them cared a little bit. Our minds were sick with failure, and
our bodies tired after nearly a hundred strained miles over bad country
in bad conditions, between sunset and sunset, without halt or food.




CHAPTER LXXVII



Food was going to be our next preoccupation, and we held a council in
the cold driving rain to consider what we might do. For lightness' sake
we had carried from Azrak three days' rations, which made us complete
until to-night; but we could not go back empty-handed. The Beni Sakhr
wanted honour, and the Serahin were too lately disgraced not to clamour
for more adventure. We had still a reserve bag of thirty pounds of
gelatine, and Ali ibn el Hussein who had heard of the performances
below Maan, and was as Arab as any Arab, said, 'Let's blow up a train'.
The word was hailed with universal joy, and they looked at me: but I
was not able to share their hopes, all at once.

Blowing up trains was an exact science when done deliberately, by a
sufficient party, with machine-guns in position. If scrambled at it
might become dangerous. The difficulty this time was that the available
gunners were Indians; who, though good men fed, were only half-men in
cold and hunger. I did not propose to drag them off without rations on
an adventure which might take a week. There was no cruelty in starving
Arabs; they would not die of a few days' fasting, and would fight as
well as ever on empty stomachs; while, if things got too difficult,
there were the riding-camels to kill and eat: but the Indians, though
Moslems, refused camel-flesh on principle.

I explained these delicacies of diet. Ali at once said that it would be
enough for me to blow up the train, leaving him and the Arabs with him
to do their best to carry its wreck without machine-gun support. As, in
this unsuspecting district, we might well happen on a supply train,
with civilians or only a small guard of reservists aboard, I agreed to
risk it. The decision having been applauded, we sat down in a cloaked
circle, to finish our remaining food in a very late and cold supper
(the rain had sodden the fuel and made fire not possible) our hearts
somewhat comforted by chance of another effort.

At dawn, with the unfit of the Arabs, the Indians moved away for Azrak,
miserably. They had started up country with me in hope of a really
military enterprise, and first had seen the muddled bridge, and now
were losing this prospective train. It was hard on them; and to soften
the blow with honour I asked Wood to accompany them. He agreed, after
argument, for their sakes; but it proved a wise move for himself, as a
sickness which had been troubling him began to show the early signs of
pneumonia.

The balance of us, some sixty men, turned back towards the railway.
None of them knew the country, so I led them to Minifir, where, with
Zaal, we had made havoc in the spring. The re-curved hill-top was an
excellent observation post, camp, grazing ground and way of retreat,
and we sat there in our old place till sunset, shivering and staring
out over the immense plain which stretched map-like to the clouded
peaks of Jebel Druse, with Um el Jemal and her sister-villages like
ink-smudges on it through the rain.

In the first dusk we walked down to lay the mine. The rebuilt culvert
of kilometre 172 seemed still the fittest place. While we stood by it
there came a rumbling, and through the gathering darkness and mist a
train suddenly appeared round the northern curve, only two hundred
yards away. We scurried under the long arch and heard it roll overhead.
This was annoying; but when the course was clear again, we fell to
burying the charge. The evening was bitterly cold, with drifts of rain
blowing down the valley.

The arch was solid masonry, of four metres span, and stood over a
shingle water-bed which took its rise on our hill-top. The winter rains
had cut this into a channel four feet deep, narrow and winding, which
served us as an admirable approach till within three hundred yards of
the line. There the gully widened out and ran straight towards the
culvert, open to the sight of anyone upon the rails.

We hid the explosive carefully on the crown of the arch, deeper than
usual, beneath a tie, so that the patrols would not feel its jelly
softness under their feet. The wires were taken down the bank into the
shingle bed of the watercourse, where concealment was quick; and up it
as far as they would reach. Unfortunately, this was only sixty yards,
for there had been difficulty in Egypt over insulated cable and no more
had been available when our expedition started.

Sixty yards was plenty for the bridge, but little for a train: however,
the ends happened to coincide with a little bush about ten inches high,
on the edge of the watercourse, and we buried them beside this very
convenient mark. It was impossible to leave them joined up to the
exploder in the proper way, since the spot was evident to the
permanent-way patrols as they made their rounds.

Owing to the mud the job took longer than usual, and it was very nearly
dawn before we finished. I waited under the draughty arch till day
broke, wet and dismal, and then I went over the whole area of
disturbance, spending another half-hour in effacing its every mark,
scattering leaves and dead grass over it, and watering down the broken
mud from a shallow rain-pool near. Then they waved to me that the first
patrol was coming, and I went up to join the others.

Before I had reached them they came tearing down into their prearranged
places, lining the watercourse and spurs each side. A train was coming
from the north. Hamud, Feisal's long slave, had the exploder; but
before he reached me a short train of closed box-waggons rushed by at
speed. The rainstorms on the plain and the thick morning had hidden it
from the eyes of our watchman until too late. This second failure
saddened us further and Ali began to say that nothing would come right
this trip. Such a statement held risk as prelude of the discovery of an
evil eye present; so, to divert attention, I suggested new watching
posts be sent far out, one to the ruins on the north, one to the great
cairn of the southern crest.

The rest, having no breakfast, were to pretend not to be hungry. They
all enjoyed doing this, and for a while we sat cheerfully in the rain,
huddling against one another for warmth behind a breastwork of our
streaming camels. The moisture made the animals' hair curl up like a
fleece, so that they looked queerly dishevelled. When the rain paused,
which it did frequently, a cold moaning wind searched out the
unprotected parts of us very thoroughly. After a time we found our
wetted shirts clammy and comfortless things. We had nothing to eat,
nothing to do and nowhere to sit except on wet rock, wet grass or mud.
However, this persistent weather kept reminding me that it would delay
Allenby's advance on Jerusalem, and rob him of his great possibility.
So large a misfortune to our lion was a half-encouragement for the
mice. We would be partners into next year.

In the best circumstances, waiting for action was hard. To-day it was
beastly. Even enemy patrols stumbled along without care, perfunctorily,
against the rain. At last, near noon, in a snatch of fine weather, the
watchmen on the south peak flagged their cloaks wildly in signal of a
train. We reached our positions in an instant, for we had squatted the
late hours on our heels in a streaming ditch near the line, so as not
to miss another chance. The Arabs took cover properly. I looked back at
their ambush from my firing point, and saw nothing but the grey hillsides.

I could not hear the train coming, but trusted, and knelt ready for
perhaps half an hour, when the suspense became intolerable, and I
signalled to know what was up. They sent down to say it was coming very
slowly, and was an enormously long train. Our appetites stiffened. The
longer it was the more would be the loot. Then came word that it had
stopped. It moved again.

Finally, near one o'clock, I heard it panting. The locomotive was
evidently defective (all these wood-fired trains were bad), and the
heavy load on the up-gradient was proving too much for its capacity. I
crouched behind my bush, while it crawled slowly into view past the
south cutting, and along the bank above my head towards the culvert.
The first ten trucks were open trucks, crowded with troops. However,
once again it was too late to choose, so when the engine was squarely
over the mine I pushed down the handle of the exploder. Nothing
happened. I sawed it up and down four times.

Still nothing happened; and I realized that it had gone out of order,
and that I was kneeling on a naked bank, with a Turkish troop train
crawling past fifty yards away. The bush, which had seemed a foot high,
shrank smaller than a fig-leaf; and I felt myself the most distinct
object in the country-side. Behind me was an open valley for two
hundred yards to the cover where my Arabs were waiting and wondering
what I was at. It was impossible to make a bolt for it, or the Turks
would step off the train and finish us. If I sat still, there might be
just a hope of my being ignored as a casual Bedouin.

So there I sat, counting for sheer life, while eighteen open trucks,
three box-waggons, and three officers' coaches dragged by. The engine
panted slower and slower, and I thought every moment that it would
break down. The troops took no great notice of me, but the officers
were interested, and came out to the little platforms at the ends of
their carriages, pointing and staring. I waved back at them, grinning
nervously, and feeling an improbable shepherd in my Meccan dress, with
its twisted golden circlet about my head. Perhaps the mud-stains, the
wet and their ignorance made me accepted. The end of the brake van
slowly disappeared into the cutting on the north.

As it went, I jumped up, buried my wires, snatched hold of the wretched
exploder, and went like a rabbit uphill into safety. There I took
breath and looked back to see that the train had finally stuck. It
waited, about five hundred yards beyond the mine, for nearly an hour to
get up a head of steam, while an officers' patrol came back and
searched, very carefully, the ground where I had been seen sitting.
However the wires were properly bidden: they found nothing: the engine
plucked up heart again, and away they went.




CHAPTER LXXVIII



Mifleh was past tears, thinking I had intentionally let the train
through; and when the Serahin had been told the real cause they said
'Bad luck is with us'. Historically they were right; but they meant it
for a prophecy, so I made sarcastic reference to their courage at the
bridge the week before, hinting that it might be a tribal preference to
sit on camel-guard. At once there was uproar, the Serahin attacking me
furiously, the Beni Sakhr defending. Ali heard the trouble, and came
running.

When we had made it up the original despondency was half forgotten. Ali
backed me nobly, though the wretched boy was blue with cold and
shivering in an attack of fever. He gasped that their ancestor the
Prophet had given to Sherifs the faculty of 'sight', and by it he knew
that our luck was turning. This was comfort for them: my first
instalment of good fortune came when in the wet, without other tool
than my dagger, I got the box of the exploder open and persuaded its
electrical gear to work properly once more.

We returned to our vigil by the wires, but nothing happened, and
evening drew down with more squalls and beastliness, everybody full of
grumbles. There was no train; it was too wet to light a cooking fire;
our only potential food was camel. Raw meat did not tempt anyone that
night; and so our beasts survived to the morrow.

Ali lay down on his belly, which position lessened the hunger-ache,
trying to sleep off his fever. Khazen, Ali's servant, lent him his
cloak for extra covering. For a spell I took Khazen under mine, but
soon found it becoming crowded. So I left it to him and went downhill
to connect up the exploder. Afterwards I spent the night there alone by
the singing telegraph wires, hardly wishing to sleep, so painful was
the cold. Nothing came all the long hours, and dawn, which broke wet,
looked even uglier than usual. We were sick to death of Minifir, of
railways, of train watching and wrecking, by now. I climbed up to the
main body while the early patrol searched the railway. Then the day
cleared a little. Ali awoke, much refreshed, and his new spirit cheered
us. Hamud, the slave, produced some sticks which he had kept under his
clothes by his skin all night. They were nearly dry. We shaved down
some blasting gelatine, and with its hot flame got a fire going, while
the Sukhur hurriedly killed a mangy camel, the best spared of our
riding-beasts, and began with entrenching tools to hack it into handy
joints.

Just at that moment the watchman on the north cried a train. We left
the fire and made a breathless race of the six hundred yards downhill
to our old position. Bound the bend, whistling its loudest, came the
train, a splendid two-engined thing of twelve passenger coaches,
travelling at top speed on the favouring grade. I touched off under the
first driving wheel of the first locomotive, and the explosion was
terrific. The ground spouted blackly into my face, and I was sent
spinning, to sit up with the shirt torn to my shoulder and the blood
dripping from long, ragged scratches on my left arm. Between my knees
lay the exploder, crushed under a twisted sheet of sooty iron. In front
of me was the scalded and smoking upper half of a man. When I peered
through the dust and steam of the explosion the whole boiler of the
first engine seemed to be missing.

I dully felt that it was time to get away to support; but when I moved,
learnt that there was a great pain in my right foot, because of which I
could only limp along, with my head swinging from the shock. Movement
began to clear away this confusion, as I hobbled towards the upper
valley, whence the Arabs were now shooting fast into the crowded
coaches. Dizzily I cheered myself by repeating aloud in English 'Oh, I
wish this hadn't happened'.

When the enemy began to return our fire, I found myself much between
the two. Ali saw me fall, and thinking that I was hard hit, ran out,
with Turki and about twenty men of his servants and the Beni Sakhr, to
help me. The Turks found their range and got seven of them in a few
seconds. The others, in a rush, were about me--fit models, after their
activity, for a sculptor. Their full white cotton drawers drawn in,
bell-like, round their slender waists and ankles; their hairless brown
bodies; and the love-locks plaited tightly over each temple in long
horns, made them look like Russian dancers.

We scrambled back into cover together, and there, secretly, I felt
myself over, to find I had not once been really hurt; though besides
the bruises and cuts of the boiler-plate and a broken toe, I had five
different bullet-grazes on me (some of them uncomfortably deep) and my
clothes ripped to pieces.

From the watercourse we could look about. The explosion had destroyed
the arched head of the culvert, and the frame of the first engine was
lying beyond it, at the near foot of the embankment, down which it had
rolled. The second locomotive had toppled into the gap, and was lying
across the ruined tender of the first. Its bed was twisted. I judged
them both beyond repair. The second tender had disappeared over the
further side; and the first three waggons had telescoped and were
smashed in pieces.

