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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell written for Charles Doughty-Wylie

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Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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Extent and medium
1 entry, paper

23.885942, 45.079162

Mon. Feb. 2. [2 February 1914] It all turned out differently - it always
does! Over the coffee fire Muhammad told me of a ruin, in the hills to
the W. I had heard of it before but Muhammad himself had seemed
so very unwilling that I should see it - this was in the night when he
came to Harb's camp - that I did not like to press the point. He said
"We do not know that you will not build it up afresh!" They are
suspicious and one has to be - patient! Well, here he was pressing
me to go to it. I could not say no, and leave a ruin behind me, so
rather reluctantly, we turned W. again, rode for a couple of hours and
pitched our tents in Muhammad's encampment, near his big "house."
Next day I rode off with two guides and one of my own men - 5 hours
across the hills - and found the ruin which was quite worth seeing. A
sort of little khan on a khabra which had been walled round so as to
form a birkeh - I make no doubt that it was a menzil on the road from
Ba'ir to Taimah [Tayma']. There was a Cufic inscrip., dated, but alas I
cd not make it out with certainty. Anyhow there it is, the only ruin in
these parts, good squared stones and mortar brought from far, and I
have got it all down in my note books. We worked for 2 hours; it was
necessary to hasten. And we got home in about 4 hours, a little after
sunset. On the way out I had seen something else on a hill top which I
must leave to those wiser than I to explain - a round chamber,
bee-hive domed, of rude stones, surrounded by a completely circular
low wall, and yet further outside a row of upright stones enclosing the
temenos. What can it be? an ancient high place? some sort of
sanctuary I make no doubt, and very ancient. What do we know of
ancient nomad faiths? Altogether it was a profitable day. We had
sent on camels to water at a distant khabra, and to bring us water. It
proved to be so very distant that they did not return till 9 PM and then
with the news that one of our dululs had sat down 6 hours away and
absolutely refused to move. They had therefore left her and ta wakkil
Allah! That's what they do, camels, when they are worn out. You are
helpless before them. So we despatched another man next day to
fetch her and remained ourselves with Muhammad. The messenger
came back at sunset saying he had brought her forward 3 hours and
left her with Arabs! There was nothing for it but to go ourselves, but it
did not matter, for meantime we had changed all our plans, given up
Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)] and the Sirhan [Sirhan, Wadi], fearing that the
Ruwalla might stop us, and our road lay past that very khabra and
past the camel. In point of fact it is much the same road as that which I
abandoned when I was with Harb on account of the risks it presented!
It is now said to be safe, and good, please God! I don't know, and
anyway it is the shortest and so we go and everyone is pleased! The
days spent with Muhammad were not wasted. I had never been in a
big shaikh's camp before and all was new and interesting. And very
beautiful - the sandy valley and M.'s big 5 polled [sic] tent where we
sat at night, while a man sang of the deeds and days of all the Arabs,
and the bowls of camel milk brought in to us when the nagas came
back with their calves - and not least Muhammad's great figure sitting
on the cushions beside me, with the white keffiyyeh falling over his
black brows and his eyes flashing in question and answer, I saw his
jurisdiction and found it to be just; I heard his tales of the desert and
made friends with his women; and I made friends with him. He is a
man, and a good fellow; you can lay your head down in his tents, and
sleep at night, and have no fear. No, they were not wasted, those
days. I learnt much of the desert and of its people. He had a little oryx
beatrix calf in his tents - the most enchanting little beast. He promises
it to me if I care to have it - I believe I could get it for the Zoo if they
wanted it. Muhammad represents his tribe before the Government -
he is Shaikh al Dowleh and hands in the camel tax to the
Qaimmaqam at Ma'an. We have not yet quite reached the
independent nomad dominions. The Hajj railay has brought the Govt.
into touch with all these tribes. But the Ruwalla are independent - I
shall see them, I make no doubt, on my returning way - and so is Nejd
[Najd]. This morning we started once more on our road, with a
Sherarat rafiq, Musuid. We should be about once more on our road,
with a Sherarat rafiq, Musuid. We should be about 20 nights from
Hayyil [Hail]. We rode over the hills till we came to their southern
brink, where they drop abruptly in great riven crags and tells of red
sandstone into a flat plain with endless red tells and driven sand
stretching into the furthest distance. Not mountains, these, but low
broken gound. At the foot of the J. Tubaiq [Tubayq, At] we found the
dulul, apparently recovered, and here we camped - a short day, but
the camel pasturage is good here and we have a day with none,
ahead of us. I climbed in the afternoon over the sandstone hills. It
was cloudy and grey, but far away across the plain the yellow sand
heaps glimmered and the red tells gave colour and warmth. But what
a world! the incredible desolation. Abondoned of God and man, that
is how it looks - and is. I think no one can travel here and come back
the same. It sets its seal upon you, for good or ill.

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