Part 1 out of 5
JIMGRIM AND ALLAH'S PEACE
by Talbot Mundy
To Jimgrim: whose real name, rank, and military distinctions,
I promised never to make public.
I. "Look for a man named Grim."
II. "No objection; Only a stipulation."
III. "Do whatever the leader of the escort tells you."
IV. "I am willing to use all means--all methods."
V. "D'you mind if I use you?"
VI. "That man will repay study."
VII. "Who gives orders to me?"
VIII. "He will say next that it was he who set the stars in the
sky over El-Kerak, and makes the moon rise!"
IX. "Feet downwards, too afraid to yell"--
X. "Money doesn't weigh much!"
XI. "And the rest of the acts of Ahaziah--"
XII. "You know you'll get scuppered if you're found out!"
XIII. "You may now be unsafe and an outlaw and enjoy yourself!"
XIV. "Windy bellies without hearts in them."
XV. "I'll have nothing to do with it!"
XVI. "The enemy is nearly always useful if you leave him free to
XVII. "Poor old Scharnhoff's in the soup."
XVIII. "But we're ready for them."
XIX. "Dead or Alive, Sahib."
XX. "All men are equal in the dark."
"Look for a man named Grim."
There is a beautiful belief that journalists may do exactly as
they please, and whenever they please. Pleasure with violet
eyes was in Chicago. My passport describes me as a journalist.
My employer said: "Go to Jerusalem." I went, that was in 1920.
I had been there a couple of times before the World War, when the
Turks were in full control. So I knew about the bedbugs and the
stench of the citadel moat; the pre-war price of camels; enough
Arabic to misunderstand it when spoken fluently, and enough of
the Old Testament and the Koran to guess at Arabian motives,
which are important, whereas words are usually such stuff as lies
are made of.
El Kudz, as Arabs call Jerusalem, is, from a certain distance, as
they also call it, shellabi kabir. Extremely beautiful.
Beautiful upon a mountain. El Kudz means The City, and in a
certain sense it is that, to unnumbered millions of people.
Ludicrous, uproarious, dignified, pious, sinful, naively
confidential, secretive, altruistic, realistic. Hoary-ancient
and ultra-modern. Very, very proud of its name Jerusalem, which
means City of Peace. Full to the brim with the malice of
certainly fifty religions, fifty races, and five hundred thousand
curious political chicaneries disguised as plans to save our
souls from hell and fill some fellow's purse. The jails
"Look for a man named Grim," said my employer. "James Schuyler
Grim, American, aged thirty-four or so. I've heard he knows
The ropes, when I was in Jerusalem before the war, were
principally used for hanging people at the Jaffa Gate, after they
had been well beaten on the soles of their feet to compel them to
tell where their money was hidden. The Turks entirely understood
the arts of suppression and extortion, which they defined as
government. The British, on the other hand, subject their normal
human impulse to be greedy, and their educated craving to be
gentlemanly white man's burden-bearers, to a process of compromise.
Perhaps that isn't government. But it works. They even carry
compromise to the point of not hanging even their critics if
they can possibly avoid doing it. They had not yet, but they
were about to receive a brand-new mandate from a brand-new
League of Nations, awkwardly qualified by Mr. Balfour's
post-Armistice promise to the Zionists to give the country to
the Jews, and by a war-time promise, in which the French had
joined, to create an Arab kingdom for the Arabs.
So there was lots of compromising being done, and hell to pay,
with no one paying, except, of course, the guests in the hotels,
at New York prices. The Zionist Jews were arriving in droves.
The Arabs, who owned most of the land, were threatening to cut
all the Jews' throats as soon as they could first get all their
money. Feisal, a descendant of the Prophet, who had fought
gloriously against the Turks, was romantically getting ready in
Damascus to be crowned King of Syria. The French, who pride
themselves on being realistic, were getting ready to go after
Feisal with bayonets and poison-gas, as they eventually did.
In Jerusalem the Bolsheviks, astonishingly credulous of "secret"
news from Moscow, and skeptical of every one's opinion but their
own, were bolsheviking Marxian Utopia beneath a screen of such
arrogant innocence that even the streetcorner police constables
suspected them. And Mustapha Kemal, in Anatolia, was rumoured to
be preparing a holy war. It was known as a Ghazi in those
days. He had not yet scrapped religion. He was contemplating,
so said rumour, a genuine old-fashioned moslem jihad, with
A few enthusiasts astonishingly still laboured for an American
mandate. At the Holy Sepulchre a British soldier stood on guard
with bayonet and bullets to prevent the priests of rival creeds
from murdering one another. The sun shone and so did the stars.
General Bols reopened Pontius Pilate's water-works. The learned
monks in convents argued about facts and theories denied by
archaeologists. Old-fashioned Jews wailed at the Wailing Wall.
Tommy Atkins blasphemously dug corpses of donkeys and dogs from
the Citadel moat.
I arrived in the midst of all that, and spent a couple of months
trying to make head or tail of it, and wondering, if that was
peace, what war is? They say that wherever a man was ever slain
in Palestine a flower grows. So one gets a fair idea of the
country's mass-experience without much difficulty. For three
months of the year, from end to end, the whole landscape is
carpeted with flowers so close together that, except where beasts
and men have trodden winding tracks, one can hardly walk without
crushing an anemone or wild chrysanthemum. There are more
battle-fields in that small land than all Europe can show. There
are streams everywhere that historians assert repeatedly "ran
blood for days."
Five thousand years of bloody terrorism, intermingling of races,
piety, plunder, politics and pilgrims, have produced a self-
consciousness as concentrated as liquid poison-gas. The laughter
is sarcastic, the humour sardonic, and the credulity beyond
analysis. For instance, when I got there, I heard the British
being accused of "imperialistic savagery" because they had
removed the leprous beggars from the streets into a clean place
where they could receive medical treatment.
It was difficult to find one line of observation. Whatever
anybody told you, was reversed entirely by the next man. The
throat-distorting obligation to study Arabic called for rather
intimate association with educated Arabs, whose main obsession
was fear of the Zionist Jews. The things they said against
the Jews turned me pro-Zionist. So I cautiously made the
acquaintance of some gentlemen with gold-rimmed spectacles, and
the things they said about the Arabs set me to sympathizing with
the sons of Ishmael again.
In the midst of that predicament I met Jimgrim--Major James
Schuyler Grim, to give him his full title, although hardly any
one ever called him by it. After that, bewilderment began to
cease as, under his amused, painstaking fingers, thread after
thread of the involved gnarl of plots and politics betrayed
However, first I must tell how I met him. There is an American
Colony in Jerusalem--a community concern that runs a one-price
store, and is even more savagely criticized than the British
Administration, as is only natural. The story of what they did
in the war is a three-year epic. You can't be "epic" and not
A Chicago Jew assured me they were swine and horse-thieves. But
I learned that the Yemen Jews prayed for them--first prayer--
every Sabbath of the year, calling down blessings on their heads
for charitable service rendered.
One hardly goes all the way to Palestine to meet Americans; but
a journalist can't afford to be wilfully ignorant. A British
official assured me they were "good blokes" and an Armenian told
me they could skin fleas for their hides and tallow; but the
Armenian was wearing a good suit, and eating good food, which he
admitted had been given to him by the American Colony. He was
bitter with them because they had refused to cash a draft on
Mosul, drawn on a bank that had ceased to exist.
It seemed a good idea to call on the American Colony, at their
store near the Jaffa Gate, and it turned out to be a very clean
spot in a dirty city. I taxed their generosity, and sat for
hours on a ten-thousand-dollar pile of Asian rugs behind the
store; and, whatever I have missed and lost, or squandered, at
least I know their story and can keep it until the proper time.
Of course, you have to allow for point of view, just as the
mariner allows for variation and deviation; but when they
inferred that most of the constructive good that has come to the
Near East in the last fifty years has been American, they spoke
with the authority of men who have lived on the spot and watched
"You see, the Americans who have come here haven't set up
governments. They've opened schools and colleges. They've
poured in education, and taken nothing. Then there are thousands
of Arabs, living in hovels because there's nothing better, who
have been to America and brought back memories with them. All
that accounts for the desire for an American mandate--which would
be a very bad thing, though, because the moment we set up a
government we would lose our chance to be disinterested. The
country is better off under any other mandate, provided it gives
Americans the right to teach without ruling. America's mission
is educational. There's an American, though, who might seem to
prove the contrary. Do you see him?"
There were two Arabs in the room, talking in low tones over by
the window. I could imagine the smaller of the two as a peddler
of lace and filigree-silver in the States, who had taken out
papers for the sake of privilege and returned full of notions to
exploit his motherland. But the tall one--never. He was a
Bedouin, if ever a son of the desert breathed. If he had visited
the States, then he had come back as unchanged as gold out of an
acid bath; and as for being born there--
"That little beady-eyed, rat-faced fellow may be an American," I
said. "In fact, of course he is, since you say so. But as for
being up to any good--"
"You're mistaken. You're looking at the wrong man. Observe the
I was more than ever sure I was not mistaken. Stately gesture,
dignity, complexion, attitude--to say nothing of his Bedouin
array and the steadiness with which he kept his dark eyes fixed
on the smaller man he was talking to, had laid the stamp of the
desert on the taller man from head to heel.
"That tall man is an American officer in the British army.
Doesn't look the part, eh? They say he was the first American to
be granted a commission without any pretense of his being a
Canadian. They accepted him as an American. It was a case of
that or nothing. Lived here for years, and knew the country so
well that they felt they had to have him on his own terms."
You can believe anything in Jerusalem after you have been in the
place a week or two, so, seeing who my informant was, I swallowed
the fact. But it was a marvel. It seemed even greater when the
man strolled out, pausing to salute my host with the solemn
politeness that warfare with the desert breeds. You could not
imagine that at Ellis Island, or on Broadway--even on the stage.
It was too untheatrical to be acting; too individual to be
imitation; to unself-conscious to have been acquired. I
hazarded a guess.
"A red man, then. Carlisle for education. Swallowed again by
the first desert he stayed in for more than a week."
