Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 172 of 240

A crowd of Arabs, Zeid’s men, weather-bound here on their way to Feysal, ran out when they heard her trumpeting approach, and shouted with joy at so distinguished an entry to the village. I asked them the news; they told me all was well. Then I remounted, for the last eight miles into Tafileh, where I gave Zeid his letters and some money, and went gladly to bed . . . flea-proof for another night.

Chapter XC

Morning found me nearly snow-blind, but glad and vigorous. I cast about for something to fill the inactive days before the other gold arrived. The final judgement was to make a personal examination of the approaches to Kerak, and the ground over which we would later advance to Jordan. I asked Zeid to take from Motlog the coming twenty-four thousand pounds, and spend what was necessary for current expenses until my return.

Zeid told me there was another Englishman in Tafileh. The news astonished me, and I went off to meet Lieutenant Kirkbride, a young Arabic-speaking staff officer sent by Deedes to report intelligence possibilities on the Arab Front. It was the beginning of a connection profitable to us, and creditable to Kirkbride; a taciturn, enduring fellow, only a boy in years, but ruthless in action, who messed for eight months with the Arab officers, their silent companion.

The cold had passed off and movement, even on the heights, was practicable. We crossed Wadi Hesa, and rode as far as the edge of the Jordan Valley, whose depths were noisy with Allenby’s advance. They said the Turks yet held Jericho. Thence we turned back to Tafileh, after a reconnaissance very assuring for our future. Each step of our road to join the British was possible: most of them easy. The weather was so fine that we might reasonably begin at once: and could hope to finish in a month.

Zeid heard me coldly. I saw Motlog next him, and greeted him sarcastically, asking what was his tally of the gold: then I began to repeat my programme of what we might fairly do. Zeid stopped me: ‘But that will need a lot of money.’ I said, ‘Not at all’: our funds in hand would cover it, and more. Zeid replied that he had nothing; and when I gaped at him, muttered rather shamefacedly that he had spent all I brought. I thought he was joking: but he went on to say that so much had been due to Dhiab, sheikh of Tafileh; so much to the villagers; so much to the Jazi Howeitat; so much to the Beni Sakhr.

Only for a defensive was such expenditure conceivable. The peoples named were elements centring in Tafileh, men whose blood feuds made them impossible for use north of Wadi Hesa. Admittedly, the Sherifs, as they advanced, enrolled all the men of every district at a monthly wage: but it was perfectly understood that the wage was fictitious, to be paid only if they had been called on for active service. Feisal had more than forty thousand on his Akaba books: while his whole subsidy from England would not pay seventeen thousand. The wages of the rest were nominally due and often asked for: but not a lawful liability. However, Zeid said that he had paid them.

I was aghast; for this meant the complete ruin of my plans and hopes, the collapse of our effort to keep faith with Allenby. Zeid stuck to his word that the money was all gone. Afterwards I went off to learn the truth from Nasir, who was in bed with fever. He despondently said that everything was wrong–Zeid too young and shy to counter his dishonest, cowardly counsellors.

All night I thought over what could be done, but found a blank; and when morning came could only send word to Zeid that, if he would not return the money, I must go away. He sent me back his supposed account of the spent money. While we were packing, Joyce and Marshall arrived. They had ridden from Guweira to give me a pleasant surprise. I told them why it had happened that I was going back to Allenby to put my further employment in his hands. Joyce made a vain appeal to Zeid, and promised to explain to Feisal.

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