A statement by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud as quoted in "Lord of Arabia"
Lord of Arabia
A Biography of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud
by H. C. Armstrong
"I am", he continued raising his voice and repeating his favourite phrase, "I am a simple preacher. My mission is to spread the Faith, if possible by persuasion and if not by persuasion then by the sword".
With his arguments the Wahabis had no sympathy. For them all good Moslems were Wahabis. The rest were mushrekin, worse than heretics. They, the Wahabis, were the only true Moslems and the only true Arabs. The only sanctions they needed were their own consciences.
Near the end of World War II, U.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Yalta, in the Soviet Crimea, to negotiate the postwar world order and the creation of the United Nations with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and the Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
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Please note: Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is an imperfect art. The book was not perfectly printed. If there are questions - please view a printed copy or the .pdf above. I corrected several "obvious" letter transpositions in the general text - however, place and people names seemed to have been carefully proofed in the original and seem to be at least self consistant. Some spelling may be "British" English, such as "axix" which was used several times.
The book as printed is represented below the bar - there was no table of contents. As an aid to reader navigation, I offer the following: (the Arabic numbers are page numbers, for links from the Index)
Front of book
Chapter III 006
Chapter IV 009
Chapter V 014
Chapter VI 017
Chapter VII 019
Chapter VIII 023
Chapter IX 025
Chapter X 027
Chapter XII 032
Chapter XIII 037
Chapter XIV 040
Chapter XV 043
Chapter XVI 045
Chapter XVII 047
Chapter XVIII 051
Chapter XXI 057
Chapter XXII 058
Chapter XXIII 060
Chapter XXIV 063
Chapter XXV 067
Chapter XXVI 072
Chapter XXVII 073
Chapter XXVIII 076
Chapter XXIX 080
Chapter XXX 088
Chapter XXXII 093
Chapter XXXIII 095
Chapter XXXIV 097
Chapter XXXV 100
Chapter XXXVI 102
Chapter XXXVII 105
Chapter XXXVIII 108
Chapter XL 112
Chapter XLI 118
Chapter XLII 122
Chapter XLIII 124
Chapter XLIV 126
Chapter XLV 129
Chapter XLVI 134
Chapter XLVIII 139
Chapter XLIX 141
Chapter L 142
Chapter LI 144
Chapter LII 147
Chapter LIII 149
Chapter LIV 154
Chapter LV 157
Chapter LVI 159
Chapter LVII 161
Chapter LVIII 162
Chapter LIX 168
Chapter LX 172
Chapter LXI 175
Chapter LXII 177
Chapter LXIII 179
Chapter LXIV 181
Chapter LXV 184
Chapter LXVI 188
Chapter LXVII 191
Chapter LXVIII 194
Chapter LXIX 197
Chapter LXX 203
Chapter LXXI 206
Chapter LXXII 210
Chapter LXXIII 215
Chapter LXXIV 219
Chapter LXXV 221
Chapter LXXVI 224
Chapter LXXVII 228
Chapter LXXVIII 231
Chapter LXXIX 235
Chapter LXXX 242
Chapter LXXXI 248
Lord of Arabia
A Biography of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud
by H. C. Armstrong
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
TURKEY IN TRAVAIL
TURKEY AND SYRIA RE-BORN
GREY WOLF - MUSTAFA KEMAL
PRINTED IN HARISSA, LEBANON BY THE ST. PAUL'S PRESS . DESIGNED
KHAYAT'S COLLEGE BOOK COOPERATIVE
32 and 34 Rue Bliss Beirut, Lebanon
Lord of Arabia
An Intimate Study of a King
By H. C. ARMSTRONG
BY THE GRAHAM ASSOCIATES CORPORATION • BEIRUT, LEBANON
I desire to express my thanks to
HIS MAJESTY KING ABDUL AZIZ
for his hospitality and many kindnesses
on my last visit to Arabia
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSI WISH to thank innumerable friends and acquaintances who have placed their personal knowledge at my disposal, but who must remain unnamed, and also: The British Museum, The Daily Telegraph, The Editor of the Umu-al-Kura of Mecca, The Imperial War Museum, The Royal Geographical Society, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, The School of Oriental Languages, The Times, The Near East and India,
for placing much material in my hands and treating me with unfailing kindness.
H. C. A.
TO DESCRIBE, so that he may live before the reader, a Moslem and an Arab of outstanding personality, in terms that come within the everyday consciousness of Christians and Europeans has not been easy.
The Europeans and the Arabs have much on which they do not agree. They differ in experience, outlook, and manner of expression. Often their standards of right and wrong are not the same. Thus the desert Arabs are aghast at the unpunished adultery and fornication of the Europeans, while the Europeans are shocked at the legal polygamy of the desert Arabs. Polygamy is punished by imprisonment in Europe. Adultery is punished by death by stoning in Arabia. I have, therefore, boldly translated both ideas and phrases, so that the reader shall grasp the correct meaning easily, rather than that his mind should boggle with uncertainty over meticulous details set down in unaccustomed language.
Arabic is full of complicated sounds which cannot be produced correctly with Roman characters. It has twenty eight letters which can be made into intricate combinations and which change in shape as they combine.
For the spelling of Arabic words I have kept one rule that, while keeping as close to the sound as possible, the written word shall not torment the English reading eye. Thus Saud may be written Saoud, Sa'ud, Sa'oud, Seoud, Se'aoud, Si'oud, Esseoud, and in a dozen more ways. I have kept it as Saud.
Again an Arab delights in complicating names. Given any name he will quote a whole genealogical table for it. Thus he will describe Ibn Saud as Abdul Aziz ibn (son of) Abdur Rahman al-Feisal al (of the family of) Saud. He will add more generations if he is in the mood. To increase the complications he may call Ibn Saud, Abu Twrki, the Father of Turki, Ibn Saud's firstborn son. In this book I have for each personality chosen one name and retained it throughout.
On the life of Ibn Saud there is little documentary evidence, such as books and articles and records. The two principal authorities are Mr. St. John Philby, an English Moslem, who was at one time in the Indian Civil Service, and is now trading in Arabia for English and American firms, and Mr. Ameen Rihani, an Arab Christian from Syria of American nationality. The major portion of the evidence collected has been from word of mouth. The books of Mr. St. John Philby and Mr. Ameen Rihani I have used freely. They are full of valuable material. I have, however, used them only after careful corroboration, whenever possible, with persons present at the events described.
FAR back in Time, when Europe lay shrivelled and cold under the glaciers of the Age of ice, Arabia was a land of forests and pastures, and watered by three great rivers.
Then as the earth spun over on its axix and its crust heaved, rising here and falling there, the seasons and the climates changed; and, as the ice melted, Europe woke to life. But Arabia became a desert, for the rain came no more; the rivers dried up; the forests withered away; over the pastures swept shifting sand.
For many centuries it remained so. On its frontiers civilizations grew to maturity and decayed; countries became rich; great empires rose and fell. To the east along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rose Babylon and Nineveh; and beyond them Persia; to the west, Egypt and the Pharaohs with all their pomp and majesty; to the north, by the shores of the Mediterranean, Phoenicia and the Roman Empire. But Arabia remained isolated and, except for rare travellers' tales, unknown. The merchants who came trading across the ocean from the Indies and Africa up the Red Sea, bringing jewels and ivory, spices and myrrh and frankincense to the trading-posts which the Jews had made at Mecca and Medina, told tales of great cities hidden behind the desert; but they were only travellers' tales. In the century before Christ the Emperor Augustus sent his Governor of Egypt to invade Arabia and find these cities. The Governor found only a barren land inhabited by wild tribes; and many of his men died of thirst in the great wastes.