"Wrong. His name is Grim. Sounds like Scandinavian ancestry, on
one side. James Schuyler Grim--Dutch, then, on the other; and
some English. Ten generations in the States at any rate. He can
tell you all about this country. Why not call on him?"
It did not need much intelligence to agree to that suggestion;
but the British military take their code with them to the
uttermost ends of earth, behind which they wonder why so many
folks with different codes, or none, dislike them.
"Write me an introduction," I said.
"You won't need one. Just call on him. He lives at a place they
call the junior Staff Officers' Mess--up beyond the Russian
Convent and below the Zionist Hospital."
So I went that evening, finding the way with difficulty because
they talk at least eighteen languages in Jerusalem and, with the
exception of official residences, no names were posted anywhere.
That was not an official residence. It was a sort of communal
boarding-house improvised by a dozen or so officers in preference
to the bug-laden inconvenience of tents--in a German-owned
(therefore enemy property) stone house at the end of an alley, in
a garden full of blooming pomegranates.
I sent my card in by a flat-footed old Russian female, who ran
down passages and round corners like a wet hen, trying to find a
man-servant. The place seemed deserted, but presently she came
on her quarry in the back yard, and a very small boy in a
tarboosh and knickerbockers carried the card on a tray into a
room on the left. Through the open door I could hear one quiet
question and a high-pitched disclaimer of all knowledge; then an
order, sounding like a grumble, and the small boy returned to the
hall to invite me in, in reasonably good English, of which he
seemed prouder than I of my Arabic.
So I went into the room on the left, with that Bedouin still in
mind. There was only one man in there, who got out of a deep
armchair as I entered, marking his place in a book with a
Damascus dagger. He did not look much more than middle height,
nor more than medium dark complexioned, and he wore a major's
"Beg pardon," I said. "I've disturbed the wrong man. I came to
call on an American named Major Grim."
"Must be a mistake, though. The man I'm looking for is taller
than you--very dark--looks, walks, speaks and acts like a
Bedouin. I saw him this afternoon in Bedouin costume in the
American Colony store."
"Yes, I noticed you. Sit down, won't you? Yes, I'm he--the
Bedouin abayi* seems to add to a man's height. Soap and water
account for the rest of it. These cigars are from the States."
[*Long-sleeved outer cloak.]
It was hard to believe, even on the strength of his straight
statement--he talking undisguised American, and smiling at me, no
doubt vastly pleased with my incredulity.
"Are you a case of Jekyll and Hyde?" I asked.
"No. I'm more like both sides of a sandwich with some army mule-
meat in the middle. But I won't be interviewed. I hate it.
Besides, it's against the regulations."
His voice was not quite so harshly nasal as those of the Middle
West, but he had not picked up the ultra-English drawl and
clipped-off consonants that so many Americans affect abroad
I don't think a wise crook would have chosen him as a subject for
experiments. He had dark eyes with noticeably long lashes;
heavy eyebrows; what the army examination-sheets describe as a
medium chin; rather large hands with long, straight fingers;
and feet such as an athlete stands on, fully big for his size,
but well shaped. He was young for a major--somewhere between
thirty and thirty-five.
Once he was satisfied that I would not write him up for the
newspapers he showed no disinclination to talk, although it was
difficult to keep him on the subject of himself, and easy to let
him lose you in a maze of tribal history. He seemed to know the
ins and outs of every blood-feud from Beersheba to Damascus, and
warmed to his subject as you listened.
"You see," he said, by way of apology when I laughed at a string
of names that to me conjured up only confusion, "my beat is all
the way from Cairo to Aleppo--both sides of the Jordan. I'm not
on the regular strength, but attached to the Intelligence--no,
not permanent--don't know what the future has in store--that
probably depends on whether or not the Zionists get full control,
and how soon. Meanwhile, I'm my own boss more or less--report
direct to the Administrator, and he's one of those men who allows
you lots of scope."
That was the sort of occasional glimpse he gave of himself, and
then switched off into straight statements about the Zionist
problem. All his statements were unqualified, and given with the
air of knowing all about it right from the beginning.
"There's nothing here that really matters outside the Zionist-
Arab problem. But that's a big one. People don't realize it--
even on the spot--but it's a world movement with ramifications
everywhere. All the other politics of the Near East hinge on it,
even when it doesn't appear so on the surface. You see, the Jews
have international affiliations through banks and commerce. They
have blood-relations everywhere. A ripple here may mean there's
a wave in Russia, or London, or New York. I've known at least
one Arab blood-feud over here that began with a quarrel between a
Jew and a Christian in Chicago."
"Are the Zionists as dangerous as the Arabs seem to think?" I asked.
"Yes and no. Depends what you call danger. They're like an
incoming tide. All you can do is accept the fact and ride on top
of it, move away in front of it, or go under. The Arabs want to
push it back with sword-blades. Can't be done!"
"Speaking as a mere onlooker, I feel sorry for the Arabs," I
said. "It has been their country for several hundred years.
They didn't even drive the Jews out of it; the Romans attended
to that, after the Assyrians and Babylonians had cleaned up
nine-tenths of the population. And at that, the Jews were
"Sure," Grim answered. "But you can't argue with tides. The
Arabs are sore, and nobody has any right to blame them. The
English betrayed the Arabs--I don't mean the fellows out here,
but the gang at the Foreign Office."
I glanced at his uniform. That was a strange statement coming
from a man who wore it. He understood, and laughed.
"Oh, the men out here all admit it. They're as sore as the Arabs
"Then you're on the wrong side, and you know it?" I suggested.
"The meat," he said, "is in the middle of the sandwich. In a
small way you might say I'm a doctor, staying on after a riot to
stitch up cuts. The quarrel was none of my making, although I
was in it and did what I could to help against the Turks. Like
everybody else who knows them, I admire the Turks and hate what
they stand for--hate their cruelty. I was with Lawrence across
the Jordan--went all the way to Damascus with him--saw the war
through to a finish--in case you choose to call it finished."
Vainly I tried to pin him down to personal reminiscences. He was
not interested in his own story.
"The British promised old King Hussein of Mecca that if he'd
raise an Arab army to use against the Turks, there should be a
united Arab kingdom afterward under a ruler of their own
choosing. The kingdom was to include Syria, Arabia and
Palestine. The French agreed. Well, the Arabs raised the army;
Emir Feisul, King Hussein's third son, commanded it; Lawrence
did so well that he became a legend. The result was, Allenby
could concentrate his army on this side of the Jordan and
clean up. He made a good job of it. The Arabs were naturally
I suggested that the Arabs with that great army could have
enforced the contract, but he laughed again.
"They were being paid in gold by the British, and had Lawrence to
hold them together. The flow of gold stopped, and Lawrence was
sent home. Somebody at the Foreign Office had changed his mind.
You see, they were all taken by surprise at the speed of
Allenby's campaign. The Zionists saw their chance, and claimed
Palestine. No doubt they had money and influence. Perhaps it
was Jewish gold that had paid the wages of the Arab army.
Anyhow, the French laid claim to Syria. By the time the war was
over the Zionists had a hard-and-fast guarantee, the French claim
to Syria had been admitted, and there wasn't any country left
except some Arabian desert to let the Arabs have. That's the
situation. Feisul is in Damascus, going through the farce of
being proclaimed king, with the French holding the sea-ports and
getting ready to oust him. The Zionists are in Jerusalem,
working like beavers, and the British are getting ready to pull
out as much as possible and leave the Zionists to do their own
worrying. Mesopotamia is in a state of more or less anarchy.
Egypt is like a hot-box full of explosive--may go off any minute.
The Arabs would like to challenge the world to mortal combat,
and then fight one another while the rest of the world pays
"The French, for instance. Their army is weak at the moment.
They've neither men nor money--only a hunger to own Syria. They
don't play what the English call 'on side.' They play a mean
game. The French General Staff figure that if Feisul should
attack them now he might beat them. So they've conceived the
brilliant idea of spreading sedition and every kind of political
discontent into Palestine and across the Jordan, so that if the
Arabs make an effort they'll make it simultaneously in both
countries. Then the British, being in the same mess with the
French, would have to take the French side and make a joint
campaign of it."
"But don't the British know this?"
"You bet they know it. What's the Intelligence for? The French
are hiring all the Arab newspapers to preach against the British.
A child could see it with his eyes shut."
"Then why in thunder don't the British have a showdown?"
"That's where the joker comes in. The French know there's a sort
of diplomatic credo at the London Foreign Office to the general
effect that England and France have got to stand together or
Europe will go to pieces. The French are realists. They bank
on that. They tread on British corns, out here, all they want
to, while they toss bouquets, backed by airplanes, across the
"Then the war didn't end the old diplomacy?"
"What a question! But I haven't more than scratched the Near
East surface for you yet. There's Mustapha Kemal in Anatolia,
leader of the Turkish Nationalists, no more dead or incapacitated
than a possum. He's playing for his own hand--Kaiser Willy
stuff--studying Trotzky and Lenin, and flirting with Feisul's
party on the side. Then there's a Bolshevist element among the
Zionists--got teeth, too. There's an effort being made from
India to intrigue among the Sikh troops employed in Palestine.
There's a very strong party yelling for an American mandate. The
Armenians, poor devils, are pulling any string they can get hold
of, in the hope that anything at all may happen. The orthodox
Jews are against the Zionists; the Arabs are against them both,
and furious with one another. There's a pan-Islam movement on
foot, and a pan-Turanian--both different, and opposed. About 75
per cent of the British are as pro-Arab as they dare be, but the
rest are strong for the Zionists. And the Administrator's
neutral!--strong for law and order but taking no sides."
"I'm one of the men who is trying to keep the peace."
He invited me to stay to dinner. The other members of the mess
were trooping in, all his juniors, all obviously fond of him
and boisterously irreverent of his rank. Dinner under his
chairmanship was a sort of school for repartee. It was utterly
unlike the usual British mess dinner. If you shut your eyes for
a minute you couldn't believe that any one present had ever worn
a uniform. I learned afterward that there was quite a little
competition to get into that mess.
