(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Children's Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "THE MARSH ARAB HAJI RIKKAN"

91f.67 1^96 (E) 

Fulanain $3.00 
Marsh Arab 

Acc.jtfo V 578862 




KANSAS CITY MO. PUBLIC LIBRARY 



Q QOD1 OlSELflE 







THE MARSH ARAB 




HAJI RIKKAN: MARSH ARAB 



THE 



ARAB 



HAJI RIKKAN 

By 

FULANAIN 




J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY 
PHILADELPHIA 

1928 



Copyright, 1938, by J. B. Lippincott Company 



Printed in the 
United States of America 



DEDICATION 




PREFACE 

OWING to her untimely death, this book 
which was first undertaken at her sugges 
tion appears without the fore-word promised 
by Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell; but a grate 
ful acknowledgement may still be made of her 
interest and encouragement. 

The Arab tribes of 'Iraq, differing widely 
as they do in details of custom, speech, and 
manners, remain in the essentials of thought 
and conduct homogeneous; and the two great 
tribal confederations with which this book 
deals the Albu Mohammad and the Bani 
Lam may justly claim to be representative 
of every aspect of tribal life. The country 
which they people, lying astride the Tigris 
from Kut-al-Amara in the north to Qurna 
in the south, embraces wide deserts for the 
shepherd and camel-breeding tribes, fertile 
fields for the tillers of the soil, boundless swamp 
for the marsh-dwellers; and into these three 
classes the tribespeople throughout 'Iraq may 
be roughly grouped. It is hoped that this 
book, though its central figure is drawn from 
the wildest and most primitive, as it is the least 



g PREFACE 

known of these divisions, may present a not in 
accurate picture of Arab tribal life as a whole, 
and represent in some measure the outlook and 
mentality and scale of values, so different from 
our own, of this inarticulate people whose for 
tunes, since the War first brought them into close 
contact with our civilization, have been bound 
up with ours. 

The reader will catch glimpses here and 
there of the difficulties which face the young 
administration of 'Iraq, the prejudices and con 
flicting tendencies with which she is gallantly 
and successfully attempting to deal. Contrasts 
between the present and the days of Turkish 
dominion, drawn spontaneously by the out 
spoken simplicity of the tribesmen, are enough 
to show how much has already been accom 
plished; how infinitely much remains to be 
done, the reader of these pages will appreciate. 

Cordial thanks are due to the many 'Iraq 
friends who, wittingly or unwittingly, have by 
story-telling and by patiently elucidating or 
confirming points of detail contributed to thia 
book. To the kind and unsparing critic who 
commented upon its pages when in typescript 
a debt of affectionate gratitude is warmly 
acknowledged. 

BAGHDAD 



CONTENTS 

Preface page 7 

Chapter I The Peddler 13 

II Across the Marsh 26 

III A Pilgrimage 65 

IV The Shrine of 'AH al Sharji 87 
V The Place of Casting 114 

VI The Fort of Kassara 132 

VII The Coming of the English 150 

VIII The Flag of 'Abbas 170 

IX In Favour of Discretion 193 

X The Burden of the Shaikh 216 

XI Ghalib the Exile 243 

XII The Chains 274 

XIII The Burning of the Bait Hatim 305 



THE MARSH ARAB 



Chapter I 
THE PEDDLER 

OTANDING in the prow of his uncle's 
^ bitumen-coated birkash, Bahalul bent lei 
surely to his pole; in the stern sat his twin 
brother, Jahalul, guiding the clumsy craft with 
'deft strokes of his paddle. They followed a 
'narrow water-way which twisted and turned 
between walls of high green reeds. From a 
,sky a shade less blue than the still marsh water, 
a brilliant sun shone down on the brown 
.bodies of the brothers, naked but for a cloak 
of coarse wool twisted round the waist. It 
bronzed the rusty paraffin tins containing the 
tea, coffee, spices, and flaked tobacco which 
comprised the stock in trade of Haji Rikkan, 
and warmed the bones of the old peddler him 
self as he sat cross-legged in the "belly" of 
(the boat. From my place facing him I watched 
jthe changeful monotony of the marsh, the 
Wilderness of reeds and water in which I was 
privileged to accompany his wanderings. A 

13 



I 4 THE MARSH ARAB 

cool breeze stirred the feathery, dun-coloured 
heads of the tall reeds, the water sighed and 
lapped among their roots, no louder sound than 
the ripple from Jahalul's paddle broke the in 
tense quiet of the spring day. 

Behind me Jahalul began to sing. "Braying 
forcedly in the nose" is Doughty's unkind 
description of the singing of the Arabs; but 
the plaintive air which, beginning in a burst of 
sound, rose and fell mournfully until it died 
away on the sub-dominant, a long-drawn note 
only terminated by the failure of the singer's 
breath, was far from being to my ears a "hide 
ous desolation." Of the words I could dis 
tinguish few, until Haji Rikkan repeated the 
rhyming lines. 

"An exaggeration," he said, with a laugh 
that was half apologetic, half defensive, for the 
Arabs have a high regard for their poets and 
their poetry. 

Jahalul sang to the woman he loved. The 
words were in the homely marsh dialect despised 
by purer-speaking Arabs, but they clothed a 
romantic idealism in strange contrast with the 
rough and primitive conditions of human life in 
the marshes. 



THE PEDDLER 15 

"As one the cannon strikes, stricken am I 
Now that thy cheeks, like apple-blossom fair, 
Or flower of pomegranate, are far away. 
So fragile are thy slender shoulders, sweet, 
That e'en the lightest silken veil would bruise 
And chafe the skin of my most lovely one." 

Not once, but many times the gentle, droning 
voice of Jahalul repeated the song, until it was 
cut short by an abrupt order from Haji Rikkan. 

"Bank in!" 

We had left behind the narrow channel with 
its flanking ramparts of reeds, and had come 
out into a clearing of open water, above the 
surface of which barely rose the flat shapes of 
two low islands. To the nearest of these Jahalul 
turned the boat, and as the high curved prow 
ran aground the elder twin shipped his pole, 
leapt lightly out, and splashing back through the 
water joined his brother in the stern. The two 
began to chat together in low tones, as though 
this banking in on a lonely and deserted islet 
were an occurrence to which they were accus 
tomed. 

Haji Rikkan, holding out upturned palms, be 
gan to recite. 

"In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the 
Compassionate. Praise to Allah, Lord of the 
Worlds, . . , Master of the day of requital 



16 THE MARSH ARAB 

. . ." the rest of the muttered invocation was 
lost in his beard. He sat for a while, silently 
contemplating the barren islands; then a brisk 
"Y f Allah!" sent his nephews to their places, 
and the boat, gliding across the open water, slid 
once more into the cool shadows of one of the 
by-ways of the marsh. 

"Dost ask why I have said the Fatihah?" said 
Haji Rikkan. "Ask rather why in my wander 
ings I am accompanied by my two nephews, 
not by my grown sons. Where are they? May 
thy head be whole ! Because of a man's love for 
a woman my breast is straitened with grief, and 
loneliness fills my heart. Sorrow has been mine 
since the days when Shaikh Saihud fought 
against the Turks, and fleeing, sought refuge in 
Huwaiza. Many of his following went with 
him, and among them one Tahir. Now 'Addai 
bin Sa'dun, who was my friend, loved this man's 
daughter; and one day he came to me, saying, 
C I would cross the marsh to visit Tahir, but my 
tribe is at feud with the Albu Ghanam, and I 
fear to meet them. Let me travel under thy 
tisyar thy protection and I shall cross in 
safety. For this service I will give thee what 
thou askest' 



THE PEDDLER 17 

"'Willingly/ I replied. Talk not of the 
price ; I may yet require a like service of thee.' 

"We set out on that journey, he and I to 
gether. On the second day we passed two men 
hunting fish with their spears, and one of them 
called aloud, ' 'Addai bin Sa'dun, thou?' 

fff Ee/ he replied, for it had been shame to 
deny his name. 

" 'Hast dared to come here?' cried the fisher 
man, and 'Addai replied, 'I am ready.' 

" 'Hast forgotten the feud?' the other called 
again, and again 'Addai answered, 'I am 
ready.' 

"Seeing their threatening looks, I spoke, tell 
ing the men that he was under my protection; 
but one replied, 'We do not recognize thy tisyar. 
Prepare, O 'Addai 1' 

" 'Stay in thy place, stayl' I cried. 'Come not 
nearer, or my tribe will claim has him/ for by 
our custom a woman must be paid in compensa 
tion, if he who goes under protection is but 
threatened, 

" 'I care not, my blood is hot,' shouted the 
fisherman, he who had first called to us; and 
with that he hurled his fishing spear at 'Addai, 
and leapt back into the reeds. I fired, but they 
escaped untouched. 



i8 THE MARSH ARAB 

"The spear had passed through his body, and 
because of the barbs I could not draw it out; 
so I held the shaft in my hand to ease his pain, 
and bade my two sons paddle swiftly to the near 
est village to find a smith who would cut off 
the barbs. But when we reached the village, we 
were told that the smith had gone to a neighbour 
ing tribe ; and as we followed him, 'Addai died, 
calling for Khadija whom he loved. 

"Quickly we returned to our tribe, and told 
the headmen what had befallen. Now the cus 
tom of the marsh is clear on such a matter: if 
a man under our protection is killed, we must 
fight for a day to avenge his death; aye, the 
Albu Ghanam must fight with us for the space 
of a day, or if they would not fight they must 
pay us forty women, leaving their islands for 
three days that we might pound our coffee there, 
and show to all men that they were beaten and 
broken. But we are not without pride, even we 
of the marshes, and no tribe has been known 
to submit to that humiliation. 

"Our headmen therefore planted war-flags 
before their houses, and messengers were sent 
to call in all the tribesmen. We laid our plans, 
and when the day came we met the Albu 
Ghanam in battle on the two islands which we 



THE PEDDLER I9 

left but now. But they were prepared for us, 
and were more numerous than we, so that after 
a bitter struggle our people broke at last and 
fled, leaving many dead and wounded. 

"In the evening I returned with some others 
to the islands under the protection of a Saiyid. 

" 'A truce, a truce,' he called aloud, that all 
the Albu Ghanam might hear. 'It is I, Saiyid 
Sadiq, who am come to bury the dead and bear 
away the wounded.' 

"Soon I found Mataghar, the youngest of my 
three sons. 

" 'Bring my brothers to me,' he whispered, 
'for I am dying.' 

"I searched among the fallen and found 
Mohammad, dead. Long I sought for Khalaf, 
calling him by name, until I saw some of our 
tribe dragging a body from the water. 'Who, 
who?' I cried. We cannot see,' they answered. 
I held a torch of flaming reeds, and saw the 
face of Khalaf. Y'abouya, y'abouyal All three 
sons dead! From that hour I became as thou 
seest me now, an old man, white-bearded. Be 
cause 'Addai loved Khadija, my sons were lost 
to me. But why speak I thus? It was so de 
creed from the beginning." 

Silence followed Haji Rikkan's tale. Slowly 



20 THE MARSH ARAB 

the boat glided over the clear water, unruffled 
and smooth as a mirror, and green with the re 
flection of the thick reeds. Patches of flowering 
weeds, pink and white, floated here and there 
on its surface, swaying gently as we passed. 
Smiling, serene, untroubled the marsh seemed 
under the radiant sky, a haven of quiet and 
peace, a refuge from the world ; yet the grief of 
human hearts was here, and the wilderness of 
reeds did but hide the despair and endurance of 
men. 

We had travelled all day, and had seen no 
faces but each other's. Now we began to come 
upon traces of habitation. The reeds were tram 
pled down in patches; a group of water-buf 
faloes, half-submerged, were browsing among 
the rushes ; we heard voices, and with unexpected 
suddenness the high reeds fell away on either 
side, as we came out into open water. 

Facing us was a group of the strange mounds 
or ishans which here and there, in the marshes 
of Southern 'Iraq, stand out high, or seeming 
high in that vast watery expanse. On these, the 
remains of ancient cities, where once rich men 
feasted under the sway of mighty Babylon, or 
Abbasid merchants bartered their goods, the 
marshman builds his hut. Alike in pattern but 



THE PEDDLER 21 

varying in size, the huts are of the simplest con 
struction; bundles of tall reeds are bent and 
fixed to the ground to form a tunnel-shaped 
framework, over which are thrown a number of 
mats of plaited reeds. At one end is a low and 
narrow aperture which serves as doorway, win 
dow, and chimney combined; on the rush- 
strewn and miry floor sleep men and women, 
children and buffaloes, in warm proximity. 

Here dirt and disease should have given death 
an easy victory, yet here was life triumphant. 
On this bright morning the houses, closely hud 
dled together, looked picturesque enough to 
make one forget the wretched conditions in 
which their owners live. In this malarious 
swamp, tormented by flies and by the insects in 
numerable bred in the mud the ground of his 
hut often oozing water at every step, and every 
sanitary precaution neglected the Marsh Arab 
attains a surprisingly high physical level. It 
is a case of the survival of the fittest, for the 
infant mortality is appalling; but those who sur 
vive to maturity have hardened in the process* 
Under the scorching sun of summer and in the 
bitterly cold winter winds alike, they are con 
tent with one scanty garment, or with none. The 
men are thickset and muscular, powerful swim- 



22 THE MARSH ARAB 

mers and capable of great endurance, though 
lazy enough when work is not absolutely neces 
sary. With their strong, well-built bodies, flash 
ing white teeth, and thick black hair worn in 
two plaits, the Ma' dan or Marsh Arabs compare 
favourably with the townsmen, and need not 
fear comparison with the pure-bred tribesmen 
of the desert. 

To my eyes, fresh from the soft tones of the 
marsh, the village seemed full of colour. The 
yellow reeds of the newer huts gleamed against 
the sky, and the swinging draperies of the women 
who moved to and fro between them were gaily 
red, blue, and orange. The sturdy women of 
the Ma* dan, dark-eyed and warmly brown in 
colouring, are often handsome, even beautiful, 
though they age early. In contrast with the 
men's, their dress is ample and copious, high 
to the neck and trailing on the ground. The 
old crones who squatted at the doors of the huts 
were dressed in sombre, dingy black, with 
heavy swathed turbans of black stuff on their 
heads. Under the prows of a row of moored 
mashhufs, a group of village children played in 
comfortable nakedness. 

Mashhufs abounded, for every household 
must possess its means of transport the only 



THE PEDDLER 23 

means in these three million acres of trackless 
swamp. The marsh itself supplies most of the 
simple needs of the marshman : reeds and rushes 
provide shelter, bedding, and fuel, baskets, 
ropes, and fodder for the buffaloes whose milk, 
eaten curdled, is with the abundant fish his staple 
diet. By the sale of reeds, either as fuel for 
brick-kilns, or plaited into the mats used 
throughout 'Iraq for a variety of purposes, he 
obtains money for the purchase of such small 
luxuries as those sold by Haji Rikkan, or of 
the rifle which, in this land of blood-feuds, no 
man can afford to be without. 

The marshman's household goods are of the 
scantiest. At the first hint of danger he can 
pile them all into his boat, roll up the mats which 
make his house, and driving his buffaloes before 
him retire to the heart of his swampy fastness, 
there to defy the outside world as he has done 
for centuries past. 

We approached the largest ishan, where a 
group of women were busy at the water's edge 
with their black cooking-pots. These were the 
Haji's prospective customers, and he hailed 
them with the traditional call of his profession. 

(( Come, O women, come! Tea, sugar, coffee, 
tobacco. Cucumbers and onions, weight for 



24 THE MARSH ARAB 

weight with rice. O comely ones ! Henna and 
perfumes. Dates, sweet dates exchange rice 
for dates, twice their weight in rice. Mirrors 
for brides needles, thread, combs. Come, O 
women! Pretty ones, come!" 

Trade did not seem very brisk. A few women 
came to the boat with shallow baskets of rice 
on their heads, and squatted on the bank to bar 
gain. One man had a badger's skin to barter, 
an old woman a sack of feathers ; but the day's 
trading was soon done. Haji Rikkan continued 
to call his wares round the other islands, but 
there was no answering hail. In a few minutes 
Bahalul turned the boat's head, and the high 
reeds soon hid the village from our sight 

"By Hasan and Husain, in these days there 
-is no money in all 'Iraq," muttered Haji Rikkan. 
"I am become like the bathman's donkey, which 
does but carry fuel to the fire, and ashes from 
the fire." 

"Or like the camel," put in Bahalul, his im 
passive and sternly-cut face lighting up as it 
always did when he was moved to infrequent 
speech, "which carries dates, but eats thorn." 

"Eh <wah, eh wah" the Haji assented. "My 
labours bring me no profit. As the saying goes, 



THE PEDDLER 25 

Like 'Abbas abu 'Arar, 
Fifty years a soldier, 
Yet still nafar nafar. 

"Ah, well, Allah is bountiful." 

With this Haji Rikkan threw off the troubles 
of the world, and we relapsed into silence and 
our own thoughts. Mine were busy with the 
strange contrast between the squalor I had just 
seen the filth and ignorance which made the 
people's lives little better than those of the ani 
mals which shared their huts and the Haji's 
story of devotion to an ideal, of lives given 
freely to avenge a stranger whose protection was 
a matter of honour. Was it, I wondered, a sign 
that the people of this land might yet become 
a great nation; or was it the last glimmer of 
a noble past in a decadent race? 

What were the thoughts of Haji Rikkan and 
of Bahalul, I do not know. Jahalul's were 
where they had been all day, and once more 
his voice rose in doleful song, the last sighing 
notes drowned by the evening trilling of the 
marsh's myriad frogs. 

"Fourteen thy days, O lovely moon at full ; 
Fourteen the years of my gazelle-eyed love; 
Yet brighter far her face, more beautiful. 

"Two red lips hast thou not, O moon above, 
Thou hast not teeth like whitest pearls arrayed, 
Nor braided plaits like those which deck my love." 



Chapter II 
ACROSS THE MARSH 

BASKING in the quiet warmth of the April 
afternoon, the whole village drowsed. 
Across the water which separated Haji Rikkan's 
solitary hut from the rest of the crowded com 
munity, only one sound floated lazily the hum 
of a majrasha which showed that somewhere a 
woman was busy husking rice. Only on our 
own small island was there stir and bustle, for 
preparations were on foot for a long journey, 
the longest I had yet taken with the old peddler. 

Hospitality among the Arabs of the desert 
has become a byword; yet it is not a whit less 
common among the humbler folk of the marsh, 
despised and wretched as they are. In the poor-' 
est household any small store of butter or other 
luxury which may have come its way is jealously 
reserved; and to-day, though meat is the rarest 
of luxuries, the Haji had killed a lamb in honour 
of his guest. 

Within the hut the women were busy over 

26 



ACROSS THE MARSH 27 

the fire. The Haji, Bahalul, and myself sat on 
a worn strip of carpet in the shade of the hut, 
doing nothing as became the dignity of our sex. 
Jahalul strolled restlessly here and there, a 
naked dagger in his hand; for he was newly 
wed, and to such the jlnns are always malevo 
lently disposed. 

His bride, silently contemplating her world, 
sat in the Haji's boat, which was moored to 
the low bank. She seemed to be using the still 
water as a mirror in which to survey and enjoy 
her wedding finery. The simple, widely fash 
ioned garments, made up from cotton stuff 
bought in the nearest riverside market, would 
all too soon become faded, draggled, and dirty; 
but for a few days their crude colours were 
bright and gay in the sunshine. She was a pretty 
girl, sturdily built, barely fifteen ; a deep fringe 
of black hair hid her forehead, a silver ring 
set with blue stones was in her nose, and her 
chin was decorated with indigo tattooing. 

Perfect peace brooded over the village as the 
warm afternoon drew to a close. The yellow 
and brown huts were sharply outlined against 
the deep blue of the sky. A group of buffaloes, 
their bodies submerged, showed motionless black 
heads above the surface of the water. The soft 



28 THE MARSH ARAB 

chatter of women inside Haji Rikkan's hut 

seemed hardly to ruffle the silence. 

"Fitna, O Fitna!" one of the voices was 
raised shrilly. "Bring from the blrkash two 
baskets of rice." 

"I, when I am not yet out of my seven days?" 
replied the bride with indignation. r 

"No matter, no matter," called the older 
woman indulgently. "I will fetch the rice my 
self." 

Here Haji Rikkan broke into the conversa 
tion. 

"What, more rice? All I had thou didst take 
three days ago. O shameless! While I am 
absent on my journeys thou sellest for thyself 
that which I have grown weary in getting. At 
thine ease dost thou eat, while I daughter of 
sixteen donkeys, why didst not say it was for the 
guest? Two baskets? Go, fetch, four, fetch 
eight, nay, empty the birkash take alll" 

"O generous I" said the woman. "The lamb 
will be well stuffed." 

"Aye, stuff it well, O mother of 'Ubaid. Spare 
not the almonds nor the onions. Go, my daugh 
ter, fetch sultanas from the boat, from the tin 
next the sugar. Spare not the spice, be lavish 
with the cloves and the pepper. Forget not the 



ACROSS THE MARSH 29 

kirkum nor the krafus. The tin is empty, daugh 
ter? No matter, it is as Allah willed. May He 
strengthen you, my sisters!" And the women 
bustled about their tasks, while Haji Rikkan 
puffed reflectively at the reed stem of his hubble- 
bubble of mud. 

That evening several of the village elders were 
invited to partake of the Haji's hospitality. Had 
not a lamb been killed? a lamb which in retro 
spect would soon grow into a sheep, slain in 
honour of an occasion which would in time be 
referred to as "the day on which I killed three 
f sheep in honour of the Sahib's visit." Haji Rik- 
kan's gnarled hand pulled limb from limb ; with 
his fingers he tore the tenderest pieces of meat 
from the back of the roasted lamb, and handed 
them to me with a great fistful of the stuffing. 

The rice was well cooked, but of the almonds, 
sultanas, and spices which go to make up the 
stuffing at the meals of richer men there was no 
sign. It was not that the Haji's orders had been 
disobeyed: he had never meant them to be lit 
erally interpreted, for such luxuries were far 
beyond the reach of his household. The desert 
Arab gives ungrudgingly of his scanty best, and 
to excuse the plainness of the repast will say 



3 o THE MARSH ARAB 

simply, "We are poor"; but the Marsh Arab, 
more imaginative or more boastful, is apt to 
shout to servants he does not possess, and to 
order food he has not got, in an attempt to 
show that, though straitened circumstances make 
its complete fulfilment impossible, the hospital 
ity of his intention is ungrudging. 

The remnants of our food were left to reward 
the labours of the women who had cooked it 
Not even the humblest Arab of the marsh would 
deign to eat with his wife. "We sleep in the 
same bed as our womenfolk," said the Haji 
once, "but eat with them? No, that were too 
great a disgrace." 

Early the next morning we set out on our 
journey across the ttaarsh- The young bardi 
through which we passed first was a sheet of 
vivid green, unrelieved by any brown or faded 
tints, for the Ma' dan each year burn down the 
old rushes to encourage the new growth, rais 
ing great pillars of smoke which are often seen 
and wondered at by passengers on the distant 
river. Gradually the bardi gave way to taller 
reeds* The channel we followed wound its 
sinuous way between high walls of impenetrable 
thickness, which sheltered us at once from the 



ACROSS THE MARSH 31 

sun and from the gusty south wind which had 
sprung up in the early morning. 

"As the talk comes, so thou wishest me to 
speak?" asked Haji Rikkan suddenly, breaking 
a long silence; and to my "Na'm" Yes re 
plied with a common play upon words. ff Na'm 
Allah 'aliak" Allah's blessing upon thee. 

Haji Rikkan was gifted with a rough elo 
quence which he loved to exercise. His natural 
intelligence, always above the average, had been 
sharpened by contact with the world outside 
the marshes, and he had besides a fund of sim 
ple knowledge and tribal lore far above that 
possessed by most of the Ma' dan. His ready 
tongue and tenacious memory the accurate 
memory of those who can neither read nor write 
made him the most entertaining of compan 
ions ; but long silences caused him no embarrass 
ment, and we often travelled for hours together 
without a word, until some trivial occurrence, 
some sight or casual thought, unloosed his 
tongue. Direct questioning soon wearied him, 
and his best talk was the unpremeditated expres 
sion of his moment's mood* 

Now it was a long-legged bird, flapping out 
of the reeds with a startled, angry cry at our 



32 THE MARSH ARAB 

intrusion on its peace, which moved the Haji 

to speech. 

"Most Great is Allah, most Great is Allah!" 
he exclaimed. "To raise his tent man must 
have ropes and poles of wood, yet Allah's tent 
is stretched above us without either. There it 
remains, lit night by night, while the palaces of 
the kings of former days are crumbled into dust. 
Lord of the Worlds is He, Creator of how many 
kinds of creatures, on each of which He has be 
stowed instinct approaching the knowledge of 
man! The ant stores for the coming winter, 
the mouse knows the cat for its foe, and that 
bird (it was a kind of heron) knows how to 
guard itself as would a man. At night, when 
the flock would sleep, one bird is chosen as sen 
try; all sleep but he, who must place the sole 
of one foot against the knee of the other leg, so 
that if he sleep he falls. And if one of their 
number is killed because of the negligence of 
the sentry, then the whole flock seek him out 
and peck him to death." 

How much of the Haji's natural history was 
observation, how much imagination, I could 
not say ; but his rambling talk soon left the sub 
ject. 

"Most Great is Allah! To the animals and 



ACROSS THE MARSH 33 

birds he has given instinct, to man knowledge; 
but of what avail knowledge without experi 
ence? There was once a great man called Harun 
al Rashid, a sultan he was, and a powerful. He 
had a son who studied for twenty years, until 
he had more knowledge than his teachers. The 
sultan, seeing this " 

The story was interrupted by the passing of 
another birkash, in which the rusty tins and the 
sugar cones in their thick blue paper were ar 
ranged in the same way as were the Haji's. 
There in the bow was the same rolled-up reed 
mat ready to protect the precious stock from 
rain, and rising from the middle the same 
stripped branch, in the fork of which were hung 
half a dozen red glass bracelets in a primitive 
attempt at window-dressing. 

It was evident from Haji Rikkan's uncompli 
mentary remarks that this rival craft belonged 
to, or was financed by, a non-Muslim. His 
pungent curses on Jews and Christians alike 
were felt to need no apology to me, for all 
Englishmen he regarded as members of the 
"British religion/' one inferior to Islam, but 
far superior to the local Christianity, Harun 
al Rashid forgotten, Haji Rikkan now began to 



34 THE MARSH ARAB 

talk of a celebrated Saiyid who was buried on 

one of the many mounds along the river bank. 

"But for the trickery of a Christian may his 
grave be defiled! Saiyid Khalifa would have 
died a rich man. It was his custom to go about 
the marshes as I do, selling not sugar, tea, and 
coffee, but pieces of Heaven. Because he was 
a holy man, descended from our Prophet, the 
tribesmen believed that he could indeed do this ; 
and one who had bought a piece of Heaven big 
enough for himself would proceed to save 
enough to buy a piece for his wife, and another 
for his family. When Heaven was being sold 
piecemeal, who had money to spare for spices 
and tobacco? Thus that Christian merchant 
who was accustomed to send men into the 
marshes to sell his goods began to lose his trade, 
until at length he devised a plan. 

"Going to the Saiyid with all due humility, 
he said that though as a Christian he could not 
buy a piece of Heaven, yet might he buy a piece 
of Hell or all of it, if so much were for sale? 
Gladly the Saiyid gave him a deed saying that 
the whole of Hell was his. Then the Christian 
sent out many mashhuf-lo&ds of his goods among 
the tribes, bidding his peddlers announce his 



ACROSS THE MARSH 35 

purchase to every one. The tribesmen were not 
slow to see the meaning: if the whole of Hell 
was taken, they could but go to Heaven. Why 
then pay? Thus Saiyid Khalifa sold no more 
pieces of Heaven." 

So talked the Haji, on every subject ready 
with his simple say. His deep, resonant voice, 
the expressive gestures of his eloquent hands, 
an occasional twinkle in the dark eyes which, 
deep-set by nature, seemed deeper still by rea 
son of the bushy eyebrows overhanging them, 
gave an indescribable charm to the spoken word. 
Diffuse and wordy he could be, when not sure 
of his ground; but when relating his own ex 
periences, or talking on matters of which he 
had first-hand knowledge, he was terse, vivid, 
magnificently idiomatic. 

We left the sheltering reeds, and entered a 
broad stream of clear water, the channel run 
ning straight ahead as far as the eye could see, 
as though cut by the hand of man ; as indeed it 
must have been, for it was a fragment of the 
famous Nahrwan Caiial, one of the great irriga 
tion works which of old made Mesopotamia 
a fertile land. These desolate marshes witnessed 
the earliest beginnings of flow irrigation. 



36 THE MARSH ARAB 

Marduk laid a reed upon the face of the waters, 
He formed dust and poured it out beside the reed, 
That he might cause the gods to dwell 
In the place of their hearts' desire. 

The early Sumerians began the reclamation 
of the "Sea-land" by erecting banks of earth 
and reeds such as the marsh tribes build to this 
day. From small beginnings the dykes grew 
in size and extent, until vast areas were enclosed, 
within which the land was cultivated by means 
of flow irrigation through cuts in the dykes; 
cities were built, and temples (the places of their 
hearts' desire) raised to the gods. All these 
were below the level of the water, protected from 
inundation by the strength of the encircling 
bund. 

' The present desolation dates from the fifth 
century, when a weak monarchy resulted in 
years of neglect, and a sudden flood breached 
the untended dykes, submerging all the low 
lands south and west of the Tigris- A stronger 
king was able to reclaim much of the land, but 
two centuries later another flood, unprecedented 
in its violence, broke down the bunds once more. 
This was only a few years before the Muslim 
invasion. The Sassanian king, Khasrau Parviz, 
did what he could ; but though he "crucified in 
one day forty dykemen at a certain breach," he 



ACROSS THE MARSH 37 

could not control the waters. After that deso 
lation it was left for the Mongol hordes, a flood 
more terrible even than the ungovernable waters, 
finally to destroy the ancient irrigation system, 
and make the great swamp permanent, accepted, 
and abandoned. 

Soon branching off from our arrow-straight 
waterway, we began to wind once more among 
reeds which grew ever taller, until we were sur 
rounded by mardi, the giant of the marshes, 
which provides the Ma'dan with their long 
mas hhuf -poles ; here it towered above our heads 
to a height of twenty-five feet Slowly we 
threaded our way among these silent, stately 
monarchs of the waste, until, suddenly break* 
ing through the gloom, we came out upon a 
wide sea of sunny open water, blue as the Medi 
terranean, and covered with white-crested waves. 
The wind, which in the shelter of the mardi we 
had not felt, was here blowing freshly, and Haji 
Rikkan had doubts as to the wisdom of attempt 
ing to cross; for the loss of a marsh boat in these 
squalls of wind is by no means infrequent. In 
the end he decided to skirt the edge of the reeds, 
and with a pious "We are all in the hands of 
Allah" gave the word to cross. Rocking and 
tossing, and shipping a good deal of water, we 



38 THE MARSH ARAB 

reached the other side in safety, and slid into 
the calm waters of a channel which wound be 
tween walls of shababj the stout but pliable reed 
from which the marshman makes the arched 
framework of his hut Only the waving of their 
silver feathery heads showed that above the 
shelter of our little channel the wind blew as 
strongly as before. 

Always changing from hour to hour as we 
penetrated more and more deeply into its heart, 
yet always the same, the quiet marsh opened 
its waterways to receive us. Like some Belle 
Dame sans Merci, it seemed to beckon us on 
and on, ever revealing fresh beauties, yet closing 
fast the way of retreat. Its towering ramparts 
rose silently behind us as though, having once 
laid bare the wonders of its inmost hidden life, 
the marsh would keep us for ever in its em 
brace, lest we should go forth again and tell 
the secret of its winds and waters to the world 
outside. 

At last, when to one's lulled senses the whole 
universe seemed to be made up of murmuring 
reeds and lapping water, we came to a village, 
a large settlement on a group of islands. 

"In sh'AllahGod willing I shall profit 
here," said Haji Rikkan, "for their buffaloes 



ACROSS THE MARSH 39 

are good buffaloes, almost as good as those of 
the Abraiha tribe of Gurmat 'All, which may 
be milked from sunset to the setting of the star 
Zahra, and even then not be dry." 

Many hails of "Ya Abu Walim!" greeted us, 
and the Haji seemed likely to do a brisk trade 
in this centre of life so far from the beaten track. 
As was sometimes his custom when a long halt 
was to be made, he borrowed a challabiya from 
the village, and sent me off with Bahalul and 
Jahalul to get some shooting. 

Back into the heart of the marsh we plunged, 
the powerful strokes of the brothers sending 
the tiny, narrow craft through the water at a 
pace very different from that of the loaded 
birkash. Both heavily built and rather below 
the middle height, both strikingly muscular 
even for marshmen, the twins though alike in 
feature differed widely in character. Jahalul 
was ready of tongue, quick to see a jest, some 
thing of a flatterer, and his uncle's favourite. 
He wore a thick silver ring, and his nails were 
dyed with henna, two forms of adornment 
scorned by the elder twin, who had also shorn 
the two plaits of hair still worn by Jahalul in 
common with most young men of his age. Ba- 
halul's stern face seldom relaxed into a smile; 



4 o THE MARSH ARAB 

his words were at all times few; yet nothing 
escaped the vigilance of his dark eyes, and it 
was to him that Haji Rikkan unfailingly turned 
for advice in a difficulty. 

Duck and teal abounded, and so good was 
our sport that it was not until I saw Bahalul 
leaning from the boat to toss up water into his 
mouth that I was reminded of my own thirst 
I was hungry too, but we had left the village 
without bringing either food or drink. The 
marsh water was here so salt as to be to me 
undrinkable ; I suggested that we make for the 
nearest village, where we could be certain of 
getting it well disguised in the form of tea. 

An argument ensued between the brothers. 
Apparently the nearest village was the one in 
which we had left Haji Rikkan, by this time 
far away. 

"Wait I" said Bahalul. "The Weeper!" 

Jahalul agreed. The Weeper lived quite 
near. 

I was on the point of questioning them, when 
I remembered that I had heard of an old woman 
who for years had lived alone in the heart of 
the marsh, spending every night in weeping and 
beating her breasts. What, I wondered, had 
driven her to seek this hermit's life? What 



ACROSS THE MARSH 41 

tragedy of fierce love and hate had been wit 
nessed by the marsh, and buried in the deep 
oblivion of its silence? 

Twenty minutes' swift paddling brought us 
to a small ishan marked by a single reed hut 
As we neared it, a figure came down to the 
water's edge and stood waiting the gaunt, erect 
figure of a middle-aged woman with strongly- 
marked features and bright, deep-set eyes. She 
bade us welcome, and led us to her hut, where 
she spread a rug for me, bidding the mashhuf- 
men bring cushions from the far end. Appar 
ently our visit did not seem to her strange or 
even unusual; she asked no questions as to our 
destination, but quietly set about preparing tea. 

Taking a handful of dried reeds, she pushed 
the ends into the fire, which blazed up merrily 
round the old black kettle freshly filled with 
water by Jahalul. From a wooden box she took 
three small narrow-waisted glasses, washed and 
shook them dry, and placed them on a metal 
tray near the fire. From another box she took 
a solid lump of white sugar, broke it in pieces, 
and put in each glass a lump large enough nearly 
to fill it. The kettle began to boil, and the 
woman shook some tea into an old, broken- 
spouted tea-pot, poured the water on, and set 



42 THE MARSH ARAB 

it on the fire to brew. For a few more minutes 
we sat in silence; then she poured tea into the 
little glasses, and handed one each to me and 
to Bahalul and his brother, who sat together near 
the entrance. 

So far, beyond the ordinary common-places 
of greeting, she had said nothing; but now, as 
the brothers talked in low voices over their tea, 
the word majnuna reached my ears, and hers 
also. 

"Effendim," she said, "in thy country if a 
great sorrow fills all a woman's thoughts and 
all her life, is she counted mad?" 

I had no answer ready, and she appeared to 
expect none, but stared into the glowing embers 
of the fire. 

"He was a man!" she said, as if to herself. 
Then she turned to me with a swift question. 
"Thou hast heard of him?" 

"No," I replied, not knowing of whom she 
spoke. 

"Thou art but a youth," she said, excusing 
my ignorance. "Yet I remember, as though 
it had been last year, my first sight of him. 
That was the year of the great hailstorm, and 
he sat talking in my father's house. From be 
hind the women's screen I looked at him : what 



ACROSS THE MARSH 43 

strength, what mighty limbs ! Ah, he was good 
to look upon, bold of eye, and full-bearded. My 
heart loved him as I looked. 

"Then one day his brother's daughter came 
to me. 'Ruwaidhi desires thee, he desires thee,' 
she whispered, and I feared to believe her. But 
the next day I passed him by the water's brink, 
and as I passed I heard him say low, *O beauti 
ful, thou hast killed me!' And drawing my 
cloak over my face I hastened on. 

"After that day we met no matter how 
not once but several times. He wanted to take 
me to wife, and I was ready, but I feared to 
tell him. And then, as our custom is, I was 
bidden with another woman to his house; and 
I knew that he would watch, and if I ate noth 
ing take the sign that I desired him not Trem 
bling I stretched forth my hand to the food, and 
when I had eaten he kissed my mouth." 

Her voice died away, and I feared that I 
should not hear my story after all ; but in a few 
moments she began to speak again. 

"Gold, gold! Who made gold? Allah or 
the Evil One? When they came to ask for me 
in Ruwaidhi's name, my father wanted seventy 
golden liras for my price; for he was a proud 
man, and I was beautiful How could they 



44 THE MARSH ARAB 

close with so high a price, when Ruwaidhi was 
penniless? For only a few months before he 
had given all he had to buy him a wife; but 
that was before he saw me. All he could bor 
row and pledge they offered, and one said, 
'For my sake, reduce the sum by ten liras,' and 
another, Tor my sake abate yet another ten'; 
but my father refused them all. So returning 
to Ruwaidhi they said, 'All thou didst offer we 
have offered, and more, yet her father refused. 
What is thy wish?' 

" 'Return again,' said he, 'and whatsoever her 
father asks, accept that' And they agreed upon 
seventy liras. 

"It was truly a high price, but I laughed at 
Ruwaidhi for thinking of the gold. Was I not 
ready to dare my father's wrath, and go with 
him whatever might befall us? 

" 'Foolish tongue,' he said. 'I want thee not 
for a day nor a year, but for all time. Shall 
thy father come and slay thee or me? Mine 
is a weak tribe ; can I see all my kinsfolk slain 
for a blood-feud of my beginning? Nay, fear 
not. I will devise a plan to make thee mine 
without such folly.' 

"I knew that he was wise as well as fearless, 
r and I waited, waited patiently though many 



ACROSS THE MARSH 45 

weeks went by, for I trusted him. And not 
in vain, for a day came when he laid before me 
fifty liras, golden and shining in the sun. 
Whence?' I asked, and he told me. 

"He had made a plan with Risan bin Ghachi 
to steal and sell some buffaloes from the Bait 
Wuhaib; but they failed, and barely escaped 
with their lives. As they made their way home 
in the mashhuf, bitterness filled the heart of 
my lover, and he longed to kill the blundering 
fool Risan, who had spoiled his plan and lost 
him the fifty liras of which he thought night 
and day. No blood-feud would the slaying of 
Risan bring about, for he was long an outcast 
from his tribe ; and as this thought crossed Ruw- 
aidhi's mind, a new plan came to him, for he 
remembered the bitter enmity between Shaikh 
Hasan and Risan son of Ghachi. Ruwaidhi was 
quick to brain and hand. He said to Risan: 

" 'Let us rest awhile at Abu Dhahab.' They 
kindled a fire with the dry pith of the reeds, 
and as they sat by it Ruwaidhi returned to the 
mashhuf, fetched his club, and stunned the man. 
Quickly he bound him, cast him into the boat, 
and bore him through the marsh until he reached 
the shaikh's village. He hid the boat in the 



4 6 THE MARSH ARAB 

reeds, sought Hasan, and offered him the life 

of his enemy for fifty liras. 

" c No more than twenty is the dog's life 
worth, 5 said the shaikh. But Ruwaidhi was firm, 
and after much talk they struck a bargain. 
Hasan should kill the man with his own hand, 
and for his price forty-eight liras and a silver 
ring should be Ruwaidhi's. Together they went 
to the boat, but not until my lover had waited 
while the shaikh brought the gold from its hid 
ing-place under the mud floor. Then, as he 
gazed down at his helpless enemy, he turned 
to Ruwaidhi: 

" c The money was well earned,' he said. 'Give 
me thy dagger.' Thus was my price paid by 
the life of a man." 

The woman paused again, then with a word 
of apology rose and refilled our glasses. For 
a moment she stood at the door of the hut, look 
ing out over the marsh. I waited in silence, 
for I felt she had more to tell. What would 
be the sequel of this wild tale? She sat down 
again before the fire, a sad smile lighting up her 
thin face. 

"A year we had," she went on. "One short 
year, before 'Ali bin Shabib made dakhala. 



ACROSS THE MARSH 47 

One year with him, and seventeen alone. May 
Allah give him peace!" 

She turned to me. "Bo the peoples across the 
sea make dakhala?" 

I shook my head, smiling as I thought how 
embarrassed would be a peaceable Londoner if 
a fugitive from justice should rush up and clasp 
his feet, compelling him if he valued his honour 
to protect him who thus claimed asylum, even 
at the cost of his own life. 

"He only did what his honour demanded," 
she went on, "but, oh Allah! how we women 
suffer!" She wrung her hands, then resumed 
in her former quiet tone of retrospect. 

"For nearly a year we had been living on the 
edge of the Nasif marsh, but grazing for the 
buffaloes was getting short, and the tribe de 
cided to move further into the marshes. We 
were loath to go, we two, for we had been 
happy in that house which was our first home 
together; and when the tribe carried we said 
that we would be the last to go. Ah, would that 
we had been the first! On the last day, when 
all the rest had gone, we waited alone for the 
mashhuf which in a few hours would be back 
to fetch us and our household things. I was 
spinning wool, looking out to the water where 



48 THE MARSH ARAB 

Ruwaidhi In his challablya was hunting fish. 
He hurled his spear a flash of silver, and he 
was poling towards me with our midday meal. 
Then from behind me came a rushing of feet; 
a flying, hunted figure dashed across the mud, 
ran straight to Ruwaidhi as he leapt from the 
boat, and seized him by the feet 'Save, save! 
I am thy suppliant! 7 he gasped. 'Wasalat go 
no further,' answered Ruwaidhi. 

