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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother Florence Bell, written over the course of several days from the 9th to the 24th of February, 1911.

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Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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1 letter plus envelope, paper

33.6416, 36.6903289

Dumeir [Dumayr] Feb 9. Dearest Mother. We're off. And now I must tell you the course of the negotiations which preceded this journey. First as you know I went to the sons of 'Abdul Kadir and they called up Sheikh Muhammad Bassam and asked him to help me. I called on him the following evening. He said it was too early, the desert camels had not come in to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], there was not a dalul (riding camel) to be had and I must send out to a village a few hours away and buy. This was discouraging as I could not hope to get them for less than £15 apiece, I wanted 5 and I should probably have to sell them for an old song at Hit [(Is)]. Next day Fattuh went down into the bazaar and came back with the news that he and Bassam between them had found an owner of camels ready to hire for £7 apiece. It was dear but I closed with the offer. All the arrangements were made and I despatched the caravan by the Palmyra [Tadmur] road. Then followed misfortune. The snow closed down upon us, the desert post did not come in for 3 weeks and till it came we were without a guide. Then Bassam invented another scheme. The old Sheikh of Kubeisa [Kubaysah] near Hit (you know the place) was in Damascus and wanted to return home; he would journey with us and and guide us. So all was settled again. But the Sheikh Muhammad en Na'wân made continuous delays, we were helpless, for we could not cross the Syrian desert without a guide and still the post did not come in. The snow in the desert had been without parallel. At last Muhammad en Na'wân was ready. I sent off my camels to Dumeir yesterday (it is the frontier village of the desert,) and went myself to sleep at the English hospital whence it was easier to slip off unobserved. For I am supposed to be travelling by Palmyra and Deir [Dayr az Zawr] with 4 zaptiehs. This morning Fattuh and I drove here, it took us 4 hours, and the sheikh came on his dulul. The whole party is assembled in the house of a native of Kubeisa. I am lodged in a large windowless room spread with felts, a camel is stabled at my door and over the way Fattuh is cooking my dinner. One has to put on clogs to walk across the yard, so inconceivably muddy it is, and in the village one can't walk at all, one must ride. I got in about 1 and lunched, after which I mounted my mare and went out to see some ruins a mile or two away. It was a big Roman fortified camp, splendid masonry of immense stones lying under the ridge of hill that runs back to Damascus. And beyond it the desert stretched away to the horizon. That is where we go tomorrow after I have photograph [sic] a fine ruined temple that lies a stone's throw from my door. It's too heavenly to be back in all this again, Roman forts and Arab hosts and the wide desert. All the women here address me as Hajji. It is very gratifying. Every few minutes someone comes into my room and inquires after my health. I reply politely: Praise God! and he or she leaves me. We have got for a guide the last desert postman who came in 3 days ago, having been delayed 9 days by snow. His name is 'Ali. Feb 10. [10 February 1911] Syrian Desert. There is in Dumeir [Dumayr] a very beautiful temple, rather like one of the temples at Baalbek. It towers up over the mud roofs of the village and I suppose its preservation is due to the fact that in the Middle Ages the Moslems turned it into a fort - their stone battlements are still to be seen above its pediments. As soon as the sun was up I went out and took some photographs of it, but I was ready long before the camels were loaded; the first day's packing is always a long business. Finally we got off soon after 9, a party of 15, myself, the Sheikh, Fattuh, 'Ali and my four camel men, and the other seven merchants who are going across to the Euphrates to buy sheep. In half an hour we passed the little Turkish guard house which is the last outpost of civilization and plunged into the wilderness. Our road lay before us on a flat expanse bounded to the N by the range of barren hills that trend away to the NE and divide us from the Palmyrene desert, and to the S by a number of distant tells, volcanic I should think. I rode my mare all day, for I can come and go more easily upon her, but when we get into the heart of the desert I shall ride a camel. It's less tiring. Three hours from Dumeir we came to some waterpools which are dry in summer and here we filled our skins, for where we are camping there is no water. There was a keen wind, rising sometimes into a violent storm which brought gusts of hail upon us, but fortunately it was behind us so that it did not do us much harm. Late in the afternoon another hail storm broke over us and clearing away left the distant hills white with snow. We had come to a place where there was a little scrub which would serve as fire wood and here we camped under the lea of some rising ground. Our companions have 3 