After dinner most of them trooped out again, to dance with
Zionist ladies at an institute affair. But he and I stayed, and
talked until midnight. Before I left, the key of Palestine and
Syria was in my hands.
"You seem interested," he said, coming with me to the door. "If
you don't mind rough spots now and then, I'll try to show you a
few things at first hand."
"No objection; only a stipulation."
The showmanship began much sooner than I hoped. The following
day was Sunday, and I had an invitation to a sort of semi-public
tea given by the American Colony after their afternoon religious
They received their guests in a huge, well-furnished room on the
upper floor of a stone house built around a courtyard filled with
flowers. I think they were a little proud of the number of
fierce-looking Arabs, who had traveled long distances in order to
be present. Ten Arab chieftains in full costume, with fifteen or
twenty of their followers, all there at great expense of trouble,
time and money, for friends sake, were, after all, something to
feel a bit chesty about. Every member of the Colony seemed able
to talk Arabic like a native and, as they used to say in the up-
state papers, a good time was being had by all. The Near East
adores ice-cream, and there was lots of it.
Two of the Arab chiefs were Christians; the rest were not. The
peace and war record of the Colony was what had brought them all
there. Hardly an Arab in the country was not the Colony's debtor
for disinterested help, direct or indirect, at some time in some
way. The American Colony was the one place in the country where
a man of any creed could go and be sure that whatever he might
say would not be used against him. So they were talking their
heads off. Hot air and Arab politics have quite a lot in common.
But there was a broad desert-breath about it all. It wasn't like
the little gusty yaps you hear in the city coffee-shops. A lot
of the talk was foolish, but it was all magnificent.
There was one sheikh named Mustapha ben Nasir dressed in a blue
serge suit and patent-leather boots, with nothing to show his
nationality except a striped silk head-dress with the camel-hair
band around the forehead. He was a handsome fellow, with a black
beard trimmed to a point, and perfect manners, polished no doubt
in a dozen countries, but still Eastern in slow, deferential
dignity. He could talk good French. I fell in conversation
The frankness with which treason is mooted, admitted and
discussed in the Near East is one of the first things that amaze
you. They are so open about it that nobody takes them seriously.
Apparently it is only when they don't talk treason openly that
the ruling authorities get curious and make arrests. To me, a
total stranger, with nothing to recommend me but that for an hour
or two that afternoon I was a guest of the American Colony,
Mustapha ben Nasir made no bones whatever about the fact that the
was being paid by the French to stir up feeling over Jordan
against the British.
"I receive a monthly salary," he boasted. "I am just from
Damascus, where the French Liaison-officer paid me and gave me
"Where is your home?" I asked him.
"At El-Kerak, in the mountains of Moab, across the Dead Sea. I
start this evening. Will you come with me?"
"Je m'en bien garderai!"
He smiled. "Myself, I am in favor of the British. The French
pay my expenses, that is all. What we all want is an independent
Arab government--some say kingdom, some say republic. If it is
not time for that yet, then we would choose an American mandate.
But America has deserted us. Failing America, we prefer the
English for the present. Anything except France! We do not want
to become a new Algeria."
"What is the condition now at El-Kerak?"
"Condition? There is none. There is chaos. You see, the
British say their authority ceases at the River Jordan and at a
line drawn down the middle of the Dead Sea. That leaves us with
a choice between two other governments--King Hussein's government
of Mecca, and Feisul's in Syria. But Hussein's arm is not long
enough to reach us from the South, and Feisul's is not nearly
strong enough to interfere from the North. So there is
no government, and each man is keeping the peace with his
"You mean; each man on his own account?"
"Yes. So there is peace. Five--fifteen--thirty throats are cut
daily; and if you go down to the Jordan and listen, you will
hear the shots being fired from ambush any day."
"And you invite me to make the trip with you?"
"Oh, that is nothing. In the first place, you are American.
Nobody will interfere with an American. They are welcome. In
the second place, there is a good reason for bringing you; we
all want an American school at El-Kerak."
"But I am no teacher."
"But you will be returning to America? It is enough, then, that
you look the situation over, and tell what you know on your
return. We will provide a building, a proper salary, and
guarantee the teacher's life. We would prefer a woman, but it
would be wisest to send a man."
"How so? The woman might not shoot straight? I've some of our
Western women do tricks with a gun that would--"
"There would be no need. She would have our word of honour. But
every sheikh who has only three wives would want to make her his
fourth. A man would be best. Will you come with me?"
"On your single undertaking to protect me? Are you king of all
"If you will come, you shall have an escort, every man of whom
will die before he would let you be killed. And if they, and
you, should all be killed, their sons and grandsons would avenge
you to the third generation of your murderers."
"That's undoubtedly handsome, but--"
"Believe me, effendi," he urged, "many a soul has been consoled
in hell-fire by the knowledge that his adversaries would be cut
off in their prime by friends who are true to their given word."
Meaning to back out politely, I assured him I would think the
"Well and good," he answered. "You have my promise. Should you
decide to come, leave word here with the American Colony. They
will get word to me. Then I will send for you, and the escort
shall meet you at the Dead Sea."
I talked it over with two or three members of the Colony, and
they assured me the promise could be depended on. One of
"Besides, you ought to see El-Kerak. It's an old crusader city,
rather ruined, but more or less the way the crusaders left it.
And that craving of theirs for a school is worth doing something
about, if you ever have an opportunity. They say they have too
much religion already, and no enlightenment at all. A teacher
who knew Arabic would have a first-class time, and would be well
paid and protected, if he could keep his hands off politics. Why
not talk with Major Grim?"
It was a half-hour's walk to Grim's place, but I had the good
fortune to catch him in again. He was sitting in the same chair,
studying the same book, and this time I saw the title of it--
Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean--a strange book for a soldier
to be reading, and cutting its pages with an inlaid dagger, in a
Jerusalem semi-military boarding-house. But he was a man of
unexpectedly assorted moods.
He laughed when I told of ben Nasir. He looked serious when I
mooted El-Kerak--serious, then interested, them speculative.
From where I sat I could watch the changes in his eyes.
"What would the escort amount to?" I asked him.
"And what's this bunk about Americans being welcome anywhere?"
"Perfectly true. All the way from Aleppo down to Beersheba. Men
like Dr. Bliss* have made such an impression that an occasional
rotter might easily take advantage of it. Americans in this
country--so far--stand for altruism without ulterior motive.
If we'd accepted the mandate they might have found us out!
Meanwhile, an American is safe." [*President of the American
College at Beirut. Died 1920, probably more respected throughout
the Near East than any ten men of any other nationality.]
"Then I think I'll go to El-Kerak."
Again his eyes grew speculative. I could not tell whether he was
considering me or some problem of his own.
"Speaking unofficially," he said, "there are two possibilities.
You might go without permission--easy enough, provided you don't
talk beforehand. In that case, you'd get there and back; after
which, the Administration would label and index you. The
remainder of your stay in Palestine would be about as exciting
as pushing a perambulator in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. You'd
"I'd rather be killed. What's the alternative?"
"Get permission. I shall be at El-Kerak myself within the next
few days. I think it can be arranged."
"D'you mean I can go with you?" I asked, as eager as a schoolboy
for the circus.
"Not on your life! I don't go as an American."
Recalling the first time I had seen him, I sat still and tried to
look like a person who was not thrilled in the least by seeing
secrets from the inside.
"Well," I said, "I'm in your hands."
I think he rather liked that. As I came to know him more
intimately later on he revealed an iron delight in being trusted.
But he did not say another word for several minutes, as if there
were maps in his mind that he was conning before reaching a
decision. Then he spoke suddenly.
"Are you busy?" he asked. "Then come with me."
He phoned to some place or other for a staff automobile, and the
man was there with it within three minutes. We piled in and
drove at totally unholy speed down narrow streets between walls,
around blind right-angle turns where Arab policemen stood waving
unintelligible signals, and up the Mount of Olives, past the
British military grave-yard, to the place they call OETA.* The
Kaiser had it built to command every view of the countryside and
be seen from everywhere, as a monument to his own greatness--the
biggest, lordliest, most expensive hospice that his architects
could fashion, with pictures in mosaic on the walls and ceilings
of the Kaiser and his ancestors in league with the Almighty. But
the British had adopted it as Administration Headquarters.
[*Headquarters: Occupied Enemy Territory Administration.]
All the way up, behind and in front and on either hand, there
were views that millions* would give years of their lives to see;
and they would get good value for their bargain. Behind us, the
sky-line was a panorama of the Holy City, domes, minarets and
curved stone roofs rising irregularly above gray battlemented
walls. Down on the right was the ghastly valley of Jehoshaphat,
treeless, dry, and crowded with white tombs--"dry bones in the
valley of death." To the left were everlasting limestone hills,
one of them topped by the ruined reputed tomb of Samuel--all
trenched, cross-trenched and war-scarred, but covered now in a
Joseph's coat of flowers, blue, blood-red, yellow and white. [*
This is no exaggeration. There are actually millions, and on
more than one continent, whose dearest wish, could they have it,
would be to see Jerusalem before they die.]
There were lines of camels sauntering majestically along three
hill-tops, making time, and the speed of the car we rode in, seem
utterly unreal. And as we topped the hill the Dead Sea lay below
us, like a polished turquoise set in the yellow gold of the
barren Moab Mountains. That view made you gasp. Even Grim, who
was used to it, could not turn his eyes away.
We whirled past saluting Sikhs at the pompous Kaiserish entrance
gate, and got out on to front steps that brought to mind one of
those glittering hotels at German cure-resorts--bad art, bad
taste, bad amusements and a big bill.
But inside, in the echoing stone corridors that opened through
Gothic windows on a courtyard, in which statues of German super-
people stared with blind eyes, there was nothing now but bald
military neatness and economy. Hurrying up an uncarpeted stone
stairway (Grim seemed to be a speed-demon once his mind was set)
we followed a corridor around two sides of the square, past
dozens of closed doors bearing department names, to the
Administrator's quarters at the far end. There, on a bare bench
in a barren ante-room, Grim left me to cool my heels. He
knocked, and entered a door marked "private."
