KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK TENTS
After Auda, Mohammed el Dheilan is the chief figure
of the Abu Tayi. He is taller than his cousin and mas-
sively built ; a square-headed, thoughtful man of forty-
five, with a melancholy humour and a kind heart care-
fully concealed beneath it. He acts as master of cere-
monies for the Abu Tayi, is Auda’s right hand man, and
frequently appears as his spokesman. Mohammed is
greedy, richer than Auda, deeper and more calculating.
Allah has endowed him with the eloquence of an Arabian
Demosthenes ; his tribesmen address him as ” Father
of Eloquence.” In a tribal council he can always be
relied upon to persuade his audience to accept his views.
He can wield a sword right lustily too, and is ” a drinker
of the milk of war ” second only in prowess to the
Zaal Ibn Motlog is Auda’s nephew. He is twenty-
five, something of a dandy, with polished teeth, carefully
curled moustache, and a trimmed and pointed beard.
He, too, is greedy and sharp-witted, but without Moham-
med’s mentahty. Auda has been training him for years
as chief scout to the tribe, so that he is a most daring
and acceptable commander in a ghazu.
Nuri Shalaan, Emir of Jauf, is not such a picturesque
character as his friend and kinsman, Auda Abu Tayi,
but as ruler of the Rualla Anazeh tribe, two hundred
thousand strong, the largest single tribe in the desert,
occupying nearly all the territory between Damascus
and Bagdad, he is one of the great men of Arabia, His
friendship was most vital to Hussein and Lawrence in
the taking of Deraa and Damascus, and might have been
of tremendous weight to Feisal now that he has been
placed on the throne of Mesopotamia had he not sold him-
self to the French in S^Tia in 1919, after the war. Law-
rence would not let Nuri declare war on the Turks until
the last minute, because Nuri’s allegiance would have
meant too many mouths to feed. Nuri Shalaan was
the deadly enemy of Ibn Rashid, who cooperated with
the Turks, but who since the Great War has lost his
portion of Arabia to Sultan Ibn Saud of Nejd.
At one time Nuri Shalaan wanted an armourer. He
captured Ibn Bard of Hail, Ibn Rashid’s armourer, the
most skilled man of his craft in Arabia, and put him in
prison with his own smith, Ibn Zarih. He gave them
both forges and tools and declared that they should
languish in prison until Ibn Zarih could make swords
and daggers that could not be distinguished from those
of Ibn Bani. They sweated and worked and the forges
were kept burning until late every night, and finally,
after many weeks, Ibn Zarih produced a wonderful
dagger with an edge that could almost cut the wind.
Nuri was satisfied, he released his two prisoners, and
sent Ibn Bani back to his country with rich presents.
Nuri Shalaan was an old man of seventy when the
Arab revolution broke out. He was always ambitious,
and determined to be a leader. Thirty years ago he
killed his two brothers and made himself chief of the
tribe. He ruled his people with a rod of iron, and they
were practically the only Bedouin who obeyed orders.
If they fail him he has their heads cut off ; but in spite
of his cruelty his followers all admire and are proud of
him. Most Arab sheiks talk like magpies, but Nuri
remains silent in the tribal council and settles everything
with a few final clean-cut words of decision. Until the
end of the war he had preferred tent life to that of all the
palaces from Bagdad to the Bosphorus, and kept great
state in the largest black goat’s-hair tent in the desert.
where sheep were slaughtered every few minutes for the
endless stream of guests. He owned the best wheat
land in Syria and the finest camels and horses. He is
so rich he does not know how to measure his wealth.
Motlog Ibn Jemiaan, sheik of the Beni Atiyeh, south
of Maan, added four thousand fighting men to King
Hussein’s forces. He is hard-working and brave as a hon.
