Diaries

16/1/1914

Jan. 16. [16 January 1914] Today I returned to the desert and as I rode past the station of Ziza [Jiza], I stopped and asked whether the missing letter from you were not, by chance, there. But there was nothing and I, crossing the little thread of rail that binds me here to the outer world, felt like the Fate with the shears - Clotho, to whom we bow the head. I have cut the thread. I can hear no more from you or from anyone, and what is more, do you know that I am an outlaw? Louis Mallet has informed me that if I go on towards Nejd [Najd] my own government washes its hands of me, and I have given a categorical acquittal to the Ottoman Government, saying that I go on at my own risk. This is the price I pay for having been caught at Ziza. It is not, in reality, heavy; for in no case could the Turks be held responsible for me, since I travel without a guard, and British protection is not of great value in these wastes. If my fellow inhabitants here were to take it into their minds to rob me, I do not suppose that Willie Tyrrell would send an army to recover my possessions; and if it pleased them to send a rifle bullet my way, it would be of small satisfaction to me to know that the same measure would be dealt out in time to them. Still there is something in the written word which works on the imagination, and I spent my last night at 'Amman ['Amman (Rabbah)] sleepless with the thought of it. The desert, there is no denying it, the desert looks terrible from without, and even I, when I find myself in the more or less peaceful routine of a comparative civilization, with a Circassian steam mill puffing over its task near my tents and the quiet village life flowing on beside me - even I have a moment when my heart beats a little quicker and my eyes strain themselves to catch some glimpse of the future. But at last, after tossing to and fro with a restless mind for hour after hour of the night, I convinced myself that in the end I didn't mind what happened - and went to sleep. And next day, which was yesterday, I rose out of 'Amman, free and an outlaw, a very harmless outlaw. I did not ride far. I went up to the farm of some Christians, not 3 hours from Ziza, to the north of that place of captivity, and there all my friends of 9 years ago came to see me and I spent the night. They are men these hosts of mine; tall and broad and deep voiced, ready to square all the difficulties which cross their path, the exactions of the government and the exactions of the Arabs. They kill a sheep every night for those who claim their hospitality; they heap up the enormous rice dish, and fill the mangers with corn - I asked them how rural economy bore the strain of such hospitality and they answered with all simplicity: "Where is the inn in this wilderness?" This morning they rode with me to the further side of Ziza, where we sat down by the railway and lunched on the ample remains of last night's feast. They have provided me with camel drivers, for the Agailat whom I brought with me from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Shams, Damas)], have returned from Ziza, fearing the risks of the "accursed road" before us; and they have sent with me two rafiqs, a Skhari and a Sharari, whom they have bound over, by all that any man can call sacred, to see that not a hair of my head suffers injury. And so they left me, with a mighty hand clasp and a thousand deep voiced blessings, rolled their embroidered abbayas round their huge bodies and spurred their mares back to Yadudeh [Yaduda, El]. And I rode on a couple of hours, and found my camp, which had gone before, pitched in the sunshine on the gentle slopes of a wadi. The sun set in splendour, the stars shone out and the late moon rose over us. All the terrors which I conjured up between house walls have fled before me and the desert is clothed once more in abiding security. Thus we turn towards Nejd, inshallah, renounced by all the powers that be, and the only thread which is not cut {though} is that which runs through this little book, which is the diary of my way kept for you.

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