It was fully half an hour before the door opened again and I was
beckoned in. Grim was alone in the room with the Administrator,
a rather small, lean, rigidly set up man, with merry fire in his
eye, and an instantly obvious gift for being obeyed. He sat at
an enormous desk, but would have looked more at ease in a tent,
or on horseback. The three long rows of campaign ribbons looked
incongruous beside the bunch of flowers that somebody had crammed
into a Damascus vase on the desk, with the estimable military
notion of making the utmost use of space.
Sir Louis was certainly in an excellent temper. He offered me a
chair, and looked at me with a sort of practical good-humour that
seemed to say, "Well, here he is; now how shall we handle him?"
I was minded to ask outright for what I wanted, but something in
his attitude revealed that he knew all that already and would
prefer to come at the problem in his own way. It was clear,
without a word being said, that he proposed to make some sort of
use of me without being so indiscreet as to admit it. He
reminded me rather of Julius Caesar, who was also a little man,
considering the probable qualifications of some minor spoke in a
prodigious wheel of plans.
"I understand you want to go to El-Kerak?" he said, smiling as if
all life were an amusing game.
I admitted the impeachment. Grim was standing, some little way
behind me and to one side; I did not turn my head to look at
him, for that might have given a false impression that he and I
were in league together, but I was somehow aware that with folded
arms he was studying me minutely.
"Well," said Sir Louis, "there's no objection; only a
stipulation: We wouldn't let an Englishman go, because of the
risk--not to him, but to us. Any fool has a right to get killed,
but not to obligate his government. All the missionaries were
called in from those outlying districts long ago. We don't want
to be held liable for damages for failure to protect. Such
things have happened. You see, the idea is, we assume no
responsibility for what takes place beyond the Jordan and the
Dead Sea. Now, if you'd like to sign a letter waiving any claim
against us for protection, that would remove any obstacle to your
going. But, if you think that unreasonable, the alternative is
safe. You can, stay in Jerusalem. Quite simple."
That had the merit of frankness. It sounded fair enough.
Nevertheless, he was certainly not being perfectly frank. The
merriment in his eyes meant something more than mere amusement.
It occurred to me that his frankness took the extreme form of not
concealing that he had something important in reserve. I rather
liked him for it. His attitude seemed to be that if I wanted to
take a chance, I might on my own responsibility, but that if my
doing so should happen to suit his plans, that was his affair.
Grim was still watching me the way a cat watches a mouse.
"I'll sign such a letter," said I.
"Good. Here are pen and paper. Let's have it all in your
handwriting. I'll call a clerk to witness the signature."
I wrote down the simple statement that I wished to go to El-Kerak
for personal reasons, and that I waived all claim against the
British Administration for personal protection, whether there or
en route. A clerk, who looked as if he could not have been hired
to know, or understand, or remember anything without permission,
came in answer to the bell. I signed. He witnessed.
Sir Louis put the letter in a drawer, and the clerk went
"How soon will you go?"
I told about the promised escort, and that a day or two would be
needed to get word to ben Nasir. I forgot that ben Nasir would
not start before moonrise. It appeared that Sir Louis knew more
than he cared to admit.
"Can't we get word to ben Nasir for him, Grim?"
Grim nodded. So did Sir Louis:
"Good. There'll be no need, then, for you to take any one into
confidence," he said, turning to me again. "As a rule it isn't
well to talk about these things, because people get wrong ideas.
There are others in Jerusalem who would like permission to go
"I'll tell nobody."
He nodded again. He was still considering things in the back
of his mind, while those intelligent, bright eyes smiled so
"How do you propose to reach the Dead Sea?" he asked. "Ben
Nasir's escort will probably meet you on the shore on this side."
"Oh, hire some sort of conveyance, I suppose."
"Couldn't we lend him one of our cars, Grim?"
Grim nodded again.
"We'll do that. Grim, can you get word to ben Nasir so that when
the escort is ready he may send a messenger straight to the hotel
with the information? D'you get my meaning?"
"Sure," said Grim, "nobody else need know then."
"Very well," said Sir Louis. He rose from his chair to intimate
that the precise moment had arrived when I might leave without
indiscretion. It was not until I was outside the door that I
realized that my permission was simply verbal, and that the only
document that had changed hands had been signed by me. Grim
followed me into the ante-room after a minute.
"Hadn't I better go back and ask for something in writing from
him?" I suggested.
"You wouldn't get it. Anyhow, you're dealing with a gentleman.
You needn't worry. I was afraid once or twice you might be going
to ask him questions. He'd have canned you if you had. Why
I was not going to help Grim dissect my mental processes.
"There's a delightful air of mystery," I said, "I'd hate to
"Come up on the tower," he said. "There's just time before
sunset. If you've good eyes, I'll show you El-Kerak."
It is an enormous tower. The wireless apparatus connected with
it can talk with Paris and Calcutta. From the top you feel as if
you were seeing "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of
time." There are no other buildings to cut off the view or
tamper with perspective. The Dead Sea was growing dark. The
Moab Hills beyond it looked lonely and savage in silhouette.
"Down there on your left is Jericho," said Grim. "That winding
creek beyond it is the Jordan. As far eastward as that there's
some peace. Beyond that, there is hardly a rock that isn't used
for ambush regularly. Let your eye travel along the top of the
hills--nearly as far as the end of the Dead Sea. Now--d'you see
where a touch of sunlight glints on something? That's the top of
the castle-wall of El-Kerak. Judge what strategists those old
crusaders were. That site commands the ancient high road from
Egypt. They could sit up there and take toll to their hearts'
content. The Turks quartered troops in the castle and did the
same thing. But the Turks overdid it, like everything else.
They ruined the trade. No road there nowadays that amounts
"It looks about ten miles away."
"More than eighty."
The sun went down behind us while we watched, and here and there
the little scattered lights came out among the silent hills in
proof that there were humans who thought of them in terms of
Venus and Mars shone forth, yellow and red jewels; then the
moon, rising like a stage effect, too big, too strongly lighted
to seem real, peering inch by inch above the hills and ushering
in silence. We could hear one muezzin in Jerusalem wailing that
God is God.
"That over yonder is savage country," Grim remarked. "I think
maybe you'll like it. Time to go now."
He said nothing more until we were scooting downhill in the car
in the midst of a cloud of dust.
"You won't see me again," he said then, "until you get to El-
Kerak. There are just one or two points to bear in mind. D'you
care if I lecture?"
"I wish you would."
"When the messenger comes from ben Nasir, go to the Governorate,
just outside the Damascus Gate, phone OETA, say who you are, and
ask for the car. Travel light. The less you take with you, the
less temptation there'll be to steal and that much less danger
for your escort. I always take nothing, and get shaved by a
murderer at the nearest village. If you wash too much, or change
your shirt too often, they suspect you of putting on airs. Can't
travel too light. Use the car as far as Jericho, or thereabouts,
and send it back when the messenger says he's through with it.
After that, do whatever the leader of the escort tells you, and
you'll be all right."
"How do I cross the Dead Sea?"
"That's ben Nasir's business. There's another point I'll ask you
to bear in mind. When you see me at El-Kerak, be sure not to
make the slightest sign of recognition, unless and until you
get word from me. Act as if you'd never seen me in your
I felt like an arch-conspirator, and there is no other sensation
half so thrilling. The flattery of being let in, as it were,
through a secret door was like strong wine.
"Is your memory good?" Grim asked me. "If you make notes, be
sure you let everybody see them; you'll find more than one of
them can read English. If you should see or overhear anything
that you'd particularly like to remember because it might prove
useful to me, note it down by making faint dots under the letters
of words you've already written; or--better yet--take along a
pocket Bible; they're all religious and respect the Bible. Make
faint pencil lines underneath words or letters, and they'll think
you're more than extra devout. There's nothing special to watch
out for; just keep your ears and eyes open. Well, here's your
hotel. See you again soon. So long."
I got out of the car and went to get ready for a Christian dinner
served by Moslems, feeling like a person out of the Arabian
Nights, who had just met the owner of a magic carpet on which one
only had to sit in order to be wafted by invisible forces into
unimaginable realms of mystery.
"Do whatever the leader of the escort tells you."
I never learned exactly how Jim Grim got word to ben Nasir. My
suspicion is that he took the simple course of getting the
American Colony to send one of their men; but as they never
referred to it afterwards, and might have their own reasons for
keeping silence, I took care not to ask them. We have most of us
seen harm done by noisy gratitude for kindness, better covered up.
I kept close to the hotel for three days, studying Arabic. By
the fourth afternoon discouragement set in. I began to believe
that the whole affair had petered out; perhaps on reflection the
Administrator had decided I was not a proper person to be turned
loose out of bounds, and nobody could have blamed him for that,
for he knew next to nothing about me. Or Grim might have been
called off for some other important business. The chances seemed
all against my going after all.
But on the fourth evening, just at sunset, when the sandwiches I
had ordered in advance were all thoroughly stale and I had almost
decided to unpack the small hand-grip and try to forget the whole
affair, I noticed an Arab standing in the door of the hotel
scrutinizing every one who passed him. I watched him for five
minutes. He paid no attention to officers in uniform. I left my
chair in the lobby and walked past him twice.
He had one eye, like a gimlet on a universal joint; he turned
it this and that way without any corresponding movement of his
head. It penetrated. You felt he could have seen you with it
in the dark.
I started to pass him a third time. He held his hand out and
thrust a small, soiled piece of paper into mine. The writing on
it was in Arabic, so I went back to the seat in the far corner,
to puzzle it out, he standing meanwhile in the doorway and
continuing to quiz people as if I had meant nothing in his life.
The message was short enough:
Bearer will accompany you to a place where the escort will
be in readiness. God give your honour a good journey. Mustapha
I went to the Governorate and phoned for the car to come and pick
me up outside the Jaffa Gate. The Arab followed me, and he and I
were both searched at the gate for weapons, by a Sikh who knew
nothing and cared less about Near East politics. His orders were
to search thoroughly. He did it. The man whose turn was next
ahead of mine was a Russian priest, whose long black cloak did
not save him from painstaking suspicion. He was still
indignantly refusing to take down his pants and prove that the
hard lump on his thigh was really an amulet against sciatica,
when the car came for me.
