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boiler trouble. This, which about the river he was silent. detained him at Basrah and It seemed as though the monotprevented him from keeping ony of that tame voyage, so his word, had the secondary often repeated, had obliterated result of giving me time to in his mind, as in the minds revisit the marsh country of of all his fellows, any other Southern Iraq, and incidentally features that it might once to alight on one of its half- have had for him. revealed tragedies.
For, despite the dulness of The bridge of boats swung its banks, the river is full of slowly open, and we passed interest—that river which has through on the broad olive- seen so many armies crossing green bosom of the Tigris. in pomp and splendour, or Baghdad, with its rickety ver- returning in flight, panicandahs sagging dangerously stricken and broken. Almost over the water, its crumbling every reach has its associabrick houses hiding their de- tions. From the deck we had crepitude under a a coat of just seen on one bank the gaudy. yellow paint, drifted group of low mounds which past us and was left behind, are the old canal banks of and we glided on between the Nahr Malka, down which green gardens in which the Julian the Apostate brought palm groves' deep gloom was his fleet of eleven hundred splashed with brightness by vessels from the Euphrates to the early blossom of peach the Tigris, only to be burnt and apricot. Here å blind - subsequently at his own order fold horse was turning a Persian -a Cortez-like gesture which water - wheel, here rhythmic might have won the world's puffs of smoke floated upwards applause, if Julian's expedition from the more modern mechan- had not ended in failure and ical pump. Under the perfect his own death. This canal was sky of a spring day in Iraq re-excavated by the British Adwe swung down the river, its ministration almost on its old winding curves apparently un- alignment, and under its new ending before us. Only the name of Yusifiyah now irrigates ship's meals, presided over by many thousands of acres up the skipper, broke the monot- till then barren. On the other ony of the long day. The cap- bank we could see Ctesiphon, tain of a Tigris steam-boat the winter capital of the Sasmay be warmed to enthusiasm sanian kings—the city before on many and various subjects, which a force of sixty thousand but in my experience the great Roman soldiers retired, thinking river, in travelling up and down it impregnable, but which fell which he has often spent years only a couple of centuries later of his life, is never one of them. to the wild Bedouin forces of Our skipper talked of shoes Islam under Sa'd. So rich was and ships and sealing-wax, but the treasure that every common soldier received the equiva- along, flinging its doubtless lent of £500. The noble arch uncomplaining occupants into of the hall, which every travel the hood at every bump on the ler up the Tigris has described, uneven track. gives in its splendid isolation Later in the day we passed as poignant an impression of a few mud hovels, where in the departed glory as many another time of the Abbasid Caliphs ruin of greater extent or even a flourishing town had stood, greater antiquity.
with its toll-bar across the The boat swept on down the river, and its great Christian sinuous river, with scarcely a monastery known as the “ Con. sound to break the noon still- vent of the Loop.” Now the ness, save the cry of the leads- broad curve of the Tigris was man as from his perch in the empty, lifeless ; WO Saw no bows he thrust his bending boat nor craft of any kind for pole into the water swirling mile upon mile, until, a little past. For miles one would above Kut, we came upon half see no tree of any sort, then a dozen loaded mahailas moored perhaps only a few date-palms. for the night against the bank, Of cultivation there was hardly their slender graceful masts a sign, for such crops as there cutting sharply
the were lay farther inland, out orange sky of sunset ; under of sight from the river. The the light and flimsy straw one growing thing seemed to matting which sheltered the be camel-thorn, which flour weary tow-men, more than one ished on all sides, its spiky had a fire leaping merrily. bare twigs violet in the sun- In quickly-gathering darkshine. Here and there a group ness we reached the shadowy of women, cutting and piling gardens and half - lit coffee it into bundles to sell as fire- houses of Kut-al-Amara—scene wood, showed that an encamp- of what desperate, obstinate ment was near; then would hope, what unwilling despair, come a cluster of black goat- what tardy rehabilitation ! The hair tents, a row of karids with little town has returned to its their dun-coloured oxen draw- former inconspicuousness; but ing up the dripping skins of the blue-tiled minaret of its water, a group of grazing mosque is only just repaired camels, or a neatly-stacked pile of the battering it sustained of liquorice roots destined for from an unlucky British shell. America, there it is said) to be Kut is the ancient Madharayah, used in the manufacture of and stands near the junction tobacco. Again the empty of the great Nahrwan canal desert on both sides ; but here with the Tigris. Another link the road ran parallel to the with the past is the site farther river, and on it-strange in- down-stream of the causeway congruous intruder from an- which carried the old caravan other world—a Ford car raced route across the Tigris towards lady ;
Susa—“Shushan the Palace” an imposing nor a dignified of the Old Testament. Arab figure; yet it is undeniable legend, half-forgotten now, has that most of these lower-grade another story of the causeway's officials are surprisingly apt origin : the mound on the left at getting the best out of the bank, still known as Filaifilah, rough-and-ready methods of was so called from a lady of Oriental administration. I had surpassing beauty, whose lover, known Khalil Effendi of old, Surut, gave his name to the when he was the mamur of an opposite mound. Every night, out-of-the-way little station Leander-like, he would swim rarely visited by any one. In across the river to visit his spite of this isolation, his books
and she, wishful to were most meticulously kept spare him that not unformid- in the finest Arabic script. At able journey (if he kept it up a word of praise his glum face through the spring floods), had would light up, and he would the causeway built for him. fall to discussing, with all the
At Kut our only other pas- fervour of an enthusiast, the senger left the ship, a sleek Science of Writing; and in Italian. From the guarded order that his children might cross-examination with which remain in a town to enjoy the he favoured me, I gathered advantages of that education that his mission was to find by which the Arab effendi sets out the whereabouts of the such pathetic store, he preabandoned war material and ferred to remain alone in the ammunition dumps on the tiny station, in which he and battlefields round Kut, with a handful of policemen were a view to exporting the scrap the only inhabitants, doing his to Italy.
