Letters

20 February 1911

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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.



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