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and bizarre was added by the water, in which distant caratwo glistening black water- vans appear to be wading kneeskins which each man carried deep. lashed to his saddle, for their As the day wore on, Mackintrip was to take them across tosh realised that his ill-assorted waterless country; these, with band could not reach Saiyid the legs sticking out in strange Nur, where he had hoped to unnatural attitudes, looked hor- spend the night, by sunset. ribly alive as the water moved Those of the Levies who could about inside them.
ride were feeling the strain of The narrow strip of cultiva- the unaccustomed exercise, tion along the river was soon while the plight of those who left behind, and the horsemen had merely said they could neared the jazirah, crossing ride was a pitiable one. He now tracts of land crisp with therefore called a halt, and salt and absolutely barren, now the party bivouacked in the patches thick with the grey- open. The water-skins were green scrub of the desert, its collected and put under the many varieties indistinguish- charge of the guard, for the able to the uninitiated, but men, used as they were to the familiar to the Arab as butter- plenty of the marsh country, cups and daisies to the Eng. had not learned the desert lishman : tahama and righul, Arab's lesson of husbanding favourite fodder of the camel; their supplies. ishshar, with its medicinal
To his surprise, Rand learned juices; arta, which provides as they set out next morning aromatic firewood ; donguh, the that the Adviser proposed to seed-pods of which are used halt for the rest of the day as food by the desert-dwellers ; after reaching Saiyid Nur. His shanan, with its saponaceous Levies, he protested, might properties ; and here and there have been dead-tired the evenscanty patches of dubaij and ing before, but a night's rest haytam, to which the shepherd had made them fit for a much leads his white and brown longer journey than the few flocks. At times the party miles proposed by Mackintosh. seemed to be riding towards “I am not doubting your a wide stretch of water-a men's endurance," said the familiar and home-like sight latter; “I am thinking of the to the marshmen; but it al- country ahead of us. Abu ways receded as they ap- Saba', the place we are makproached, and sometimes dig- ing for, is a sort of oasis in a appeared altogether from sight; great tract of sand dunes, a for in Iraq, mirage is not the fair-sized depression of good traveller's fevered dream of fertile soil, in which crops can palm-trees shading a bubbling be grown because they get the spring, but simply the illusion benefit of drainage - water to of a vast expanse of shallow eke out the scanty rainfall. It is cut in half by a slightly come from the fees paid by raised stretch of open country, tribesmen for the privilege of and the western part, known burying their dead in the proxas Nisf al Gharbi, is the land imity of so holy a descendant which has been ploughed and of the Prophet. sown by Zambur's people. The It was a dismal spot, with place is rather a favourite one its hundreds of low earthen with Arabs. There are seven mounds marking the graves, wells, which give it its name; but Rand's men did not seem the grazing is excellent in at all affected. Some set off spring, and no Government to collect fodder for the horses, mamur ever worries them to others busied themselves with collect the 'ushr on the crops filling the water-skins at the they grow. Abu Saba' has adjacent wells, which were no often been a bone of conten- more than shallow holes in the tion, I believe; but certainly ground. Near by stood some Ajil has a better right to it low troughs made of mud than any one else, though he coated with a kind of gypsum has by no means held it in brought from the hills, and unbroken possession. But even half-full of green foul-looking the Arabs admit that it is water : the object of these practically impossible in sum- was explained when one of mer to cross the hot waterless the Arabs, seeing the marshsand - desert which surrounds men trying vainly to induce the place, except by night. their horses to eat the freshlyThat is why we are going to cut filiwi grass, told them to spend the day at Saiyid Nur." take it to the wells and wash
While Mackintosh was speak- it in the troughs provided in ing, the two men saw ahead of readiness. The grass had bethem, shimmering in the heat come so impregnated with salt haze, a shadowy dome, many from the ground on which it times larger than that of the had grown that the animals, , Haidar Khan mosque at Bagh- hungry though they were, would dad. More and more distinct not touch it until it had been it grew, then suddenly van- rinsed in water. ished, to appear again a few The long hot day passed minutes later in its true per- without incident, and at sunspective, a small round dome set the party set out on the barely discernible.
last stage of its journey. The the tomb of Saiyid Nur, a going was slow, hindered somebuilding of sun-baked bricks times by deep shifting sand, standing on ground slightly and sometimes by stretches of raised above the level of the ground pitted by the jerboa surrounding desert.
rat with holes so numerous that guarded and kept in repair by even the nimble-footed Arab the Saiyid's descendants, who pony frequently came to grief. drew a not inconsiderable in. Though night was falling, the
heat was almost unbearable, the seven wells were probably and to add to the discomfort of great antiquity, for their of Arabs and Englishmen alike, sides were built up of careful a dry gusty wind would every masonry-not the kind of work now and again pick up the produced by Arabs for many sand and hurl it in their faces, centuries past. every particle pricking like a Returning to the madhif, the red-hot needle.