The rest of the train was badly derailed, with the listing coaches
butted end to end at all angles, zigzagged along the track. One of them
was a saloon, decorated with flags. In it had been Mehmed Jemal Pasha,
commanding the Eighth Army Corps, hurrying down to defend Jerusalem
against Allenby. His chargers had been in the first waggon; his motor-car
was on the end of the train, and we shot it up. Of his staff we
noticed a fat ecclesiastic, whom we thought to be Assad Shukair, Imam
to Ahmed Jemal Pasha, and a notorious pro-Turk pimp. So we blazed at
him till he dropped.

It was all long bowls. We could see that our chances of carrying the
wreck were slight. There had been some four hundred men on board, and
the survivors, now recovered from the shock, were under shelter and
shooting hard at us. At the first moment our party on the north spur
had closed, and nearly won the game. Mifleh on his mare chased the
officers from the saloon into the lower ditch. He was too excited to
stop and shoot, and so they got away scathless. The Arabs following him
had turned to pick up some of the rifles and medals littering the
ground, and then to drag bags and boxes from the train. If we had had a
machine-gun posted to cover the far side, according to my mining
practice, not a Turk would have escaped.

Mifleh and Adhub rejoined us on the hill, and asked after Fahad. One of
the Serahin told how he had led the first rush, while I lay knocked out
beside the exploder, and had been killed near it. They showed his belt
and rifle as proof that he was dead and that they had tried to save
him. Adhub said not a word, but leaped out of the gully, and raced
downhill. We caught our breaths till our lungs hurt us, watching him;
but the Turks seemed not to see. A minute later he was dragging a body
behind the left-hand bank.

Mifleh went back to his mare, mounted, and took her down behind a spur.
Together they lifted the inert figure on to the pommel, and returned. A
bullet had passed through Fahad's face, knocking out four teeth, and
gashing the tongue. He had fallen unconscious, but had revived just
before Adhub reached him, and was trying on hands and knees, blinded
with blood, to crawl away. He now recovered poise enough to cling to a
saddle. So they changed him to the first camel they found, and led him
off at once.

The Turks, seeing us so quiet, began to advance up the slope. We let
them come half-way, and then poured in volleys which killed some twenty
and drove the others back. The ground about the train was strewn with
dead, and the broken coaches had been crowded: but they were fighting
under eye of their Corps Commander, and undaunted began to work round
the spurs to outflank us.

We were now only about forty left, and obviously could do no good
against them. So we ran in batches up the little stream-bed, turning at
each sheltered angle to delay them by pot-shots. Little Turki much
distinguished himself by quick coolness, though his straight-stocked
Turkish cavalry carbine made him so expose his head that he got four
bullets through his head-cloth. Ah' was angry with me for retiring
slowly. In reality my raw hurts crippled me, but to hide from him this
real reason I pretended to be easy, interested in and studying the
Turks. Such successive rests while I gained courage for a new run kept
him and Turki far behind the rest.

At last we reached the hill-top. Each man there jumped on the nearest
camel, and made away at full speed eastward into the desert, for an
hour. Then in safety we sorted our animals. The excellent Rahail,
despite the ruling excitement, had brought off with him, tied to his
saddle-girth, a huge haunch of the camel slaughtered just as the train
arrived. He gave us the motive for a proper halt, five miles farther
on, as a little party of four camels appeared marching in the same
direction. It was our companion, Matar, coming back from his home
village to Azrak with loads of raisins and peasant delicacies.

So we stopped at once, under a large rock in Wadi Dhuleil, where was a
barren fig-tree, and cooked our first meal for three days. There, also,
we bandaged up Fahad, who was sleepy with the lassitude of his severe
hurt. Adhub, seeing this, took one of Matar's new carpets, and,
doubling it across the camel-saddle, stitched the ends into great
pockets. In one they laid Fahad, while Adhub crawled into the other as
make-weight: and the camel was led off southward towards their tribal
tents.

The other wounded men were seen to at the same time. Mifleh brought up
the youngest lads of the party, and had them spray the wounds with
their piss, as a rude antiseptic. Meanwhile we whole ones refreshed
ourselves. I bought another mangy camel for extra meat, paid rewards,
compensated the relatives of the killed, and gave prize-money, for the
sixty or seventy rifles we had taken. It was small booty, but not to be
despised. Some Serahin, who had gone into the action without rifles,
able only to throw unavailing stones, had now two guns apiece. Next day
we moved into Azrak, having a great welcome, and boasting--God forgive
us--that we were victors.




CHAPTER LXXIX



Rain had set in steadily, and the country was sodden wet. Allenby had
failed in his weather, and there could be no great advance this year.
Nevertheless, for progress' sake we determined to hold to Azrak. Partly
it would be a preaching base, from which to spread our movement in the
North: partly it would be a centre of intelligence: partly it would cut
off Nuri Shaalan from the Turks. He hesitated to declare himself only
because of his wealth in Syria, and the possible hurt to his tribesmen
if they were deprived of their natural market. We, by living in one of
his main manors, would keep him ashamed to go in to the enemy. Azrak
lay favourably for us, and the old fort would be convenient
headquarters if we made it habitable, no matter how severe the winter.

So I established myself in its southern gate-tower, and set my six
Haurani boys (for whom manual labour was not disgraceful) to cover with
brushwood, palm-branches, and clay the ancient split stone rafters,
which stood open to the sky. Ali took up his quarters in the south-east
corner tower, and made that roof tight. The Indians weather-proofed
their own north-west rooms. We arranged the stores on the ground floor
of the western tower, by the little gate, for it was the soundest,
driest place. The Biasha chose to live under me in the south gate. So
we blocked that entry and made a hall of it. Then we opened a great
arch from the court to the palm-garden, and made a ramp, that our
camels might come inside each evening.

Hassan Shah we appointed Seneschal. As a good Moslem his first care was
for the little mosque in the square. It had been half unroofed and the
Arabs had penned sheep within the walls. He set his twenty men to dig
out the filth, and wash the pavement clean. The mosque then became a
most attractive house of prayer. What had been a place shut off,
dedicated to God alone, Time had broken open to the Evanescent with its
ministering winds and rain and sunlight; these entering into the
worship taught worshippers how the two were one.

Our prudent Jemadar's next labour was to make positions for machine-guns
in the upper towers, from whose tops the approaches lay at mercy.
Then he placed a formal sentry (a portent and cause of wonder in
Arabia) whose main duty was the shutting of the postern gate at
sundown. The door was a poised slab of dressed basalt, a foot thick,
turning on pivots of itself, socketed into threshold and lintel. It
took a great effort to start swinging, and at the end went shut with a
clang and crash which made tremble the west wall of the old castle.

Meanwhile, we were studying to provision ourselves. Akaba was far off,
and in winter the roads thither would be rigorous: so we prepared a
caravan to go up to Jebel Druse, the neutral land, only a day off.
Matar went in charge of this for us, with a long train of camels to
carry back varieties of food for our motley party. Besides my
bodyguard, who were taught to live on what they got, we had the
Indians, for whom pepperless food was no food at all. Ali ibn el
Hussein wanted sheep and butter and parched wheat for his men and the
Biasha. Then there were the guests and refugees whom we might expect so
soon as the news of our establishment was rumoured in Damascus. Till
they came we should have a few days' repose, and we sat down to enjoy
these dregs of autumn--the alternate days of rain and shine. We had
sheep and flour, milk and fuel. Life in the fort, but for the ill-omened
mud, went well enough.

Yet the peacefulness ended sooner than we thought. Wood, who had been
ailing for some time, went down with a sharp attack of dysentery. This
was nothing by itself, but the consequent weakness might have
endangered him when winter set in earnestly. Besides, he was their base
engineer at Akaba; and, except for the comfort of his companionship, I
had no justification in keeping him longer. So we made up a party to go
down with him to the coast, choosing as the escort, Ahmed, Abd el
Rahman, Mahmoud, and Aziz. These were to return to Azrak forthwith from
Akaba with a new caravan of stores, particularly comprising Indian
rations. The rest of my men would stay in chilly idleness watching the
situation develop.

Then began our flood of visitors. All day and every day they came, now
in the running column of shots, raucous shouting and rush of camel-feet
which meant a Bedouin parade, it might be of Rualla, or Sherarat, or
Serahin, Serdiyeh, or Beni Sakhr, chiefs of great name like ibn Zuhair,
ibn Kaebir, Rafa el Khoreisha, or some little father of a family
demonstrating his greedy goodwill before the fair eyes of Ali ibn el
Hussein. Then it would be a wild gallop of horse: Druses, or the
ruffling warlike peasants of the Arab plain. Sometimes it was a
cautious, slow-led caravan of ridden camels, from which stiffly
dismounted Syrian politicians or traders not accustomed to the road.
One day arrived a hundred miserable Armenians, fleeing starvation and
the suspended terror of the Turks. Again would come a spick and span
group of mounted officers, Arab deserters from the Turkish armies,
followed, often as not, by a compact company of Arab rank and file.
Always they came, day after day, till the desert, which had been
trackless when we came, was starred out with grey roads.

Ali appointed first one, then two, and at last three, guest-masters,
who received the rising tide of these newcomers, sorted worshipful from
curious, and marshalled them in due time before him or me. All wanted
to know about the Sherif, the Arab army and the English. Merchants from
Damascus brought presents: sweet-meats, sesame, caramel, apricot paste,
nuts, silk clothes for ourselves, brocade cloaks, head-cloths,
sheepskins, felt rugs with coloured strands beaten into them in
arabesques, Persian carpets. We returned them coffee and sugar, rice,
and rolls of white cotton sheeting; necessities of which they had been
deprived by war. Everybody learned that in Akaba there was plenty,
coming across the open sea from all the markets of the world; and so
the Arab cause which was theirs by sentiment, and instinct and
inclination, became theirs by interest also. Slowly our example and
teaching converted them: very slowly, by our own choice, that they
might be ours more surely.

The greatest asset of Feisal's cause in this work up North was Sherif
Ah' ibn el Hussein. The lunatic competitor of the wilder tribesmen in
their wildest feats was now turning all his force to greater ends. The
mixed natures in him made of his face and body powerful pleadings,
carnal, perhaps, except in so far as they were transfused by character.
No one could see him without the desire to see him again; especially
when he smiled, as he did rarely, with both mouth and eyes at once. His
beauty was a conscious weapon. He dressed spotlessly, all in black or
all in white; and he studied gesture.

Fortune had added physical perfection and unusual grace, but these
qualities were only the just expression of his powers. They made
obvious the pluck which never yielded, which would have let him be cut
to pieces, holding on. His pride broke out in his war-cry, I am of the
Harith', the two-thousand-year-old clan of freebooters; while the huge
eyes, white with large black pupils slowly turning in them, emphasized
the frozen dignity which was his ideal carriage, and to which he was
always striving to still himself. But as ever the bubbling laugh would
shriek out of him unawares; and the youth, boyish or girlish, of him,
the fire and deviltry would break through his night like a sunrise.

Yet, despite this richness, there was a constant depression with him,
the unknown longing of simple, restless people for abstract thought
beyond their minds' supply. His bodily strength grew day by day, and
hatefully fleshed over this humble something which he wanted more. His
wild mirth was only one sign of the vain wearing-out of his desire.
These besetting strangers underlined his detachment, his unwilling
detachment, from his fellows. Despite his great instinct for confession
and company, he could find no intimates. Yet he could not be alone. If
he had no guests, Khazen, the servant, must serve his meals, while Ali
and his slaves ate together.

In these slow nights we were secure against the world. For one thing,
it was winter, and in the rain and the dark few men would venture
either over the labyrinth of lava or through the marsh--the two
approaches to our fortress; and, further, we had ghostly guardians. The
first evening we were sitting with the Serahin, Hassan Shah had made
the rounds, and the coffee was being pounded by the hearth, when there
rose a strange, long wailing round the towers outside. Ibn Bani seized
me by the arm and held to me, shuddering. I whispered to him, 'What is
IT?' and he gasped that the dogs of the Beni Hillal, the mythical
builders of the fort, quested the six towers each night for their dead
masters.

We strained to listen. Through Ali's black basalt window-frame crept a
rustling, which was the stirring of the night-wind in the withered
palms, an intermittent rustling, like English rain on yet-crisp fallen
leaves. Then the cries came again and again and again, rising slowly in
power, till they sobbed round the walls in deep waves to die away
choked and miserable. At such times our men pounded the coffee harder
while the Arabs broke into sudden song to occupy their ears against the
misfortune. No Bedouin would lie outside in wait for the mystery, and
from our windows we saw nothing but the motes of water in the dank air
which drove through the radiance of our firelight. So it remained a
legend: but wolves or jackals, hyasnas, or hunting dogs, their ghost-watch
kept our ward more closely than arms could have done.