"A bullet whistled over my head. My hus 
band ran to the hut and seized his rifle. 'Ali's 
pursuers, some six or seven in number, broke 
shouting through the reeds, and called on Ruw 
aidhi to give him up. 'Never!' he said, 'He 
has made dakhala to me, and while I live I shall 
defend him.' ? Ali had no weapon, and asked 
for none; truly he was a craven youth, or per 
haps spent with his flight, for he lay still where 
he had fallen. But the strength and valour of 
Ruwaidhi, and his deadly aim with a rifle, were 
known throughout the marshes, and his assail 
ants feared to come too near. My heart throbbed 
with pride as I watched him one against seven. 
One fell as his rifle rang out, but I heard my 
baby wailing within, and ran to hide him in 
the reeds where he might be safe. Then I went 
back to my husband's side; he was wounded, 



ACROSS THE MARSH 49 

and the men were growing bolder. The bullets 
came fast see, I was wounded here and here. 
A great sleepiness came over me, and I crawled 
closer that I might fall asleep near him. The 
noise of the fighting grew fainter. 

"Suddenly I heard Ruwaidhi's voice speak 
ing in my ear. 'Beloved,' he said, 'I have but 
six rounds unspent Tell the stranger to take 
the challabiya and take to the marshes ; he will 
find protection with my tribe.' Painfully and 
slowly I struggled to the young man; I gave 
him the message. Then darkness came over me. 
When I awoke, I found my husband lying cold 
in a pool of blood. The stranger and the chal 
labiya had disappeared. I looked for my baby, 
but even he had not been spared." 

She stopped, and it seemed to me that a strange 
chill was in the air. 

"Ah, Effendim," she added, "the world calls 
me mad; but those who love little, grieve 
little," 

Our quest of tea had taken longer than I had 
expected and we should have to hurry if we 
were to be back at the village before nightfall. 
The brothers, refreshed by their rest, paddled 
vigorously. As our frail craft slipped swiftly 



50 THE MARSH ARAB 

through the narrow waterways, I asked whether 

the story we had just heard were true. 

"Allah knows," said the laconic Bahalul; but 
Jahalul was more communicative. "I know this 
only," he said. "If a man sees a jinn in the form 
of a beautiful woman, and tries to make her his 
own, he will become possessed, and will begin 
to pine away, crying, 'She has gone from me, 
she has gone from me,' until he dies of grief. 
Perhaps it was a jinn whom this woman saw in 
the form of a comely young man, and desired 
him; thus she became bewitched, weeping and 
wailing every night, as all who pass may hear, 
for love of him whom she has lost. Who 
knows?" 

The sun was setting in a cloud of flame, and 
everything was still. The tall feathery heads 
of the reeds had ceased their nodding ; no whis 
perings in the rushes, no bird-voices from the 
reeds broke the silence. Then a puff of chill 
evening breeze rippled the water, and borne on 
it I seemed to hear, as if from very far away, 
the sound of a voice raised in lamentation. 

We woke next morning to find that the south 
wind had fulfilled its threat. The sky was dull 
and overcast, and we had not long set out on 



ACROSS THE MARSH 51 

our day's journey before the heavens opened, 
and the rain poured down in torrents. Our blue 
and green world of yesterday was changed to 
one of dull, monotonous greys. 

Bahalul and Jahalul, frankly admitting that 
there was no protection in their soaking gar 
ments, soon threw them off, and poled steadily 
on through the rain which ran in rivulets down 
their brown, naked bodies. The Haji and my 
self pretended to find some warmth in our sod 
den clothes, and sat in shivering discomfort as 
hour after hour we travelled through grey rain 
on grey water, shut in by grey walls of reeds, 
and overhung by an ever greyer sky. The 
knowledge that not far ahead of us lay another 
marsh settlement buoyed up our spirit; but 
when we reached the ishan, it was deserted. 
Only a few mud ovens, round and smoke-black 
ened, showed that not long ago it had been as 
busy a centre of life as the village we had left at 
dawn. 

Leaning on their poles like two figures carver! 
in bronze, Bahalul and Jahalul gazed cb,*vn at 
the Haji as he silently debated our neit nove, 
He seemed to be at a loss, and at length -*Al 
jaziraf" suggested Bahalul. 

The desert! It seemed very distant, very far 



52 THE MARSH ARAB 

removed from this apparently limitless expanse 
of swamp. Distant indeed it was, but not beyond 
our reach, as Haji Rikkan agreed when he saw 
the force of Bahalul's suggestion ; for once there, 
we were certain to find some hospitable tents 
where the edge of the desert is washed by the 
marsh waters. 

I had made many long journeys with Bahalul 
and Jahalul, and never had I seen signs of 
fatigue in either. Now this long day of rain and 
gloom seemed to have taken the zest out of them. 
They bent to their poles wearily and no won 
der, for they had poled and paddled not only 
long but fast, in the effort to reach shelter before 
nightfall. 

"My brothers, my brothers!" cried Haji Rik- 
Jcan to encourage them, and with grunts they 
would renew their efforts, only to slacken grad 
ually as fatigue once more overcame them. 

As the day darkened towards evening the rain 
ceased. We left the reeds, and came out upon 
a stretch of water across which the Haji, rising 
to his / eet, peered anxiously in an effort to take 
some* jearings for our landfall. The low mist 
bafflt d even his unerring sense of direction. 

ff Ba?d shaibi" he called encouragingly to his 
weary nephews. "Nigh dear as my beard 



ACROSS THE MARSH 53 

dear as my heart 1" His exhortations became 
more frequent as we moved more and more 
slowly through the darkness. "Dear as my two 
kidneys I" he cried at last, and for the first time 
in that dreary day I laughed, and as we laughed 
the birkash, with a slight shiver, ran on to a 
bank of soft mud. 

"To Him be praise!" ejaculated Haji Rik- 
kan; then, "Silence," he ordered. 

We all strained our ears, listening for some 
sound which would tell of the nearness of man. 
And we were rewarded, for out of the silence, 
from far away, came the bark of a dog. 

"Wasalna we have arrived," said Haji Rik- 
kan with pride. 

But an Arab is apt to use this comforting 
phrase when one's destination is barely in sight. 
We had yet to find in the darkness the tent! 
from which that welcome bark had come. Leav 
ing Bahalul and Jahalul in the boat, the Haji 
and I trudged through water and mud in the 
direction of the sound. 

It seemed hours before we were challenged, 
and learned that we had reached the tents of 
Shaikh 'Arar. The watchman led us to the 
madhif, where we were hospitably welcomed by 
the shaikh's son, who did the honours without 



54 THE MARSH ARAB 

the slightest sign of surprise at the arrival of 
two draggled and weary guests at nearly mid 
night We were soaked to the skin: let more 
brushwood be thrown on the fire ; we were hun 
gry: even now they were bringing food to set 
before us and the death-cry of a chicken out 
side bore witness to the wide divergence between 
truth and politeness. 

We awoke next morning to a new world. 
Though the marsh was but a short distance away 
far shorter than it had seemed the night be 
fore we had left the marsh life behind. Round 
us now were camels, flocks, tethered horses, black 
hair tents. The only sign of fusion between 
desert and marsh was the use by some of the 
Bedouin of reed mats as walls for their tents. 

Shaikh 'Arar, who had been asleep when we 
arrived, greeted me jovially. Why had I come 
like a thief in the night? If he had been given 
warning of my coming he would have killed 
sheep, and given me a welcome which would 
have shown his gratitude. Had I not once, he 
said, years ago, rendered a service to the Bani 
'Isa, who were his uncles? Because of that his 
horses were my horses, his sons my slaves, his 
tribe my body-guard, and he himself ready to 
ride wheresoever I would in my service. 



ACROSS THE MARSH 55 

The suggestion of a ride was applauded by 
Haji Rikkan. He himself wished to spend a 
day or more in trading with the desert tribes 
whose tents were set up along the edge of the 
marsh ; and as no shooting was to be had in the 
great open stretch of water before us, why should 
I not pay a visit to Shaikh Fahad? 

Shaikh Fahad ! That was a name which still 
held for me a hint of glamour, of romance. It 
had been on all men's lips at one time, the name 
of a great leader, whose tribesmen revered him 
because he openly strove and fought for that 
freedom which was their inarticulate ideal. I 
had never met this shaikh whose youthful de 
fiance of the Turks had become legendary, who 
had seen in the British Occupation a still greater 
menace to Arab liberty, and had steadily refused 
submission, remaining unmoved in the desert 
to which he truly belonged while his lands were 
given to rivals, his flocks were confiscated, and 
the world moved on without him. Now that 
the opportunity of seeing him had come, I gladly 
took it 

Our way lay across a barren desert, once ir 
rigated and thickly peopled. On all sides, look 
ing enormous in the heat haze, rose irregular 
mounds, sites of ancient cities. The ground was 



56 THE MARSH ARAB 

strewn in places with fragments of pottery, 
glazed and unglazed, and with burnt bricks, 
many of which were inscribed. A few of these, 
laboriously carried to Baghdad, roused but faint 
interest in the archaeologist to whom they were 
shown, for they bore the names of Nebuchad 
nezzar and Ur-nam-mu, two prolific builders 
whose bricks are so common that they pave the 
courtyards of many houses in lower 'Iraq to-day. 
Traces of the old irrigation system were 
easily discernible straight canals with distri 
butaries taking off at regular intervals, in 
marked contrast to the meandering, ill-designed 
channels dug by the Arab of to-day. These 
old canals are to be traced, not as might be ex 
pected by depressions, but by ridges, the remains 
of the ancient soil-banks. It may well have 
been the heart-breaking task of silt-clearing these 
canals which caused the children of Israel to 
sit down and weep. Perhaps, I thought, they 
hanged up their harps on the willows beside the 
very canal along which we were riding, now 
treeless and deserted; for we were well within 
the southern limits of Babylonia. I recalled 
the "Burden of Babylon": truly the "besom of 
destruction" foretold by Isaiah could not have 
swept more thoroughly. 



ACROSS THE MARSH 57 

It was nearly sunset when we dismounted at 
the tents of Shaikh Fahad, who rose and came 
to meet us as we entered his madhif. One side 
of the great hair tent was open to the evening 
breeze, and the roof had be^n raised with extra 
poles for greater coolness; the floor was bare 
earth, swept clean ; across the two ends were laid 
narrow carpets of home weaving. In the mid 
dle of the floor, marked off by a low rounded 
ridge of earth, was the hearth, with its row of 
beaked, smoke-blackened coffee-pots standing in 
the embers. The coffee-man, his large brass pes 
tle and mortar by his side, squatted beside it, 
from time to time using his long iron tongs to 
pile the embers round the coffee-pots. A few 
tribesmen sat in a silent row at one end of the 
long tent. Between us and the back of the ma 
dhif > where its great tassels hung black and 
sharp against the orange of the sunset sky, the 
shaikh's hawk moved restlessly on its low perch 
of carved wood, ornamented with bands of brass. 

"Hawk-like," as I glanced from the bird to 
the man, seemed to me to be the best word to 
describe Shaikh Fahad. The hooked nose and 
jutting chin, the sunken eyes, the firmly-closed 
mouth above the short greying beard, must have 
made up a face of remarkable beauty in youth, 



58 THE MARSH ARAB 

and one as full of character and power. But 
Fahad's great days were past, and with them the 
light had gone from his eyes; his face was ex 
pressionless, lifeless, the face of a man who, hav 
ing lost everything, no longer cares that it is 
lost. 

Refreshed by the strong, pungent coffee, and 
thankful for the rest and coolness after our long 
ride, we sat until the sunset had faded and only 
the glowing hearth lit up the shaikh's madhif. 
Conversation was desultory and fitful. At length 
the talk turned on Arab customs, and grew more 
animated; Shaikh Fahad seemed to rouse him 
self from the brooding silence which he had 
scarcely broken by a word since first greeting us, 

"Than the customs of the Arabs none are bet 
ter," he said. "But of what avail is it, when 
they are being daily corrupted ?" 

In the respectful silence which followed his 
words, only one voice had the temerity to ask, 
"How?" 

"By the English," he replied curtly, turning 
to me. 

"Listen," he went on in his deep and curi 
ously vibrating voice* "This tale is true, as all 
here know, though to thee who art a stranger it 



ACROSS THE MARSH 59 

may not be known. A man of the Khaza'il tribe 
once had reason to fly from his own people, and 
coming to the Shammar country took up his 
abode and became neighbour to a certain Sham- 
mari, who in accordance with our custom thus 
became responsible for his welfare. One night 
the Khaza'ili, returning from a journey, saw his 
daughter hidden among the camels which were 
tethered between the two tents; and she was 
clasped in the arms of the Shammari's son, who 
kissed her. And the next morning the Khaza'ili 
left that place, his family and his beasts with 
him. Now th Shammari was grieved that his 
neighbour should thus have left him without 
a word, and the more he searched his mind the 
more certain he became that no action of his was 
the cause. Then, fearing that it might be the 
fault of his sons, he determined to question them. 

"To the eldest he said, 'In the time of my 
youth, a woman as beautiful as the daughter of 
the Khaza'ili would not go unkissed.' To which 
his son replied, 'It were a shame upon me,' 

"To the second he said the same, and received 
the same reply. But the third son, hoping to 
please his father, answered, 

" 'I have kissed her, and she has slept upon 
my breast. 7 



60 THE MARSH ARAB 

"And his father answered, 'Good, my son. 5 

"That day the Shammari set out for the desert, 
taking with him his eldest and his youngest sons, 
and in his saddle-bag a skein of wool. When 
they had ridden a certain distance he called the 
youngest son him who had caused the Khaza'ili 
to leave his protector and cutting off his head 
wrapped it in the wool he had brought. 

" 'Ride,' he said to his eldest son, 'Find the 
Khaza'ili, and give him this ball of wool.' 

"The young man did as he was bidden, saying 
to the Khaza'ili, 

" This gift is sent thee by my father.' 

"And the Khaza'ili, unwinding the wool, saw 
the head of the youngest son. Then knew he 
that the Shammari had wiped out the insult to 
his house. 

" Thy flag is white,' he said to the eldest son, 
and returned with him to his father's tents." 

In the silence that followed his story the vi 
brant voice of the shaikh rang out with startling 
fervour : "The English would have hanged that 
Shammari I" 1 

"These days are not like the days of our fath- 

l This is not so, for tribal cases are judged according to a 
special law, introduced during the British Occupation, which 
makes full allowance for the binding obligation on a tribes 
man to take life when his honour is at stake. 



ACROSS THE MARSH 61 

ers," Fahad continued, now evidently launched 
on his favourite theme. He spoke slowly, gaz 
ing at the fire without movement or gesture or 
play of feature ; only his voice betrayed his earn 
estness. 

"In my father's time Husain of the Bait 
'Abdul Khan, of the Bani Lam, having killed 
a kinsman of the great Madhkur, fled with his 
daughter Hasila to Shaikh Mansur of the Mun- 
tafiq. Now Hasila was beautiful, and Mansur 
wished to take her in marriage ; but because the 
Bani Lam consider themselves of nobler birth 
they would not give their daughters in marriage 
to the Muntafiq, nor do they to this day; yet 
could not Husain refuse when Mansur pressed, 
being under obligation to him. Accordingly he 
agreed to give the girl, asking but one day's de 
lay in which to move his tents to a distance, that 
Shaikh Mansur might come riding to ask for 
her, as was befitting. Then during the night 
Husain and his daughter fled, crossed the Tigris 
at Kumait by the ferry that was there, and so 
came to the tents of Shaikh Madhkur. Entering 
the madhif; he tied his chafiya to the tent-pole ; 
then drawing his sword cried, 'With this blade 
take my life, but first I entrust this girl to thy 
keeping 1' 



62 THE MARSH ARAB 

" 'Speak, explain,' said Madhkur. 

" C O Protected of Allah,' Husain replied, 'my 
daughter is desired in marriage by Shaikh Man- 
sur. But she is a woman of the Bani Lam, and 
rather than let her wed a man of the Muntafiq 
it seemed to me better to be slain by thee.' 

" Thou hast done well,' said the great Madh 
kur. 'As for the blood thou hast shed, let it be 
a sacrifice for thee, for from thee will I take 
no fasl neither woman nor blood-money. In 
stead the land of Sabaibah shall be thy fief.' 

"Not thus," concluded Fahad, "would the 
shaikhs of the Bani Lam act to-day." 

Here I was on firmer ground. Of the Sham- 
mar and Khaza'ili tribes I knew little, but 
among the Bani Lam I had many friends; I had 
stayed in their tents, and all their great names 
were familiar to me. Thus I knew that Shaikh 
Fahad's indictment was not without foundation. 
A generation or so ago, the desert code of the 
Bani Lam had held unquestioned sway; the stern 
virtues illustrated by these stories the pride, 
the generosity, the quixotic gallantry and the 
unsparing sacrifice were revered and cherished. 
But of late years the tribe had tended to roam 
the desert less, its leaders had ceased to be shep- 



ACROSS THE MARSH 63 

herds of great flocks and had begun to settle 
down to cultivation of the land. Once bitten 
by the desire for wealth and ease, the shaikhs 
grew avaricious, and their cultivators were soon 
feeling the yoke of the oppressor. Corruption 
has indeed set in, but it cannot be laid at the 
door of Turks or English; it began to spread, 
an insidious poison, as soon as the Arabs aban 
doned the stern but simple code of the desert 

But are the Governments of 'Iraq, past and 
present, altogether free from blame? It is still 
the official policy to settle the nomad Arab on 
the land, and the invariable result is immorality 
and degeneration. It seems that the nomad can 
not lose his wildness without losing his virtues 
also. The Bedouin, when they walk through 
the little towns at the desert's edge, to which they 
come each year to trade, stop their nostrils in 
scornful disgust at the stuffy, malodorous streets. 
May not their instinct show a greater wisdom 
than the wisdom of those who would tempt them 
from the desert? 

Shaikh Fahad, bidding us a courtly good 
night, went to his own tent. An idealist, he had 
fought all his life for his ideals, and though 
beaten had not yet surrendered. He would al- 



64 THE MARSH ARAB 

ways be a great figure ; but the merciless desert 
folk had passed their harsh verdict upon him. 
"His sword," they said, "has become a sword 
of lead; it glitters, but cuts not" 



Chapter III 
A PILGRIMAGE 

HERE at last was a channel of clear water! 
All day, as we traversed the narrow by 
ways of the marsh, our way had been impeded 
and our progress hindered by the clinging water- 
weeds. Wearying as they are to the boatman, 
these flowering masses have a beauty of their 
own. The goose-flower lies on the surface in 
a sheet of white blossom like that of the wild 
strawberry; ]at } the favourite food of the buf 
falo and not despised by his master, has a gay 
pink flower; the dull red of the 'oxtongue' and 
the brighter red of the round-leaved gdaiba give 
their note of colour to the marsh. None the 
less, we all rejoiced when at last the hampering 
masses were left behind, and we found ourselves 
in a channel the limpid water of which was evi 
dently kept clear by the frequent passage of 
boats. A paddle stuck into the water to show 
where its owner had cast poison to catch fish, 
a net for snaring birds, were signs that my sur- 

6s 



66 THE MARSH ARAB 

mise had not been unfounded; and soon the 
breeze bore faintly to our ears the distant shouts 
of men. 

Nearer to us, in a channel running parallel 
to ours, but hidden from sight by the thick 
barrier of reeds, we could hear the rapid sing 
song chatter of two women as they paddled their 
craft towards the village. The daughter of the 
despised Ma'dan has one great advantage over 
her social superiors; she goes unveiled, as free 
as any English girl to comb her hair and don 
her gayest dress when a chance meeting with 
her lover seems possible. As the social level 
rises, so does the seclusion of the Arab woman 
become stricter. The rich shaikh, for example, 
will build a reed fence or a wall of mud to give 
greater privacy to his women's quarters, while 
the shaikh of a desert tribe when moving camp 
will hang some brightly-coloured cloth on the 
leading camel, as a warning to strangers to keep 
their distance. The bigger the shaikh, the more 
rigid the seclusion of his women ; but the strictest 
rules are those which govern the well-to-do fami 
lies of the towns. There the woman must go 
heavily veiled ; she may not see her future hus 
band, nor he her; only in the bridal chamber do 
they discover whether their messengers had been 



A PILGRIMAGE 67 

truthful, or whether, corrupted by gifts, they 
had extolled imaginary charms. Even the seem 
ingly innocuous practice of exchanging photo 
graphs is condemned by the more conservative. 
In the mashhuf which we could hear so close 
to our own, one of the unseen women began to 
sing. 

"O youth in flowing cloak 
New-dipped in henna fine, 
Death by my father's sword were better 
Than not be thine!'* 

As the last lingering note of her "thin melan 
choly music" died away, the second girl began 
in her turn to sing. 

"No ferry-man is here for me to pay, 
No power have I to swim. 
Like one who is poisoned, on this side I stay, 
Staggering for love of him." 

"Huh, huh!" cried Jahalul aloud. Stirred by 
this crude appeal to passion he churned the water 
into foam with the powerful strokes of his pad 
dle. "A thousand greetings! Sing again!" he 
shouted ; but silence answered him. 

In a few minutes we came upon a marshman 
cutting reeds with his sickle. He was naked, 
and the muscles rippled under his brown skin as 
he worked. 



68 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Allah strengthen thee!" the Haji greeted him 
in passing. 

"Allah guard theel" replied the reed-cutter. 
Then he called after us, "Danger in thy way!" 

"Ha?" queried the old peddler. 

"WAllah" the marshman affirmed. It 
seemed that a party of the Batabta, who were 
at feud with the Haji and his tribe, had preceded 
us on their way to the very village in which 
we had intended to spend the night. 

For a moment Haji Rikkan hesitated. Then, 
"the Bait Sawad," he suggested. 

"They have carried," was the curt reply. 
This was unwelcome news, but it was decided 
that we should none the less sleep on the ishan 
vacated by the Bait Sawad, for no other settle 
ment was near, and the Haji wished at all costs 
to avoid an encounter with his enemies of the 
Batabta tribe. 

It was dark when we reached the deserted 
island. Bahalul and Jahalul busied themselves 
with lighting a fire and trying their unprac 
tised hands at cooking a meal, while the Haji 
and I talked of the feud which was the cause 
of our lonely sojourn. From the story of his 
own we passed to feuds in general, and their 
settlement by the tribal method of fasL 



A PILGRIMAGE 69 

"Female children," says Doughty somewhere, 
"are a burden of small joy in a poor Muslim 
family, for whom the father shall at last receive 
but a slender bride-money, when they are di 
vided from his household." But even the bride- 
money can be little consolation to parents whose 
daughter's fate it is to be a fasl-womzn. 

Among the Arabs the primitive law of an 
eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for 
a life holds good. Every injury has its equiva 
lent compensation, failure to pay which leads to 
a blood-feud, an inter-tribal war of extermina 
tion in which it is not a crime but a solemn duty 
to murder, in cold blood or open warfare, as 
many as possible of the enemy. The compensa 
tion for an injury, whether to a man's body or 
to his honour, varies widely among the tribes; 
in one, the fast for killing a man's dog may be 
enough grain to cover the dead body held up 
by its tail, in another nothing less than the pay 
ment of a woman may be required. In all cases 
where human life has been taken, the fasl is 
paid in women two, four, or six for each man's 
life, according to the custom of the tribe and 
according to the relationship of the murderer to 
his victim : if they are members of the same tribe, 



70 THE MARSH ARAB 

the penalty is heavier than if no blood-relation 
ship unites the two. 

The only recognized method of ending a 
blood-feud is this same method of fasl, com 
pensation being paid to the side which has lost 
the greater number of victims; the number by 
which its losses exceed those of the other side 
is counted up, and for each man's life two or 
more women are handed over. 

The lot of a /W-woman is a hard one. As 
soon as she reaches marriageable age often as 
early as eleven or twelve she is torn from her 
parents and handed over, according to the terms 
of a fasl arranged, perhaps, many years pre 
viously, to a tribe hostile to her own and there 
fore often hostile to herself. If she does not 
bear a son to her new tribe, she may be handed 
back in ignominy, another woman being de 
manded in her stead ; in some tribes if she gives 
birth to a son she may leave him behind, and 
returning to her own people marry the man of 
her choice, provided that the full bride-money is 
paid to her former husband. 

The yW-woman becomes the absolute chattel 
of the stranger to whom she is allotted. How 
ever bad her treatment and it is not likely 
to be over-good she cannot demand a divorce. 



A PILGRIMAGE 71 

Still, she is one degree better off than a slave- 
woman, whom her owner may kill if he so de 
sires : the man who kills his fast-woman has to 
pay women to her tribe, for, the Arabs argue, 
she is given in blood only, and is not his in blood 
and bone, as is the slave-woman. 

It is inevitable that the yW-woman should 
suffer cruelly in thus expiating the sins of her 
tribe. To western minds it seems intolerable 
that the custom of a money payment instead of 
payment of a woman, sometimes adopted among 
the tribes, should not be generally enforced. 
But the Arabs have learned by long experience 
that the old method of handing over women is 
by far the most effective for ensuring future 
amity between the tribes hitherto at feud. More 
surely than the payment of money, this inter 
marriage brings about a lasting and real recon 
ciliation. 

To his women-folk, who have thus become 
the common currency for the settling of disputes, 
the Arab is at once exacting and merciless. 
Handed over like cattle as compensation for 
the sins of men, the woman must herself con 
form to the highest standard of virtue, one far 
higher than that required of her husband ; from 
this standard if she fall by ever so little, the 



72 THE MARSH ARAB 

penalty is death. The merest suspicion, the 
slightest breath of scandal is enough; if her 
reputation is barely called in question, it be 
comes the duty of her nearest male relation to 
take her life. Unless the husband is her cousin, 
no dishonour attaches to him, for he is not of 
her blood; he will merely drive her from his 
home, leaving her father or brother to take what 
action he must. Sometimes the woman meets 
a merciful end; but it is not unusual for her 
to be enveigled to some lonely spot, there abused 
and reviled for her conduct, and stabbed with 
a dagger or even beaten to death with a spade. 
Often the avenger will cut off her right hand, 
as a visible proof that his honour is clean and 
that no reproach can now be levelled at him. 
It is on such occasions that all the latent sav 
agery of the Arab, that strain of brutality which 
earned for him so bad a name with the British 
Expeditionary Force, comes to the surface. 

Even if the man would be merciful, public 
opinion expressed by word or gesture drives 
him to take action. The duty of punishing im 
morality is one against which no natural affec 
tion, no family sentiment, may contend. Be 
tween the twin brothers who so often paddled 
me about the marshes a strong tie of fraternal 



A PILGRIMAGE 73 

affection was evident, silent and undemonstra 
tive though it might be; an equal tie probably 
existed between them and the sister whom I 
had seen some years earlier. Yet, so the Haji 
told me as we sat together on this lonely ishan, 
Bahalul had killed her with his own hand at a 
taunt from an angry neighbour, 

He had returned to his hut one day to find 
his little brother in tears; the child had been 
beaten, he said, by one Guhait, to whose hut 
Bahalul went straightway in anger. "Words 
passed between them, grew fierce and high. 
Then said Guhait, 'Is it so great a crime to beat 
a foolish boy? Why such heated words over 
the sore back of a child, when thou thyself dost 
allow thy sister to break the honour of our tribe 
with Radhi?' So Bahalul left him with no more 
speech, and returning to his mother's house 
found Furaiha sitting within. 'Sister,' he said, 
'the price of adultery is death,' and he stabbed 
her twice." 

I was appalled at this savage act, and espe 
cially that Bahalul should have acted on a mere 
taunt, which might have been baseless. 

"No," the Haji replied. "Not baseless, for 
Guhait would not have dared. If it were so, by 
our law he would be the cause of her death, and 



74 THE MARSH ARAB 

would have had to pay five women as fasl. No, 
Bahalul did well, as all men agreed. We know 
only our own law and that of our fathers for 
many generations : every man is bidden to pre 
serve the honour of his tribe, and Bahalul did 
but that" 

Haji Rikkan's defence was barely ended, 
when Bahalul came towards us with the tea he 
had just made. Feeling that the subject could 
not but be an unhappy one to him, I hastened 
to speak of something else. 

"Tell me, O Haji," I said at random, "of thy 
pilgrimage to Mecca." 

"Mecca, Mecca the Honourable, the place 
of the Cha'aba, truly a distant city," mused the 
Haji, as with a piece of reed he stirred the glass 
of tea handed him by his nephew. 

"Ma sh'AllahJ" he cried after a pause, draw 
ing himself up, and tossing back the ends of the 
checked kafiya on his head, "What a journey! 
What courage!" 

"Eh wah!" assented Bahalul. 

"As Allah liveth, a bold journey I" resumed 
the Haji. "Aye, by the son of Abu Talib, oth 
ers 'would have been afraid. None other would 
have left the shelter and safety of the marsh, 



A PILGRIMAGE 75 

save only to trade in the villages beside the river. 
But as for me " 

"Aye," put in Jahalul sympathetically. "Well 
might they be afraid, knowing that but few 
who left the marsh in those days ever returned. 
They remembered 'Ubaid bin Bakr." 

"True, my son, true!" broke in the Haji, who 
if a story was to be told liked to tell it, himself. 
"May the All-powerful give him peace!' The 
tale is a short one. 'Ubaid bin Bakr was a hunter 
of fish, which he was used to barter for dates 
and tobacco with Musa al Khanayab, a peddler 
like myself. Now it chanced one day that he 
had speech with a Sabaean, a smith, who went 
from village to village repairing such mashhufs 
as had need of his skill; and the Sabaean laughed 
at his handful of dates and tobacco, telling him 
of the high price which such fish as his would 
fetch in the market at 'Amara. So 'Ubaid, filled 
with the hope of great gain, determined to take 
his next boat-load to 'Amara; and he and his 
cousins fished by night and by day, until their 
mashhuf was full. Then he left the marshes for 
the distant town. But neither he nor his mash 
huf was ever seen again no, nor the fish that 
he had with him." 



76 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Nor, O my uncle, is my father's sister for 
gotten," began Jahalul. 

"He speaks of Khadifa," interrupted Haji 
Rikkan, turning to me. 

At this point Bahalul brought the dish of rice 
and the bread he had baked, and we sat down 
in a circle to our frugal meal. When we had 
eaten and washed our hands, "What of Kha- 
difa?" I asked. 

"She lived among us for many years, a bar 
ren woman/' began the Haji. "And when at 
last she bore a child, it was a girl. So her grief 
was great, that the fruit of her old age should 
be no cause of pride; but at length she ceased 
to weep, comforted by the thought that in time 
her daughter would become the mother of sons. 
Now it chanced that one of our tribe quarrelled 
with one of the Bani Harb, and drawing his 
dagger killed the man; then fasl was made be 
tween our tribe and theirs, and the fasl was that 
we should hand over three women to them. Of 
these three one was the daughter of Khadifa; 
and the Bani Harb was a camel-breeding tribe, 
living far from our marshes in the desert. None 
could console Khadifa for her daughter's de 
parting, for with the maiden she lost the sons 
she had hoped to have through her. Weeping 



A PILGRIMAGE 77 

and mourning she passed her days, lamenting 
that never now would she see her daughter's 
children. 

"In time a passing stranger brought word to 
our village that Khadifa's daughtel had given 
birth to a son. Joy strove with sorrow in her 
heart joy for her daughter's motherhood, sor 
row that never might she set eyes upon the child. 
One day she heard that that same stranger was 
returning on his way to his home, but three days 
distant from the tents of the Bani Harb; and 
it seemed to her that the desire of her heart might 
at last be granted. And Allah seemed to be 
gracious, for when she begged the stranger to 
take her with him in his mashhuf, her entreaties 
prevailed. Taking from its hiding-place the 
small store of money which she had gathered 
together, she bought a necklet of silver set with 
turquoise: this was her gift for him whom she 
called her new-born son. She wrapped it in 
her garments, and set out in Hasan's mashhuf 
with the confidence of one who knows naught. 

"At the river's bank, near to the desert where 
dwelt the Bani Harb, Hasan left her. He gave 
her dates and a small skin of water, and saying 
( May Allah strengthen thee' watched her set 
out alone towards the distant tents which shel- 



78 THE MARSH ARAB 

tered her daughter. From that hour," concluded 
Haji Rikkan solemnly, "no man set eyes upon 
Khadifa, nor was word of her ever heard." 

The hot day had turned into a drenching 
night; the dew was so heavy that our clothes 
were soaked as if with rain. For my greater 
comfort or so I thought Haji Rikkan sent 
off his nephews to collect fuel, that we might 
dry our wet garments. When they had gone 
he moved closer to me, and leaning forward 
began to speak in low tones. 

"Because of our friendship, nothing is hid 
den between us. I have sent the young men 
away, for I wish them not to hear the tale I shall 
tell thee; to thee only will I tell all." 

He paused impressively, giving me time to 
realize the strict confidence with which I was 
honoured. 

"It was through the madness of my sister's 
husband that I became a haji," he went on, "and 
this was the way of it. My sister not the 
mother of these lads, yet daughter of the same 
father as myself was wedded to one Talib, son 
of 'Abdul Wahhab. Now this 'Abdul Wahhab, 
though he married four wives, was childless for 
many years, so that his reproach was great among 
the people. And when he took at last a fifth 



A PILGRIMAGE 79 

wife, they mocked him. But Allah was gracious, 
and the fifth wife brought him a son. Then, as 
soon as the child was born, 'Abdul Wahhab 
lifted him high above his head, saying, c Thanks 
be to Allah, who at last has blessed me with a 
son! Now I swear that this Talib my son shall 
visit the great 'Abbas * ; with his necklet and ear 
rings he shall pay honour to the tomb of the 
Avenger. 7 

"But it happened that while the child was 
yet at his mother's breast, 'Abdul Wahhab died. 
So the boy grew up and became a man, and him 
self took a wife and begat children, and still 
his father's vow was unfulfilled. But such an 
oath as that is not lightly neglected; and one 
night my sister was roughly awakened from her 
sleep. 

" 'Mutaira, Mutairal' cried Talib, 'I have 
dreamed a fearful dream. 'Abbas is angered 
against me, wrathful because I have failed to 
visit him, because I have not fulfilled my fath 
er's sacred vow.' And kissing my sister from 
her forehead to her feet, he swore a solemn oath 
that he would not shave his head until he had 
been to the shrine. 

1 'Abbas, son of 'Alt bin Ahi Talilr, the Prophet's son-in- 
law and nephew. 



8o THE MARSH ARAB 

"But in the morning my sister, watching him, 
saw that often he could not bring his lips to say 
the words he wished to utter. And when he saw 
any man coming towards him, he would run 
weeping and kiss him, crying, 'Ah, 'Abbas, son 
of 'AH the beloved, I am come to fulfil my vow.' 
Still he did harm to no man, but would wander 
off alone into the marsh, until one day a stranger 
struck him when he tried to embrace and greet 
him; and from that time the madness of Talib 
increased, making him fierce and wild and apt 
to strike other men in sudden anger. All feared 
him. 

"So at last Mutaira went to each of her kins 
men, saying, 'May Allah preserve thee, may 
He reward theel Accompany me, I pray, to 
the tomb of the Avenger, the Adjutant of Al 
lah, the Giver of Water to the Thirsty, that 'Ab 
bas may restore my husband. As for money, I 
will sell my bed and my ornaments, all that I 
have shall be thine; only one golden lira will 
I keep, that Talib may throw it to the Father 
of the Hot Head at the tomb. Then surely 'Ab 
bas will no longer be angry, but will let my hus 
band return with us at peace.' 

"But they refused every one, putting her off 
with excuses: for they were marshmen, and 



A PILGRIMAGE 81 

feared to leave the shelter of the reeds to under 
take so long and hazardous a journey. And I 
was no better than the rest; for when she came 
to me, begging me with tears to go with her, 
I replied, 'Dear as my eyes, how can I leave 
my home? Thou knowest as well as I that my 
wife is big with child.' And I spoke not with 
out reason, for she was my first wife, and my 
heart was still warm to her." 

The Haji threw away his cigarette, and gazed 
meditatively into the moonlit night. 

"Strange, strange how the memory of a first 
wife will linger in a man's mind 1" he said. "I 
have known men call on their death-beds upon 
the name of their first wife, though she were 
dead, or long ago divorced. As for me may 
He forgive 1 to those who have no compassion 
none shall be shown. I had none for Mutaira, 
and truly my punishment came quickly, eh 
Vlllaht 

"In due time my wife left me and went to 
her mother's house, for it was her first child. 
And when I heard her calling upon 'AH the 
Lord of the Faithful is ever good to women in 
travail I knew that her time had come, and I 
listened to hear what I should hear. But 
though I waited long, there came no cries of 



83 THE MARSH ARAB 

joy from the grandmothers around her; thus 
knew I that a girl had been born to me. But 
as the day drew to a close I heard lamentation 
and a beating of breasts, and when messengers 
came to me I refused to listen to their words, 
for I knew what they would say. 

"And when my wife and her child were 
buried, the marsh seemed to me a place of 
lonely solitude and gloom, and I found no 
comfort in my kith and kin. So going to my 
sister I said, 'Mutaira, I will go with thee to 
the tomb of 'Abbas, and will keep thy husband 
in my care; and may the Father of the Hot 
Head be gracious/ " 

Haji Rikkan's wrinkled face changed as 
suddenly as a child's. His look of reminiscent 
sadness disappeared, as he continued the tale 
of his journey, that first venture outside the 
marshes, which had so impressed itself upon his 
mind that every detail, every halt and wayside 
encounter, were after twenty years reproduced 
for my benefit with what was evidently the 
utmost fidelity. In his hands the simple recital 
became a tale of high adventure, enlivened 
everywhere by the shrewd mother-wit which 
modified and balanced the credulity of this son 
of the marsh. 



A PILGRIMAGE 83 

All went well on the journey to Karbala. 
Brother and sister succeeded in so humouring 
the poor mad Talib that no difficulties were 
met with on their way out of the marshes and 
up the river. As they drew near their journey's 
end the number of pilgrims on the road grew 
daily larger, and from time to time they were 
overtaken by a horse or mule bearing a corpse 
for burial near the Place of Martyrdom. At 
last they sighted the twin golden minarets of 
the shrine, which seem to hold out so fair a 
promise of welcome and rest to the weary pil 
grims from the surrounding desert. But in 
the Holy City, once reached, Haji Rikkan 
found swift disillusionment. 

He was horrified at the rapacity of the Khan- 
keeper; the price charged for the small corner 
of the hostelry in which he and his two charges 
were huddled seemed to him enough to hire 
the whole khan. And when he went into the 
market to buy food, the prices were fantastic 
even if the seller had been prepared for an 
hour or two of friendly bargaining; nothing 
but sheer hunger drove the Haji at length to 
close with such preposterous charges. This, 
then, was the sacred city into which hundreds 
of pious and defenceless pilgrims poured daily 1 



84 THE MARSH ARAB 

A city of thieves and sharks, thought Haji 

Rikkan. 

But more enlightenment was in store. The 
Saiyids and mumins, the professional men of 
religion, were themselves, it appeared, the worst 
offenders. Suave, persuasive, rapacious, their 
cajoleries were not to be denied. "Where is 
Allah's fifth?" they asked, " Where the share 
of the Imam?" "Dost pay nothing for radd 
al madhalim (indulgences)?" The servants of 
the Shrine, when he entered to kiss the holy 
tomb, were no better. "Give," said one, "for 
the purse of 'Abbas"; "Give," said another, 
seizing him by the shoulder, "that thou mayst 
be recompensed seventy-fold" ; and yet another, 
pulling him by his cloak, demanded money "for 
his forbear's (the Prophet's) purse." 

"They rested not," said Haji Rikkan bitterly, 
"until they had obtained their desire, which was 
my all," Penniless and resentful, he bade his 
sister lose no time in visiting the tomb of the 
Avenger, that they might return with all speed 
to the familiar safety of the marsh, 

"We returned," the Haji continued, "and 
great was the rejoicing which greeted us, for 
none had thought to see us alive again. My 
tribe made hosa, firing their rifles in the air. 



A PILGRIMAGE 85 

And in jest, because I had been to distant 
Karbala, one of my uncles called me Haji, which 
nickname clung to me although, long absent as 
I had been, never had I set foot in distant Mecca. 
Thus in later years, when I began to have deal 
ings outside the marsh, it became clear to me 
that this title brought me respect and greater 
consideration wherever I might be; so with 
boldness I called myself Haji. The old men 
soon forgot, the young men never knew, that my 
journey had been not to Mecca but to Karbala; 
iv'Allah, even I myself at times am verily 
persuaded that I have indeed made the Pil 
grimage 1" 

Haji Rikkan's eyes twinkled, but he quickly 
resumed his air of dignity. 

"All men now hail me a Haji," he said. "Yet 
because nothing is hid between us, because of the 
friendship that is ours, I tell thee the truth." 

He looked at me with some apprehension, 
wondering how I should take this confession of 
a life-long deception. 

"What, O Haji," I said, "of Talib? Did 
'Abbas relent, and cure him of his madness?" 

"B'lllah 'alaik, what question is this?" he 
exclaimed ; but I could see that he was pleased 
that I still called him by the familiar title. 



86 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Nay, have I not told thee that the servants 
of the Tomb took from us our all? How then 
should 'Abbas himself, the Father of the Hot 
Head, the Swift to Avenge, be satisfied with 
but a single lira? Nay, Talib returned as mad 
as he had gone, and in that state remained to 
the day of his death: may Allah show him 
mercy!" 



Chapter IV 
THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 

WHY, I wondered idly, had Haji Rikkan 
asked me to disembark at the little town 
of Kumait, some fifty or sixty miles north of the 
marshes which were his usual beat? I should 
soon know, for the steamer on which I had come 
from Baghdad was bearing full-speed down 
stream on the top of a spring flood, and the 
clump of willows and solitary date-palm which 
mark Kumait were already in sight. 

The flood was an unusually high one. More 
than once on our way down the river I had seen 
the cultivators working feverishly at the earthen 
bunds which kept the rushing water off their 
lands. Here the general slope of the land was 
away from the river ; a single breach, one weak 
spot unstrengthened, and many miles of land 
might be submerged, hundreds of acres of crops 
destroyed. Even now, as we neared Kumait, we 
heard shouts from a group of tribesmen who 
were digging furiously with their long-handled 

87 



88 THE MARSH ARAB 

spades, and a woman ran along the bank hold 
ing out imploring hands. It was evident that 
they dreaded the effect of the vessel's wash on 
their laboriously built bund; but their cries were 
of no avail. The ship, with its heavy steel barges 
lashed on each side, swept on its way, the great 
wave licked along the bund, and at the weak 
spot poured over; but whether the damage was 
irreparable or not I never knew, for the little 
band of cultivators, striving so desperately to 
save their land from the hungry river, was soon 
out of sight 

We reached Kumait, and swinging round in 
a wide curve the boat banked in. I threaded 
my way among the high piles of sheep-skins on 
the barge, and walked down the swaying plank. 
A sonorous "Peace and kinship and welcome 1" 
greeted my landing, and Haji Rikkan welcomed 
me with a hearty kiss on both cheeks. Were we 
not old friends, and had he not once saved my 
life? 

