A pilgrimage to Nejd 1
During the summer of 1878 the Blunts lived in England, but December found them back in Damascus. This time they planned to travel all the way to the Nejd. They went as far south as Haïl. They did not buy any horses on this trip, I’m just including it because I’m so fond of exciting travel stories. They later realised that they made a big mistake in not buying horses this trip. This was before Lady Anne had begun the enormous amount of research that she was to carry out on Arabian horse-breeding. So by this time the Blunts had not aquired the amount of knowledge they later posessed.
The horses they had been most looking forward to seeing were those of the Emir Mohammed ibn Rashid, at Haïl. Sixteen years before, the centre of power of that part of Arabia had been with Feysul ibn Saoud at Riad. According to Blunt, Feysul’s stud had probably been the finest in the country and he doubted wether any collection could now be found of equal merit. Feysul had assembled his stud from all the tribes in Arabia, especially from the Muteyr, Beni Khaled, Shammar and Anazeh. His emissaries had been on the constant lookout for mares and had even, so the Blunts were told, mounted raids with no other object than to obtain a particular animal of a particular strain. But since then the leadership of central Arabia had passed into the hands of Mohammed ibn Rashid’s predecessors and it was these horses the Blunts were eager to inspect.
Lady Ann’s diary, December 11th, 1878
This was a day of tremendously hard work walking about all day long in the bazaars, buying provisions etc. Wilfrid and Mohammed in one direction, ans I in another with Mohammed’s cousin Abdallah, and Hanna and Ibrahim and Awad all carrying the various articles bought.
We start at 8½. We go outside the town and past the gate where St. Paul entered and on, still outside, to the Derb el Haj.
The view of Mezerib is really lovely. There is a village on an island in the middle of a small lake which is always, they say, full of water, even in summer. It certainly is brimful now and there has been no rain for a long while. We saw an immense flock of sand-grouse today, some came right over our head and we each fired a double shot. Six fell and I hope at least one was my bird. These birds made us a good dinner. The mares were very tired tonight, both of them. The bay is certainly a good galloper, and has also a very fast walk. But will never be worth sending home.
I have been busy all the afternoon altering the stuffing of Wilfrid’s saddle. It was chosen and packed at Crabbet, and it turns out to need restuffing. A most annoying surprise to me.
Brought two more camels as have to carry forage. Aamar has brought the slouguy Shiekheh or Shikheh, a pretty little fawn coloured dog. She is rather afraid of everybody here but has eaten a large dinner of dates and bread and I have made her a coat of red baize lined with coarse soft canvas, the only bits of stuff we had at hand.
We rode our mares till about ten o’ clock when in making our usual change to riding our deluls [riding camels], I came to grief. My delul, always somewhat restive, made a sudden spring taking Abdallah and Awad unawares, and me too. I have injured my knee and could not get up unto the camel, and had to go on riding the mare, scrambling with difficulty into my saddle. I think to have been awkward and a fool is worse than the pain though that is bad enough.
We saw a great many locusts and Abdallah and Ibrahim Halebi caught some by Wilfrid’s desire. Even Wilfrid being very cold and hungry got down from his mare and joined in the pursuit. They are not easy to catch and I think Abdallah succeded best. They are to be fried for dinner. We dined on beef tea, burghul and the fried locusts, which I at least tasted but don’t like much. Wilfrid considered them good.
January 3rd 1879
We have had a narrow escape from a very disagreeable adventure and Wilfrid has had his wish of seeing a real ghazu [raid] and also the proof that Mohammed and Abdallah are quite right to beg him to always remain with the camels.
We were getting across Wady Sirhan to go to the Hamad road to Jof, shorter, but with no water. At one oçlock Wilfrid proposed we should get off and sit by a ghataha bush to eat our midday mouthful. We had done so and the camels had passed us by a few minutes only when Wilfrid hearing footsteps of some kind jumped up saying: ”What is this?” I thought for a moment it was the dogs coursing a harebut he said ”Get on your mare, this is a ghazu [raid]” and within 100 yards we saw horsemen charging at full gallop. He was up in a moment, but as I tried to mount the sand and my sprained knee both gave way and I fell back _ the ghazu arriving seized our mares. I was knocked down by a spear in the scuffle and did not see what Wilfrid was doing. One Khayal [horseman] shouting ”el Ledum, el Ledum” snatched at my kefiyeh [cotton headdress] as I scrambled to my feet but in snatching it left the second kefiyeh. Then I saw Wilfrid surrounded by four or five khayal calling at him to dismount. I did not hear till afterwards that they had hit him on the head three times with the butt of my gun which he had in his hand and thrust at him with their spears. If it had not been for me he would have been away all right and I hated and was furious with myself for being helplessly lame. The khayal having got both mares, for Wilfrid of course did dismount being overpowered by numbers, began to ask who we were. I called out to them to go to the camels (that they might speak to Mohammed) and one went on _ it was not far. Oh, if I had only been able to get on my mare we should not have galloped on and [?] the ghazu very differently _ in fact they would not have attacked us at all!
We saw, as we walked towards the camels, Mohammed coming to meet us. He said, it is all right, these are Roala. When they approached the caravan Mohammed said ”Mahu lazim”, they should come. They said ”we are friends”. He said ”min entum” ”Roala”, ”Wallah?” ”Wallah” ”Minente?” ”Mohammed ibn Aruk” _ they knew who he was and that he had brotherhood with some of the ibn Shaalan so the khayal immediately began to call the others to bring back the mares and to lament Mohammed having been with us. Mohammed explained that he was with a brother _ ”how could you have been with him, what a pity, we should have got the nice mares”, was the reply. At once the ghazu (there was only a dozen of them) sat down with their spears stuck in the ground and talked while we gave them dates to eat and they fetched back every article they had taken; the gun and my revolvercase (which had been dropped) and my kefiyeh and breastplate.
As for the gun, it was broken and I cannot understand hoe Wilfrid was not hurt, but he said the aghal saved his head and the spears did not pierce his thick coat.
All this was over and the khayal gone and we on the march again, wiser and sadder by half past one _ in half an hour. These Roala are an outlying tribe. The ghazu were khayal who came to look out for camping ground by the wells. They saw our tracks and followed us. Had we been with our camels all would have been well or had I not been lame, we should have been safe.
Wilfrid thinks it is interesting to see the real thing, and to have actually been taken. I cannot but regret the few unpleasant moments. However this adventure proofs the truth of Bedouin accounts of Bedouin rules of war.
To be continued