Arabia remained isolated and unknown, for it was a brutal country and inhospitable, a land of cruelty and violence. Where there was a little water, round wells, in an oasis, and on the sea-shores some built villages of mud huts, and with their primitive irrigation fought for existence against the sand that for ever came thrusting in on them persistent and relentless. The rest were shepherds, bedouin, who wandered throughout the seasons driving their flocks across the vast steppes in search of grazing. Both villagers and bedouin lived hard and dangerously. They were pagans and savages, unclean, poverty-stricken, debased in their habits, idolaters with crude and brutal beliefs. They were proud men, fiercely independent and prepared to sacrifice themselves for their freedom. Untamed and untamable, they were split up into small tribes, which were continuously at war with each other and were savagely intolerant of any stranger or of any innovation.
Suddenly out of this monstrous chaos was born a Great Man, preaching a Great Religion-the Prophet Mohamed preaching Islam. Islam united the Arabs, purified them, bound them into one people. Mohamed filled them with a great Faith. His power increased rapidly. Within ten years he controlled all Arabia. His successors and followers advanced across the Euphrates into Persia and beyond. Northwards they went through Syria into Asia Minor and stormed at the walls of Constantinople. Westwards they swept along the African coast across the Sahara to the Atlantic and up into Spain and threatened France. Within a hundred years they had expanded their rule until the Arab Empire stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Indus River and from Central Africa to the Persian frontier. Islam itself went farther: to Constantinople and from there with the victorious Turks across the Balkans to the gates of Vienna to threaten all Christendom; across the Black Sea to the Crimea and Russia; and by Persia across Central Asia to the Great Wall of China. But as the Arab Empire expanded and Islam became the Faith of many people, Arabia itself ceased to be the centre. The centre moved to Damascus, and then to Baghdad and Cairo. Out of the Desert had come the faith and the driving force, but Arabia, having given birth to these, sank back into its old state. Once more it became a land of ignorance and violence, shut off from the outside world. Many more centuries passed. The Middle Ages, the Crusades, the Empire of Byzantium came and went. Tamerlaine the Tartar and Jengis Khan swept by, destroying. The Turks came conquering, seized and held all the gates to the East, and then in turn began to lose their grip and fail. In all these events Arabia took no part. Shut away behind the barriers of the Desert, its people lived their own lives, strove with the sand for their bare existence, raided, murdered and fought each other in their eternal tribal wars and their blood-feuds. The Turks claimed suzerainty over them, but it was without reality.
So a thousand years passed, and then once more, late in the eighteenth century, came a man with the fire of religion in him to weld the Arabs into one people and to inflame 'them into action. There came Mohamed ibn Abdul Wahab preaching a revival of Islam. Ibn Abdul Wahab was a fanatic. He ripped away the heresies and abuses which had grown up round Islam and he preached the Faith in its original simplicity. He called on the Arabs to purify themselves, to forswear all pleasure and luxury, and with rigid asceticism to serve God, the One True God. For a while he was persecuted, until he took refuge in the Principality of Nejd and claimed the protection of one Mohamed ibn Saud, who ruled in the towns of Diriya and Riad. The centre of Arabia is a plateau shut in on three sides by desert and on the fourth by steppes where the bedouin graze their flocks. This plateau is the Principality of Nejd. Over this plateau are scattered many villages and oases. The people of Nejd, the Nejdis, who live in them, are hard-working and stolid. Through the centre of the plateau runs a long valley rich in water and filled with palm-groves and gardens. In this valley stands the town of Riad. Riad is the core of Nejd, and Nejd is the core and the very heart of Arabia. Who rules in Nejd may rule all Arabia. Saud, the Amir of Diriya and Riad, was ambitious. He recognized the value of the Abdul Wahab. He made an agreement with him: together by preaching and the sword they would bring the Arabs back to the true Faith of Islam. Their success was immediate. Saud was a leader and a soldier; Abdul Wahab was a preacher whose preaching caught the imagination of the desert Arabs. First they cleansed Diriya and Riad and then Nejd: they destroyed the idols and tombs of the saints; they enforced the orders of the Koran to the letter, the five daily prayers and the keeping of the Fast; they forbade smoking, drinking wine, and, as a dramatic warning, they stoned to death in the open market a woman guilty of adultery. Tribe after tribe submitted to them and was filled with a savage fanaticism. Their enemies nicknamed them Wahabis. Led by Saud, known as the Great, they swept out beyond Nejd conquering and converting by the sword. Within sixty years they had established their rule across all Arabia, from the Persian Gulf to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina and from the Indian Ocean to the Lebanon mountains of Syria. They were masters of the desert, and they refused to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Caliph and Sultan of Stamboul and his Turks. They raided into Mesopotamia and destroyed the sacred city of Kerbela. With the hunger of desert-men for the wealth of the fertile lands beyond, and as their ancestors had done before them, they pressed on northwards to attack Syria and the shores of the Mediterranean, and so to burst out into the world beyond, attacked Aleppo and made it pay tribute, and looted the outskirts of Damascus, and raided down to Basra. The Turks woke to the danger, and ordered Mohamed Ali, their Viceroy in Egypt, to march into Arabia. Mohamed Ali defeated the Wahabis, invaded Nejd, captured the Wahabi capital and sent the Wahabi ruler in chains to Constantinople. There before the Mosque of Santa Sophia where the Great Square runs down to the foot of the Bosphorus, the Turks beheaded him with much ceremony. Then, weary of the harsh land, the Turks and Egyptians established a few garrisons and went gladly home, leaving the Arabs to themselves. Like sand before the wind the Wahabi Empire of Saud the Great was gone. Nejd lay broken. With no strong man to unite and lead them, the Arabs split once more into quarrelling tribes. All Arabia was ripped into pieces by wars, raids, tribe raiding tribe while their sheiks plotted and intrigued, murdered their kinsfolk and rivals and were in turn murdered. Throughout the nineteenth century Arabia was again a land of bloodshed and strife, a land of brutality and violence where no man's life was safe and to which few travellers came. Thus it was when, in 1880, on a November morning, at the time when the muezzins were calling to the dawn prayer, there was born, in the palace at Riad, to Abdur Rahman, one of the descendants of Saud the Great and to Sarah his wife, a son whom they named Abdul Aziz, but who was known, after his great ancestor, as Ibn Saud.