big Arab tents, open in front, and we our 2 English tents and oddly enough we are quite warm in spite of the rain and the cold wind. I don't know why it is that one seldom feels cold in the desert; perhaps because of the absence of damp. The stony, sandy ground never becomes muddy. A little grass is beginning to grow and as you look over the wide expanse in front of you it is almost green. The old sheikh is lamenting that we are not in a house in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] (but I think one's first camp in the Hamâd is worth a street full of houses.) "By the head of your father!" he said "how can you leave the garden of the world and come out into this wilderness?" Perhaps it does require explanation. Feb 11. [11 February 1911] But today's experiences will not serve to justify my attitude. When I went to bed a hurricane was blowing. I woke from time to time and heard the good Fattuh hammering in the tent pegs, and wondered if any tent wd stand up in that gale and also what was going to happen next. About an hour before dawn Fattuh called to me and asked whether I was cold. I woke in surprise and putting my hand out felt the waterproof valise that covered me wet with snow. "It is like the sea" cried Fattuh. Thereupon I lighted a candle and saw that it had drifted into my tent a foot deep. I dug down, found my boots and hat and put them under the Wolsey valise; I had gone to bed as I stood and put all my extra clothing under the valise for warmth so that nothing had come to harm. At dawn Fattuh dragged out the waterproof sheet that covers the ground and with it most of the snow. The snow was lying in great drifts where the wind had blown it, it was banked up against our tents and those of the Arabs and every hour or so the wind brought a fresh storm upon us. We cleared it out of our tents and settled down to a day as little uncomfortable as we could manage to make it. In the afternoon 7 Arabs of the Heseneh rode in in a furious sleet storm. I was busy cutting firewood at the time. We built up the fire in Sheikh Muhammad's tent, gave them coffee and dates and sent them on a little comforted. They had spent the night out on the way to a distant camp. At last at sunset the wind dropped, the barometer rose and we pray for fine weather tomorrow. Most of the snow has already melted and left the desert spongy. Feb 12 [12 February 1911] We have got out into smooth waters at last. You can imagine what I felt like when I looked out of my tent before dawn and saw a clear sky and the snow almost vanished. But the cold! Everything in my tent was frozen stiff - yesterday's damp skirt was like a board, my gloves (Annie's woollen gloves, bless her!) like iron, my sponges - well I'll draw a veil over my sponges. I did not use them much. Nor was my toilette very complicated as I had gone to bed in my clothes. The temp. after sunrise was 30° and there was a biting wind blowing sharply from the west. I spent an hour trudging backwards and forwards over the frozen desert trying to pretend I was warm while the camels were loaded. The frozen tents took a world of time to pack - with frozen fingers too. We were off soon after 8 but for the first hour the wet desert was like a sheet of glass and the camels slipped about and fell down with much groaning and moaning. They are singularly unfitted to cope with emergencies. For the next hour we plodded over a slippery melting surface, for which they are scarcely better suited, then suddenly we got out of the snow zone and all was well. If we had been 3 hours further east we should have escaped the storm altogether - nasib! bad luck. Meantime about a mile to the right lay a large lake, unusually full now, though in summer it dries up, and upon the edge of it a small ruin, Kasr es Segal. I galopped [sic] down to it: it was not remarkable for architecture though I expect it was old. It was a plain oblong building divided up into small rooms with outer walls a metre and a half thick, fallen into ruin Bellow the lintel of the door. But what was remarkable was the look of the whole place, the half frozen shallow sea, the low barren hills beyond it, the desolation of it all. It might have been a landscape in an extinct planet. I galopped back through the slush, got onto my camel and rode on for the rest of the day. She is the most charming of animals. You ride a camel with only a halter which you mostly tie loosely round the peak of your saddle. A tap with your camel switch on one side of her neck or the other tells her the direction you want her to go, a touch with your heel sends her on, but when you wish her to sit down you have to hit her lightly and often on the neck saying at the same time: "Kh kh kh, kh" That's as near as I can spell it. The big soft saddle, the shedad, is so easy and comfortable that you never tire. You loll about and eat your lunch and observe the landscape through your glasses: you might almost sleep. So we swung on through an absolutely flat plain till past 5, when we came to a shallow valley with low banks on either side and here we camped. The name of the place is 'Aitha, there is a full moon and it is absolutely still except for the sound of the pounding of coffee beans in the tent of my travelling companions. I could desire nothing pleasanter. Feb 13. [13 February 1911] Don't think