In the evening, when we had shut-to the gate, all guests would
assemble, either in my room or in Ali's, and coffee and stories would
go round until the last meal, and after it, till sleep came. On stormy
nights we brought in brushwood and dung and lit a great fire in the
middle of the floor. About it would be drawn the carpets and the
saddle-sheepskins, and in its light we would tell over our own battles,
or hear the visitors' traditions. The leaping flames chased our
smoke-muffled shadows strangely about the rough stone wall behind us,
distorting them over the hollows and projections of its broken face.
When these stories came to a period, our tight circle would shift over,
uneasily, to the other knee or elbow; while coffee-cups went clinking
round, and a servant fanned the blue reek of the fire towards the
loophole with his cloak, making the glowing ash swirl and sparkle with
his draught. Till the voice of the story-teller took up again, we would
hear the rain-spots hissing briefly as they dripped from the stone-beamed
roof into the fire's heart.

At last the sky turned solidly to rain, and no man could approach us.
In loneliness we learned the full disadvantage of imprisonment within
such gloomy ancient unmortared palaces. The rains guttered down within
the walls' thickness and spouted into the rooms from their chinks. We
set rafts of palm-branches to bear us clear of the streaming floor,
covered them with felt mats, and huddled down on them under sheepskins,
with another mat over us like a shield to throw off the water. It was
icy cold, as we hid there, motionless, from murky daylight until dark,
our minds seeming suspended within these massive walls, through whose
every shot-window the piercing mist streamed like a white pennant. Past
and future flowed over us like an uneddying river. We dreamed ourselves
into the spirit of the place; sieges and feasting, raids, murders,
love-singing in the night.

This escape of our wits from the fettered body was an indulgence
against whose enervation only change of scene could avail. Very
painfully I drew myself again into the present, and forced my mind to
say that it must use this wintry weather to explore the country lying
round about Deraa.

As I was thinking how I would ride, there came to us, unheralded, one
morning in the rain, Talal el Hareidhin, sheikh of Tafas. He was a
famous outlaw with a price upon his head; but so great that he rode
about as he pleased. In two wild years he had killed, according to
report, some twenty-three of the Turks. His six followers were
splendidly mounted, and himself the most dashing figure of a man in the
height of Hauran fashion. His sheepskin coat was finest Angora, covered
in green broadcloth, with silk patches and designs in braid. His other
clothes were silk; and his high boots, his silver saddle, his sword,
dagger, and rifle matched his reputation.

He swaggered to our coffee-hearth, as a man sure of his welcome,
greeting Ali boisterously (after our long sojourn with the tribes all
peasants sounded boisterous), laughing broad-mouthed at the weather and
our old fort and the enemy. He looked about thirty-five, was short and
strong, with a full face, trimmed beard and long, pointed moustaches.
His round eyes were made rounder, larger and darker by the antimony
loaded on in villager style. He was ardently ours, and we rejoiced,
since his name was one to conjure with in Hauran. When a day had made
me sure of him, I took him secretly to the palm-garden, and told him my
ambition to see his neighbourhood. The idea delighted him, and he
companioned me for the march as thoroughly and cheerfully as only a
Syrian on a good horse could. Halim and Faris, men specially engaged,
rode with me as guards.

We went past Umtaiye, looking at tracks, wells and lava-fields, crossed
the line to Sheikh Saad, and turned south to Tafas, where Talal was at
home. Next day we went on to Tell Arar, a splendid position closing the
Damascus railway and commanding Deraa. Afterwards we rode through
tricky rolling country to Mezerib on the Palestine railway; planning,
here also, for the next time; when with men, money and guns we should
start the general rising to win inevitable victory. Perhaps the coming
spring inight see Allenby leap forward.




CHAPTER LXXX



Properly to round off this spying of the hollow land of Hauran, it was
necessary to visit Deraa, its chief town. We could cut it off on north
and west and south, by destroying the three railways; but it would be
more tidy to rush the junction first and work outwards. Talal, however,
could not venture in with me since he was too well known in the place.
So we parted from him with many thanks on both sides, and rode
southward along the line until near Deraa. There we dismounted. The
boy, Halim, took the ponies, and set off for Nisib, south of Deraa. My
plan was to walk round the railway station and town with Faris, and
reach Nisib after sunset. Paris was my best companion for the trip,
because he was an insignificant peasant, old enough to be my father,
and respectable.

The respectability seemed comparative as we tramped off in the watery
sunlight, which was taking the place of the rain last night. The ground
was muddy, we were barefoot, and our draggled clothes showed the stains
of the foul weather to which we had been exposed. I was in Halim's wet
things, with a torn Hurani jacket, and was yet limping from the broken
foot acquired when we blew up Jemal's train. The slippery track made
walking difficult, unless we spread out our toes widely and took hold
of the ground with them: and doing this for mile after mile was
exquisitely painful to me. Because pain hurt me so, I would not lay
weight always on my pains in our revolt: yet hardly one day in Arabia
passed without a physical ache to increase the corroding sense of my
accessory deceitfulness towards the Arabs, and the legitimate fatigue
of responsible command.

We mounted the curving bank of the Palestine Railway, and from its
vantage surveyed Deraa Station: but the ground was too open to admit of
surprise attack. We decided to walk down the east front of the
defences: so we plodded on, noting German stores, barbed wire here and
there, rudiments of trenches. Turkish troops were passing incuriously
between the tents and their latrines dug out on our side.

At the corner of the aerodrome by the south end of the station we
struck over towards the town. There were old Albatros machines in the
sheds, and men lounging about. One of these, a Syrian soldier, began to
question us about our villages, and if there was much 'government'
where we lived. He was probably an intending deserter, fishing for a
refuge. We shook him off at last and turned away. Someone called out in
Turkish. We walked on deafly; but a sergeant came after, and took me
roughly by the arm, saying 'The Bey wants you'. There were too many
witnesses for fight or flight, so I went readily. He took no notice of
Paris.

I was marched through the tall fence into a compound set about with
many huts and a few buildings. We passed to a mud room, outside which
was an earth platform, whereon sat a fleshy Turkish officer, one leg
tucked under him. He hardly glanced at me when the sergeant brought me
up and made a long report in Turkish. He asked my name: I told him
Ahmed ibn Bagr, a Circassian from Kuneitra. 'A deserter?' 'But we
Circassians have no military service'. He turned, stared at me, and
said very slowly 'You are a liar. Enrol him in your section, Hassan
Chowish, and do what is necessary till the Bey sends for him'.

They led me into a guard-room, mostly taken up by large wooden cribs,
on which lay or sat a dozen men in untidy uniforms. They took away my
belt, and my knife, made me wash myself carefully, and fed me. I passed
the long day there. They would not let me go on any terms, but tried to
reassure me. A soldier's life was not all bad. To-morrow, perhaps,
leave would be permitted, if I fulfilled the Bey's pleasure this
evening. The Bey seemed to be Nahi, the Governor. If he was angry, they
said, I would be drafted for infantry training to the depot in Baalbek.
I tried to look as though, to my mind, there was nothing worse in the
world than that.

Soon after dark three men came for me. It had seemed a chance to get
away, but one held me all the time. I cursed my littleness. Our march
crossed the railway, where were six tracks, besides the sidings of the
engine-shop. We went through a side gate, down a street, past a square,
to a detached, two-storied house. There was a sentry outside, and a
glimpse of others lolling in the dark entry. They took me upstairs to
the Bey's room; or to his bedroom, rather. He was another bulky man, a
Circassian himself, perhaps, and sat on the bed in a night-gown,
trembling and sweating as though with fever. When I was pushed in he
kept his head down, and waved the guard out. In a breathless voice he
told me to sit on the floor in front of him, and after that was dumb;
while I gazed at the top of his great head, on which the bristling hair
stood up, no longer than the dark stubble on his cheeks and chin. At
last he looked me over, and told me to stand up: then to turn round. I
obeyed; he flung himself back on the bed, and dragged me down with
HIM in his arms. When I saw what he wanted I twisted round and up
again, glad to find myself equal to him, at any rate in wrestling.

He began to fawn on me, saying how white and fresh I was, how fine my
hands and feet, and how he would let me off drills and duties, make me
his orderly, even pay me wages, if I would love him.

I was obdurate, so he changed his tone, and sharply ordered me to take
off my drawers. When I hesitated, he snatched at me; and I pushed him
back. He clapped his hands for the sentry, who hurried in and pinioned
me. The Bey cursed me with horrible threats: and made the man holding
me tear my clothes away, bit by bit. His eyes rounded at the half-healed
places where the bullets had flicked through my skin a little
while ago. Finally he lumbered to his feet, with a glitter in his look,
and began to paw me over. I bore it for a little, till he got too
beastly; and then jerked my knee into him.

He staggered to his bed, squeezing himself together and groaning with
pain, while the soldier shouted for the corporal and the other three
men to grip me hand and foot. As soon as I was helpless the Governor
regained courage, and spat at me, swearing he would make me ask pardon.
He took off his slipper, and hit me repeatedly with it in the face,
while the corporal braced my head back by the hair to receive the
blows. He leaned forward, fixed his teeth in my neck and bit till the
blood came. Then he kissed me. Afterwards he drew one of the men's
bayonets. I thought he was going to kill me, and was sorry: but he only
pulled up a fold of the flesh over my ribs, worked the point through,
after considerable trouble, and gave the blade a half-turn. This hurt,
and I winced, while the blood wavered down my side, and dripped to the
front of my thigh. He looked pleased and dabbled it over my stomach
with his finger-tips.

In my despair I spoke. His face changed and he stood still, then
controlled his voice with an effort, to say significantly, 'You must
understand that I know: and it will be easier if you do as I wish'. I
was dumbfounded, and we stared silently at one another, while the men
who felt an inner meaning beyond their experience, shifted
uncomfortably. But it was evidently a chance shot, by which he himself
did not, or would not, mean what I feared. I could not again trust my
twitching mouth, which faltered always in emergencies, so at last threw
up my chin, which was the sign for 'No' in the East; then he sat down,
and half-whispered to the corporal to take me out and teach me
everything.

They kicked me to the head of the stairs, and stretched me over a
guard-bench, pommelling me. Two knelt on my ankles, bearing down on the
back of my knees, while two more twisted my wrists till they cracked,
and then crushed them and my neck against the wood. The corporal had
run downstairs; and now came back with a whip of the Circassian sort, a
thong of supple black hide, rounded, and tapering from the thickness of
a thumb at the grip (which was wrapped in silver) down to a hard point
finer than a pencil.

He saw me shivering, partly I think, with cold, and made it whistle
over my ear, taunting me that before his tenth cut I would howl for
mercy, and at the twentieth beg for the caresses of the Bey; and then
he began to lash me madly across and across with all his might, while I
locked my teeth to endure this thing which lapped itself like flaming
wire about my body.

To keep my mind in control I numbered the blows, but after twenty lost
count, and could feel only the shapeless weight of pain, not tearing
claws, for which I had prepared, but a gradual cracking apart of my
whole being by some too-great force whose waves rolled up my spine till
they were pent within my brain, to clash terribly together. Somewhere
in the place a cheap clock ticked loudly, and it distressed me that
their beating was not in its time. I writhed and twisted, but was held
so tightly that my struggles were useless. After the corporal ceased,
the men took up, very deliberately, giving me so many, and then an
interval, during which they would squabble for the next turn, ease
themselves, and play unspeakably with me. This was repeated often, for
what may have been no more than ten minutes. Always for the first of
every new series, my head would be pulled round, to see how a hard
white ridge, like a railway, darkening slowly into crimson, leaped over
my skin at the instant of each stroke, with a bead of blood where two
ridges crossed. As the punishment proceeded the whip fell more and more
upon existing weals, biting blacker or more wet, till my flesh quivered
with accumulated pain, and with terror of the next blow coming. They
soon conquered my determination not to cry, but while my will ruled my
lips I used only Arabic, and before the end a merciful sickness choked
my utterance.

At last when I was completely broken they seemed satisfied. Somehow I
found myself off the bench, lying on my back on the dirty floor, where
I snuggled down, dazed, panting for breath, but vaguely comfortable. I
had strung myself to learn all pain until I died, and no longer actor,
but spectator, thought not to care how my body jerked and squealed. Yet
I knew or imagined what passed about me.

I remembered the corporal kicking with his nailed boot to get me up;
and this was true, for next day my right side was dark and lacerated,
and a damaged rib made each breath stab me sharply. I remembered
smiling idly at him, for a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was
swelling through me: and then that he flung up his arm and hacked with
the full length of his whip into my groin. This doubled me half-over,
screaming, or, rather, trying impotently to scream, only shuddering
through my open mouth. One giggled with amusement. A voice cried,
'Shame, you've killed him'. Another slash followed. A roaring, and my
eyes went black: while within me the core of life seemed to heave slowly
up through the rending nerves, expelled from its body by this last
indescribable pang.

By the bruises perhaps they beat me further: but I next knew that I was
being dragged about by two men, each disputing over a leg as though to
split me apart: while a third man rode me astride. It was momently
better than more flogging. Then Nahi called. They splashed water in my
face, wiped off some of the filth, and lifted me between them, retching
and sobbing for mercy, to where he lay: but he now rejected me in
haste, as a thing too torn and bloody for his bed, blaming their excess
of zeal which had spoilt me: whereas no doubt they had laid into me
much as usual, and the fault rested mainly upon my indoor skin, which
gave way more than an Arab's.

