Request a high resolution copy

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

March 17. [17 March 1914] I have not written any of my tale for these
ten days, because of the deadly fatigue of the way. But today, as I will
tell you, I have had a short day and I will profit by it. I did not leave
Hayyil [Hail] till March 8. I asked and obtained leave to see the town
and the qasr by daylight - which I had never been allowed to do - and
to photograph. They gave me full permission to photograph - to my
surprise and pleasure, and I went out next day, was shown the modif
and the great kitchen of the qasr and took many pictures. Every one
was smiling and affable - and I thought all the time of Khalil, coming in
there for his coffee and his pittance of taman. It is extraordinarily
picturesque and I make no doubt that it preserves the aspect[?] of
every Arabian palace that has ever been since the Days of
Ignorance. Some day, inshallah, you shall see my pictures. Then I
photographed the meshab and the outside of the mosque and as I
went through the streets I photographed them too. As I was going
home there came a message from my Circassian friend, Turkiyyeh,
inviting me to tea at her house. I went, and photographed Hayyil from
her roof and took an affectionate farewell of her. She and I are now, I
imagine, parted for ever, except in remembrance. As I walked home
all the people crowded out to see me, but they seemed to take
nothing but a benevolent interest in my doings. And finally the halt, the
maim and the blind gathered round my door and I flung out a bag of
copper coins among them. And thus it was that my strange visit to
Hayyil ended, after 11 days' imprisonment, in a sort of apotheosis! I
wanted to ride up to Nejef [Najaf, An] by the old pilgrim road, the Derb
Zubaidah, but at dawn on the morning of my departure there came a
slave from the palace, a man with henna dyed beard and blackened
eyes, of sinister aspect, and brought me a message to the effect that
in my view of my safety, which was of the greatest concern to the Amir,
I was to take the Western road, since the eastern was khala - empty of
the tribes and raided by their enemies. I acquiesced - it did not much
matter - wondering what was at the back of their mind. For we
subsequently learnt that the Shammar lay all along the eastern road
which was therefore as safe as any other. I fancy they meant to send
me to the Amir and thinking he was certain to be on the western road
they issued their order. As it turned out I should have met him if I had
gone by the Derb Zubaidah, for he moved across ahead of me (so
we learnt from the Arabs) and by the time I reached the place where
my guide expected him to be, he had passed east. Following an
Arab shaikh is much like following a grasshopper and I did not intend
to turn out of my way for him, much less back; so in the end I have not
seen him! On the second day out from Hayyil we met his messengers
who stopped and greeted us and said the Amir was expecting me.
They told me that he had taken Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)] and driven out
the Ruwalla without a shot being fired. After 2 days more a couple of
his rajajil came into our camp at evening on the way to Hayyil and
gave us the same news about Jof, with many details as to its capture -
mark my tale! We travelled over the Nefud [Nafud, An] for 4 weary
days - but it was starred all over with white and yellow daisies. We
followed a road, a khall, which I make no doubt is very ancient, worn
deep into the sand. And then we came out into great plains, flower
covered too - the desert is gay at this season with flowering weeds.
We have marched 9 to 10 hours every day, not really long marches,
but so wearying to the spirit in this immense monotony that I come into
camp every evening giddy with fatigue. Perhaps, too, I am beginning
to feel the effects of rather hard camp fare; anyway I shall be glad to
reach civilization again, and to rest for a day or two. Two days ago
we dismissed our Hayyil rafiq and took on another Shammari. This
innocent had been with the Amir on his recent campaign and he spent
the first day in telling us the story of it - wholly unaware of the official
version which had been served up to us and to the rest of the world.
They stopped short at a fortified village several hours short of Jof -
and were turned back by Ibn Sha'lans garrison. "Did you not enter
Jof?" said I. "La billah" said he. "Sahih?" said I - is it true? "Egh
billah Sahih - w'al shof ma shufna - and we did not even set eyes on
it." "Wallah?" said I. "Egh wallah!" he replied. It's a confusing world,
isn't it! But I don't doubt that this last is the true tale. \n\nAnd now I will
tell you my general idea of Arabian politics. Hayyil gave me a
sinister impression. I do not like the rule of women and of eunuchs.
The unsuccessful expedition against Ibn Sha'lan and the attempt to
cover up their tracks with false reports so easily exploded do not
serve to modify my views. I think the Rashid are moving towards their
close. Not one grown man of their house remains alive - the Amir is
only 16 or 17, and all the others are little more than babes, so deadly
has been the family strife. I have not seen the man who is Sa'ud's
chief advisor, Zamil, Ibrahim's brother, but from what I have heard I do
not fancy that he has great powers of the intelligence. Nor is there
anyone who stands out pre-eminent. I should say that the future lies
with Ibn Sa'ud. If it is true - as we hear - that he has driven the Turks
out of the Hasa, he is a formidable adversary. But the Shammar, with
their 80 years of rule behind them, will take some conquering. If Ibn
Sa'ud could strike a decisive blow, all the 'Anazeh would flock in to
share the spoils and then indeed Hayyil might be brought low. I
cannot find it in my heart to wish the Rashid much good. Their history
is one long tale of treachery and murder - you shall hear it some day.
I do not know what Ibn Sa'ud is like, but worse he cannot be. So there!
my next Arabian journey shall be to him. I have already laid out all my
plans for it. \n\nToday we reached the limits of the Shammar and
dropped into a big encampment of one of the Shi'a tribes of Nejef, the
Ri'u. These transitions are always difficult to effect and we passed a
delicate hour in the tent of the Shaikh. It was by no means clear
whether he intended to rob us or to welcome us. Finally, after much
diplomacy, the scale turned in our favour. We have pitched out tents
by his and are to have a rafiq tomorrow - and a lamb tonight! They
are not Bedu, these people, and they have a bad name. But as soon
as we had come to terms with them, and eaten dates and semen in
the shaikh's tent, they became affable and have spent the rest of the
afternoon round our camp fire. Also they dressed up in their best and
performed a strange dance, led by their green turbaned sayyid, while
I photographed them. They sang the while in praise of their patron
sayyid - it is all very unlike Wahabi Hayyil and I am not very fond of
Shi'a - but khair, inshallah!

IIIF Manifest