Before they two men had not long to wait had gone half-way, Mackintosh before ten tribesmen staggered had acquitted the Albu Obaid in bearing an enormous tray, of all hyperbole in their saying of the kind known as “father that a horse which crossed by of handles," as when loaded day would have its hoofs burned it could only be carried by off, while a man would reach means of ropes passed through the other side with empty the handles with which it was sockets, his eyes having melted provided. It was heaped high away with the heat.
with a mighty mound of rice, At length, shortly after dawn, on the top of which glistened Shaikh Ajil's camp was reached. white a score of broad fat Willing hands took the horses tails—those of the sheep which to water, and soon the party Ajil had slain in honour of his was seated in the shade of the guests. Great dishes of mutton great madhif of goat's hair to followed, and the sheep's heads await the meal which, accord- were borne in on a separate ing to Ajil, was on the point dish and set before Mackintosh of being ready. Mackintosh, and Rand, who hardly apprehowever, had had considerable ciated, in the charger full of experience of this degree of grinning masks, the compliment readiness; and having caught implied. Their meal finished, sight of the sheep being dragged and washed down with bowls towards the women's quarters, of sheep's milk, they made way there to be slaughtered and for the Levies ; but even the cooked, he suggested to Rand hearty appetites of Rand's men that they should stretch their did not make any appreciable legs before the sun became too inroads on the vast quantity hot. They strolled accordingly of food provided, and a plentiin the direction of the famous ful meal still remained for the wells, which were situated, crowd of hungry-looking Arabs strangely enough, just outside gathered round the outskirts the cultivated land, in the first of the madhif. All traces of fringe of sand dunes. Unlike the feast were speedily cleared those of Saiyid Nur, the wells away, and the men lay down lay at the bottom of wide sandy in the comparative coolness of craters, where a few clumps of the madhif to make up for stunted reeds indicated the the sleep which they had lost presence of water; closer in- the previous night, while Mackspection revealed the fact that intosh and Rand were led by
Shaikh Ajil to a smaller tent shaikh cursed the slowness of in which to get some rest. the men in dismantling the
In the middle of the morning, heavy madhif. Mackintosh was suddenly awak- What on earth is all the ened by the sound of shouts, shindy about, sir. 1 "
?asked which speedily rose to an ex- Rand, coming up. cited clamour of voices. Fling- “Ajil has had a messenger, ing on some clothes, he and while we were asleep, to warn Rand hastened outside, to find him that Zambur has set out, the whole camp apparently in with his own gom and Shaikh the grip of panic. Rand went Mohammad's, to attack the across at once to his men, who camp and collect the grain were looking on uneasily at sown by his people. Result, the general confusion, while immediate stampede. I must Mackintosh went in search of say it seems to me most unAjil.
likely that Zambur will cross He found the old shaikh the sand-dunes by day we busily loosening with his own found it bad enough at night. hands the guy - ropes of his But of course he may, so post tent.
some of your men to look out “Dogs of dogs, accursed of for any signs of them, and accursed !"
he cried. keep the rest handy here. I'll “They are upon us, Hakim. go and have a last word with Zambur, with his men and Ajil." Mohammad's, is even now on Rand, returning after makhis way to raid my camp.” ing his dispositions, joined He broke off to shout a string Mackintosh, where he stood of orders to some of his men, watching the last of the heavilywho were hastily driving up loaded camels rise grumbling the cows, donkeys, and camels from their knees. The Adviser which were to bear away the glanced with amusement at his shaikh's property.
expression of disgust. Remonstrance was useless. You mustn't be too hard Ajil's one thought, and the one on Ajil, Rand,” he said. 'Acthought of his tribesmen, was cording to his lights he is acting to get their worldly goods away very wisely. All he has in the to a place of safety before the world is on those slow-moving descent of the raiders. Noth- camels and donkeys, and he ing else could be considered, is not going to waste a single no plan of resistance made, precious moment in getting until this had been done. The them a start of the wellfirst fever of panic died down, mounted enemy who is on the but the men and women still way to raid him. The thought worked gwiftly; the poorer of defence simply doesn't enter members of the tribe, those an Arab's head ; stubborn dewho had few goods to load, fence against heavy odds means were already leaving, while the casualties, and that is the last
thing either side wants. It's then ” Rand exclaimed, both not considered the thing to surprised and pleased. kill any one on these expedi- No. Did you think we tions : raid and loot, then a counter-raid to try to loot a “Not exactly, sir. But I little more than the other fel- thought this discretion - thelows took—that's their idea of better-part-of-valour talk was warfare. Well, anyhow, we'll perhaps meant to indicate that see what we can do to give we also should make a stratZambur a welcome when he egical retreat." arrives.”
“Not a bit of it," laughed “We are not going back, Mackintosh.
As Mackintosh had foreseen, first ebullition of triumph died it was not until dawn that down, and then came the shout Zambur's men broke from the of mingled dismay and exassand-dunes and charged across peration for which Mackintosh the open country towards the was waiting. Zambur's tribessite of Ajil's camp. The fact men, going to the wells for that it was no longer there did water, had found them all not seem to dismay them. A filled up with sand. few of the more cautious rode The device was no new one ahead, and posted themselves among Arabs ; it was familiar on the higher ground beyond, to the tribes as a sort of Parwhere they could keep a look- thian shot, or as a means of out for danger; the rest made delaying pursuit for a few hosa, riding round and round hours. The raiders seemed to in circles, firing their rifles in accept the situation as a matter the air, and shouting in unison of course, and began methodia chant of victory.
cally to clear away the sand, To all intents and purposes scooping it out with their hands they had good reason for re- in the absence of spades. Some joicing. Shaikh Ajil and his stripped bare, not because of tribe had fled, the crops lay the increasing heat of the day, before them waiting to be but in order to heap the sand reaped. They could not see in their disdashas to carry it Rand's party of Levies, sent away; for being on a raiding off by the Adviser by night expedition, very few were wearto lie hidden a few miles away, ing the ever-useful aba. The nor Mackintosh himself, who, party of horsemen which had with an orderly, was watching been despatched on the chance them from the shelter of a of overtaking Ajil's people soon clump of ithil bushes. Before returned unsuccessful, and bemany minutes had passed, the fore long the watchers began