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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

27.5114102, 41.7208243

March 2. [2 March 1914] What did I tell you as to the quality most
needed for travel among the Arabs? Patience if you remember; that
is what one needs. Now listen to the tale of the week we have spent
here. I was received with the utmost courtesy. Their slaves - 'abds,
slave is too servile and yet that is what they are - came riding out to
meet me and assured me that Ibrahim, the Amir's wakil, was much
gratified by my visit. We rode round the walls of the town and entered
in by the south gate - the walls are of quite recent construction,
towered, all round the town - and there, just within the gate I was
lodged in a spacious house which Muhammad ibn Rashid had built
for his summer dwelling. My tents were pitched in the wide court
below. Within our enclosure there is an immense area of what was
once gardens and cornfields but it is now left unwatered and
uncultivated. The Persian Hajj used to lodge here in the old days. As
soon as I was established in the Roshan, the great columned
reception room, and when the men had all gone off to see to the tents
and camels, two women appeared. One was an old widow,,
who is caretaker in the house; she lives here with her slave woman
and the latter's boy. The other was a merry lady, Turkiyyeh, a
Circassian who had belonged to Muhammed al Rashid and had
been a great favourite of his. She had been sent down from the qasr
to receive me and amuse me and the latter duty she was most
successful in performing. In the afternoon came Ibraham, in state and
all smiles. He is an intelligent and well educated man - for Arabia -
with a quick nervous manner and a restless eye. He stayed till the
afternoon prayer. As he went out he told Muhammad al Ma'rawi that
there was some discontent among the 'ulema at my coming and that
etc etc - in short, I was not to come further into the town till I was invited.
Next day I sent my camels back to the Nefud [Nafud, An] borders to
pasture. There is no pasture here in the granite grit plain of Hayyil
[Hail] and moreover they badly needed rest. I sold 6, for more than
they were worth, for they were in wretched condition; but camels are
fortunately dear here at this moment, with the Amir away and all
available animals with him. And that done I sat still and waited on
events. But there were no events. Nothing whatever happened,
except that two little Rashid princes came to see me, 2 of the 6 male
descendants who are all that remain of all the Rashid stock, so
relentlessly have they slaughtered one another. Next day I sent to
Ibrahim and said I should like to return his call. He invited me to come
after dark and sent a mare for me and a couple of slaves. I rode
through the dark and empty streets and was received in the big
Roshan of the qasr, a very splendid place with great stone columns
supporting an immensely lofty roof, the walls white washed, the floor of
white juss, beaten hard[?] and shining as if it were polished. There
was a large company. We sat all round the wall on carpets and
cushions, I on Ibrahim's right hand, and talked mostly of the history of
the Shammar in general and of the Rashids in particular. Ibrahim is
well versed in it and I was much interested. As we talked slave boys
served us with tea and then coffee and finally they brought lighted
censors [sic] and swung the sweet smelling 'ud before each of us
three times. This is the signal that the reception is over and I rose and
left them. And then followed day after weary day with nothing
whatever to do. One day Ibrahim sent me a mare and I rode round
the town and visited one of his gardens - a paradise of blossoming
fruit trees in the bare wilderness. And the Circassian, Turkiyyeh, has
spent another day with me; and my own slaves (for I have 2 of own to
keep my gate for me) sit and tell me tales of raid and foray in the
stirring days of 'Abd al Aziz, Muhammad's nephew; and my men
come in and tell me the gossip of the town. Finally I have sent for my
camels - I should have done so days ago if they had not been so
much in need of rest. I can give them no more time to recover for I am
penniless. I brought with me a letter of credit on the Rashid's from
their agent in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Shams, Damas)] - Ibrahim
refuses to honour it in the absence of the Amir and if I had not sold
some of my camels I should not have had enough money to get
away. As it is I have only the barest minimum. The gossip is that the
hand which has pulled the strings in all this business is that of the
Amir's grandmother, Fatima, of whom Ibrahim stands in deadly fear.
In Hayyil murder is like the spilling of milk and not one of the shaikhs
but feels his head sitting unsteadily upon his shoulders. I have asked
to be allowed to see Fatima and have received no answer. She
holds the purse strings in the Amir's absence and she rules. It may be
that she is at the bottom of it all. I will not conceal from you that there
have been hours of considerable anxiety. War is all round us. The
Amir is raiding Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)] to the north and Ibn Sa'ud is
gathering up his powers to the south - presumably to raid the Amir. If
{they} Ibrahim chose to stop my departure till the Amir's return (which
was what I feared) it would have been very uncomfortable. I spent a
long night contriving in my head schemes of escape if things went
wrong. I have however two powerful friends in Hayyil, shaikhs of
'Anezah, with whose help the Rashids hope to recapture that town. I
have not seen them - they dare not visit me - but they have protested
vigorously against the treatment which has been accorded me. I owe
their assistance to the fact that I have their nephew with me, 'Ali the
postman who came with me 3 years ago across the Hamad [Hamad,
Al]. Yesterday I demanded a private audience of Ibrahim and was
received, again at night, in an upper hall of the qasr. I told him that I
would stay here no longer, that the withholding of the money due to
me had caused me great inconvenience and that I must now ask of
him a rafiq to go with me to the 'Anazeh borders. He was very civil
and assured me that the rafiq was ready. It does not look as if they
intended to put any difficulties in my way. My plan is to choose out the
best of my camels and taking with me Fattuh, 'Ali and the negro boy
Fellah, to ride to Nejef [Najaf, An]. The Damascenes I send back to
Damascus. They will wait a few days more to give the other camels
longer rest and then join a caravan which is going to Medina [Al
Madinah] - 10 days' journey. Thence by train. Since I have no money
I can do nothing but push on to Baghdad, but it is at least consoling to
think that I could not this year have done more. I could not have gone
south from here; the tribes are up and the road is barred Ibn Sa'ud
has - so we hear - taken the Hasa, and driven out the Turkish troops. I
think it highly probable that he intends to turn against Hayyil and if by
any chance the Amir should not be successful in his raid on Hayyil
["Jof" written above], the future of the Shammar would look dark
indeed. The Turkish Govt. are sending them arms - a convoy has
gone to Medain Salih [Mada'in Salih] to fetch them; but I think that Ibn
Saud's star is in the ascendent and if he combines with Ibn Sha'lan
(the Ruwalla 'Anazeh) they will have Ibn Rashid between the hammer
and the anvil. - I feel as if I had lived through a chapter of the Arabian
Nights during this last week. The Circassian woman and the slaves,
the doubt and anxiety, Fatima weaving her plots behing the qasr
walls, Ibrahim with his smiling lips and restless shifting eyes - and the
whole town waiting to hear the fate of the army which has gone up with
the Amir against Jof. And to the spiritual sense the place smells of
blood. Twice since Khalil was here have the Rashids put one another
to the sword - the tales round my camp fire are all of murder and the
air whispers murder. It gets upon your nerves when you sit day after
day between high mud walls and I thank heaven that my nerves are
not very responsive. They have kept me awake only one night out of
seven! And - good, please God! please God nothing but good.

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