Hunters with rifles, “ scoped “ and accurate had come into the land of the Howeitat and slain the shy gazelle from a distance, and the once common gazelle became a rarity.
Hares too, the small desert hare, more wily than even our own brown hare, were becoming rare, and there was little work for the dogs of the wandering desert tribes, the same people who had harried the Israelites their way out of Goshen.
So the tribes no longer boasted the huge teams of dogs who had accompanied British Officers on leave from Allenby’s was .Things were changing, and not for the best. Arab singers had sung sadly of the coming of the European and his weapons. “ They came to our land and they knew not our ways”
Now there was wealth and prosperity among the Howietat, and Mercedes and Landrovers were parked beneath the palm trees to which racing camels were once tethered.
The Dam had been a gift from the Mutair, one of the most easterly of the Bedouin tribes, and her coat, devoid of feathering, was like the hide of an Arab horse, she was smooth and nearly black, and her pedigree had inspired poets to song.
“Dark they were, with amber eyes “some long forgotten bard had sung of this family. She had fed in the tents of the bedu, eaten from the floors of Sheiks, an honour, for the Muslim tribesmen consider all other dogs to be Naqus or unclean.
Of her family the poets had eulogised, calling them El Hor. The noble ones and they had sung the praises of her ancestor’s skill and stamina. Her dam too, had been famous, a noted catcher of desert hare, a slayer of jackals who prowled the outskirts of the villages along the settled land. Now she paced restlessly in her kennels in Wiltshire, like Moses people in Egypt, “a stranger in a strange land”.
Both beasts were creatures of perfection, the result of breeding only from the most fleet, the most able, and in that hostile, dry land, only the fittest had survived, the weak going to the wall, for there was no place for the useless hound in the frugal lives of the desert dwellers.
Both sire and dam had been bred to hunt, bred to endure agonising courses across the blistering hot sands, bred to run long after a normal hound would have collapsed and died.
There could be no excuse for failing with a beast of this breeding; no excuse the kennel Club had ruined the breed. Emir had been bred in the purple, bred from the best, bred from the most able. It was curious that I failed with him.
My cottage was sparsely furnished and my living frugal, and to bring such an aristocrat to my hovel seemed almost a blasphemy, but such dogs had shared almost stoical poverty since time began.
Omar, the successor of Mohammed, had owned such hounds and he had ridden to Jerusalem clad in the attire of poverty to accept the surrender of the City Patriarchs.
Emir’s kind too had known poverty often living for months on only the curdled milk of sheep or camels. My lot would not be foreign to him, yet I was ill at ease in accepting such an aloof, dignified animal to train. Why I did offer to train him is still something of a mystery, but as I have said, “It is a strange man who is not dazzled by the exotic”.
Even as a puppy this great golden coloured hound had a quality that I am anthropomorphic enough to call dignity. He was built like an athlete, fragile and dainty as a Pavlova, nervous and cautious as a virgin, yet his eyes had that strange lack lustre look, a far away look my friend called it.
Greyhounds, close cousins of Salukis, are simply powerhouses of knotted muscle, built simply to explode into flight or pursuit, but Emir was slender as a whiplash, his frame spare, even when clad with the fat of puppyhood.
This was no dog designed to race at top speed around a circular track, mindlessly pursuing a clockwork hare. Emir had been bred to run live quarry and to run them over the roughest terrain on earth. He was ill- equipped for the lightening burst of speed, beloved by owners of greyhounds.
His prowess would manifest itself in the lengthy course, when agony seized the limbs of the quarry and its pursuer, when the lungs were raw with the fire of exertion, when the heart and muscles screamed “Stop”. This was when Emir would come into his own.