for a moment that it is warm weather yet. At 5.30 today (which was the hour of my breakfast) the thermometer stood at 26°, but there was no wind. We were off soon after 6. The sun rose gloriously half an hour later and we began to unfreeze. It's very cold riding on a camel, I don't know why unless it has to do with her extreme height. We rode on talking cheerfully of our various adventures till after ten which is the time when my companions lunch, so I lunch then too. The camels were going rather languidly for they were thirsty, not having drunk since they left Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. They won't drink when it is very cold. But our guide, Ali, promised us some pools ahead, good water he said. When we got there we found that some Arabs had camped not far off and nothing remained of the pools but trampled mud. The extraordinary folly of Bedouin habits is almost past Bellief. They know that the pools collect only under a sloping face of rock; if they would clear out the earth Bellow they would have good clear water that would last them for weeks; not only do they neglect to do that but they don't even clear out the mud which gets deeper and deeper till there is no pool at all. So we had to go searching round for another pool and at last we found one about a mile away with a very little water in it, but enough for the riding camels my mare and our water skins. It is exceedingly muddy however. We got into camp about 4 not far from some Arab tents. This is our plan of action: first of all we all set to work to put up our tents, my part of the proceeding being to unpack and set up my camp furniture. By the time I have done that and taken off my boots Fattuh has tea ready. My companions scatter over the plain with axes to gather firewood which is a little dry plant called shih, 6 inches high at the highest. We speak of it as the trees. A few strokes with the pick makes the square hearth in the tents and in a moment a bundle of shih is blazing in it, the sheikh has settled down to his narghileh and coffee making has begun. We never stop for 5 minutes but we pile up a heap of shih and warm our hands at the bonfire. We seek out for our camping place a bit of low ground. When we get near the place Ali purposes to camp in the old sheikh is all for stopping. "This room is fair" says he looking at a little curve in the bank. "Wallahi oh Sheikh" says Ali "the next room is better; there are more trees." So we go on to the next aforested chamber. It's a wonderfully interesting experience this. Last night they all sat up half the night because my mare pricked her ears and they thought she heard robbers. They ran up the banks and cried out "Don't come near! We have soldiers with us and consuls." It seemed to me when I heard of it (I was asleep at the time) a very open deceit, but it seems to have served the purpose for the thief retired. As we rode this morning 'Ali detected hoof marks on the hard ground and was satisfied that it was the mare of our enemy. No one can know but God. Feb 14. [14 February 1911] What I can accuse them of is not that they choose to live differently from us: for my part I like that; but that they do their own job so very badly. I told you of the water yesterday, now I will give you another instance. Everybody in the desert knows that camels frequently stray away while feeding, yet it occurs to no one to put a man to watch over them. No, when we get into camp they are just turned off to feed where they like and go where they will. Consequently yesterday at dusk 4 of our baggage camels were missing and a riding camel Bellonging to one of the Damascene sheep merchants and everyone had to turn out to look for them. I could not do anything so I did not bother and while I was dining the sheikh looked in and said our camels had come back - let us thank God. We thanked Him vigorously and it is certain that no one else could claim any credit. But the riding camel was not to be found, nor had she come back when I was ready to start at 4.30 this morning. We decided to wait till dawn and that being 2 hours off and the temperature 30° I went to bed again and to sleep. At dawn there was no news of her, so we started, leaving word with some Arabs where we were gone. She has not yet appeared, nor do I think she will. I was very sorry for the merchant, who now goes afoot, and very much bored by the delay. For we can't make it up at the other end because the camels have to eat for at least 2 hours before sunset. They eat shih; so does my little mare, she being a native of the desert. At 10 o'clock we came to some big water pools, carefully hollowed out "in the first days" said 'Ali with the earth banked up high round them, but now half filled with mud and the banks broken. Still they hold a good deal of water in the winter and the inhabitants of the desert for miles around were driving their sheep and camels there to drink. We too filled our water skins. A couple of hours later we passed another lot of pools of the same kind and doubtless old. We got into camp at 3 near some Arab tents. The sheikh, a charming old man, has just paid us a long visit. We sat round Muhammad's coffee fire and talked. It was all the more cheerful because the temperature is now 46° - a blessed change from 26°. My sponges have unfrozen for the first time. We