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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

Fri. Feb 6. [6 February 1914] I feel rather cross this afternoon because
we have been induced by our rafiq to camp a full two hours earlier
than need was by (I believe) wholly false reports that there was no
pasturage ahead. The Shammar, who are with us and know this
country, came and expostulated when our tents were half pitched, and
I suspect they were right. There has been such pressure of public
opinion on Masuid that I hope he won't repeat the game and
meantime I will comfort myself by writing to you. We marched
yesterday across long hills of blown sand, Tu's is their Arabic name,
naked golden sand dunes. Their softly curving slopes were white
with hoar frost until an hour after sunrise; on top they form sharp crests
like the aretes on a snow mountain, and drop very precipitately on the
W. side, whence comes, I must suppose, the prevailing wind. From
the tu's we came into a barren world of pebbly floor and sandstone
slab and broken sandstone tells. Nothing grew on it. We marched till
the afternoon and then reached a valley running E and W, with plenty
of green shrubs in its sand and water pools lying in the hollows of the
sandstone. These we have everywhere, good clean rain water, the
result of the rain storms the day we left the Tubaiq [Tubayq, At]. And
Heaven be praised for them. So we camped, we and the Shammar
and the two miserable tents of the Sherarat, the inhabitants of which
are as near starvation as can be and are mainly kept from it by small
gifts of flour from us. The children found good entertainment in playing
ball with the bitter colocynth gourds which lay scattered over the sand,
and so forget hunger for an hour. This morning we were up and off
early. One of the Sherarat has a few goats - I told you - and he sets
forth before the rest. The Shammari, Ghadi, had taken my rifle and
gone ahead a little later, on the chance of an antelope. Then the
camels of the Sherarat and Shammar stepped out across the level
ground between us and a low ridge and I followed on foot with Musuid,
for I wanted to get my bearings from the ridge before I mounted. The
sun was not yet up. We had not walked more than 40 yards before I
saw the camels of our companions turn and come hastily back
towards us. "They have seen foes: they are afraid" said Musuid.
Ghadi came trotting up. "What is it?" said I. "Gom" he said - foes.
"How many?" said I. "Ten camel riders" he replied and then called
to my men "Ma'al wad, ma'al wad!" To the valley, the valley! The
valley was no depression but only a line of low sandy mounds with
tamarisk growing on them. Behind these we couched all our camels
and the men got out their arms. Ghadi dismounted and walked back
across the plain to reconnoitre from the ridge. I sat down on the sand -
we all sat down and waited, but one of the Shammar women came to
me and said they had a new carpet, might they put it on my loads? -
so that it might seem mine, you understand. We took charge of the
precious carpet. And my head camel driver Sa'id (bless his kind
heart!) sat down by me and told me not to fear, for when the ghazzu
came he would surely know them, since he knows every Arab in the
desert. And that is true. But I was not afraid - only deeply interested.
Nothing at all happened, and after a quarter of an hour Fattuh and I
and Musuid walked off and joined Ghadi on the ridge whence we
scanned the world through my glasses. There was nothing whatever.
And it then appeared that the 10 camel riders rested on the ultimate
authority of a Sharari boy, he of the colocynth balls, who had seen,
and feared and turned back with the news. My firm belief, and it is now
cleared by all the rest, is that he saw the Father of Goats with his flock
far down in the plain below when they were pasturing on shrubs and
awaiting our arrival. So I took my bearings and we went on our way,
but when we rejoined the Father of Goats he was solemnly cautioned
and appealed to that he should not wear so deceptive an
appearance on another morning - he and his goats. That's the end of
my silly story. We marched over sandstone and sand all day, and
camped among rain pools and green sweet smelling shrubs - two
hours too early as I began by saying. God curse the father of Musuid!
But I feel better, having relieved my soul to you. It wasn't much of a
burden that was oppressing it after all! Sa'id, I must tell you, is a
treasure. May I never travel without him! He works like a Titan and he
has a heart of gold. I wish you were here to see this wide desolate
landscape and breathe an air which is like a breath from the very
fountain of life.

IIIF Manifest