IBN SAUD was brought up in a wing of the palace. He was suckled by his mother, who was the daughter of one Ahmed Sudairi, a headman of the Dawasir tribe from the south, a big-built woman of a stock from which big men had come. Like all Arab women of good family she had been veiled since the age of seven and shut away indoors with the other women behind latticed windows and locked doors in the palace harem. She rarely went out, and then only heavily veiled, with a negro slave as escort, and to visit other women. Like other Arab women also, she had never been taught to read or write, and except for women's gossip she was ignorant of what went on in the outside world, so that she could neither be a companion nor take any part in the active lives of her men, but she had a shrewd judgment of values. She was devout, and with an innate common sense that made her wise in advice, so that at home she had much influence with her husband and her children. The palace was an immense, sprawling building of halls and chambers and dark twisting corridors, built round a central courtyard and inside a high wall, but it had no plan, for it had grown haphazardly. As more rooms were required, new houses had been built, connected into the rest by passages and overhead bridges, and the outer wall extended to take them in, until the palace filled all the centre of the town. As soon as he was weaned, Ibn Saud was taken from the women's quarters and handed over to a negro slave who became responsible for him and his safety. As he grew up he often visited his mother, was petted and spoiled by her and the other women of the harem, and played with his elder sister Nura, but from that time on his place was with the men. With him were brought up a number of slave boys of his own age, who were his companions until he grew up and then they became his comrades and the most trusted of his body-guard. Almost as soon as he could walk his father, Abdur-Rahman, took him in hand. Abdur Rahman was both devout and strict. He was the Imam, the Leader of the Wahabis. Their ulema, their Elders or Doctors of the Law, ruled them with a rod of iron. They were dour men, lean in body and outlook, who saw all life with the uncompromising eyes of the fanatic. They allowed themselves no luxury or even comfort. Their houses were bare and drab, their mosques without minarets, domes or any decorations, and they refused all the pleasant things: wine, fine food, tobacco, soft clothes. Singing and music they forbade, and they even frowned on laughter, and they stamped out of life all joy, lest their thoughts might be led away from concentration on God. Their only indulgence was sex and their women. Their God was a stern God demanding absolute service of them. To those who served Him He was kind and merciful, but to the forward and unrepentent He was hard and unforgiving. They were His devoted people, lifted up over the heads of all mankind, with a mission to make all men His servants, even by the sword. Abdur Rahman made no exceptions for his children. He brought them up as strict Wahabis. He sent Ibn Saud to school in Riad. The boy idled and played and showed no inclination for book-learning but, by the time he was seven, he was devoutly and regularly attending the public prayers with his father in the Great Mosque five times a day, keeping the Fast, and could intone verses from the Koran. Abdur Rahman had but one purpose in life. Either he, or, if he failed, his sons after him, must refound the Empire of Saud the Great, knit all Arabs into one people, and convert them into devout Wahabis. He taught his sons that this was their duty: that this was a task for which God had chosen them. It would mean war, hardship, fighting, and for these he prepared them. He taught Ibn Saud to use a sword and a rifle, to leap in one on to a horse and gallop without saddle or stirrups. To harden him to fatigue he sent him on long journeys. He made him rise regularly two hours before dawn, even in the winter mornings when the winds swept cold and bleak down from the plateau. He made him walk bare-footed at midday on the blistering rocks and the sand under the fierce summer sun, and he encouraged him to test his strength, to wrestle and compete with other boys, and to ration himself in food, water and sleep. Ibn Saud grew up rapidly into a lanky boy, tall and big-boned in contrast to his father who was short and thick-set. He was muscular and hard, full of energy, rarely still, and with a temper that flashed out like lightning and died away as quickly as it came. But he knew nothing beyond the narrow life of Riad. Behind the desert the town was shut off from the outside world. Its people were haughty as well as puritan. They despised and disliked all foreigners. Their only contacts with the outside world were the caravan merchants, who at rare intervals dared the trade-routes which ran through the empty deserts and which were infested by bands of raiding bedouin; and who brought to Riad cloth and brass-work from Ojair and Kuwait on the Persian Gulf; or those from the Red Sea Coast who came with coffee from the Yemen, and with incense, spices and negro slaves from Africa, and who couched their camels and unloaded their bales in the open space before the palace and passed their news. CHAPTER II THOSE were days of danger and constant alarms. The country round the town of Riad itself was full of raiding parties of uncontrolled bedouin. Away to the north the Shammar tribes had united under one Mohamed ibn Rashid, a capable, ambitious man, who had made his capital in the town of Hail and who coveted Riad and the other rich villages of Nejd. Riad was strongly fortified. Round it ran a high wall, turreted, bastioned, and loopholed, along which sentries kept watch night and day. No one entered without being inspected and cross-questioned. At sundown and three times a day, when all the men were in the mosques at prayer, the iron-studded gates of the town were swung to and bolted against all comers. The palace was a fort also, for Riad itself was torn with civil war. Abdur Rahman was one of four brothers. For ten years his elder brothers Abdullah and Saud had quarrelled and fought backwards and forwards for the mastery. Abdullah had driven out Saud, who had escaped and settled with the Ajman tribes who lived in the province known as the Hasa, to the east. Allied with the Ajmans he had raided back into Riad, and driven out Abdullah. He died suddenly, and Abdullah returned, but the sons of Saud kept up the quarrel.
FAMILY OF KING IBN SAUD
Between the two, the people of Riad were split into factions. They brawled and fought in the streets, and murdered and fought in the palace itself. Abdur Rahman, together with his fourth brother, Mohamed, tried to act as peacemaker. He pleaded with both sides, warning them that the Rashid would take the first chance to attack them, but he failed, for they were full of venom and threatened him as well so that he had to defend himself and his family in his own wing of the palace. Finally the sons of Saud collected the Ajman tribesmen once more, took Riad, and imprisoned Abdullah. In the confusion the Rashid swooped down, captured Riad, drove out the sons of Saud, took Abdullah prisoner to Hail and put in his own governor, a sheik of the Shammar, called Salim. In the fighting Mohamed was killed by Obaid a cousin of the Rashid. Abdur Rahman, because of his reputation as a peacemaker and because he had great influence with the Wahabis, the Rashid left in the palace with his family. Abdullah fell sick. A Persian doctor, passing through Hail on his way to Mecca for the pilgrimage, was called in and warned the Rashid that Abdullah was dying. The Rashid, not wanting to be accused of murdering Abdullah, called Abdur Rahman to Hail and ordered him to take his brother back to Riad. Hardly had they arrived before Abdullah died. CHAPTER III ABDUR RAHMAN was now head of the family. Abdullah had been a poor, weak-kneed, sickly creature, but Abdur Rahman was proud and stout-hearted. He would not sit placid while Riad lay helpless in the hand of the foreigner. He meant to rule. He would chase the Rashid out and free the town. He set to work without delay. He tried to come to terms with his nephews, the sons of his brother Saud, and get their help, but they refused: they treated him as an usurper and claimed that they, and not he, had the right to leadership. None the less he planned a rising in the town simultaneous with an attack from outside. He held secret meetings with the Nejdi leaders and urged them to rouse the townsfolk of Riad. He sent messengers through the villages and the tribes, but he met with little response. The people were afraid. There was a strong garrison of the Rashid's men in the fort which dominated the town. Once before they had risen and failed, and Salim had hanged and imprisoned many without mercy. Abdur Rahman worked on undismayed. He was in constant danger, for he was surrounded by spies and traitors, the enemy's spies and the confederates of his nephews, who would have betrayed him at the first opportunity to their common enemy. Before he could make any effective preparations, however, the Rashid found out what he was at and sent orders to Salim to do away with him and to teach the town a lesson. Salim decided to take drastic action. Once and for all he would be finished with these turbulent Sauds. They were all stiff-necked and quarrelsome. As long as any remained, there would be neither peace nor security in Riad.
The Great Festival was coming to an end, and on the last day it was customary to make visits and exchange congratulations. He decided to catch Abdur Rahman by a trick-he would pay him a formal visit taking his guards with him and after he had talked for a while he would ask for the males of the Saud family to be called so that he might speak with them all. As soon as they were assembled his guards should surround and kill them. But Abdur Rahman had news of this. Prepared or not, he would fight: better to be killed fighting than to have his throat cut without resistance, so he armed such men as he had, and set them ready.
Salim arrived at the appointed hour, his guards round him, and Abdur Rahman received him in full state in the Audience Chamber of the Palace. To one side, so that Salim should have no suspicions, sat a few of the family, and among them, though still only a child, was Ibn Saud with his negro slave. The two men exchanged greetings and congratulations full of fair words. With ceremony they performed all the courtesies, begged each other to be seated first, drank coffee together, talked pleasantly of trifles, while each hid what was in his mind as he watched the other and waited for the time to act-until Salim asked that the rest of the family might be called. Then Abdur Rahman motioned to a slave and gave the arranged signal. His men came swarming into the Audience Chamber with their swords drawn. Overwhelming and killing his guards, they seized Salim and dragged him away. Standing behind the huge negro slave who protected him, and peering out under an arm, the boy, Ibn Saud, for the first time, saw blood shed in anger.
Immediately the whole town flared up, chased out the Rashid garrison, and prepared to resist. The villagers and the neighbouring tribes joined in. The Rashid hurried down to crush the revolt, and Abdur Rahman went out to meet him. For weeks they fought in the desultory manner of the desert, a raid here, a skirmish there, but always Abdur Rahman was beaten back, until he was besieged in Riad, and all the country round was in the hands of the Rashid.
