Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 114 of 240

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.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)