have got up into the high flat plain which is the true Hamâd, the Smooth, and the horizon from my tent door is as round as the horizon of the sea. The sharp dry air is wonderfully delicious; I think every day of the Syrian desert must prolong your life by two years. Sheikh Muhammad has confided to me that he has 3 wives, one in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], one in Kubeisa [Kubaysah] and one in Baghdad, but the last he has not seen for 23 years. "She has grown old, oh lady - by the truth of God! and she never bore but one daughter." Feb 15. [15 February 1911] We were off at 5 this morning in bitter frost. Can you picture the singular beauty of these moon-lit departures? the frail Arab tents falling one by one, leaving the camp fires blazing into the night; the dark masses of the kneeling camels; the shrouded figures winding up the loads, shaking the ice from the water skins, or crouched over the hearth for a moment's warmth before mounting. "Yallah, yallah, oh children!" cries the old sheikh, knocking the ashes out of his narghileh "Are we ready?" So we set out across the dim wilderness, Sheikh Muhammad leading on his white dulul, the sky ahead reddens and fades, the moon pales, and in sudden splendour the sun rushes up over the rim of the world. To see with the eyes is good, but while I wonder and rejoice to look upon this primeval existence, it does not seem to be a new thing; it is familiar, it is a part of inherited memory. After an hour and a half of marching we came to the pool of Khafiyeh and since there is no water for 3 days' ahead we had to fill all our empty skins. But the pool was a sheet of ice, the waterskins were frozen and needed careful handling - for if you unfold them they crack and break - and we lighted a fire and set to work to thaw them and ourselves. I sent the slow baggage camels on and with much labour we softened the skins and contrived to fill them. The sun was now up and a more barren prospect than it revealed you cannot imagine. The Hamâd stretched in front of us, flat and almost absolutely bare; for several hours we rode over a wilderness of flints on which nothing grew. It was also the coldest day we have had, for the keen frosty wind blew straight into our faces. We stopped once to wait for the baggage camels and warmed ourselves at a bonfire meanwhile, and again we stopped for half an hour to lunch. All day there was nothing to be seen but one hill far away to the N, el Ghurâb and two little hills to the S, Taif[?] and Teneif - they stand at the edge of some volcanic broken ground. We watched our shadows catch us up and march ahead of us as the sun sunk westward, and at 3 o'clock we pitched camp in the stony waste. Yet I can only tell you that we have spent a very pleasant day. The old sheikh never stops talking, bless him; he orders us all about when we pitch and break up camp, but as Fattuh and I know much more about the pitching of our tents than he does, we pay no attention. "Oh Fattuh" said I this evening when he had given us endless advice as to the best spot to select "do you pity the wife in Baghdad?" "Effendim" said Fattuh "she must be exceedingly at rest." Still for my part I should be sorry not to see Sheikh Muhammad for 23 years. Feb 16. [16 February 1911] After I had gone to bed last night I heard 'Ali shouting, to all whom it might concern: "We are English soldiers! English soldiers!" But there was no one to hear and the desert would have received with equal indifference the information that we were Roman legionaries. I won't say anything more about the cold except just to mention that I had to give up all hope of brushing my teeth this morning: Fattuh had poured all the hot water into the teapot and it was vain to attempt to unfreeze my toothbrush. We came to the end of the inhospitable Hamad today and the desert is once more diversified by a slight rise and fall of the ground. It is still entirely waterless, so waterless that in the Spring when the grass grows thick the Arabs cannot camp here. All along our way there is proof of former water storage - I should think Early Moslem, marking the Abbasid post road. The pools have been dug out and banked up, but they are now full of earth and there is very little water in them. We are camped tonight in what is called a valley. It takes a practised eye to distinguish the valley from the mountain, the one is so shallow and the other so low. The valleys are often 2 miles wide and you can distinguish them best by the fact that there are generally more "trees" in them than in the heights. I have made great friends with one of the sheep merchants (not the one who lost his camel, poor man!) His name is Muhiyyed Din. He is coming back in the spring over this road with his lambs. They eat as they go and travel 4 hours a day. "It must be a dull job" said I. "Eh wallah!" he replied "but if the spring grass is good the master of the lambs rejoices to see them grow fat." He travels over the whole desert, here and in Mesopotamia buying sheep and camels; to Nejd [Najd] too, and to Egypt, and he tells me delightful tales of his adventures. What with one thing and another the 8 or 9 hours of camel riding a day are never dull. But Truth of God! the cold! however I said I would not speak about that. Feb 17. [17 February 1911] We were running short of