He hurried me through the small crowd 
which had watched the arrival of the steamer, 
and led me to the chalya which he had in 
waiting. In this frail craft we embarked on the 
broad swirling bosom of the Tigris, and as we 
made our slow way upstream I learned why the 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 89 

Haji had fixed on Kumait as our meeting-place. 
Once or twice a year he visited some tribes liv 
ing round the marsh which, situated in the 
middle of the Bani Lam desert, is fed by the 
waters of the Duwairij and Tyb rivers from the 
Persian hills. The shrine of 5 Ali al Sharji was 
so little out of his way that it was his custom on 
each visit to combine religious with professional 
duty, and make a pilgrimage to the tomb; he 
had arranged accordingly to meet me at the near 
est place at which the steamer stopped. I was to 
spend the night with my old friend Shaikh 
Nasir, towards whose encampment we were now 
sailing, and in whose tents he proposed to leave 
me during the following day while he paid his 
visit to the Tomb. 

The blue dome, rising from its group of 
willows, could now be seen, a welcome sight 
to the traveller whose eyes are weary of the dull 
brown banks between which the river winds for 
so many featureless miles. The willows are fine 
old veterans, thick-trunked, with widely-spread 
ing branches. Beneath their shade sit the pil 
grims, a strange picturesque assembly, gathered 
together from who knows where at the call of a 
common faith. As we passed we could see them 
sitting in little groups; four or five families, 



90 THE MARSH ARAB 

perhaps, had travelled together, and babies, 
chickens, cooking-pots, here and there a sheep 
or two, were all dumped indiscriminately on the 
patch of ground which they had chosen for their 
camp* The men sat in a little company apart, 
smoking in silence, while the women prepared 
the evening meal. Each family had its own fire 
of camel-thorn, and in the light of the leaping 
flames the bright reds and greens of the women's 
garments showed in vivid contrast to the sombre 
black shailas on their heads. The children's 
brown bodies shone roundly in the firelight, and 
their shrill voices echoed on the quiet air. By 
the river bank were moored the mashhufs in 
which the pilgrims had travelled, their graceful 
lines silhouetted, black and sharp, against a 
background of curling blue smoke and ruddy 
firelight. 

But the tomb of 'AH is not merely a pleasant 
resort for pilgrims ; it has another aspect. Arabs 
are inveterate liars. They are ready to swear 
falsely the most solemn oaths by their honour, 
by their Prophet, by their God, But there are 
certain holy shrines which the superstition or 
faith of generations has credited with such 
powers that no Arab will swear a false oath by 
them; of these the tomb of 'Ali al Sharji is one. 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 91 

In spite of the unbounded reverence in which 
his tomb is held, this 'AH does not seem to have 
been a very important figure historically, and 
it is not easy to find out anything about his life. 
A number of rather uninteresting miracles are 
attributed to him, but his fame consists chiefly 
in reflected glory from the great names of his 
brother, 'Ali al Ridha, whose shrine in Persia 
is a well-known place of pilgrimage, and his 
father, who gives his name to the famous mosque 
and suburb of Baghdad, Kadhimain. 

As our slow craft drew away from the Tomb, 
the boatman made a remark which I did not 
catch. From the heated tone of Haji Rikkan's 
reply I gathered that some doubt had been cast 
on the power of the holy man, dead these many 
hundreds of years, to slay those who perjured 
themselves at his tomb. 

Leaving the Sunni 1 boatman to his own 
impious thoughts, Haji Rikkan moved nearer 
to me, and with more than his usual earnestness 
defended the saint whose tomb he would rever 
ently kiss on the morrow, seeing no incongruity 
in the crude prints and mildewed mirrors and 
broken clocks which adorn its walls. To his 

i * The two great sects of Islam Shiah and Sunni are di 
vided by no less bitter a hostility than were Roman Catholici 
and Protettants in tyth century Europe. 



92 THE MARSH ARAB 

simple faith the power of 'Ali al Sharji to strike 
the false swearer with instant death was in 
dubitable ; it was a fact well-known, so widely 
accepted that no tribesman, whatever he had at 
stake, would perjure himself at the shrine. A 
story of which he could vouch for the truth, the 
Haji said earnestly, would show how great was 
'Ali's reputation as one swift to punish perjury. 
He himself had seen a robber brought to book 
and his theft recovered by no other agency than 
the mere name of 'AIL The story so anxious 
was Haji Rikkan to omit no detail which might 
lend weight to his defence of the saint became 
a long one, too long to be retold in his own words. 
On one of his periodical visits to the little 
town at which he disposed of his surplus rice, 
Haji Rikkan became the guest for the night of 
a brother (and a more authentic) Haji Sa'd, 
headman of a neighbouring village. Early in 
the morning his sleep was broken by the sound 
of angry voices ; accusations of theft and indig 
nant denials ended in an acrimonious wrangle, 
of which Haji Rikkan soon learned the cause. 
Some days earlier a townsman of Basrah, Ja'far 
by name, had come to Haji SaM's village to buy 
buffaloes. Each night he had slept with his four 
hundred gold liras under his pillow, and now 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 93 
he had waked to find in place of the bag of gold 
a clod of earth. 

Unable to obtain satisfaction from the head 
man, Ja'far had left the village threatening to 
lodge a complaint against him with the governor 
of the district ; and the threat was not an empty 
one, for a few days later Haji Sa'd was arrested 
and brought in to headquarters, where he was 
informed by the Qaimmaqam that, as he was 
responsible for what occurred in his village, he 
must refund to the Basrawi the money stolen 
from him* 

Haji Sa'd protested vigorously against this 
award. 

i "Is this justice?" he cried. "I am a true 
servant of the government, every order given 
by it is upon my head ; but how can I, a poor 
man, pay so large a sum? Disgrace enough has 
come upon me by the robbing of my guest, as 
thine Honour knoweth. Had this Ja'far but 
entrusted his wealth to me, as our custom is, all 
would have been well ; yet because he failed to 
do this, I must be ruined. O Excellency the 
Qaimmaqam, dost give credence to every story 
brought by lying tongues? Doubtless this towns 
man gambled away the money in the coffee- 
shops, and spread his tale of robbery to save 



94 THE MARSH ARAB 

himself from the master who entrusted it to 



Haji Sa'd's words were not without effect. 
He was allowed to return to his village pending 
the result of an official search for the thief. 
The headman, anxious to give what help he 
could, sent out some of his tribesmen to pick 
up the gossip of the country-side; but all they 
were able to elicit was the fact that a certain 
Daghar, a man of doubtful reputation of the 
Matafar tribe, had been seen near the village 
on the day before the theft. Even this man was 
said by some witnesses to have since died, and 
by some to have crossed into Persia, while ac 
cording to others he had never been born. 

No clue having been found by the police, 
this was all the Qaimmaqam had to go upon; 
but he resolved to make the most of it by apply 
ing a test of which long experience in the district 
had shown him the efficacy. He called in the 
headmen of the Matafar, and in the presence of 
Haji Sa'd and his witnesses, among whom was 
Haji Rikkan, delivered his ultimatum. 

"One Daghar son of Makki, of your tribe," 
he said, "has stolen four hundred liras from the 
village of Haji Sa'd." 
; "W Allah wa b'lllah nua t'lllah, I know 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 95 
naught of it," swore one, and the other, "A curse 
upon me if I am even acquainted with this 
Dagharl" 

"Listen," said the Qaimmaqam, "Either you 
will swear at the tomb of 'Ali al Sharji that what 
you say is true, or one of you must remain in 
prison until the thief and the money are 
brought." 

Silence followed his words. At last, with 
downcast looks, one of the headmen spoke. 

"We cannot swear. We are afraid." 

"Stay in prison, thou," answered the Qaim 
maqam, "while this other returns to bring the 
money." 

"Let me stay in his stead," the second head 
man put in. 

"Why?" 

"Because Daghar is my cousin, and on my 
behalf will more readily return the money." 

It was a definite admission. "And indeed," 
concluded Haji Rikkan, raising his voice that 
the doubting boatman might hear, "who but our 
'Ali could have composed the matter thus? The 
government had sought the thief in vain; the 
Qaimmaqam was in despair; yet by the name of 
'Ali al Sharji his gold was restored to the 
Basrawi who had thought never to see it again." 



96 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Am I ignorant, I who live at Kumait in sight 
of 'All's tomb?" cried the boatman, ruffled at the 
Haji's tone. "For every tale of his deeds known 
to Haji Rikkan," he continued, turning to me, 
"I know a score, and with thy leave I will tell 
thee one. It is a true story, the tale of the Bald- 
headed One, of Sikar and Shaikh 'Abdul Hadi. 
Dost know it, Haji? No? Well do I remember 
that night, for Sikar slept in my uncle's house, 
and when the doctor came to dig up the body I 

went with him to the grave " the boatman 

plunged into a wealth of corroborative detail. 

The sleeping village of Razifa had been 
awakened by a woman's scream. "Beware of 
the Bald-headed One, guard thyself from him 
of the bald head," cried the voice, and was 
abruptly silenced. The men of the village, 
hastening into the now silent hut, found its 
owner dead, and his wife dying. Her back was 
covered with dagger thrusts, as though she had 
flung herself down in an attempt to protect her 
husband. The Police Inspector, Saiyid Moham 
mad Effendi, was soon on his way, but before he 
reached Razifa the woman was dead, and the 
evidence of the only witness of the crime was 
lost. 

Saiyid Mohammad, having examined the hut 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 97 

in which MIrhun and his wife had been killed, 
sat in the shaikh's guest-house, asking question 
after question. His effort to trace a motive for 
the crime seemed rewarded when, after hours of 
cross-examination, he discovered that ten years 
previously, at the time of his marriage, Mirhun 
had quarrelled with one Sikar, a tribesman liv 
ing a few miles away; for him the Police In 
spector sent forthwith. 

I suggested to the boatman that so long-ago 
a quarrel seemed small evidence on which to 
base a suspicion of murder; but he disagreed. 

"Among the Arabs an injury is never forgot 
ten," he said. "Though a man let pass twenty 
years before he slays, the tribes will say that he 
is hasty in his vengeance 1" 

It was sunset when Sikar was brought in, and 
the Police Inspector at once broke off his 
patient questioning of an old woman who 
brought a vague tale of a mashhuf poled by 
three men which she had seen leaving the village 
at midnight The woman was hustled away, and 
after a few brief questions to Sikar the Police 
Inspector strode quickly across the floor and 
snatched the kafiya from his head. He was as 
bald as an egg. 

This was conclusive enough for Saiyid Mo- 



98 THE MARSH ARAB 

hammad, and Sikar was taken under arrest to 
'Amara; but the next day, somewhat crest 
fallen, the Inspector was back again. Sikar 
could prove a fairly convincing alibi, and had 
shown that the cause of his dispute with Mirhun 
was not such as would account for the crime. 

The old woman's tale, overlooked in the stir 
of Sikar's arrival at Razifa, now engaged the 
Inspector's attention. The mashhuf had also 
been seen in a village a few miles downstream, 
and at daylight it had passed another, where 
the three boatmen had been recognized as men 
of the Ruhaiyil tribe. Here the trail was lost, 
but a distant cast in the Ruhaiyil territory again 
picked it up. Stage by stage it was followed 
to the head of the Difla canal, where it definitely 
vanished ; but the clue, though incomplete, was 
not without significance. At the tails of the 
Difla canal lived Shaikh 'Abdul Hadi, whose 
nickname among the tribes was Abu Gara'a, 
"He of the Bald Head." 

Though investigations continued, no new 
facts came to light. The evidence before the 
Mutasarrif was of the slightest The murdered 
woman had cried, "Beware of the Bald-headed 
One 1" ; a bald-headed tribesman in a neighbour 
ing village was known to have had a small 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 99 
quarrel with Mirhun ; and the mysterious mash- 
huf had been manned by three tribesmen of a 
shaikh known as "the Bald-headed." As his 
only chance of solving the problem, the Muta- 
sarrif ordered both Sikar and the shaikh to 
swear to their innocence on the tomb of 'Ali al 
Sharji. Sikar, as the one of lesser birth, was 
to be the first to take the oath; if he affirmed 
his innocence, Shaikh 'Abdul Hadi would be 
required to swear on the following day. 

"With the kinsmen of Mirhun and with the 
keeper of the Shrine," went on the boatman, 
"Sikar entered the shrine. Placing his hand 
upon the lattice-work round the Tomb, he said 
aloud three times, 

"By the truth of this 'Ali al Sharji al Kadhim, 
I killed not Mirhun." 

"He left the Shrine, and as he went we 
watched him. He did not throw off his clothes 
like one mad, nor did he crawl on the ground 
and bite the earth, nor did he bark like a dog. 
He returned to Kumait and went to my uncle's 
house. There he supped and slept and in 
the night he died." 

"Allahu AkbarMost great is Allah!" ex 
claimed Haji Rikkan in triumph. "Was not 
the truth in my hand when I told thee that 'Ali 



ioo THE MARSH ARAB 

al Sharji struck dead all who forswore them 
selves at his tomb?" 

There was a grim light in the boatman's eye, 
but Haji Rikkan rushed on unheeding. 

"For all its effendis the government could not 
find the murderer, yet our 'Ali knew that it was 
Sikar, and slew him when he swore falsely!" 

"Why dost thou speak?" interrupted the 
boatman. "Thou hast a tongue, but so have 
others. May I not finish my story? Thou art 
like a majarsha^ never silent. 'Ali al Sharji had 
erred, he had killed the innocent!" 

Haji Rikkan drew his 'aba more tightly 
round him, and put his hand to his beard. The 
story had taken a turn little to his liking. He sat 
in offended silence while the boatman ended. 

"Because Sikar died, all men held him 
guilty of the murder, and Shaikh 'Abdul Hadi 
since now there was no need for him to 
swear to his innocence returned to his place. 
But after some days, the doctor from 'Amara 
came to Kumait. Where,' he asked, 'is this 
Sikar buried?' One showed him the way; 
many followed him, and I among them. 

"The doctor ordered the earth to be dug away 
and the body taken from the grave : may he be 
forgiven, for it was a sin. They unwound the 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 101 

reed mat in which Mirhun was wrapped, and 
the winding sheet also. Then, O Merciful ! 
the doctor cut open the dead body. 

"After he had left us, we heard nothing for 
many days. Then strange tidings reached our 
ears. Sikar's body was full of poison ; the poison 
had been brought from Baghdad, one of the 
slaves of Shaikh 'Abdul Hadi was known to 
have been sent thither. In the end we heard that 
the Mutasarrif had ordered the presence of the 
shaikh; but he, fearful now that his guilt was 
known, fled to Huwaiza. As for what the Haji 
has told thee " 

"Wachij <wachi bank in!" shouted Haji 
Rikkan. While we talked the sun had set and 
the short twilight faded. On the bank ahead 
a moving light spoke of tents. Our hail was 
answered, and the lantern was waved to and fro 
to show us where to land. Across a stretch of 
rough, hummocky ground we followed the 
shadowy figure with the welcoming light, 
stumbling at length over tent-ropes as we neared 
a small group of tribesmen. 

In the midst of the group stood the broad, 
upright figure of Shaikh Nasir, our host for the 
night The light of the lanterns, thrown. up 
wards, caught the gold thread which patterned 



102 THE MARSH ARAB 

his rich blue silk robe, and decorated the neck of 
his voluminous cream-coloured 'aba. It shone 
ruddily on his heavily-embroidered scarlet coat, 
and on the rings set with turquoise which 
adorned his powerful fingers. 

As he led the way to his madhif, I wondered 
whether the next generation of shaikhs would be 
as virile and as dignified, as truly tribal leaders, 
as this representative of a passing order. Nasir 
and many others were like him did not hold 
his shaikhship merely by virtue of being his 
father's son. By courage and force of character 
he had earned the goodwill which had put him 
in that position, and by the same qualities had 
maintained it for two score years. Leader in 
battle, as his scarred and rugged face showed; 
spokesman in the councils of the tribe; deep 
schemer and intriguer when cunning served 
him; his sons would certainly be more civil 
ized, better educated ; but would they have his 
force of character and leadership? Only time 
would show. 

The floor of Shaikh Nasir's madhif was richly 
spread with Persian and Arab carpets ; at the far 
end lay silk-covered mattresses piled with bol 
sters of brightly-coloured velvet On one of 
these I was bidden to seat myself, while the 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 103 
shaikh, as a special mark of attention from host 
to guest, lit a cigarette for me in his own mouth, 
and himself stirred my glass of tea. 

For some time the silence was unbroken after 
the greetings of formality had been exchanged. 
The shaikh left the tent, and I moved nearer 
for a talk with his mullah or clerk, a member 
of a class of Arab society whose power is cer 
tainly doomed to wane in the next generation. 

At present the mullah is indispensable to his 
master, for only in rare cases can the shaikh 
conduct his own correspondence. With paper 
spread on the palm of one hand, and reed pen 
held in the other, the mullah will write at his 
master's dictation, signing the letter with the 
impress of a ring taken from the shaikh's 
finger. In the past, when inter-tribal warfare 
was rather the rule than the exception, a man 
might be a powerful shaikh one day and a 
fugitive the next. He had no spare time for 
the education of his sons in any arts save those 
of war ; and the young Arabs of shaikhly birth 
grew up, from the time they were able to sit 
a horse, trained to wield the sword rather than 
the pen. The mullah therefore, in his capacity 
of secretary and confidant to the shaikh, often 
possesses considerable power, and is sometimes 



104 THE MARSH ARAB 

with good reason more feared among the tribes 
men than the shaikh himself. 

As I discussed with the mullah the always 
urgent question of the crops, all the Arabs in 
the madhif rose respectfully at the entrance of 
a tall old man. Clad in a coarse and worn 
woolen 'aba, with a frayed leather belt round 
his broad waist, and rough sandals on his feet, 
he looked a typical cultivator ; and not until he 
came close did I recognize him as my host, 
Shaikh Nasir himself. 

He came to apologize for so abruptly leaving 
a guest. My slave his son, he said, would fulfil 
my every wish, but his own presence was 
urgently needed some miles downstream, where 
a serious breach had occurred in the bund. 

"What would ye?" he ended, a note of pride 
in his voice. "Am I not the Father of Bunds?" 
and he took his leave. 

"Is he indeed called the Father of Bunds?" 
I asked, turning to the mullah. 

"Aye, that name has been his since first he 
became shaikh, while yet a boy. But some there 
be who call him Abu Mayitain the Father of 
Two Dead Men." 

"A strange title! How came he by it?" 

"That will I tell to thine Honour," said the 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 105 
mullah, tucking up his feet under him with a 
sigh of pleasurable anticipation. In the black 
hair tents of the desert, where narrative by word 
of mouth has still to serve for novel, drama, and 
newspaper, the post of story-teller is an honour 
able one ; and the mullah with his rich, rolling 
voice was well fitted to make the most of an 
heroic tale. 

"In the year after the death of Ghadhban in 
the fight against Kharaibat," he began, "my 
sister's husband desired to lease the lands of 
Khazaina from Shaikh Nasir. Now this is a 
good rich land, and free from salt; but well- 
nigh every year the river overflows its banks, and 
breaks through the bunds, flooding the greater 
part. For this reason the land was leased out 
for only a quarter its value, and 'Abdullah, the 
husband of my sister, offered two hundred liras 
to the shaikh. But Nasir was in need of money; 
for the last two years the crops had been poor, 
he owed much revenue, and the Turks were 
pressing for payment He would not lease the 
land for less than six hundred liras. 

" Were I but sure that my crops would be 
safe from flood,' said 'Abdullah, 'willingly 
would I pay this sum, for the land is good land. 



106 THE MARSH ARAB 

But thou knowest that not more than one year 

out of five is the harvest safe.' 

" This,' said Nasir, 'shall be the fifth yean' 

" 'Dost know of the rise of the river before 
ever the rains begin to fall, or the high snows 
to melt upon the hills?' asked 'Abdullah. 

" This year no flood shall cover the land of 
Khazaina. I, Nasir, have said it. I will build 
a great bund that shall safeguard the crops, let 
the river rise as it will.' 

" 'But if the bund should break?' 

" 'I have spoken,' said Nasir. And he swore 
a great oath, by Allah and by his Prophet and 
by his own honour, that the land should be safe 
that year." 

The mullah paused, spreading out depre 
catory palms in implicit apology for one who 
would so swear, taking upon himself that which 
only Allah could fulfil. 

"So 'Abdullah took the land, and at the first 
'rain he sowed and ploughed, and the young 
wheat stood green as far as the edge of the desert 

"Shaikh Nasir built the bund, of trodden 
earth faced with camel-thorn, the work of many 
tribesmen for many days. Then in due course, 
as its custom is in spring, the river began to rise. 
It reached the level of its banks, and crept above 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 107 
them. It reached the broad strong bund of 
Nasir's building, and lapped against it And 
Nasir, mindful of his oath, set a watchman that 
night upon the bund, telling him that if he slept 
and any harm befell, he would cut off his right 
hand. 

"The watchman was Mahdi bin Lazim, who 
till midnight walked upon the bund, keeping 
good watch. He saw that it was strong, far 
higher and broader than it was their custom to 
build ; and as the night was cold, he gave thanks 
to Allah that his shaikh had builded well, and 
sat down to rest behind the bund. Thus it 
chanced that he fell asleep. And while he slept 
the wind changed, and lashed the swift-flowing 
river into waves, which beat angrily against the 
high bund. Now it was newly built, and the 
earth was still loosely packed, and soon the water 
found a weak place where a rat had dug her 
hole. 

"At first broke through a thin trickle, like 
milk from a camel's udder; but Mahdi slept on, 
and saw it not. When at the first light of dawn 
his eyes opened, he saw a swift fierce stream 
pouring through the bund; and he was afraid, 
for he felt the knife already at his right hand. 
Hastening to the village, he gathered his family 



io8 THE MARSH ARAB 

and his household goods, and crossing the river 
took shelter with Shaikh Tahir, Nasir's enemy. 

"The sun had been up an hour before the news 
reached Nasir; and he cursed Mahdi and all his 
forbears, and sent messengers to bring him in. 
At the same time he sent others to call in all his 
tribesmen, with their womenfolk and their beasts 
of burden. But he, with his brothers and all the 
men of his house, went quickly to the place, and 
found my sister's husband gazing at the breach, 
while his women cast earth upon their heads and 
beat their breasts. 

" <O Protected of Allah, 7 said 'Abdullah, <is 
this the fulfilment of thine oath?' 

" 'I will pluck out the eyes of Mahdi, who has 
thus betrayed meP said the shaikh for then as 
now (added the mullah, dropping his voice) he 
was terrible in anger. 

" 'His eyes, and the eyes of all his family, will 
not save my crops,' said 'Abdullah. 'It will take 
many days to close this breach; and two days 
and two nights of this' he pointed to the surg 
ing water 'will ruin all.' 

" 'Thy crops are not yet lost/ answered Nasir. 
'Am I to swear again the oath I swore, by Allah 
and by his Prophet and by mine own honour, 
that the land should be safe? Nay, but now I 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 109 
swear, by the good grain that thou shalt surely 
reap at harvest, the breach shall be closed before 
tomorrow's sunset. 7 

"He sent more messengers, to bring in even 
the old men and the old women, the young 
girls and the young boys. And those who were 
already assembled he divided into parties, the 
women to cut camel-thorn and tamarisk, and the 
rough grass that grows beside the river, the men 
to bring earth. Only the strongest men he kept 
to stem the flow of water. 

"Of these, half stood on one side of the breach, 
half on the other. At a word from the shaikh 
they rushed into the water, turning their backs 
to the current, each man staying himself on his 
misha, which he thrust into the ground before 
him. Thus they tried to check the rush of the 
water; but the current was fierce and strong, and 
the quivering mishas showed how hard the men 
had to struggle to keep their footing. In the 
middle, where the stream was swiftest, not a 
man could stand for more than a moment; one 
after another was whirled off his feet At that 
time Nasir was some thirty years of age, and at 
the height of his strength, taller and broader 
than any man there. Throwing off his garments, 
he seized a mis ha and dashed into the water, call- 



no THE MARSH ARAB 

ing upon his brothers to follow him. In the 
middle of the breach he stood upright, staying 
the stream with his back as the others did ; thus 
the chain of men met across the breach, and the 
rush of water was stayed enough for the other 
workers to begin to make ring bunds, one 
close to the breach, the other farther back and 
stronger, lest the first should break. 

"Bundles of the camel-thorn brought by the 
women were laid down, and on them earth was 
heaped. Some dug it as best they might from 
beneath the water, others farther afield, two 
working together to fill an 'aba, which they 
would then carry by the corners to the bund. 
More men formed a line, passing clods of earth 
from hand to hand. 

"Night came; by Allah's mercy the moon was 
full, and the work went on. The living barrier 
still held back the flood, men being replaced by 
fresh men as their strength was exhausted. The 
women and children still brought their bundles, 
but more slowly now, as they had to go farther 
and farther afield to find the scrub. Then came 
three camels of the shaikh, bearing dates for the 
hungry labourers; no halt was called, but they 
ate in hasty mouthfuls, while still striving 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI in 
against their untiring enemy. For the wind blew 
still hard from the north, and the strength of 
the river seemed rather to grow than to lessen. 

"All night the work went on. At dawn 
came a long string of camels and cows, bearing 
bundles of green barley, freshly cut from the 
shaikh's own crops, for strengthening the bund. 
'Rather would I lose the whole of my barley,' 
said Nasir, 'than see my word broken.' 

"By noon the two ring bunds were finished. 
The weary men from the water, their faces grey 
with fatigue, the men worn out with digging 
earth and carrying, threw themselves down 
where they were, and slept. The women also, 
withdrawing a little way apart, slept." 

The mullah sank back, the tension of his 
body relaxed as if the fatigue of that day were 
with him still. There was silence for a moment 
before he continued his tale. 

"Only Shaikh Nasir and 'Abdullah slept not. 

" 'Behold,' said Nasir, as he looked at the 
work which at one time had seemed beyond 
human compassing, 'behold the promise of thy 
shaikh!' 

"Together they looked at it. Then suddenly, 
with no warning, part of the first ring bund 



ii2 THE MARSH ARAB 

crumpled and gave way, letting in a torrent of 
the angry pent-up water to beat against the 
second bund. Speechless with anxiety the two 
men watched. Would it stand the strain? It 
held it held no, a thin trickle was forcing its 
way through, eating out a channel. It grew 
wider so wide wider. 

"With a shout the shaikh leapt to the weak 
point, calling to the sleeping men to help. But 
they were deep in slumber, and his voice was 
hoarse from his ceaseless shouted encourage 
ment of the day before. 

"The water began to pour through. In two 
minutes it would be beyond control. What, then, 
of his oath? 

"Nasir turned to the motionless figures beside 
the bund. With his giant strength he seized two 
sleeping men, thrust them into the widening 
breach, and held them down. 'Abdullah had 
awakened some of his tribesmen, and, stupid 
with sleep, they obeyed the shaikh's command, 
and piled earth and still more earth on the liv 
ing bodies. 

"Thus was the breach closed, and the waters 
came not to the land of Khazaina, and the 
honour of Shaikh Nasir was saved." 



THE SHRINE OF 'ALI AL SHARJI 113 

With a dramatic gesture the mullah ended his 
tale. 

"What happened to the shaikh when this be 
came known?" I asked. 

"O Long in Years," the mullah replied 
simply, "it took place in the time of the Turks." 



Chapter V 
THE PLACE OF CASTING 

AT a pace very different from that of Haji 
Rikkan's clumsy craft, the graceful mash- 
huf of Shaikh Zamil bore me swiftly down 
the Chahala canal. It bounded forward in 
a series of darting leaps, as the paddles of the 
shaikh's four stout negro slaves struck the water 
in unison. The slender tapering prow of the 
little craft rose high in the air, and the dripping 
blades of its four bright blue paddles caught the 
sun with each stroke. The boat's inner side was 
decorated with large, flat-headed iron nails, and 
all the woodwork was painted a vivid green in 
strong contrast with the black of its bitumen- 
coated outer side. Black also were the limbs and 
faces of the slaves, an ebony blackness which 
their white garments intensified. And for a last 
touch of barbaric splendour, a mattress of purple 
velvet was spread in the bottom of the boat. 

On this I sat with Shaikh Zamil, my host of 
the preceding night We were on our way to 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 115 

Qala't Baidha the White Castle where I was 
to meet Haji Rikkan. From time to time the 
featureless country through which the canal 
wound its way was relieved by one of the low 
mounds which in the dreary flatness of the plains 
of Lower 'Iraq cannot fail to catch the eye. 
These relics of a far-off past are often used by 
the tribes as burial grounds, or serve as land 
marks on some rarely-used caravan route; one 
we now passed was called, the shaikh told 
me, Masubb and the strange name roused my 
curiosity. Why Masubb the Place of Casting? 
Once, in earlier days, the mound had been sur 
rounded by marshes; but the water, receding 
year by year as the Tigris brought down its load 
of silt, had left it high and dry until to-day it 
stands on land which, once marsh, has become 
first rice and then wheat and barley growing 
land. 

"Why do they call that mound Masubb?" I 
asked. 

A voice behind me answered, before the 
shaikh had time to reply, "I kiss thy hand." 

I turned to look at the speaker. An old negro, 
his face seamed and lined with wrinkles, the 
ends of his grey beard dyed red with henna, laid 



u6 THE MARSH ARAB 

down his paddle in order to give his whole at 
tention to his story. 

"I will explain," he said. "Well do I know 
the reason, for the tale was often told me by my 
mother. And she was bought by the great Faisal 
for twenty-five liras," he added with pride, as 
one might mention the fact that one's ancestors 
came over with the Conqueror. 

Most of the shaikhs in 'Iraq are the owners 
of slaves, who seem to have no quarrel with Fate 
on the score of their condition. They are as a 
rule well treated, address their master as "my 
uncle," and may rise to positions of considerable 
influence. As is natural in a Muslim country, 
the yoke of slavery presses most heavily on the 
women. A female slave may be given by her 
owner to whom he will in order to add to the 
number of his slaves, and the child belongs not 
to her but to her master ; even if she is formally 
married to another slave, with the usual pay 
ment of dowry, their child is not freed from 
bondage to its mother's owner. But though 
slavery persists, the lot of the slaves has im 
proved since the British connection with this 
country; and the old man who had been 
paddling vigorously behind me to-day was evi 
dently one who found slavery to his liking. He 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 117 

was on the best of terms with his shaikh, and 
felt quite at liberty to drop his paddle and join 
in the conversation when it interested him. 

"In the days of the great Faisal," he began, 
"the Albu Mohammad, as now, were cultivators 
of rice, though not as an independent tribe, for 
they paid tribute to the Bani Lam. Now Faisal 
was young, and a proud shaikh, and he counted it 
a disgrace that his tribe should give tribute to 
any. Thus one year he made excuses and did 
not pay, and when after some months messengers 
came from the shaikh of the Bani Lam ordering 
him to send at least a part of his dues, he sent 
them away with insults, openly refusing any 
longer to acknowledge an overlord, 

"Madhkur of the Bani Lam, as proud a man 
as he, began to collect his tribes at Bahatha, for 
the over-throwing of his disobedient vassal. 
Faisal called together his own men likewise. 
Then came news that Madhkur was building 
mud forts at Bahatha, and we rejoiced with 
scorn and taunting, for we thought he was afraid 
to come down and fight our shaikh in open 
battle. We rejoiced too early. Soon the reason 
of his building became apparent: he had 
brought together not only his armed warriors, 
but men used to toil in the fields, and these he 



u8 THE MARSH ARAB 

had set to building a great dam across the 
Chahala, from which our rice-fields drink their 
water. Thus Madhkur achieved his end, with 
no fighting and without venturing into our 
marsh country; for Faisal, unable because of the 
protecting forts to break down the dam, thought 
it better to pay than to lose the whole of his rice 
crop the value of ten years' tribute. But those 
who sat with him that night say that he broke 
silence only once, to swear by Allah and in Allah 
and through Allah that this year of humiliation 
should be his last of vassaldom. 

"After that day his people saw no more of 
Faisal for many weeks. He shut himself up 
in his fort, and all we heard of him was an order 
that no coffee should be drunk in the tribal 
madhif until the stain of this disgrace, should be 
washed away. Day after day the coffee-beakers 
stood empty in the unkindled ashes, and the old 
men who had gathered nightly to talk of war 
and the good days of their youth came no more 
to the madhif. 

"At last Faisal came forth from his fort, smil 
ing the smile of a conqueror, and made a great 
feast for the headmen of the tribe. None knew 
what his plan was, save that messengers who had 
been sent with money to distant Baghdad had 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 119 

returned, bringing with them two strangers, 
Saiyid Ghafuri and Salih al Takmaghchi. But 
after the feast, Faisal gave orders to his mullah 
that every family, both of his own tribe and of 
those who owed allegiance to him, should send 
him copper vessels, each household to the utmost 
of its ability. 

"The order went forth among the people, and 
they hastened to obey, for Faisal was a shaikh 
whose bidding it were best to do quickly. They 
sent in cooking pots of copper, and coffee pots 
of every size, from the tiny dalla to the heavy 
gumgum; trays they sent and water vessels and 
mushkhanas. There was no stint nor holding 
back, for it was said that the shaikh was in need 
of copper for the making of a mighty spell 
against the Bani Lam. 

"Faisal chose the ishan we have passed, that 
which men now call Masubb, for the place to 
which all the tribes should bring their gifts of 
copper. Here, where the surrounding* marshes 
gave him security from his enemies, he set to 
work, building a mighty furnace. Every day 
from dawn to sunset came mashhufs from all the 
neighbouring tribes, bringing reeds and rushes 
to Heat it, and every day came more mashhufs 



120 THE MARSH ARAB 

with household vessels from the more distant 

settlements. 

"Saiyid Ghafuri and Salih directed the work. 
They showed the shaikh's men how to make 
moulds of dried mud, each one in a deep pit 
The copper vessels were heated in the furnace, 
and the molten metal poured into the moulds. 
All the tribesmen made hosa, running round the 
smoking pits, shaking their swords and lances, 
praising the cunning of Faisal. 

"The shaikh and all his people waited 
breathlessly for the cannon which the Saiyid 
had said should be made of their copper vessels; 
but alas, there was no success. Then Faisal 
ordered that the furnace be rekindled and the 
metal melted once more, for he had set his 
hand to the task, and would not own to failure. 
This time sheep were slain as a sacrifice to 
Allah, but still with no good result, so that the 
people began to murmur, asking one another 
how it could be possible for them, ignorant 
folk of the marshes, to make cannon such as the 
Turks used in their wars against other great 
nations. And those who had spent many days 
in bringing fuel for the furnace begged leave to 
return to their homes, saying that it was now 
the turn of others. 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 121 

"But Faisal would not listen. He ordered 
the people to bring in more rushes, as much 
again as they had brought before. And for the 
third time the furnace was heated, many hun 
dreds of men running to and fro with more fuel 
and still more, while the shaikh himself stood 
by and encouraged them with cheering words. 
And this time, Allah was gracious. 

"When under the direction of the Saiyid the 
cannon had been taken from their moulds, some 
of the men were set to smoothing them with 
roughened iron, others the shaikh set to make 
powder. That was a great work, of which men 
talked far and wide, so that the Bani Lam heard 
of the hostile plans of our tribe, and their shaikh 
with many followers came out with war flags 
against us. But Faisal determined to attack his 
enemies, and free himself once and for all from 
their yoke. 

"Their forces, many hundreds of horsemen, 
were collected at Abu Husainiya, on the great 
bund which protects their land from the Tigris 
floods. But when the men of the Albu Mo 
hammad in their boats saw how many were 
gathered against them, they were unwilling to 
land, saying that though they feared no enemy 
in their own marsh country, they could not hope 



122 THE MARSH ARAB 

to match the mounted men of the Bani Lam In 

the open desert 

"Then Faisal spoke to his people, and 
promised them horses more fleet than those of 
the enemy. He kept his word, for he had 
brought his cannon on boats lashed two by two, 
and with them he drove the Bani Lam from off 
the great bund." 

"Were many killed? 7 ' I asked. 

"The Albu Mohammad fired but once," 
replied the negro, looking doubtfully towards 
the great-grandson of Faisal. 

"It is permitted. Speak!" said Shaikh Zamil. 

"They fired but one of the cannon," went on 
the slave, "and it split in pieces like an over 
ripe melon. Those it killed were of our own 
people, yet it was the Bani Lam who fled for 
their terror at the great noise. Then with spades 
the Albu Mohammad broke down the bund, and 
the swift waters rushed in over the dry land, 
overtaking the horses of the Bani Lam. Great 
was their defeat, and their yoke was lifted from 
us. Thus, Effendim, our Faisal brought freedom 
to the people." 

The old slave took up his paddle once more 
and fell to work, crooning softly under his 
breath. The song was a pathetic link with his 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 123 

unknown freedom, for the words, meaningless 
to him, were those which are sung to their chil 
dren by the mothers of far-off Africa. 

A strange story he had told of pluck and 
energy, of one man's will overcoming obstacles 
which might well have seemed insuperable! It 
was hardly credible that nearly a century ago an 
untaught shaikh of these wild marshes should 
not only have conceived such a project, but 
should have carried it through to success. I 
should have been inclined to doubt the old slave's 
story, had I not heard of the cannon from other 
sources, and learned of the disaster which in the 
end they brought upon Faisal and his tribe. On 
this point the negro had been silent. 

In those days, the tribes on the Tigris, be 
tween Baghdad and Basra were left by the 
Turks to their own devices. But news of their 
growing strength, perhaps even of the existence 
of FaisaPs guns, reached the ears of the distant 
rulers, who resolved to break the tribes before 
it was too late. Thus the Albu Mohammad, 
after one short taste of liberty, found themselves 
under a yoke far heavier than that of the Bani 
Lam, and under masters far more tyrannical, 
grasping, and corrupt. The guns were taken to 
Baghdad ; and I wondered whether, among the 



i2 4 THE MARSH ARAB 

collection of disused, antiquated cannon found 
in the Citadel after the fall of the town, were 
numbered the clumsy, home-made, splendid 
guns of that fine old warrior Faisal. 

By this time we had reached the rice-land 
country which in Shaikh Faisal's time had been 
marsh. The villages were little more than two 
single lines of reed huts straggling along beside 
the river for perhaps nearly a mile. On one 
bank the doorways opened upon the river; to the 
other bank each hut turned its back, for the 
entrance of every dwelling must face towards 
Mecca. Only the houses of Saiyids and mumins 
were here placed broadside to the river, to warn 
a thief that in daring to rob such a house he 
would be guilty of sacrilege as well as theft; and 
one or two traders had sought to secure im 
munity for their goods by adopting the same 
device. 

Between the villages, scores of small channels 
took off at right angles to the main stream. At 
this time of the year their water was heavy with 
the rich silt which they were carrying on to the 
rice-fields. To the rice cultivator the amount 
of silt brought down by the river means as much 
as his rainfall to the grower of wheat and barley, 
for the yield of the crop varies in direct propor- 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 125 

tion to the depth of the silt deposit in which the 
rice is planted. 

It was from these rich and wide rice-fields 
that Shaikh Zamil derived the wealth which had 
made possible last night's lavish hospitality. 
His madhif was the largest I had every seen 
one hundred and eight feet in length, and eight 
een in width; its height cannot have been less 
than eighteen feet. No material other than 
reeds, brought from the marshes, had gone to its 
construction. Its plan was that of the ordinary 
marsh hut, but its builders had been master- 
craftsmen, who had spared no pains to make this 
madhif a superb specimen of its kind. The 
twenty-one arches of its framework, composed 
of bundles of reeds wound round with plaited 
rush ropes at regular intervals, were perfectly 
symmetrical in their gradual tapering upwards 
to the roof. The woven mats which formed the 
curved roof showed an orderly and regular over 
lapping. The lower part of the walls, to a 
height of about four feet, was composed of a 
lattice-work of reeds through which the air came 
freshly. Smoothly-plaited reed mats covered 
the floor; the square coffee-hearth near the door 
way was surrounded by a rounded ledge of mud. 
At the far end were spread fine Persian carpets. 



126 THE MARSH ARAB 

On two or three silk-covered mattresses were 
piled scores of velvet and silken cushions, blue 
and green, orange and scarlet a single bright 
mass of colour which threw into high relief the 
simplicity and fine proportions of the building. 

Here we had seated ourselves. Though the 
evening was far from cold, a slave entered with 
a brass brazier heaped with glowing charcoal, 
from which rose the faint scent of incense. 
Other slaves, more richly dressed than their 
master, brought in tea and coffee, and offered 
cigarettes. Beside the shaikh sat a small child, 
perhaps eight years old, a demure, dark-eyed 
little girl the only one of her sex present in the 
great madhif who, accompanying her tall 
bearded father as the favourite daughter of a 
shaikh often does, should have made a charming 
picture of Arab childhood. But, alas! she 
was dressed in pseudo-European fashion, with 
feathered hat and tan buttoned boots: another 
outlet for one small fraction of Zamil's super 
fluous wealth. 

On his domestic affairs, indeed, a great part 
of this was expended. As a strict Mohammedan, 
Zamil only permitted himself four wives; but 
his religion placed no restriction on the number 
of times these four might be changed. Quietly 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 127 

and without ostentation one of the four reign 
ing queens would be divorced and sent back to 
her home ; then, with rejoicing and acclamation, 
feasting and merry-making, another wife would 
come to rule over the unstable heart of Shaikh 
Zamil. 

Some two hours after our arrival a coloured 
cloth was spread on the floor, and the evening 
meal began to make its appearance began, for 
it was a long business. In common with many 
other tribal leaders, Zamil possessed wealth 
enough to have enabled him to emulate the 
princes of Arab folk-tales, and feast his guests 
wittfthe costly if unsatisfying luxury of dishes 
heaped with gold ; but this idea had fortunately 
not occurred to him, and the meal was the 
normal Arab supper, differing from that of 
humbler folk only in the variety of food and 
the number of servants. 

First came the shaikh, bearing in his hand 
a dish which he placed carefully on the cloth. 
Behind him came a string of slaves and retainers, 
each with two dishes, a seemingly endless pro 
cession. Soon the cloth was covered with great 
mounds of rice, roast chickens and wild duck, 
savoury stews, plates of honey and ground rice, 
sweet pastries made with date juice; but still the 



128 THE MARSH ARAB 

stream of servants entered at the arched door 
way, plates were pushed more closely to make 
room, and soon the whole floor was covered. 

