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The Lion of Petra   By: (1879-1940)

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by Talbot Mundy


I. "Allah Makes All Things Easy!" II. "Trust in God, But Tie Your Camel!" III. "Ali Higg's Brains Live in a Black Tent!" IV. "Go and Ask the Kites, Then, At Dat Ras!" V. "Let That Mother of Snakes Beware!" VI. "Him and Me Same Father!" VII. "You Got Cold Feet?" VIII. "He Cools His Wrath in the Moonlight, Communing with Allah!" IX. "I Think We've Got the Lion of Petra on the Hip!" X. "There's No Room for Two of You!" XI. "That We Make a Profit from This Venture?" XII. "Yet I Forgot to Speak of the Twenty Aeroplanes!" XIII. "There is a Trick to Ruling!"


"Allah Makes All Things Easy!"

This isn't an animal story. No lions live at Petra nowadays, at any rate, no four legged ones; none could have survived competition with the biped. Unquestionably there were tamer, gentler, less assertive lions there once, real yellow cats with no worse inconveniences for the casual stranger than teeth, claws, and appetites.

The Assyrian kings used to come and hunt near Petra, and brag about it afterward; after you have well discounted the lies they made their sculptors tell on huge stone monoliths when they got back home, they remain a pretty peppery line of potentates. But for imagination, self esteem, ambition, gall, and picturesque depravity they were children mere chickens compared to the modern gentleman whom Grim and I met up with A.D. 1920.

You can't begin at the beginning of a tale like this, because its roots reach too far back into ancient history. If, on the other hand, you elect to start at the end and work backward the predicament confronts you that there wasn't any end, nor any in sight.

As long as the Lion of Petra has a desert all about him and a choice of caves, a camel within reach, and enough health to keep him feeling normal never mind whose camel it is, nor what power claims to control the desert there will be trouble for somebody and sport for him.

So, since it can have no end and no beginning, you might define this as an episode a mere interval between pipes, as it were, in the amusing career of Ali Higg ben Jhebel ben Hashim, self styled Lion of Petra, Lord of the Wells, Chief of the Chiefs of the Desert, and Beloved of the Prophet of Al Islam; not forgetting, though, that his career was even supposed to amuse his victims or competitors. The fun is his, the fury other people's.

The beginning as concerns me was when I moved into quarters in Grim's mess in Jerusalem. As a civilian and a foreigner I could not have done that, of course, if it had been a real mess; but Grim, who gets fun out of side stepping all regulations, had established a sort of semi military boarding house for junior officers who were tired of tents, and he was too high up in the Intelligence Department for anybody less than the administrator to interfere with him openly.

He did exactly as he pleased in that and a great many other matters did things that no British born officer would have dared do (because they are all crazy about precedent) but what they were all very glad to have Grim do, because he was a bally American, don't you know, and it was dashed convenient and all that. And Grim was a mighty good fellow, even if he did like syrup on his sausages.

The main point was that Grim was efficient. He delivered the goods. He was perfectly willing to quit at any time if they did not like his methods; and they did not want him to quit, because there is nothing on earth more convenient for men in charge of public affairs than to have a good man on their string who can be trusted to break all rules and use horse sense on suitable occasion.

I had been in the mess about two days, I think, doing nothing except read Grim's books and learn Arabic, when I noticed signs of impending activity. Camel saddles began to be brought out from somewhere behind the scenes, carefully examined, and put away again. Far sighted men with the desert smell on them, which is more subtly stirring and romantic than all other smells, kept coming in to squat on the rugs in the library and talk with Grim about desert trails, and water, and what tribal feuds were in full swing and which were in abeyance... Continue reading book >>

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