It was an ordinary Ford car, and the driver was not in uniform.
He, too, had only one eye in full commission, for the other was
bruised and father swollen. I got in beside him and let the Arab
have the rear seat to himself, reflecting that I would be able to
smell all the Arab sweat I cared to in the days to come.
We are governed much more by our noses than we are often aware
of, and I believe that many people--in the East especially--use
scent because intuition warns them that their true smell would
arouse unconscious antagonism. Dogs, as well as most wild
animals, fight at the suggestion of a smell. Humans only differ
from the animals, much, when they are being self-consciously
human. Then they forget what they really know and tumble
headlong into trouble.
The driver seemed to know which road to take, and to be in no
particular hurry, perhaps on account of his injured eye. He was
an ex-soldier, of course: one of those under-sized Cockneys with
the Whitechapel pallor overlying a pugnacious instinct, who make
such astonishing fighting-men in the intervals between sulking
and a sort of half-affectionate abuse of everything in sight.
Being impatient to begin the adventure, I suggested more speed.
"Oh!" he answered. "So you're another o' these people in an
'urry to get to Jericho! It's strynge. The last one was a
Harab. Tyke it from me, gov'nor, I've driven the very last
Harab as gets more than twenty-five miles an hour out o' me,
so 'elp me--"
He tooled the car out on to the road toward Bethany, and down the
steep hill that passes under the Garden of Gethsemane, before
vouchsafing another word. Then, as we started to climb the hill
ahead, he jerked his chin in the direction of the sharp turn we
had just passed in the bottom of the valley. "Took that corner
las' time on one wheel!"
"For the Arab?"
"Aye. Taught me a lesson. Never agayn! I ain't no Arabian
Night. Nor yet no self-immolatin' 'Indoo invitin' no juggernauts
to make no pancykes out o' me. 'Enceforth, I drives reasonable.
All Harabs may go to 'ell for all o' me."
He was itching to tell his story. He was likely to tell it
quicker for not being questioned; your Cockney dislikes anything
he can construe into inquisition. I remarked that the road
didn't seem made for speed--too narrow and too rough--and let it
go at that.
He said no more until we reached the village of Bethany, and drew
abreast of Lazarus' reputed tomb, where a pack of scavenger-dogs
awoke and yelped around the wheels. He did his best to run
over one of them, but missed. Then he could not hold his story
"Two nights ago," he said, "they gives me orders to take a Harab
to a point near Jericho. After dark, I starts off, 'im on the
back seat; engine ain't warm yet, so we goes slow. He leans
forward after a couple o' minutes, an says 'Yalla kawam'!" * So
I thinks to myself I'll show the blighter a thing or two, me not
bein' used to takin' orders from no Harabs. Soon as the engine's
'ot I lets rip, an' you know now what the road's like. When we
gets to the top o' that 'ill above Gethsemane I lets extry
special rip. Thinks I, if you can stand what I can, my son,
you've guts. [*Hurry up.]
"Well, we 'its all the 'igh places, and lands on a bit o' level
road just often enough to pick up more speed--comes round that
sharp bend on 'alf a wheel, syme as I told you--kills three pye-
dogs for sure, an' maybe others, but I don't dare look round--
misses a camel in the dark that close that the 'air on my arms
an' legs fair crawled up an' down me--'it's a lump o' rock that
comes near tippin' us into the ditch--an' carries on faster an'
ever. By the time we gets 'ere to Bethany, thinks I, it's time
to take a look an' see if my passenger's still in the bloomin'
car. So I slows down.
"The minute I turns my 'ead to 'ave a peer at 'im. 'Kawam!' 'e
says. 'Quick! Quick!'
"So it strikes me I weren't in no such 'urry after all. Why
'urry for a Harab? The car's been rattlin' worse 'n a tinker's
basket. I gets down to lave a look--lights a gasper*--an' takes
my bloomin' time about it. You seen them yellow curs there by
Lazarus' tomb? Well, they come for me, yappin' an' snarlin' to
beat 'ell. I'm pickin' up stones to break their 'eads with--good
stones ain't such easy findin' in the dark, an' every time I
stoops 'alf a dozen curs makes a rush for me--when what d'you
suppose? That bloomin' Harab passenger o' mine vaults over into
my seat, an' afore I could say ''ell's bells' 'e's off. I'd left
the engine runnin'. By the luck o' the Lord I 'angs on, an'
scrambles in--back seat. [*Anglice--canteen cigarette.]
"I thought at first I'd reach over an' get a half-nelson on 'im
from behind. But, strike me blind! I didn't dare!
"Look where we are now. Can you see the 'air-pin turn at the
bottom of this 'ill, with a ditch, beyond it? Well, we takes
that turn in pitch-dark shadow with all four wheels in the air,
an' you'd 'a thought we was a blinkin' airplane a doin' stunts.
But 'e's a hexpert, 'e is, an' we 'olds the road. From there on
we goes in one 'oly murderin' streak to a point about 'alf-way up
the 'ill where the Inn of the Good Samaritan stands on top.
There we 'as two blow-outs simultaneous, an' thinks I, now, my
son, I've got you! I gets out.
"'You can drive,' I says, 'like Jehu son o' Nimshi what made
Israel to sin. Let's see you make bricks now without no bleedin'
straw'! I knew there weren't no tools under the seat--there
never are in this 'ere country if you've left your car out o'
your sight for five minutes. 'You take off them two back tires,'
I says, 'while I sit 'ere an meditate on the ways of Harabs!
Maybe you're Moses,' I says, 'an know 'ow to work a miracle.'
"But the only miracle about that bloke's 'is nerve. 'E gets out,
'an begins to walk straight on up'ill without as much as a by-
your-leave. I shouts to 'im to come back. But 'e walks on. So
I picks up a stone off the pile I was sittin' on, an' I plugs 'im
good--'its 'im fair between the shoulder-blades. You'd think, if
'e was a Harab, that'ud bring 'im to 'is senses, wouldn't you?
But what d'you suppose the blighter did?
"Did you notice my left eye when you got in the car? 'E turns
back, an' thinks I, 'e's goin' to knife me. But that sport could
use 'is fists, an' believe me, 'e done it! I can use 'em a bit
myself, an' I starts in to knock 'is block off, but 'e puts it
all over me--weight, reach an' science. Mind you, science!
First Arab ever I see what 'ad science; an' I don't more than
'alf believe it now!
"Got to 'and it to 'im. 'E was merciful. 'E let up on me the
minute 'e see I'd 'ad enough. 'E starts off up'ill again. I
sits where 'e'd knocked me on to a stone pile, wishin' like 'ell
for a drink. It was full moonlight, an' you could see for miles.
After about fifteen minutes, me still meditatin' murder an'
considerin' my thirst I seen 'em fetch a camel out o' the khan at
the Inn o' the Good Samaritan; an' next thing you know, 'e's out
o' sight. Thinks I, that's the last of 'im, an' good riddance!
But not a bit of it!
"The men what fetched the camel for 'im comes down to me an' says
the sheikh 'as left word I'm to be fed an' looked after. They
fixes me up at the inn with a cot an' blankets an' a supper o'
sorts, an' I lies awake listenin' to 'em talkin' Arabic,
understandin' maybe one word out of six or seven. From what I
can make o' their conjecturin', they think 'e ain't no sheikh at
all, but a bloomin' British officer in disguise!
"Soon as morning comes I jump a passing commissariat lorry. As
soon as I gets to Jerusalem I reports that sheikh for arson,
theft, felo de se, busting a gov'ment car, usin' 'is fists when
by right 'e should ha' knifed me, an' every other crime I could
think of. An' all I gets is laughed at! What d'you make of it?
Think 'e was a Harab?"
I wondered whether he was Jimgrim, but did not say so. Grim had
not appeared to me like a man who would use his fists at all
readily; but he was such an unusual individual that it was
useless trying to outline what he might or might not do. It was
also quite likely that the chauffeur had omitted mention of, say,
nine-tenths of the provocation he gave his passenger. What
interested me most was the thought that, if that really was
Jimgrim, he must have been in a prodigious hurry about something;
and that most likely meant excitement, if not danger across the
We caught sight of the Dead Sea presently, bowling past the Inn
of the Good Samaritan and beginning to descend into the valley,
twelve hundred feet below sea level, that separates Palestine
from Moab. The moon shone full on the water, and it looked more
wan and wild than an illustration out of Dante's Inferno. There
was no doubt how the legends sprang up about birds falling dead
as they flew across it. It was difficult to believe that
anything could be there and not die. It was a vision of the land
of death made beautiful.
But the one-eyed Arab on the rear seat began to sing. To him
that view meant "home, sweet home." His song was all about his
village and how he loved it--what a pearl it was--how sweeter
than all cities.
"'Ark at 'im!" The driver stopped the car to fill his pipe.
"You'd think 'e lived in 'eaven! I've fought over every hinch o'
this perishin' country, an' tyke it from me, guv'nor, there ain't
a village in it but what's composed of 'ovels wi' thatched roofs,
an' 'eaps o' dung so you can't walk between 'em! Any one as
wants my share o' Palestine can 'ave it!"
We bumped on again down a road so lonely that it would have felt
good to see a wild beast, or an armed man lurking in wait for us.
But the British had accomplished the impossible: They had so
laid the fear of law along those roads that, though there might
be murders to the right and left of them, the passer-by who kept
to the road was safe, for the first time since the Romans now and
then imposed a temporary peace.
At last, like two yellow streams glistening in moonlight, the
road forked--one way toward Jericho. The other way appeared
to run more or less parallel with the Dead Sea. At that point
the one-eyed Arab left off singing at last and clutched the
"All right! All right!" he answered impatiently, and stopped.
"Out you get, then!"
He did not expect the tip I gave him. He seemed to think it
placed him under obligation to wait there and talk for a few
minutes. But my one-eyed guide waved him away disgustedly with
the hand that did not hold my bag, and we stood in the road
watching until he vanished up-hill out of sight. Then the guide
plucked my sleeve and I followed him along the righthand road.