As I looked down the long madhij, and in the 
dim light of the lanterns held up at intervals 
by slaves saw the great white mounds of rice 
in diminishing perspective, saw the whole roast 
sheep and the deep bowls of sherbet, I thought 
of other meals, when a few plates of food had 
been put on a round mat, and Haji Rikkan and 
his nephews had eaten with me from a common 
dish. At such meals one shares the family life. 
And for another reason I recalled those simple 
meals : the mighty feast before me had taken so 
long to bring in that every dish was stone cold ! 
Now in the afternoon sunshine we went on 
between river banks which became ever lower 
until they disappeared altogether, and we found 
ourselves on a stretch of open water which I 
might have thought mere marsh, had I not the 
shaikh's word that below it lay his richest rice- 
lands. As the water of the marsh receded, all 
this area would be gradually uncovered, and 
here would be grown the shittal rice, sown up 
stream, but transplanted into this deep silt by 
hand. Beyond, ahead of us, lay a line of reeds 
which marked the beginning of the marsh 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 129 

proper, and above them we could see the turrets 
of Zamil's fort, Qala't Baidha, gleaming white 
in the sun. Like some fairy fortress it looked 
as we approached; but disillusion followed. 
The smooth marble walls of the castle were of 
sun-dried mud, the battlements and turrets were 
the crudest products of Arab moulding. 

Shaikh Zamil now took his leave, and I 
climbed alone to the top of one of the towers. 
As the fort had been built for defence, the ascent 
was not easy; a very low entrance had first to be 
negotiated on hands and knees; then came a 
ladder of stout reeds which, when climbed, 
could be drawn up after one. I hauled myself 
at length on to the flat roof, and looked over the 
battlements at the many-coloured view. 

Towards the east, in unbroken ranks, lay mile 
upon mile of reeds, a solid phalanx stretching as 
far as the eye could see. Upright as "spears and 
javelins in array" they stood, while the slanting 
sunlight glanced from their heads as though 
from spikes of silver. So dense a mass seemed 
impenetrable, impossible of navigation; but even 
as I watched, a slim black craft slipped from 
some hidden channel and made its way towards 
the ishan on which Qala't Baidha stood. It was 
Haji Rikkan's. 



i 3 o THE MARSH ARAB 

Westwards the water was open, except for a 
few clumps of tall reeds which already looked 
black against the evening sky. Beyond them 
I could see Shaikh Zamil's mashhuf, a tiny 
black crescent on the stretch of water we had 
crossed; already he had reached the turbid 
brown of the silt-laden water. Far in the 
distance one could make out the rounded roofs 
of a rice-growers' village, the only sign of 
habitation in the vast expanse over which I 
gazed. 

Qala't Baidha was manned by a score or so 
of Zamil's hoshiya, whose ostensible duty it was 
to maintain law and order in the marsh area 
held by him. A sarcastic comment from Haji 
Rikfcan, who joined me now on the roof, in 
formed me that the shaikh's real interest lay 
less in maintaining order than in levying toll on 
all the marsh craft which passed his fort. 

"How do I know this?" the Haji went on. 
"I know because I myself suffer from his exac 
tions, and also " here his eyes lit up with 
mirth "because I myself, when I was a chaoush 
in the time of the Turks, did no otherwise." 

Seated on the roof while the dying sun sank 
into the sea of gold before us, while the short 
twilight turned to darkness and the orange 



THE PLACE OF CASTING 131 

moon rose, I listened to the reminiscences of 
Haji Rikkan. They were not recounted in the 
chronological sequence in which they are here 
set forth, but as the old man's rambling memory 
served him, one incident leading to another. The 
wealth of expressive gesture, the play of feature 
which illuminated them, cannot, alas I be re 
captured by the written word. 



Chapter VI 
THE FORT OF KASSARA 

HAJI RIKKAN'S first footing on the 
ladder of fame a footing insecure and 
not to be long retained was gained as an in 
direct result of the "Great War," a phrase which 
to him meant the intermittent conflict which 
went on during his early manhood between the 
Bani Lam and the Albu Mohammad, the two 
great tribal confederations of the lower Tigris. 

"Lost by a living woman, won by a dead," 
he said of the first battle of that long-drawn-out 
struggle ; and at this paradox the lines round his 
shrewd old eyes deepened with secret delight as 
he waited the inevitable demand for an explan 
ation. 

"Eight thousand, nay, ten thousand were slain 
in that war, which the folly of one man brought 
about. It happened that Ibn Madhkur, shaikh 
of the Bani Lam, left his great flocks in the care 
of Dhamad of the Chanana, while he himself 
went to Mohammerah. And while he was 

13* 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 133 

absent, Dhamad sold the wool of Ibn Madhkur's 
sheep, and used in his own tents the butter made 
from their milk, and killed many for food. 
When Ibn Madhkur returned his anger was 
great; he deprived Dhamad of the shaikhship, 
and seized all his possessions verily a hard 
punishment. 

"So Dhamad fled across the river to Saihud, 
lord of the Albu Mohammad, and making 
dakhala besought him to intercede with Ibn 
Madhkur for the recovery of his flocks* But 
Ibn Madhkur would not listen to the entreaties 
of Saihud, and thus began war between them. 
Each side prepared for battle. The men made 
hosa, chanting their war-songs, shaking swords 
and lances to the beat as they ran in circles 
round the battle-flags held high in the air. 
Thus did they steel their hearts for the fray. 
And while they prepared for war, Ibn Madh 
kur, Shaikh of the Bani Lam, took to himself 
a new wife. 

"For many generations has Sa'da been a 
famous name among the Bani Lam. Hast not 
even to-day heard them called the Brothers 
of Sa'da? This Sa'da whom Ibn Madhkur 
wedded was the daughter of Risan, shaikh of 
a shepherd tribe dwelling in the foothills. So 



134 THE MARSH ARAB 

great was her beauty that all men marvelled; 
and as for Ibn Madhkur, he saw naught else 
not his tribes ready for war, nor the gathering 
hosts of the enemy making hosa, nor the danger 
that threatened. And when his headmen urged 
him to advance, for they feared the wide river 
so close behind them, their words were mean 
ingless in his ears. 

"Now the father of Sa'da was a stern man, 
an Arab of the Arabs. One day, when Ibn 
Madhkur was absent for a brief hour, he 
entered his daughter's tent; kissing her eyes, he 
put into her hand a small curved dagger whose 
handle of horn was embossed with silver. 

"She, running to the tent door as he would 
have stridden away, caught his robe, whisper 
ing, Why this? Must my hand strike him, and 
I his wife?' 

"And Risan answered sternly, 'Because of thee 
this dalliance; because of thee this danger of 
defeat Why should it be our lord that dies?' 
Thus saying, he left the tent 

"Ibn Madhkur returned, and hastened with 
in to his wife's arms. All the camp heard the 
great cry which left his throat, and soon all 
knew that Sa'da was like to die from the wound 
in her side. Day and night Ibn Madhkur 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 135 

sat watching the life that wished to leave her 
body. 

"Well might she weep to her women when 
speech returned to her, well might she lament. 
'Wai, waij unworthy daughter I. Because I was 
weak and timid, I struck not deep enough; and 
now of what avail my act?' For Ibn Madhkur 
remained by her side, nor would he leave her 
to attack the Albu Mohammad. And when his 
headmen came to him, he said, We are many, 
they few. Spare our mares. Go ye, attack on 
foot' Even when a messenger brought news of 
the battle, saying, We prevail not!' he would not 
leave her tent, but said, 'Let the Bani Lam take 
to their horses, and attack again.' O fateful 
words ! 

"As the tribes turned to fetch their horses 
from the tethering ground by the river bank, a 
woman on the side of the Albu Mohammad saw 
the chance of victory, and in her turn swayed 
the tide of battle. Makia, sister of Saihud, saw 
the Bani Lam turn to the river; lifting up her 
dress to her neck she ran towards them, crying 
aloud, 'Either the Bani Lam will ravish me, or 
the Albu Mohammad will save me from themP 
And at her words her brother's people pressed 
forward, attacked fiercely, and prevailed. The 



136 THE MARSH ARAB 

Bani Lam, leaderless and in disorder, turned and 
fled. 

"The sounds of panic reached Ibn Madhkur 
in his tent, and at last he awoke from his dream. 
Hastily he bore Sa'da in his arms to a boat, and 
bade his servant take her to the other side. 
Then he rushed to the fray but too late. 
Pressed by the furious onslaught of the Albu 
Mohammad, his tribesmen could not escape 
because of the river at their back; they were 
swept by hundreds into the Tigris ; few reached 
the other side. Tents, horses, arms, cattle, 
powder, harness everything was captured. 
Never was victory so complete, never defeat 
so overwhelming. 

"On the far bank of the river Sa'da lay dying, 
for the hasty moving had opened again her 
half-healed wound. She called feebly on her 
father's name, begging his forgiveness. <Ah 
wretched me,' she mourned, 'I must die, yet my 
death has not availed to save the Bani Lam.' 

"Suddenly her women scattered before a 
galloping horse, whose trembling sides still 
dripped with water. The rider, naked and 
bleeding from a hundred wounds, flung himself 
off and knelt beside her. It was Ibn Madhkur. 
Taking her in his arms, he said, 'Because of thee 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 137 

and of the life that is leaving thee, I swear that 
never will I rest until the Bani Lam, now broken 
and scattered, are brought together and made 
more powerful than before. This will I do for 
love of thee, O Sa'daP 

u And fulfil the vow he did, though Allah 
alone knows how," said Haji Rikkan, spreading 
expressive hands. "By valour and brave deeds, 
by intrigue and cunning where it served his 
ends, he rallied the tribes round him; by fair 
words and gifts he gained adherents; by skilful 
husbanding he replaced the treasure lost on that 
day of loss, and purchased arms. But why say 
more? Thou knowest as well as I that the end 
was defeat for the Albu Mohammad." 

The Haji in his remote marsh village had not 
been affected by the early stages of his war, 
which the Turks in pursuance of their policy of 
"divide et impera" did nothing to abate. But 
later, when traffic was hindered and passengers 
were wounded by stray shots exchanged across 
the river by the rival factions, the government 
felt constrained to take action. According to 
Haji Rikkan, one of its first moves was to 
strengthen the garrisons of the small mud forts 
along the banks of the Tigris ; to do this it was 
necessary to deplete the garrisons lower down 



i 3 8 THE MARSH ARAB 

the river, in the unhealthy marsh country; and 

here Haji Rikkan saw his chance. 

Emboldened by his experiences as a pilgrim to 
Karbala, he visited the yuzbashi captain of the 
local gendarmerie, at Qala't Salih, the largest 
riverside town in the marsh area. As a Haji 
he obtained a respectful hearing; a judicious 
distribution of osprey feathers and what little 
money he possessed did the rest. He was ap 
pointed chaoush or sergeant of the mud fort at 
Kassara, and was told to enlist his own force 
of six. A month's pay for himself and his men 
was at once handed to him, and this was the only 
wage he received during the three years of his 
command. But the Haji was content 

Content, indeed, he well might be. Not 
only did the title of chaoush alone delight the 
naive vanity which still characterized him in 
old age; not only had he, a marshman of the 
marshes, risen to eminence in the world outside; 
the position gave him every opportunity of mak 
ing and saving money. A true Arab, Haji 
Rikkan let slip no chance of gain. 

Kassara is situated a few miles above Ezra's 
Tomb, just where a stream of clear blue water 
from the marsh flows into the Tigris, running 
for some distance on its own side of the river 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 139 

bed before its beautiful pellucid depths become 
muddied as they mingle with the silt-laden 
Tigris. Opposite the mouth of the stream stood 
Haji Rikkan's mud fort, or rather his toll-bar; 
for no danak, birkash, mashhuf, torrada, or 
challabiya did he allow to issue from the marshes 
until its owner had paid tribute. If it was bring 
ing fish for sale, the Haji demanded a fifth of 
their value ; reeds, feathers, mats, wild-fowl, all 
were estimated by his ruthless eye, and on all 
the toll was levied. Nothing escaped the Haji, 
and he knew that he could go on his mildly 
oppressive way with impunity. As long as the 
Turkish authority at Qala't Salih was "eating" 
the salary of himself and his six men, his mis 
deeds would be looked at with a blind eye. No 
attention would be paid to tales of his illegal 
perquisites, even if the marsh folk, fearful of any 
encounter with the government, dreamed of 
making official complaint. The Haji grew rich ; 
and at length, becoming rapacious through long 
immunity, brought about his own downfall. 

A message from the yuzbashi one day in 
formed Haji Rikkan that a valuable roll of silk 
had been stolen by marsh Arabs in a raid on a 
river steamer. He was bidden to make full en 
quiries, and to communicate at once with his 



140 THE MARSH ARAB 

superiors if he gleaned any information which 

might lead to the capture of the thieves. 

"On my head be it," said Haji Rikkan cheer 
fully to the messenger. He was delighted with 
the simplicity of the task ; all he had to do was 
to listen to the tail bardi, the telegraph of the 
reeds the common phrase for Rumour. He 
would have accepted the charge less light- 
heartedly, perhaps, had he known that not the 
yuzbashi alone but several higher functionaries 
were seriously perturbed about this very roll of 
silk; that it was the property of a British firm 
which, weary of similar losses, had referred the 
matter to the Consul at Basra, who in his turn 
had referred it to the British Resident at Bagh 
dad. The position held by the Resident was 
unique; hastily the Wali of Baghdad issued to 
the Mutasarrif of the district concerned such 
explicit orders for the immediate recovery of the 
silk orders couched in such cold and threaten 
ing terms that the local officials trembled for 
the continued tenure of their lucrative posts. No 
stone, they felt, must be left unturned; the 
Wali's unwelcome attention must at all costs be 
diverted elsewhere. 

Of this activity in higher spheres Haji Rikkan 
knew nothing. For several days he paddled 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 141 

about the marsh, listening to local gossip and 
asking discreet questions from time- to time. 
Rumour, as usual, was busy; but at length he 
heard from more than one source a story which 
seemed to have the ring of truth. The thieves 
were said to be in hiding on a certain ishan 
known as Umm Dibis, only a short way into the 
marsh ; they hoped at night to intercept a sailing 
boat on her slow way upstream, and sell their 
booty to its owner. 

Haji Rikkan was in two minds. If he went 
to the yuzbashi with this tale, the thieves might 
in the meantime sell their loot and escape; in 
any case, as he had no proofs, he and his story 
might be discredited. On the other hand, if he 
alone were to recover the stolen silk, what 
promotions, what rewards, what opportunities 
might not be his! Cupidity prevailed. Secretly 
he arranged that his half-brother Husain, with 
another of his garrison by name Ridha, should 
spy out the land. 

The Haji's thoughts, he told me, were far 
from the bale of silk when a few days later he 
sat in his eyrie, idly speculating what "customs" 
duty he would be able to reap from a mashhuf 
which was coming slowly towards him. As it 
approached, his keen eyes saw that it was empty; 



142 THE MARSH ARAB 

and calling one of the village boys, he bade him 
bring it in. With swift strokes of his paddle the 
boy drove his own small craft into midstream, 
and rose to catch the high prow of the drifting 
boat; then, with a shrill cry, he came paddling 
madly back again. "Blood, blood!" he cried, 
and fled to his hut 

In some trepidation Haji Rikkan put off him 
self with three of his men to bring in the myster 
ious mashhuf. Lying in the bottom they found 
two dead or dying men; in the body of one of 
them a long curved dagger was still fast, while 
between them, in strange contrast to those grim, 
still forms, lay a bundle, half-unrolled, of rich 
orange-coloured silk. Stained with blood, 
crumpled as though it had been clutched and 
struggled over, its shining folds were still beau 
tiful, gleaming and shimmering in the sunset 
light: surely of the very essence of temptation 
to the colour-loving Arab. 

The two men were lifted out of the boat The 
one with the dagger in his side, Ridha, was dead. 
Husain stirred and groaned as he was moved. 

"We bore him to his house," said Haji 
Rikkan. "Later his women fetched me, and I 
knew by their grief that he had not many hours 
to live. 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 143 

" 'My brother, my brother, 3 whispered Hus- 
ain when he saw me. 'Hear the story of my 
death, that thou mayst avenge me. Before I die, 
hear how I brought back the silk. Very quietly 
and with stealth, hardly moving, I and that 
other May he burn! drew near to the ishan 
of Umm Dibis. Peering through the reeds, we 
could see that rumour had not lied ; the thieves 
were there. Two seemed to be sleeping, the third 
was on guard with his rifle on the only channel 
leading to the ishan. Silently, having seen all 
we needed to see, we made our way back a long 
distance, and discussed how we could best seize 
the silk. It seemed impossible. If we went up 
the channel, however quickly, the man on guard 
would shoot us ; however quietly we crept 
through the reeds, our movements would be 
heard, nor could we get near enough to shoot 
with certainty. At last Ridha said, The smaller 
the noise, the greater the danger. Let us make 
a great noise as of buffaloes grazing.' So we 
agreed, and crashed in among the reeds, advanc 
ing towards the ishan, then retreating a little, but 
ever drawing nearer and nearer. At last we saw 
our chance, and rushed in. Two of the men 
we killed; the third escaped, and we troubled 
not to chase him, for there in the bottom of their 



144 THE MARSH ARAB 

mashhuf we found the stolen silk. Hastening 
back as fast as we might, before the third man 
could bring help against us, we reached the river 
and set on our way downstream. 

" 'As we went, Ridha unfolded a little of the 
silk. It was very beautiful, smooth and shining 
like the soft cheek of a bride, and there were 
many spans. Ridha fingered it. 

" c By 'All son of Abu Talib,' he exclaimed, 
'have we risked our lives only to give silk such 
as this, the price of many women, back to the 
Dowla?' He unfolded more and more. 'It 
were madness to give this up. Is it not ours by 
right? None need ever know.' 

" 'It were shame on Haji Rikkan to take it,' 
I said, but Ridha cried, 'A curse upon his 
father! We two alone have recovered the silk, 
and half of it is mine. 1 Again I refused, where 
upon he grew angry, and snatching the silk tried 
to jump with it from the boat; but I held fast, 
and pulled him back. He turned on me, and we 
drew our daggers.' 

"He could tell no more," said Haji Rikkan. 
"But it was enough; before the dawn he died. 
As for me, I hid the roll, waiting until I could 
restore it to the yuzbashi. Each day I looked at 
it, thinking it a sad thing that the kinsfolk of 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 145 

Husain should profit nothing by that for which 
he had paid so dear a price. And when my 
wife saw the silk, it seemed to her more beauti 
ful than anything her eyes had seen; long she 
gazed on it, stroking and smoothing it with her 
hands, and when she heard that I purposed to 
send it to the yuzbashi she wept sore, being desir 
ous to keep it for her own adorning. 

"Why should she not? I said to my own 
heart. If the yuzbashi hears by chance that I 
have found it, can I not deny it? Or what were 
simpler perhaps, he and I can share it. And 
even if he take it all, I am no loser, for he who 
has licked the fat from my beard will not dare 
to punish me." 

Thus in a rash moment Haji Rikkan yielded 
to his wife's entreaties. The roll of silk was 
hidden beneath a pile of rice, to be stealthily 
gloated over at night, by firelight, when the two 
were safe from intrusion. 

For some time no more was heard of the silk; 
but at last the keen eyes of one of the Haji's men 
sighted, coming slowly towards the fort, the 
white-painted boat of the Mudir from Qala't 
Salih. Haji Rikkan was no sooner warned than 
he took precautions ; whatever the object of this 
official visitation, a wetting would do the silk no 



i 4 6 THE MARSH ARAB 

harm, and who would think of searching the 
river bed for it? He dragged it hastily from its 
hiding-place, and threw it into the water. His 
next step was to draw up his men on the bank, 
in a line as ragged as the tattered garments 
which, civilian in origin, had been militarized 
by the addition of two cartridge belts to each 
man, and to give the Mudir as martial a salute 
as they could achieve. No neglect on the part 
of Haji Rikkan Chaoush should ruffle the 
temper of Jamil EffendL 

"Thou knowest him well," said Haji Rikkan 
in parenthesis. 

"That Jamil?" I exclaimed. 

"The same*" 

I did know him well a Turkish official of 
the best type, now a pensioner of the 'Iraq 
Government in the little towa which he had 
once ruled. Kindly, humane, and honest, he had 
given loyal service for nearly half a century to 
a government of which the ineptitude and in 
dolence would have driven any official but a 
Turk to line his pockets, or tender his resigna* 
tion, or die of a broken heart Jamil Effendi 
did none of these things, but with gentle detach 
ment and in the face of every discouragement 
pursued his dignified way, year after year. 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 147 

It is not usual for an Oriental to come to the 
point of his visit either promptly or directly; 
but according to the Haji, Jamil revealed the 
object of his descent upon the mud fort with a 
disarming directness which lent a hollow ring 
to his own protestations of innocence. 

"They say," he began, "that the stolen silk 
is in thy house. By Allah, a lie! But those 
above us have bidden me search. Disturb not 
thyself, it is but a small matter a cursory 
search, and I depart. Thus will our superiors 
be satisfied with thee and me." 

If the search conducted by Jamil Effendi was 
cursory, the Haji wondered what a thorough 
search would be like. Every possession of him 
self and his family was carried outside, Rolled- 
up mats were spread flat, the young reeds stacked 
for buffalo-fodder and the bardi stored for fuel 
were pulled down, the roof was tested for a 
place of concealment, and finally the earthen 
floor was dug up. Shrill screams from the Haji's 
wife announced that their hidden store of wealth, 
the savings of a lifetime, had been laid bare; 
but it was not confiscated. Under the Mudir's 
eye it was counted out and restored to her. 

During the search the Mudir had stood by 
in silence, surrounded by a slowly-nearing circle 



148 THE MARSH ARAB 

of naked, curious children. With dignified 
benevolence he would now and again bestow on 
one a pat on the head, on another a small coin ; 
and when his clerk came out to tell him that the 
search has been unrewarded, and the two walked 
slowly along the river bank in conversation, the 
children followed. The Haji saw him turn and 
question them, and saw his own son answering. 

Haji Rikkan spoke indulgently of the boy 
"Fidwa ilak, a sacrifice for thee," he said, using 
the tribal euphemism for "dead." He would 
not believe that the child had betrayed him by 
word or gesture ; all was laid at the door of the 
effendi's guile. It cannot have been difficult for 
Jamil Effendi, with his knowledge of human 
nature gained in a lifetime of official service, 
to glean the truth by cross-examining a small 
and naked son of the marsh. 

Fear first seized the heart of Haji Rikkan 
when he saw the clerk approach a muhaila 
banked-in near by, and borrow her four-pointed 
anchor, with a length of rope. From a safe dis 
tance he watched the systematic dragging of the 
river; then, when he heard a shout from one 
of the draggers, he took off and folded his 'aba. 
Balancing it and his rifle on his head, he slipped 
silently down the bank into the river ; with strong 



THE FORT OF KASSARA 149 

strokes he reached the shelter of the reeds on the 
other side. There he was safe, for the marsh 
does not give up her fugitive children ; but with 
bitterness of heart he realized that, after all his 
fair fortune, he was now a poorer man by far 
than on the day on which he first took service 
with the Padishah. 



Chapter VII 
THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 

THE years following upon his hasty flight 
to the marshes were bitter ones to Haji 
Rikkan. At no time are Arabs over-merciful 
to the unfortunate, and many of the marshfolk 
had suffered considerably from the Haji's ex 
actions. His welcome was therefore not a warm 
one, though the fact that he was in flight from 
the hated government earned him more sym 
pathy than he deserved. 

Ever ready to vaunt his superior attainments, 
Haji Rikkan now found little scope for them. 
He had already learned that only outside the 
limits of the marshes could he use his talents 
to advantage. Now, not only was he confined 
within these limits, a fugitive from justice, but 
he had returned penniless to his tribe. With 
a little money behind him, he might have at 
tained to some small measure of eminence; but 
even his native wit could do little with the capi 
tal he possessed a coarse woollen *aba> the 
usual Arab head-dress of kafiya and 'agal, and a 
rifle, which all too soon had to be exchanged 

150 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 151 
for a far inferior weapon in order that he might 
have a little money for his pressing needs. For 
no sooner had his guilt been established than 
the Mudir's gendarmes had seized everything of 
value in his hut; his not inconsiderable store of 
money was appropriated; and his buffaloes, 
which by evil chance were grazing near by, were 
driven off Husain's wife, convinced that her 
husband's death lay at the Haji's door, having 
been careful to point them out. 

For some years, then, Haji Rikkan lived a 
precarious life. He was beginning to wonder 
whether his offence was forgotten, whether he 
might once more venture into the great world, 
when strange rumours began to reach the ears 
of the marshfolk. The Turks had fair words 
for everyone; shaikhs, to their unbounded sur 
prise, received chiswasj or presents of clothing; 
arrears of pay, long regarded as irrecoverable, 
began to reach even the humblest of the Pad- 
isha's servants. 

"When I heard these strange tidings," said 
the Haji, "hope stirred in my breast At last, I 
said, the Constitution, at last Liberty has reached 
the borders of our marshes. But I was wrong. 
While we talked and wondered, the message 
came: a Jihad, a Jihad! The English infidels 
have come from the sea, and are at Basra! 



152 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Soon we knew that it was indeed war, for 
we saw ships full of Turkish soldiers pass down 
the river. Rumours flew thick as birds. Some 
said the English had been driven back into the 
sea, others that they had beaten the Turks and 
slain their commander. We knew not what to 
believe. But with our own eyes we saw more 
ships bearing soldiers down to Basra, and again 
ships filled with tribesmen, and bands of tribes- 
fnen marching on foot southwards on the river 
bank. Then at last we heard that a great battle 
had been fought at Qurna. 

"The first news of the fight was brought to 
the marshes by Gata' bin Shamkhi, a man well 
known to us as a flag-bearer of Shaikh Falih 
of the Albu Mohammad. 

" C I have heard the noise of guns before/ he 
said, 'but never such guns as these which come 
from the sea. Such a thunder it was that I be 
came deaf, and in fear threw myself into the 
shelter of a water-channel. And presently I 
heard all round me the sound of men running in 
terror. 'How can we fight against these Chris 
tians,' they cried, 'when their prophet Isa * him 
self is in the sky to aid them? 5 So I, throwing 

1 The first aeroplane seen by the tribes was taken by them 
for Jesus Christ coming in person. 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 153 
away my flag, ran with them. Who am I to 
fight against a Prophet?' " 

Panic-stricken, but by no means roughly han 
dled, the tribal levies fled from Qurna and scat 
tered to their flocks and fields. The Turkish 
soldiers, infected by the general fear, followed 
them, a beaten and broken rabble so broken, 
according to Haji Rikkan, that the marsh 
women, armed only with wooden clubs, were 
able to reap a rich harvest of army rifles. 

At length came the opportunity for which 
Haji Rikkan had waited so long. One spring 
evening, just before darkness fell, a large Turk 
ish gunboat ran aground above Kassara, the 
place at which the Haji had lorded it as chaoush 
of the mud fort. From the shelter of the reeds 
many hundred pairs of eyes watched the heavy 
boat as, hampered by her lighters lashed on 
either side, she struggled in the shallow water 
in vain. She was stuck fast. Soldiers began to 
unlash the lighters; and, directing them, Haji 
Rikkan recognized the yuzbashi who had ap 
pointed him to his former pos,t. 

Evidently the Turks were in trouble ; this was 
not the moment to recall a bale of stolen silk. 
But if a service were rendered, might not the 
yuzbashi remember the many months' salary due 



154 THE MARSH ARAB 

to his underling, and not only remember, but 
pay? Not without trepidation, Haji Rikkan ap 
proached the ship and respectfully greeted him. 

To his relief, he was warmly welcomed. He 
seemed to be the very man for whom the yuz- 
bashi was looking. Other officers were called, 
and an eager discussion followed of which Haji 
Rikkan, ignorant of Turkish as he was, under 
stood not a word. 

"Did the Haji want to earn some money?" 
asked the Turk at length in Arabic. He trickled 
a few liras from one hand into the palm of the 
other. A fifth of the booty should be his re 
ward, and a golden lira in the hand to each man 
who helped him. 

"Dost see the tall masts of the ship below 
'Uzair?" * went on the yuzbashi, in tones of 
which the urgency impressed Haji Rikkan with 
a sense of vital danger. Peering through the 
gathering dusk he could just make out the tall, 
spreading spars of a ship which on that flat 
expanse of reeds and water seemed to tower into 
the sky. 

"She is the Mother of Gold indeed," the of 
ficer continued. "She is full of gold to pay the 
English soldiers with gold of which one fifth 

1 Ezra's tomb. 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 155 
shall be thine if the crew is dead and the ship 
taken before morning; for if she is still there 
when the sun rises, this ship is doomed, and we 
are dead men." 

Haji Rikkan, with nothing to lose and every 
thing to gain, accepted the offer. To raid and 
steal from a river boat was part of the ordinary 
day's work to a marsh Arab. With his naked 
body well greased to elude capture, he would 
slip silently into the water, float downstream, 
and take up his position under the hull of the 
ship. There in the shadow, his dark features 
indistinguishable from above, he would wait and 
listen perhaps for hours, until the moment came 
for him to climb swiftly and stealthily on board, 
seize what he could, and dropping overboard 
swim under water back into the covering reeds. 
Just such a plan, to be carried out on a larger 
scale, Haji Rikkan now outlined to the yuz- 
bashi. 

Late that night, after the moon had set, a 
hundred naked marshmen slid into the water. 
Each man held a 'dagger in his teeth, and each 
pushed before him a bundle of rushes, partly 
to support his weight, partly to hide the sus 
picious roundness of the human head on the sur 
face of the water. Led by the Haji, they ap- 



156 THE MARSH ARAB 

preached the English gunboat; not a sound came 
from her decks, hardly a splash from the river. 
Yet suddenly a great beam of light leapt from 
her bows and shone full in the dazzled faces of 
the swimmers. "W Allah, I thought it was the 
eye of Allah himself !" said Haji Rikkan as he 
told the story. Desperately the panic-stricken 
marshmen struck out for the shore, but too late. 
The ship's machine guns spat viciously as the 
searchlight swept from side to side of the riven 
In a few moments all was quiet, but the muddy 
Tigris waters as they flowed past the gunboat 
were streaked with blood. 

Haji Rikkan escaped the hail of bullets ; but 
this adventure with its disastrous ending con 
vinced him at last that he was not cut out for a 
military career. He beat a hasty retreat, not 
even waiting to hear the fate of the stranded 
Turkish vessel which he had failed to save. He 
heard later, from Arabs who had watched to the 
end, that the Turks had worked all night in 
the effort to refloat their gunboat, but without 
success. At the first gleam of daylight, as the 
yuzbashi had foretold, shells from the English 
ship came hurtling through the air, the first fall 
ing beyond its mark, the second short, but the 
third and subsequent ones hitting with deadly 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 157 
accuracy. Soon the Turkish gunboat was in 
flames, and her crew began to abandon hen This 
emboldened the marsh Arabs, who fell to looting 
rifles and ammunition from the lighters, murder 
ing the wounded Turks and such stragglers as 
they found among the reeds. Only on the ap 
proach of the English ship did they in their turn 
flee into the marsh. This was not a pleasant 
picture of the people among whom I now wan 
dered in Haji Rikkan's company, but it is un 
deniable that all the worst and most savage 
characteristics of the Ma' dan showed themselves 
to both armies during the war. 

Haji Rikkan returned discouraged to his 
home. But the times were too stirring not to 
provide a man of his restless spirit with an op 
portunity. It seemed to the marsh Arabs that 
all the river boats of the world were being as 
sembled on the Tigris. Never had such daily, 
hourly temptation presented itself. An ideal 
opening for thieves 1 was offered by the slow 
steam-boats, labouring upstream through the 
Narrows with their loads of food-stuffs, forage, 

1 As far back as the time of Harun al Rashid, the marsh- 
men were notorious for looting and levying tolls on river 
craft. Later they even succeeded in cutting off the supplies 
of Baghdad, and an expedition (AJD. 834) was sent against 
them, several thousand being exiled to Asia Minor, whence 
they made their way to Europe as gypsies 



i 5 8 THE MARSH ARAB 

ammunition, medical stores, all the complex ne 
cessities of an army. The lumbering barges 
lashed to each side of the steamers would every 
now and again graze the bank on one side, or 
brush against the tall reeds on the other; what 
wonder that the Ma' dan blessed Allah and prof 
ited? So few rifles could be spared from the 
fighting line to guard the lines of communica 
tion that the raiders grew bold; scorning the 
protection of darkness, they would spring in 
broad daylight out of the reeds on to a passing 
barge, seize what lay to hand, and dive over 
board in defiance of the ragged volley which so 
seldom found its mark. 

But the shipping, inexhaustible as it seemed 
to the Ma' dan, was unable to supply all the 
needs of the ever-growing army. The marshf oik 
watched uncomprehendingly the building of the 
"shammandaffar" (chemin de fer) along the 
only strip of firm ground which threaded their 
fastnesses; but when they had overcome their 
terror of the iron monster, its tail of trucks be 
came as popular a source of wealth as the river 
barges had been. As the long train slowed down 
to negotiate one of the many curves of the line, 
nothing could be easier for a marshman than 
to swing himself up on to a truck and topple to 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 159 
the ground a few bags of wheat, atta, or sugar. 
To check these depredations the military au 
thorities reluctantly placed sepoy guards on the 
trucks, and the prospect of meeting cold steel 
made the railway line less attractive until the 
marsh Arabs, ever inventive in wrong-doing, 
made grappling irons by tying long ropes to 
the barbed, five-pronged heads of their fishing 
spears. When one night a hook lodged not in 
a bag of flour but in the clothing of an Indian 
soldier, whose bleeding body fell at their feet, 
the Ma'dan feared reprisals, and allowed the 
trains to pass unpilfered for a time. Later the 
grappling hooks came out again, but when they 
found the trucks covered with nets of stout rope, 
the Arabs confessed defeat, and turned their 
attention once more to the river. 

Haji Rikkan, regarding them as martial ex 
ploits and therefore to be avoided, took no part 
in these raids. He did, however, find a real 
opening for his talents. To quote his own 
words, "In those days many persons found them 
selves in possession of goods for which they had 
no use; these I bartered to uch as had need 
of them." 

It was an odd freak of chance which a few 
months later enlisted Haji Rikkan on the side 



160 THE MARSH ARAB 

of the forces of order. The persistent raids, 
petty as was each separate attempt, had begun 
to cause real concern to the military authorities ; 
ration and equipment reserves were at a danger 
ous minimum, and the army could not afford 
the smallest loss. The telegraph wires hummed, 
and the local political officers, now installed in 
the empty chairs of the Turkish mutasarrifs and 
qaimmaqams, were sharply called to task. 

Thus it befell that Haji Rikkan, having one 
day left his mashhuf with its illicit load moored 
beside a date-garden a little below the town, 
walked confidently through the market at Qala't 
Salih. As once before in his career, he had 
grown bold through long immunity; but he felt 
uneasy as he observed a townsman pointing him 
out to one of the newly-recruited police, and 
heard him say, "That is Haji Rikkan." 

"I call Allah to witness," said the Haji, "that 
this was the first time I had feared blame for 
helping others. The policeman took me by the 
arm, and saying that the Hakim wanted me, led 
me to the river bank. There I saw a mashhuf 
with its crew of four waiting, and beside it 
stood the Englishman talking to his sergeant of 
police. Our language was still strange and heavy 
upon his tongue, and as he talked I seized the 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 161 

chance to address the Indian clerk who waited 
near. Telling him Allah pardon me, it was 
a lie that I had sent six chickens to his house, 
I asked what the Hakim wanted of me. In his 
soft weak Arabic he replied that the General 
was hot with anger against the Hakim because 
of the many thefts committed by the Ma'dan; 
that even now he was setting out to punish some 
thieves of the Bait Khafi who he had heard were 
at Abu Raml, only a few miles within the marsh ; 
and that having heard of me as one who knew 
the waterways, he required me to go with him 
as guide. 

"I saw the Hakim turn and call for me. By 
Allah's mercy it was the hour of prayer, and 
I gained a few moments in which to think. As 
I bent in prayer I spoke softly to one I knew 
that stood by, bidding him hasten to my cousins 
in the mashhuf and warn them that the Bait 
Khafi was in danger. 

"Allahu AkbarMost great is God!" ex 
claimed Haji Rikkan after a pause. "Behold 
me in the winking of an eye seated in the Hak 
im's mashhuf, his four men paddling swiftly 
downstream. I took comfort as we passed the 
date-garden, and I saw that my mashhuf was no 
longer there. My cousins knew of short cuts to 



i6z THE MARSH ARAB 

the ishan of Abu Raml; of these the Hakim's 
boatmen were ignorant, and was it for me to 
tell them? 

"Darkness fell, but still we went on, travelling 
all night until we reached the village of 
Zichiya, where for two hours we slept At ear 
liest dawn Halshad, the chief mashhufchi, re 
turned from the village where he had been to 
gather news, and in low tones spoke with the 
Hakim. From their dark looks I guessed what 
he had heard, for I knew that by this time the 
Bait Khafi must have fled from their island ; but 
none the less the Hakim must needs go to Abu 
Raml. We set off as the sun rose, I poling 
while Halshad sat behind the Hakim with his 
loaded rifle. 

"Standing in the prow as I was, I could see 
over the top of the rushes, and my heart rejoiced 
as we drew near the ishan and I beheld nothing 
but the bare framework of the reed houses. I 
knew that my message had been in time, and 
now surely I should be released from the post of 
guide. 

"But I was too hopeful. To Umm Khayis,' 
said the Hakim shortly, without a word to me. 
This island was also a settlement of the Bait 
Khafi, but I dared not protest, for how could 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 163 

I tell what Halshad had heard of me In the vil 
lage overnight? My best plan seemed to gain 
what credit I could as a guide. That was a 
long journey, but the Hakim had picked good 
men who did not tire, and I also had to take my 
share of paddling and poling. 

"The Bait Khafi, having retreated so far into 
the marsh, thought themselves secure, or were 
perhaps weary after their hasty flight Umm al 
Khayis was surrounded by their boats and rafts 
of reed, but we reached the ishan without chal 
lenge. One small hut had been erected, and 
from it as I shouted their names came forth the 
headmen, looking blank and bewildered at sight 
of the Hakim thus appearing in a solitary mash- 
huf. 

"He, looking round him with a fearless air, 
landed and walked to the hut None made mo 
tion to stop him, but one of the men ran to a 
boat beached near by, and from beneath the 
piled-up household goods brought forth a car 
pet, which he spread in the hut In silence the 
Hakim seated himself, and in silence the head 
men stood before him, surprise and fear having 
driven from their tongues even the customary 
greetings. Outside the men of the tribe crowded 
together, speaking in hushed tones. 



164 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Halshad may he never thrive! now en 
tered the hut, wearing an English soldier's coat, 
and bearing in his hands other unfamiliar things 
which made the guilt of the Bait Khafi plain to 
all eyes. 

"Then the Hakim addressed the four head 
men. 

" 'It is not hidden from you that the great 
British Government wishes all her people to 
live in peace and quietness. Robbery and steal 
ing are forbidden, yet the Bait Khafi are well 
known as robbers and thieves/ 

"Mahawi was the first of the headmen to find 
words to his tongue. 'Hakim,' he replied, 'May 
Allah lengthen thy years ! Some enemy of ours 
has brought thee lying tales. We are marsh- 
dwellers, busy watching our buffaloes and weav 
ing our mats. How could we rob from the 
Great Government?' 

"The crowd outside, pressing against the sides 
of the hut to hear what was said, murmured in 
agreement But the Hakim drew from his 
pocket a piece of paper, and in loud tones read 
out a list of the things which had been stolen 
from a steamboat two nights before. 

"Now to me, who had lived outside the 
marshes, the marvel of the telegraph was well 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 165 
oiown; but to the Bait Khafi it seemed a mira 
ge. 

" 'By Allah/ they exclaimed, 'he knows all. 
Nothing is hidden from him. May Allah pro 
tect Lafta and Barbutil* 

"Mahawi, frowning in anger, called to the 
people to be silent. But his words were too 
late: the Hakim had good ears. 

" 'Before I leave this place/ said he in a stern 
voice, 'Lafta and Barbuti must be brought before 
me.' 

"At this the people were silent, consternation 
filling their hearts; then they broke into hurried 
speech, the craven-hearted urging obedience, the 
bolder-spirited protesting. At length amid 
much shouting they withdrew apart to discuss 
what they had best do. 

"I was now able to speak a few words to Ma 
hawi, explaining to him my presence with the 
Hakim. 

" 'How many soldiers has he brought? We 
can see none,' the headman muttered. 

" 'Would one man come alone to the heart 
of the marsh, holding his life in his hand?' I 
scoffed, for I was afraid to tell him the truth. 
The death of this Englishman, I thought, 
might well be laid to my account. 



i66 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Mahawi, a man of known cunning, now tried 
to move the Hakim to compassion. He brought 
in two young boys, saying, 'Here are Lafta and 
Barbuti, who in their childish folly have robbed 
from the great and merciful government 5 

"But the Hakim, rising in swift anger, pulled 
Mahawi to the ground by his beard, and bidding 
Fadhal his mashhufchi shoot him if he tried 
to rise, loudly bade the people bring in the true 
culprits. And the Bait Khafi, silent and fearful 
because they believed that never would the Eng 
lishman dare to insult a man's beard unless he 
had many hundred troops near by, produced 
them. 

"Questioned by the Hakim, Lafta and Barbuti 
confessed their guilL But when he ordered his 
men to tie them to the framework of the hut 
for a punishment of thirty lashes, the tribes 
men's faces grew dark. Courage returned to 
the hearts of all when they thought that their 
kinsmen's blood was to be shed. As for me, I 
cursed all infidels and their religion and the rash 
boldness which had brought me into danger; 
for it seemed impossible that we should escape 
with our lives. As I looked out from the hut, 
beyond the threatening figures of the marsh- 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 167 
men I could see the reeds waving, and here and 
there among the reeds was the glint of a rifle, 

" 'Hakim,' I whispered, 'we are surrounded. 
Unless these two thieves be released, we are 
lost.' 

"But he paid no heed, except to order Mahawi 
to sit beside him, so that none dare fire at him 
for fear of wounding their headman. And as 
we sat there, awaiting what fate had decreed, 
we heard a sound of running feet. Into the 
hut, tearing off their chafiyas as they ran, came 
the headmen. They fell on their knees before 
the Hakim, kissing his hands and feet, and cry 
ing 'Dakhilak, dakhilak!* And when I heard 
that, I knew that their fear had prevailed, so 
that they hastened to make submission aye, and 
to ask protection. We were saved. 

"The Hakim was now able to impose his own 
terms. For the things which the Bait Khafi had 
stolen from the ship, he demanded five times 
their value; the punishment of flogging would 
be forgone, if the tribe handed over ten rifles; 
and as a mark of submission the four headmen 
must themselves paddle him back to the river. 
Seeing their reluctance at this last condition, the 
Hakim gave his word that they should return 
in safety. 



"i 68 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Amid much shouting the fine was collected, 
and the homeward journey began. As we went 
I found occasion to ask one of the headmen why 
they had thus suddenly made dakhala to the 
Hakim. 