water this morning and it was rather needful that we should find some today. The water difficulty has been enhanced by the cold. The standing pools are exceedingly shallow so that when there is an inch of ice over them little remains but mud; it is not easy to fill the skins and what the water is like that you scrape up under these conditions I leave to the imagination. Besides the mud, it has a sharp acrid taste of skins after 48 hours in them - not unhealthy I Bellieve, but neither is it pleasant. So it happened that we had to cut down rather to the south today instead of going to the well of Ka'ra which we could not have reached this evening. Sheikh Muhammad was much agitated at this programme. He expected to find the camps of tribes whom he knew at and near the well, and he feared that by coming to the south of them we might find ourselves before the path of a possible raiding party of Arabs whom he did not know coming up from the south. 'Ali tried to reassure him, saying that the chances were against raiding parties (good, please God!) and that we were relying upon God. But the Sheikh was not to be comforted. "Life of God! what is this talk! To God is the command! we are in the Shamiyyeh [Shamiyah] where no one is safe - Face of God!" He is master of a wonderful variety of pious ejaculations. So we rode for an hour or two (until he forgot about it) carefully scanning the horizon for ghazus; it was just as well that we had this to occupy us for the whole day's march was over ground as flat as a board, flatter even than the Hamad. It had been excruciatingly cold in the early morning - we were off an hour and a half before dawn - but about midday the wind shifted round to the south and we began to feel the warmth of the sun. For the first time we shed our fur coats, and the lizards came out of their holes. Also the horizon was decorated with fantastic mirages, which greatly added to the enjoyment of looking for ghazus. An almost imperceptible rise in the ground would from afar stand up above the solid earth as if it were the high back of a camel. We saw tents with men beside them pitched on the edge of mirage lakes and when at last we actually did come to a stretch of shallow water it was a long time before I could Bellieve that it was not imaginary. I saw how the atmospheric delusion worked by watching some gazelles. They galopped [sic] away over the plain just like ordinary gazelles, but when they came to the mirage they suddenly got up onto stilts and looked the size of camels. It is excessively bewildering to be deprived of the use of one's eyes in this way. We had a ten hours march to reach the water by which we are camped - I was very glad of this {excuse} or any reason for pushing on. It lies in a wide shallow basin of mud; most of it is dried up but a few pools remain in the deeper parts. The Arabs use some sort of white chalky stone - is it chalk? - to precipitate the mud. We have got some with us. We boil the water, powder the chalk and put it in and it takes nearly all the mud down to the bottom. Then we pour off the water. Feb 18. [18 February 1911] We were pursued all day by a mad wind which ended by bringing a shower of sleet upon us while we were getting into camp. In consequence of the inclemency of the weather I had the greatest difficulty in getting the sheikh and the camel drivers to leave their tent and they were still sitting over the coffee fire when we and the Damascene merchants were ready to start. Inspired of God I pulled out their tent pegs and brought their roof about their ears - to the great joy of all except those who were sitting under it. So we got off half an hour before dawn and after about an hour's riding dropped down off the smooth plain into an endless succession of hills and deep valleys - when I say deep they are about 200 ft deep and they all run north into the hollow plain of Ka'ra. I much prefer this sort of country to the endless flat and it is quite interesting sitting a camel down a stony descent. The unspeakably devilish wind was fortunately behind us - call upon the Prophet! but it did blow! While we were lunching one of the baggage camels took the opportunity to have a foal. They had to kill it, poor little thing, for it would have died in this cold, and they took great care that the mother should not see it, otherwise she would have mourned for it for days. As it was she walked off contentedly and browsed on some withered grass. We had no frost this morning for the first time. My friend Muhiyy ud Din was held up by a ghazu in one of these valleys a year or two ago: He was riding with the postman. The raiders took every scrap of food - they were themselves starving - and nearly all their tobacco; they left a little tobacco since no man can ride through the desert without it. But what money he had they did not take, saying that it was no use to them - food was what they needed. So Muhiyyed Din and the postman made the best of their way to Kubeisa [Kubaysah] where they arrived near starved. But this year the desert is quite quiet, for Sami Pasha in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] and Nazim Pasha in Baghdad have struck terror into the souls of the Arabs. Feb 20. [20 February 1911] We marched yesterday 13´ hours without getting anywhere. This was how it was: we set off at 5 in a delicious