As the weeks went by, food and water began to run short in the town. The enemy were cutting down the palms, destroying the irrigation channels and the wells, and making a desolation of the gardens. The townsfolk demanded that Abdur Rahman made terms, but he refused. When they threatened to rise against him, very reluctantly, for he would have fought to the bitter end, he sent out a party with a flag of truce. With the party, as surety for his father, went the boy Ibn Saud. They found the Rashid ready to treat, for he wished to be gone: his men were deserting, tired of the drudgery of the siege, and because there was no loot for them, so he quickly agreed. As soon as Salim had been handed over to him uninjured, he appointed Abdur Rahman to act as his governor in Riad and then withdrew. But, as he retired, the tribes rose against him, and Abdur Rahman collecting his men hurried out to join them. With him he took Ibn Saud. The boy was now ten years old, and the time had come to blood him for war. Perched up on a camel, with his negro slave gripping on behind the saddle, he rode with the fighting men as they raided out after the Rashid. But the Rashid turned. He smashed the tribes and came tearing back on Abdur Rahman. This time he would be finished with these vipers of Sauds. CHAPTER IV ABDUR RAHMAN could not stand for a fight. His men were a handful and afraid of the Rashid: they had begun to desert: the tribesmen who had joined him had already dispersed, so he must make for Riad. To get behind its walls was his only chance. Slinging Ibn Saud up into a saddle-bag on his camel, and almost alone except for his fighting slaves, he hurried back and prepared to defend the town. But the townsmen would not listen to him. They would not have another siege. It meant ruin for them. They wanted peace. Close on his heels came the Rashid, swearing vengeance. Salim had been right, he said: the Sauds were a brood of snakes, treacherous, dangerous, not to be trusted; this time he would show them no mercy; he would wipe them out.
Late one night Abdur Rahman roused his family; they must be gone-and at once; they must run for safety; there was no time to spare; the Shammar scouts had been seen only a few miles away, coming down from the north; the enemy would be at the gates in a few hours. In the dark the women packed up into bundles all that they could carry, while the slaves carried the bundles out to the courtyard and roped them on to the camels. The women clambered up above the bundles. Ibn Saud and his brother Mohamed rode one camel, and before the dawn broke Abdur Rahman led the caravan out by the eastern gate of the town. Travelling rapidly through the palm-groves and so into the Dahna Desert beyond, with scouts thrown out on the flanks to defend them against a sudden attack, they came safely into the Hasa country. There Abdur Rahman claimed sanctuary with Hithlain the Sheik of the Ajman tribes.
The Ajman gave him protection-the code of the desert forced them to do that - but with a bad grace. The sons of Saud, who were living among them and had intermarried with them, went through the encampments urging that the refugees be expelled. The Rashid demanded their surrender. Abdur Rahman decided that there was no safety among the Ajman: they might turn on him at any moment. He distrusted them, for they were always treacherous and unstable, so he arranged for his family to go to the Island of Bahrain, the Island of the Pearl Fishers, in the Persian Gulf, and Ibn Saud who had been ill with a type of rheumatic fever, he sent with the rest. Then, refusing to accept defeat, he turned to look for helpers to recover Riad, but none of the sheiks would ally with him, so collecting a few bedouin, who were always ready if there was promise of loot, he raided up to Riad, but the people of Nejd gave him no help, and he was easily driven off by the Rashid garrison.
As he returned, the Turkish Governor of the Hasa sent for him. The Turks were nominally the suzerain lords of all Arabia. In reality they held only the rich fringes, the Yemen, the Asir and the Hejaz on the Red Sea coast, with Syria on the north, and southwards by Mesopotamia down to Baghdad, and the provinces of Kuwait and of the Hasa, which ran along the western shore of the Persian Gulf and where they had garrisons in Hofuf, its capital, and in the other towns. In the interior and the inner desert they had no power or control. Their policy was simple. Their object was to keep the tribes of the Interior from attacking them and from breaking out. To do this they played for a balance of power, setting one sheik against another, creating rivalries, helping the weak against the strong and supporting the defeated. The complete defeat of the Sauds did not suit them, for the Rashid had become too strong and upset their calculations.
The Governor treated Abdur Rahman with great respect. He offered, with the help of regular Turkish troops and artillery, to send him back to rule Nejd, on condition that he accepted a Turkish garrison in Riad, acknowledged Turkish suzerainty, and paid tribute. To this Abdur Rahman gave a blunt refusal. He was first and foremost an Arab and a Wahabi. The Turks were for him invaders and worse than infidels. He would not let them come interfering into Riad. He told them so without compromise, and they marked him down as a dangerous man. They remembered that twenty years before he had led a rising against them in the Hasa itself. At that moment there was trouble throughout the province: the Sheik of Qatar was known to be involved : Abdur Rahman had been visiting the sheik. The Turks suspected that he was behind the present trouble, so they increased their garrisons and threatened both the sheik and Abdur Rahman. With danger pressing on his heels, driven from pillar to post, a refugee, with the Rashid, the Ajman, with his nephews and the Turks after him, Abdur Rahman, taking with him Ibn Saud, who was now recovered of his fever, made southwards until he came to the palm oasis of Jabrin, and then on into the Great Waste, the Ruba al Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia, which stretched five hundred miles of empty desolation and sand down to the Indian Ocean. By the salt-water wells of Khiran he found the encampments of the Murra tribesmen come out of the Great Waste to graze their droves of camels in the low scrub. From them Abdur Rahman claimed protection.
Map of Arabia in 1900
CHAPTER V For many months Ibn Saud lived with his father among the Murra tribes. With them were his younger brother, Mohamed, and his cousin, Jiluwi, a dark, saturnine youth, very dour in manner, who rarely spoke, but was always ready for any adventure. His mother and the women were safe in Bahrain. The life was crude and brutal. The Murra were the most primitive of all the tribes of Arabia, long-haired, lean men with wild eyes and crafty faces. They lived almost as the animals and but little above the starvation line. Their food was a few dates gathered in the season at Jabrin and carefully rationed out to last the year, camels' milk-for the water of the wells of Khiran was salty and bitter and unfit for men to drink-and occasionally meat, when the hunters killed a gazelle, a sand deer, or a hare. More often their only meat was the jabru rats which lived in the rocks, and the tough horny dhab lizards, and sometimes a few ostrich eggs found in the sand-things not fit for the pious Moslem to eat. Their greatest luxury was a little camels liver rubbed in salt and eaten full of blood. They had no villages, but moved continuously, driving their camels in search of scrub fodder, and wherever there was a little grass. They were the terror of all the other tribes, for without warning they would raid out of the Great Waste, killing and plundering, attacking caravans, and then race back into the safety of the vast waterless steppes where no one could follow them. They raided even as far as the Hadramaut, four hundred miles to the south, and stole the famous milch camels of the Terim and the red riding camels of Oman.
Among them Ibn Saud became the complete bedouin, living in the wide desert, often without a tent or any covering, under the open sky and the stars. He traveled with them, raided and hunted, and they taught him the ways of the desert: how to track by footmarks and the signs in the sand; how to handle camels on a long journey, doctor their pads and cure them of mange; how to travel distances with only a handful of dates and a skin of curdled milk. From a boy he became an unkempt bedouin youth. The constant danger, the everlasting alarms, and the hardships toughened his body, and taught him reliance. It made him as lean as leather and at all times ready for action.