" We knew well,' he replied, 'that one man 
would not come alone against us; so when 
through the reeds we saw the gleam of his sol 
diers' rifles, we became afraid for our lives and 
the lives of our children.' 

"At these words I laughed in my beard, for 
I knew that none had been with the Hakim 
save myself and his four mashhufchis. 

"We reached and crossed the river, and the 
Hakim ordered a great fire to be made. As 
the flames rose high in the air, a loud wailing 
arose from the reeds on the other bank. It 
was the headmen's women, who, fearful of their 
fate and trusting not to the Hakim's word, had 
followed us ; when they saw the fire, they thought 
that their menfolk were to be burned alive. 

"When this was explained to the Hakim, he 
laughed a great laugh, so that no man was in 
fear of his life. Seizing the rifles, he flung 
them on the fire ; then taking the chafiya in which 
the money was tied from the man who carried* 



THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH 169 
it, h^ threw the five hundred rupees into the 
riven 

"As Allah is exalted," exclaimed Haji Rik- 
kan, "of all the things the Hakim had done, 
none caused greater wonder than that. He flung 
five hundred rupees into the river! Then he 
bade the marshmen return to their homes. And 
as they kissed his hand at parting, the oldest of 
them muttered low, 'After what we have seen 
to-day, we shall rob no more; for of this gov 
ernment we are afraid P 

"To please the Hakim, when we had reached 
the town once more, I said to him, 'Ma sh' Allah, 
never before have I seen one man defy a whole 
tribe P 

" 'Fool,' he replied, 'they were not afraid of 
me, but of the British Government.' 

"Nevertheless," ended the Haji, looking at 
me slyly, "it was not I but the Hakim who was 
the f ooL For the Bait Khafi were afraid not of 
him, nor of the British Government, but of their 
own cousins, the glint of whose rifles they saw 
in the reeds." 

"Perhaps both they and thou saw only what 
the eyes feared to see," I suggested. 

"The All-Powerful alone knows," ejaculated 
Haji Rikkan piously, but without conviction. 



Chapter VIII 
THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 

OHORTLY after this exploit, another sum- 
O mons came to Haji Rikkan, and the deci 
sion he had to make was not an easy one. Should 
he become official marsh guide to the Political 
Officer? He turned the pros and cons over in 
his mind. The merit he had acquired as a Haji 
would mitigate the stigma of serving an infidel 
government; the dangers of the post would be 
compensated by the rewards, for surely one who 
threw into the river wealth which he might have 
put in his own pocket would prove a generous 
paymaster ! On the other hand, the Turks might 
return with greater forces, and drive the un 
believing English into the sea; but this seemed 
to the Haji, for the present at any rate, unlikely. 
In the end he decided that the new opening of 
fered better opportunities for his talents than 
the profession of "fence." His judgement was 
vindicated when later, as will be related in its 
place, he obtained the lucrative post of Chicken 

170 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 171 

Contractor to the Army of Occupation, which 
in its turn led to his present trade of peddling 
grocer. In the meantime it was with great re 
lief that he learned of the transfer of the "Hot 
Hakim," of whose rash and airy adventures he 
had thoroughly disapproved. 

The new Political Officer, he told me, was a 
man of very different stamp, "small of body 
but great in guile." While continuing his pred 
ecessor's policy of suppressing the habitual raid 
ing of the Ma'dan, he achieved success by 
different methods. The Haji, whose timorous 
nature ever chose the paths of peace, was loud 
in his praise of a diplomacy which was as effec 
tive as force could have been in stamping out 
robbery. 

"Hardly will my words be believed," he said, 
"but by thy head and thou art dearer to me 
than a brother I speak truth, Hast ever 
dreamed that a woman and a madman could do 
the work of sword and rifle? Never; yet the 
Hakim brought about no less," 

The first step of the new Political Officer had 
been to provide himself with transport with 
which the marsh Arabs could not compete. 
From the mass of river craft which was hurried 
out from home though too late to repair the 



172 THE MARSH ARAB 

army's serious shortage on the Tigris, he ob 
tained a launch of shallow draught Small as 
she was, she could carry enough armed men to 
secure her from attack or ambush, and her speed 
gave her an advantage over all the craft of the 
marshes. 

One day, as the little launch, with Haji Rik- 
kan on board as guide, made her way down a 
long, reed-bordered channel, a birkash was seen 
to enter at the far end. No sooner did its occu 
pants see the launch than they seized their rifles, 
jumped from the boat into the shallow water, 
and dashed into the shelter of the reeds, through 
which they could be heard pushing and crash 
ing their way. The sudden flight was suspicious ; 
the Ma'dan usually gazed in open-mouthed as 
tonishment at the strange self-propelled craft. 
The abandoned boat was therefore drawn up to 
the launch and examined. It was loaded inno 
cently enough with reeds ; but when the bundles 
were pulled aside, half a dozen stout poles were 
disclosed. 

Here was a clue to the mystery of a daring 
exploit. Although navigation on the Narrows 
below 'Amara, difficult enough by day, was al 
most impossible in darkness, the ships provision 
ing the army could not be allowed to rest The 



THE FLAG OF s ABBAS 173 

Narrows were therefore lit up by electricity, 
the lamps being supported on poles set at in 
tervals along the river bank. One night a long 
gap was observed in the line of brilliant lights ; 
and the wireman sent out to investigate returned 
with the news that ten poles had been uprooted 
and carried off, almost under the eyes of the gar 
rison at the control post. 

The boat with its illicit load was taken in 
tow, and the launch went on her way. At the 
first marsh Arab encampment the Political Of 
ficer landed. The village seemed almost de 
serted; not a man was to be seen; only a few 
gaping women stared at the launch. 

"But as we landed," said Haji Rikkan, "an 
other woman came from one of the reed houses. 
It was Awasha, wife of the headman Salim, 
'Bismillah, enter,' she said to the Hakim, and 
led him to her house, where she began to make 
tea. 

"While the kettle was yet on the fire a young 
girl entered, and whispered in Awasha's ear. 
The Hakim heard not what she said, but I who 
sat near heard her words : she had seen that the 
birkash brought by us was that of Sa'id and 
Habib, men of their village, and she feared for 
their safety. 



174 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Awasha made no reply, yet as she washed the 
glasses for tea I saw that her hands trembled. 
Till we had quenched our thirst she said noth 
ing; and then, rising, she led the Hakim to the 
far end of the hut, where slept a small infant 
in its cradle. 

" 'New,' she said, and I wondered much that 
a mother's pride should prevail at this time of 
danger. Then I saw that she did but dally with 
the child until she might devise a plan to save 
her village from the Hakim's wrath. So long 
they stayed beside the cradle that the Hakim 
thought she required of him a dilla', or birth- 
gift; and removing the chafiya which he wore 
not upon his head but round his neck, he gave 
it to her for the child. 

"She, delighted, ran with it to the doorway, 
there in the light to gaze upon its bright colours. 
And as she marvelled at it, holding it first close 
before her eyes, then at a distance, she whispered 
tome, What of Sa'id?' 

" 'Salim safe/ I replied. 

" 'And of Habib?' 

"'Salim? I answered again. 

"'What is this talk of Salim?' asked the 
Hakim, who had followed Awasha to the door. 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 175 

" 'I speak of Salim my husband, headman of 
this bait' replied she with her ready woman*wit. 

"Where is he?' 

" 'Gone to do my bidding/ 

" 'And what is thy bidding?' he asked. 

" 'Rest, and I will tell thee.' 

"So the Hakim seated himself on the carpet 
made ready, while Awasha stood before him, 
still fondling the shining square of silk. 

" 'Speak, 5 he ordered. 

"And crouching on the ground she spoke in 
low tones. 

" 'The men of this bait are poor creatures. I 
am but a woman, yet I drive them like cattle.' 

" 'I see that thou hast driven them from the 
village. Answer me, why is there not a man 
to be found here to-day?' 

"'They have gone to do my bidding,' said 
Awasha. 

" 'So thou hast already said ; what is thy bid 
ding?' But Awasha remained silent, fearing to 
speak. 

" 'Tell me,' the Hakim ordered sternly. 

" 'If I tell, shall I have thy protection?' 

" 'Thou art protected/ he said. 

" 'Have I hadh <wa bakhtword of honour 
that I come to no hurt?' 



176 THE MARSH ARAB 

" 'Yes, hadh <wa bakht! 

u 'They have gone to steal, 5 at length confessed 
the woman. 

" 'Then,' said the Hakim, 'it was they who 
stole the poles ?' 

"Awasha nodded, adding, 'Have I not thy 
word of honour?' 

"For a time there was silence in the house. 
The woman sat watching the face of the all- 
powerful Hakim, whose wrath she had braved ; 
but what she saw emboldened her spirit, for 
presently she drew nearer him, saying in a voice 
soft and caressing, 

" 'Hakim, I say to the men of this bait, "Rob," 
and they rob; I say, "Steal not," and they do not 
steaL And if to every child I bring forth thine 
Excellency wilt give a dillaf, such as this one' 
she held up the chafiya 'then I will say, "Steal 
not." > 

"At this the Hakim laughed; but he promised 
what she asked. 

"Twice a son was born to her, and each time 
she received from him the birth-gift of silk. 
But for the third child there was no dilla', for 
he had gone. 

"W 'Allah, the folly of women!" concluded 
Haji Rikkan in a tone of disgust, throwing up 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 177 

his hands. "That her children might be hon 
oured above the children of others, she sacrificed 
all that her tribe might have gained by theft. 
That was silk dearly bought, yet she thought the 
price worth while." 

Evidently the bargain had satisfied Awasha; 
it must have been even more satisfactory to the 
Political Officer. But I wondered if the three 
little urchins, bedecked in the gay stripes of his 
scarf, were as unpopular with their naked little 
contemporaries as was Joseph of old in his 
coat of many colours! 

Haji Rikkan went on to tell me of Miskail, 
an old marshman who, though he had been 
passed over as headman of the Bait Yasin be 
cause of his straying wits, was none the less em 
ployed by the Political Officer in his campaign 
against the raiders. 

"A grown man with a full white beard/' said 
the Haji, "he yet preferred to choose young chil 
dren as his companions. All day he would play 
with them, and never was he seen without a troop 
of careless urchins at his heels. Some waggish 
spirit, seeing him thus at the head of his troop, 
had dubbed him the Bimbashi the Major 
and by this name he was known throughout the 
marshes. 



178 THE MARSH ARAB 

"Now it chanced that the Bimbashi had heard 
of the good government of the English, and of 
the present which the Hakim had made and 
promised yearly to Awasha ; and in his wander 
ing mind he conceived a plan at which the Bait 
Yasin, when they heard it, laughed in scorn, 
thinking it but another of his wayward notions. 
Nevertheless he contrived to have speech with 
the Hakim. 

" 'I told him/ he said to the village on his 
return, 'what do these boys from sunrise to sun 
set, aye, and even during the night no less? Are 
they not ever in mischief, learning to be thieves 
even as their fathers are? And while they play, 
the raiders of river boats creep silently through 
the reeds, and lie in wait by the water's edge. 
Only by setting a good watch, I said, can thine 
Excellency prevent this; and what eyes are 
keener than the eyes of youth? I can place at 
thy service a hundred pairs of sharp eyes eyes, 
too, that since they first opened on the world 
have been accustomed to gaze at reeds and rushes 
and glinting water/ " 

In the end the Bimbashi's arguments pre 
vailed, and he returned to his village triumphant, 
a bag of tobacco in his hand. And his boast 
proved to be no idle one. The small boys of 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 179 

the marshes flocked to his banner; in a body, 
naked as the day they were born, they would 
run behind the Bimbashi up and down the 
stretch of river which they had been set to guard, 
chanting a war-cry in their high treble voices. 
"We have seen the mashkuf of Shabib the thief!" 
they would cry over and over again in unison, 
or "What does Mardi 

Among the bardi?" 

With their proximity thus publicly announced, 
what wonder that would-be thieves kept clear 
of the reach between Hamdan and Gurmat 
Sharji? 

Sometimes the Political Officer's launch would 
appear on the river. Then the youthful watch 
men would keep pace with it along the bank, 
shouting, "We are the eyes of the high Wali 1" 
At their head would run Miskail, his cloak fly 
ing behind him, the kafiya which should have 
been on his head brandished aloft as though it 
had been a mace or double-headed axe, while 
his deep voice set the refrain for his band of 
enthusiasts. 

When voices died away and footsteps lagged 
for it is hard work to keep pace with a launch 
the Bimbashi would turn on his little follow 
ers, waving his arms in a frenzy, stamping his 



ite THE MARSH ARAB 

feet in time to the song, and shouting it still more 
loudly. Thus encouraged, the shrill voices 
would once more take up the chant, and the thin 
brown legs make heroic efforts to keep up with 
their indefatigable leader. 

Sometimes so the Haji told me the launch 
would be stopped, and proudly reporting that 
no thefts had taken place in his reach of the 
river, Miskail would receive the congratulations 
of the Political Officer. At first he was elated, 
even inordinately proud ; but as time passed he 
began to be doubtful. It was impossible, he 
seemed to think, that he could be a success in 
life at last; might it not be that thefts were tak 
ing place of which he did not hear? But his 
puzzled old brain was not to fret long over the 
problem. One evening, in the gathering dusk, 
the crew of an up-going boat mistook his patrol 
of watchers for a marauding band, and opened 
fire. Miskail was killed, shot through the head, 
and his "battalion" dispersed, never to come 
together again. 

As time went by the river raids diminished, 
slowly but surely, and at length ceased. Haji 
Rikkan admitted that the efforts of the local 
Political Officers did something towards the at 
tainment of this end, but he was not prepared 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 181 

to concede that it was entirely due to them; this, 
in fact, he hotly denied. No, to a supernatural 
agency must the success of the British policy be 
chiefly attributed; the credit was undoubtedly 
due to 'Abbas, Father of the Hot Head, who, 
though only great-nephew of the Prophet, seems 
to hold a higher place in the hagiology of the 
Ma' dan than Mohammad himself. 

In the course of one of the war-time exploits 
of the marshmen, a young man named Musa was 
wounded. Preferring the familiar river to the 
unknown terrors of captivity, he jumped from 
the ship he had boarded, but found himself un 
able to swim. A British soldier, seeing his 
plight, dived in and rescued him. Musa was 
taken to the Civil Hospital at 'Amara, where 
he made a good recovery; but his tribe, think 
ing that he was only being saved for a hanging, 
sent his mother to intercede for his life with the 
Political Officer. 

This was the same official of whose craft and 
subtlety Haji Rikkan had so high an opinion; 
and he did not fail to live up to his reputation 
by making full use of this small pawn. Back 
went the wailing old marshwoman to her tribe 
with his ultimatum: the lad's life should be 
spared and he should be sent back to his village 



i8a THE MARSH ARAB 

unscathed, as soon as the headmen had sworn 
a solemn oath, by the Flag of 'Abbas, to raid 
no more. 

The tribesmen, gathered in conclave, hesi 
tated. They were being asked to take the most 
binding of all oaths. 'Abbas, son of 'Ali, the 
Prophet's son-in-law and nephew, by a Bedouin 
woman, he who according to tradition lost both 
arms and finally his life in an endeavour to 
fetch water for Husain's hapless band on the 
fatal day of Karbala, is known among the tribes 
as AWl Ras al Harr, the Father of the Hot 
Head, and is famed for the swiftness of his 
vengeance. An oath sworn by 'Abbas is one the 
marsh Arab fears to break, lest some dire calam 
ity should fall speedily on himself or on his 
family. 

The Bait Naggar agreed at length to take the 
oath. It must have been their uneasy con 
sciences which made them suspect a trap in the 
Hakim's proposal to meet them at the edge of 
the marsh. Swear they would, since a valued 
life was at stake; but leave the shelter of the 
marshes never. Messages were sent in, and in 
the end it was decided that a mashhuf with two 
men of the tribe should be sent to the edge of 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 183 

the marsh, where the Hakim, with Haji Rik- 
kan in attendance, was ready to meet them. 

"Knowing the Bait Naggar as I did," said 
Haji Rikkan, "I was prepared to find them 
fail in their promise. But when we reached the 
appointed place, there we found the old man 
7 Ali with his cousin Hasan, awaiting us. 

"It was a day of strong and bitter wind. Even 
in the shelter of the narrowest channels the wind 
found us, and drove the mashhuf into the reeds ; 
and when we came out into the open spaces, the 
waves were whipped up by the gale until they 
beat against the sides of our boat, spraying us 
with water. For an hour we battled against it ; 
then 'Ali, who was an old man and feeble, stayed 
in the lee of a high clump of shabab, that he 
might rest awhile. And as we waited Hasan, 
who feared naught, began to hold converse with 
the Hakim. 

" 'These tribes, O Hakim, deserve a heavy 
punishment for bringing thee into the marshes 
on so inclement a day.' 

" 'True indeed,' swore the Hakim, with an 
English oath. 

" 'Many times have I told them,' went on 
Hasan, 'of the power and greatness of the British 
Government, and -have foretold the punishment 



THE MARSH ARAB 

which would surely come upon them; but they 
would not listen to my words. Verily, these 
madmen who persist in robbery and theft, when 
they might betake themselves to a life of peace 
under the protection of the Great Government, 
resemble in stupidity the buffaloes among which 
they live. 5 

" 'Ali was not best pleased with these words 
of his young cousin, and though not yet rested 
took up his pole to begin once more the battle 
with the wind. Thus Hasan had no more time 
for speech with the Hakim, until we reached 
the village of the Bait Naggar. On the largest 
ishan was the house of Khasib, chief headman 
of the tribe, and in it were gathered all the elders. 

"When the Hakim was seated, Khasib 
W Allah, father of cunning was he! began to 
address the tribesmen. Clearly, often repeating 
his words that the slowest-witted might under 
stand, he explained the reason of the Hakim's 
coming: they must swear by the Flag of 'Abbas 
that they would steal no more, and in return the 
boy Musa would be handed back to the tribe. 

"Now this is the manner of tying the Flag 
of 'Abbas. Khasib rose to his feet, and clear 
ing a space in the midst of the hut, called for 
one to bring a gusba. Hastily a long reed was 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 185 

brought, and from this he broke off a piece the 
length of a man's body. Laying it on the ground, 
he said in loud tones, 

" 'This is the sword of 'Abbas, of Abu'l Ras 
al Harr! Then, looking round on those present 
and seeing one wearing a garment of white stuff, 
he cried, * 'Ubaid son of Machaif ad, bring hither 
thy disdasha/ 

"The man obeyed, laying the garment down 
beside the reed. 

"Then Khasib cried, 'This is the flag of Al 
lah, of Mohammad his Prophet, and of 'Ali, 
and its avenger is 'Abbas. This flag is on me, 
on my eyes and on my life, on my brothers and 
on my kindred. Nothing is concealed nor hid 
den, and its avenger is 'Abbas.' With these 
words he tied a corner of the disdaha round the 
reed. 

"In turn stepped forward the other three head 
men, each in his turn to tie a knot, saying aloud 
as he did so, 'I tie this flag on me, on my broth 
ers and on my kindred.' 

"Thus was the most binding of all oaths sworn, 
and all should have been satisfied ; yet still the 
headmen lingered uneasily beside the knots they 
had tied. Then they began to murmur that it 
was no light matter thus to swear on behalf of 



i86 THE MARSH ARAB 

a whole bait; if the bolder spirits held not their 
hands from stealing, 'Abbas would revenge him 
self not on them, but on the headmen who had 
sworn the oath. Let these others, then, swear 
also! Let them tie the flag on their own heads, 
that the minds of the headmen might be at rest 

"But the thieves feared to come forward in 
the presence of the Hakim, until at last the aged 
Khasib began to call their names aloud. Then 
they saw that concealment was no longer possi 
ble, and albeit unwillingly they began to tie 
the knot each on his own behalf. 

"The name of one man, Sulman bin Daud, 
was called many times, yet would he not enter 
the house. 'I have an only son,' he said, 'I 
fear the vengeance of 'Abbas/ 

" 'Steal no more, and thy son will be safe,' 
urged the headmen ; but Sulman still held back, 
until at length, persuaded by the rest, he rushed 
into the hut among a group of noted thieves who, 
emboldened by their numbers, determined to 
swear together. And, by Allah Be He exalted ! 
there in their midst was the young Hasan, 
who on our journey of the morning had vaunted 
his righteousness to the Hakim! 
i "When all had sworn, the Hakim gave to 
Khasib, in whose house the Flag of 'Abbas had 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 187 

been tied, the customary chiswa or gift of cloth 
ing. Then he entered his mashhuf, and we left 
for the river; and as we left, the Hakim said: 
" 'In sh* Allah, they will steal no more.' 
" Tlease God/ I replied, though with but 
faint hope, for the Bait Naggar was known to 
me of old. And I was right, for no sooner was 
the boy Musa restored to them than they re 
turned to their thievish ways. 'An oath forced 
upon us by an unbeliever is not binding/ they 
said. But 'Abbas thought otherwise. 

"For the Bait Naggar was at blood-feud with 
the Bait Yasin, and within a few days of the 
Hakim's visit the truce between them ceased, 
nor would they renew it, for their blood was 
hot. And when they attacked, they knew not 
that the Bait Yasin, after the manner of the 
English soldiers, had dug ditches for the pro 
tection of their bodies. Thus the Bait Naggar 
suffered heavily, losing twelve lives ; and of these 
twelve, four I swear it by Allah and by the 
life of thy head ! f our were the same four head 
men who had tied the Flag. 'Abbas, Father 
of the Hot Head, had taken his revenge. 
. "When this became known to the marsh 
tribes, they knew that 'Abbas was angry, and 
would no longer look favourably on the robbing 



i88 THE MARSH ARAB 

of river boats. And from that day the raids 
ceased." 

With this supernatural assistance, then, the 
work of the local political officers was achieved, 
and Haji Rikkan's services as marsh guide were 
no longer in such constant demand. He cast 
round for a new occupation, and by making the 
most of his "political" services managed to se 
cure from the Local Purchase Officer one of the 
many contracts for supplying eggs and chickens 
to the military hospitals at 'Amara. Travelling 
from village to village with a small stock of such 
luxuries as sugar, matches, and oil, he bartered 
them to the simple marsh-people, whose wildest 
dreams would not have guessed the profits made 
by him on their tough and skinny fowls. 

With the end of the War the Haji's contract 
also came to an end, and he became the mere 
peddling grocer I first knew. Many a time 
he mourned aloud over the difference between 
the pitiful present and those days of harvest. 

"In those times/' he would say, "the British 
poured out gold as a man pours grain out of a 
sack. Where are those days, and where are 
these? Then there was money for all, and no 
man lacked for aught. But the English went 
back to their own country and though they took 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBA& 189 

not their gold with them, it has all followed 
after them. In all 'Iraq now, from the east to 
the west, there is no money. Even the govern 
ment itself is penniless, and takes from us what 
little we have left W'Allahi, I am alive for 
this reason only, that I am too poor to pay for 
my funeral!" 

, So lamented Haji Rikkan, who in that golden 
age of contractors had begun to realize his 
dreams of wealth. His profits were enormous, 
and were much enhanced by a stratagem of 
which he was inordinately proud though it was 
still a grievance that in guile he had been easily 
outstripped by a Jewish competitor* 

The Haji's chickens were sold by weight, the 
English sergeant fixing an average price by the 
weight of the first dozen taken at random from 
the cage of date-sticks in which they were 
brought in. Haji Rikkan, observing this un 
varying procedure, scoured the marshes high and 
low for the largest fowls he could find, and these 
he put in the first cage offered to the sergeant. 
By being careful always to produce more chick 
ens than were required, he always had two or 
three cages to take back, and a little inconspic 
uous juggling ensured that one of these contained 
his prize birds. Each week the same plump 



190 THE MARSH ARAB 

fowls were weighed, and accepted as fair rep 
resentatives of their scraggy companions; and 
each week the Haji's profits were gratifyingly 
high. 

Nevertheless, even after the lapse of ten years 
Haji Rikkan could not forgive Yusif the Jew for 
having profited by a trick which, if unoriginal, 
was financially more successful than his own. 

"I will tell thee, one thing he did. Couldst 
thou make a man pay one rupee ten annas for 
a hugga of water, when a great river ran past 
his house, when the country round was one wide 
marsh, nay, when he had but to turn a handle, 
and water would gush from an iron pipe? Yet 
this is what Yusif did. He was the contractor 
for meat, driving in sheep and cows to the camp. 
And before he brought them to the sergeant to 
be weighed, he would keep them for two days 
without water, or for three days if the weather 
were not hot; then he would take them to the 
river and let them drink their fill. And for 
the great quantity of water in their bellies he 
was paid at the rate of one rupee ten annas the 
hugga! Allah the All-Powerful, that such 
things could be I Any Turkish soldier would 
have seen through the trick, but not so the Eng 
lishman. Now which serves his government the 



THE FLAG OF 'ABBAS 191 

better, the Turk who haggles all day over the 
price, and having bought cheap, charges a 
higher sum in his books ; or the English soldier 
who makes for himself nothing, but pays a high 
price in money not his own?" 

Those distant times, which to Hajl Rikkan 
and his kind were not grim days of war but 
halcyon days of gain, came to an end all too 
soon. The ships which, loaded with men and 
stores, had forged slowly upstream, to return 
hastily for another cargo, now bore their heavy 
loads downstream, and returned empty. Rap 
idly their numbers dwindled, until the little chil 
dren in the riverside villages ran to the bank 
to gaze at the monster boats which to their 
seniors of a few years had been so common a 
sight that hardly a head was raised to watch their 
passing. The trains ceased to run, and it was 
not long before the "iron road" was torn up 
and taken away. The white tents of the mili 
tary posts were struck, and the barbed-wire en 
tanglements, erected not so much for protection 
against enemy attacks as to secure immunity, 
rarely gained, from Arab marauders, were 
pulled down or abandoned. No longer were the 
Narrows lit up by electric light; even the tall 
poles were carried away. The buildings of the 



i 9 2 THE MARSH ARAB 

river control stations were put up to auction, and 
the neat gardens so carefully tended by the old 
naval ratings who manned them were swiftly 
obliterated by the fast-growing camel-thorn. In 
a few short months the region known to Haji 
Rikkan showed not a trace of the British Occu 
pation. Of all the power and might of an in 
vading Empire no sign remained, save on the 
right bank of the Tigris between Kassara and 
Mantaris, where, too heavy to be broken up and 
carried off by the marsh Arabs, lay the rusted 
iron plates of the Turkish gunboat Marmoris, 
sunk after the battle of Qurna by the guns of 
H.M. Sloop Clio. 



Chapter IX 
IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 

ALLAH loose me from this woman!" mut 
tered Haji Rikkan angrily, for he was con 
vinced that his wife made unlawful and 
surreptitious raids upon his stock in trade, in 
consequence of which we were now on our way 
to Musa'ida, one of the little towns in the rice 
country, there to replenish his depleted wares. 
This was an errand far less to the Haji's liking 
than a profitable day's bartering among the 
Mafdan; but as we left the marsh and came to 
the great rice-fields which fringe its edge, his ill- 
humour began to evaporate, and he became once 
more his cheerful, loquacious self, 

We passed slowly up one of the "tails" of the 
Chahala canal, which every year at flood time 
carries a load of rich silt to the rice-lands on 
either side, and leaving the narrow distributary 
comes out into the broad channel of the 'AdiL 
Here the current was strong, and paddling be 
came hard work; at a word from Bahalul the 

193 



194 THE MARSH ARAB 

brothers leapt out on the bank with a coll of 
rope, looped themselves together so quickly that 
the birkash lost almost no way at all, and began 
to tow her at a steady, swinging pace. Haji Rik- 
kan left his place in the "belly" of the boat, took 
up a paddle, and sat down in the stern to steer. 
On each side of the river the cultivators, knee- 
deep in brown oozy mud, were busy. Strings 
of women passed to and fro, carrying on their 
heads baskets of young green rice-shoots, to be 
planted one by one by their menfolk in the new 
ly-prepared silt beds. The rice-fields stretched 
for miles on either hand. Occasionally we passed 
a small garden of date palms, the trees heavily 
hung with their bunches of green fruit. A large 
danak, low in the water, sailed slowly past with 
a load of chattering women and children, on 
their way perhaps to visit the shrine of some 
local saint In the infrequent villages, with their 
reed huts rounded like the haystacks of southern 
Cornwall, only women were to be seen, for all 
the men were at work among the rice. The 
bright colours of their dresses scarlet is the 
favourite showed up the good looks and grace 
ful carriage which are so marked among the 
Albu Mohammad women ; their large dark eyes 
and rounded features were over-hung by a heavy 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 195 

fringe of hair, and silver anklets drew attention 
to their neat and shapely bare feet. Most of the 
house-walls were patterned with round flat dung- 
cakes, to be used as fuel when dried by the sun. 
Great piles of yellow rice-straw were carelessly 
stacked in open spaces here and there; a soft blur 
of brown and dun-colour meant cattle resting 
in the shade of a hut; the moored mashhufs were 
black against the sparkling water. In every vil 
lage the fierce, shaggy dogs would run snarling 
and barking at the heels of Bahalul and Jahalul 
as we passed their masters 7 huts, until the end 
of their self-appointed beat was reached, or else 
would shrink whimpering away from the up 
raised reed with which some naked urchin 
threatened them. 

As with lazy skill Haji Rikkan guided his 
boat on her way, he struck up a droning song, 
of which the words by very frequency of repe 
tition at length became intelligible to me. 

"Two gowns has she, and yet a third of red ; 
So sheer are they that through 
Their folds I yet can see her waist's tattooed 
Broad band of blue. 

"Ah 1 were her father friendly to my suit, 
I'd hasten to her side ; 

Gladly I'd sweep her hearth, nor think abased 
My manly pride." 



ig6 THE MARSH ARAB 

He caught my eye upon him, smiled broadly and 

self-consciously, and took me into his confidence. 

"I sing of one that is a pearl indeed," he said. 
"I bear witness by Allah that she is a pearl, a 
hourL Her cheeks are like young melons, her 
mouth is a jewelled ring, no bigger; her teeth 
are sugar. Are not her eyes, ma sh? Allah! as 
big as eggs? And as for her breasts, they are 
like two Persian apples!" 

Somewhat surprised at this outburst for that 
the Haji was not yet too old to fall in love had 
never occurred to me I said nothing. 

"Dear as my house 1" he called encouragingly 
to his nephews on the bank ; and they obediently 
bent their backs to the rope, and broke into a 
jog-trot which sent our boat surging through 
the water. 

"To-night," went on the Haji, turning to me," 
"we shall reach the house of 'Ulaiwi bin Jasim 3 
father of Riyasa whom I desire. WAllahi, to 
day our journeying is fortunate!" 

I agreed, for to me all care-free, indolent days 
spent in the Haji's birkash were fortunate. 

"But as for thee," he added, with the thought 
ful friendliness which never failed, "I shall not 
neglect thee when I hasten to her house. No, 
thee I will lead first to the dwelling of Makia, 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 197 

the woman shaikh whose lands we are even now 
entering that same Makia who led the Albu 
Mohammad when the Bani Lam were broken 
at Safaiha. She shall give thee hospitality to 
night Ach! the Omnipotent! " he broke off 
to exclaim, as the boat, its guidance forgotten as 
he talked, bumped violently into the bank. 

The birkash once more under way, Haji Rik- 
kan fell silent I thought his expression un 
usually gloomy, especially after the rhapsodies 
of a few minutes earlier. 

"What ails? 5 * I asked. 

The Haji was glad to unburden his mind. 
"It is not hidden from thee," he said, "that her 
cousin has the first right to take a woman in 
marriage. Even though she love another, he 
may take her by force ; aye, and even if he de 
sires not to wed her, he may forbid another's 
taking her. And if another man, greatly desir 
ing her, weds the woman regardless of her 
cousin, then by our law the cousin has the right 
to kill that man. Now Riyasa, whom I love, 
has a cousin that desires to wed her. Shall I 
then take her, and perhaps be slain? Can she 
comfort me in my grave? 

"I know not whether she desires me; yet why 
should she not? My beard is no longer grey, 



198 THE MARSH ARAB 

but black with henna and wasma : for two krans 
spent I am become a young man. Yet I fear 
to take her without the consent of her cousin. 
Since last thou didst honour us, Hadaiyat Ef- 
fendi of 'Amara, whom thou knowest well, has 
died a sudden death. If one so great as he can 
be killed for a woman, what of a peddler of the 
Ma' dan? If thou hast not yet heard the story, 
I will tell thee how he died." 

I remembered Hadaiyat Effendi well. Like 
others who had enjoyed his feasts and his shoot 
ing parties, I had subscribed to the general opin 
ion that our lavish and genial host was a 
sportsman and good fellow; but as soon as he 
was dead and tongues might wag without dan 
ger, a different story was told. Usurer, task 
master, and oppressor, wine-bibbing companion 
of infidels these are hard names, but they were 
freely applied to the effendi by the very towns 
people who had been proud to be called his 
friends; and still more odious titles were used 
by the tillers of his fields. 

Hadaiyat Effendi was one of the few big pri 
vate land-owners in the district. Rumour had 
it that his father had been merely a dishonest 
clerk in the Land Registry, who in Turkish 
times had succeeded in granting himself the 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 199 

large tract of land which had made his son rich 
and powerful. He lived neither in tent nor in 
reed hut, but in a large brick-built house on the 
bank of the Tigris. 

The news that Hadaiyat Effendi had been 
murdered reached the town, the Haji told me, 
at dawn one summer morning. Eagerly it was 
discussed in market and coffee-shop, and by the 
river bank where the shrill- voiced women filled 
their water-pots. Then more details began to 
be passed from mouth to mouth: not only was 
the effendi dead, but the bodies of a woman and 
another man had also been found. The town 
was agog with excitement ; the rumoured death- 
roll grew hourly longer ; and not until the next 
day did the true story become known. 

About midnight, the watchmen had heard a 
sudden scream from the room in which Hadaiyat 
Effendi was sleeping with the young wife newly 
added to his haritn "a foal among she-camels," 
said Haji Rikkan. They rushed in, to find their 
master dying on the ground. Some mounted, 
and set off in hot pursuit of the murderer, the 
hoofs of whose horse could be heard drumming 
in the distance. After a long chase in the dark 
ness they came up with the galloping horse, 
only to find it riderless. As they returned to 



200 THE MARSH ARAB 

the house, just after dawn, they were hailed by a 
group of cultivators gathered in excited discus 
sion round two motionless figures the dead 
body of a woman, and the limp unconscious form 
of a young man. 

The woman's body was at once carried to the 
house, for the returning servants recognized it 
as that of Fitna, Hadaiyat' s fifteen-year-old wife, 
bride of a few days. The wounded man was 
carried in to the town hospital, but not before 
he had been identified as 'Ali bin Guhait, a mem 
ber of a sheep-owning tribe, and first cousin to 
Fitna. 

This relationship explained the murder of 
Hadaiyat EffendL In defiance of tribal cus 
tom he had married Fitna, knowing that by right 
of cousinship she belonged to 'Ali bin Guhait; 
and 'Ali, accepting the obligations of his tribal 
code, had killed the man who had thus brushed 
aside the social custom of centuries. What re 
mained unexplained was the murder of the girl. 
There was ample testimony that she had mar 
ried Hadaiyat unwillingly ; moreover, tribal cus 
tom in such cases attributes no blame to the 
woman, who is but bestowed, unconsulted, by 
her father. 'Ali's act seemed to be the wanton 
cruelty of a jealous lover. 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 201 

The truth was heard only by the English doc 
tor, and by Majid the hospital attendant, from 
whose lips Haji Rikkan had the story. It 
seemed that the murderer, a young shepherd 
about twenty years of age, had begged the doc 
tor to let him die in the open, not within the 
confinement of four walls ; and the doctor had 
assented. 'Ali was carried out into the open 
fields to spend his last few hours under the sky, 
Majid being left in charge. 

All day 'Ali bin Guhait lay silent as though 
asleep, until at sunset the doctor came out to 
see him. Then he roused from his torpor, and 
lifting himself on his elbow gathered together 
all his forces for a passionate indictment of the 
man who had caused his death. In stern and 
measured words he made his protest 

"The rich man has flocks beyond count, and 
he does not know the number of his horses. He 
eats his fill of flesh every day, and clothes his 
body in silk raiment. The arms and feet of his 
wives are loaded with ornaments of gold, his 
tents are filled with servants. He knows neither 
hunger nor thirst, he has shelter from the winter 
winds and from the sun of summer. All his 
desires he has, yet lacks one thing in that he 
has no compassion. He cares not that the poor 



202 THE MARSH ARAB 

man is robbed of his grain and of his cattle, nor 
pities him when his all is taken from him. 

"For a man to lose his harvested corn is a 
matter of no account; to be robbed of his sheep 
is a small thing; but to be bereft of the wife who 
is his birth-right that Is a great matter, to be 
requited only by death, Now he is dead, and 
I also shall die before the sun sets ; and to-night 
the rich man and the poor man shall be equal, 
for the jackals shall be scratching at both our 
graves." 

Haji Rikkan paused, that this picture of man's 
ultimate equality might impress itself upon my 
mind. He had been speaking slowly, like a 
prophet of old denouncing the unrighteous ; now 
he continued in the low and hurried tones of one 
who pleads his cause, of one who must speak 
while there is yet time. By such means did this 
untaught rhetorician give life and colour to his 
simplest words. 

" 'Listen/ said 'AH, 'and tell me if this is 
justice. It Is the law of our fathers that a man's 
first cousin is his to take to wife, and none shall 
gainsay him. Now Fitna, daughter of Sagban, 
was my cousin, and my claim to her was twofold, 
by right and because she loved me even as I 
loved her. One day I heard that Sagban had 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 203 

betrothed her to Hadaiyat Effendi. And when 
I went to him, he said, "May Allah blind me if 
I wish my daughter to wed this manl But the 
rains have failed, the crops are withered up, 
and I am deep in debt to Hadaiyat, as are all 
his cultivators. He has been pressing me to pay, 
and now he threatens to beat me, to burn my 
house and seize my cattle and my horse, unless 
I give him Fitna for his wife. The sum I owe 
is greater far than the value of my horse and 
the cattle which draw my plough. What could 
I do but say, Take my daughter?" 

" 'And I said to Sagban, "I have a rifle 
mounted with silver, a fleet mare, and a score of 
sheep. I will join these to thy horse and oxen, 
that thou mayst pay the eff endi." He agreed, and 
we went together to the market; but the drought 
had caused many others to sell their beasts, and 
there was no price, so that the sum we brought 
back was not enough. None the less I took it to 
Hadaiyat, offering to work in his fields without 
payment until the full amount was earned; but 
he would not agree. And though I told him that 
the woman was mine by right, and though I 
warned him that if he wedded her he should 
surely die, he took my bride to wife.' " 

The Haji paused, and there was a subtle 



204 THE MARSH ARAB 

change in his voice when he again took up the 
tale. 

" 'Among all his servants passing to and fro,' 
said 'AH, C I found it easy to slip into his court 
yard at dusk, and there was no warning bark 
when at midnight I made my way into the house 
and drove my dagger deep into his heart so 
deep that I could not draw it out. Quickly I 
fled to where I had left my father's mare, and 
as I ran a figure followed me that, turning, I 
saw to be my cousin Fitna. So I mounted with 
her behind me, and we galloped out towards 
the desert; but a bullet struck me, and I fell to 
the ground. And as I lay there, Fitna came and 
lay in my arms, and all night I kissed her lips 
and her eyes and her slender neck. 

" 'Then as the darkness began to lighten I 
felt my cousin trembling in my arms. But when 
I said, "Take my cloak and wrap it round thee 
the wind is ever chill at dawn," she answered, 
"Nay, I tremble not for cold, but because I fear 
death." 

" * "Art also wounded unto death, even as I 
am?" I asked. 

" ' "Not wounded," she replied, "but when the 
sun rises I shall be found, and because I have 
lain all this night with thee I shall be killed. 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 205 

Nay, whither should I flee? I know that there 
is no escape, and I must die. But if I died at 
thy hands, death would be easy." 

" < "How can I kill thee, I who love thee?" I 
asked. But she answered, "Wouldst rather then 
that I died in anguish at the hands of those who 
hate me? Ah, kill me now, and death will come 
as easily as sleep to the weary." 

" ( And I said, "I have no weapon," whereupon 
she seized my hand and passionately kissed it, 
and laid it to her soft throat,' she kissed the 
palm of his hand and laid it to her throat," Haji 
Rikkan repeated hoarsely, making me realize 
how compelling had been the girl's appeal for 
death. 

"For a space," he concluded, " J Ali bin Gu- 
hait lay silent and without motion, as though al 
ready dead. Then suddenly he raised himself, 
and with a great voice crying out, 'There is no 
justice for the poor man, but I have avenged 
the injustice,' he died." 

Such was the tragic story, the remembrance 
of which caused Haji Rikkan to look back from 
the fresh plough of matrimony, to which he had 
barely yet put his hand. His Riyasa also had 
a first cousin. Was a woman worth the adding 



206 THE MARSH ARAB 

of yet another to the many feuds to which he 
or his tribe was already a party? Was discre 
tion perhaps the better part of love? Paddle in 
hand, he sat deeply pondering the question. 

We reached the outskirts of Makia's village, 
at which we were to sleep that night 

"Bismillah in the name of Allah!" cried 
the hospitable villagers as they recognized Haji 
Rikkan. 

"The blessing of Allah," he flung back as we 
passed, and called to an acquaintance to warn 
Makia of our arrival. 

We found her waiting on the river bank, sur 
rounded by a crowd of followers. Greeting us 
gravely and with perfect ease, she led the way 
to her madhif, where tea and coffee were quickly 
brought. This woman shaikh, far from seeking 
the seclusion which by all the standards of her 
class is the right and proper protection of her 
sex, ruled her people and managed her affairs 
in unabashed publicity. As she sat opposite me 
in the madhif, consuming cigarette after cigar 
ette in swift succession, it was clear even in the 
smoky gloom that she did not hold the allegiance 
of her tribe by reason of her beauty; she had 
only one eye, and must have been nearing sixty, 
by which time an Arab woman has long ceased 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 207 

to consider her appearance. Nevertheless, her 
features were clear-cut and shrewd, and though 
her ample draperies were far from clean, her 
bearing marked her out as one accustomed to 
rule. 

Her first abrupt words, after the conventional 
greetings, made me think my welcome not a very 
warm one. 

"I dislike the English/' she said in her harsh, 
unmodulated voice. 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Before they came I had thirteen slaves. 
Eleven ran away to the English, and I could 
not get them back* Is that not reason enough? 
But," she added unexpectedly, "perhaps those 
who have been seared with hot irons should not 
be blamed for flight!" 