still night with a temp of 36° - it felt quite balmy. The sun rose clear and beautiful as we passed through the gates of our valley into a wide low plain - we were to reach the Wady Hauran [Hawran, Wadi], which is the father of valleys in the desert, in 10 hours, and the little ruin of Muheiwir [Muhaywir] in half an hour more, and there was to be plentiful clear water. {We were in good spirits as you may imagine}. We were in good spirits as you may imagine; the sheikh sang songs of Nejd [Najd] and 'Ali instructed me in all the desert roads. Presently the plain began to hollow itself into a shallow wide valley which deepened gradually as we rode down it. It was the first of the 3 valleys called el 'Ud which all lead into the Hauran. After 7 hours we snatched a brief 20 minutes for lunch and then rode on down the valley and out of it, leaving it to pursue a rugged course to the Hauran while we struck out to join the big valley further north. We rode on and on. At 2 o'clock I asked 'Ali whether it were 2 hours to Muheiwir? "More," said he. "Three?" said I. "Oh lady, more." "Four?" I asked with a little sinking of heart. "Wallahi, not so much." We rode on over low hills and hollow plains. At 5 we dropped into the second of the valleys el 'Ud. By this time Fattuh and I were on ahead and 'Ali was anxiously scanning the landscape from every high rock. The sheikh had sat down to smoke a narghileh while the baggage camels came up. "My lady" said Fattuh "I do not think we shall reach water tonight." And the whole supply of water which we had was about a cupful in my flask. We went on for another half hour down the valley and finally, in concert with 'Ali, selected a spot for a camp. It was waterless, but, said he, the water was not more than 2 hours off; he would take skins and fetch some, and meantime the starving camels would eat trees. But when the others came up, the Father of Camels, 'Abdullah, he from whom we hired our beasts, protested that he must have water to mix the camel meal that night (they eat a kind of dough) and rather against our better judgement we went on. We rode an hour further, by which time it was pitch dark. Then Muhiyy ed Din came up to me and said that if by chance we were to meet a ghazu in the dark night, and we upon no known road, they would certainly take up for a hostile ghazu and it might go ill with us. That there was reason in this was admitted by all; we dumped down where we stood, in spite of the darkness Fattuh had my tent up before you could wink while I hobbled my mare and hunted among the camel loads for my bed. No one else put up a tent; they drew the camels together and under the shelter they gave made a fire of what trees they could find. Fattuh and I divided the water in my flask into two parts; with half we made some tea which he and I shared over some tinned meat and some bread; the other half we kept for the next morning, when I shared it with the sheikh. We were none of us thirsty really; this weather does not make you thirsty. But my poor little mare had not drunk for 2 days, for the water we have been having was too muddy for her taste, and she whinnied to everyone she saw asking for something to drink. The last thing I heard before I went to sleep was the good Fattuh reasoning with her. "There is no water" he was saying. "There is none. Ma fi, ma fi." Soon after 5 he woke me up. I put on my boots, drank the tea he brought (having sent half to the poor old sheikh who had passed the night under the lea of his camel) and went out into a cheerless day break. The sky was heavy with low-hanging clouds, the thermometer stood at 34°, as we mounted our camels a faint and rather dismal glow in the east told us that the sun was rising. It was as well that we had not tried to reach water the night before. We rode today for 6´ hours before we got to rain pools in the Wady Hauran, and an hour more to Muheiwir and a couple of good wells in the valley bed. For the first 4 hours our way lay across barren levels; after a time we saw innumerable camels pasturing near the bare horizon and realized that we must be nearing the valley: there is no water anywhere but in the Hauran and all the tents of the Deleim are gathered near it. Then we began to descend through dry and stony watercourses and at midday along the edge of a river of stones with a few rain pools lying in it. So we came to Muheiwir, which is a small ruined fort lying under an outcrop of volcanic rock, and here we found 2 men of the Deleim with a flock of sheep - the first men we have seen for 4 days. Their camp is about 3 miles away. Under the ruined fort there are some deep springs in the bed of the stream and by them we camped, feeling that we needed a few hours' rest after all our exertions. The sheikh had lighted his coffee fire while I was taking a first cursory view of the ruin. "Oh lady" he cried "honour us." I sat down and drank a cup of coffee. "Where" said he, looking at me critically, "where is thy face in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], and where thy face here?" And I am bound to say that his remark was not without justification. But after 10 days of frost and wind and sun - Merciful God! what would you have? The clouds have all cleared away - sun and water and ruins, the heart of man can desire no more. The sheikh salutes you.