We walked half a mile as fast as he could set foot to the ground.
At last we reached a pretense of a village--a little cluster of
half-a-dozen thatched stone huts enclosed within one fence of
thorn and cactus. Everything showed up as clearly in the
moonlight as if painted with phosphorus. The heavy shadows only
made the high lights seem more luminous. A man and two donkeys
were waiting for us outside the thorn hedge. The man made no
remark. My guide and I mounted and rode on.
Presently we turned down a track toward the Dead Sea, riding
among huge shadows cast by the hills on our right hand. The
little jackals they call foxes crossed our path at intervals.
Owls the size of a robin, only vastly fluffier, screamed from the
rocks as we passed them. Otherwise, it was like a soul's last
journey, eerie, lonely and awful, down toward River Styx.
Long before we caught sight of the water again, through a ragged
gap between high limestone rocks, I could smell a village. The
guide approached it cautiously, stopping every minute or so to
listen. When we came on it at last it was down below us in
abysmal darkness, one light shining through a window two feet
square in proof we were not hesitating on the verge of the
The donkeys knew the way. They trod daintily, like little
ladies, along a circling track that goats made and men had
certainly done nothing to improve. We made an almost complete
ellipse around and down, and rode at last over dry dung at the
bottom, into which the donkeys' feet sank as into a three-pile
carpet. You could see the stars overhead, but nothing, where we
were, except that window and a shaft of yellow light with
hundreds of moths dazzled in it.
We must have made some noise in spite of the donkeys' vetvet
foot-fall. As we crossed the shaft of light a door opened within
six feet of the window. A man in Arab deshabille with a red
tarboosh awry, thrust out his head and drew it in again quickly.
"Is that the American?" he asked. He held the door so that he
could slam it in our faces if required.
The guide made no answer. I gave my name. The man opened the
"Lailtak sa'idi, effendi! Hishkur Allah! Come in, mister!" The
guide led the donkeys away to some invisible place. I crossed
the threshold, my host holding his tin lantern carefully to show
the two steps leading down to a flag-stone floor. He bolted the
door the moment I was inside. He seemed in a great state of
excitement, and afraid to make any noise. Even when he shot the
bolt he did it silently.
It was a square room, moderately clean, furnished only with a
table and two chairs. There were other rooms leading off it, but
the stone partitions did not reach as high as the thatch and I
could hear rustling, and some one snoring. I sat on one of the
chairs at his invitation, and rather hoped for supper, having had
none. But supper was not in his mind; it seemed he had too much
else to worry him. He looked like a man who worried easily, and
likely enough with good reason, for his long nose and narrow eyes
did not suggest honesty.
"There was to be an escort to meet me here," I said.
"Yes, yes. Thank God, mister, you have come at last. If you had
only come at sunset! Ali has gone to bring them now."
"Who is Ali?"
"He with one eye. He who brought you. Your escort came at
sunset. Because I am Christian they would not listen to me or
wait for you in my house. There are twenty of them, led by
Anazeh, who is a bad rascal. They have gone to raid the
villages. There has been trouble. I have heard two shots fired.
Now they will come back to my house, and if the Sikh patrol is
after them they will be caught here, and I shall be accused of
helping them. May the fires of their lying Prophet's Eblis
burn Anazeh and his men forever and ever, Amen! May God curse
That was a nice state of affairs. I did not want to be caught
there by a lot of truculent Sikhs under one of those jocularly
incredulous young British subalterns that Sikhs adore. In the
first place, I had nothing whatever in writing to prove my
innocence. The least that was likely to happen would be an
ignominious return to Jerusalem, after a night in a guard-house,
should there be a guard-house; failing that, a night in the open
within easy reach of Sikh's bayonets. In Jerusalem, no doubt,
Sir Louis would order me released immediately. But it began to
look as if the whole mystery after all was nothing but a well-
staged decoy, using me for bait. Not even tadpoles enjoy being
used for live-bait without being consulted first. I began to
spear about for remedies.
"If you're an honest man," I said, "you'd better simply deny all
connection with the raid."
He shrugged his shoulders. He did not look like an honest man.
He wasn't one. He knew it. He retorted gloomily:
"Anazeh's scoundrels will have raided sheep, and perhaps cattle.
If any one has resisted them, there will be wailing widows crying
out for vengeance. They will put the sheep and cattle in their
boats in which they came over the sea this afternoon. The boats
will be found by the Sikhs, hauled up on the sand-pit just below
my house, with my motor-boat beside them. I am ruined!"
Well, my own predicament was better than that. Nobody was likely
to accuse me of having stolen sheep. But I could not feel sorry
for my host, because he was so sorry for himself. He was one of
those unfortunates who carry the conviction of their own guilt in
their faces. I gave up all idea of relying on him in case the
Sikhs should come.
My next idea was to ask for the loan of one of the donkeys, and
to start back toward Jerusalem. But I had not more than thought
of it when men's footsteps pattered on the yard dung, and an
indubitable rifle-butt beat on the wooden door.
"For God's sake!" hissed the owner of the place. He ran to the
door to open it as the thumping grew louder. As he drew the bolt
somebody kicked the door open, sending him reeling backwards.
For a second I thought the Sikhs had come.
But he was nothing like a Sikh who strode in, with a dozen
ruffians at his tail and one-eyed Ali bringing up the rear. He
was one of the finest-looking Arabs I had ever seen, although
considerably past fifty and wrinkled so that his face was a net-
work of fine lines, out of which his big, dark eyes shone with
unaged intelligence. He was magnificently dressed, perhaps in
order to do me honour. Except for the fact that he carried a
modern military rifle on his elbow, in place of a shepherd's
crook or a spear, he looked like one of those historic worthies
who stalk through the pages of the Pentateuch. The dignity and
charm with which he bowed to me were inimitable--unconveyable.
But he turned on my Christian host like a prophet of old
Arabic when the right man uses it sounds like tooth-for-a-tooth
law being laid down. Hebrew is all music and soft vowels;
Arabic all guttural consonants. The Sheikh Anazeh (there was no
doubt of his identity; they all kept calling him by name)
fulminated. The other bleated at him. I learned his name at
last. Ali of the one eye pressed forward, took him by the
sleeve, and called him Ahmed. Ali seemed to be adding persuasion
to Anazeh's threats. Whatever it was they were driving at, Ahmed
began to look like yielding. So, as I could not untangle more
than one brief sentence at a time from all those galloping
arguments, I pulled Ahmed away into a corner.
"What do they all want?" I asked him. "Tell me in ten words."
But he was not a brief man.
"They say the Sikhs are after them. They have put the stolen
sheep into their boats, as I told you they would, mister. Now
they order me to tow them with my motor-boat. But it cannot be
done, mister, it cannot be done! I tell them there is government
launch near Jericho that the Sikh patrol can use to overtake us.
I have a swift boat, but if I take in tow two other loaded boats
we shall be caught; and then who will save everything I have
"How close are the Sikhs?" I asked.
"God knows, mister! They can come fast. Unless I consent to let
them use my boat, Anazeh will order his men to kill me, and then
they will take the boat in any case! There is only one thing:
they must leave the sheep behind and all crowd into my boat, but
I cannot persuade them!"
At that moment another of Anazeh's party burst in through the
door. He evidently bore bad news. Catching sight of me, he
lowered his voice to a whisper, and, whatever he said, Anazeh
nodded gravely. Then the old sheikh gave an order, and four of
his men came without further ado to seize Ahmed.
"Bear me witness!" the wretched man called back to me as they
dragged him off. "I go under protest--most unwillingly!"
Somebody struck him with a butt-end. A woman's head appeared
over the top of the partition, and began to jabber noisily.
Several of Anazeh's men hurled jests: the highest compliment
they paid her was to call her Um-Kulsum, the mother of sin.
Anazeh beckoned to me. He did not seem to doubt for an instant
that I would follow him.
I was in no mind to wait there and be arrested by the Sikh
patrol. I wondered whether they were coming in open order,
combing the countryside, or heading all together straight for a
known objective; and whether in either case I could give them
the slip and head back toward Jerusalem. In that minute I
recalled Grim's advice:
"Do whatever the leader of the escort tells you and you'll be all
right. You needn't be afraid to trust him."
That settled it. I did not suppose for a minute that Grim had
contemplated any such contingency as this; but he had
volunteered the advice, so the consequences would be his affair.
I followed Anazeh into outer darkness, and one of his men pulled
the door to after me.
There was something very like a panic down by the waterside,
three hundred yards away from the house. It needed all Anazeh's
authority to straighten matters out. There were divided
counsels; and the raiders were working at a disadvantage in
total darkness; the shadow of the hills fell just beyond the
stern of the boats as they lay with their bows ashore.
They had already forced Ahmed into his own motor-boat, where he
was struggling vainly to crank a cold engine. Some of the others
were trying to push off a boat full of bleating sheep. One man
was carrying a fat sheep in his arms toward the motor-boat,
splashing knee-deep in the water and shouting advice to everybody
else, and in the end that was the only piece of plunder they got
away with. Suddenly one man, who had been left behind to keep a
look-out, came leaping like a ghost among the shadows, shouting
the one word "askeri!" (Soldiers!) He jumped straight into the
motor-boat. Anazeh bullied all the rest in after him. I climbed
in over the bow. By that time you could not have crowded in one
more passenger with the aid of a battering ram.
"Yalla!" barked Anazeh. But the engine would not start. Blood-
curdling threats were hurled at the unhappy Ahmed. Some e of the
men got into the water and began to shove off, as if the engine
could be encouraged by collaboration.
I was just as keen to escape as any one. I could not imagine a
Sikh or subaltern stupid enough to believe me innocent. It was a
military government. Soldiers have a drum-head method of leaving
nothing to discuss except where the corpse is to be buried.