1 watched Makia as she gave her orders, 
shouting curt instructions to this servant and 
that. Her mullah entered, whispered a few 
words in her ear, and received a quickly-mut 
tered string of directions. A tribesman came 
hastily in, kissed her hand, and burst into a pas 
sionate complaint of ill-treatment, only to be 
waved away with an impatient shrug and shake 
of the head ; another received a few abrupt words 
which sent him away calling down blessings on 



208 THE MARSH ARAB 

her head. She behaved exactly as I had seen 
a score of shaikhs behave, and only her flowing 
black garments and swathed head-dress betrayed 
the fact that she was a woman. 

"I also like the English," she began again, 
as abruptly as before. "Not because they are 
generous: generosity is easy for the rich; not 
because they are just: I would have the weak 
grow brave, and protect themselves. No, I like 
the English because they are powerful stronger 
than the Arabs, and the Turks, and all the 
nations of the earth," 

This seemed more friendly; but Makia re 
lapsed again into a long silence, which she broke 
by asking if I would care to see her new di<wa- 
nlya. This was a building of burnt brick a 
matter of some pride in a village of reed huts 
standing apart from the family quarters, and 
only used for the entertainment of guests. Ris 
ing to her feet, Makia led the way out of the 
madhif, her dress trailing in the dust behind her. 
The room into which she proudly conducted 
me boasted an unique scheme of decoration. 
High up round the walls ran a narrow shelf, on 
which were crowded together hundreds of pieces 
of crockery, European in pattern, and hideous 
in design. Soup tureens, cups and saucers, plates 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 209 

and bowls, vegetable dishes these were Makia's 
objets d'art. Below the shelf hung numbers of 
pictures, all highly coloured and some upside 
down : a portrait of Lord Roberts faced another 
of the Sultan, a glaring English 'Guardian An 
gel' was side by side with a group of the Turkish 
Parliament in session. Queen Victoria was 
foiled by an Arab print, devoid of perspective 
or proportion, showing the power of 'AH over 
animals. 

But Makia's greatest treasures were evidently 
in the next room. Here, on low broad shelves 
running round the wall, were stacks of silk- 
covered mattresses ; beyond them the shelves held 
numbers of brightly-coloured pillows, hard and 
bolster-shaped, and across the end of the room 
were piled heavy silken padded quilts, each 
made in two colours, selected seemingly on the 
principle that they must either clash violently 
or contrast completely. All these possessions, 
the glory of Makia's establishment, were care 
fully folded, and most methodically arranged in 
order of merit: a pile of perfectly new and 
bright ones followed by a pile slightly worn, 
down to the oldest and shabbiest, which were 
meant presumably for the use of the servants of 
her guests. 



THE MARSH ARAB 

So Makia had a feminine side after all! She 
waited eagerly for my praise of the number and 
richness of her cushions, though pretending 
unconcern. 

"It would be a dishonour," she said, "if I 
could not provide every guest, whether rich or 
poor, with rest for his head and covering for 
his body." 

It was twilight by the time this inspection 
was finished, and we returned to the madhif 
to await the evening meal. As the leaping 
flames lit up Makia's wrinkled face, I wondered 
if she had any other womanly feelings beside 
the housewife's pride she had just displayed 
whether there had ever been a touch of romance 
in the life of this sallow, harsh-voiced, one-eyed 
ruler of a wild tribe, 

"Eh <w' Allah, I was beautiful once," she said, 
answering my thoughts, with a chuckle of sat 
isfaction at my guilty start. "The daughter of 
Baddai was desired by many, but above all by 
Abu Risha, the great Abu Risha. He loved me 
for my beauty only," she added proudly, "for 
I could bring him nothing. My father was his 
enemy, and his tribe was angry that he should 
even wish to wed me. 
"My father planned to give me in marriage 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 211 

to Shaikh Kharraj, thus securing his help and 
friendship against Abu Risha. But I would 
none of it, though he threatened me with death. 
He was a hard ruler; men say I resemble him 
now." She laughed grimly. 

"But one night his anger was fierce against 
me, and I feared that he would carry out his 
threat. So I did what no maiden should do: 
I summoned four of my negresses, I bade them 
get ready a mashhuf, and in the dead of night I 
slipped away from my father's village, and fled 
to my lover. 

"I was wedded to Abu Risha the next morn 
ing. His tribesmen were hot with anger against 
him, though they hid their rage under much 
laughter at the boatload of women fleeing 
through the night They could not forgive Abu 
Risha, who had set at naught the blood-feud be 
tween his tribe and mine, and they wished to 
kill him. But he was a great man, feared by all, 
and none could be found to undertake the deed. 

"So those of his own people who hated him 
called other tribes to their help, and finally seven 
tribes agreed together to unite in killing him, 
that none might be alone responsible. They sent 
each a little powder, and each a little lead for 
the bullet, for they feared my vengeance and 



212 THE MARSH ARAB 

the vengeance of those who were still loyal to 
Abu Risha. 

"And at length, when he went to Al Dargan 
to collect his dues, while he was resting in the 
guest-house his enemies shot and killed him; 
one man held the rifle, and six others held the 
arm that pulled the trigger, that seven tribes 
might act together in the deed. They thought 
that none could avenge the dead on seven 
tribes." 

"But he is avenged?" I asked. 

"Aye, surely," replied Makia, her face hard 
and set in the firelight. 

I ventured another question. "How?" 

There was silence. Then the old woman's 
face slowly relaxed, and tears rolled down her 
withered cheeks. 

"Ah, Abu Risha," she wept, "thou art still 
unavenged. I have lied, for thou art still un 
avenged. Yet all that a weak woman could do, 
I have done." 

Then the indomitable spirit which maintained 
her hold over three or four hundred turbulent 
tribesmen reasserted itself. 

"What folly," she said in her deep voice, "to 
weep for a dead husband! I might weep all 
day and all night, for six husbands have I had 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 213 

since then. And may Allah show them mercy," 
she added under her breath, "for, by the 
Prophet, I did not!" 

A retainer now entered with a large round mat 
of woven palm fronds, which he laid on the 
floor. On this the evening meal was spread, 
Makia eating with the rest. Haji Rikkan, who 
entered the madhif after we had begun to eat, 
was peremptorily bidden to share the meal. 

Makia's biting, ribald tongue was truly for 
midable. She seemed to know the private af 
fairs of everyone, and to take pleasure in 
making them public property. The Haji now 
became her butt of the moment, and she did 
not spare his feelings. She commented with 
sarcasm on the disparity of age between himself 
and his Riyasa, exposed the subterfuge of the 
dyed beard ("to lessen the bridal price by two 
lirasl") and finally, to the delight of her audi 
ence, imitated the wretched Haji's melting tones 
as he called upon his beloved, one tender diminu 
tive following another "Riyasa Ruwaisa O 
Rusi!" 

Haji Rikkan took this rough chaffing in good 
part, but for the rest of the evening he sat silent 
and thoughtful. It was evident that he was still 
torn in two. If he were to be believed, Riyasa 



314 THE MARSH ARAB 

who may not have possessed all the charms 
attributed to her by her elderly lover was not 
unwilling to marry him ; but fear of the conse 
quences held him back. Daring was not the 
HajFs strong point He was a genial and 
friendly soul, a kind host whose acute business 
instincts never interfered with his generosity. 
Courage of a kind he had, for his long journeys 
about the marsh often brought him into touch 
with tribes with which his own was at feud ; but 
to provoke an enemy in cold blood was another 
matter. He could not make up his mind. 

It was natural that our talk that night should 
have touched on the position held by women 
in my country. Makia's respect for us as a na 
tion suffered a severe blow when she learned 
that the men were too miserly to pay the price 
of a woman, but got their wives for nothing. 
The question of votes for women, in a country 
where to the men elections meant little or noth 
ing, failed to interest her. She was shocked at 
the lack of seclusion enjoined upon English 
women of the upper classes, and when the in 
consistency of this attitude with her own 
unbridled liberty was pointed out to her, ended 
the discussion abruptly with the curt remark, 
"I am Makia!" 



IN FAVOUR OF DISCRETION 215 

Our talk later brought up a recent pronounce 
ment of a local mumin or divine. A woman 
had asked him whether, in order to enter Para 
dise with her husband, she might pray as men 
did. 

"It is not unlawful," he had replied "But 
of what avail? Paradise is full of gazelle-eyed 
houris, among whom thy husband may choose 
as many as he wilL Is it then likely that he will 
turn from their embraces to those of a wrinkled 
old hag? No, better not to waste time in pray 
ing, but to work and serve thy husband here, 
where thou canst enjoy his good favour; in Para 
dise thou wouldst take but small pleasure in see 
ing him in the arms of others I" 

"Patience is of Allah, O Haji," said Makia, 
with a wicked twinkle in her one eye, on the con 
clusion of this ruling. A general laugh at Haji 
Rikkan's expense followed her sally. 

"By Allah and the Prophet' s head," he said, 
turning to me, who had missed the significance 
of Makia's remark. "By my beard which will 
soon be grey again I will have patience. Then 
shall I have my choice of all the houris in Para 
dise; and they, the praise to Allah! have no 
cousins I" 

Haji Rikkan had chosen in favour of discre 
tion, and I heard no more of the fair Riyasa. 



Chapter X 
THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 

THE bells of the two mules laden with Haji 
r Rikkan's packs jingled musically in our 
rear, as he and I jogged on our way towards the 
Duwairij marsh. We had left the riverain cul 
tivation in the early morning, and the sun was 
hot on the bare ground of the desert when we 
heard behind us a party of horsemen, who were 
rapidly overtaking us as they came on at a steady 
canter. Coming up with our little cavalcade, 
they drew rein to exchange greetings. The 
leader of the party proved to be Mullah Yunis, 
an old acquaintance of mine, who with a few 
tribesmen was returning to his master's tents 
from a mission of importance. 

His master Saihud, a boy at the most fourteen 
years old, had on the death of his famous father 
been unanimously acclaimed as shaikh by the 
tribes, a choice which the government, with more 
than its usual imagination, had confirmed. But 
within a year the boy had found the handling 

216 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 217 
of his turbulent tribesmen no easy task. Two 
headmen in particular had of late become openly 
estranged, and in his difficulty the young shaikh 
had sent a letter begging the advice of his un 
cle, Shaikh Majid. Majid's answer was con 
tained in the letter with which Mullah Yunis 
had been entrusted. 

We rode together for some miles, discussing 
the interplay of tribal politics. When we came 
to the parting of our ways, the mullah laughed 
at my visiting the marshes when the wide desert 
and the foothills, at this time of the year cov 
ered with flowers and deep in grass, held out an 
alternative so much more attractive. In his mas 
ter's home, he offered us the hospitality of the 
shaikh's madhif, pitched near the hills where 
good water not the brackish water of the Tyb 
and Duwairij was abundant. 

A sojourn of several years in the Mesopota- 
mian plains made the prospect of a visit to the 
foot-hills of the Persian border indeed an at 
tractive one, and Mullah Yunis, seeing this, 
pressed his invitation more warmly than before. 
But I was pledged to Haji Rikkan, and unwill 
ing to upset his plans. 

"Aye," he said in answer to my question, "I 
would gladly visit Shaikh Saihud, for never in 



2i8 THE MARSH ARAB 

all my days have I set foot upon a hill. 
But " 

He was interrupted by one of the mullah's 
party. "B'lllah alaik! Thou a haji, and never 
hast set foot upon a hill?" 

"May thy dwelling be destroyed 1" said Haji 
Rikkan testily. "Never have I set foot upon 
those hills before us, such were my words. Dost 
turn thusward at the hour of prayer, O ignorant? 
By my life," he added with vehemence, "I will 
indeed set foot upon those very hills!" 

Thus, through a slip of the tongue, the Haji 
agreed to the suggestion of Mullah Yunis. The 
two mules were sent on to the Duwairij marsh, 
there to await his coming, while he and I turned 
our faces to the distant, beckoning hills. Be 
tween them and us lay miles of open desert, bar 
ren and featureless, devoid of any vegetation 
but the withered grey-green scrub which seemed 
to enhance rather than diminish the general im 
pression of aridity. Yet the needy Bedouin 
knows how to distinguish the many varieties of 
this one product of the desert, and to put each 
to its proper use: tahama and righul are the 
favourite fodder of the camel; ishshar contains 
a medicinal juice; arta provides aromatic de 
licious-smelling firewood ; dougub has seed-pods 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 219 
which may be used as human food ; shanan has 
saponaceous qualities; dubaij and haitan give 
good grazing for the sheep. The desert, indeed, 
knows how to provide for her own. 

All that afternoon we rode, sometimes at a 
gentle, ambling canter, more often at the fast 
walk beloved of Arabs. From time to time we 
found ourselves heading for a stretch of blue 
water familiar and homelike sight to Haji Rik- 
kan; but the water always receded as we ap 
proached, or disappeared altogether from sight; 
for in 'Iraq, mirage is not the traveller's fe 
vered dream of palm-trees shading a bubbling 
spring, but simply the illusion of a vast expanse 
of shallow water, in which the distant flocks or 
caravans appear to be wading knee-deep. Hour 
after hour we rode, until we sighted on the hill 
side ahead a group of black dots, like a herd 
of grazing goats, which slowly resolved them 
selves into the tents of Shaikh Saihud and his 
section of the Bani Lam. 

"To their bosoms, to their bosoms !" cried some 
of the younger men, spurring their horses for 
ward at a gallop towards the tents which held 
their womenfolk. The rest of us, following more 
sedately, dismounted at the great madhif. 

The tent in which the shaikh holds audience 



220 THE MARSH ARAB 

is to his people a tangible centre of their tribal 
life. The shaikh may die or be supplanted, but 
his successor sits in the same madhif. Here mat 
ters of tribal policy are debated ; here the head 
men and wiseacres of the tribe sit round the low 
fire, eternally sipping their strong, bitter coffee; 
here the shaikh dispenses justice and receives his 
guests. 

Twice a year among the Bani Lam the madhif 
is set up with ceremony. At the change of 
season the brown tent of sheep's wool, which 
provides cool shelter in the hot weather, is re 
placed by one of black goats' hair, warm against 
the biting wind and snug against the rains of 
winter. Each autumn and spring the word goes 
round the tribe : "on such a day the shaikh sews 
the madhif; and the vassal headmen ride in 
to the tribal headquarters. The occasion is a 
formal one; as the men sew the long strips of 
woven wool or hair together, the shaikh cries 
out, "Allah save us from the tyranny of the Op 
pressors 1" x As the headmen take the tent poles 
and lift them aloft, they cry, "In the name of 
Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate!'' 

The lord of this madhif and master of its great 
flocks was the boy sitting opposite to me a true 

1 The government. 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 221 
son of the desert, his birth and breeding stamped 
on every finely cut feature. Clear dark eyes, 
lips fresh with a scornful curve, the glow of 
health under an olive skin it was a face full of 
promise for the making of a great man such as 
his father had been. The boy's dress was sim 
ple and unpretentious: a white robe and short 
white coat, thin black y aba with the usual red 
and gold embroidery at the shoulders; only 
round his neck was a narrow collar of embossed 
gold, set in front with a large turquoise. 

Round Saihud sat the elders of his tribe, 
grave-faced, bearded men wrapped in their dark 
cloaks. The result of the mullah's embassy was 
being debated. Shaikh Majid's letter, read 
aloud to the gathering in the tent, advised the 
young shaikh to go in person to visit his re 
calcitrant headmen; but morose looks and 
dubious voices showed that the advice was by no 
means welcome. Saihud himself, with the im 
petuosity of youth, was all for going. He him 
self would settle the matter: was he not shaikh? 
But the old men in the madhif, one after an 
other stating his objections between long pauses 
for silent deliberation, evidently feared to bring 
the quarrel to a head. Let the shaikh delay, 
procrastinate, await a move from 'Aufi and 'Asi. 



222 THE MARSH ARAB 

Saihud carried his point. He would go, and 
on the morrow; but no voice supported him. 
Perhaps a feeling of isolation made him wel 
come his mullah's suggestion that I should ac 
company him ; and it was decided that we should 
set off at dawn. 

The band of horsemen, scattered over the hill 
side in the first rays of the morning sun, was 
a picturesque company. The graceful little 
mares, wide of nostril and narrow of flank, were 
fresh and mettlesome, and the men some sev 
enty in number rode with the careless ease of 
the desert Arab. Their 'abas floated behind 
them in the breeze; many carried rifles slung 
over their shoulders; or wore curved knives in 
their belts; many rode with bare feet in the 
wide, heavy stirrups; and all the dark faces bore 
the stamp of a hard, vigorous life lived in the 
open air. 

At the head of the party rode Saihud, mounted 
on a pretty blue roan. The boy's high peaked 
saddle was hung with blue and gold embroid 
ery, his stirrups were studded with blue stones, 
and his reins were of soft scarlet leather. 

We crossed several ridges, some of sand, some 
of red sand-stone. Beyond them the country 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 223 
opened out in a rolling grassy downland, studded 
with prickly thorn-bushes, and crossed here and 
there by small, clear, pebbly streams. The grass 
was thick with flowers, miniatures of the English 
down-flowers daisies, trefoil, blue bird's-eye, 
scarlet poppies, and scabious. Only once during 
the sunny morning did we stop for a few min 
utes, when the shepherds of a little hillside vil 
lage turned out to greet their young shaikh. 

"The Bani Lam," said Haji Rikkan, reining 
his horse nearer to mine, "are Arabs 1" By the 
emphasis of the last word he conferred on them 
the highest praise in his power to bestow. 

"Let me tell a true story," he went on, "a tale 
not of the ancient days, but one which happened 
when I was a grown man. Sa'da, daughter of 
Musa al Madhkur, was a beautiful woman, and 
Ghadhban of the Bait 'Abdul 'Ali took her in 
marriage, though forbidden by her cousins the 
Bait Jandil, her closer kinsfolk. For this the 
Bait Jandil and the Bait 'Abdul 'Ali fought to 
gether, and Sulman al Jandil was killed ; where 
upon the Bait 'Abdul 'Ali fled to Persia, taking 
refuge with 'Ali Quli Khan, where they thought 
to be safe. But Shaikh Banayan, brother of 
Sa'da, who sided with the Bait Jandil in this 
matter, attacked them with five hundred horse- 



224 THE MARSH ARAB 

men, and in the battle five of the sons of Ghadh- 

ban were killed. 

"After the fight the five young men were laid 
outside their father's tent He entered; and 
those who waited without heard him kiss SaMa, 
saying, What are five sons to me, so long as I 
have thee?' 

"Ma sh'Allah!" exclaimed Haji Rikkan, 
striking the pommel of his saddle enthusias 
tically, "Such men are the Bani Lam! 

"Nevertheless the Bait 'Abdul 'Ali were 
forced to flee to Huwaiza; there they stayed for 
eighteen years, and there Ghadhban died. At 
last, broken in spirit and stricken with poverty, 
they made dakhala to Ibn Mizban, begging him 
to intercede on their behalf; they were ready to 
give twenty women and more, and with them 
swords of silver and of gold, if but they might 
return to their lands. Ibn Mizban went to Fal- 
aya, head of the Bait Jandil, who called together 
his brothers and his uncles, and asked them to 
pardon the Bait 'Abdul 'Ali. But they would 
not, for they said, The blood of our brother 
Sulman was shed by them, and for this there is 
no pardon.' 

"Then Falaya al Jandil spilt upon the ground 
a bowl of water. 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 325 

" 'Gather,' he said to them, 'the water that is 
spilt.' 

" 'We are not able/ said they. 

" 'Nor are ye able to gather again the blood 
of Sulman who is slain. What is past, is past. 
Will ye not pardon them?' 

"And seeing how he entreated, they forgave 
them ; nor would they take any fasl, but allowed 
them to return to their lands. Than the Bani 
Lam," concluded Haji Rikkan, "there are none 
more generous, but none" he dropped his voice 
"more proud ; and to-day we shall see what we 
shall see." 

As the afternoon wore on, a slight haze 
smudged the horizon. 

" 'Aufi and 'Asi," said one of Saihud's retain 
ers ; and he was right, for the cloud of dust was 
soon seen to be caused by a large body of horse 
men. "'Aufi and 'Asi!" ran from mouth to 
mouth. The crisis was at hand; all realized 
how much depended on the result of this meet 
ing. Could their young shaikh retain the al 
legiance of his vassals, or, losing it, would he 
lose also his shaikhship? 

As the party approached, the horsemen spread 
out in a long single line across the plain. The 
two headmen were offering the traditional form 



226 THE MARSH ARAB 

of reception to a person of rank. It was a good 
augury, and the number of horsemen left noth 
ing to be desired. A few outriders, as the band 
drew nearer, galloped in front of the line, cross 
ing and recrossing its length, firing their rifles 
into the air, and performing a series of curves 
and evolutions which exhibited at once their own 
horsemanship and the grace and agility of their 
mounts. 

Saihud's followers quickly formed up in a 
similar line, and the two parties approached at 
a foot pace. When they were about fifty yards 
apart, both lines came to a halt, and the two 
headmen, dismounting, came forward on foot. 
Some of our party went to meet them, also on 
foot; but the young shaikh remained proudly 
seated on his mare. The headmen waited a mo 
ment in silence; then, exchanging an angry 
glance, turned back abruptly to their horses. 

An uncomfortable hush fell over both parties 
as 'Aufi and 'Asi mounted. No one stirred, un 
til the shaikh, his face white with rage, drove 
the sharp points of his stirrup-irons into his 
mare's flanks. 

"Can there be peace," cried his clear, angry 
young voice, "when they have not even said the 
'Peace upon you 5 ?" And he led his men for- 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 227 

ward, the line of 'AufPs followers breaking to 
let them pass. 

The failure of the two headmen to greet or pay 
homage to their shaikh, and the boy's resent 
ment, could not pass unnoticed by the tribes 
men. Constraint and uneasiness were in the air 
as we rode on; the laughter and gaiety of the 
morning were gone. 

I found myself riding near the headmen, and 
tried by a cautious question or two to find out 
the cause of the quarrel. 

"We are become as nothing in his eyes," was 
all that the austere and stern-featured 'Aufi 
would vouchsafe; but 7 Asi was more communi 
cative. 

"Are the old men, the trusted companions of 
'Abdul Karim his father, to be thrust aside and 
neglected, while the place of honour is given 
to youths? Have the grown men ceased to give 
good counsel, that no heed is paid to their words? 
In defeat as in victory we fought for his father, 
but Saihud remembers it not; our brothers and 
our uncles shed their blood freely for his house, 
but this boy forgets it. W'Allahi, we who should 
be the poles of his madhif are now no more than 
the wooden skewers joining together the woven 
strips of hair." 



228 THE MARSH ARAB 

J Aufi,.tall and spare, a dignified figure in 
spotlessly clean garments, rode on as though 
he had not heard his companion's words, his 
expression of cold set anger unaltered. The two 
men were probably about the same age, but the 
dyed and clipped beard of 'Aufi made him 
appear much younger than *Asi with his 
weather-beaten face and full grey beard. But 
though 'Aufi might possess the commanding 
personality, the imposing appearance of a leader 
of men, 'Asi's was the golden tongue, the ready 
eloquence which would persuade them to follow 
where his brother headmen led. He took up 
now the tale of their grievance. 

"Did not we to-day men with grey hairs, and 
the burden of years upon us come forward on 
foot to meet him? And what of the shaikh 
did he descend from his mare to receive us? 
Never, never thus were we treated even by his 
proud father; never were we, headmen of the 
most famous of all the tribes of the Bani Lam, 
thus dishonoured before the eyes of our people!" 

A few more minutes' ride brought us to the 
encampment, and we were led to 'Aufi's tent. 
It seemed dark, gloomy and empty, for our com 
panions, finding perhaps the constrained atmos- 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 229 
phere little to their liking, had scattered to the 
hospitality of the other tents. 

Saihud sat on a strip of carpet at one end of 
the tent, with myself and a few of his following. 
At the other end sat 'Aufi and 'Asi, the one stern 
and implacable, the other plucking anxiously 
at his ragged beard. They were neglecting even 
the most perfunctory courtesies of hospitality, 
and with every moment of studied neglect the 
breach between them and the young shaikh grew 
wider. The air was tense ; it seemed that at any 
moment an angry challenge would be flung, to 
be as vehemently accepted. 

But Saihud had one friend in this hostile tent 
The coffee-man, his powerful brew now pre 
pared to his satisfaction, came towards us, in one 
hand a blackened, long-beaked coffee-pot, in the 
other three small round cups. He handed 
coffee in turn to all of us ; then, with the easy 
but respectful familiarity which is so marked a 
feature of the tribal democracy of the desert, 
he squatted before the shaikh. Affection and 
respect were in his voice as he began to talk in 
low tones, an undercurrent of earnestness was in 
the light, unexaggerated flattery of his words. 

With considerable audacity (I learned after- 



230 THE MARSH ARAB 

wards that the old man was the husband of 
Saihud's foster-mother, and held a privileged 
position) he began to explain the headmen's 
point of view to the boy as his own people had 
probably never allowed him to see it for inter 
tribal and inter-family intrigue is the curse of 
the tribal life of the country. He spoke of their 
services to Saihud's father, of their wounded 
dignity at finding their counsel unheeded and 
themselves forgotten ; but the shaikh brushed all 
this aside; it was to-day's affront to his own 
dignity which held chief place in his mind. 

The coffee-man was not repulsed. Had 
Saihud's own bearing been faultless? In his 
pride he had waited for two old men to come 
meekly and kiss his stirrup ; well the coffee-man 
knew how the great 'Abdul Karim would have 
acted in such a case. 

Saihud leaned forward eagerly, and the 
speaker made good use of the advantage he had 
gained. Every now and again pouring out 
coffee to cover his long and unusual stay before 
his master's guests, he began to tell stories of the 
boy's father, of the courtesy which had enhanced 
rather than diminished his renown, of the gen 
erosity which had always marked his dealings 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 231 
with others. The old man*s quiet voice flowed 
on and on in the soothing half-light of the tent; 
but his stories could not go on for ever, and at 
last with a muttered "T 'Allah!" he rose to his 
feet and returned to his smouldering fire. 

Saihud sat on in silence, his face a mask of 
youthful impassivity. It was evident that the 
words of the coffee-man had made an impres 
sion, but like all Arabs he took his time over 
his deliberations. At length he rose abruptly, 
and with impetuous strides crossed the tent floor 
to the headmen, who rose mechanically at his 
approach. 

"My uncles " said Saihud, his proud head 

bending to kiss the hand, first of 'Aufi and then 
of 'Asi. 

The dark looks of the old men vanished in 
a moment "My son, my son," said the stern 
'Aufi, kissing him on both cheeks; while 'Asi, 
speechless for once, bent to the boy's feet 

From behind the screen which divided the 
men's from the women's quarters came a shrill 
high-pitched cry of relief and joy, the tremolo 
call by which the Arab woman greets good news. 
It was taken up from tent to tent ; men came out 
at the sound and stood in groups about the en- 



THE MARSH ARAB 

campment; suddenly one of them lifted up hii 
voice in a loud chant 

"The Cause of Weeping 2 came nigh to us, 
Now it has departed hence!" 

A hundred voices took up the words^ flocking 
round the leader ; the hoarse, monotonous refrain 
rose and fell, and the men began to lift and 
stamp their feet to its rhythm. Arms waved, 
rifles were brandished and fired into the air. 
More and more joined in, and soon a compact, 
swaying body of men was "making hosa/' mov 
ing in ecstatic unison backwards and forwards 
as they stamped and shouted in the strange, im 
memorial tribal dance of the Arabs. 

Peace between the shaikh and his vassal head 
men having been thus restored, Saihud be 
thought him of his duties as host, which, he 
seemed to think, the preoccupations of a ruler 
had caused him to neglect. I wished to visit 
the hills, did I not? He himself would show 
them to me; that instant messengers should re 
turn to his camp for tents, camels, and food, and 
we should pitch our camp on the very borders 
of Persia. 

2 Fighting. 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 233 
He was as good as his word. We camped 
the next night on the bank of the river Tyb, in 
sight of the distant majesty of the Persian moun 
tains, snow-capped giants rising one behind the 
other until their gleaming summits were lost in 
the clouds. Immediately in front of our tents, 
apparently only a few miles away, rose a jagged 
line of bright red sandstone peaks, through a 
break in which the river wound its sinuous way 
towards us first a streak of silver, then blue, 
then a deep still green as it silently rounded the 
promontory on which our camp was pitched. 
And facing us, on the highest of the red peaks, 
shone a small white pillar, the boundary mark 
between Iran and 'Iraq. On the next day we 
were to ride across the frontier into Persia. 

The air was sharp with a breath from the far- 
off snow when we set off at dawn, the horses as 
eager as their riders for a gallop over the grassy 
downland. As the last man swung himself into 
the saddle we were off, a score of us in a body, 
with four young foals stretching themselves in 
the effort to keep up with their dams. 

There is no music like the drumming of hoofs 
on good firm earth, no air like that of wide 
downs before the heat-haze has come to shut off 
the horizon, before the sky has lost the tender 



234 THE MARSH ARAB 

pink clouds of early morning. As we raced 
along, the music of thundering hoofs had its 
accompaniment of creaking leather, jingling bit 
and chain, the knocking of rifles against high- 
peaked saddles, the rattle of swords. When at 
last horses and men had had enough of that 
splendid gallop, we had almost reached the 
ridge which had been a shadowy blur when we 
set off. Ahead we could see a break in the hills, 
where a dried-up channel marked what in the 
time of the rains would be a rushing torrent. 
Up the river bed we turned, following its wind 
ings for some little distance on firm sand, then 
on hard slippery rocks on which the horses' feet 
rang, waking a thousand echoes from the rocks 
above, while the air grew chill as the gorge 
heightened and narrowed, shutting out the sun 
light and all but a slender strip of sky. 

We climbed for an hour, until horses were 
streaming and men parched. The Arabs began 
to talk of a well at the top of the pass, famous 
for water of an unparalleled sweetness. We 
reached it; but where was the well of clear 
cold water which I had been imagining? Ex 
perience might have taught me to expect no 
more than we found a shallow hole in the 
ground containing a few inches of muddy water, 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 235 

in which stood a muleteer scooping up water for 
his beasts. He was dressed in baggy black 
trousers and felt skull-cap, first sign that we had 
crossed the arbitrary frontier fixed in 1914 by 
the four powers of Russia, Persia, Turkey and 
Great Britain arbitrary because it cut through 
the heart of the Bani Lam country, leaving part 
of that great tribal confederation in Iran, and 
part in 'Iraq. 

This was the top of the pass, and we began to 
descend on the other side slowly and carefully, 
for here there was no river bed to show the path. 
We had almost reached the plain when, round 
ing a high projecting bluff, we came suddenly 
upon a handful of brown tents, the dwellings of 
some of Saihud's scattered tribesmen. 

The older men hastened forward as usual to 
greet their shaikh, but some excitement beyond 
that caused by his unexpected arrival was evi 
dent in their gestures. Crowding round Saihud's 
mare, they barely went through the form of kiss 
ing his hand before they burst into eager speech, 
anxiously asking whether on our way we had 
met 'Alwan and Challub. There were cries of 
exasperation when the shepherds learned that we 
had come by a different route from that taken 
by their two headmen, who had set out in the 



236 THE MARSH ARAB 

early morning on learning that Saihud was en 
camped in the neighbourhood. 

The tale of their grievance was shouted at us 
by a dozen excited voices. From the torrent of 
rapid guttural speech I gathered with difficulty 
that four hundred sheep had been driven off by 
'Ali Quli Khan, a son of the Wali of the Pusht- 
i-Kuh. Details of time and place were lost in 
the general hubbub. 

The shepherds, gathered in a gesticulating 
group round their young shaikh, implored his 
help to avenge the outrage. Some urged him 
to collect a band of his following, some pleaded 
their former services, some suggested forms of 
revenge, but all were of one mind in volunteer 
ing to follow and attack the raiders if but given 
Saihud's permission. 

" 'Ali Quli Khan may his grave be defiled ! 
says that these lands are Persian lands," 
shouted one, making himself heard above the 
rest by sheer vocal power. "But we say that 
from the time of our grandfathers, aye, and the 
grandfathers of our grandfathers, they have been 
the lands of the Bani Lam." 

"What is it to us," another cried, "if four or 
forty nations divide our land, saying that this 
side of the pillars goes to the Turk, and that to 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 23? 
the Persian? Has It not been ours from the time 
of 'Aus?" 

"Look," said a black-bearded shepherd, point 
ing to a line of low, fantastically-shaped hills, 
"yonder lie the Graves of the Heroes, the first 
of our tribe, who died in securing for us their 
descendants this grazing land which now the 
Persians claim!" 

"WAllahi, even to-day no Persian dares to 
settle here without our favour. Our fathers won 
the land by the sword, and, by Allah and my 
honour, by the sword we can hold itl" 

"Gently, gently," broke in an old man, who 
seemed to command the respect of the wilder 
members of the tribe, for they fell silent and 
made way for him as he came to Saihud's 
stirrup and spoke in milder tones of protest. 

"O protected of Allah, our men sit outside the 
tents, spinning wool even as the women, while 
our youths milk the few poor sheep left us by the 
marauding Lurs. Far otherwise did they live, a 
few short years ago; but now the government 
has forbidden us to fight with the tribes across 
the border, and because we are weaker than the 
government we obey. Yet surely this govern 
ment is just as well as strong? Let it defend our 
flocks, or let it recover what has been stolen ; and 



238 THE MARSH ARAB 

if it cannot do this, let it give us leave to follow 
these thieving Lurs, and settle the affair our 
selves. Are we to be robbed, and fold our hands ; 
are we to be plundered, and not recover what 
is ours?" 

There was a murmur of assent, followed by 
silence as the tribesmen eagerly waited for their 
shaikh's decision. One could not but sympathize 
with these rough, eloquent shepherds, whose 
obstinate pride made them continue to graze 
their flocks in territory which technically was no 
longer theirs; but the real burden lay on the 
youthful shoulders of Saihud, whose decision 
was to be final. Though undisputed ruler of a 
large and powerful tribe, he was yet the servant 
of the government, and knew far better than the 
shepherds that its order against border fighting 
must be obeyed. He looked longingly in the 
direction in which the raiders had driven off 
their booty; his hand tightened on the rein, and 
his eyes shone with excitement I expected, 
almost hoped, that he would give the word to 
follow; but as the boy drew himself up more 
erect than before in the saddle, his words were 
not those of headstrong youth. 

"I will speak with 'Alwan and Challub," he 
said firmly. 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 239 
A look of grievous disappointment showed 
itself on the faces of the tribesmen. The light 
died out of eager eyes, and the group broke up 
in silence ; but there was no murmuring against 
the decision, no effort to reopen the case. 

We turned in our tracks, and began to climb 
the hillside once more ; but the zest had gone out 
of our ride. As we went I reflected on the diffi 
cult position of the shaikh of to-day. If he 
obeys the government, his tribes are likely to 
desert him for a bolder, more defiant leader ; if 
he prefers the support of his people to the 
approval of government, he courts deposition. 
One cannot but wonder how far the shaikhs of 
the future will succeed in maintaining their pre 
carious position. Will the tradition-bound tribes 
at length acquiesce in the government's policy 
of tying them down to the land, or will they 
assert to the end their freedom to wander over 
the face of the desert, as they have done from 
time immemorial? 

We reached our camp, to find 'Alwan and 
Challub patiently awaiting the return of Saihud. 
They lost no time in relating the story, and 
while they talked I clambered down the cliff 
to the river's edge with Haji Rikkan, who had 
spent the day in camp ; for even his tough skin 



240 THE MARSH ARAB 

had not withstood the unwonted exercise of the 
last three days. There we fished with improvised 
rod and line, until the gathering darkness drove 
us back to the tents, where we found a silent, 
depressed little group sitting round the embers. 

To Shaikh Saihud had fallen the difficult task 
of proving that the pen was mightier than the 
sword, that a visit to the Mutasarrif in 'Amara, 
who would write to the authorities in Baghdad, 
who in their turn would write to those in 
Teheran, was a better way to recover the stolen 
sheep than a swift pursuit of the fleeing robbers. 
But his heart was not in his own argument. 

"By Allah, if it were not for the English," 
he concluded, "our sheep, and as many more 
besides to wipe out the insult, would be in our 
hands before to-morrow's night!" 

"Eh Vlttah? assented Shaikh 'Alwan, "it is 
not the Arab government, but the English whom 
we fear. Many years it is since I saw an English 
man," continued the deep, husky voice of the 
headman, who, lacking the usual rhetoric of the 
Arabs, made up for its loss by the vehemence 
of his gestures. "I will tell thee," he went on, 
turning to me, "of the first I saw. During the 
war, on the day that the tribes under Sabri Beg 
and Mohammad Pasha Daghistani burnt the 



THE BURDEN OF THE SHAIKH 241 
muhailas at the village of Shaikh Sa'd, Shaikh 
Chittab al Sa'id attacked a launch, a telegraph 
launch. He sank it, and captured an English 
man, whom he sent to Sabri Beg, the Turkish 
commandant of the tribes. With Sabri Beg 
were many shaikhs and headmen of the Bani 
Lam and the Rabi'a, and I among them. What 
had we heard of the English, save of Cowley 
and his ship the Majidiya? Now we should see 
an Englishman. Would he have four eyes or 
two, two mouths or one? He came. All red 
and white he was, his head up so and his arms 
swinging thus though he was wounded in the 
arm, and again by a bullet which entered his 
side and came out at his chest. Three thousand 
of us stared at him, our mouths agape thus. 

"Now with Sabri Beg was one who had run 
away from the Russians, and through him the 
Turk spoke with the Englishman. 

" 'How many troops has thy general?' he 
asked. And the Englishman threw back his 
head and laughed aloud thus ha! ha! though 
he was wounded in the arm, and again by a 
bullet which went in at his side and came out 
at his chest. 

" 'Ask him why he laughs,' said Sabri Beg to 
the Muscovi. 



242 THE MARSH ARAB 

" 'I laugh to find myself among such savages, 7 
replied the Englishman. 'I am wounded here 
and here, yet am I asked questions when I should 
be sent to hospital.' 

"Then Sabri Beg in anger drew the dagger, 
saying, 'Answer my question, or die!' 

"But the Englishman mark it, he was 
wounded in the arm, and again by a bullet 
which entered at his side and came out at his 
chest threw back his head again, laughing 
loudly as before, thus ha! ha! ha! 

" 'Why does he laugh?' again asked Sabri, for 
he was puzzled. 

" *I laugh,' said the Englishman, 'to find my 
self among men so ignorant. Is not the road to 
England a six months' journey? And how can 
one man count the troops on that long road?' 

"Then Sabri Beg sheathed his dagger, and 
hiding his beard in his hand left the tent. 
But we, having seen what we had seen, went 
back to our flocks, and fought no more against 
the English," * 

1 According to Shaikh 'Alwan, this unnamed Englishman 
was captured two days before the first battle of KLut, i.e. 
Sept. 26th, 1915. If he is still alive, he may be interested 
to learn of the impression made upon the tribes by his de 
fiance of Sabri Beg. 



Chapter XI 
GHALIB THE EXILE 

TURNING our backs on the hills, we set 
off the next morning Into the desert- 
Shaikh Saihud, with the courtesy of the Arab 
host, had insisted on accompanying us on the 
first stage of our journey, as far as the edge of 
the marsh formed by the waters of the Tyb and 
Duwairij rivers. There we should part, Haji 
Rikkan to earn his precarious livelihood by the 
infinitesimal profits of his bartering, I to 'Amara 
to pick up the boat for Baghdad, Saihud to re 
turn to his encampment at the foot of the hills. 
We had not ridden long before the sun rose 
in threatening splendour, auguring a hot day; 
and our forebodings were confirmed when a 
burning, blistering wind arose. The heat was 
exceptional for so early in the year, and soon 
both man and beast had reason to regret that 
we had brought so little water with us on our 
long day's journey. Before us and behind lay 
great blue lakes; but the mirage did but mock 

243 



244 THE MARSH ARAB 

our thirst It was not until nearly evening that 
we sighted a wide stretch of water that, unlike 
those which had hovered before our eyes during 
the whole of that long waterless march, did not 
vanish as we approached. The tired horses 
raised their heads, the men gave inarticulate 
grunts of satisfaction as they quickened their 
pace over the last few hundred yards of parched 
earth. Then desert met marsh, with startling 
suddenness, in a ripple of small waves on ribbed 
sand golden in the light of sunset Miles of clear 
blue water lay ahead, broken in the distance by 
a line of reeds, black against the orange sky. 

Miles of water! The men, dismounting, 
hastened to the edge, and clearing with a 
sweep of the hand the foam and flotsam which 
had gathered on the surface, each tossed up 
water into his mouth until his thirst was 
quenched. The horses, following, tasted with 
fastidious distrust, then drank eagerly. 

Without waste of time one of the shaikh's 
men took down his nail-studded box from the 
laden mule which carried it, and began to make 
tea. Two were despatched to gather fodder for 
the horses, another two to collect fuel. The rest 
squatted round the samavar while the tea-maker 
handed round small glasses of the heavily 



GHALIB THE EXILE 245 

sweetened tea which is magical in its power to 
dissipate fatigue. 

"O shaikh," said one of the fuel-gatherers, 
returning, "I have found hoof-marks of buf 
faloes, but lately made," 

"Good!" cried Saihud. "Hither Zaid, hither 
Khadhaiyir. Go search for these marshmen. 
They will have milk, or fresh fish, perchance, 
for the sahib. Hasten 1" 

From far away across the grey stretches of 
the desert came a musical, long-drawn cry. It 
drew nearer ; the light was now too dim for the 
baggage-camels to be seen in the distance, but 
the clear, monotonous "Lon hawa, Ion ha<wa" of 
the Badawi herdsman grew louder and louder. 
Suddenly they loomed up out of the half-light, 
a line of five or six abreast, looking huge, 
monstrous in the deepening gloom. Quickly the 
Arabs gathered round them. The camels knelt 
in grumbling obedience, the heavy loads were 
toppled off, and the tired beasts, each with one 
fore-leg bent upwards and firmly tied above the 
knee so that wandering far afield was impossible, 
went hobbling off into the darkness to find 
what grazing they could. 

Now the low hair tent was quickly erected, 
and before it a fire was kindled with the scrub 



246 THE MARSH ARAB 

of the desert. Round the fire the Arabs squatted, 
smoking in silence. A few yards apart, his shoes 
of scarlet leather placed beside the folded 'aba 
which served as prayer-mat, their young shaikh 
swayed and rose and knelt again as he pattered 
half aloud the evening prayer. 

A warning shout went up from one of the 
group round the fire, to be answered by Zaid 
and Khadhaiyir, whose dim and shadowy forms 
now returned into the circle of light. Behind 
them came a third, carrying on his back a 
bundle tied up in an 'aba. Throwing it open, 
he let fall to the ground a dozen large fish, which 
gleamed and shimmered as a freshly flung arm 
ful of scrub flamed high on the fire. To split 
them open, roughly clean, and toss them on some 
glowing embers scraped from the fire, was the 
work of a few moments, and the meal was ready. 
As we ate I noticed that Haji Rikkan was com 
ing in for some good-natured chaff. 