But for Abdur Rahman this life was purgatory, for he despised the Murra. They were unclean, loose livers, worse than infidels; they were all but pagans with no religion. To be a refugee among them hurt his pride and roused all his religious indignation. He had at times persuaded them to raid into the Rashid country, but the Rashid was too powerful for such raids to have any effect. Though he never lost heart and was for ever urging it on his sons, he saw little hope of attaining his great ambition of reforming the Empire of Saud or even of recovering Riad. He was over fifty and tired of this life, and he wanted to get back where he could have his wives and his children round him. He sent messengers to many of the sheiks asking for protection, but without success, for he had many and powerful enemies and would be a danger. At last, when he had all but given up hope, Mohamed, the Sheik of Kuwait sent him an invitation to visit Kuwait, and promised him a monthly allowance while he stayed there. The reason was simple. There had come to the Hasa a new Turkish Governor, Hafiz Pasha, who realized that he needed Abdur Rahman. The Rashid had grown so strong that he had become a menace both to the Turks and to Kuwait. Abdur Rahman would be the best counterpoise to the Rashid: he could use the Sauds against the Rashids and so quiet the Rashid. Knowing Abdur Rahman's pride he agreed secretly with Mohamed of Kuwait to invite Abdur Rahman and his family, and he guaranteed Mohamed an allowance from the Turkish Government to keep his guests. Abdur Rahman accepted the invitation gladly, collected his family from Bahrain, and with a tired sigh of satisfaction settled down in Kuwait. PART II
KUWAIT lay at the head of the Persian Gulf, an Arab town of sun-dried bricks of yellow clay and twisting alleys, crouching on a low shore-the houses coming down to a sandy beach and a shallow harbour protected by some primitive breakwaters. In the sunlight it lay a patch of staring yellow between the sea glare and the red desert that stretched away beyond it into the heat haze. There was not a garden nor a patch of green nor even a tree to rest the eye-except a few stunted tamarisk trees which fought with the sand. The Sauds lived in a small one-storied house of three rooms grouped round a courtyard. The rooms were low, with windows of unglazed glass and heavily barred and shuttered. The roofs were flimsily built of thin rafters on which were laid palm-mats covered with beaten mud. It was in a street which was a twisting alley that ran down to that end of the foreshore where the shipwrights and the sailmakers worked and where the pearl fishers hauled up and beached their boats. The filth of the town and the offal of the harbour covered the shore and stank under the sun and the flies. The Sauds were crowded in their three rooms, for they were a large family. After the spacious palace at Riad with its servants and slaves and the open life with the Murra, this drab town existence weighed heavily on them, and they were very poor. The Sheik rarely paid the allowance he had promised because the Turkish Government rarely paid him, and though he was friendly he was also close-fisted and had no intention of supporting the Sauds. Eventually the allowance stopped altogether, for the Turks once more offered to send Abdur Rahman back to Riad with Turkish soldiers, and when he refused as bluntly as before they took no further interest in him. When Abdur Rahman heard from whence his allowance had come he was furious. He would have paid it back if he had had the money, but he had none, and often the family were so short of food and clothes, that he had to swallow his pride and borrow money.
When Ibn Saud was fifteen his mother found him a bedouin girl to marry, but when the time came Abdur Rahman could not pay for the celebrations, so the marriage was postponed until a rich merchant put up the money.
It was a dreary life, full of such humiliations: the empty, loafing, objectless life of exiles living under a cloud, not wanted, homesick for Riad with its clean air from the desert, and hating the dankness and the fever of the Gulf and the mud and stenches of the port. In the town were many men of Nejd and Riad. A number lived in Kuwait as shopmen and traders. The rest came and went with caravans for the Interior or to man the pearling fleet when it set out for the season at Bahrain. They brought the news of Riad, but they brought no hope: the Rashid held the land in a firm grip: no one dared rise against him.
For Ibn Saud, Kuwait was full of new experiences. Hitherto all he had known had been the sour puritans of Riad and the brutal wild Murra of the Great Waste. Kuwait was the Marseilles of the Persian Gulf. Its population was good natured, mixed, and vicious. As it was the outlet from the north to the Gulf and hence to the Indies, merchants from Bombay and Teheran, Indians, Persians, Syrians from Aleppo and Damascus, Armenians, Turks and Jews, traders from all the East, and some Europeans came to it. From Kuwait the caravans set out for Central Arabia and for Syria. Ibn Saud lived the ordinary life of an Arab youth. He loafed in the harbour and listened to the sailors. He sat on the edge of the cafes and sucked in the talk of the traders, the travellers, the sheiks from the desert, and picked up the news of Baghdad, Damascus and Constantinople. He played knuckle-bones with the other youths in a corner, quarrelled and fought with them -or went down the alley-ways of the bazaars holding hands with his friends in the easy, intimate friendship of Arab with Arab, and played jokes on the shopmen until chased away. At the hour of prayer he joined his father in the mosque, and when the Fast came he kept it devoutly. The town was full of the vices of a seaport. Ibn Saud was intensely virile, but his puritan upbringing and his early marriage saved him from the harlots. He was big-built for his age and very strong, with a quick wit and an open, frank manner. CHAPTER VII
AMONG those who often visited Abdur Rahman was one Mubarak, the brother of Mohamed the Sheik of Kuwait. Mubarak was on bad terms with his brother. Many years before, when he was still a young man, they had quarrelled, and Mubarak had gone to Bombay. There he had spent all his substance in gambling and riotous living. He had even sold his mother's jewels to pay his debts, and he had lately returned penniless. His brother still hated him. Being mean himself he hated his generous, free-handed ways. He was afraid of him too, for the people of the town liked him. He kept him short of money and humiliated him whenever possible. Mubarak took a great liking to Ibn Saud. He treated him as a son, invited him often to his house, talked much to him, and taught him much worldly wisdom during these empty years of exile.
Suddenly, when Ibn Saud was seventeen, all was changed. Mubarak, stung into action by humiliations and insults and being ambitious, crept one night with a cousin and an Ajman servant into the palace, murdered his brother, and made himself ruler of Kuwait. The people, tired of his skinflint brother, who had taxed them heavily and spent nothing on the town, accepted him gladly. A few weeks later Mohamed ibn Rashid died. With wisdom and a strong hand he had ruled a great area from north of Hail down to the Great Waste south of Riad. His successor, Abdul Aziz ibn Rashid, was however, no more than a filibustering chieftain out for loot, and in a short time he had set all the tribes by the ears. At once the Sauds became persons of importance: they were the friends of Mubarak; they were the enemies of the Rashid. Soon from Riad came messengers to say that the town was ready to rise, and that throughout Nejd the tribes were restless and would revolt if led. Ibn Saud was in a fever to be off. He borrowed a camel, persuaded some friends to join him, and went raiding towards Riad. The messengers had been over-optimistic. The tribes did not rise. Mubarak gave no help, for he did not want a quarrel with the Rashid. Ibn Saud's camel was old and mangy. It went lame, fell, and refused to get up, and he was forced to start walking home until a passing caravan gave him a lift back on a baggage camel, and all Kuwait laughed and sneered at him.
Then, almost in a night, Kuwait became of world importance. For a generation Germany had been over-crowded with men and vitality. The Kaiser saw that she must expand or explode, and that the only road for expansion was to the East with India as the objective. But the English held all the roads to the East except the one that ran by Turkey through the Arab countries into the Persian Gulf. So the Kaiser allied with the Sultan of Turkey, proclaimed himself the friend of the Caliph of Islam and Protector of the Arabs, sent out his agents and pressed eastwards out of the West. As the backbone of his expansion he planned a railway from Constantinople through Aleppo down to Baghdad and with its terminus at Kuwait, for Kuwait held the door to the Persian Gulf. For a century the English from India had been pressing up the Gulf from the East, allying with the local sheiks of the coast and so obtaining control. At Kuwait in 1897, the year that Mubarak became sheik, the two great World Powers came face to face, for the English were determined that the Germans should not come that way. Mubarak listened to both. He received the consuls, and the representatives of England, Germany, and of Russia also, for the Russians, too, wanted a hand in the Gulf. He talked with secret agents of all sorts who came to him with offers. He was shrewd. Position and power had changed him. He had ceased to be the wild, gambling, roystering spendthrift. He was as generous as ever, but he had become staid, steady, calculating, a crafty manipulator, an elusive diplomat and a strong ruler, and he knew what he wanted. Nominally he was a subject of the Sultan of Turkey; but he was determined to keep Kuwait independent and for himself. He saw that the English, like himself, were on the defensive and not out to annex, but that if the Germans with this railway came there would be an end of Kuwait. He played for time, giving nothing, postponing with empty promises, until the Germans, tired of this, eager to press on with the railway, urged the Turks to depose Mubarak. He was their subject, they said, he had murdered his brother and seized power: they had never recognized him: there was every justification for replacing him with someone more amenable. Word of this came to Mubarak. Without delay he agreed with the English, and when the Turks threatened him they found the English behind him and were afraid to act. Outmaneuvered, the Turks took a new line. They decided to rouse the Rashid to attack Mubarak. They would tell the Rashid that whoever ruled Central Arabia must have Kuwait: they would give him arms and money and promise him Kuwait, and he should agree to the railway: they would point out that Kuwait was full of his enemies, and that Mubarak was protecting his rivals, the Sauds. The English would have no valid reason for interfering between two Turkish subjects; and the Rashid, always ready for a fight, agreed at once and began to prepare. CHAPTER VIII
MUBARAK saw his danger. He had no army: the people of Kuwait were not fighting men: even the town walls had been allowed to fall into ruins. He must find allies to meet the Rashid, and he sent out messengers across the desert and found many of the tribes disgruntled with the Rashid. The Murra and the Ajman with the Mutair, joined him, and then Sadun the Sheik of the Muntafik who lived up on the Basra frontier. He saw that Abdur Rahman and Ibn Saud might become important allies to be used to rouse Nejd when the time came, and he brought them into all his plans and conferences. Abdur Rahman had, however, grown to disapprove of Mubarak for he had heard of his past life. He had learned that he was unorthodox in his manner of praying and, by Wahabi standards, his life was lax and immoral, for he had many foreign ways and habits. He wore fine clothes of silk. He prayed irregularly. He kept up a great state, riding through the bazaars in a carriage with black stallions and liveried coachmen, and ordering all to bend and salaam to him or be beaten by his guards. In his palace he had luxurious furniture, sofas covered with brocade, coloured windows, and worst of all, panelled ceilings inset with pictures of naked girls. He received his guests and presided at his conferences seated in a gilded arm-chair like a European king; and he smoked tobacco; and when he wanted entertainment he sent to Basra for dancing women and musicians to amuse him. All these things-dancing, music, tobacco, pictures, especially of women, luxury in clothes or furniture, and this haughty pomp-were anathema to Abdur Rahman. He would not go to the palace. He disapproved of Ibn Saud visiting Mubarak, so that Ibn Saud, who went often, had to do so in secret without telling his father.
