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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell written for Charles Doughty-Wylie

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

23.885942, 45.079162

Feb. 20. [20 February 1914] God is merciful and we have done with
the Nefud [Nafud, An]. The day after the rain - oh but the wet sand
smelt good and there was a twittering of small birds to gladden the
heart! - we came in the afternoon to some tents of the Shammar and
pitching our camp not far off we were visited by the old shaikh,
Mhailam, who brought us a goat and some butter. Him we induced to
come with us as rafiq. He is old and lean, gray [sic] haired and
toothless, and ragged beyond belief; he has not even an 'agal to bind
the kerchief on his head and we have given him a piece of rope. But
he is an excellent rafiq - I have not had a better. He knows the country
and he is anxious to serve us well. And next day we rode over sand
to the northern point of Jebel Misma' [Misma, Jibal]. Then Mhailam
importuned me to camp saying there was no pasturage in the jellad,
the flat plain below; and Muhammad al Ma'rawi backed him for he
feared that we might fall in with Hetaim raiders if we left the Nefud. But
I held firm. Raiders and hunger were as nothing to the possibility of a
hard straight road. For you understand that travelling in the Nefud is
like travelling in the Labyrinth. You are forever skirting round a deep
horseshoe pit of sand, perhaps half a mile wide, and climbing up the
opposite slope, and skirting round the next horseshoe. If we made a
mile an hour as the crow flies we did well. Even after I had delivered
the ultimatum, my two old parties were constantly heading off to the
Nefud and I had to keep a watchful eye on them and herd them back
every half hour. It was bitter cold; the temperature had fallen to 27? in
the night and there was a tempestuous north wind. And so we came
to the last sand crest and I looked down between the black rocks of
Misma' and saw Nejd [Najd]. It was a landscape terrifying in its
desolation. Misma' drops to the east in precipices of sandstone,
weathered to a rusty black; at its feet are gathered endless
companies of sandstone pinnacles, black too, shouldering one over
the other. They look like the skeleton of a vast city planted on a
sandstone and sand-strewn floor. And beyond and beyond more
pallid lifeless plain and more great crags of sandstone mountains
rising abruptly out of it. Over it all the bitter wind whipped the cloud
shadows. "Subhan allah!" said one of my Damascenes, "we have
come to Jehannum." Down into it we went and camped on the skirts
of the Nefud with a sufficiency of pasturage. And today the sun shone
and the world smiled and we marched off gaily and found the floor of
Hell to be a very pleasant place after all. For the rain has filled all the
sandstone hollows with clear water, and the pasturage is abundant,
and the going, over the flat rocky floor, is all the heart could desire. In
the afternoon we passed between the rocks of Jebel Habran,
marching over a sandy floor with black pinnacled precipices on either
hand, and camped on the east, in a bay of rock with khabras of rain
water below and pasturage all round us in the sand. We have for
neighbours about a mile away a small ferij of Shammar tents, and lest
there should be anyone so evil minded as to dream of stealing a
camel from us, Mhailam has just now stepped out into the night and
shouted: "Ho! Anyone who watches! come in to supper! I am
Mhailam, Mhailam ibn Hamad! Let anyone who is hungry come and
eat!" And having thus invited the universe to our bowl, we sleep, I
trust, in peace.

IIIF Manifest