I forced my way aft--got some gasoline out of the tank into a tin
cup--thrust aside Ahmed and two other men--and primed the engine
liberally. The engine coughed next time they moved the wheel,
and in thirty seconds more we had it going. Ahmed came in for a
volley of mockery for having to be shown the way to start his
engine; but from the sour way he looked at me I was nearly sure
he had stalled deliberately.
We backed away from shore, and Anazeh steered the boat's nose
eastward. Then somebody at the reversing lever threw it forward
too suddenly, and the still chilled engine stopped. It took
about another minute to restart it. We were just beginning to
gain speed when some one shouted. All eyes turned toward the
shore, the overloaded boat rocking dangerously as the crowd bent
their bodies all in one direction together.
Down near the shore-line an electric torch flashed on the
uniforms of half-a-dozen Sikhs, and we could hear an unmistakably
British voice shouting an order.
We were out in the moonlight now, a perfect target. Bullets
chanced at us could hardly fail to hit somebody. Two or three
well-placed shots might sink us. But Anazeh had presence of
mind. He changed helm, so as to present us end-on to the shore.
Low in the water though the boat was, we were beginning to make
The Sikhs lost no time. Shots began to whizz overhead and to
splash the water around us. But the boat was painted gray; as
we increased the distance we must have looked like a moving patch
of darker water with a puzzling wake behind us. The sea was
still. The stars were reflected in it in unsteady dots and
streaks. The moon cast a silver patch of light that shimmered,
and confused the eye. Sikhs are not by any means all marksmen.
At any rate, the shots all missed. Though some of our party,
Anazeh included, returned the fire, none boasted of having hit
any one. And an Arab boasts at the least excuse.
In a few minutes we were out of range and, since there was no
pursuing launch in sight, could afford to jeer at the Sikhs in
chorus. There were things said about their habits and their
ancestry that it is to be hoped they did not hear, or at any rate
understand, for the sake of any Arab prisoners they might take in
future. It always struck me as a fool game to mock your enemy.
If you fall in his power at any time he would be almost more than
human if he did not remember it. It seemed to me unlikely that
those Sikhs would forget to avenge the Arab compliments that must
have sizzled in ears across that star-lit sea. After that the
only immediate danger was from the wind that sometimes blows down
in sudden gusts from between the mountain-tops. It would have
needed only half a sea to swamp us. But the Dead Sea was living
up to its reputation, quiet, inert, like a mercury mirror for the
stars--a brooding place of silence.
The Arabs' spirits rose as we chugged toward their savage hills.
They began to sing glorious songs about women and mares and
camels. Presently Anazeh improvised an epic about the night's
raid, abortive though it had been. He left out all the
disappointing part. He sang first of the three shore-dwelling
fools whose boats they had stolen. Then of the baffled rage of
those same fools when they should learn their property was lost
forever. Presently, as he warmed to the spirit of the thing, he
sang about the wails of the frightened villagers from whom they
had plundered sheep and goats; and of the skill and
resourcefulness with which the party had escaped pursuit under
his leadership, Allah favoring, "and blessed be His Prophet!"
Last, he sang about me, the honoured stranger, for whom they had
dared everything and conquered, and whom they were taking to El-
Kerak. He described me as a prince from a far country, the son
of a hundred kings.
It was a good song. I got Ahmed to translate it to me
afterwards. But I suspect that Ahmed toned it down in deference
to what he may have thought might be my modesty and moralistic
"I am willing to use all means--all methods."
Ahmed knew the Dead Sea. He knew its moods and a few of its
tricks, so he was suitably scared. He was more of raid of the
treacherous sea than of his captors. They weren't treacherous in
the least. They were frankly disobedient of any law except their
own; respectful of nothing but bullets, brains and their own
interpretation of the Will of Allah. They showed sublime
indifference to danger that always comes of ignorance. Ahmed was
for running straight across to cut the voyage short, because of
the wind that sometimes blows from the south at dawn. He said it
might kick up a sea that would roll us over, for the weight of
the Dead Sea waves in a blow is prodigious.
They overruled his protest with loud-lunged unanimity and lots of
abuse. Anazeh continued to steer a diagonal course for a notch
in the Moab Hills that look, until you get quite close to them,
as if they rose sheer out of the sea. The old chief was pretty
amateurish at the helm, whatever his other attainments. Our wake
was like a drunkard's.
What with the danger in that overcrowded boat, and the manifestly
compromising fact that I had now become one of a gang who boasted
of the murder they had done that night, I did some speculation
that seems ridiculous now, at this distance, after a lapse of
time. It occurred to me that Grim might be disguised as a member
of Anazeh's party. As far as possible in the dark I thoroughly
scrutinized each individual. It is easy to laugh about it now,
but I actually made my way to Anazeh's side and tried to discover
whether the old Sheikh's wrinkles and gray-shot beard were not a
very skillfully done make-up. At any rate, I got from that
absurd investigation the sure knowledge that Grim was not in the
boat with us.
I could not talk with Anazeh very well, because when he tried to
understand my amateurish Arabic and to modify his flow of stately
speech to meet my needs, he always put his head down, and the
helm with it. It seemed wisest to let him do one unaccustomed
thing at a time. I did not care to try to talk with any of his
men, because that might possibly have been a breach of etiquette.
Arab jealousy is about as quick as fulminate of mercury: as
unreasonable, from a western viewpoint, as a love-sick woman's.
But there did not seem any objection to talking with Ahmed. He
was at least in theory my co-religionist, and not a person any
Moslem in that boat was likely to be jealous of. He jumped
at the notion of making friends with me. He made no secret of
"You are safe, effendi. They will neither rob you, nor kill you,
nor let you get killed. You are their guest. But as for me,
they would cut my throat as readily as that sheep's, more
especially since they have discovered that you know how to start
the engine. My best chance was to make them believe that the
engine is difficult to understand. Because of your knowledge
they now feel independent of me. So I must yield to them in
everything. And if they force me to swear on a Bible, and on my
father's honour, and in the name of God, that I will not give
evidence against them, I shall have to swear."
"An oath given under compulsion--" I began. But he laughed
"Ah! You do not know this land--these folk, effendi. If I were
to break such an oath as that, they would burn my house, steal my
cattle, ravish my wife, and hunt me to the death. If I ran away
to America, Arabs in Chicago and New York would continue the
hunt. This is a land where an oath is binding, unless you are
the stronger. I am weak--an unimportant person."
"What is your business?" I asked.
"There is no business for a man like me. The regulations forbid
commerce in the only goods for which there is a real demand
"So you're a smuggler, eh?"
He laughed, between pride and caution, and changed the subject.
"I shall do what they order me, effendi. I think they will keep
my boat over there to bring you back again. But when I get back
the Sikhs will arrest me. So I ask you to bear me witness that I
was compelled by threats and force to go with these people. In
that way, with a little ingenuity--that is to say, the ingenious
use of piastras--perhaps I can contrive to get out of the
difficulty without being punished by both Arabs and British."
I promised to tell no more than I had seen and heard. On the
strength of that we became as fast friends as suspicion
permitted. We trusted each other, because we more or less had
to, like a couple of thieves "on the lam." It suited me. He was
a very good interpreter and slavishly anxious to please. But I
lived to regret it later. When my evidence had cleared him of
collusion in the raid, he chose on the strength of that to claim
me as his friend for life. He turned up in the United States and
tried to live on his wits. I had to pay a lawyer to defend him
in Federal Court. He writes me piously pathetic letters from
Leavenworth Penitentiary. And when he gets out I suppose I
shall have to befriend him again. However, at the moment, he
It was just dawn when old Anazeh ran the launch into a cove
between high rocks. Ahmed let out a shriek of anguish at the
violence done the hull. They pitched the sheep overboard to
wade ashore without remembering to untie its legs; it was
almost drowned before it occurred to any one to rescue it.
Perhaps it was dead. I don't know. Anyhow, one fellow prayed
in a hurry while his companion cut the sheep's throat to make
it lawful meat.
"God is good," old Anazeh remarked to me, "and blessed be His
Prophet, who forbade us faithful, even though we hunger, to
defile ourselves with the flesh of creatures whose blood did not
flow from the knife of the slayer."
After that they all prayed, going first into the oily-feeling,
asphaltic water for the ceremonial washing. They were quite
particular about it. Then they spread prayer-mats, facing Mecca.
Every single cut-throat had brought along his prayer-mat, and had
treasured it as carefully as his rifle.
Ahmed and I sat on a rock and watched them. Ahmed pretended he
wanted to pray, too. To impress me, he said he was a very devout
Christian and that nothing should prevent the practice of his
religion. But he was very quick to take my advice not to start
anything that might bring on a breach of the peace. Old Anazeh's
short preliminary sermon to his followers, about the need of
always keeping God in mind, was not addressed to us.
Prayers finished, they proceeded to cut up and cook the sheep.
Ahmed and I subdued the voice of conscience without noticeable
effort and ate our share of the stolen goods. Ahmed said that,
seeing how little was left for him when the rest had all been
served, he sinned only in small degree, but that my share, as an
honoured guest, was huge, and the sin proportionate. So I gave
him some of my meat, and he ate it, and we were equally sinful--
one more bond cementing an "eternal friendship!"
We had hardly finished eating when an Arab on a gray horse came
riding furiously down a ravine that looked like a dry water-
course. He was brought up all-standing fifty yards away. Every
man in the party leveled a rifle at him. Anazeh beckoned me to
come and get behind him for protection. He was very angry when I
refused. He cursed the language and religion of whatever fool
had taught me manners in a land where pigs are lawful food.
However, after they had all had a good look at the horseman they
let him draw near, and there followed a noisy conference, the man
on the horse calling on Allah repeatedly with emphasis, and
Anazeh and his followers all doing the same thing, but from an
opposing viewpoint. I persuaded Ahmed to go up close and listen.
"The man is from El-Kerak," he said presently, while they all
still fought with words, using tremendous oaths by way of
artillery. "A council of the tribes has been summoned, to meet
at El-Kerak, but each sheikh is only to take two men with him,
because of the risk of fighting among themselves. Anazeh says
there can be no proper council without his being present, and
that he will attend the council; but as for taking only two men,
he has pledged his word to escort you with twenty men to El-
Kerak. He swears that he will carry out that pledge, even should
he have to fight the whole way there and back again!"
