25 SEPTEMBER 1936, Page 30

Mirage and Men

Adventure in Algeria. By Brian Stuart. (Herbert Jenkihs. 10s. 6d.) The Scourge of the Desert. By Operator 1384. (Rich and Cowan. 8s. 6d.) " To judge sizes and distances of objects in the mirage is im- possible. We would often think we saw a mountain, or at any rate a big rock. On getting nearer to it we would think ,it-was a camel ; then perhaps a palm tree. Then it would disappear altogether to jump out at us suddenly as a huge pillar like one of those holding up the front of the British Museum. Then the pillar would begin. to reel and sway, to dissolve mistily the ripples of a clear blue lake and reappear, smaller and solider, as a lumpy rock. Finally, when we reached it, it was a black stone about the size of a man's head."

Tnus Mr. Mason, hunter to an English expedition of. four (originally six, but a wretched accident reduced the party) which set out in three Ford cars on a journey; or perhaps one should call it a series of journeys, in the Libyan desert, criss-

crossing the tracks of eminent forerunners, to reach here a wadi, there a cliff, elsewhere a sea of dunes hitherto unexamined.

Well, you can-cover more ground in a short time by car than by camel. Undoubtedly you can fill up the map. Mr. Mason and his friends found as many rock-paintings and Neolithic axeheads, trapped as many gerbils and shot as many birds as

those who travel slower : but the desert is desert indeed without the rub of humanity between guide,- cameleer :and explorer which gives dignity to the narratives of even,such

austerely scientific adventurers as Mr. Bertram Thomas or Major Cheesman. Clubhouse good-felloWship is a threadbare substitute in the sands.

They gave Gilf Kebir a mate in Gilf Soghayar ; traversed

Wadi Hawar from end to end ; found new wadis in_ nearly new mountains ; crossed the great sands south of Siwa, a formidable undertaking, gathering useful data for geographers

and archaeologists, and a few purple passages for the general reader, if he likes such things.

Lieutenant Brian Stuart, who joined the French Foreign Legion, liked it, and was bitterly disappointed when the doctor marked him " Maple service," set off to cross' the Sahara- On foot with a volume of Pedro de Alcantara in his pocket.kmd very few francs. He got as far as Adrar without having -seen

a mirage. He treats the sort of travel Mr. Mason chronkles so Carefully, thus :

" On 27th Deceniber Abby and I started off again to spend- five totally.uneventful, days in the. sand dunes until we came, to the next well, Hawn Fokra."

I don't suppose the Royal Geographical Society will offer him its medal, yet he saw men and cities in the spirit of Odysseus, and can convey their caviar. The narrative moves.

" In the evening Ahmet Beghdad came round with the couscous, a roast shoulder of lamb, a rather delicious sauce made of 'll'Oney and mint, some cakes, a tin of pears, and all the apparatus, including fuel, for making tea.

" After supper Beghdad was pleased to refer to what he•tetrued my ' magic,' and told me that although he himself could do. a few tricks, he could not compete against a man who could find water in barren desert by simply walking about with a twist6ctup length'rif 'copper-wire. I had never seen an adept native conjurer and from the way that Beghdad spoke, I suspected him of being above the average. So I told him quite truthfully that I4ould like greatly to see him do some juggling. He laughed, and tidiing ten pieces Of . sugar, q.gt of the r.sngar-box, he, extended hitilarrn 'mai:fro:Wed:thorn, one by-aiticitrtho stirid.

chicks that he dropped, not lumps of sugar ! . . . They were

genuine enough, as they grew up and scratched in the sand of my courtyard. for insects .and- grain."

-Be earned several thousand francs in Timimoun by his Shill' as a dowser, and the twenty-five pages describing his life ilutre contain many incidents yet .more rapidly told thin that above. He is least interesting when doing his duty perfunctorily by the flora and fauna and the: R.G.S. think Mr., Stuart‘r slies a ghod,deal on his, memory. Not every detail of his admirable narrative seems fit to be train= ferted to the Encylopaedia unverified ; there must be slips he#re and there. But Operator 1884 has " adhered strictly to fatS, 444 related no incidentityjniah ditY OA actually occur and in which he did not perso yPtirke 'Pail." I don't believe Mint A. .stage American-, and, stage. Arabs.. uttering Hollywood dialogue amongst scenery ki:sclly lent by the British fllin industry at its worst surround his incredible adyentures: People Wh6 dead -beyond page 151Withititliehig foi it

deaerve to have to finish the book. BASH. BUNTING,