So the crestfallen corporal, as the youngest and best-looking of the
guard, had to stay behind, while the others carried me down the narrow
stair into the street. The coolness of the night on my burning flesh,
and the unmoved shining of the stars after the horror of the past hour,
made me cry again. The soldiers, now free to speak, warned me that men
must suffer their officers' wishes or pay for it, as I had just done,
with greater suffering.

They took me over an open space, deserted and dark, and behind the
Government house to a lean-to wooden room, in which were many dusty
quilts. An Armenian dresser appeared, to wash and bandage me in sleepy
haste. Then all went away, the last soldier delaying by my side a
moment to whisper in his Druse accent that the door into the next room
was not locked.

I lay there in a sick stupor, with my head aching very much, and
growing slowly numb with cold, till the dawn light came shining through
the cracks of the shed, and a locomotive whistled in the station. These
and a draining thirst brought me to life, and I found I was in no pain.
Pain of the slightest had been my obsession and secret terror, from a
boy. Had I now been drugged with it, to bewilderment? Yet the first
movement was anguish: in which I struggled nakedly to my feet, and
rocked moaning in wonder that it was not a dream, and myself back five
years ago, a timid recruit at Khalfati, where something, less staining,
of the sort had happened.

The next room was a dispensary. On its door hung a suit of shoddy
clothes. I put them on slowly and unhandily, because of my swollen
wrists: and from the drugs chose corrosive sublimate, as safeguard
against recapture. The window looked on a long blank wall. Stiffly I
climbed out, and went shaking down the road towards the village, past
the few people already astir. They took no notice; indeed there was
nothing peculiar in my dark broadcloth, red fez and slippers: but it
was only by the full urge of my tongue silently to myself that I
refrained from being foolish out of sheer fright. Deraa felt inhuman
with vice and cruelty, and it shocked me like cold water when a soldier
laughed behind me in the street.

By the bridge were the wells, with men and women about them. A side
trough was free. From its end I scooped up a little water in my hands,
and rubbed it over my face; then drank, which was precious to me; and
afterwards wandered along the bottom of the valley, towards the south,
unobtrusively retreating out of sight. This valley provided the hidden
road by which our projected raid could attain Deraa town secretly, and
surprise the Turks. So, in escaping I solved, too late, the problem
which had brought me to Deraa.

Further on, a Serdi, on his camel, overtook me hobbling up the road
towards Nisib. I explained that I had business there, and was already
footsore. He had pity and mounted me behind him on his bony animal, to
which I clung the rest of the way, learning the feelings of my adopted
name-saint on his gridiron. The tribe's tents were just in front of the
village, where I found Fans and Halim anxious about me, and curious to
learn how I had fared. Halim had been up to Deraa in the night, and
knew by the lack of rumour that the truth had not been discovered. I
told them a merry tale of bribery and trickery, which they promised to
keep to themselves, laughing aloud at the simplicity of the Turks.

During the night I managed to see the great stone bridge by Nisib. Not
that my maimed will now cared a hoot about the Arab Revolt (or about
anything but mending itself): yet, since the war had been a hobby of
mine, for custom's sake I would force myself to push it through.
Afterwards we took horse, and rode gently and carefully towards Azrak,
without incident, except that a raiding party of Wuld Ah' let us and
our horses go unplundered when they heard who we were. This was an
unexpected generosity, the Wuld Ali being not yet of our fellowship.
Their consideration (rendered at once, as if we had deserved men's
homage) momently stayed me to carry the burden, whose certainty the
passing days confirmed: how in Deraa that night the citadel of my
integrity had been irrevocably lost.




CHAPTER LXXXI



Xury, the Druse Emir of Salkhad, reached our old castle just before me
on his first visit to Sherif Ah'. He told us the rest of the history of
the Emir Abd el Kader, the Algerian. After stealing away from us he had
ridden straight to their village, and entered in triumph, the Arab flag
displayed, and his seven horsemen cantering about him, firing joy-shots.
The people were astonished, and the Turkish Governor protested
that such doings were an insult to him. He was introduced to Abd el
Kader, who, sitting in pomp on the divan, made a bombastic speech,
stating that the Sherif now took over Jebel Druse through his agency,
and all existing officials were confirmed in their appointments. Next
morning he made a second progress through the district. The suffering
Governor complained again. Emir Abd el Kader drew his gold-mounted
Meccan sword, and swore that with it he would cut off Jemal Pasha's
head. The Druses reproved him, vowing that such things should not be
said in their house before his Excellency the Governor. Abd el Kader
called them whoresons, ingle's accidents, sons of a bitch, profiteering
cuckolds and pimps, jetting his insults broadcast to the room-full. The
Druses got angry. Abd el Kader flung raging out of the house and
mounted, shouting that when he stamped his foot all Jebel Druse would
rise on his side.

With his seven servants, he spurred down the road to Deraa Station,
which he entered as he had entered Salkhad. The Turks, who knew his
madness of old, left him to play. They disbelieved even his yarn that
Ali and I would try the Yarmuk bridge that night. When, however, we
did, they took a graver view, and sent him under custody to Damascus.
Jemal's brutal humour was amused, and he enlarged him as a butt. Abd el
Kader gradually became amenable. The Turks began to use him once more
as AGENT PROVOCATEUR and dissipator of the energy generated by their
local Syrian nationalists.

The weather was now dreadful, with sleet and snow and storms
continually; it was obvious that at Azrak there would be nothing but
teaching and preaching in the next months. For this I was not eager.
When necessary, I had done my share of proselytizing fatigues,
converting as best I could; conscious all the time of my strangeness,
and of the incongruity of an alien's advocating national liberty. The
war for me held a struggle to side-track thought, to get into the
people's attitude of accepting the revolt naturally and trustingly. I
had to persuade myself that the British Government could really keep
the spirit of its promises. Especially was this difficult when I was
tired and ill, when the delirious activity of my brain tore to shreds
my patience. And then, after the blunt Beduin, who would thrust in,
hailing me 'YA AURUNS', and put their need without compliments, these
smooth townspeople were maddening as they crawled for the favour of an
audience with their Prince and Bey and Lord and Deliverer. Such imputed
dignities, like body armour in a duel, were no doubt useful; but
uncomfortable, and mean, too.

I had never been a lofty person; on the contrary I had tried to be
accessible to everyone, even if it continually felt as though most of
them came and saw me every day. I had striven as eloquently as I could
by my own example to keep plain the standard of existence. I had had no
tents, no cooks, no body-servants: just my guards, who were fighting
men, not servile: and behold these Byzantine shopkeepers endeavouring
to corrupt our simplicity! So I flung away from them in a rage,
determined to go south and see if anything active could be done, in the
cold weather, about the Dead Sea, which the enemy held as a trench
dividing us from Palestine.

My remaining money was handed over to Sherif Ali, for his maintenance
till the spring; and the Indians were commended to his care.
Particularly we bought them fresh riding-camels, in case the need to
move came suddenly upon them in the winter; though the daily news of a
threat by the Turks against Azrak was scornfully discounted by young
Ali. He and I took affectionate leave of one another. Ali gave me half
his wardrobe: shirts, head-cloths, belts, tunics. I gave him an
equivalent half of mine, and we kissed like David and Jonathan, each
wearing the other's clothes. Afterwards, with Rahail only, on my two
best camels, I struck away southward.

We left Azrak one evening, riding into a glowing west, while over our
heads schools of cranes flew into the sunset like THE out-drawn barbs
of arrows. It was toilsome from the start. Night was deep by Wadi
Butum, where the conditions became even worse. All the plain was wet,
and our poor camels slithered and fell time and again. We fell as often
as they did, but at least our part of sitting still, between falls, was
easier than their part of movement. By midnight we had crossed the
Ghadaf and the quag felt too awful for further progress. Also the
mishandling at Deraa had left me curiously faint; my muscles seemed at
once pappy and inflamed, and all effort frightened me in anticipation.
So we halted.

We slept where we were, in the mud; rose up plated with it at dawn, and
smiled crackily at one another. The wind blew, and the ground began to
dry. It was important, for I wanted to reach Akaba before Wood's men
had left it with the return caravan, and their eight days' start called
for speed. My body's reluctance to ride hard was another (and perverse)
reason for forcing the march. Until noon we made poor travelling, for
the camels still broke through the loose crust of flints, and foundered
in the red under-clay. After noon, on the higher ground, we did better,
and began rapidly to close the white sky-tents which were the
Thlaithakhwat peaks.

Suddenly shots rang out at close range, and four mouthing men dashed
down the slope towards us. I stopped my camel peaceably. Seeing this
they jumped off, and ran to us brandishing their arms. They asked who I
was: volunteering that they were Jazi Howietat.

This was an open lie, because their camel-brands were Faiz. They covered
us with rifles at four yards, and told us to dismount. I laughed at
them, which was good tactics with Beduin at a crisis. They were
puzzled. I asked the loudest if he knew his name. He stared at me,
thinking I was mad. He came nearer, with his finger on the trigger, and
I bent down to him and whispered that it must be 'TERAS' since no other
tradesman could be so rude. As I spoke, I covered him with a pistol
hidden under my cloak.

It was a shooting insult, but he was so astonished that anyone should
provoke an armed man, as to give up for the moment his thought of
murdering us. He took a step back, and looked around, fearful that
there was a reserve somewhere, to give us confidence. At once I rode
off slowly, with a creepy feeling in my back, calling Rahail to follow.
They let him go too, unhurt. When we were a hundred yards away, they
repented themselves, and began to shoot, but we dashed over the
watershed into the next depression, and across it cantered more
confidently into safe ground.

From the ridge at sunset we looked back for an instant upon the
northern plain, as it sank away from us greyly, save that here and
there glowed specks or great splashes of crimson fire, the reflection
of the dying sun in shallow pools of rain-water on the flats. These
eyes of a dripping bloody redness were so much more visible than the
plain that they carried our sight miles into the haze, and seemed to
hang detached in the distant sky, tilted up, like mirage.

We passed Bair long after dark, when only its latest tent-fires still
shone. As we went we saw the stars mirrored in a valley bottom, and
were able to water our breathless camels in a pool of yesterday's rain.
After their drink we eased them for half an hour. This night-journeying
was hard on both men and animals. By day the camels saw the
irregularities of their path, and undulated over them; and the rider
could swing his body to miss the jerk of a long or short stride: but by
night everything was blinded, and the march racked with shocks. I had a
heavy bout of fever on me, which made me angry, so that I paid no
attention to Rahail's appeals for rest. That young man had maddened all
of us for months by his abundant vigour, and by laughing at our
weaknesses; so this time I was determined to ride him out, showing no
mercy. Before dawn he was blubbering with self-pity; but softly, lest I
hear him.

Dawn in Jefer came imperceptibly through the mist like a ghost of
sunlight, which left the earth untouched, and demonstrated itself as a
glittering blink against the eyes alone. Things at their heads stood
matt against the pearl-grey horizon, and at their feet melted softly
into the ground. Our shadows had no edge: we doubted if that faint
stain upon the soil below was cast by us or not. In the forenoon we
reached Auda's camp; and stopped for a greeting, and a few Jauf dates.
Auda could not provide us a relay of camels. We mounted again to get
over the railway in the early night. Rahail was past protest now. He
rode beside me white-faced, bleak and silent, wrought up only to
outstay me, beginning to take a half pride in his pains.

Even had we started fair, he had the advantage anyhow over me in
strength, and now I was nearly finished. Step by step I was yielding
myself to a slow ache which conspired with my abating fever and the
numb monotony of riding to close up the gate of my senses. I seemed at
last approaching the insensibility which had always been beyond my
reach: but a delectable land: for one born so slug-tissued that nothing
this side fainting would let his spirit free. Now I found myself
dividing into parts. There was one which went on riding wisely, sparing
or helping every pace of the wearied camel. Another hovering above and
to the right bent down curiously, and asked what the flesh was doing.
The flesh gave no answer, for, indeed, it was conscious only of a
ruling impulse to keep on and on; but a third garrulous one talked and
wondered, critical of the body's self-inflicted labour, and
contemptuous of the reason for effort.

The night passed in these mutual conversations. My unseeing eyes saw
the dawn-goal in front; the head of the pass, below which that other
world of Rumm lay out like a sunlit map; and my parts debated that the
struggle might be worthy, but the end foolishness and a re-birth of
trouble. The spent body toiled on doggedly and took no heed, quite
rightly, for the divided selves said nothing which I was not capable of
thinking in cold blood; they were all my natives. Telesius, taught by
some such experience, split up the soul. Had he gone on, to the
furthest limit of exhaustion, he would have seen his conceived regiment
of thoughts and acts and feelings ranked around him as separate
creatures; eyeing, like vultures, the passing in their midst of the
common thing which gave them life.