Anazeh suddenly cut short the war of words. His gesture
suggested that of Joshua who made the sun stand still. He tossed
a curt order to one of his men, who went off at a run toward a
village, whose morning smoke rose blue over a spur of the range a
mile away. Then Anazeh sat down to await events, and took no
more notice of the horseman's arguments. That did not worry the
horseman much. He kept on arguing. Every few minutes one of
Anazeh's men would go to him and repeat some tid-bit, as if the
old sheikh had not heard it; but all he got for his pains was a
gesture of contemptuous dismissal.
Ahmed kept growing more and more uncomfortable all the time. He
had attended to his boat, making it properly fast and covering
the engine, under the eyes of four men who were at pains to see
that he did not crank up and desert. Now he was back beside me,
trying to bolster up his own courage by making me afraid.
"They have determined to take me along with them to prevent me
from escaping," he complained. "That man on the horse is saying
that if more men go with Anazeh than you and two others, there
will certainly be fighting. And Anazeh answers, he has pledged
his word. Can you not say something to persuade Anazeh?"
I would rather have tried to persuade a tiger. Short of knocking
the old raider on the head and standing off his twenty ruffians,
I could not imagine a way of turning him from his set purpose.
And at that, I had not a weapon of any kind. I was the goods,
and the game old sportsman intended to deliver me, right side up,
perhaps, but all in one piece and to the proper consignee.
"I don't see anything to worry about," said I.
"Wait till you hear the bullets!" Ahmed answered. Nevertheless,
bullets or no bullets, I did not see what I could do about it.
Again I remembered Grim's advice: "Do what the leader of the
escort tells you." I had begun to feel sorry for Ahmed in spite
of his self-pity, but his fear wasn't contagious and his advice
wasn't worth listening to.
"Effendi, you are Anazeh's guest. He must do as you demand, if
you ask in the Name of the Most High. Tell him, therefore, that
you have an urgent business in El-Kudz. Demand that he send you
back, with me, in my boat!"
"You are not his guest. He would simply shoot you and destroy
the boat," I answered.
It was not more than half-an-hour before I saw horses coming in
our direction from the village. At sight of them the man on the
gray horse lost heart. With a final burst of eloquence, in which
he spread his breast to heaven and shook both fists in witness
that he was absolved and no blood-guilt could rest on his head,
he rode away at top speed straight up the ravine down which he
The horses proved to be a very mixed lot--some good, some very
bad, and some indifferent. But again they treated me as honoured
guest and provided me a mare with four sound legs and nothing
much the matter except vice. She came at me with open teeth
when I tried to mount, but four men held her and I climbed
aboard, somehow or other. As a horseman, I am a pretty good
sack of potatoes.
That was the worst saddle I ever sat in--and Anazeh's second-
best! The stirrups swung amidships, so to speak, and whenever
you tried to rest your weight on them for a moment they described
an arc toward the rear. Moreover, you could not sit well back on
the saddle to balance matters, because of the high cantle. The
result, whether you did with stirrups or without them, was
torture, for anybody but an Arab, who has notions of comfort all
They put Ahmed on a wall-eyed scrub that looked unfit to walk,
but proved well able to gallop under his light weight. One of
Anazeh's men took my bag, with a nod to reassure me, and without
a word we were off full-pelt, Anazeh leading with four stalwarts
who looked almost as hard-bitten as himself, six men crowding me
closely, and the remainder bringing up the rear.
That is the Arab way of doing things--rush and riot to begin
with. The steepness of the stony ravine we rode up soon reduced
the horses to a walk, after which there was a good deal of
attention to rifle-bolts, and a settling down to the more serious
aspects of the adventure. The escort began to look sullenly
ferocious, as only Arabs can.
There was a time, during the Turkish regime before the War, when
Cook's Agency took tourists in parties to El-Kerak, and all the
protection necessary was a handful of Turkish soldiers, whose
thief employment on the trip was to gather fuel and pitch tents.
Some one paid the Arabs to let tourists alone, and they normally
did. But the War changed all that. A post-Armistice stranger in
1920, with leather boots, was fair quarry for whoever had rifle
We passed by a village or two, tucked into folds in the hills and
polluting the blue sky with a smell of ageing dung, but nothing
seemed disposed to happen. A few men stood behind stone walls
and stared at us sullenly. The women looked up from their
grindstones at the doors, covered their faces for convention's
sake, and uncovered them again at once for curiosity. There was
nothing you could call a road between the villages, only a rocky
cattle-track that seemed to take the longest possible way between
two points; and nobody seemed to own it, or to be there to
challenge our right of way.
But suddenly, after we had passed the third village and were
walking the horses up a shoulder of a steep hill-top, three shots
cracked out from in front of us to left and right. Nobody fell,
but if ever there was instantaneous response it happened then.
Anazeh and his four galloped forward up-hill, firing as they rode
for the cover of a breast-high ridge. One man on the off-side
tipped me out of the saddle, so suddenly that I had no chance to
prevent him; another caught me, and two others flung me into a
hole behind a stone. I heard the rear-guard scatter and run.
Two men pitched Ahmed down on top of me, for he was valuable,
seeing he could run an engine; and thirty seconds later I peered
out around the rock to get a glimpse of what was happening.
There was not a man in sight. I could see some of the horses
standing under cover. The firing was so rapid that it sounded
almost like machine-gun practice. A hairy arm reached out and
pushed my head back, and after that, whenever I made the least
movement, a man who was sniping from behind the sheltering rock
swore furiously, and threatened to brain me with his butt-end.
Beyond all doubt they regarded me as perishable freight; so I
hardly saw any of the fighting.
Judging by the sound, I should say they fought their way up-hill
in skirmish order, and when they got to the top the enemy--
whoever they were--took to flight. But that is guesswork. There
were two casualties on our side. One man shot through the arm,
which did not matter much; he was well able to lie about what
had happened and to boast of how many men he had slain before the
bullet hit him. The other was wounded pretty seriously in the
jaw. They came to me for first aid, taking it for granted that I
knew something about surgery. I don't. I had a bad time
bandaging both of them, using two of my handkerchiefs and strips
from the protesting Ahmed's shirt. However, I enjoyed it more
than they did.
When Anazeh shouted at last and we all rode to the hilltop there
was a dead man lying there, stripped naked, with his throat cut
across from ear to ear. One of our men was wiping a long knife
by stabbing it into the dirt. There was also a led horse added
to the escort. Anazeh looked very cool and dignified; he had an
extra rifle now, slung by a strap across his shoulders. He was
examining a bandolier that had blood on it.
We rode on at once, and for the next hour Ahmed was kept busy
interpreting to me the lies invented by every member of the
escort for my especial benefit. If they were true, each man had
slain his dozen; but nobody would say who the opposing faction
were. When I put that question they all dried up and nobody
would speak again for several minutes.
It turned out afterward that there had been a sort of armistice
proclaimed, and all the local chiefs had undertaken to observe it
and cease from blood-feuds for three days, provided that each
chief should prove peaceful intention by bringing with him only
two men. Three men in a party, and not more than three, had
right of way. The engagement may have been a simple protest
against breach of the terms of the armistice, but I suspect there
was more than that in it.
At any rate, we were not attacked again on the road, although there
were men who showed themselves now and then on inaccessible-looking
crags, who eyed us suspiciously and made no answer to the shouted
challenge of Anazeh's men. When the track passed over a spur, or
swung round the shoulder of a cliff, we could sometimes catch
sight of other parties--always, though of three, before and behind
us, proceeding in the same direction.
We sighted the stone walls of El-Kerak at about midafternoon, and
rode up to the place through a savage gorge that must have been
impregnable in the old days of bows and arrows. It would take a
determined army today to force itself through the wadys and
winding water-courses that guard that old citadel of Romans
We approached from the Northwest corner, where a tower stands
that they call Burj-ez-Zahir. There were lions carved on it. It
looked as if the battlements had been magnificent at one time;
but whatever the Turks become possessed of always falls into
decay, and the Arabs seem no better.
Beside the Burj-ez-Zahir is a tunnel, faced by an unquestionable
Roman arch. Outside it there were more than a dozen armed men
lounging, and a lot of others looked down at us through the
ruined loop-holes of the wall above. Their leader challenged
our numbers at once, and refused admission. Judging by Anazeh's
magnificently insolent reply it looked at first as if he
intended fighting his way in. But that turned out to be
only his diplomatic manner--establishing himself, as it were,
on an eminence from which he could make concessions without
The arrangement finally agreed to was Anazeh's suggestion, but
showed diplomatic genius on both sides. The old man divided up
his party into sets of three, and asserted that every set of
three was independent. There were twenty-two of us all told,
including Ahmed, but he described Ahmed as a prisoner, and
offered to have him shot if that would simplify matters.
There was a great deal of windy discussion about Ahmed's fate,
during which his face grew the color of raw liver and he joined
in several times tearfully. Once he was actually seized and
half-a-dozen of the castle guards aimed at him; but they
compromised finally by letting him go in with hands tied. Nobody
really wanted the responsibility of shooting a man who had
smuggled stolen cartridges across the Dead Sea, and might do it
again if allowed to live.
We rode for eighty or a hundred paces through an echoing tunnel
into a city of shacks and ruined houses that swarmed with armed
men, and it was evident that we were not the only ones who had
ignored the rule about numbers. Anazeh explained in an aside
to me that only those would obey that rule who did not dare
"Whoever makes laws should be strong enough to enforce them," he
said sagely. "And whoever obeys such a law is at the mercy of
those who break it," he added presently, by way of afterthought.
To make sure that I understood him he repeated that remark
Every house had its quota of visitors, who lounged in the
doorways and eyed us with mixed insolence and curiosity. There
were coffee-booths all over the place that seemed to have been
erected for the occasion, where, under awnings made of stick and
straw, men sat with rifles on their knees. Those who had
provender to sell for horses were doing a roaring trade--short
measure and high price; and the noise of grinding was incessant.
The women in the back streets were toiling to produce enough to