loved egyptian night

A Note on Pronunciation
This novella is set during the Ottoman occupation of Arabia and so includes some Turkish names and terminology. At the time this would have been written in Arabic script, but I’ve used the Roman orthography adopted for Turkish after the War. The pronunciation of this isn’t always entirely obvious: 

C is pronounced ‘j’, as in ‘Jo’.
Ç is pronounced ‘ch’ as in ‘Change’.
J is pronounced as in French ‘je’.
Ş us pronounced ‘sh’ as in ‘Sheep’.
Ü is pronounced like French ‘u’ or German ‘ü’, halfway between English ‘u’ and ‘ee’.
İ (with the dot in both upper and lower case) is pronounced ‘i’ as in ‘Pin’.
I (without the dot in both upper and lower case) is pronounced as a schwa, like the final syllable of ‘Doctor’.


buried the mine only shallowly as we were disturbed midway through the operation by the vibrations rumbling down the tracks which signalled an approaching locomotive. Hurriedly we brushed the device over with sand and scurried down the embankment to the shingle bed of the wadi. Hamad trailed the wires and Asaf kicked dust and dirt over them. It was a poor job and if we had had the time I would have had them take up the whole apparatus and begin again. Unfortunately we lacked the luxury. The Turks on the train would surely have seen us if we had tried to defuse the device and wait for a later train. Cursing the Hejaz Railway that seemed these days to be my constant goad and irritant, I ushered the excitable Arabs into hiding behind a row of low vegetation. Though I could see them itching for the off, no-one broke cover before the moment came.

I took a position on the ridge to the south where I had a good view of the sweep of the tracks. The column of steam from the locomotive shone magnificent gold in the afternoon sun. Adhub brought me the exploder and together we watched the train approach. The locomotive was one of the bad wood-fired ones, clanking with difficulty up the slope and straining to drag along its train of trucks. The first seven were open-topped and crowded with Turkish troops. They slouched either through ill-discipline or tiredness in the afternoon heat, their rifles held loosely. Behind were a number of box-waggons and officers’ coaches. I pushed down the handle of the exploder and was delighted by the terrific explosion. Mud and sand spouted into the sky and the noise of shrieking and tearing metal was tremendous. 

Scrabbling to the brow of the ridge I squinted through the smoke and dust of the explosion. To my great satisfaction the blast had caught the locomotive perfectly and thrown it from the rails. It lay draped on its side down the slope of the embankment, its boiler torn into a ragged tangle of sooty ironwork by the force of the explosion. The drivers and several Turk officers lay dead around it. Much of the rest of the train was badly derailed behind it. It lay all at angles along the track, zig-zagging into the distance. Soldiers began to spill dazed and sluggish from the upturned trucks. I got to my feet and waved the signal to Hamad. With a thrilled cry of ‘God is great!’ he led the Beni Sakhr from their hiding place and they fell upon the enemy in huge uproar and excitement. As ever they wasted ammunition terribly in their onslaught and spared neither living nor dead as they ransacked the stricken train for gold and loot. 

Annoyed by their disorder, I ran down the slope, shouting at them. Some of the Turks had recovered their senses enough to take shelter behind debris and in the remains of the coaches, from where they took pot-shots at us with their rifles and pistols. The Arabs quickly fell back into cover and swiftly found their own range. The exchange of fire went on for several minutes, during which time I felt a number of bullets graze my shoulders and arms. When I came to check afterwards I found the drapery of my robes riddles with holes and had recourse once again to wonder at my luck – good or ill. Among the Turks I spied a fat officer with prodigious moustaches hiding in the shattered remains of a saloon-car decorated with flags. Whenever one of Hamad’s men got close he would snipe at him with his pistol, but for the most part, like a sensible coward he kept his head down. I pointed him out to Adhub and we plugged away at him until he dropped. Taking the opportunity to advance, I recognised his insignia and reckoned him to be Emre Mehmet Pasha, a colonel in the Eighth Army Corps and a trusted adviser to Mehmed Jemal Pasha. 