Mubarak however, developed a great affection for Ibn Saud. He encouraged him to visit him. He took him with him in his work, his audiences, and his conferences, and for Ibn Saud it was a fine schooling. Of ordinary schooling, reading, writing and book-learning he had done none since he left Riad. But here with Mubarak he was surrounded by new ideas, new people, novel customs and ways of thought, many of which were forbidden and unknown in Riad. He met foreigners of all sorts, traders, merchants, travellers, representatives of the French, English, Russian, and German Governments. He saw how Mubarak handled them and how the problems of the outside world affected him. Moreover, Mubarak taught him much of the art of ruling. To rule Kuwait was no easy task. The population came from all the tribes of Arabia. The caravan-followers were lawless. The pearl-fishers were the worst rapscallions in Arabia. The traders of all nationalities would cheat, quarrel, and brawl if he gave them the chance, but Mubarak knew how to deal with them. He was severe, and a dictator; his pomp was calculated to impress them. He did justice, quick and emphatic justice, to all alike. Under him in Kuwait there was absolute security of person and property, and the town prospered exceedingly. Ibn Saud learnt quickly and readily. He was intelligent and shrewd and with a judgment beyond his years. Usually he was good-tempered and genial, but sometimes silent and depressed and with occasional bursts of wild anger. When with his companions of his own age, he often boasted, struck attitudes, telling them how he was the heir to Riad and Nejd: how he would one day chase out the Rashid and force the tribes and villages to accept him until he ruled the whole Empire of Saud the Great. They laughed at him, jeered at him, reminded him of his one attempt with the mangy camel that went lame. Their jeers made him angry, but they did not affect his belief in himself. When with Mubarak he was always quiet and reserved. At audiences and conferences he would sit in a corner, his feet curled up under him, his brown Arab cloak drawn round him, playing steadily with the amber beads of a prayer-chain, but watching always, alert, absorbing all that happened, learning always. CHAPTER IX
MUBARAK decided to strike before the Rashid was ready, so he called up his allies. From Nejd came many volunteers. When he had collected 10,000 he marched out. With him he took Abdur Rahman, but he sent Ibn Saud south with a small force to rouse the country and create a diversion by attacking Riad. Ibn Saud took with him Jiluwi his cousin and a number of men of Nejd from the town. Here was the chance he had hoped for. At last, after all these years, the tribes were rising against the Rashid. At the head of them he would smash the old enemy. He would prove to those who had laughed at him that he was not merely boasting. At last he was on the move, fighting and leading his own men. Sweeping wide across the desert and travelling very fast he roused the villagers and the tribesmen of Nejd who answered him gladly. They were tired of the Rashid, and they were overjoyed to see a Saud, and they came swarming in to help him, so that by the time he reached Riad he had a large force. Suddenly there came news from the north. Mubarak had found the Rashid before the village of Sarif. He had attacked. His allies had failed him. The Muntafik had bolted. The Ajman, as treacherous as ever, had left him in the lurch. He had been defeated. Only a sudden storm of rain had saved his army from being wiped out. He was retreating helter-skelter to Kuwait. Ibn Saud's force broke up at the news. The tribesmen slunk home: the villagers bolted in panic: the fear of the Rashid was on them. Ibn Saud with a few men hurried back to Kuwait to find that Mubarak and his father were organizing resistance. After them came the Rashid, and as he came he burned the villages of Nejd as punishment. In the town of Buraida he hanged 180 of the head-men and placed heavy fines on all. Having cowed the people back into submission, he turned on Kuwait, beat Mubarak's last troops at Jahra, a village close outside the town, and prepared to storm the town itself. Mubarak was finished: he was without troops: his town unfortified: his allies dispersed: his confederacy broken up. Kuwait was all but in the hands of the enemy. For the Sauds there was no hope: they could expect no mercy. Once more Abdur Rahman prepared to be up and away before the enemy came on them. At that moment the English stepped in. Mubarak was their ally, they said. They warned the Rashid back. They sent a cruiser to enforce the warning. The Rashid halted and retired. Once more they had saved Mubarak and also shut this door to the East in the face of the Germans and their Turkish allies. CHAPTER X
THE Rashid had defeated them, but Ibn Saud refused to accept defeat. He was a man now, twenty years old, a great swaggering, rough bedouin buck, full of fire and spirit and spunk, spoiling for a fight, a giant of a man, a foot taller than the average Arab, and broad, with a big manner, and of great strength. He had brown eyes that usually were steady or smiling, but when he was roused were full of fire. He cursed the Ajman: they were treacherous curs. He spat with fury at the news of the Rashid murdering his men in the villages round Riad. He blamed Mubarak for mishandling his army. He tried to rouse Mubarak to fight again, and when he failed looked for helpers among the neighbouring sheiks, but without success. They had all had their bellyful at Sarif. They would not stand up to the Rashid. Abdur Rahman tried to dissuade him. The time was not yet. He had better wait. Later on they could organize something new. But Ibn Saud refused to listen. Proud as Lucifer, he was afire to be up and doing. He had had enough of idling. For six years he had sat in Kuwait, loafing, eating out his heart, listening to the hopeless grumbles of the exiles. That was no life for a man. It might do for shopmen and clerks, but not for a Saud. He was a fighting man. This mooning cafe-life drove him to fury. He wanted action. To be up and out in the desert, with a camel or a horse between his knees. The desert was full of chances. With God's help he would win. He was sure of himself and of the people of Nejd. If he gave them the lead they would rise and join him and throw out the Rashid. Only he must have camels, money, and arms; and he had none of these.
Week after week he argued with Mubarak, using all his persuasion. He approached the English representative in the town asking for help but got no reply. At last Mubarak gave way. After all it would be good to harry the Rashid and he could always disown Ibn Saud if it were necessary. So he gave him thirty camels, some of which were bitten with the mange, thirty rifles with ammunition; and 200 riyals in gold and let him go.