He helped Lawrence blow up trains near Maan, and was
in the thick of the fray whenever there were railway
stations to be captured or any other little jobs of a
‘particularly dangerous nature. During the scouting
around Maan, two of Lawrence’s officers were trying
I to find an ancient Roman road in the desert. Motlog,
always eager for adventure, went with them. In the
deep sand their Ford careered madly from left to right,
and then at one point swerved so sharply that Motlog
was thrown on his head. The officers jumped out of the
car and ran back to pick him up and apologize to him,
thinking he would be very angry. But the old sheik
I brushed off the sand and said ruefully, ” Please don’t be
I offended with me, I have not learnt to ride one of these
I things yet.” He regarded riding in a motor-car as an
I art that had to be mastered just like riding a camel.
The Robber Harith Clan may not have been in the
good graces of Hussein before the war, but their shereef,
Ali Ibn Hussein, a youth of nineteen, was responsible
for converting nearly the whole of the Hauran to the
revolt. He was the most reckless, most impertinent,
and j oiliest fellow in the Arabian army. The fastest
runner in the desert, he could catch up with a camel
with bare feet and swing into the saddle with one hand
while holding his rifle with the other. When Ah went
into battle he took off aU his clothing except his drawers.
He said it was the cleanest way to get wounded. He
had a wild sense of humour, and made jokes about the
king in his presence. He was one of the two shereef’s
in the Hedjaz who did not stand in terror of King Hussein.
The other was Shereef Shakr, a cousin of FeisaJ, and the
richest man in the Hedjaz. He was the only big shereef
142 With Lawrence in Arabia
who plaited his hair, and, in addition, he encouraged Hce
in it, to show his respect for the old Bedouin proverb,
” A well-populated head is a sign of a generous mind.”
His home was in Mecca, but he spent most of his time in
the saddle with the Bedouin tribesmen.
These are a few of the leading chieftains, in some of
whom enthusiasm for Arabian nationalism had to be
kindled, others cajoled by appeals to their vanity, and
almost all inflamed with the zest for war on a big scale
— the game they had known and played at from child-
hood. When they had once sworn allegiance they were
as true as steel. Without their loyalty and dauntless
courage and epic love of blood-curdling adventure the
Arabian campaign would have been a dream on paper
fabricated by an impractical young archaeologist.
In his deahngs with Auda and other Arab chiefs,
Lawrence found their rich sense of humour an important
asset. Make an Arab laugh and you can persuade him
to do most things. Arabic is a solemn language, full of
ceremony and stateliness ; and the young British arch-
aeologist, who had an unusual knowledge of the various
dialects spoken in Arabia, made the discovery that the
direct translation into Arabic of ordinary colloquial
English spiced with wit delighted his hearers. Another
highly-useful weapon in Colonel Lawrence’s mental
armoury was the faculty of mastering the unexpected
with some inspired improvisation. Time and again he
happened upon a desperate situation from which there
was no obvious means of escape. In the space of a
few seconds his alert brain would work out some seemingly
fantastic but really brilliant method of dealing with the
Such an instance was one of his many adventures in
the Syrian desert. He was at the town of Azrak, among
the shifting sand-dunes south-east of Damascus, when a
courier brought news that some Turkish spies were in a I
caravan of S5rrian merchants which was on its way to the
Arabian army supply base at Akaba, 300 miles to the
south. He immediately decided that in order to draw
Knights of the Black Tents 143
the teeth of the spies he must reach Akaba either in
company with the caravan or soon after its arrival.
Normally the journey from Azrak to Akaba is twelve
days by camel, and already the Syrian caravan had a
start of nine days.
Reahsing that his followers could not stand the
forced pace at which he meant to travel, Lawrence took
with him but one man — a half-breed Haurani — who was
famous in the North Arabian desert for his endurance.
The pair were racing over the ridges between Azrak and
Bair, eighty miles south of the camp from which they
started, when suddenly a dozen Arabs appeared over the
edge of a sand-dune and galloped their camels down the
slope to cut off the strangers. As they approached the
Arabs shouted a request that Lawrence and his com-
panion should dismount and at the same time announced
themseJves as friends and members of the Jazi Howeitat
tribe. When only thirty yards away they themselves
dismounted by way of encouraging the lone couple to do
likewise. But Lawrence had recognized the Arabs as of
the Beni-Sakr, allies of the Turks and blood enemies
of most of the Bedouin tribes that were fighting for King
Hussein and Emir Feisal. It was known to the Beni-
Sakr that gold passed up and down the caravan route and
they were out looking for loot.