Rahail collected me out of my death-sleep by jerking my headstall and
striking me, while he shouted that we had lost our direction, and were
wandering toward the Turkish lines at Aba el Lissan. He was right, and
we had to make a long cut back to reach Batra safely. We walked down
the steeper portions of the pass, and then stumbled along Wadi Hafira.
In its midst a gallant little Howeiti, aged perhaps fourteen, darted
out against us, finger on trigger, and told us to stand and explain;
which we did, laughing. The lad blushed, and pleaded that his father's
camels kept him always in the field so that he had not known us either
by sight or by description. He begged that we would not do him shame by
betraying his error. The incident broke the tension between Rahail and
myself; and, chatting, we rode out upon the Gaa. There under the
tamarisk we passed the middle hour of the day in sleep, since by our
slowness in the march over Batra we had lost the possibility of
reaching Akaba within the three days from Azrak. The breaking of our
intention we took quietly. Rumm's glory would not let a man waste
himself in feverish regrets.

We rode up its valley in the early afternoon; easier now and exchanging
jests with one another, as the long winter evening crept down. When we
got past the Khazail in the ascent we found the sun veiled behind level
banks of low clouds in the west, and enjoyed a rich twilight of the
English sort. In Itm the mist steamed up gently from the soil, and
collected into wool-white masses in each hollow. We reached Akaba at
midnight, and slept outside the camp till breakfast, when I called on
Joyce, and found the caravan not yet ready to start: indeed Wood was
only a few days returned.

Later came urgent orders for me to go up at once to Palestine by air.
Croil flew me to Suez. Thence I went up to Allenby's headquarters
beyond Gaza. He was so full of victories that my short statement that
we had failed to carry a Yarmuk bridge was sufficient, and the
miserable details of failure could remain concealed.

While I was still with him, word came from Chetwode that Jerusalem had
fallen; and Allenby made ready to enter in the official manner which
the catholic imagination of Mark Sykes had devised. He was good enough,
although I had done nothing for the success, to let Clayton take me
along as his staff officer for the day. The personal Staff tricked me
out in their spare clothes till I looked like a major in the British
Army. Dalmeny lent me red tabs, Evans his brass hat; so that I had the
gauds of my appointment in the ceremony of the Jaffa gate, which for me
was the supreme moment of the war.





BOOK SEVEN. The Dead Sea Campaign




CHAPTERS LXXXII TO XCI



AFTER THE CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM, ALLENBY, TO RELIEVE HIS RIGHT, ASSIGNED
US A LIMITED OBJECTIVE. WE BEGAN WELL; BUT WHEN WE REACHED THE DEAD
SEA, BAD WEATHER, BAD TEMPER AND DIVISION OF PURPOSE BLUNTED OUR
OFFENSIVE SPIRIT AND BROKE UP OUR FORCE.

I HAD A MISUNDERSTANDING WITH ZEID, THREW IN MY HAND, AND RETURNED TO
PALESTINE REPORTING THAT WE HAD FAILED, AND ASKING THE FAVOUR OF OTHER
EMPLOYMENT. ALLENBY WAS IN THE HOPEFUL MIDST OF A GREAT SCHEME FOR THE
COMING SPRING. HE SENT ME BACK AT ONCE TO FEISAL WITH NEW POWERS AND
DUTIES.




CHAPTER LXXXII



Shamefaced with triumph--which was not so much a triumph as homage by
Allenby to the mastering spirit of the place--we drove back to Shea's
headquarters. The aides pushed about, and from great baskets drew a
lunch, varied, elaborate and succulent. On us fell a short space of
quiet, to be shattered by Monsieur Picot, the French political
representative permitted by Allenby to march beside Clayton in the
entry, who said in his fluting voice: 'And to-morrow, my dear general,
I will take the necessary steps to set up civil government in this
town.'

It was the bravest word on record; a silence followed, as when they
opened the seventh seal in heaven. Salad, chicken mayonnaise and foie
gras sandwiches hung in our wet mouths unmunched, while we turned to
Allenby and gaped. Even he seemed for the moment at a loss. We began to
fear that the idol might betray a frailty. But his face grew red: he
swallowed, his chin coming forward (in the way we loved), whilst he
said, grimly, 'In the military zone the only authority is that of the
Commander-in-Chief--myself.' 'But Sir Grey, Sir Edward Grey'. . . stammered
M. Picot. He was cut short. 'Sir Edward Grey referred to the
civil government which will be established when I judge that the
military situation permits.' And by car again, through the sunshine of
a great thankfulness, we sped down the saluting mountain-side into our
camp.

There Allenby and Dawnay told me the British were marched and fought
nearly to a standstill, in the ledged and precipitous hills, shell-torn
and bullet-spattered, amid which they wrestled with the Turks along a
line from Ramleh to Jerusalem. So they would ask us in the lull to come
north towards the Dead Sea until, if possible, we linked right up to
its southern end, and renewed the continuous front. Fortunately, this
had already been discussed with Feisal, who was preparing the
convergent move on Tafileh, its necessary first step.

It was the moment to ask Allenby what he would do next. He thought he
was immobilized till the middle of February, when he would push down to
Jericho. Much enemy food was being lightered up the Dead Sea, and he
asked me to note this traffic as a second objective if the effort to
Tafileh prevailed.

I, hoping to improve on this, replied that, should the Turks be
continually shaken, we might join him at the north end of the Dead Sea.
If he could put Feisal's fifty tons a day of supplies, stores and
ammunition into Jericho, we would abandon Akaba and transfer our
headquarters to the Jordan Valley. The Arab regulars, now some three
thousand strong, would suffice to make our retention of the river's
eastern bank reasonably secure.

This idea commended itself to Allenby and Dawnay. They could almost
promise us such facilities when the railway reached Jerusalem some time
towards the end of the coming January. We might be able to move our
base two months after the line was through.

This talk left us a clear course of operations. The Arabs were to reach
the Dead Sea as soon as possible; to stop the transport of food up it
to Jericho before the middle of February; and to arrive at the Jordan
before the end of March. Since the first movement would take a month to
start, and all preliminaries were in hand, I could take a holiday. So I
went down to Cairo, and stayed there a week experimenting with
insulated cable and explosives.

After the week it seemed best to return to Akaba, where we arrived on
Christmas Day; to find Snagge, as senior officer in Akaba, entertaining
the British community to dinner. He had screened-in the after deck and
built tables, which took the hosts and the twenty-odd guests easily.
Snagge stood godfather to the land, in hospitality, in the loan of his
ship's doctor and workshop, and in cheerfulness.

In the early days of the revolt it had been the HARDINGE which played
his role of providence to us. Once, at Yenbo, Feisal had ridden in from
the hills on a streaming day of winter, cold, wet, miserable and tired.
Captain Linberry sent a launch ashore and invited him to the ship,
where he found, waiting for him, a warm cabin, a peaceful meal, and a
bountiful bath. Afterwards he lay back in an arm-chair, smoking one of
his constant cigarettes, and remarked dreamily to me that now he knew
what the furnishings of heaven would be.

Joyce told me that things were well. The situation had sensibly changed
since Maulud's victory. The Turks had concentrated in Aba el Lissan. We
were distracting them by raids against the line south of Maan. Abdulla
and Ah' were doing the same near Medina; and the Turks, being pinched
to guard the railway, had to draw men from Aba el Lissan to strengthen
weak sections.

Maulud boldly threw out posts to places on the plateau, and began to
harry the supply caravans from Maan. He was hampered by the intense
cold, the rain and snow on the heights. Some of his ill-clad men
actually died of exposure. But the Turks lost equally in men and much
more in transport, since their mangy camels died off rapidly in the
storms and mud. The loss straitened them in food-carrying and involved
further withdrawals from Aba el Lissan.

At last they were too weak to hold the wide position, and, early in
January, Maulud was able to force them out towards Mreigha. The Beduin
caught the Turks moving, and cut up the hindmost battalion. This threw
the Turks back precipitately, to Uheida, only six miles from Maan, and
when we pressed after menacingly, they withdrew to Semna, the outpost
line of Maan, three miles out. So by January the seventh Maulud was
containing Maan directly.

Prosperity gave us ten days' leisure; and as Joyce and myself were
rarely at liberty together we decided to celebrate the occasion by
taking a car-trip down the mud-flats towards Mudowwara.

The cars were now at Guweira, in permanent camp. Gilman and Dowsett,
with their crews and fifty Egyptian soldiers, had spent months in Wadi
Itm, building, like engineers, a motor road through the gorge. It had
been a great work, and was now in order to Guweira. So we took the
Rolls tenders, filled them with spare tyres, petrol, and food for four
days, and set off on our exploring trip.

The mud-flats were bone-dry and afforded perfect going. Our tyres left
only a faint white scar across their velvet surface, as we twisted
about the spacious smoothness at speed, skirting clumps of tamarisk and
roaring along under the great sandstone crags. The drivers rejoiced for
the first time in nine months, and flung forward abreast in a mad race.
Their speedometers touched sixty-five; not bad for cars which had been
months ploughing the desert with only such running repairs as the
drivers had time and tools to give them.

Across the sandy neck from the first flat to the second we built a
corduroy road of brushwood. When this was ready, the cars came steaming
and hissing along it, dangerously fast to avoid getting stuck, rocking
over hummocks in a style which looked fatal for springs. However, we
knew it was nearly impossible to break a Rolls-Royce, and so were
sorrier for the drivers, Thomas, Rolls and Sanderson. The jolts tore
the steering-wheel from their grip, and left them breathless with
bleeding hands after the crossing.

We lunched and rested, and then had another burst of speed, with a wild
diversion in the middle when a gazelle was sighted over the flat, and
two of the great cars lurched aside in unavailing chase.

At the end of this second flat, the Gaa of Disi, we had a rough mile to
the third flat of Abu Sawana, across which we had a final glorious
sprint of fifteen miles, over the mud and over the equally firm flint
plains beyond. We slept there that chilly night, happy with bully beef
and tea and biscuit, with English talk and laughter round the fire,
golden with its shower of sparks from the fierce brushwood. When these
things tired, there was soft sand beneath our bodies and two blankets
to wrap ourselves in. For me it was a holiday, with not an Arab near,
before whom I must play out my tedious part.

In the morning we ran on nearly to Mudowwara, finding the ground-surface
excellent to the watershed. So our reconnaissance had been a quick
and easy success. At once we turned back, to fetch the armoured
cars and undertake an immediate operation, with the help of the
mountain gun section on Talbots.

This section was an oddment, which General Clayton had seen in Egypt,
and had sent down to us in an inspired moment. Its Talbots, specially
geared for heavy work, carried two ten-pounders with British gunners.
It was wicked to give good men such rotten tools; yet their spirit
seemed hardly affected by the inferior weapons. Their commander,
Brodie, was a silent Scotsman, never very buoyant and never too
anxious; a man who found difficulties shameful to notice, and who
stamped himself on his fellows. However hard the duty given them, they
always attacked it with such untroubled determination that their will
prevailed. On every occasion and in every crisis they would be surely
in place at their moment, perspiring but imperturbable, with never a
word in explanation or complaint.

Eight imposing cars drove off from Guweira next day, and reached our
old stopping-place behind Mudowwara by sundown. This was excellent; and
we camped, intending to find a road to the railway in the morning.
Accordingly we set off early in a Rolls tender and searched through the
very nasty low hills till evening, when we were in place behind the
last ridge, above Tell Shahm, the second station northward from
Mudowwara.

We had talked vaguely of mining a train, but the country was too open,
and enemy blockhouses numerous. Instead we determined to attack a
little entrenched work exactly opposite our hiding-place. So late in
new year's morning, a day as cool as a good summer's day in England,
after a pleasant breakfast we rolled gently over a stony plain to a
hillock which overlooked the Turkish post. Joyce and I got out of our
cars and climbed its summit, to look on.

Joyce was in charge, and for the first time I was at a fight as
spectator. The novelty was most enjoyable. Armoured car work seemed
fighting de luxe, for our troops, being steel-covered, could come to no
hurt. Accordingly we made a field-day of it like the best regular
generals, sitting in laconic conference on our hill-top and watching
the battle intently through binoculars.

The Talbot battery opened the affair, coming spiritedly into action
just below our point; while the three armoured cars crawled about the
flanks of the Turkish earthwork like great dogs nosing out a trail. The
enemy soldiers popped up their heads to gaze, and everything was very
friendly and curious, till the cars slewed round their Vickers and
began to spray the trenches. Then the Turks, realizing that it was an
attack, got down behind their parapets and fired at the cars raggedly.
It was about as deadly as trying to warm a rhinoceros with bird-shot:
after a while they turned their attention to Brodie's guns and peppered
the earth about them with bullets.

Obviously they did not mean to surrender, and obviously we had no means
at disposal to compel them. So we drew off, contented with having
prowled up and down the line, and proved the surface hard enough for
car-operations at deliberate speed. However, the men looked for more,
and to humour them we drove southward till opposite Shahm. There Brodie
chose a gun-position at two thousand yards and began to throw shell
after shell neatly into the station area.