Ibn Saud wasted no time. Since his marriage he had lived in a separate house. His first wife, the little bedouin girl, had died six months after their marriage. He had taken two more wives, and by the first one he had a son whom he had called Turki, and he arranged with his father that they should stay with him. He quickly found thirty of his friends as eager as himself and ready to let him lead them. Jiluwi and his brother Mohamed joined him, and he distributed the arms and ammunition. Then he went to the house by the harbour and said good-bye to his family. His mother, like his father, would have persuaded him against going. With tears she begged him to wait awhile. She was sure he was going to his death or at least to ignominious failure, but his sister Nura urged him with every encouragement to act. She was as ambitious and turbulent as himself. Now that he was decided to go, Abdur Rahman gave him his blessing. It was late summer when he started. One hot night before the moon was up he went silently and without advertising the fact, with his companions, through the twisting alleys to where the open market led to the encampments of the bedouin and then out into the country beyond to the rendezvous where the camels waited (vouched, with the slaves squatting beside them. A fighting man to a camel, the lurch of the rising camels, and they were away in the dark, making for the open desert. CHAPTER XI
At first Ibn Saud had success. He had learned from the Murra to move with speed, and his men had each only a raider's kit, a blanket under the camel saddle, a rifle with ammunition, a handful of dates, and a bag of dried curds for a week's ration. He knew how to cover his tracks and how to camp so as not to show against the skyline, in some hollow, the men in a circle, the camels hobbled and couched within the circle, and outside the sentries squatted, each with a camel saddle for cover and with rifle ready, watching for danger. Working across the trackless sandhills he would come swooping down on to a caravan or a village, his men behind him yelling his battle-cry, raid, loot, and be away fifty miles by the following evening to raid again somewhere. Nothing tired him. When the others slept exhausted, he was often away scouting out on his own. He slept little, just lying down, making a place for himself in the warm sand for an hour or two, and then up and on again. He was in his element in a fight. He loved fighting, especially hand to hand. Bellowing like a bull he would come racing into a crowd, towering above them, hacking and laying about him with his sword, scattering them this way and that with his great strength, so that no man dared to face him, and he inspired his men with his own energy and courage. Skirting down the Hasa he first raided an Ajman and then a Rashid encampment and found good loot. News of his success went out, and, as he had gold and was liberal-handed, the bedouin joined him in numbers, and he harried the allies of the Rashid half across Arabia. But he had not come raiding just for loot or the intoxication of fighting. He was not a common freebooter. He knew the Bedouin themselves were of little value to him. He had come out to rouse his people of Nejd and Riad to revolt against the Rashid. But they did not rise. They had risen when he had come in the previous year. They had made a mistake and they had suffered. Ibn Saud must prove his worth before they would rise again.
Then came a lean time: Ibn Saud's raids failed; his money came to an end; his camels were overworked and in poor condition; his ammunition was getting short; the bedouin, seeing neither gold nor loot, deserted him; the Rashid sent men to Nejd who chased him out. He turned into the Hasa and was chased from there by the Ajman and by the Turks who pressed Mubarak to recall him. Cursing the Ajman and the Turks, and finding all roads closed to him, he turned south towards the Great Waste. A messenger from his father and from Mubarak found him. "We are anxious about you", they wrote, "and advise you to return to Kuwait. The time is not ripe for action".
In the palm-groves at Jabrin, Ibn Saud called his men together and put the facts before them; he was himself determined to go on; nothing would persuade him to give up even if he had to fight on alone; with the help of God he would take what chances the desert brought to him; those who wished might go. Some left him. There remained with him only stouthearted, taciturn, grumpy Jiluwi, Mohamed his brother, the original thirty who set out with him from Kuwait, and ten new men from Riad. Some fifty in all with their slaves. These Ibn Saud bound by oath to stand with him to the end. His position was precarious. He had set out with high hopes, believing that he had only to show himself and all Nejd would join him against the Rashid and that he would be leading an army. Yet he was no more than an outlaw there were spies watching him and reporting on his moves, and scouts out in every direction to see which way he went; he was an outcast to all the tribes; the hand of every man in the desert was against him, for, in the desert, failure made an enemy of every man. But he did not lose heart. He was always most dangerous when things went wrong. His belief in himself was as strong as ever. "Go back", he said to the messenger, "go back and tell my father what you have seen and heard. Tell him that no more will I endure with patience that our country be under the heel of the Rashid and that our family be trodden in the dust. I will gamble success against death. I will not return until I have succeeded. Death is better than failure. All things are in the hands of God the Most Merciful". CHAPTER XII
IBN SAUD considered carefully what next to do. He saw that this raiding was useless, especially with only a handful of men: it could effect no definite result. His one hope was to make a coup so dramatic as to startle. He decided to make a dash at Riad itself. He sent one of his men to spy. The man reported that there was a strong Rashid garrison in the town which was holding the Almasmak fort and the principal points: the Governor, a Shammar sheik named Ajlan, lived in a house opposite the fort. The people of Riad and of all Nejd were dissatisfied; they hated the Rashid and prayed for a Saud to come back to rule them, but they would never rise by themselves. They must have a leader. It was clear that with his few men Ibn Saud could not attack openly. His attack must be a surprise. The first thing was to hide his intentions. He must disappear and lie low. Giving out word that all his men had deserted him, he made with them into the empty, people-less country to the south.
For fifty days he made no raid nor showed himself; but it was a difficult time. His men, like all desert Arabs, were easily swayed by passing events. Success stimulated them to any heights and failure dragged them down to the depths. Inaction they could not stand. It needed all Ibn Saud's personality to keep them together. They had lived hard before, but with the excitement of loot and raiding to spur them on. Now they almost starved. For food they had a few dates rationed out and occasionally some meat when they shot a sand-deer. Water they got from the rare desert wells. They would creep up-taking all precautions that they were not seen-uncover a well, fill their skins, cover up their traces and creep away. The water they rationed carefully. By the time it was finished it was slimy and stank of the skins. Where they could find a little scrub for the camels they halted, sleeping in the open, but all the time they had to be on tiptoe, watching and scouting out to see that they were not observed, as the news would travel at once through the tribes. As day passed day without action the men grew restless, muttered and argued. They wanted action or to get back to their women. A life without fighting or their women was not worth living. But Ibn Saud refused to let them go home even for a day or two: they might talk: or they might never come back. He strove with them. With all his persuasive skill he argued with this one, threatened that one, appealed to the pride of another, and gripped them all so that he held them to the one purpose. He had the quality, rare among desert Arabs, of persistent, sustained, dogged effort. Nothing would turn him once he had made up his mind. The strain was all the greater, for the Month of Fasting had begun. Ibn Saud, Jiluwi, and many of the men kept the Fast rigidly, neither eating nor drinking for an hour before the dawn until the sunset.