This particular sector was the only war-time trade
route between S3n:ia and Arabia along which the mer-
chants of Syria had for many months journeyed to Akaba
for the purchase of Manchester cotton. Lawrence used
cotton both as an aid to propaganda and as a means of
getting as much gold as possible from Syria and Turkey.
The Ottoman Empire needed cotton urgently, and for
this reason the military authorities allowed traders to
pass back and forth through the lines. When they
reached Akaba, Lawrence and the Arab leaders would
make converts among them by preaching Arab national-
istic doctrines. At the same time they would collect
much valuable information regarding conditions inTurkey.
The merchants were also useful in smuggling down to
144 With Lawrence in Arabia
Akaba German field-glasses which Lawrence needed for
the equipment of his desert troops.
Meanwhile, the dismounted marauders of the Beni-
Sakr stood on the sand and fingered their rifles expect-
antly, while still passing friendly greetings. Of a sudden
Lawrence grinned so genially that they became mystified.
” Come near, I want to whisper something to you,”
he said to their leader. Then bending down from the
saddle of his camel he asked : “Do you know what your
name is ? ”
The sheik looked speechless and rather amazed.
Lawrence continued : “I think it must be ‘ Terrace ! ‘ ”
This is the most terrible insult that one can offer a
Bedouin. The Beni-Sakr leader was dumfoimded and
rather nervous. He could not understand how an
ordinary traveller would dare to say such a thing to him
in the open desert when numbers and arms were on his
side. Before the sheik had time to recover himself,
Lawrence remarked pleasantly :
” May Allah give you peace ! ”
Quietly telling the Haurani to come along, he swung
off across the sand. The men of Beni-Sakr remained
half bewildered until the pair had ridden about a hundred
yards. Then they recovered their senses and started
shooting ; but the blonde Prince of Mecca galloped over
the nearest ridge and escaped. Bullets, by the way,
have but little immediate effect on a camel that is
traveUing at twenty miles an hour.
Both Lawrence and his Haurani nearly killed their
camels during the journey. They rode on an average
of twenty-two hours a day. From dawn to setting sun
they crossed the burning sands, only stopping then for
a moment’s rest for their camels. When they reached
Auda Abu Tayi’s country, east of the southern end of
the Dead Sea, they exchanged their mounts for fresh
beasts. They covered the whole distance of 300 miles
in just three days — a record for fast camel trekking that
may stand for some years.
Knights of the Black Tents 145
This weird adventure was but one of a hundred that
befell Lawrence. I heard of another which explain?
why he always carries a Colt revolver of an early frontier
Some years ago, while wandering in Asia Minor, near
Marash, a fever came upon him and he made for Birgik,
the nearest village. He happened to meet a Turkoman.
They are a semi-nomadic crowd of Mongol descent — men
with crooked eyes and faces that look as though they had
been modelled in butter and then left out in the sun.
He wasn’t quite sure of his directions, and asked the
Turkoman to point out the way. He replied, ” Right
across those low hills to the left.” As Lawrence turned
away from him the Mongol sprang on his back, and they
had a bit of a dog fight on the ground for a few minutes,
But Lawrence had walked over a thousand miles and,
apart from the fever, was nearly done up. Soon he
found himself underneath.
” He sat on my stomach, pulled out my Colt,” said
Lawrence, ” pressed it to my temple and pulled the trigger
many times. But the safety-catch was on. The Turko-
man was a primitive fellow and knew very little about
revolver mechanism. He threw the weapon away in
disgust, and proceeded to pound my head with a rock
until I was no longer interested. After taking everything
I had, he made off. I went to the village and got the
inhabitants to help me chase the scoundrel. We caught
him and made him disgorge the things he’d relieved me
of. Since then I’ve alwavs had a profound respect for
a Colt, and have never been without, one.”