Hating this, the Turks trickled off to a blockhouse, while the cars put
leisurely bullets through the station doors and windows. They might
have entered it safely, had there been point in doing so. As it was we
called everybody off again, and returned into our hiding-hills. Our
anxiety and forethought had been all to reach the railway through the
manifold difficulties of the plains and hills. When we did reach it, we
were entirely unready for action, with not a conception of what our
tactics or method should be: yet we learned much from this very
indecision.

The certainty that in a day from Guweira we could be operating along
the railway, meant that traffic lay at our mercy. All the Turks in
Arabia could not fight a single armoured car in open country. Thereby
the situation of Medina, already bad, became hopeless. The German Staff
saw it, and after Falkenhayn's visit to Maan, they repeatedly urged
abandonment of everything south of that point; but the old Turk party
valued Medina as the last remnant of their sovereignty in the Holy
Places, their surviving claim upon the Caliphate. Sentiment swung them
to the decision, against military expediency.

The British seemed curiously dense about Medina. They insisted that it
must be captured, and lavished money and explosives on the operations
which Ali and Abdulla continually undertook from their Yenbo base. When
I pleaded to the contrary, they treated my view as a witty paradox.
Accordingly, to excuse our deliberate inactivity in the north, we had
to make a show of impotence, which gave them to understand that the
Arabs were too poltroon to cut the line near Maan and keep it cut. This
reason gratified their sense of fitness, for soldiers, always ready to
believe ill of native action, took its inferiority as a compliment. So
we battened on our ill reputation, which was an ungenerous stratagem,
but the easiest. The staff knew so much more of war than I did that
they refused to learn from me of the strange conditions in which Arab
irregulars had to act; and I could not be bothered to set up a
kindergarten of the imagination for their benefit.




CHAPTER LXXXIII



On our return to Akaba domestic affairs engaged the remaining free
days. My part mostly concerned the bodyguard which I formed for private
protection, as rumour gradually magnified my importance. On our first
going up country from Rabegh and Yenbo, the Turks had been curious:
afterwards they were annoyed; to the point of ascribing to the English
the direction and motive force of the Arab Revolt, much as we used to
flatter ourselves by attributing the Turkish efficiency to German
influence.

However, the Turks said it often enough to make it an article of faith,
and began to offer a reward of one hundred pounds for a British officer
alive or dead. As time went on they not only increased the general
figure, but made a special bid for me. After the capture of Akaba the
price became respectable; while after we blew up Jemal Pasha they put
Ali and me at the head of their list; worth twenty thousand pounds
alive or ten thousand dead.

Of course, the offer was rhetorical; with no certainty whether in gold
or paper, or that the money would be paid at all. Still, perhaps, it
might justify some care. I began to increase my people to a troop,
adding such lawless men as I found, fellows whose dash had got them
into trouble elsewhere. I needed hard riders and hard livers; men proud
of themselves, and without family. By good fortune three or four of
this sort joined me at the first, setting a tone and standard.

One afternoon, I was quietly reading in Marshall's tent at Akaba (I
lodged with Marshall, our Scottish doctor, as often as I was in camp)
when there entered over the noiseless sand an Ageyly, thin, dark, and
short, but most gorgeously dressed. He carried on his shoulder the
richest Hasa saddle-bag I had ever seen. Its woollen tapestry of green
and scarlet, white, orange and blue, had tassels woven over its sides
in five rows, and from the middle and bottom hung five-foot streamers,
of geometric pattern, tasselled and fringed.

Respectfully greeting me, the young man threw the saddle-bag on my
carpet, saying 'Yours' and disappeared suddenly, as he had come. Next
day, he returned with a camel-saddle of equal beauty, the long brass
horns of its cantles adorned with exquisite old Yemeni engraving. On
the third day he reappeared empty-handed, in a poor cotton shirt, and
sank down in a heap before me, saying he wished to enter my service. He
looked odd without his silk robes; for his face, shrivelled and torn
with smallpox, and hairless, might have been of any age; while he had a
lad's supple body, and something of a lad's recklessness in his
carriage.

His long black hair was carefully braided into three shining plaits
down each cheek. His eyes were weak, closed up to slits. His mouth was
sensual, loose, wet; and gave him a good-humoured, half cynical
expression. I asked him his name; he replied Abdulla, surnamed el
Nahabi, or the Robber; the nickname, he said, was an inheritance from
his respected father. His own adventures had been unprofitable. He was
born in Boreida, and while young had suffered from the civil power for
his impiety. When half-grown, a misfortune in a married woman's house
had made him leave his native town, in a hurry, and take service with
ibn Saud, Emir of Nejd.

In this service his hard swearing earned lashes and imprisonment.
Consequently he deserted to Kuweit, where again he had been amorous. On
his release he had moved to Hail, and enrolled himself among the
retainers of ibn Rashid, the Emir. Unfortunately there he had disliked
his officer to the point of striking him in public with a camel-stick.
Return was made in kind; and, after a slow recovery in prison, he had
once more been thrust friendless on the world.

The Hejaz Railway was being built, and to its works he had come in
search of fortune: but a contractor docked his wages for sleeping at
noonday. He retorted by docking the contractor of his head. The Turkish
Government interfered, and he found life very hard in the prison at
Medina. However, through a window, he came to Mecca, and for his proved
integrity and camel-manship was made post-carrier between Mecca and
Jidda. To this employ he settled down, laying aside his young
extravagances, bringing to Mecca his father and mother and setting them
up in a shop to work for him, with the capital provided by commission
from merchants and robbers.

After a year's prosperity he was waylaid, losing his camel and its
consignment. They seized his shop in compensation. From the wreck he
saved enough to fit himself out as a man at arms, in the Sherifian
camel-police. Merit made him a petty officer, but too much attention
was drawn to his section by a habit of fighting with daggers, and by
his foul mouth; a maw of depravity which had eaten filth in the stews
of every capital in Arabia. Once too often his lips trembled with
humour, sardonic, salacious, lying; and when reduced, he charged his
downfall to a jealous Ateibi, whom he stabbed in Court before the eyes
of the outraged Sherif Sharraf.

Sharraf's stern sense of public decency punished Abdulla by the
severest of his chastisements, from which he very nearly died. When
well enough, he entered Sharraf's service. On the outbreak of war he
became orderly to ibn Dakhil, captain of the Ageyl with Feisal. His
reputation grew: but the mutiny at Wejh turned ibn Dakhil into an
ambassador. Abdulla missed the comradeship of the ranks, and ibn Dakhil
had given him a written character to enter my service.

The letter said that for two years he had been faithful, but
disrespectful; the wont of sons of shame. He was the most experienced
Ageyli, having served every Arabian prince and having been dismissed
each employment, after stripes and prison, for offences of too great
individuality. Ibn Dakhil said that the Nahabi rode second to himself,
was a master-judge of camels, and as brave as any son of Adam; easily,
since he was too blind-eyed to see danger. In fact, he was the perfect
retainer, and I engaged him instantly.

In my service only once did he taste cells. That was at Allenby's
headquarters, when a despairing provost-marshal rang up to say that a
wild man, with weapons, found sitting on the Commander-in-Chief's
doorstep, had been led without riot to the guard-room, where he was
eating oranges as though for a wager, and proclaiming himself my son,
one of Feisal's dogs. Oranges were running short.

So Abdulla experienced his first telephone conversation. He told the
A.P.M. that such a fitting would be a comfort in all prisons, and took
a ceremonious leave. He scouted absolutely the notion that he might
walk about Ramleh unarmed, and was given a pass to make lawful his
sword, dagger, pistol, and rifle. His first use of this pass was to
re-visit the guard-room with cigarettes for the military police.

He examined the applicants for my service, and, thanks to him and to
the Zaagi, my other commander (a stiff man of normal officer cut), a
wonderful gang of experts grew about me. The British at Akaba called
them cut-throats; but they cut throats only to my order. Perhaps in
others' eyes it was a fault that they would recognize no authority but
mine. Yet when I was away they were kind to Major Marshall, and would
hold him in incomprehensible talk about points of camels, their breeds
and ailments, from dawn till night time. Marshall was very patient; and
two or three of them would sit attentive by his bedside, from the first
daylight, waiting to continue his education as soon as he became
conscious.

A good half (nearly fifty of the ninety) were Ageyl, the nervous Umber
Nejdi villagers who made the colour and the parade in Feisal's army,
and whose care for their riding-camels was such a feature of their
service. They would call them by name, from a hundred yards away, and
leave them in charge of the kit when they dismounted. The Ageyl, being
mercenaries, would not do well unless well paid, and for lack of that
condition had fallen into disrepute: yet the bravest single effort of
the Arab war belonged to that one of them who twice swam down the
subterranean water-conduit into Medina, and returned with a full report
of the invested town.

I paid my men six pounds a month, the standard army wage for a man and
camel, but mounted them on my own animals, so that the money was clear
income: this made the service enviable, and put the eager spirits of
the camp at my disposal. For my time-table's sake, since I was more
busy than most, my rides were long, hard and sudden. The ordinary Arab,
whose camel represented half his wealth, could not afford to founder it
by travelling my speed: also such riding was painful for the man.

Consequently, I had to have with me picked riders, on my own beasts. We
bought at long prices the fastest and strongest camels to be obtained.
We chose them for speed and power, no matter how hard and exhausting
they might be under the saddle: indeed, often we chose the hard-paced
as the more enduring. They were changed or rested in our own
camel-hospital when they became thin: and their riders were treated
likewise. The Zaagi held each man bodily responsible for his mount's
condition, and for the fitness of his saddlery.

Fellows were very proud of being in my bodyguard, which developed a
professionalism almost flamboyant. They dressed like a bed of tulips,
in every colour but white; for that was my constant wear, and they did
not wish to seem to presume. In half an hour they would make ready for
a ride of six weeks, that being the limit for which food could be
carried at the saddle-bow. Baggage camels they shrank from as a
disgrace. They would travel day and night at my whim, and made it a
point of honour never to mention fatigue. If a new man grumbled, the
others would silence him, or change the current of his complaint,
brutally.

They fought like devils, when I wanted, and sometimes when I did not,
especially with Turks or with outsiders. For one guardsman to strike
another was the last offence. They expected extravagant reward and
extravagant punishment. They made boast throughout the army of their
pains and gains. By this unreason in each degree they were kept apt for
any effort, any risk.

Abdulla and the Zaagi ruled them, under my authority, with a savagery
palliated only by the power of each man to quit the service if he
wished. Yet we had but one resignation. The others, though adolescents
full of carnal passion, tempted by this irregular life, well-fed,
exercised, rich, seemed to sanctify their risk, to be fascinated by
their suffering. Servitude, like other conduct, was profoundly modified
to Eastern minds by their obsession with the antithesis between flesh
and spirit. These lads took pleasure in subordination; in degrading the
body: so as to throw into greater relief their freedom in equality of
mind: almost they preferred servitude as richer in experience than
authority, and less binding in daily care.

Consequently the relation of master and man in Arabia was at once more
free and more subject than I had experienced elsewhere. Servants were
afraid of the sword of justice and of the steward's whip, not because
the one might put an arbitrary term to their existence, and the other
print red rivers of pain about their sides, but because these were the
symbols and the means to which their obedience was vowed. They had a
gladness of abasement, a freedom of consent to yield to their master
the last service and degree of their flesh and blood, because their
spirits were equal with his and the contract voluntary. Such boundless
engagement precluded humiliation, repining and regret.

In this pledging of their endurance, it disgraced men if, from weakness
of nerve or insufficiency of courage, they fell short of the call. Pain
was to them a solvent, a cathartic, almost a decoration, to be fairly
worn while they survived it. Fear, the strongest motive in slothful
man, broke down with us, since love for a cause--or for a person--was
aroused. For such an object, penalties were discounted, and loyalty
became open-eyed, not obedient. To it men dedicated their being, and in
its possession they had no room for virtue or vice. Cheerfully they
nourished it upon what they were; gave it their lives; and, greater
than that, the lives of their fellowship: it being many times harder to
offer than to endure sacrifice.

To our strained eyes, the ideal, held in common, seemed to transcend
the personal, which before had been our normal measure of the world.
Did this instinct point to our happily accepting final absorption in
some pattern wherein the discordant selves might find reasonable,
inevitable purpose? Yet this very transcending of individual frailty
made the ideal transient. Its principle became Activity, the primal
quality, external to our atomic structure, which we could simulate only
by unrest of mind and soul and body, beyond holding point. So always
the ideality of the ideal vanished, leaving its worshippers exhausted:
holding for false what they had once pursued.

However, for the time the Arabs were possessed, and cruelty of
governance answered their need. Besides, they were blood enemies of
thirty tribes, and only for my hand over them would have murdered in
the ranks each day. Their feuds prevented them combining against me;
while their unlikeness gave me sponsors and spies wherever I went or
sent, between Akaba and Damascus, between Beersheba and Bagdad. In my
service nearly sixty of them died.