Feb 21. [21 February] We got off at 4 this morning and made a 12 hours' stage. It was freezing a little when we started; the moon rode high upon the shoulder of the Scorpion and was not strong enough to extinguish him - this waning moon has done us great service. It took us two hours to climb up out of the Wady Hauran [Hawran, Wadi]. I was talking to Muhiyy ed Din when the sheikh came up and said "Oh lady, speech before dawn is not good." He was afraid of rousing some hidden foe, but I'm bound to say that the sheikh sees a raider behind every rock. Reckless courage is not his characteristic. We have camped under a low bank, selecting carefully the east side of it so that our camp fires can be seen only by the friendly Deleim to the East of us. "It is better" said 'Ali. Last night at sunset the shepherd boys brought down their flocks to the pools of Muheiwir [Muhaywir] and they turned out to be not Deleim but 'Anazeh, Bedu par excellence: no other tribe in these parts is given that honourable title. Moreover we managed to pick up some very good sheep's milk new (I commend the quotation to Father) and had rice pudding for dinner. May God be praised and exalted! it was good. We are nowhere tonight - just out in the open wilderness which has come to feel so homelike. Four of the sheep merchants left us yesterday hearing that the sheikhs with whom they deal were camped near at hand, for each man deals every year with the same sheikh. If you could see the western sky with the evening star burning in it, you would give thanks - as I do.Feb 22. [22 February 1911] An hour's ride from our camp this morning brought us to the small desert fortress of 'Amej [Qasr 'Amij]. It stands upon the edge of a mansonry tank, dry and filled with mud, and is very much ruined though enough remained to make a satisfactory plan and to show that it was sister to Muheiwir [Muhaywir] and to Khubbaz. So you can picture Fattuh and me trying to stretch the metre tape taut in a strong cold wind an hour after dawn. Just as we had finished we saw the solitary camel ride, whom we knew to be the postman, a little to the south; Fattuh rode up to him and asked if he had seen our caravan at Hit [(Is)], but he had passed through Hit in the night and could give us no news. All the rest of the party except 'Ali had ridden on; we did not catch them up till past 10 when we found them making a halt, and the sheikh, I need not say, smoking his narghileh. We had passed many flocks and shepherds of the Deleim, for there was still a little water in a muddy bottom near 'Amej [Qasr 'Amij] and of them we asked news of our friend Muhammad el 'Abdullah and heard that he is camped a day's journey to the south, so we shall not see him, alas. But Muhiyy ed Din and the other sheep merchants found that their sheikhs were close at hand and we parted with much regret and a plentiful exchange of blessings. So we rode on till at 4 o'clock we reached the fortress of Khubbaz and here we have camped beneath the walls where Fattuh and I camped 2 years ago. It feels almost like returning home. It blew all day; I must own that the desert would be nicer if it were not so plagued with wind. The Sheikh and Ali and one of the camel drivers sang trios for part of the afternoon to beguile the way, which was rather long and wearisome. I have written down some of the sheikh's songs. They are not by him, however, but by the most famous of the modern desert poets, the late Emir of Nejd [Najd].

