Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 117 of 240

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.

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