“Catch the Alfies napping and kick hell out of ’em!”
You’re no doubt familiar with the fact that the accounts given by two men who have witnessed a battle from the same angle will differ widely, not only in minor detail but in fundamentals; so you won’t look to me for confirmation of any one of the countless stories that have seen the light of print, pretending to explain how the French won Damascus so easily and unexpectedly. I was only on the inside, looking outward as it were; the fellows on the outside, looking in, would naturally give a different explanation.
Then you must bear in mind that this is a day of “official” accounts that would make a limping dog of Ananias. When the General Staff of an invading army controls all the wires and all lines of communication you may believe what they choose to tell you, if you wish. But you don’t have to, as they say in Maine. And I admit that all I saw was from a curtained auto as we swayed and bumped over broken roads, with an occasional interlude when Jeremy and I got out to lend our shoulders and help the Arab driver heave the car out of a slough.
My clearest memory is of that Arab—silent, stolid, staring like an owl straight forward most of the time—but a perfect marvel in emergencies, when he would suddenly spring to life, swear a living streak of brimstone blasphemy in high falsetto, and perform a driver’s miracle.
By two flours after midnight we were running on four flat tires; and I’ve got the name of the maker of those wheels for future reference and use. One spring broke, but we went forward sailor-fashion, with a jury-rig of chain and rope, after getting more gas from some Christian monks, who swore they hadn’t any and wept when one of Feisul’s officers demonstrated that they lead. You couldn’t see any monastery; I don’t even know that there was one—nothing but lean faces with tonsured tops that nodded in unison and lied fearfully.
The gunfire began to be heavy about that time, although nothing like the thousand-throated bedlam of Flanders. As neither side could see the other and neither had any ranges marked, my guess is that the French were advertising their advance—doing a little propaganda that was cheap for all concerned except the tax-payers. And the Syrian army was shooting back crazily, sending over long shots on the off chance, more to encourage themselves than for any other reason.
The sensation was rather like riding in an ambulance away from the battle instead of toward it, for you couldn’t see anything and you had a sense of helpless detachment from it all, as if a power you couldn’t control were carrying you away from a familiar destiny to one that you couldn’t imagine. It wasn’t so much like a dream as like a different, real existence that you couldn’t understand because it bore no kind of relation to anything in the past.