Feb 23. [23 February 1911] The morning came grey and cheerless with an occasional scud of rain. We set off about 6 and took the familiar path across barren water courses to 'Ain Za'zu. The rain fell upon us and made heavy and sticky going but it cleared before we reached the 'Ain and we lunched then and waited for the baggage camels till 11. Kubeisa [Kubaysah] was only an hour and a half away, and it being so early I determined to refuse all the Sheikh's pressing invitations that we should spend the night with him, and push on to Hit [(Is)], 3½ hours further. The baggage camels were informed of the change of plan and Fattuh and I rode on in high spirits at the thought of rejoining our caravan that evening. For you remember the caravan which we despatched from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] was to wait for us at Hit. But before we reached Kubeisa the rain came down again in torrents. Now the ground here is what the Arabs call sabkha, soft, crumbly salt marsh, sandy when it is dry and ready at a moment's notice to turn into a world of glutinous paste. This is what it did and since camels cannot walk in mud I was presently aware of a stupendous downfall and found myself and my camel prostrate in the sticky glue. It feels like the end of the universe when your camel falls down. However we both rolled up unhurt and made the best of our way to the gates of Kubeisa. And here another misfortune awaited us. The rain was still falling heavy, 'Abdullah, Father of Camels, declared that his beasts could not go on to Hit across a road all sabkha, and even Fattuh admitted that tired and hungry as they were, it would be impossible. So in great triumph and with much praising of God, the Sheikh conducted us to his house where I was siezed by a pack of beautiful and very inquisitive women ("They are shameless!" said Fattuh indignantly) and conducted into the pitch dark room on the ground floor which is the living room. But the sheikh rescued me and took me upstairs to the reception room on the roof. Everyone we met fell on his neck and greeted him with a kiss on either cheek and no sooner were we seated upstairs and a bonfire of trees lighted in the middle of the room, when all the worthies of Kubeisa began to assemble to greet him and hear the news. At the end they numbered at least 50. Now this was the room in which I was supposed to eat and sleep - there was no other. I took Fattuh aside - or rather outside, for the room was packed to overflowing - and said "The night will be troublesome." Fattuh knitted his brows and without a word strode down the stairs. I returned to the company and when the room grew too smoky with trees and tobacco sat outside talking to the sheikh's charming son, Na'mân. The rain had stopped. My old acquaintances in Kubeisa had all been up to salute me and I sat by the fire and listened to the talk and prayed that Fattuh might find some means of escape. He was as resourceful as usual. After a couple of hours he returned and said "With your permission, oh Muhammad. We are ready." He had found a couple of camels and a donkey and we were off. So we took a most affectionate leave of the sheikh and left him to his narghileh. Half the town of Kubeisa, the female half, followed us through the streets, and we turned our faces to Hit. The two camels carried our diminished loads, Fattuh rode the donkey (it was so small that his feet touched the ground and he presently abandoned it in favour of one of the baggage camels and sent it back) and I was supposed to ride my mare. But she had a sore heel, poor little thing, and kept tumbling in the mud, so I walked most of the way. We left at 2.30 and had 2½ hours before sunset (I think my watch is slow.) The first part of our way was hard and dry; presently we saw the smoke of the Hit pitch fires upon the horizon and when we had passed between some low hills, there was the great mound of Hit and its single minaret in front of us. There remained an hour and a half of journey, the sun had set and our road was all sabkha. The camels slipped and slithered and tumbled down: "Their legs are like soap" explained the camel boy, a wild, dark locked creature who talked ceaselessly of his journeys to Nejd [Najd] in a high raucous shout. But when we got into the sabkha there was no more talk except of the road. When the night came down upon us I realized that we had been mad to attempt this stage; if the rain had fallen again we should have been done. But it kept off till just as we reached Hit. The mound still loomed through the night and we could just see enough to keep more or less to our road - less rather than more - but not enough to make out whether stone or mud or sulphur pools lay in front of us. So we three great travellers, Fattuh, the mare and I, came into Hit, wet and weary, trudging through the dark; and looking, I make no doubt like so many vagabonds, and thus ingloriously ended our fine adventure. The Khan stands outside the town; the khanji is an old friend. "Ya 'Abud!" shouted Fattuh "the caravan, our caravan, is it here?" "Kinship and welcome and may the earth be wide to you! They are here." The muleteers hurried out, siezed my bridle, siezed my hand in turn and laid it upon their forehead. All was safe and well, we and they and the animals and the packs. Praise God! there is no other but He. The khanji brought me tea, and various friends came to call, I dined and washed and went to bed.
And so you see, we have crossed the Syrian desert as easily as if it had been the Sultan's high road, and we have made many friends and seen the ruins we went out to see, and over and above all I have conceived quite a new theory about the mediaeval roads through the desert which I will prove some day by another journey. And all that remains is to hope that this letter, which is the true history of all, will not be lost in the post.
Feb 24. [24 February 1911] We have repacked our loads and are off this day on the road to Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar]. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude

IIIF Manifest