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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Or else when very high up patchy small skiffs


A

desert is, in England, always associated with glorious sunsets. Why this should be so is rather difficult to be understood by anybody reasoning in the right way, because the magnificent tints of a sunset are caused by moisture in the air and not by abnormal dryness. All the time that I was in the desert itself I never saw a sunset that really had half the picturesqueness of one of our most modest sunsets in Europe. The sun disappeared very fast, leaving a slightly yellow glow above the horizon, which soon became greenish by blending with the blue sky and then black with night. The twilight was extremely short.

We seldom saw clouds at all in the desert and when we did they were scrubby, little, patchy, angular lumps at enormous heights above the earth's surface. They were generally white or light grey. Occasionally they were of the fish-bone pattern, in long successive ridges, resembling the waves formed on the sand surface when shifted by wind. Soon after the sun had disappeared behind the horizon, these clouds generally changed their colour from white into black and made long lines stretching for great distances across the sky, but adding no beauty to it.

Naturally, the play of shifting lights and shadows upon the desert when the sun shone above the clouds was quite weird, especially when the last formation of clouds referred to cast long bluish shadows slowly moving upon the brilliantly-lighted, whitish tint

of the ground. Lower upon the horizon line a curtain of a dirty brownish tint was generally to be seen, due to particles of sand in the air, otherwise in almost all cases that came under my observation the clouds formed well-defined, thin, clean, horizontal lines, or else when very high up patchy small skiffs.

One missed greatly the fat, rolling, globular clouds which are so common to Europe, and which fill the sky with fantastic forms. There is such a thing as getting tired of an everlasting spread of blue sky and the glow of a roasting sun.

A strong westerly gale swept low over the surface of the desert. It was very cold after sunset, but fortunately we had plenty of tamarisk shrubs at hand and camel dung with which to make big fires.

The river bed below our camp was very wide, but the salt stream itself not more than three to four feet across. It eventually lost itself to the north-west in the desert. The camels had been let loose to graze and had a good feed of tamarisk, which they seemed to enjoy much after their long diet on reduced rations of straw and cotton seeds.

We left this camp (4,120 feet) soon after dinner at 7 p.m., and during the night passed several ranges of hills, we travelling all the time on the flat. In the middle of the night the cold was bitter, so cold that I had icicles hanging on my moustache and eyelashes. It was impossible to remain on the camels, and ill as we all felt we had to walk--drag ourselves would be a more suitable expression--to keep ourselves from freezing. On these cold nights we simply longed for the sun to come out. The dark hours seemed interminable. One began slightly to revive when the first glimmering of yellowish light began to tinge the dark blue sky, and the dazzling stars gradually lost their brilliancy and eventually disappeared altogether from the heaven above us.

On the first ray of sun appearing the devout camel men stopped the caravan, spread a small cloth upon the ground, and, having picked up a small stone, placed it in front of them. They duly turned towards sacred Mecca and lifted their arms, then, muttering their prayers, knelt and placed their heads upon the ground, as we have already seen others do, in the usual Mussulman manner. They were most diligent in this respect, and one could not help admiring the intent fervour of their appeals to Allah. At sunset, too, their prayers never failed to be recited--no matter what they were busy doing at the time, all being interrupted for the purpose.


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