"What, eat no fish? Dost not like the flavour, 
after mutton for so many days?' 7 said one, 
another adding, "The shaikh will wonder if thou 
eatest not of what he has provided." 

This last was obviously meant for Saihud to 
hear, and he did his equally obvious duty by 
asking why the Haji would eat no fish. 



GHALIB THE EXILE 247 

"It is a long story," he said with a gratified 
laugh. "If these wind-bags will let us finish the 
meal in peace, I will tell it afterwards." 

Supper ended, we drew in more closely round 
the camp-fire, and Haji Rikkan began his tale. 

"Many years ago, when I was a beardless 
youth, I set out with my cousins Zunaiyid and 
Mohammad *Ali to take a boat-load of pome 
granates to Khafajiya, a three days' journey 
across the marsh* It chanced that on the second 
night we slept at the village of the Bani Salih, 
whose shaikh gave us food and shelter. But we 
were hungry youths, and he was not over-gener 
ous, so that the food set before us was quickly 
eaten, and still our hunger was unappeased. And 
Mohammad 'Ali in disgust struck the empty 
platter. 

"Now among us such an action, though un 
seemly, is not a grave matter; but by the Bani 
Salih it is counted the greatest of insults, as 
setting at naught their hospitality. Before many 
minutes had passed a servant came from their 
shaikh, bidding us eat with him that night; and 
we had no choice, for we saw that he had set 
armed men upon our mashhuf. 

"When we entered the guest-house, we saw 
prepared for us a great dish of forty fishes yes, 



248 THE MARSH ARAB 

forty, no less, I swear by Allah I surrounded by 
baskets of bread. The shaikh of the Bani Salih 
was there, and by his side lay his naked sword." 

Haji Rikkan paused impressively, and sipped 
at the cup of coffee offered him. 

"For this was the custom of the Bani Salih: 
that if any man struck the empty platter, thus 
slighting their hospitality, he should be bidden 
to another meal, and if he failed to eat all the 
food provided for him, should be slain by the 
sword." 

I looked doubtfully at Haji Rikkan's wrinkled 
face, trying to see from the expression of his 
deep-set eyes whether this was to be taken seri 
ously. But his neighbour, seeing my look, 
hastened to confirm his words. 

"It is true, Sahib," he said. "The same custom 
still exists among the Albu Rashid, and men say 
that once in the days of Na'ma one who struck 
the platter was bidden by the shaikh to eat with 
him that night, and found before him a great 
pile of rice. The shaikh's servant said to his 
master, 'Shall I bring thy sword?' He answered, 
c Nay, bring it not This rice is my sword/ And 
his words were true, for that Arab ate all the 
rice, and going down to the river to drink there, 
fell down dead. And yet another " The 



GHALIB THE EXILE 249 

speaker caught the baleful glare of Haji 
Rikkan's eye upon him, and lapsed into silence. 

"What befell thee and thy cousins, O Haji?" 
I asked. 

"We ate the forty fishes and all the bread* 
And while we ate the shaikh bade his servants 
bring in another forty, and fill the baskets again 
with bread. This too we ate, but to our dismay 
khubz tabug was set before us, fresh cooked and 
very filling. So I whispered to my companions, 
bidding them eat slowly as though exhausted; 
and this we did, until those who watched us grew 
careless, and went to tell the shaikh that we 
should soon have eaten to our limit. Then very 
quickly we devoured what was left, and seizing 
the dishes and baskets we rushed to the river and 
threw them in before they could be replenished. 
Thus we escaped with our lives, for we ate all 
that was set before us," 

"Nay, nay, that is not the end of the tale," 
cried one of the men round the fire. 

"I tell only true tales to the Sahib," replied 
Haji Rikkan with dignity. 

"No matter, finish the story," insisted the man, 
to whom it was evidently no new one. 

"As thou wilt; the rest is soon told. To show 
these people of the Bani Salih that our hunger 



250 THE MARSH ARAB 

was not yet sated, we went down all three to our 
mashhuf, and there ate, each of us, a score of the 
pomegranates which we were taking for sale." 

While we were all laughing at this veracious 
ending, there came a faint hail across the dark 
water. 

"Haji Rikkan, is he with you? the Haji, the 
Haji-i-i-i-i." 

"Ee, ee" shouted the old man. It was the 
the voice of his muleteer, and once again I mar 
velled at the way in which such meetings, casu 
ally arranged, were infallibly achieved when the 
great distances, the scanty population, and the 
lack of time-pieces seemed to conspire to make 
any such rendezvous impossible. 

The hail was repeated as the boat drew 
nearer, lest we should fire on the silently ap 
proaching craft. Haji Rikkan rose, bade us 
after the Arab fashion a curt farewell, and 
vanished into the night 

Anywhere, and at any time, a wood fire is 
delightful; but on a chilly night in the open 
spaces of the desert it is perfect. The flames 
rose and fell, the shadows flickered, the pungent 
smoke of the aromatic brushwood smote our 
eyes and assailed our nostrils. Shaikh Saihud 
broke the silence. 



GHALIB THE EXILE 251 

"Did the marshman also go, he who brought 
the fish?" 

"Nay, I am here," came a voice from beyond 
the fire. "But no marshman am I." 

"Art not of the Ma' dan?" asked the shaikh in 
surprise. 

"Nay, by Allah, I am not of these marsh- 
dwellers. By thy head, no I Though I have 
grown old with long living in the swamps, yet 
I and my fathers before tne first opened eyes on 
the wide deserts. Of the true Arab stock am I, 
of the Bani Sabah, of the Koraish, of the tribe 
of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and give 
him peace 1" 

The unseen speaker paused, but no one spoke. 
Then, in response to the silent invitation, he 
began his story, speaking slowly in the long- 
drawn-out drawl of the desert. 

"It was the will of Allah that I, Hantush, 
should serve the shaikh of my tribe as his body- 
servant Lord of great flocks was he. In peace 
and freedom we roamed the desert, moving our 
houses of hair as we followed the sheep where 
grazing was to be found. But there came a time 
when Allah willed otherwise. In that night of 
blood and vengeance, when all was lost, I led 
my lord away. Across the desert we fled, we 



252 THE MARSH ARAB 

galloped into the night, we escaped from death. 
The shaikh bore with him, clasped in his arms 
as he rode, all that was left alive of those dear 
to him a girl child, daughter of but one year. 
As for me, I had gathered together what gold 
and jewels I might. Our flight was long and far, 
and when at last we reached these marshes the 
wide waters seemed as a haven, and the reeds 
as sheltering walls. 

"Here, then, we stayed, none knowing whether 
we lived or died. Shaikh Ghalib ere long was 
feared by the buffalo-keepers, and honoured in 
the marsh village as he had been in the desert; 
but the heart was gone out of him. All he cared 
for in life was to watch the daughter that was 
left to him, to see her young beauty blossoming 
like the desert after rain, to rejoice as she grew 
straight and tall as the reeds of the marsh. 

"The summers came and went. As a man tells 
the hours by a watch, so did I count the years 
by the growth of Sadiqa; and when she was 
approaching womanhood I knew we had been 
exiles for nigh a score. I saw that as with the 
years she grew in comeliness, the heart of my 
lord grew more content; he ceased to sigh for, 
the hair tents and the open spacious desert, 
ceased to finger his rifle and mutter of revenge. 



GHALIB THE EXILE 253 

He found happiness in her beauty, and often 
would he murmur ' Allah karlm God is boun 
tiful/ as he watched the maiden husking rice, 
or washing it at the water's edge. 

"But as for me, my heart was uneasy. To 
me it seemed that her growing up to woman 
hood was like a small and slender flame that runs 
along the ground, unregarded until it reaches a 
reed house, when lol all is flames, and beating 
of breasts, and tearing of hair. For among the 
marsh women Sadiqa was like a fleet gazelle 
among a herd of buffaloes, and already the 
young men of the village were bandying her 
name among them. Presumptuous jackals 1 A 
clap of the hands, and they would have shrunk 
cringing away; but Ghalib scorned to notice 
them. Yet my heart leapt and was like to die 
with fear when I heard that she was desired by 
Haddam bin Mahawis. 

"He should have been desert-born! A man, 
a very pasha of a man was Haddam strong, 
bold, venturesome and valorous, and good to 
look upon withal. He belonged not to the tribe 
with which we dwelt, but to a neighbour tribe, 
yet kin to ours. Much loved was this youth, and 
more feared, for his hot head and ready hand 
were famed throughout the marsh. Yet over- 



254 THE MARSH ARAB 

weening was his pride indeed, who dared to hope 
for the daughter of my lord as wife. No Arab 
of less than noble blood would claim the daugh 
ter of a shaikhly house ; yet this base-born marsh- 
man, whose sire and dam were buffaloes, himself 
unworthy to be the bearer of her shoes, thought 
to take her. Eh VIllah f the very heart retched 
at the thought." 

Hantush spat, and paused to roll a cigarette. 
One of the tribesmen, rising, flung on to the 
dying fire a bundle of brushwood. The crack 
ling flames threw a fitful, ruddy light on the 
dark faces gathered round ; occasionally a dart 
ing flame revealed the outer ring of horses and 
crouching camels, and seemed to give an added 
blackness to the dark desert beyond. Behind the 
deep shadow which was the tent, scattered pin 
points of light glimmered on the water, where 
the marshmen, each with a torch in his boat to 
attract his prey, were spearing fish. 

"Aye, in those days my mind was troubled." 
Hantush took up his tale. "And with reason, 
for one night, when the men of the village were 
gathered to drink coffee in my master's house, 
a shot was heard. 

" Who, who is there?' cried some, and 
'Friend?' cried others. 



GHALIB THE EXILE 255 

" It is I, Haddam,' a voice answered from the 
darkness. 

" 'Have a care, 5 shouted one of the headmen. 
'Our weapons are loaded. What seekest thou?' 

" 'My bride 1 I have come to speak with her 
father.' 

" 'Who is the maiden? 5 several voices asked. 

" 'Ho, ho! Who is she?' cried Haddam. 'Is 
more than one jewel to be found among your 
filth? Does more than one flower blossom on 
your dung-heap?' 

" 'He has come to ask for Sadiqa,* the whisper 
ran from mouth to mouth. 

"My master stood like a man of wood blind, 
deaf, and dumb. Then he turned, seized a rifle 
from one near him, and fired it towards the 
mocking voice. To that shot the echo was a 
scream of pain, abruptly ending. Then fell a 
great stillness upon the night such a silence 
that we became aware of the whispering of the 
rushes, and the small lapping of the water on 
the island mud. It was broken by the sound of 
a man crashing through the reeds, and then the 
voice of Haddam was raised in a loud cry. 

" 'My cousin, alas, alas, my cousin I The 
mercy of Allah upon him! I, Haddam, vow 
vengeance on his slayer; his blood shall be 



256 THE MARSH ARAB 

requited/ The reeds crashed again, and the 

voice came nearer. 

" 'Hearken, ye dogs of the Albu Fahad. 
Offer me no fasl of women : I desire none other 
woman than one. But blood-money will I take, 
and this night. My comrades surround your 
village, and the throat of every living thing, man 
or beast, shall be slit if by the setting of the moon 
the blood-price of Mohammad be not paid. 
Seventy red liras is my demand, and thus shall 
I enforce it' and a bullet splashed water in 
our faces as we stood staring into the darkness. 

"The headmen stopped not to discuss the 
matter. 'Agreed, agreed, 5 they cried, and began 
to hasten from hut to hut, demanding from each 
household its share. So every man brought 
forth money from his secret store, each wran 
gling bitterly over the amount as he paid. From 
time to time the elders entered the headman's 
house, bearing kerchiefs in which they had col 
lected coins of gold, and copper, and silver. And 
when the sum was nearly reached, one Balasim 
called across the water. 

" We swear by Allah, aye, by 'AH himself, 
the Lord of the Faithful, that though we have 
searched every house, no more than fifty liras 
can we find/ 



GHALIB THE EXILE 257 

" 'Seventy,' cried Haddam answering, 'seven 
ty, or we fire.' 

"'Seventy, seventy/ those cowards replied. 
'They are ready. Come and fetch them. 3 

"But Haddam swore out of the darkness, 
'Brother of Bashal Would you thus entrap and 
slay me? Ye yourselves shall bring them; nay, 
and he laughed aloud c the women who will 
attend my bride shall bring them.' 

"So in fearful haste a boat was brought, and 
such beldams as stood by were driven into it 
Frightened and wailing, they paddled slowly off 
into the night, while we waited waited, it 
seemed, so long that we started when the voice 
of Haddam rose once again in mocking tones. 

" 'Listen, O brave ones,' it said, and for the 
second time that death-cry broke upon the silent 
marsh. 'Ho, ho, my dead cousin! Bury him 
well when ye find him! Praise be to the All- 
Powerful that ye have furnished me with a 
dowry; I shall come again for my bride and 
next time, not alone l y 

"The morning dawned, but the daily tasks of 
the Albu Fahad were not begun. The buffaloes 
were not led off to graze, and the women stood 
outside the houses in chattering groups, until 
they were driven within by the men to prepare 



258 THE MARSH ARAB 

the morning meal. In every dwelling could be 
heard murmurs and mutterings as men talked of 
the night's doings ; every tongue was ready with 
curses, every heart full of anger. For what more 
galling than that one man's cunning should de 
ceive a whole village, what more bitter than that 
one man's guile should extort from them that 
gold which these miserly marsh-dwellers hold 
dearer than life? By each one of the Albu 
Fahad, that handful of krans had been more 
cherished than the life of his neighbour. 

"What wonder that they murmured? But as 
I listened, I found that not Haddam alone was 
the object of their curses. Many, it seemed, 
held my master the cause of their misfortune; 
and as the morning wore on their words gained 
weight among the villagers, and grew in bitter 
ness. Shaikh Ghalib, not their own craven 
cowardice, was the author of all their troubles. 
Greed and fear strove with the respect of years, 
and at noon the elders of the tribe, with shame 
on their faces, came to my lord's house. 

"He guessed their errand, but made them wel 
come, bidding me prepare coffee. Then the 
headman spoke. 

" Tor many years have we lived at peace with 
our neighbours; but now there is risen a cause 



GHALIB THE EXILE 259 

of dissension among us. Allah has ordained that 
male shall strive with male to possess the female, 
yet it is a sore thing for us to see our young men 
at enmity one with another; and worse, a danger 
to the tribe itself, when strangers from without 
contend with them. Thou knowest, O Shaikh, 
that we are a weak people living among power 
ful neighbours, that we are few and they many. 
Willingly would we continue to harbour thee 
and thine, and give thee refuge, had we the 
power; but our strength is as water before the 
might of others. For thy safety and ours, it is 
better that thou seek the protection of a stronger 
tribe. True, we shall mourn at thy departing, 
but our grief will find consolation in the knowl 
edge of thy greater safety.' 

"Anger burned within me when I heard the 
rest assent in low voices to these shameful words. 
'Better that he leave us. Aye, the truth is in 
thy hand, O Mutlag. We are indeed weak, let 
him take the girl to a stronger tribe.' 

"But Ghalib, cutting short the growling of 
these curs, spoke proudly. 'The words I must 
say are a disgrace to my tongue, but among a 
people without shame such words become easy. 
Nigh a score of years ago I came to this accursed 
marsh, seeking no man's protection, but making 



260 THE MARSH ARAB 

my dwelling apart, alone. It chanced that a 
plague had smitten your buffaloes, so that ye 
were in despair; so when I of my desert knowl 
edge taught you how to cure them, did ye not 
beseech me to move my house and dwell among 
ye? This I did, and since that day ye have 
besought my help in times of stress, in disputes 
you have begged my intervention. In difficulty 
when did I withhold advice? In distress when 
did I refuse help? And among yourselves, and 
among buffalo-keepers like yourselves, you 
boasted, 'In our village dwells a man of the 
shaikhly house of the Bani Sabah, of the 
Koraish, of the very tribe of the Prophet: thus 
are we become nobler than our fellows.' 

" 'Yet now, now that your neighbour is no 
longer rich, but poor ; now that he is old before 
his time with much sorrow; now that his house 
hold has become a source of contention among 
you ; now that he seems to need help and protec 
tion as once he gave it let us be rid of him, ye 
say. Dogs and sons of dogs! I and mine are of 
the true Arab stock. We seek no man's protec 
tion. To us, death is preferable to loss of honour. 
Know this then: where my house has stood a 
score of years, there stay I and mine. If our 



GHALIB THE EXILE 261 

presence brings you danger, the marsh is wide. 
Seek ye new homes.* 

"Silence held all men. Then spoke Ruwaidhi 
son of Mahdi a blind man, yet none the less 
wise in council, and his words ever heeded in 
the tribe. 

" 'Spare us, O Ghalib, these bitter words. 
What need for thee or us to move hence, when 
the matter of our dispute is one easy to settle? 
When the fruit is ripe, Allah ordains that it fall. 
When a maid becomes a woman, it is his will 
that a mate be found for her. Wouldst defy this 
decree of the Almighty, and bring punishment 
upon thyself and on thy daughter? If it be that 
thou canst not find a husband for her from 
among thine own people, then let her become 
wife to one of our youths ; for our tribes are not 
lacking in men brave of heart and strong of arm* 
Are not my words wise words, my uncles?' 

"But my master answered in anger, ( My 
daughter marry one of ye? By the life of Allah 
and of Mohammad and of *Ali, never!' 

"Thereupon the elders of the village rose, and 
left him. And as they went, I heard one say to 
another, *On his own head be it.' 

"That day my master called me, saying, 'We 
have not yet given our share of the money paid 



262 THE MARSH ARAB 

over to Haddam. No man shall say that 
Ghalib's poverty was such that he failed to pay 
his share. Go, Hantush, borrow the mashhuf 
of our neighbour Burghash, and put in it the 
reed mats woven by thee and by Sadiqa. We 
will take them to the river, there thou shalt sell 
them,' 

"So I bade Sadiqa carry to the water's edge 
the mats which we had stacked beside the house, 
while I sought out Burghash and asked of him 
the loan of his craft. And when the mats were 
piled in the belly of the boat, and all was ready, 
the shaikh came from his house to join us. I sat 
in the stern with my paddle, and in the bow 
stood Sadiqa with her pole; for the maid was 
strong and supple, and skilful in water-craft as 
the marsh girls among whom she dwelt. 

"Soon we left the open water, and passed 
down the narrow ways, shaded on either side by 
high reeds. My lord, as was his wont, sat in 
silence, gazing on the beauty of his daughter; 
and I too gazed, for though I have seen many 
women, and some beautiful, not one have mine 
eyes lighted on that could compare with her 
shadow. Aye, <w* Allah <wa Vlllah, the tongue 
is too short to describe the loveliness of my 
mistress. As she drove her pole deep in the 



GHALIB THE EXILE 263 

water, her body bent like a tall palm-tree sway 
ing in the wind ; her hair was black and smoothly 
braided, her skin like the bloom on apricots, her 
eyes fitly set, dark as night yet bright as the stars. 

"All was peace as we threaded the marsh, all 
silence save when a bird took wing, startled at 
our approach. The soft wind bore on its breath 
nothing but the whispering of the reeds, until 
after a long space our ears caught a sound we 
knew well the noise made by a man cutting 
reeds. Now though Allah made all men of one 
clay, he made them not all in the same mould ; 
and ye of the desert perhaps know not that no 
two sons of Adam cut reeds in the same fashion. 
Thus it is that the marsh-dwellers, though they 
cannot see for the thickness of the reeds, know 
well by the sound he makes who it is that cutteth, 
and whether he be friend or foe. So we ceased 
from our paddling, and sat still that we might 
listen. 

"We heard the rustle of the swaying reeds as 
the unseen one gathered them in his arm, the 
crash as with one mighty stamp of his foot he 
bent them to the ground, then the swift slash 
with which his sickle severed them from their 
roots. Only a strong man could cut reeds with 
such speed and sureness, only one had that sweep 



264 THE MARSH ARAB 

of arm. Not one of us but knew who was near : 
it was Haddam of the Albu Dagar, he whose 
mere name had held our village spell-bound 
with fear the night before. 

"As we looked one at the other, the voice of 
Ghalib broke the silence. 

" 'Back, back/ he cried hoarsely. 'Back to the 
village P 

"Astonishment held me voiceless, motionless. 
Well might the base-born marshmen tremble 
and flee from the unseen presence of such as 
Haddam ; but was not one Arab a match for any 
ten of them? Sadiqa, flushing red, spoke my 
thoughts. 

" 'My father! We will not go back with our 
purpose unaccomplished. Our mats are not yet 
sold. Why this haste, this seeming fear? The 
cutter of reeds is yet distant from us, nor does 
any channel lead into this channel. If the 
prudence of age speaks, O father, are we not 
armed?' 

"Ghalib took no heed of her words. 

" 'A curse upon thee, Son of a dogP cried he, 
seizing the paddle from my hand. 'Dost dare 
to tarry when I bid thee return?' and with one 
thrust he turned the prow of the mashhuf to 
wards the way we had come. 



GHALIB THE EXILE 265 

U I took the paddle and fell to work. Was 
I not his servant? But Sadiqa's pole lay idle, 
and she sat in brooding anger in the bow, no 
word for me nor for her father crossing her lips. 
Shame lay heavy upon her, as upon me, by 
reason of our turning back. 

"So to me, as I thought with uneasy heart on 
the night and the day that were past, the figure 
of this Haddam loomed large like that of some 
evil jinn which threatened the safety of those 
beloved by me. And as I looked at my master 
my fears grew heavier. Broken and bent he 
seemed, a man old in his prime, a man on whom 
the evil ones had cast a spell, so that in every 
hour he aged a year. 

"We reached the village, and with not so 
much as a glance at her father the maiden left 
the boat and sought her house. But Ghalib, 
looking up mournfully at me as he sat in the 
stern, said, 'Didst see, Hantush?' 

" 'See? I saw naught. I did but hear Haddam 
cutting reeds.' 

" 'I asked not what thou heardst Didst see 

naught?' 

" 'Nothing, my uncle,' I replied. 

" 'Dolt and dullard!' cried my lord in anger. 



266 THE MARSH ARAB 

*Thou seest naught, yet we are undone. Undone, 

aye ? and worse. Woe to me and my house, woe P 

"To answer availed nothing. With no reply 
I began to take the mats from the mashhuf, 
meaning to stack them again in the lee of the 
house ; but he stopped me. 

" 'Owl ! To-morrow we take the mats to the - 
river to-morrow at dawn. Aye, and to-morrow 
also this contention shall cease, for by Allah's 
truth, the key of the door of escape is in my 
hand' and he strode away. 

"When I had secured the boat, I followed. 
All was silent in the house. No sound came 
from behind the women's screen, no sound was 
heard where the shaikh sat without movement. 
But as I hastened to kindle a fire that I might 
make coffee for him, I saw what in these many 
weary years of exile I had never seen. And my 
breast was straitened as the tears rolled down his 
cheeks, so that I smote my eyes and cursed them, 
that in that hour when Fate had stricken him 
they had been blind, not seeing what his had 



seen." 



The rhythmic rise and fall of the speaker's 
voice, and the unhesitating march of his story, 
showed that the tale was one which, like some 
saga of old, had been many times told and had 



GHALIB THE EXILE 267 

lost nothing in the telling. By many a camp- 
fire, to many a silent, crouching circle, must 
this tragic history have been unfolded em 
broidered, perhaps, and improved with each 
repetition, yet preserving always that living and 
authentic spirit of Arab life, in which lay its 
* appeal, 

"The night passed," Hantush continued after 
a pause, "and with the first dim light before the 
sunrising I went down to the boat. There 
already was Sadiqa. 

" 'Eight krans shall we bring back as the price 
of these mats, perhaps ten, O Hantush/ she said. 

" 'In sh? Allah, ten/ I replied, but only to 
please her; for I feared that for these mats of 
ill-omen we should never obtain a price. My 
lord joined us then, and in the grey dawning 
we left the village. Once more we watched 
Sadiqa swaying to each strong thrust of her pole; 
and the sun, rising above the high reeds, saluted 
her beauty. 

"Thus we went, until we came to a place 
where our water-channel became two branches. 
Now the speediest way to the river lay by the 
right-hand channel, that same one which we had 
taken yesterday yesteryear it seemed to me 
and whence, on hearing the sound of one cutting 



268 THE MARSH ARAB 

reeds, we had returned incontinent to our vil 
lage. The left-hand channel led also to the 
river, but by a way so long and devious that it 
was little used. 

"Now my lord broke the silence, saying, 'To 
the left, to the left I would pass by the ishan 
of Umm Furukh.' 

"Sadiqa's face grew dark. Though, with the 
shame of yesterday still sharp in her mind, she 
spoke no word, she thought her father chose the 
longer way through fear of Haddam. But my 
heart knew that it was ordained by Fate that 
we should take the way which led to Umm 
Furukh. I swung the boat's prow across, and 
swiftly we passed down the left-hand waterway. 
Who can fight against Fate? 

"Howbeit, no man desires to hasten on his 
doom. As the time passed, my strokes grew 
dull and feeble, so that we moved but slowly, 
hindered also by the weeds which here grew 
thick on the face of the water. We made no 
speed, yet my master called not to us to hasten; 
so that by reason of the long and devious way 
I knew that he did not in truth desire to reach 
the river that the selling of mats was but a 
guile to deceive us. Foreboding lay heavy on 
me. The rolled -up mats took on the form of 



GHALIB THE EXILE 269 

corpses which I was taking for burial, and the 
sound of the reeds was like mourners weeping 
for their dead. W Allah, that day's journey has 
seared my heart as if with hot iron! 

"At last the reeds gave way to open water, 
and there in the midst of the clearing stood the 
ishan of Umm Furukh. So small it was and so 
solitary that no man dwelt there; instead, the 
tribes buried their dead upon it And as we 
approached, my master said, 'Bank in.' 

U I turned the boat to the ishan. When we 
reached the land's edge, Shaikh Ghalib stepped 
from the boat, and taking his daughter's hand 
led her up the shore. Then, turning to me, he* 
said, 

" 'Leave not the place where thou art, until 
I come again.' 

" 'Upon my eyes,' I replied. 

"The two walked hand in hand to the top of 
the mound, and going down the other side were 
lost to my sight So short was the distance, so 
still the air, that all their speech came clearly 
back to me ; and when, after a long silence, the 
words of my mistress reached my ear, I knew 
for what purpose he had beguiled her to this 
lonely place, and bowed my head before the 
inscrutable will of Allah. 



270 THE MARSH ARAB 

" Why is thy manner so strange, O Father? 5 
she asked, and fear was in her voice. Why so 
stern and silent? O, let us hasten from this place 
of graves, for I am afraid.' 

" ' 'Tis thy guilt which makes thee fear,' he 
answered harshly. 'If a woman betray the 
honour of her house, what is the penalty? Ac 
cording to the law of our fathers, is it not death?' 

" 'Ah, say it not,' the child wept. 

" 'And, in our tribe, if a woman of the shaikhly 
house mates, ay, does but desire to mate with a 
man of lesser birth, does she not break the 
honour of her tribe?' 

" 'So thou hast often told me, my father/ 

" Thou knowest, then, why I have brought 
thee hither.' 

" 'Ah, no!' she cried then. 'Thou couldst not 
slay me; me thy joy, the comforter of thy lonely 
days, the solace of thine exile ! Thou couldst not 
live without me. Ah, see, I stroke thy beard. 
Am I not thy daughter, only flesh of thy flesh?' 

"Had she been thrice guilty, my heart had 
melted at her pleading. How then when I 
knew she could never have debased herself? 
But my lord answered nothing. 

" 'Oh, a curse upon the elders of the tribe !' 
cried the girl. 'They have perplexed thy mind 



GHALIB THE EXILE 271 

with their foolish words, their evil speech has 
taken away thine understanding. Think, think 
of thy grief when I am dead, the bitterness that 
will fill thy heart when thou sayest, "She was 
innocent, yet I believed their tattling tongues, 
and this right hand has taken her life," O my 
father, how canst credit their lying jealous 
speech?' 

" 'Not all the gossiping tongues of all the 
world/ cried my lord, 'could smirch thee in my 
sight; but alas! my own eyes would I were 
blind ! have given me proof. When we heard 
from our boat that cutter of reeds at work, these 
eyes watched thine, and saw in them such a light 
as only shines when a woman loves. 3 

" 'Foolish one/ said Sadiqa, 'often hast thou 
likened my eyes to pools of clear water ; what 
thou sawest was but the sun shining in those 
pools.' 

'"Ah, would to Allah that I were foolish!' 
cried Ghalib with a great cry, harsh like the 
drawing of a sword from a rusty scabbard. 'Am 
I to be deceived in that look, I who, because it 
shined for me in a woman's eyes a score of years 
ago, have lived since in this accursed marsh, far 
from tribe and house? Here every day has been 
a month, and every month a year, and I am old 



272 THE MARSH ARAB 

before my time. Can I forget, who have drunk 
the dregs of shame and eaten my fill of bitter 
ness? Too well I know, when such a love 
flames between a woman and a man, naught can 
keep one from other save one thing only 
death !' 

" 'Nay, spare me, spare me, sheathe the cruel 
blade,' I heard her waiL Then with a great 
voice she cried aloud, c Ah, to me, to me, 
Haddam, O Haddaml' 

"My blood turned to water within me when 
I heard that shameful avowal, yet none the less 
with held breath did I strain my ears for a 
succouring shout. None came. Only the taunt 
ing echo, 'Haddam, O Haddam/ came faintly 
back to me on the still air. Then came a sobbing 
cry, and I knew that that which had been 
decreed from the beginning had come to pass. 

"Long I waited in the boat as my lord had 
bidden me, long I sat weeping alone, until the 
sun went to its westering, the shadows grew long, 
the air chill and dark. And when a cold breeze 
from the north blew suddenly, I thought that all 
the jinns and tantals of the marsh were falling 
upon me, and in the grip of a great fear I 
seized my paddle, and fled back to the tribe. 

"Next morning, when the sun was up, I came 



GHALIB THE EXILE 273 

with companions to the ishan. As we drew near 
the shore a man rose up, but It was not the figure 
of my lord. Haddam towered above us, his body 
naked and covered with mud, and with blood 
where he had gashed himself. His hair was 
matted, and his eyes were full of fire, and we 
knew not the voice which cried, 'Begone! I, 
I alone will bury my dead. 5 " 

The plangent voice of the story-teller ceased 
abruptly. No more distant torches gleamed 
from the marsh, and the young moon, setting 
In a bank of cloud, left only the dying embers 
of the camp-fire for light. The rattle of a horse's 
chain, the grumble of a restless camel, alone 
broke the stillness, until a deep voice from the 
circle of listeners, low-toned, set the seal of 
desert approval on Hantush's tale of violence. 

"Aye, 'twas well done," It said. And the rest, 
bred in the same stern creed, gave guttural 
assent. 



Chapter XII 
THE CHAINS 

A7TER the greeting/' began the Haji's brief 
missive, written for him by the village 
scribe, "If no messenger awaits you in Qala't 
Salih, go to Turaba by way of Umm Subaita. 
If he whom I send is there, the tribe will have 
carried, and he will show your Honour our sum 
mer place. And may you live I" 

No messenger having met me at Qala't Salih, 
I pushed on to Turaba, and it was not until we 
were well into the marshes that I heard that the 
Haji and his tribe had moved to their summer 
quarters. This was disappointing. In the old 
days, journeys with Haji Rikkan had been fre 
quent and easy to arrange, but of late I had 
found it increasingly difficult to get away; and 
now through the failure of his messenger I was 
to lose a whole day or rather should have done 
had it not been for the good-nature of my two 
hired boatmen, who volunteered to travel all 
night while we returned on our tracks. This was 

274 



THE CHAINS 275 

pleasant enough for me, who during the warm 
night could sleep where I lay in the mashhuf, 
but less so for the men who towed, paddled and 
poled the boat through the long hours of dark 
ness. 

Thus it happened that in the cool slanting 
sunlight of early morning we came upon the 
group we sought of low huts clustered on the 
narrow spit of land between the brown flood 
waters of the Tigris and the limpid blue stream 
which issued from the marshes. Across the 
river stood the mud fort once commanded by 
Haji Rikkan, now flying the 'Iraq flag and 
manned by a smart detachment of police. Few 
of the villagers were astir, but long before we 
reached the shelving bank Bahalul sighted our 
mashhuf f and ran down to meet us. His only 
greeting was the familiar flash of white teeth, 
but his wordless welcome had now, as always, 
more reality than the oft-repeated, flowery 
phrases of JahaluL 

The elder twin led me to his uncle's house. 
He did not warn me that I should find the Haji 
deep in grief. His kafiya, so seldom removed, 
was cast on the ground beside him, and a beam 
of sunlight, striking through a worn patch in the 
roof, shone on his bald head. With one hand he 



276 THE MARSH ARAB 

picked up the dry dust from the floor and poured 
it on his head, with the other mournfully beat 
his breast. 

Seeing me ? he rose hastily, put on his kafiya, 
and gave me the warm and friendly welcome 
which I had grown to expect. He must hear 
all the news I had brought, and all that had be 
fallen during the many months since we had 
met; but whenever the conversation came round 
to a journey in the marshes in his birkash, I 
noticed that a new subject was hastily broached* 

When the matter could no longer be evaded, 
the Haji spoke out. 

"I beg, I beg, ask me not to come with thee 
this day. Bahalul and Jahalul will take thee 
wheresoever thou dost desire to go," 

I was now to learn the reason for Haji 
Rikkan's grief. 

"To-day they come to take away Latifa." 

I remembered Latifa well, a dark-eyed girl 
about twelve years old, the joy of her father's 
old age. It is not uncommon among the Arabs 
to find one daughter much petted by the father; 
and to Haji Rikkan this was the only grown 
child left. By his present wife he had two small 
sons who still played in happy nakedness in and 
out of the water; but the children of his earlier 



THE CHAINS 277 

marriages had all, except Latifa, died or been 
killed in battle. 

To lose a daughter in marriage, even the 
favourite of old age, is no uncommon experience, 
and hardly seemed to justify the HajPs excessive 
grief ; but his next words explained it. 

"She is a fasl woman. They will be hard 
with her, she will cry out and none will comfort 
her; against her will she must become a wife, 
and her father will not be there to protect her." 

This was the bitter truth. All the rancour 
of the enemies of her tribe is too often visited 
upon the innocent /W-woman, and that this 
should be so is usually taken as a matter of 
course. Rarely as in the Haji's case, where the 
beloved daughter of his old age was in question 
does a stricken heart break the conventions of 
generations, and cry out against a barbarous cus 
tom. Only once had 1 ever seen any feeling 
betrayed on this question. As we sat at the eve 
ning gathering in the guest-house of Shaikh 
Falih, a great booming voice had broken into 
our quiet talk on fasl customs. 

"It is a disgrace, a blot upon the Arabs," cried 
a venerable old headman, "that our women 
should thus be constrained against their will." 
Silence followed, and with eager apprehensive 



278 THE MARSH ARAB 

eyes he looked round the assembly to see if but 
one other would raise his voice in support of 
this heresy; but the rest, with stern and unrelent 
ing faces, remained unmoved. Who were they 
to call in question the customs of their fathers? 

Jahalul, entering with his usual cheerful face, 
dispelled the gloom of the Haji's hut. He was 
the possessor of a new mashhuf, in which our 
day's journey must be made. It was already 
moored at the water's edge, and after duly ad 
miring its clean, graceful lines I got in. The 
twin brothers, wading knee-deep in the clear 
water, pushed off and leapt lightly aboard. 

"No gun?" asked Bahalul. 

I shook my head. After so many months' 
absence I did not want to shoot. I wanted to 
pick up the threads of my old intimacy with 
the marsh to spend a long day in renewing the 
old impressions of its solitary beauty. I wanted 
to glide down the narrow hidden water-channels, 
to cross the wide, wind-swept blue lakes, and to 
hear once jtnore the ceaseless whisper of the 
reeds, that low murmur which is at once so 
familiar and so friendly, until suddenly, almost 
against one's will, one hears in its gentle and 
serene voice a note of warning, a suggestion of 
lurking danger, a hint of tragedy. 



THE CHAINS 279 

Bahalul, poling with effortless strength, broke 
in upon my thoughts* 

"Whither?" 

"As thou wilt" 

"The order is thy order," he answered. 

"To the Chains," I suggested. 

"Upon my head be it," replied the laconic 
Bahalul; but I could tell from the way in which 
he braced his shoulders, and flung a brief word 
to his brother, that we were in for a long day, 

My suggestion was a random one. I had 
heard, in the old days, vague references to the 
"Chains" ; what chains, and why they were there, 
no questioning had ever been able to elicit. But 
whatever they were, I knew that they were in 
the heart of the marsh, and to the heart of the 
marsh I wanted to go that day. 

The sun rose higher, deepening the blue water 
and the changing greens and browns of the sway 
ing reeds. In silence we went swiftly on silence 
hardly stirred by the small soughing wind, by the 
dip of the untiring paddles, by the murmurous 
voices in the rushes. On this sunny morning the 
tiny marsh flowers were at their loveliest, gleam 
ing like jewels on the surface of the water, or 
half hiding their delicate pinks and yellows in 
the shadow of the reeds* Bird voices sounded 



280 THE MARSH ARAB 

sharply. Occasionally we surprised a flock of 
"water-chickens," which with agitated paddling 
of their little black feet would flee to safety, the 
cranes and dignified herons following more 
slowly. Now the narrow channel broadened 
into a deep still pool, now to a wide and spar 
kling sheet of wind-stirred ripples. In places 
the water was hidden by weeds so thick and 
matted that Bahalul and Jahalul could hardly 
force a way through ; in others it was clear and 
still, unfathomably deep below the powdery 
layer of pollen on the surface. 

In front, the friendly reeds seemed to open of 
themselves to provide a way for us ; behind, they 
closed their ranks in dark and threatening 
masses against the sky, as though prepared to 
oppose our return. The scream of an unseen 
bird might echo across the stillness, or a startled 
beating of wings die away as suddenly as it had 
arisen; then once more silence held the marsh. 
Here the reeds were taller: old, thick, and tower 
ing masses, so far from any marsh settlements 
that they had never been disturbed by man 
seeking material for hut-building, for buffalo 
fodder, or for mats. The solitude was intense 
more intense than that of the desert. There 
countless tracks reveal the presence of man or 



THE CHAINS 281 

beast, but here the flowering weeds close up 
again, leaving no trace. Only very rarely did 
we come across a few reeds twisted together and 
bent a landmark or wordless message from a 
marshman to his fellows, seeming only to 
intensify the lonely silence of the wilderness. 

When at last we came upon a settlement of 
marsh-dwellers, It was a village so small, so 
remote from the river, that at first sight of 
us the men seized their rifles and leapt in among 
the reeds, from the shelter of which they could 
best defend their homes. The women, on the 
contrary, stared at us as placidly as their own 
buffaloes, hardly troubling to suspend their 
household tasks of husking rice, washing clothes, 
and scouring cooking-pots* The scene was gay 
with colour, good, hard, and primitive; yellow 
huts against a background of green, buffaloes 
and pitched mashhufs like black silhouettes in 
the foreground, splashes of orange and scarlet 
as the women moved to and fro, It was a typical 
marsh scene, and reaching for my camera, I told 
Bahalul to land me on the largest island. 

The ground on which I stepped was covered 
with broken pottery, some unglazed, some a 
bright sky-blue. Fragments of all shapes and 
sizes lay jumbled together, with here and there 



282 THE MARSH ARAB 

a flat square brick inscribed with cuneiform 
symbols. A little higher on the sloping ground 
lay a crumbled mass of masonry, with hints of 
columns, the whole covered with a rich dark- 
green glazing. All these fragments, uninterest 
ing and unintelligible to the people who dwelt 
among them, were indications of a rich field for 
the archaeologist. 

I had taken several photographs of the village 
when a mashhuf grounded on the bank behind 
me. I turned, to see an old woman helped out 
and half carried up the bank by the boatman, 
who led her to Bahalul. After a few moments 
they came towards me, and I saw from the care 
with which they guided her footsteps that the 
woman was blind. She was bent and shrivelled 
with age; incredibly old she seemed as she 
hobbled painfully over the shard-strewn ground, 
her dirty garments sweeping unkempt behind 
hen Unlike the withered brown faces of the 
other village beldams, hers was pale, putty- 
coloured. So expressionless were her features, 
so colourless her eyes and lips, that the face 
seemed like one from which all life had long 
since ebbed, leaving an empty mask. 

"Here is the Sahib/' said Bahalul. "Speak, 



THE CHAINS 283 

O mother of many, and give him what thou hast 
brought" 

The old woman took a step or two forward, 
stretched out a lean and bony hand, and 
fumbling for my arm, felt earnestly up and 
down my sleeve. 

"Is he indeed a farangi?" she asked tremu 
lously. A dozen interested bystanders assured 
her that I was. 

"Take this, then, Effendim," she said, and 
held out a flat packet wrapped in cloth that 
might once have been white. "This was his 
command, that I should give it to a farangi, 
to another of his own kind. Now, the praise to 
Allah, I have obeyed him. Take it, and may 
Allah guard thee, may the All-powerful (His 
Name be blest and exalted) lengthen thy 
years 1" 

She turned, still feebly calling down blessings 
on my head, and was led slowly away. 

With some difficulty I untied the tightly 
drawn knots, and opened the package. Inside 
was an old book, calf -bound; at some time or 
another it had suffered from damp, or might 
even have been dropped in the water, for the 
binding was split and warped, the pages swollen 
and discoloured. I opened it, and turned to the 



284 THE MARSH ARAB 

fly-leaf ; but whatever had been written there was 
now undecipherable. The next page, compara 
tively undamaged, was a coloured frontispiece: 
"The Author in his Travelling Costume." The 
cheerful blue of his voluminous coat and the 
red of his baggy trousers had come off on the 
opposite page, which announced the book a a 
"Personal Narrative of Travels in Babylonia, 
Assyria, Media and Scythia, in the year 1824, 
by Major the Hon. George Keppel, F.S.A." 

So far so good. But how had this volume 
fallen into the hands of an old crone of the 
marshes, and why was it so highly valued by the 
unknown owner that he had bidden her hand 
it "to another of his own kind"? Touched with 
curiosity, I turned the pages, and tried to open 
the no small number which had stuck together. 
Many were illegible ; some had passages marked 
in the margin with a faded greenish ink; others 
were lavishly underlined. 

The word "Bussorah" caught my eye, "The 
abundance of water," I read, "besides irrigating 
the gardens, which it does effectually, might also 
be the means of keeping the town clean, were 
there not in the inhabitants an innate love of 
filth. Bussorah is the dirtiest town in the 
Turkish dominions. The streets, which are 



THE CHAINS 285 

narrow and irregular, are almost insupportable 
from the stench. Some houses are built of kiln- 
burnt bricks, but the greater number are of mud. 
From these project several long spouts made of 
the body of the date-tree, which convey filth of 
every description into the streets, so that a pas 
senger is in frequent danger of an Edinburgh 
salutation, without the friendly caution of 
Gardez loo." Fortunately, Basra has since 
mended its ways. 

