Friday, January 3.—We have had an adventure at last and a disagreeable one; a severe lesson as to the danger of encamping near wells. We started early, but were delayed a whole hour at Jerawi taking water, and did not leave the wells till nearly eight o’clock. Then we turned back nearly due east across the wady. The soil of pure white sand was heavy going, and we went slowly, crossing low undulations without other landmark than the tells we had left behind us. Here and there rose little mounds tufted with ghada. To one of these Wilfrid and I cantered on, leaving the camels behind us, and dismounting, tied our mares to the bushes that we might enjoy a few minutes’ rest, and eat our midday mouthful—the greyhounds meanwhile played about and chased each other in the sand. We had finished, and were talking of I know not what, when the camels passed us. They were hardly a couple of hundred yards in front when suddenly we heard a thud, thud, thud on the sand, a sound of galloping. Wilfrid jumped to his feet, looked round and called out, “Get on your mare. This is a ghazú.” As I scrambled round the bush to my mare I saw a troop of horsemen charging down at full gallop with their lances, not two hundred yards off. Wilfrid was up as he spoke, and so should I have been, but for my sprained knee and the deep sand, both of which gave way as I was rising. I fell back. There was no time to think and I had hardly struggled to my feet, when the enemy was upon us, and I was knocked down by a spear. Then they all turned on Wilfrid, who had waited for me, some of them jumping down on foot to get hold of his mare’s halter. He had my gun with him, which I had just before handed to him, but unloaded; his own gun and his sword being on his delúl. He fortunately had on very thick clothes, two abbas one over the other, and English clothes underneath, so the lances did him no harm. At last his assailants managed to get his gun from him and broke it over his head, hitting him three times and smashing the stock. Resistance seemed to me useless, and I shouted to the nearest horseman, “ana dahílak” (I am under your protection), the usual form of surrender. Wilfrid hearing this, and thinking he had had enough of this unequal contest, one against twelve, threw himself off his mare. The khayal (horsemen) having seized both the mares, paused, and as soon as they had gathered breath, began to ask us who we were and where we came from. “English, and we have come from Damascus,” we replied, “and our camels are close by. Come with us, and you shall hear about it.” Our caravan, while all this had happened, and it only lasted about five minutes, had formed itself into a square and the camels were kneeling down, as we could plainly see from where we were. I hardly expected the horsemen to do as we asked, but the man who seemed to be their leader at once let us walk on (a process causing me acute pain), and followed with the others to the caravan. We found Mohammed and the rest of our party entrenched behind the camels with their guns pointed, and as we approached, Mohammed stepped out and came forward. “Min entum?” (who are you?) was the first question. “Roala min Ibn Debaa.” “Wallah? will you swear by God?” “Wallah! we swear.” “And you?” “Mohammed ibn Arûk of Tudmur.” “Wallah?” “Wallah!” “And these are Franjis travelling with you?” “Wallah! Franjis, friends of Ibn Shaalan.”
It was all right, we had fallen into the hands of friends. Ibn Shaalan, our host of last year, was bound to protect us, even so far away in the desert, and none of his people dared meddle with us, knowing this. Besides, Mohammed was a Tudmuri, and as such could not be molested by Roala, for Tudmur pays tribute to Ibn Shaalan, and the Tudmuris have a right to his protection. So, as soon as the circumstances were made clear, orders were given by the chief of the party to his followers to bring back our mares, and the gun, and everything which had been dropped in the scuffle. Even to Wilfrid’s tobacco bag, all was restored. The young fellows who had taken the mares made rather wry faces, bitterly lamenting their bad fortune in finding us friends. “Ah the beautiful mares,” they said, “and the beautiful gun.”
[…] Everything depends on rapidity in these attacks, and this had been quite successful. The least hesitation on their part, and we should have been safe with our camels. There they could not have molested us, for though they were twelve to our eight, they had only lances, while we carried firearms. We liked the look of these young Roala. In spite of their rough behaviour, we could see that they were gentlemen. They were very much ashamed of having used their spears against me, and made profuse apologies; they only saw a person wearing a cloak, and never suspected but that it belonged to a man. Indeed their mistake is not a matter for surprise, for they were so out of breath and excited with their gallop, that they looked at nothing except the object of their desire—the mares. The loss of these, however, I fear, was to them a cause of greater sorrow than the rough handling to which we had been treated, when, after explanations given and regrets interchanged, they rode away. Mohammed was anxious not to detain them, prudently considering that our acquaintance with them had gone far enough, and it was plain that Awwad was in a terrible fidget. I fancy he has a good many debts of blood owing him, and is somewhat shy of strangers. The others, too, were rather subdued and silent; so we wished Ibn Debaa farewell and let him go.
The mares belonging to this ghazú were small, compact, and active, with especially good shoulders and fine heads, but they were of a more poneyish type than our own Ánazeh mares. Most of them were bay. One I saw was ridden in a bit.
When the Roala were gone we compared notes. In the first place, Wilfrid’s hurts were examined, but they are only contusions. The thick rope he wears round his head had received all the blows, and though the stock of the gun is clean broken, steel and all, his head is still sound. The lances could not get through his clothes. As regards myself the only injury I have received is the renewal of my sprain. But I could almost forget the pain of it in my anger at it, as being the cause of our being caught. But for this we might have galloped away to our camels and received the enemy in quite another fashion. I was asked if I was not frightened, but in fact there was at first no time, and afterwards rage swallowed up every other feeling. Wilfrid says, but I do not believe him, that he felt frightened, and was very near running away and leaving me, but on reflection stayed. The affair seems more alarming now it is over, which is perhaps natural. […]
We may indeed be very thankful that matters were no worse. I shall never again dismount while I remain crippled, and never as long as I live, will I tie my horse to a bush.
Wadi as-Sirhan, Saudi Arabia, 1879
Source: Lady Anne Blunt, A Pilgrimage to Nejd Vol.1, London: John Murray, Albemarle St, 1881
Lady Anne Blunt, Rosemary Archer & James Fleming (Eds), Lady Anne Blunt Journals and Correspondance 1878 - 1915, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire: A.Heriot, 1986
Lisa Lacy, Lady Anne Blunt in the Middle East: Travel, Politics and the Idea of Empire, I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd, 2017