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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell written for Charles Doughty-Wylie

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

23.885942, 45.079162

Wed. Feb. 4. [4 February 1914] Whether it is {from} the pleasure of
being at last on the direct road to Nejd [Najd], or whether this empty
desert delights my men as much as it does me, I do not know, but we
are travelling on in the best of spirits and contentment. Also, I think, in
complete security; for as luck would have it we met in Monday's
camping place a family of Shammar who have spent 5 years in the
Howaitat country and now want to return to their own. Hearing that we
were on our way thither they proposed to join us and we agreed with
alacrity. The benefit conferred is equal on either side, for they would
not dare to take this road alone, while we, if we happen to meet a
Shammar ghazzu, have these Shammar to guarantee us. We are in
fact a large caravan, for two tents of Sherarat are with us, they and
their flocks (6 sheep - or goats, I forget which) and their camels. I do
not know how far they mean to go. Yesterday we had rain, heavy
showers from time to time during most of the day. We rode straight S.
from our camp to khabra where we filled our water skins in the rain;
and then turned east down a shallow barren valley wherein we
ultimately camped. But where we camped it was no longer barren. A
thin sprinkling of green plants, mostly of the thistle and clover family
had pushed up through the sand, and the "trees" were greening. The
camels eat greedily and our Shammari friend rejoiced our hearts by
promising us better and better pasturage as we go forward. His
words were not empty. The camels have pastured all day today as
we journeyed and tonight they eat their fill. I think we shall hunger no
more. The November rains, which are the rains that matter to the
desert, have been plentiful here. The khabras are all full of water - we
passed another this morning and filled what skins were empty - and
the bushes have sprouted. It's an immense relief; we had only 5
days' aliq with us, and if there had been nothing for the camels to eat
we were face to face with starvation for them - and what? for us. I had
serious thoughts, the last night in the J. Tubaiq [Tubayq, At], of taking
the Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)] road after all - we could have got camel
food at Jof. And then I decided that in all probability it would mean
that we should never get to Nejd, and I took the risk. Luck has been
with me. This is real desert as you see it in picture books. It is made
of nothing but red sandstone and the resulting red-gold sand.
Sometimes the sandstone heaps itself up into a long low ridge and
the wind heaps the sand about it into long low hills. Between lie
shallow bottoms, nugrah they are called, wherein the sandstone lies
in floors, with deep sand between, the whole strewn over with mounds
of stone, broken and ruined into strange shapes by sun and wind.
And here, if you can believe it, the darling spring has not refused to
come. The thorny bushes are all grey green against the red gold of
the sand and some have even put forth very faintly coloured flowers.
In spite of the desolation and the emptiness, it is beautiful - or is it
beautiful partly because of the emptiness? At any rate I love it, and
though the camels pace so slowly, eating as they go, I feel no
impatience and no desire to get to anywhere. It is cold still. Today,
for the first time for many mornings, the thermometer was above
freezing point when I breakfasted - only just above - and there is a
sharp wind all day to temper the sun. The aromatic desert plants give
it a delicious scent - "The wind smells of amber" said 'Ali today, when
we came into camp in the hard clean sand under a broken pile of
rock. Our Sherarat fellow travellers bring us goat's milk of an an
evening, but I am spoiled by having drunk the milk of the camel from
great wooden bowls in the tents of Muhammad abu Tayyi, and goat's
milk seems poor and tame after it. Here come my camels - the sun
has set - I must go and look at them.

IIIF Manifest