Map showing King Ibn Saud's conquest of Arabia
On the twentieth day of the Fast, after they had said the evening prayer and broken bread, Ibn Saud gave the order to move. They travelled cautiously, moving by night, avoiding any tracks or paths, and halting by day. The moon was in the last quarter, and the nights were black dark, so that they put out scouts well ahead to avoid stumbling into an encampment or across stray shepherds. They were forced to move slowly, for their camels were in a bad state, very lean and full of mange. At the wells of Abu Jifan they kept the Festival of the Id, which ended the Fast, and then reached the foot of the Tuwaiq hills which run northwards close past Riad. Here Ibn Saud gave the order to move quickly: there were villages in the hollows: they might be seen: they must reach Riad before a warning could get ahead of them. They must force the camels to speed. At the groves of Dil Alshuaib, which were an hour and a half by foot from Riad, he left the animals with twenty men and ordered them to join him only if he sent for them; but that if they heard nothing within twenty-four hours they should take the road to Kuwait and tell his father that he was dead or a prisoner with the Rashid. Now on foot he led the way through the palm-groves that stretched some miles to the south of the town. With him he had forty men. He had no clear plan of action. He had no confederates in the town. Trusting in God alone he would take what chance offered, seize any opportunity that came to him, and act as seemed good in the circumstances. At Shamsieh, where the palm-groves ended and the gardens began, he halted. First he cut down a palm-tree, which with its rough bark made a passable ladder. Then picking out Jiluwi and six men, he left the rest under his brother Mohamed, with orders to keep in touch with those behind and to await his orders. "Look you", he said, "if by to-morrow no message comes to you, haste away home also, for you will know that we are dead. There is no Power or Might save in God". CHAPTER XIII
WITH Jiluwi and the six men behind him carrying the palm-trunk, Ibn Saud crept forward through the gardens, by twisting paths, over mud walls, and across irrigation channels, listening for a watchman or a dog to give the alarm, until they came close under the town wall near by the great cemetery where the road to Mecca runs. Crouching in the dry moat, they listened. From far overhead they could hear the sentries in the fort. A watchman cried as he passed on his rounds and was gone. There was silence again. They had not been seen. Putting the palm-trunk against the wall they swarmed up it one by one, keeping low, and dropped into the street beyond. It was mid-January. The night air was sharp. All the townspeople were indoors. Having muffled their arms in their clothes against noise, in single file they made down the empty streets to the house of Jowaisir the cow-herd, which was close to that of the Governor. Ibn Saud knocked. A woman cried out asking who was there. "I am from the Governor", he replied, "come to see Jowaisir about buying two cows". "Go away", called the woman, "do you think we are harlots? Go away. This is no time to come knocking on the door of a house where there are women". "If you do not open", he answered, "I will tell the Governor, and to-morrow Jowaisir shall suffer". Then he stood aside and waited, with his men ready. After a time a man looked out with the light of the room behind him. Two seized him so that he could not cry out, and all pressed into the house and closed the door. The man was an old servant from the palace. "It is our master", he cried as soon as he saw Ibn Saud, and all his family crowded in to do obeisance. He had the information they required. The fort, he said, was full of Rashid soldiers. They took no special precautions and did not appear to expect an attack. The Governor usually went to the fort to sleep the night. A little after dawn his horses were brought for his inspection. After that he either went riding or walked over to his house. He never moved out without guards round him. His home was two doors off, and there were no sentries on it. Reconnoitring stealthily, Ibn Saud and his men crept up and over the flat roof-tops. In the next house was a man and his wife asleep. Muffling them in their bedclothes they tied them up. The Governor's house was next door and joined this house, but stood a story higher so that to get on to it they had to clamber up over each other's shoulders. Once up, they lay stretched out on the flat roof, listening. There was no sound of alarm. They had not been seen or heard. Moving silently on bare feet down into the house, they found the servants in the basement and locked them together in a room under a guard. On the second floor they found the Governor's bedroom. Ibn Saud slipped a cartridge into the breach of his rifle. Leaving his men at the door and with Jiluwi beside him carrying a lighted candle, which he shaded with one hand, he tiptoed across the room to the bed against the farther wall. There were two people in it, but they were both women. They were the Governor's wife and her sister. The wife sat up in terror. Ibn Saud clapped a hand over her mouth while Jiluwi dealt with her sister. The Governor's wife was a woman of Riad called Mutliba, whose father had worked in the palace for Abdur Rahman, so Ibn Saud knew her. "Be quiet, Mutliba", he said, "or I will kill you. I see you have played the slut and married one of these Shammar swine". "My lord", she replied, when he had released her, "I am no slut. I only married after you had left us. And for what do you come here?" "I have come to kill Ajlan". "Ajlan is in the fort", she replied. "He has at least eighty men with him; so escape before he finds and kills you". "When does he come back to the house?" he asked. "Not until the sun is an hour up the sky", she replied. "Then keep quiet, for if you make a sound we will cut your throats", he said, and locked the two women in with the servants.
The night was now far spent and there were but four hours before the dawn. He reconnoitred to see what to do. In the front of the house was a large room, and in the room an alcove with latticed windows. Below the windows was a square, and opposite, across the square, the fort with a big double and iron-studded door in a high wall. Above the wall a sentry paced. Ibn Saud decided to rush the Governor when he came out and then in the confusion to burst into the fort. First, he sent off two men to fetch Mohamed and his party, and when they had come he set watchers by the windows, and with his men settled down to pass the hours that move on leaden feet before the dawn. Squatted round on the floor they listened to one who recited passages from the Koran. They prayed, each man to himself, sat in contemplation, and settled any quarrels there were between them. After that they slept a little. When it grew towards morning the servant brought them coffee, bread and dates. After they had eaten they performed the morning prayer softly, drawn up in two lines across the room with Ibn Saud in front leading and did their obeisances towards Mecca. Then they looked to their arms and got ready for what the day should bring them. CHAPTER XIV
A LITTLE after sunrise one of the watchers called. Ibn Saud crept to the window. Outside in the square some slaves were leading up the Governor's horses. In the fort there was movement. Ibn Saud gave his final orders. Four men were to stay at the window and as soon as they saw him running across the square to open fire on the guards at the fort gate. The rest to follow him. He watched while the double gates were thrown open, and the Governor, Ajlan, came out with his guards behind him and walked across to his horses. Now was the time. With a call to his men, Ibn Saud ran down the stairs, out of the house into the square, and with a great shout raced straight at Ajlan, who whipped round, drew his sword and struck at him. Ibn Saud parried the blow with his rifle and grappled with Ajlan and both fell fighting to the ground. The guards scattered and ran for the fort. One made a thrust at Ibn Saud and was cut down by Jiluwi. Ajlan fought back furiously. He struggled free and made a run for the fort gate, shouting the alarm. Ibn Saud snatched up his rifle and fired at him, wounded him in the arm so that he dropped his sword, dived at him, and caught him by the legs as he got to the gate and clung hold of a post. The sentries from inside rushed to the gate. Ibn Saud's men rushed up from the outside. On the steps they fought, a mob of men struggling, shouting, slashing at each other. From above on the wall and through the loopholes the garrison opened fire and hurled down blocks of stone. A man next to Ibn Saud went down shot: another was wounded and lay writhing. Ajlan's guards grappled with Ibn Saud. Ajlan got one leg free and kicked back, hitting Ibn Saud a tremendous blow in the groin, which sent him reeling in pain. He let go of Ajlan and the guard dragged him through the gateway and tried to swing to the gate. Jiluwi with three men hurled himself on to the gate and heaved it open. Ajlan was running for the mosque across the fort courtyard. From all the walls the garrison was firing down. After Ajlan went Ibn Saud and Jiluwi, with their swords drawn, and Jiluwi cut him down on the steps of the mosque. Then they made for the staircase. They were completely outnumbered. Two of Ibn Saud's men lay dead: four were seriously wounded. They were thirty against eighty, but they had the drive of victory behind them. Led by Ibn Saud and Jiluwi they stormed their way up to the parapets, killed or wounded half the garrison and threw their bodies down into the courtyard where they were dashed to pieces, and drove the rest into a room where they surrounded them. At once Ibn Saud sent criers through the town, on to the mosques and the fort wall, to warn the people that he had captured the fort. The population of Riad rose. They were tired of the Rashid and his' injustices. They wiped out the other posts of Rashid soldiers in the town, and welcomed Ibn Saud with open arms. The remainder of the garrison in the fort surrendered. Ibn Saud was master of Riad. PART III
IBN SAUD had taken Riad, but he held little else. The villagers and tribesmen of Nejd still would not rise and join him. They had often before seen a town taken by a raid and lost within the same day. For twenty years the Sauds had been continually beaten by the Rashid. They waited cautiously. Only a few hundred hardy ones joined him. With these, his old companions, and the people of Riad he could not hope to stand up to the Rashid with his prestige and all his thousands of fighting men of the Shammar tribes behind him. Riad he was determined to hold at all costs, so he set to work to make it impregnable before the Rashid counter-attacked, and the whole population turned out to help him. In many places the walls were broken. They built them up with feverish energy, expecting an attack at any moment. They re-dug the moat and built towers and loopholes for rifles. They brought in provisions and stored them, and unearthed rifles and ammunition which had been hidden during the rule of the Rashid. Ibn Saud worked out the details of the defence and organized the men into a garrison. When the news of this came to the Rashid he sneered.