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hating David because I hadn't had time to explain his motives. I felt sudd
enly sad, depressed by the thought that David's action would be misundersto
od. How could you explain to men like Gorde what Khalid's death had meant t o
him, how he'd felt when he'd seen the people of Saraifa forced to leave t he
oasis?
Half an hour later the column halted. We were close under the Jebel al-Ak
hbar. Time passed and nothing happened. The wait seemed endless. And then
suddenly the Colonel's Land-Rover came roaring down the column. He had G
orde in the seat beside him. 'Jump in,' he called to me. 'Ruffini, too. T
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he Emir has agreed to meet me at the first well.' He was in a mood of boy ish
elation, a reaction from nervous tension. The column was moving again now and
several vehicles had swung away and were headed for the camel tr ack on the
north side of Jebel al-Akhbar.
We reached the head of the column just as it breasted the shoulder of the Je
bel. There once more was Hadd, jammed against the limestone cliffs, with the
Emir's palace flying the limp green flag and the fort stark against the sky
above it. 'Hell!' Colonel George signalled his driver to stop and Berry's L
and-Rover drew up alongside. The column ground to a halt behind us. 'I don't
like it,' the Colonel said. Too quiet.'
Between us and the crumbling walls of Hadd there wasn't a living soul; no sign
of Sheikh Abdullah's askaris, no vestige of the camp we'd seen two da ys
before. Even up by the date gardens nothing moved. AH the Wadi Hadd al-
Akhbar, as far as the eye could strain through the glare and the mirages, was
empty of human life.
The blighter's up to something. What do you think, Berry?'
'I think we'd better be prepared for trouble, sir. I told you I didn't like
the speed with which he saw me, the crafty look in his eye.'
The Colonel nodded. 'Go ahead then.'
The orders were signalled and the column fanned out across the level gravel
plain, whilst we drove straight to the first well. Behind us the Bedouin S
couts leapt from their trucks and spread out over the sand - mortars and ma
chine-guns, ammunition. And not a shot fired at us. We sat in the Land-Rove r,
roasting by the shattered parapet of the well, and the tension mounted w ith
the uncanny silence. Nothing stirred anywhere.
A full hour the Emir kept us waiting there in the blazing sun. He judged it
nicely. A little longer and Colonel George's patience would have been exhaus
ted. And then at last life stirred in the mud-dun town, a scattering of figu
res moving towards us across the flat, shelved expanse of gravel that lay be
tween the well and the walls; old men and children - not an armed man amongs t
them. 'He's going to play the injured innocent,' Gorde whispered in my ear
.
The old men and the children had closed around us. Some had empty drinking
bowls, others goats' skins; they whined and begged for water as they had been
told to do. 'My heart bleeds,' Gorde snorted with contempt. 'Ah, here he
comes.'
Through the arched entrance to the town came a figure riding a white camel, r
iding absolutely alone - not a single retainer. 'He's clever,' the Colonel mu
ttered. 'There isn't a desert ruler who wouldn't have regarded this as an occ
asion to parade his full power. And to ride a camel when he's got an almost b
rand new Cadillac . . . ' His eyes were fixed with a puzzled frown on the sol
itary figure, on the slow, stately gait of that lone camel. He turned abruptl
y to Gorde. 'What's he got up his sleeve? Something. That Cadillac was a pres
ent from Saudi. He'd surely want to flaunt that in our faces.'
Gorde didn't say anything and we sat and waited. The crowd fell back, the c
lamouring ceased. The Emir rode his camel through them and sitting there in
the Land-Rover I realized suddenly why he hadn't used his Cadillac. With s et
face and without any gesture of greeting, he rode his beast right up to us,
and when he finally halted it, the supercilious head was right over us, the
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rubbery lips white with foam, dripping saliva on the Colonel's beret.
The Emir himself towered above us, godlike against the burning sky.
It was extraordinarily effective. The man was simply dressed in spotless r
obes and looked much bigger, the features more impressive, the curve of th e
nose more marked.
He waited in silence for Colonel George to greet him. Instead the Colonel b
arked an order and his driver backed the Land-Rover, turning it so that the
bonnet faced the Emir. But it was no good. Patiently, without expression, the
camel moved, resumed the same dominating position.
And then the Emir began to speak. It was an address that lasted almost a qua
rter of an hour. The manner of delivery was cold and restrained, but underly
ing the restraint was the hate that filled the man. It was there in the thin
, vibrant tone of his voice, in the black gaze of his eyes, in every gesture
- a bitter fury of hatred. And that bloody camel, slavering over my head, s
eemed the very embodiment of his master's mood.
Gorde whispered the gist of the Emir's speech to me. It followed a familiar
pattern. It ignored entirely the unprovoked attack on Saraifa, the cruel int
ention behind the blocking of the falajes, the murderous slaughter of men dr
iven to desperate action to save life and home. Instead, it dwelt at length on
Hadd's territorial claims. These the Emir based on a particular period in
Hadd's history, a period that went back more than five hundred years. He co
nveniently brushed aside all that had happened in the area since that time.
He attacked the oil companies for sucking Arabia's life blood. The spittle f
lew from his mouth, as he called them 'Nasrani thieves, jackals of the West,
Imperialist bloodsuckers.' He ignored the fact that without the companies t he
oil would have remained beneath the sands, that the wealth of Arabia depe nded
on them, that the very arms he'd been given had been bought with the ro
yalties they paid. And in attacking the oil companies, he also attacked Brit
ain and America. Imperialist murderers! he called us.
'He's coming to the point now,' Gorde muttered. The camel belched, a deep r
umbling sound, that blew a fleck of froth from its lips into my lap. The Em ir
leaned forward, the dark, cruel face bending down towards us. 'Murderers
!' he screamed. I thought he was going to spit in our faces.
'Start the engine,' Colonel George ordered his driver. 'I'm not standing for
any more of this.' He said something to the Emir. The man smiled. That smil e
- it was curiously excited. I call you murderers because you come here arm ed
to protect a murderer. He gestured with his hands, pointing towards the f
ort. And when Colonel George tried to explain David's motives, the rough jus
tice of his action in depriving the Hadd of water, the Emir silenced him. Yo u
do not think it is murder when an Arab man is killed. What do you say if h e
is the murderer of a white man - one of yourselves? He turned, raising his
body in the saddle, shouting and signalling with his hand. A closed Land-Ro
ver emerged from Hadd. The crowd, which had drawn in a tight circle round us
, scattered before it, and as it roared past us a figure in Arab clothes was
thrust out of the back of it, a limp rag of a figure, battered and covered in
blood.
It hit the sand beside us, rolled over once and then lay sprawled face upward
s in an undignified heap; and as the cloud of dust settled, I saw what it was
that lay there . . . The dead body of Colonel Whitaker.
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He had been shot in the face and his head was badly battered, his arms broke [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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