With quaint justice, events forced me to live up to my bodyguard, to
become as hard, as sudden, as heedless. The odds against me were heavy,
and the climate cogged the die. In the short winter I outdid them, with
my allies of the frost and snow: in the heat they outdid me. In
endurance there was less disparity. For years before the war I had made
myself trim by constant carelessness. I had learned to eat much one
time; then to go two, three, or four days without food; and after to
overeat. I made it a rule to avoid rules in food; and by a course of
exceptions accustomed myself to no custom at all.

So, organically, I was efficient in the desert, felt neither hunger nor
surfeit, and was not distracted by thought of food. On the march I
could go dry between wells, and, like the Arabs, could drink greatly
to-day for the thirst of yesterday and of to-morrow.

In the same way, though sleep remained for me the richest pleasure in
the world, I supplied its place by the uneasy swaying in the saddle of
a night-march, or failed of it for night after laborious night without
undue fatigue. Such liberties came from years of control (contempt of
use might well be the lesson of our manhood), and they fitted me
peculiarly for our work: but, of course, in me they came half by
training, half by trying, out of mixed choice and poverty, not
effortlessly, as with the Arabs. Yet in compensation stood my energy of
motive. Their less taut wills flagged before mine flagged, and by
comparison made me seem tough and active.

Into the sources of my energy of will I dared not probe. The conception
of antithetical mind and matter, which was basic in the Arab
self-surrender, helped me not at all. I achieved surrender (so far as I
did achieve it) by the very opposite road, through my notion that mental
and physical were inseparably one: that our bodies, the universe, our
thoughts and tactilities were conceived in and of the molecular sludge
of matter, the universal element through which form drifted as clots
and patterns of varying density. It seemed to me unthinkable that
assemblages of atoms should cogitate except in atomic terms. My
perverse sense of values constrained me to assume that abstract and
concrete, as badges, did not denote oppositions more serious than
Liberal and Conservative. The practice of our revolt fortified the
nihilist attitude in me. During it, we often saw men push themselves or
be driven to a cruel extreme of endurance: yet never was there an
intimation of physical break. Collapse rose always from a moral
weakness eating into the body, which of itself, without traitors from
within, had no power over the will. While we rode we were disbodied,
unconscious of flesh or feeling: and when at an interval this
excitement faded and we did see our bodies, it was with some hostility,
with a contemptuous sense that they reached their highest purpose, not
as vehicles of the spirit, but when, dissolved, their elements served
to manure a field.




CHAPTER LXXXIV



Remote from the fighting line, in Akaba, during this pause, we saw the
reverse of the shield, the corruption of our enthusiasm, which made the
moral condition of the base unsatisfactory. We rejoiced when at last we
were able to escape into the clean, fresh hills about Guweira. The
early winter gave us days hot and sunny, or days overcast, with clouds
massed about the head of the plateau nine miles away, where Maulud was
keeping his watch in the mist and rain. The evenings held just enough
of chill to add delightful value to a thick cloak and a fire.

We waited in Guweira for news of the opening of our operation against
Tafileh, the knot of villages commanding the south end of the Dead Sea.
We planned to tackle it from west, south, and east, at once; the east
opening the ball by attacking Jurf, its nearest station on the Hejaz
line. Conduct of this attack had been trusted to Sherif Nasir, the
Fortunate. With him went Nuri Said, Jaafar's chief of staff, commanding
some regulars, a gun, and some machine-guns. They were working from
Jefer. After three days their post came in. As usual Nasir had directed
his raid with skill and deliberation. Jurf, the objective, was a strong
station of three stone buildings with outer-works and trenches. Behind
the station was a low mound, trenched and walled, on which the Turks
had set two machine-guns and a mountain gun. Beyond the mound lay a
high, sharp ridge, the last spur of the hills which divided Jefer from
Bair.

The weakness of the defence lay in this ridge, for the Turks were too
few to hold both it and the knoll or station, and its crest overlooked
the railway. Nasir one night occupied the whole top of the hill without
alarm, and then cut the line above and below the station. A few minutes
later, when it was light enough to see, Nuri Said brought his mountain
gun to the edge of the ridge; and, with a third lucky shot, a direct
hit, silenced the Turkish gun beneath his view.

Nasir grew greatly excited: the Beni Sakhr mounted their camels,
swearing they would charge in forthwith. Nuri thought it madness while
Turkish machine-guns were still in action from trenches: but his words
had no effect upon the Bedu. In desperation he opened a rattling fire
with all he had against the Turkish position, and the Beni Sakhr swept
round the foot of the main ridge and up over the knoll in a flash. When
they saw this camel-horde racing at them, the Turks flung away their
rifles and fled into the station. Only two Arabs were fatally hurt.

Nuri ran down to the knoll. The Turkish gun was undamaged. He slewed it
round and discharged it point blank into the ticket office. The Beni
Sakhr mob yelled with joy to see the wood and stones flying, jumped
again on their camels and loped into the station just as the enemy
surrendered. Nearly two hundred Turks, including seven officers,
survived as our prisoners.

The Bedu became rich: besides the weapons, there were twenty-five
mules, and in the siding seven trucks of delicacies for the officers'
messes of Medina. There were things the tribesmen had only heard of,
and things they had never heard of: they were supremely happy. Even the
unfortunate regulars got a share, and were able once more to enjoy
olives, sesame paste, dried apricot, and other sweet or pickled
products of their native, half-forgotten, Syria.

Nuri Said had artificial tastes, and rescued tinned meats and liquors
from the wilder men. There was one whole truck of tobacco. As the
Howeitat did not smoke, it was divided between the Beni Sakhr and the
regulars. By its loss the Medina garrison became tobacco-less: their
sad plight later so worked on Feisal, a confirmed smoker, that he
loaded some pack-camels with cheap cigarettes and drove them into Tebuk
with his compliments.

After the looting, the engineers fired charges under the two engines,
against the water-tower, in the pump, and between the points of the
sidings. They burned the captured trucks and damaged a bridge; but
perfunctorily, for, as usual after victory, everyone was too loaded and
too hot to care for altruistic labour. They camped behind the station,
and about midnight had an alarm, when the noise and lights of a train
came from the south and halted, clearly with foreknowledge, by the
break of the evening before. Auda sent scouts to report.

Before they had returned a solitary sergeant walked into Nasir's camp
as a volunteer for the Sherif's army. He had been sent out by the Turks
to explore the station. His story was that there were only sixty men
and a mountain gun on the relief train, which, if he went back with
smooth news, might be surprised without a shot fired. Nasir called
Auda, who called the Howeitat, and they went off silently to lay the
trap: but just before they got there our scouts decided to do their
unaided best, and opened fire against the coaches. In fear, the engine
reversed, and rolled the train back, unhurt, to Maan. It was the only
sorrow of Jurf.

After this raid the weather once more broke. For three successive days
came falls of snow. Nasir's force with difficulty regained the tents at
Jefer. This plateau about Maan lay between three and five thousand feet
above sea level, open to all winds from north and east. They blew from
Central Asia, or from Caucasus, terribly over the great desert to these
low hills of Edom, against which their first fury broke. The surplus
bitterness lipped the crest and made a winter, quite severe of its
degree, below in Judaea and Sinai.

Outside Beersheba and Jerusalem the British found it cold; but our
Arabs fled there to get warm. Unhappily the British supply staff
realized too late that we were fighting in a little Alp. They would not
give us tents for one-quarter of our troops, nor serge clothing, nor
boots, nor blankets enough to issue two to each man of the mountain
garrisons. Our soldiers, if they neither deserted nor died, existed in
an aching misery which froze the hope out of them.

According to our plan the good news of Jurf was to send the Arabs of
Petra, under Sherif Abd el Mayin, at once up their hills into the
forest towards Shobek. It was an uncanny march in the hoar mist, that
of these frozen-footed peasants in their sheepskins, up and down sharp
valleys and dangerous hill-sides, out of whose snowdrifts the heavy
trunks of junipers, grudging in leaves, jutted like castings in grey
iron. The ice and frost broke down the animals, and many of the men;
yet these hardy highlanders, used to being too cold throughout their
winter, persisted in the advance.

The Turks heard of them as they struggled slowly nearer, and fled from
the caves and shelters among the trees to the branch railhead,
littering the roads of their panic with cast baggage and equipment.

Railhead of the forest railway, with its temporary sheds, was commanded
from low ridges by the Arab gun-fire, and no better than a trap. The
tribesmen, in a pack, tore the enemy to pieces as they ran out from
their burning and falling walls. One disciplined company of proper
troops, under an Albanian officer, fought their way to the main line;
but the Arabs killed or took the others, and also the stores in Shobek,
the old Crusader fort of Monreale, poised high on a chalk cone above
its winding valley. Abd el Mayein put his headquarters there, and sent
word to Nasir. Mastur, too, was told. He drew his Motalga horse and
foot from the comfort of their tents in the sunny depths of Arabia and
with them climbed the hill-pass eastward towards Tafileh.

However, the advantage lay with Nasir, who leaped in one day from
Jefer, and after a whirlwind night appeared at dawn on the rocky brink
of the ravine in which Tafileh hid, and summoned it to surrender on
pain of bombardment: an idle threat, for Nuri Said with the guns had
gone back to Guweira. There were only one hundred and eighty Turks in
the village, but they had supporters in the Muhaisin, a clan of the
peasantry; not for love so much as because Dhiab, the vulgar head-man
of another faction, had declared for Feisal. So they shot up at Nasir a
stream of ill-directed bullets.

The Howeitat spread out along the cliffs to return the peasants' fire.
This manner of going displeased Auda, the old lion, who raged that a
mercenary village folk should dare to resist their secular masters, the
Abu Tayi. So he jerked his halter, cantered his mare down the path, and
rode out plain to view beneath the easternmost houses of the village.
There he reined in, and shook a hand at them, booming in his wonderful
voice: 'Dogs, do you not know Auda?' When they realized it was that
implacable son of war their hearts failed them, and an hour later
Sherif Nasir in the town-house was sipping tea with his guest the
Turkish Governor, trying to console him for the sudden change of
fortune.

At dark Mastur rode in. His Motalga looked blackly at their blood
enemies the Abu Tayi, lolling in the best houses. The two Sherifs
divided up the place, to keep their unruly followers apart. They had
little authority to mediate, for by passage of time Nasir was nearly
adopted into the Abu Tayi, and Mastur into the Jazi.

When morning came the factions were bickering; and the day passed
anxiously; for besides these blood enemies, the Muhaisin were fighting
for authority among the villagers, and further complications developed
in two stranger elements: one a colony of free-booting Senussi from
North Africa, who had been intruded by the Turks into some rich, but
half-derelict plough-land; the other a plaiative and active suburb of a
thousand Armenians, survivors of an infamous deportation by the Young
Turks in 1915.

The people of Tafileh went in deadly fear of the future. We were, as
usual, short of food and short of transport, and they would remedy
neither ill. They had wheat or barley in their bins; but hid it. They
had pack-animals, asses and mules in abundance; but drove them away for
safety. They could have driven us away too, but were, fortunately for
us, short of the sticking point. Incuriousness was the most potent ally
of our imposed order; for Eastern government rested not so much on
consent or force, as on the common supinity, hebetude, lack-a-daisiness,
which gave a minority undue effect.

Feisal had delegated command of this push towards the Dead Sea to his
young half-brother Zeid. It was Zeid's first office in the north, and
he set out eager with hope. As adviser he had Jaafar Pasha, our
general. His infantry, gunners and machine-gunners stuck, for lack of
food, at Petra; but Zeid himself and Jaafar rode on to Tafileh.

Things were almost at a break. Auda affected a magnanimity very galling
to the Motalga boys, Metaab and Annad, sons of Abtan, whom Auda's son
had killed. They, lithe, definite, self-conscious figures, began to
talk big about revenge-torn-tits threatening a hawk. Auda declared he
would whip them in the market-place if they were rude. This was very
well, but their followers were two to every man of his, and we should
have the village in a blaze. The young fellows, with Rahail, my
ruffler, went flaunting in every street.

Zeid thanked and paid Auda and sent him back to his desert. The
enlightened heads of the Muhaisin had to go as forced guests to
Feisal's tent. Dhiab, their enemy, was our friend: we remembered
regretfully the adage that the best allies of a violently-successful
new regime were not its partisans, but its opponents. By Zeid's plenty
of gold the economic situation improved. We appointed an officer-governor
and organized our five villages for further attack.




CHAPTER LXXXV



Notwithstanding, these plans quickly went adrift. Before they had been
agreed upon we were astonished by a sudden try of the Turks to dislodge
us. We had never dreamed of this, for it seemed out of the question
that they should hope to keep Tafileh, or want to keep it. Allenby was
just in Jerusalem, and for the Turks the issue of the war might depend
on their successful defence of the Jordan against him. Unless Jericho
fell, or until it fell, Tafileh was an obscure village of no interest.
Nor did we value it as a possession; our desire was to get past it
towards the enemy. For men so critically placed as the Turks to waste
one single casualty on its recapture appeared the rankest folly.