own cooking and fetching all Early next morning we his needs from the nearest suq, reached another little river- thirty miles away. side town, surrounded by its During the long journey from groves of date and orange Baghdad we had only entrees. The mud houses looked countered one British official, in the glaring sunlight as if an Administrative Inspector, they were made of white stone. who enjoyed the doubtful We did not land to destroy measure of popularity accorded the illusion, though we banked to his kind. Welcomed by the in to pick up the mail, and Arab officials when he shares were greeted with effusion by an unacceptable responsibility, the local representative of the regarded with impatient disGovernment. Occidental in- trust when he restrains them fluence on the Arab is usually from hasty and ill-considered disastrous as regards appear. action ; welcomed by the ance: this mudir, with his shaikhs when he intervenes beunshaven chin and travesty tween them and their stronger of European dress, was not brethren, execrated when the intervention is between them of scarlet, all but the black and their oppressed tribesmen faded to drab by the fierce -an Administrative Inspector and politically neutral sun. leads a thankless though not My work finished, I learned unamusing life.
from the Company's agent of At length, rounding the last the boiler trouble which delayed bend of legion, we sighted the the return journey of the ship, little town in which I was to and gave me a clear three days carry out my inspection. On with nothing to do. I decided the large square building which to accept the hospitality offered had been Army Headquarters by Shaikh Rahaige, and to under the Union Jack when spend as much time as I could first I saw it, the new flag in the marsh country, which of Iraq flapped bravely-green, in the old days I had known so white, and black, with triangle well.
We left Shaikh Rahaige's muscular form and flashing great reed madhif while it was teeth, and sent a friendly still dark. In the cool slanting thought after him into the sunlight of early morning we shades. Thedour-looking young came upon a group of low huts, Arab, a nephew, who had taken clustered on the narrow spit of his place in the bow of Bahaland between the cloudy waters lool's mashhuf, seemed a poor of the Tigris and the limpid substitute for the elder twin. blue stream issuing from the “No gun” said Bahalool, Marshes. Under the shelving as we pushed off. bank a mashhuf waited, and I shook my head. After so as we approached Bahalool many years' absence I did not paddled it swiftly out to want to shoot. I wanted to meet us.
pick up the threads of my old “ Where is Jahalool?” I intimacy with the Marsh-to asked, after we had exchanged spend a long day in renewing greetings.
the old impressions of its soli"Fidwa illak-a sacrifice for tary beauty. I wanted to glide you,” replied his brother, using down the narrow hidden waterthe tribal euphemism for channels, to cross the wide, “dead.” He offered no details, wind-swept, blue lakes, and to and I accordingly asked for hear once more the ceaseless none. It was nearly eight whisper of the reeds, that low years since the two had paddled murmur which is at once so me almost daily about the familiar and so friendly, until Marshes, but I remembered suddenly, almost against one's the unfailing good temper and will, one hears in its gentle and ready wit of Jahalool, his huge serene voice a note of warning,
a suggestion of lurking danger, flowers were at their loveliest, a hint of tragedy.
gleaming like jewels on the Bahalool, paddling with effort- surface of the water, or half less strength, broke in upon my hiding their delicate pinks and thoughts.
yellows in the shadow of the Whither?"
rushes. Bird voices sounded Where you will,” said I. sharply. Occasionally we sur“As your honour wishes," prised flock of “ watersaid he.
chickens," which, with agitated "To the Chains," I sug- paddling of their little black gested.
feet, would flee to safety, the According to your order,” cranes and dignified herons replied the laconic Bahalool ; following more slowly. We but I could tell from the way followed a water-channel, which in which he braced his shoul- twisted and turned as it ders, and flung & guttural threaded a narrow path through word to his companion, that the ever taller reeds ; now it we were in for a long day's broadened into a deep still paddling
pool, now to
a wide and My suggestion was a random sunlit space of wind-ruffled one. I had heard, in the old water; for, however still, days, vague references to the even oppressive, the sheltered “Chains"; what chains, and streams may seem, there is why they were there, no ques- always a fresh breeze on the tioning had ever been able to open water of the Marshes. elicit. But whatever they were, The reeds had now become I knew they were in the heart high ramparts, shutting out of the Marsh, and to the heart the sun : old, thick, and towerof the Marsh I wanted to go ing masses, so far from any that day.
marsh settlements that they The sun rose higher, deepen- had never been disturbed by ing the blue of the water and Ma'dan seeking material for the changing greens and browns hut-building, for buffalo fodder, of the tall rushes. In silence or for mats. In front, the we went swiftly on-silence friendly reeds seemed to open hardly ruffled by the small of themselves to provide a way soughing wind, by the dip of for us; behind, they closed their the untiring paddles, and by ranks in dark and threatening the murmurous voices in the masses against the sky, as reeds. From time to time we though prepared to oppose our passed boats laden with mats return. In places the water -mashhufs and danaks, the was hidden by weeds so thick only means of communication and matted that the mashin these two and three-quarter hufchis could hardly force a million acres of swamp. The way through. . In others it reeds grew thicker; on this was clear and still, unfathomspring morning the tiny marshably deep below the powdery