It was then that I spotted what I took to be German officers cowering within the saloon-car. Even at this distance and begrimed as they were with dirt I could make out the whiteness of their skin. As they realised Emre Mehmet was dead, one took the other by the arm and started to lead them out into the sunlight, waving a white handkerchief aloft. To my surprise I saw that both were civilians, the one an elderly gentleman with a fearsome shock of white hair and the aristocratic look I knew well from my time among the senior staff at Cairo. The other was a girl – barely more than a child she seemed to me at first glance, though I quickly realised she could not be all that much younger than myself. She was small, with yellow hair and a finely-featured face that made me at once nostalgic for the more subtle lands of Europe. 

Adhub raised his rifle to shoot them down, but I forced his aim down, cursing his stupidity and shouting at him that these were obviously not Turks. I saw no other civilian passengers among the survivors of the train so assumed that the pair must be emissaries from Berlin. Probably sent by the politicians to keep an eye on their Ottoman allies. I realised at once that Allenby would welcome the opportunity to question two such captives. Apart from that, I must confess, after so long alone among the Bedu the prospect of any European company filled me with excitement. I trained my pistol on them and called in German for them to remain still and raise their hands. The girl did so at once. The man scratched at the back of his neck and pulled a face of irritation before calling back in cultured English tones, 

‘Yes, well there’s really no need for that, old fellow. We’re as much enemies of the Kaiser as you are. In fact, if you hadn’t come along when you did we were facing a rather sticky situation.’ 

‘But he’s English!’ the girl exclaimed in surprise. This caught me off-guard, for I had gathered there was hardly a white man in Arabia who had not heard of the fabled English officer sent to rouse the Arab revolt. The man too was evidently surprised, for he reproached her, albeit with evident affection: 

‘Really, Jo? Don’t you know your history? This is the Hejaz, 1917.’ He turned to me and smiled respectfully. ‘And you must be Lawrence of Arabia. It’s an honour to meet you, sir. I’m the Doctor.’

T.E. Lawrence

Extract from ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, first draft.


Take up the White Man's burden—

And reap his old reward:

The blame of those ye better,

The hate of those ye guard—

The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--

"Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?"

Rudyard Kipling

Naqbah (1948)

Palestine has but a small population of Arabs and fellahin and wandering, lawless, blackmailing Bedouin tribes. Restore the country without a people to the people without a country. (Hear, hear.) For we have something to give as well as to get. We can sweep away the blackmailer—be he Pasha or Bedouin—we can make the wilderness blossom as the rose, and build up in the heart of the world a civilisation that may be a mediator and interpreter between the East and the West.

Dawn rose over Deir al-Hamra as red and bloody as the night which had preceded it. Abdul-Malik al-Belawi sat on his roof in the shade of a cypress tree and sipped coffee from a copper cup. Across the valley smoke was rising from Ras al-Haram and Beit Kabara. The olive groves were ablaze. The groves where he’d courted Yael, a lifetime ago. Back when politics had seemed an irrelevant game played by distant old men. 

He scratched at his greying beard and took another sip of the coffee. The bitterness made him grimace. His thoughts were still on Yael. What would she make of the grizzled and creased old man he had become? In his mind’s eye she was still as young and beautiful as the last night he’d seen her. He spooned the last of his sugar into the black liquid and stirred it away until it dissolved. See what becomes of all youth’s vain hopes: sweet words and promises gone to black bitterness in the mouth. 

Down in the village, someone started shouting. A deep rumbling from the valley drew the men from their houses. Women came to the windows. There was nothing to see. Not yet, anyway. The noise was still faint, muffled by distance and the vegetation. It grew louder with every passing minute until it drowned out even the cicadas. Everyone knew what it was. Motor engines. A column of Jewish armoured vehicles. Within moments there was a rifle in every man’s hands. Old Lee Enfields, many of which had been here longer than Abdul-Malik. A band of youths were shouting patriotic slogans and anti-Zionist war-cries. Raising an Allah-u-akbar, they ran down the track into the valley, firing shots into the air. Young men never changed. As they did so often these days, Abdul-Malik’s thoughts returned to the desert, to Aurens and Auda and Sherif Ali. To childish dreams of an Arab nation.