Hamid Fakhri Pasha, commanding the 48th Division and the Amman sector,
thought otherwise, or had his orders. He collected about nine hundred
infantry, made up of three battalions (in January 1918 a Turkish
battalion was a poor thing) with a hundred cavalry, two mountain
howitzers, and twenty-seven machine-guns, and sent them by rail and
road to Kerak. There he impressed all the local transport, drew a
complete set of civil officials to staff his new administration in
Tafileh, and marched southward to surprise us.

Surprise us he did. We first heard of him when his cavalry feelers fell
on our pickets in Wadi Hesa, the gorge of great width and depth and
difficulty which cut off Kerak from Tafileh, Moab from Edom. By dusk he
had driven them back, and was upon us.

Jaafar Pasha had sketched a defence position on the south bank of the
great ravine of Tafileh; proposing, if the Turks attacked, to give them
the village, and defend the heights which overhung it, behind. This
seemed to me doubly unsound. The slopes were dead, and their defence as
difficult as their attack. They could be turned from the east; and by
quitting the village we threw away the local people, whose votes and
hands would be for the occupiers of their houses.

However, it was the ruling idea--all Zeid had--and so about midnight he
gave the order, and servants and retainers loaded up their stuff. The
men-at-arms proceeded to the southern crest, while the baggage train
was sent off by the lower road to safety. This move created panic in
the town. The peasants thought we were running away (I think we were)
and rushed to save their goods and lives. It was freezing hard, and the
ground was crusted with noisy ice. In the blustering dark the confusion
and crying through the narrow streets were terrible.

Dhiab the Sheikh had told us harrowing tales of the disaffection of the
townspeople, to increase the splendour of his own loyalty; but my
impression was that they were stout fellows of great potential use. To
prove it I sat out on my roof, or walked in the dark up and down the
steep alleys, cloaked against recognition, with my guards unobtrusively
about me within call. So we heard what passed. The people were in a
very passion of fear, nearly dangerous, abusing everybody and
everything: but there was nothing pro-Turkish abroad. They were in
horror of the Turks returning, ready to do all in their physical
capacity to support against them a leader with fighting intention. This
was satisfactory, for it chimed with my hankering to stand where we
were and fight stiffly.

Finally, I met the young Jazi sheikhs Metaab and Annad, beautiful in
silks and gleaming silver arms, and sent them to find their uncle, Hamd
el Arar. Him I asked to ride away north of the ravine, to tell the
peasantry, who, by the noise, were still fighting the Turks, that we
were on our way up to help them. Hamd, a melancholy, courtly, gallant
cavalier, galloped off at once with twenty of his relations, all that
he could gather in the distracted moment.

Their passage at speed through the streets added the last touch
required to perfect the terror. The housewives bundled their goods
pell-mell out of doors and windows, though no men were waiting to
receive them. Children were trampled on, and yelled, while their
mothers were yelling anyhow. The Motalga during their gallop fired shot
after shot into the air to encourage themselves, and, as though to
answer them, the flashes of the enemy rifles became visible, outlining
the northern cliffs in that last blackness of sky before the dawn. I
walked up the opposite heights to consult with Sherif Zeid.

Zeid sat gravely on a rock, sweeping the country with field-glasses for
the enemy. As crises deepened, Zeid drew detached, nonchalant. I was in
a furious rage. The Turks should never, by the rules of sane
generalship, have ventured back to Tafileh at all. It was simple greed,
a dog-in-the-manger attitude unworthy of a serious enemy, just the sort
of hopeless thing a Turk would do. How could they expect a proper war
when they gave us no chance to honour them? Our morale was continually
being ruined by their follies, for neither could our men respect their
courage, nor our officers respect their brains. Also, it was an icy
morning, and I had been up all night and was Teutonic enough to decide
that they should pay for my changed mind and plan.

They must be few in number, judging by their speed of advance. We had
every advantage, of time, of terrain, of number, of weather, and could
checkmate them easily: but to my wrath that was not enough. We would
play their kind of game on our pigmy scale; deliver them a pitched
battle such as they wanted; kill them all. I would rake up my memory of
the half-forgotten maxims of the orthodox army text-book, and parody
them in action.

This was villainous, for with arithmetic and geography for allies we
might have spared the suffering factor of humanity; and to make a
conscious joke of victory was wanton. We could have won by refusing
battle, foxed them by manoeuvring our centre as on twenty such
occasions before and since: yet bad temper and conceit united for this
time to make me not content to know my power, but determined to give
public advertisement of it to the enemy and to everyone. Zeid, now
convinced of the inconvenience of the defence-line, was very ready to
listen to the voice of the tempter.

First I suggested that Abdulla go forward with two Hotchkiss guns to
test the strength and disposition of the enemy. Then we talked of what
next; very usefully, for Zeid was a cool and gallant little fighter,
with the temperament of a professional officer. We saw Abdulla climb
the other bank. The shooting became intense for a time, and then faded
into distance. His coming had stimulated the Motalga horsemen and the
villagers, who fell on the Turkish cavalry and drove them over a first
ridge, across a plain two miles wide, and over a ridge beyond it down
the first step of the great Hesa depression.

Behind this lay the Turkish main body, just getting on the road again
after a severe night which had stiffened them in their places. They
came properly into action, and Abdulla was checked at once. We heard
the distant rolling of machine-gun fire, growing up in huge bursts,
laced by a desultory shelling. Our ears told us what was happening as
well as if we saw it, and the news was excellent. I wanted Zeid to come
forward at once on that authority: but his caution stepped in and he
insisted that we wait exact word from his advance-guard, Abdulla.

This was not necessary, according to book, but they knew I was a sham
soldier, and took licence to hesitate over my advice when it came
peremptorily. However, I held a hand worth two of that and went off
myself for the front to prejudge their decision. On the way I saw my
bodyguard, turning over the goods exposed for removal in the streets,
and finding much of interest to themselves. I told them to recover our
camels and to bring their Hotchkiss automatic to the north bank of the
gorge in a hurry.

The road dipped into a grove of fig-trees, knots of blue snaky boughs;
bare, as they would be long after the rest of nature was grown green.
Thence it turned eastward, to wind lengthily in the valley to the
crest. I left it, climbing straight up the cliffs. An advantage of
going barefoot was a new and incredible sureness upon rock when the
soles had got hard by painful insistence, or were too chilled to feel
jags and scrapes. The new way, while warming me, also shortened my time
appreciably, and very soon, at the top, I found a level bit, and then a
last ridge overlooking the plateau.

This last straight bank, with Byzantine foundations in it, seemed very
proper for a reserve or ultimate line of defence for Tafileh. To be
sure, we had no reserve as yet--no one had the least notion who or what
we would have anywhere--but, if we did have anybody, here was their
place: and at that precise moment Zeid's personal Ageyl became visible,
hiding coyly in a hollow. To make them move required words of a
strength to unravel their plaited hair: but at last I had them sitting
along the skyline of Reserve Ridge. They were about twenty, and from a
distance looked beautiful, like 'points' of a considerable army. I gave
them my signet as a token, with orders to collect there all new comers,
especially my fellows with their gun.

As I walked northward towards the fighting, Abdulla met me, on his way
to Zeid with news. He had finished his ammunition, lost five men from
shell-fire, and had one automatic gun destroyed. Two guns, he thought
the Turks had. His idea was to get up Zeid with all his men and fight:
so nothing remained for me to add to his message; and there was no
subtlety in leaving alone my happy masters to cross and dot their own
right decision.

He gave me leisure in which to study the coming battlefield. The tiny
plain was about two miles across, bounded by low green ridges, and
roughly triangular, with my reserve ridge as base. Through it ran the
road to Kerak, dipping into the Hesa valley. The Turks were fighting
their way up this road. Abdulla's charge had taken the western or
left-hand ridge, which was now our firing-line.

Shells were falling in the plain as I walked across it, with harsh
stalks of wormwood stabbing into my wounded feet. The enemy fusing was
too long, so that the shells grazed the ridge and burst away behind.
One fell near me, and I learned its calibre from the hot cap. As I went
they began to shorten range, and by the time I got to the ridge it was
being freely sprinkled with shrapnel. Obviously the Turks had got
observation somehow, and looking round I saw them climbing along the
eastern side beyond the gap of the Kerak road. They would soon outflank
us at our end of the western ridge.




CHAPTER LXXXVI



'Us' proved to be about sixty men, clustered behind the ridge in two
bunches, one near the bottom, one by the top. The lower was made up of
peasants, on foot, blown, miserable, and yet the only warm things I had
seen that day. They said their ammunition was finished, and it was all
over. I assured them it was just beginning and pointed to my populous
reserve ridge, saying that all arms were there in support. I told them
to hurry back, refill their belts and hold on to it for good. Meanwhile
we would cover their retreat by sticking here for the few minutes yet
possible.

They ran off, cheered, and I walked about among the upper group quoting
how one should not quit firing from one position till ready to fire
from the next. In command was young Metaab, stripped to his skimp
riding-drawers for hard work, with his black love-curls awry, his face
stained and haggard. He was beating his hands together and crying
hoarsely with baffled vexation, for he had meant to do so well in this,
his first fight for us.

My presence at the last moment, when the Turks were breaking through,
was bitter; and he got angrier when I said that I only wanted to study
the landscape. He thought it flippancy, and screamed something about a
Christian going into battle unarmed. I retorted with a quip from
Clausewitz, about a rearguard effecting its purpose more by being than
by doing: but he was past laughter, and perhaps with justice, for the
little flinty bank behind which we sheltered was crackling with fire.
The Turks, knowing we were there, had turned twenty machine-guns upon
it. It was four feet high and fifty feet long, of bare flinty ribs, off
which the bullets slapped deafeningly: while the air above so hummed
or whistled with ricochets and chips that it felt like death to look
over. Clearly we must leave very soon, and as I had no horse I went off
first, with Metaab's promise that he would wait where he was if he
dared, for another ten minutes.

The run warmed me. I counted my paces, to help in ranging the Turks
when they ousted us; since there was only that one position for them,
and it was poorly protected against the south. In losing this Motalga
ridge we would probably win the battle. The horsemen held on for almost
their ten minutes, and then galloped off without hurt. Metaab lent me
his stirrup to hurry me along, till we found ourselves breathless among
the Ageyl. It was just noon, and we had leisure and quiet in which to
think.

Our new ridge was about forty feet up, and a nice shape for defence. We
had eighty men on it, and more were constantly arriving. My guards were
in place with their gun; Lutfi, an engine-destroyer, rushed up hotly
with his two, and after him came another hundred Ageyl. The thing was
becoming a picnic, and by saying 'excellent' and looking overjoyed, we
puzzled the men, and made them consider the position dispassionately.
The automatics were put on the skyline, with orders to fire occasional
shots, short, to disturb the Turks a little, but not too much, after
the expedient of Massena in delaying enemy deployment. Otherwise a lull
fell; I lay down in a sheltered place which caught a little sun, and no
wind, and slept a blessed hour, while the Turks occupied the old ridge,
extending over it like a school of geese, and about as wisely. Our men
left them alone, being contented with a free exhibition of themselves.

In the middle of the afternoon Zeid arrived, with Mastur, Rasim and
Abdulla. They brought our main body, comprising twenty mounted infantry
on mules, thirty Motalga horsemen, two hundred villagers, five
automatic rifles, four machine-guns and the Egyptian Army mountain gun
which had fought about Medina, Petra and Jurf. This was magnificent,
and I woke up to welcome them.

The Turks saw us crowding, and opened with shrapnel and machine-gun
fire: but they had not the range and fumbled it. We reminded one
another that movement was the law of strategy, and started moving.
Rasim became a cavalry officer, and mounted with all our eighty riders
of animals to make a circuit about the eastern ridge and envelop the
enemy's left wing, since the books advised attack not upon a line, but
upon a point, and by going far enough along any finite wing it would be
found eventually reduced to a point of one single man. Rasim liked
this, my conception of his target.

He promised, grinningly, to bring us that last man: but Hamd el Arar
took the occasion more fittingly. Before riding off he devoted himself
to the death for the Arab cause, drew his sword ceremoniously, and made
to it, by name, a heroic speech. Rasim took five automatic guns with
him; which was good.

We in the centre paraded about, so that their departure might be unseen
of the enemy, who were bringing up an apparently endless procession of
machine-guns and dressing them by the left at intervals along the
ridge, as though in a museum. It was lunatic tactics. The ridge was
flint, without cover for a lizard. We had seen how, when a bullet
struck the ground, it and the ground spattered up in a shower of deadly
chips. Also we knew the range, and elevated our Vickers guns carefully,
blessing their long, old-fashioned sights; our mountain gun was propped
into place ready to let go a sudden burst of shrapnel over the enemy
when Rasim was at grips.

As we waited, a reinforcement was announced of on