Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 125 of 240

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.

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