A few pages later came a description of a 
journey up the Tigris, most of it heavily marked 
in the margin. "The Arab boatmen were as 
hardy and muscular-looking fellows as ever I 
saw. One loose brown shirt, of the coarseness 
of sack-cloth, was the only covering of the latter. 
This, when labour required it, was thrown aside, 
and discovered forms most admirably adapted 
to their laborious avocations ; indeed, any of the 
boatmen would have made an excellent model 
for a Hercules ; and one in particular, with un 
combed hair and shaggy beard, struck us all with 
the resemblance he bore to statues of that deity." 
Again, "Several women, accompanied by a host 
of children, brought milk, butter, and eggs for 
sale, and followed the boat for some time. The 
behaviour of these females formed a striking 



286 THE MARSH ARAB 

contrast with the manners of the Indian women, 
and still more of the veiled dames of Bussorah. 
They came to our boats with the frankness of 
innocence, and there was a freedom in their 
manners, bordering perhaps on the masculine; 
nevertheless their fine features and well-turned 
limbs produced a tout ensemble of beauty, not 
to be surpassed perhaps in the brilliant assem 
blies of civilized life. True it is, their com 
plexions were of a gipsy brown ; but, even on this 
point, there may be some who see 'a Helen's 
beauty in a brow of Egypt.' " 

It seemed that the unknown traveller had 
simply marked those passages which he had 
verified from his own experience; of himself 
they told nothing. I turned from page to page, 
hoping to find some clue in the faded green 
marks. A keenly interested observer he must 
have been, and evidently of religious leanings, 
for the Biblical allusions were frequently 
emphasized. Here was a string of references 
to the building and destruction of Babylon, all 
underlined. "Let us make bricks, and burn them 
thoroughly. And they had bricks for stone, and 
slime for mortar." "The broad walls of Babylon 
shall be utterly broken," Was he a missionary, 
zealous for the conversion of the godless 



THE CHAINS 287 

, or merely Interested in comparing the 
life of the Bible with life as it was lived in the 
East in his day? As I turned over the stiff and 
discoloured pages, I was struck, as he had been, 
with the accuracy of the Hon. George Keppel's 
notes, and the exactness with which they still 
tally with the habits of the people; and I sub 
scribed heartily to his underlining of a descrip 
tion of a marshman's meal : "After crossing his 
legs and adjusting his robes with true Arab 
gravity, he proceeded to business by baring his 
arm to the elbow ; he then grasped a handful of 
rice, sopped it in all the saucers, and moulded 
it into the shape, and I had almost said the con 
sistency, of a tennis ball. Large as it was, this 
palatable bolus found its way down his throat, 
with the aid of a huge lump of butter, with 
which it was accompanied," 

The sun was growing hot, though I had not 
noticed it until a grey-bearded marshman, whose 
air of authority seemed to imply that he was the 
headman of this isolated village, came up, and 
with a hospitable "Bismillaht" invited me to 
his house. I slipped the book with its unsolved 
mystery into my pocket, and walked with him 
across the island. Stooping under the low arch 
of the doorway, we entered the rough hut, to 



288 THE MARSH ARAB 

find ourselves in what seemed total darkness 
after the bright glare outside. The hut, when 
my eyes grew accustomed to the softened light, 
was plain and bare like that of every marshman, 
headman or no. A fire was quickly kindled by 
the simple expedient of carrying from a neigh 
bour's hearth a handful of lighted reeds, which 
lit up the deep copper colouring of the once 
yellow roof, bronzed now with the smoke of 
many hospitable fires. An old Arab with a lame 
leg began to busy himself among the coffee-pots ; 
he threw a handful of beans into a sort of primi 
tive frying-pan, shaking them over the fire and 
stirring, to keep them continually moving, with 
a rusty bayonet which was probably a relic of 
the War. The roasting was slow and thorough. 
We sat waiting, in the unembarrassed silence to 
which Europeans grow accustomed with diffi 
culty. At length the beans were tipped into a 
shallow mortar, and the unhurried coffee-maker 
began to pound them, making a musical and 
rhythmic jingle as the brass pestle struck the 
mortar. From time to time the hut was darkened 
as the doorway was blocked by the entrance of 
a neighbour, attracted by the tinkling invitation. 
With a muttered "Salam 'alaikum" they would 
squat down in the increasing circle, only break- 



THE CHAINS 289 

ing the silence by an occasional "F 'Allah" 
uttered in such heartfelt tones as would suggest 
that the cry to God was extracted from them by 
mortal agony. Through the chinks in the rush 
walls came small sounds of whispering and 
tittering, as the village children satisfied their 
infant curiosity about the unusual visitor. 

The marshman's hearth did not boast the 
whole series of coffee-pots which one sees in a 
shaikh's madhif. My host possessed only two, 
a large one of which the curving beaked spout 
was broken off short, and a small one black with 
age. In the first were kept the daily leavings, 
so that each fresh brew was made not with water 
but with coffee ; the small one was reserved for 
the freshly-made drink, strong, black, bitter and 
pungent as the Arabs love it, whether in desert 
or marsh. 

The long wait had given me time for further 
speculation about the old woman and her book. 
Idly, as I sat cross-legged on the one carpet 
owned by the headman, I turned over the faded 
pages, reading here a few words of description, 
here a scriptural quotation underlined. By 
chance I turned to the blank pages at the end 
and started, for they were covered with close, 
clear, sloping handwriting, still legible except 



290 THE MARSH ARAB 

where here and there a smudge of water had 
obliterated a few lines. The first words which 
met my eyes were startling enough. 

"As I shall now within a few hours meet my 
Maker (for it is clear that these savages will 
not be long in making an end of me) I propose 
to set down some account of my adventures, 
thinking that it may by good fortune fall into 
friendly hands." 

I stopped reading in pure astonishment. The 
words seemed unreal, fantastic, melodramatic 
even. Yet as I looked at the precise and angular 
writing with its old-fashioned s's, as I remem 
bered the earnestness of the marshwoman, and 
the strange care with which she had treasured 
the book, my scepticism died away. I read on 
eagerly. 

"I find myself strangely resigned to my fate, 
and, relying on God's mercy, have no fear of the 
hereafter. Fear I have only of the manner of 
my death, for which the preparations recall too 
painfully the stake and faggot, by which so many 
martyrs of our faith passed to Eternal Rest 
These lines are written as much to provide oc 
cupation for my mind, as in the perhaps too 
confiding hope that they may by some means 



THE CHAINS 291 

reach him whose name is inscribed upon the 
flyleaf." 

I turned back, remembering as I did so 
that whatever had been written there was 
now illegible. 

"I thank God that I, being unwedded, leave 
no dependants to mourn or otherwise suffer by 
rny death, which the following circumstances, 
together with the roving disposition against 
which I was so often . . . (here a few lines 
were obliterated by a smudge of water) . , . 
while making a friendly visit to a tribe subject 
to the Sheik of the Montefeik, I was surprised 
by an unaccustomed noise outside the hut. A 
number of the tribe, bursting in with shouts and 
hideous yells, seized upon me with every sign 
of hatred (where before had been friendship 
and mutual interest) and, snatching my pistols 
and cartouche-box, stript me naked, and cast me, 
bound hand and foot, into one of their naphtha- 
coated craft. Here they have brought me by 
countless mazy windings into the heart, as I 
think, of the Great Swamp. I offered much 
Buxis 1 for my release, but they seemed intent 
upon my life. 

"All day they ran in circles, screaming as 

1 Backsheesh ? 



THE MARSH ARAB 
if possessed with demons. They brandished 
in the air their swords and lances, those that 
had any their musquets and matchlocks. 
Their bodies were nude, their faces dreadful 
with passion, their hair thick and matted. 

r6 Tpvx.Qfj.cL 7re7rtAo?jL^J>op. 

Again I could make nothing of the next 
few lines, but the story continued : " . . . night 
also was made hideous by their cries and by the 
beating of tam-tams, nor could I have slept if I 
would, since my body was devoured by swarms 
of musquitoes, and my skin sore and burning 
as though it had been flayed by its unwonted 
exposure to the fierce sun of these parts. Though 
thankful to be at least alone, I lay in misery on 
the hard earth, parched with thirst until this 
was allayed by the girl Haleema, who stole in 
towards dawn, bringing water and some bread 
of the kind that Sarah made for the three 
Angels. Once again she . . ." 

I tried to turn over, but the leaves had stuck 
together, and though I separated them with the 
greatest care I could read little of the next two 
pages. Here and there a few words stood out, 
tantalisingly clear: "jet-black hair in shining 
braids, eyes lustrous and . . . youthful elegance 
and symm . . . but an innocent child . . . was 



THE CHAINS 293 

due to arrive in the frigate Allig . . ssorah, 
where the English factory ... in the godowns 
of Hamid Khan . . . thousand piastres . . . 
their additional demands to our Indian friends 
in cash. And indeed it is certain. . . ." 

What was certain? I was never to know, for 
on the next page only one broken sentence re 
mained to end the story: ". . . and seven bales 
are lying at Abooshehr in the Gulf." 

That was all ; but I had ceased to be incredu 
lous. The ring of truth was in the last words of 
this Englishman who had faced his end so 
calmly, and had spent his last moments in think 
ing of his friends and settling his affairs. But 
the story was incomplete. What could have been 
the reason of so sudden, so apparently unpre 
meditated an attack by marshmen whom he had 
thought his friends? I decided to see the old 
woman again; she might be able to fill in the 
gaps in the story. Remembering her garrulous 
blessings, I thought she would probably not be 
unwilling to tell me what she could ; and turning 
to one of my neighbours in the hut, I asked who 
she was. 

"Halima the Blind," he replied, "<w* Allah, 
she Is long in years." 

Halima the Blind I The unknown writer had 



294 THE MARSH ARAB 

spoken of "the girl Haleema." Could this 
withered old hag be the girl whose beauty he 
had praised so highly? I remembered the very- 
phrases of his description. "Lustrous eyes, jet- 
black hair in shining braids" and now, "by 
Allah, she is long in years," the man had said. 
I called Jahalul, and told him to take me to the 
island to which Halima the Blind had returned. 

As we slid between the low mounds on 
which the huts were built, I thought of my 
fellow-countryman paying his "friendly visit" 
to just such another village. The confiding 
buffalo calves, snuffing with soft moist nostrils 
as the boat brushed by them ; the groups of men 
splitting reeds for weaving mats; the slender 
pitched mashhufs crossing slowly from island to 
island the scene can hardly have been different 
on that calamitous morning, perhaps nearly a 
hundred years ago. And for sounds, the merry 
voices of children, the lowing of buffaloes, the 
hum of a majrasha husking rice, all drowning 
that warning, voiceless rustle of the reeds, to 
which he was deaf, but which I, with the strange 
story fresh in my mind, heard more clearly than 
before. 

The boat grounded. Jahalul jumped out, and 
ran up the bank to one of the huts. He seemed 



THE CHAINS 295 

to have some difficulty in inducing the woman 
to see me again, for I could hear his persuasive 
tones and her fretful objections. At last she came 
stumbling out, and I went up to meet her. We 
stood together outside her doorway, her blind 
old face raised half fearfully to mine. 

"From whom this book?" I asked. 

"His name? I know it not." Her voice was 
thin, dull, and weary, and she answered listlessly. 

"What dost know of him?" 

"Naught, save that he was friendly with my 
tribe, and my tribe with him." 

I fancied that she spoke with more life in 
her worn-out tones, and tried another question. 

"How did he die?" 

"Die!" she said. "He did not die. It was 
I who suffered worse than death. Waili, <waili, 
for my eyes! The tantals left their homes that 

day " she broke off, staring at me with her 

sightless eyes. 

"Speak," I urged. 

"Effendirn," she began, speaking more clearly 
as memory woke her dull old brain from its 
torpor, "I will tell thee all I know. Afterwards 
trouble me not, for what am I to thee, or thou 
to me? I have done his bidding, I have given 
what he gave me to another of his own kind. 
Now I am old and blind; yet I will tell all I 



296 THE MARSH ARAB 

can." She squatted on the ground, and 1 fol 
lowed suit. 

"Be it known unto thine honour that near to 
Abu Saghair lies another smaller ishan which 
has no name. On it no man ever builds his house 
nor buries his dead, for it is the home of the 
tantals. There those evil ones dwell, never go 
ing forth from the island save on windless days, 
for they fear that in a time of blowing wind 
they will not be able to return. But that day 
a hundred years ago it is ; nay, by the son of 
Abu Talib, more than a hundred, for I am very 
old that was a day without wind, hot and heavy 
and still. And the tantals left their home, and 
entered into the men of my tribe, taking posses 
sion of their bodies so that they knew no longer 
what they did. On that same day it chanced 
that he of whom we speak had come among us, 
as often he did, to talk and drink coffee in the 
house of my uncle. And the wrath and fierce 
anger of those evil ones fell upon the stranger; 
they burst in upon him, and carried him off 
to their dwelling in the marsh. 

"At night they made hosa, for so is the lust 
for blood quickened and made more fierce ; and 
they purposed to put him to death in the early 
morning. So they piled up rushes, and dragging 
him from the hut in which he lay naked and 



THE CHAINS 397 

defenceless, they tied him to the mast of a danak, 
and thrust him into the midst Then they put 
fire to the heap. But I would not that he should 
die, and under cover of the smoke I crept in and 
cut his bonds, bidding him hide among the reeds 
until their frenzy should be past. And in order 
that the tantals might be satisfied, I stayed be 
hind to scream. But suddenly ah! suddenly 
a great red flame leapt out upon me, seizing my 
clothes and my hair, so that my screams were 
no longer feigned. I fled from the place, and 
plunged into the water. But I could see noth 
ing; I was blind, blind. O 'AH, the suffering 

of that day " 

The old woman's monotonous voice had be 
come a wail, and she beat her head with her 
feeble arms. The strange story, corroborated 
as it was by the witness of the book, was evi 
dently true. But what of her explanation of the 
marshmen's sudden frenzy of rage against the 
foreigner? Could one accept it as a nineteenth 
century case of actual possession by evil spirits, 
or was she speaking figuratively? I had often 
heard the people speak of tantals, the mad jinns 
feared and dreaded by every marsh Arab. A 
powerful shaikh of my acquaintance had ad 
mitted to me, in lowered tones, that he had heard 
their laughter. But I had never come across a 



298 THE MARSH ARAB 

case of possession such as those recorded in the 

New Testament. 

"Waili, <waili" wept Halima the Blind. 
"Such is the lot of women. I gave my eyes for 
him, yet he came not again. Long have I 
waited, but in vain ; and now I am old, old and 
blind . . . " Her voice died away. 

I ventured another question or two, but she 
sat in unheeding silence, reliving, perhaps, what 
may have been the romance and the tragedy of 
her youth. 

"He came not again," This, then, was the 
end of the story. The owner of the book had 
escaped the dreadful death prepared for him. 
Grateful for his deliverance, ignorant of its 
price, he had perhaps fled to safety. Or might 
it be that, escaping from one death, he had found 
another in the endless mazes of the marsh? I 
should never know ; the book and the old woman 
had told all they could, and the marsh would 
not give up its secret. 

Halima, waking from her trance, rose and 
turned listlessly away to her hut As she passed 
me, without a glance, I caught an almost inaudi 
ble murmur 

"Go, and may Allah protect thee in thy 
going." 

it a prayer, hardly formulated in her 



THE CHAINS 299 

dim old mind, that the fate of the unknown 
traveller might not overtake me also? Unsus 
picious, unafraid and confident, trusting in the 
friendship of the simple marshfolk, he too had 
wandered in the wilderness of reeds, alone of 
his kind. And suddenly he had found himself 
in conflict with forces of primitive passion which 
neither he nor they could stem. 

With the book still in my hand I walked back 
to the mashhuf. 

"To the Chains?" asked Jahalul. 

I glanced up at the sun, now past its zenith. 

"No," I said with a shiver, "to the river." 

The Haji, when once more we disembarked 
at his village, was seated in the lee of his hut, 
surrounded by his rusty tins. He was intent, 
it seemed, on some primitive form of stock-tak 
ing, but the reckoning was evidently not a satis 
factory one, for on seeing me he called 
impatiently to his wife to put away the tins, 
while he made room for me beside him. 

"Allah grant there soon be another war 1" he 
said, "for in these days there is no money in all 
the land. During the war men said with truth, 
'with the gold they have spent the English might 
dam the Tigris in flood' ; but now all are poor, 
all is dearer. An effendi who once could be 



300 THE MARSH ARAB 

bribed with ten krans now asks twenty, saying, 
'because of the English the risk is greater.' Of 
what avail is this twofold government? Has any 
good ever come of a mongrel?'' Haji Rikkan 
spat contemptuously, but he waited none the less 
for an answer. 

"A mule often serves better than horse or don 
key," I said. 

"True, true," he muttered, sinking back on 
his heels despondently. "I speak the foolish 
words of age. All men can see that the world 
has changed. In the time of the Turks murder 
was done willingly for a majidi; now, a man 
bearing on his head a basket of gold may walk 
from Basra to Baghdad, and none molest him. 
Of old, the shaikhs rebelled against the govern 
ment; now they put its order to their foreheads, 
and obey. How otherwise, when the aeroplanes 
of the English fill the sky? By Allah," con 
cluded Haji Rikkan, "the English are a mighty 
race, but they are no longer just" 

I could not let this accusation pass unchal 
lenged, and the Haji with some heat made out 
his case. 

"If an Englishman plucked out his two eyes, 
a man of the tribes would still prefer him to a 
townsman of his own race. It irks us less, far 
less, to obey the unjust order of an Englishman 



THE CHAINS 301 

than the just order of an Arab mamur. Yet, in 
spite of this, the English prefer the people of the 
towns 1 

"Listen to my words ! Should a mamur visit 
us (and his pay no more than two hundred 
rupees a month) his going and his coming, his 
comfort they are those of the High Commis 
sioner. A policeman will demand a bed, even 
if the house-owner go without; and if we say nay 
he will tear off his badge, saying on his return, 
'See how the tribes have mishandled me!' and 
we are punished. The English are powerful; if 
they would, they could prevent these things ; yet 
when we would kill the townsmen for their pre 
sumption, we are forbidden. W'Allah <wa 
b'lllah, daily such things happen to us, yet the 
English turn the eye ; and if we do but prepare 
to slay those who use us thus, both their eyes are 
full upon us. Is this justice?" 

It was the age-old feud between tribesman and 
townsman, as rampant here in the marshes as 
elsewhere in 'Iraq. When I thought of the small 
band of Englishmen still in the country, daily 
accused in the towns of favouring the tribes at 
the expense of the townspeople, I laughed aloud 
at their surprise if they could hear the Haji's 
indictment. Haji Rikkan laughed too, and, his 
temper cooling down after his outburst, added : 



302 THE MARSH ARAB 

"A strange justice ! but that of the Turks was 
still stranger. Have I told thee the story of the 
Qadhi and the four partridges? No? Listen, 
and I will tell it thee. 

"A certain Mustafa, by trade a kababchi, was 
fanning his meat in the market when one came to 
him bringing four partridges, and said, 'Roast 
these for me, and here is the price.' 

"No sooner had he begun to cook them than 
the Qadhi came by, and seeing the partridges 
greatly desired to eat them. 

" 'My son/ he said to Mustafa, 'sell me the 
four partridges.' 

"He answered, 'They belong to such an one, 
and I have taken from him the price of their 
roasting.' 

"But the Qadhi would not be denied, and be 
cause he was a great man and to be feared, Mus 
tafa agreed to take them to his house. 

"And when he brought them, he asked of the 
Qadhi, 'When the owner comes for them, what 
shall I say?' 

" 'Say, "Flown away." ' 

"So when the owner came to fetch the par 
tridges, that kababchi said, 'Flown away.' 

"'From the grid?' exclaimed the owner, and 
he began to beat Mustafa and drag him to the 
Qadhi. 



THE CHAINS 303 

"Mustafa broke from him and ran away. And 
as he ran there stood in his way a water-car 
rier's donkey. He tried to push it aside, but it 
yielded not, and thus losing his footing he was 
on the point of falling. To save himself he 
clutched the donkey's tail, and it came off in 
his hand. 

"He ran on, at his heels the owner of the 
partridges and the water-carrier. Coming to 
an inn on the outskirts of the town, the kababchi 
entered, and ran on to the roof. They followed, 
and to save himself he sprang from the roof 
into the courtyard ; and he alighted on the keeper 
of the inn, and killed him. Whereupon the inn 
keeper's brother rushed to the door and closed 
it: thus they caught Mustafa and haled him for 
judgment to the Qadhi that same Qadhi 
within whose stomach were the four partridges. 

"The owner said, C I had four partridges, and 
I paid this kababchi for cooking them and for 
the cost of 'the fire. And when I came to fetch 
them, he said " Flown away." ' 

"To which the Qadhi replied, 'Is Allah all- 
powerful?' 

"This the owner of the partridges dare not 
deny, lest he be called an infidel and kept in 
prison for five years ; so he replied, 'All-power 
ful.' 



304 THE MARSH ARAB 

" Then is he able to cause thy partridges to 
fly away. Why dost trouble this man?' And he 
fined him five majidts. 

"Then the brother of the dead inn-keeper 
made his complaint, saying that Mustafa had 
killed his brother by jumping on him from the 
roof. 

" 'According to the law,' said the Qadhi, 'if 
a man steals, his right hand must be cut off; if 
he kills, his life must be taken. Jump thou then 
from the roof on to this kababchi, and kill him. 7 

u And the brother replied, 'Allah lengthen thy 
years 1 If I do this, I myself am like to be killed. 
I withdraw my complaint.' The Qadhi there 
upon fined him five majidis, 

"Then turning to the water-carrier, who held 
the tail of his donkey in his hand, he asked, 
'What is thy complaint?' 

"And he, seeing that from the others a fine 
had been taken, replied, TaithI Oath! I am but 
one of the listeners,' and he fanning himself 
with the tail of the donkey as he spake I 

"I ask pardon of Allah," concluded Haji Rik* 
kan, "for I speak too much. My tongue has no 
bone in it, and wags as it will. Has not each 
stick its own smoke?" And he relapsed into one 
of his long silences. 



Chapter XIII 
THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 

THE story of the burning of the Bait Hatim 
came to me from two sources. 'Osman 
Beg, the Police Commandant, told me his ver 
sion as he lay in a narrow hospital bed, his usu 
ally smiling round face pinched with pain and 
disappointment; and Saiyid 'Ajil told his sitting 
in his reed hut, his long, nervous fingers pluck 
ing continually at his beard in his distress at the 
recollection of the tragic events of that night 

In a Muslim country the descendants of the 
Prophet are to be found everywhere. No place 
is too remote for them, no solitude too distant; 
in the heart of the desert or in the midst of the 
marsh an isolated family of Saiyids may often 
be found, a self-contained little community 
rarely visited by outsiders, but known and re 
spected for miles around because of the sanctity 
of their descent. Of such a family, established 
for generations on a remote ishan in the marshes, 
Saiyid 'Ajil was the head. 

305 



306 THE MARSH ARAB 

Haji Rikkan, himself paddling the birkash 
which carried his wares, arrived one evening at 
Umm Kosaj to trade with Saiyid 'Ajil and his 
family. His welcome at that isolated spot was 
a warm one, and he accepted the Saiyid's offer of 
hospitality for the night. The warm spring 
dusk fell over the marsh; voices of men and 
beasts ceased to echo across the water; at last 
even the croaking of the frogs was hushed, and 
silence held the ishan. 

Suddenly the sleepers in the reed huts were 
awakened by a startled challenge from the watch 
man. A voice answered from the darkness. "It 
is I, 'Osman Beg. I seek Saiyid 'Ajil. The 
Peace to you!" 

"And to you," answered several sleepy voices, 
satisfied by the reassuring salutation. 

Saiyid 'Ajil hastened to the water's edge, sur 
prise and curiosity overcoming fear in his mind. 
What could the Commandant of Police want 
with him at this unusual hour? His surprise 
was even greater when he saw, silently slipping 
one after the other out of the blackness of the 
night into the light of the torch held above his 
head, a seemingly endless procession of mash- 
hufs. The flickering light, catching the stars 
on their caps and the brass badges on their khaki 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 307 
uniforms, showed him that some of the boats car 
ried policemen; in the others were tribesmen 
whom he did not know. All seemed dead tired. 
Silently the boats ran up the beach, and the men 
splashed ashore through the shallow water, to 
be hospitably received in the houses of the vil 
lagers, who were already brewing tea and cof 
fee. 

Saiyid 'Ajil turned to find 'Osman Beg at 
his elbow, and with him Jasim, shaikh of the 
rice-lands lying many miles to the north. The 
tribesmen, then, were his. The old man led his 
guests to his own house, and there, the formal 
ities of hospitality having been observed, learned 
the reason of this strange nocturnal visit. 

The Saiyid had heard, as had all the marsh- 
dwellers, of the evil doings of a certain band 
of outlaws, who had lately become more daring 
than before in their defiance of the law. A long 
series of unpunished crimes had now culmi 
nated in the murder of an important shaikh, and 
the government had determined to catch and 
make an example of the gang. The leader, one 
Bandar a Rahaij, was known to have taken 
refuge with his kinsmen the Bait Hatim, in 
whose retreat in the heart of the marsh he doubt- 



308 THE MARSH ARAB 

less thought himself safe from justice. But he 

had reckoned without 'Osman Beg. 

The Police Commandant of 'Amara was a 
zealous official, who felt that his abilities had 
gone too long unrecognized. Now his chance 
had come. If he could bring the murderer to 
book, promotion even fame might be his. 
He laid his plans carefully and in secret, and 
as he sat that night in Saiyid 'Ajil's hut it seemed 
to him that success was surely within his grasp. 

Well might the Bait Hatim think themselves 
secure. Bitter experience had taught 'Osman 
Beg that, with the mysterious swiftness with 
which news travels in the east, warning of a 
government raid invariably reached an erring 
tribe in time for it to elude attack by moving 
swiftly away to another island in the unmapped 
depths of the marsh. When danger threatened, 
they could always post their vigilant sentries on 
every channel leading from the river; and the 
birds would fly almost before the net was spread. 

'Osman Beg set to work to evolve a new plan 
of campaign. What peccant tribe would be 
prepared against a commander who, instead of 
attacking from the river, made a two-day d6tour 
through the marsh, ending up with a night 
journey which would bring his force across their 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 309 
only channel of retreat? If such a move could 
be kept secret, success was certain. 

With cunning strategy the Police Com 
mandant made very public preparations for an 
expedition. Every one in the town, and many 
outside it, knew that 'Osman Beg was taking 
thirty policemen the utmost his small command 
could spare into the marshes. Maps had been 
studied, guides engaged, mashhufs borrowed 
from the rice shaikhs. It was common knowl 
edge that he had been instructed to furnish an 
escort for a party of surveyors who were inspect 
ing the Turco-Persian boundary laid down in 
1914. Early one morning a long line of boats 
set off down the Chahala, mark flags, ranging 
rods, and other survey gear much in evidence. 

'Osman Beg was evidently in no hurry, for 
he and his force halted at the village of Shaikh 
Jasim and accepted his hospitality for the mid 
day meal. As the piles of rice were rapidly dis 
appearing, a horseman was seen to draw rein on 
the opposite bank of the river. He had a mes 
sage for the Police Commandant, he shouted; 
and a boat was sent to bring him across. All in 
the shaikh's madhif knew that the pink envelope 
contained a telegram, and all eyes were on 'Os 
man Beg as he opened it 



3io THE MARSH ARAB 

The news was unpleasant, it was clear. The 
cheerful countenance of the Commandant grew 
clouded as he read; he cursed the messenger, 
and fell into a moody silence. At length he 
asked the shaikh to grant him a private inter 
view. 

Shaikh Jasim, sending ahead a servant to warn 
his womenfolk of the approach of a stranger, 
led 'Osman Beg into the wide enclosure of which 
the four towers and high mud walls screened his 
women's quarters. They entered a small ill-lit 
room, and here, seating himself on one of the 
high wooden benches which ran round the walls, 
'Osman explained his predicament. The sur 
vey party towards which he was making his way 
reported an unfriendly reception from the tribes 
on the frontier, and asked for the immediate 
despatch of a larger force than he had at his 
command. Unwilling to delay, yet fearing to 
proceed with so small a force, the Police Com 
mandant was reluctantly compelled to ask 
Shaikh Jasim for a hundred of his tribesmen 
as a supplement to his own inadequate numbers. 

The request was not one which pleased the 
shaikh. He was a timorous young man who, 
not having become shaikh until after the Brit 
ish occupation of 'Amara, had no legacy of a 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 311 
warlike and independent past To send a hun 
dred men off on a martial expedition into the 
heart of the marshes, against a foe of whose 
strength he knew nothing, was not at all to his 
liking ; and what was worse, it seemed incumbent 
on him to offer to lead his own tribesmen. 
Jasim's dilemma was acute: an hundred men 
were not enough to protect his own sacred per 
son ; he must offend Government by refusing, or 
take double that number. 

'Osman Beg left the shaikh's fort wreathed 
in smiles. The telegram the bogus telegram 
which he had written out with his own hand 
and ordered to be sent after him had been 
more successful than he had hoped. No sus 
picion had been raised, and his force was now 
more than adequate for his purpose. The re 
mainder of the day was passed in collecting 
boats, and in bringing in from the outlying vil 
lages the men employed to maintain order in the 
shaikh's name. 

Early next morning 'Osman Beg's command 
left the rice-fields, steering south-east to make 
Abu Gusba, a large island halfway across the 
marsh and at that time uninhabited. Here the 
night was to be spent, a day's paddling on the 
morrow bringing them to the survey party. 



THE MARSH ARAB 

But when shortly before sunset the weary boat 
men reached Abu Gusba, they found that their 
rest was to be a short one. 'Osman Beg, draw 
ing the shaikh aside, revealed in a few words 
the real object of the expedition. There was 
no survey party to protect; there was no hostility 
across the frontier: but the Bait Hatim was to be 
surrounded and punished, and Bandar al Rahaij 
captured, dead or alive. This was why he had 
wanted reinforcements, and why the party was 
now to make a forced march, travelling all night; 
for only by using the darkness to cover his ap 
proach could he avoid sending ahead a warning 
of his coming by every reed-cutter or buffalo- 
herd whom they chanced upon. 

At this point the blood of some warrior an 
cestor stirred in the sluggish veins of Shaikh 
Jasim. He began to show a lively instead of 
a lukewarm interest in 'Osman's plans. How, 
he asked, did the Police Commandant propose 
to guide his force through the treacherous marsh 
waterways in the darkness of the night; how, 
when the attack took place in the half-light of 
early dawn, would the policemen distinguish 
his tribesmen from the marsh Arabs they were 
attacking? 

'Osman Beg pointed out "One-fisted Shuman," 
well-known in the marshes as a prince of buffalo- 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 313 
stealers. As the life as well as the livelihood of 
Shuman had for years depended on the rapidity 
with which he made his way about the water 
ways by night, the shaikh professed himself satis 
fied with 'Osman's choice of a guide. To pre 
vent his tribesmen from being mistaken for the 
enemy, the mark flags brought for the fictitious 
survey party were to be distributed among them. 
Shaikh Jasim, satisfied, ordered his men to the 
boats. 

Their fatigue forgotten in the excitement of 
a promised fight, the men paddled silently off 
in the wake of the leading boat, which carried 
'Osman Beg and One-fisted Shuman. They were 
bound first for Saiyid 'Ajil's village, Umm 
Kosaj, only twenty minutes' paddling from their 
objective. The long line of mashhufs slipped 
between the high reeds of the water-channels, 
while slowly the setting sun robbed the marsh 
of its rich colour, leaving it ashen and grey like 
the face of a dying man. Night fell, and still 
the boats glided on in the soft velvety darkness 
through which it appeared impossible that even 
so skilled a guide as Shuman could find his way. 
Now and then there was a check, and it seemed 
that the leader was at fault; sometimes those be 
hind felt certain that the channel had been 
missed, for the mashhuf-mQn had to leap into 



3H THE MARSH ARAB 

the water and push their boats by force through 
the dense masses of reeds. But still the line of 
boats pressed on, one following the other through 
the impenetrable darkness by sound alone the 
soft splash, splash of the tireless paddles. 

Crouched in the bow of the leading mashhuf, 
motionless as the curved prow above his head, 
sat One-fisted Shuman, from time to time hiss 
ing out his directions. At length, two hours be 
fore dawn and an hour before the time allotted 
on 'Osman Beg's schedule, he turned to the 
Police Commandant. 

"Umm Kosaj," he whispered hoarsely. And 
'Osman, peering ahead, saw across the open space 
of water a darker smudge on the darkness, which 
he knew to be the huts of Saiyid 'Ajil. 

In the smoke-filled hut 'Osman Beg's story 
was heard with breathless attention. The Com 
mandant was proud of the feat he had just ac 
complished, and with reason. He had planned 
deeply and secretly, and now success was within 
his grasp. Warmed by the Saiyid's tea and 
pleased with his hospitable welcome, he threw 
secrecy to the winds. The difficult part of his 
task was over, he was within a few minutes of 
his objective; his men might have a short rest, 
and then the Bait Hatim was his easy prey. 

Before the breaking of the false dawn, 'Os- 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 315 
man Beg led his men away to cut off the Bait 
Hatim's only line of retreat, and to surround 
their village. Saiyid 'Ajil, watching the depart 
ing mashhufs, turned to his son as the last of the 
long line disappeared from sight. 

"When they return," he said, "they will be 
hungry. Let each house bake bread, let every 
housewife prepare a meal. And buy coffee, tea, 
and sugar in readiness. Haji Rikkan's coming 
was indeed fortunate.' 7 

"The Haji is gone," said his son. 

"Gone!" 

"Aye, an hour since." And Saiyid Muhsin 
told his father how, while 'Osman Beg was still 
deep in talk, Haji Rikkan had slipped silently 
out and, unobserved, had gone to the water's 
edge, where the young man, following, had 
found him walking up and down beside his 
moored boat. "I am old, I am afraid," he could 
hear him muttering. 

"Why afraid?" asked Saiyid Muhsin, com 
ing up beside him. 

The Haji started. "Why afraid?" he re 
peated, "Because of the coming of 'Osman Beg 
and his police I am afraid. And have I not 
reason? Soon, when they have drunk their tea 
and refreshed themselves, they will come down 
to their boats; and finding mine here, one will 



316 THE MARSH ARAB 

say, 'Give me of thy tobacco,' another will de 
mand dates, another sweet-meats. And at the 
time of paying, where will be the price? for 
to take without payment is ever their habit If 
thou wouldst not see me robbed of my all, I pray 
thee hold this sentry in talk while I make my 
escape, and Allah give thee the reward." 

Saiyid Muhsin, yielding to the Haji's urgency, 
had engaged the attention of the sentry posted 
by 'Osman Beg. Out of the corner of his eye 
he saw Haji Rikkan wade silently into the water, 
and saw the birkash begin to move as gently and 
cautiously it was pushed from below. Almost 
imperceptibly it glided away, and was swallowed 
up in the darkness. 

Saiyid 'Ajil was still shaking his head du 
biously over his son's story, when the sound of 
a single shot rang out across the silent marsh, 
It was followed by a roar of musketry ; the quiet 
was shattered by the bark of rifles and the angry 
buzzing of spent bullets over the Saiyid's vil 
lage. Men and women ran from their huts and 
stood in apprehensive groups. For a flash the 
darkness was rent, only to close up again more 
densely than before, as first one Verey light and 
then another soared into the sky. Then, as 
abruptly as it had begun, the noise of musketry 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 317 
ceased; a desultory shot or two followed; and 
silence again covered the marsh. 

Saiyid 'Ajil and his people waited, straining 
their ears for some sound which would indicate 
how their neighbours of the Bait Hatim had 
fared. It was clear that they had not given 
up without a struggle the man who had fled to 
them for protection; but no sound came to in 
dicate which way the battle had turned. No 
call nor cry was heard ; only the sad sighing of 
the reeds was borne across the water by the dying 
night wind ; no mashhuf came out of the shadows 
with tidings. 

At last a faint glow could be seen in the west 
ern sky. It brightened and grew red as the 
watchers on Umm Kosaj gazed, and as it broad 
ened they knew that the village of the Bait 
Hatim was on fire. 'Osman Beg, then, had been 
rewarded for his careful planning ; the enemies 
of the government had been punished. As the 
day broke, the fierce light of the fire grew less ; 
with the rising of an angry sun the glow of the 
flames died away, and only a thick, tall pillar of 
smoke lifted its black column high and straight 
into the air, telling all who saw it that the houses 
of the Bait Hatim were still burning. But from 
the village itself there was no sound. 

Suddenly a slim black shape shot out from 



3i8 THE MARSH ARAB 

the green wall of reeds which faced Umm 
Kosaj. It was a mashhuf, poled rapidly by two 
policemen, and in it sat 'Osman Beg. His face 
was white and drawn, a rough bandage was tied 
round his leg. The boat drew near, and the old 
Saiyid, unable any longer to restrain his curios 
ity, called across the water, 
"What tidings?" 

"Allah rip their bellies ! They had warning 
of our coming," replied 'Osman Beg bitterly. 
"Gently, gently," he went on as the Saiyid's men 
helped him from the boat. "Eh b'lllah, how I 
have wearied myself in this affair, and all to no 
avail! By Allah and the Koran, I am indeed 
unfortunate! Of all my force only I am 
wounded, and for all our efforts they have 
escaped unscathed." 

Seated in the open doorway of the Saiyid's 
house, a cushion supporting the leg which he 
insisted was only slightly hurt, 'Osman Beg told 
his hosts what had occurred. 

"Where the reeds were thickest, and when 
we had yet to reach the only channel by which 
they might escape, there they opposed us. We 
pressed hard, but they did not yield. Then I 
outflanked them; but too late, for their purpose 
was achieved. We captured two mashhufs; 
they were filled with women, whom we beat. 



THE BURNING OF THE BAIT HATIM 319 
learning then that the whole Bait had escaped 
to safety, and with them had taken their house 
hold goods. True, we burnt their village, but 
what are a few empty reed houses to these marsh- 
men?" 

A boat, slowly poled by two tribesmen, neared 
the ishan as he spoke, and 'Osman Beg in his 
anxiety for news limped to the shore to meet it. 
"We have found one of the Bait Hatim, and 
have brought his body," said the men. 
"Where was he lying?" 

"Near the place where they first opposed us." 
"No prisoners?" asked 'Osman Beg hope 
fully. 

"They still search." 

From the group of villagers which had gath 
ered round the boat came the sound of a woman's 
weeping. "Y'umma, y'umma!" she wailed. "O 

wretched, O luckless 1 He went " 

"Be silent 1" ordered Saiyid 'Ajil, but in too 
peremptory a tone. 

"Is he of thy people?" asked 'Osman Beg 

suspiciously. 

"No." 

"But he is known to thee?" persisted 'Osman. 

"Aye, known to us all," said the old Saiyid. 
"It is Haji Rikkan, the peddler, who came but 
yesterday to barter with us, and in the night fled 



320 THE MARSH ARAB 

from this place for fear lest he should be robbed 

of his wares." 

"But why thither?" asked 'Osman Beg. 
"Why to the Bait Hatim? Tell me, what are 
they to him?" 

Saiyid 'Ajil could prevaricate no longer. 

"The Bait Hatim are of his blood," he said. 

In the silence which followed, 'Osman Beg, 
limping forward, gazed down at the lifeless 
body stretched in the mashhuf. It was this old 
man, then, who had carried warning to the Bait 
Hatim, who had brought to naught his deep-laid 
plans and robbed him of the rewards which 
might have been his. This frail and worn body, 
its quenched eyes staring steadfastly into the sun, 
had housed a spirit swift to respond, even at the 
cost of life itself, to the call of tribal loyalty. 

"It is ever the unregarded stone which breaks 
a man's head," muttered 'Osman, bitterness giv 
ing way to fatalism in the face of heroic death. 

"His kinsmen are safe : let them be grateful," 
said Saiyid 'Ajil, "and may Allah, the Com 
passionate, show him mercy!" 

"Aye," assented 'Osman Beg, "on him the 
mercy!" 

THE END 



GLOSSARY 

A list of the commoner foreign words used in the text. 
'Aba the Arab's voluminous outer garment. 
Al the. 

Bait house; section of a tribe. 
Beg title of honour in Turkey and some other parts of the 

East. 

Bimbashi the Major. 
Birkhash type of one of the larger boats used by the 

Marsh Arabs. 
Chafiya see kafiya. 
Challabtya small craft used in the marshes for hunting, 

fishing, etc. 
Ghaoush sergeant. 
Chiswa present of clothing. 
Dakhala the right of a fugitive to claim protection from 

another, even at the cost of the latter's life. 
Danak type of native boat. 
DHla* birth-gift. 
Disdasha a garment. 
Farangt European. 
Fasl agreement to compensate. 
Fatihah prayer. 
Gusba- a long reed. 
Hadh wet bctkht word of honour. 

fJaji Mohammedan who has made the journey to Mecca. 
Hakim political officer. 
Harim harem. 

Hosa type of celebration in which the Arabs indulge. 
Hoshiya soldiers or police of one of the shaikhs. 
Ibn son, 
Ishan mound in the marshes upon which a village or a 

hut is built. 
Jaxira -desert. 



322 THE MARSH ARAB 

Jinn supernatural being or spirit. 

Kafiya the turban out of which the Arab makes his head 
dress. 

Khan inn. 
Kran a silver coin ; the monetary unit of Persia, equivalent 

to about eight cents. 
Ma' dan Marsh Arab. 
Madhif guest-hall; among the Bani Lam a hair tent, 

among the Albu Mohammed a reed tent. 
Majarsha implement for husking rice. 
Mardi high pole-like reed of the marshes. 
Mashhuf crescent-shaped small boats used by the Marsh 

Arabs. 

Mashhuf 'chi a boatman. 
Misha spade with six-foot handle. 
Mudir Governor of Turkish village. 
Mullah clerk or secretary. 

Mumins professional men of the Mohammedan religion. 

Nafar a private soldier. 

Padishah title in Persia of the shah or king, 

Pasha Turkish officer of high rank. 

Radd al madhalim indulgences. 

Sahib American, Englishman, or European as spoken of or 

to by the natives. 

Saiyid professional man of the Mohammedan religion. 
Shabad stout pliable reed from which the marshman makes 

the framework of his hut. 
Shaikh sheik. 
Shittal rice rice sown in one place and then transplanted 

by hand. 

Tail Bardi telegraph of the reeds ; rumour- - . 

Tantal an evil spirit. 
Tisyar protection. 
Torrada a type of native boat. 
Yuzbashi captain of the local gendarmerie.