Letters

24 May 1918

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother and father, Dame Florence Bell and Sir Hugh Bell

[24 May 1918] Baghdad May 24 Dearest Parents. Will you forgive me if I write in pencil - it's not really a bit hot but hot enough to make a fountain pen rather a nuisance; it dries up so fast. Here we are at the end of May and the temp. rarely over 100 - it's wonderful. I've had rather an uneventful week - let me see. I went to tea with the C. in C. who wasn't well and wanted company, but he is all right again. And then I went to breakfast with him to see a [sic] see an out of doors place on the river they've made for a breakfasting room, very nice indeed but their garden isn't nice - because it has no plants in it, so I've taken it over and am stocking it with cheerful plants in pots. He's a great dear the C. in C. Also I went to tea with an old saiyid at Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)], a charming man. I took a colleague and rode out - it's about 5 miles. But we had to leave the horses there and come home by train for it's the other side of the river and the bridge is cut about sunset. Next day the saiyid paid me a visit of digestion - it appeared to be done the other way round here, by the host not by the guest - in order to tell me that the heads of the inhabitants of Kadhimain had touched the Pleiades on account of our coming to the tea party. It's uncommon, isn't it, to produce such notable results by going to tea parties. We've been having a Red X week in a modest way - but the sums collected are far from modest - culminating in a garden party in the public garden this evening, to which went [sic]. It was very successful, largely thanks to the co-operation of the Jews. A good many leading inhabitants came and were introduced to the C. in C. after which I walked round with him and translated. Finally he made a speech - composed by Captain Wilson and me in the morning, mostly by Capt. Wilson. It was all very friendly and pleasant. I'm not sure if you realize who Capt. Wilson is though he is a very notable person. He is Dep. Civil Commissioner, and Acting C.C. while Sir Percy is away - a most remarkable creature, 34, brilliant abilities, a combined mental and physical power which is extremely rare. I'm devoted to him - he is the best of colleagues and he ought to make a wonderful career. I don't think I've ever come across anyone of more extraordinary force.

Oh dear, how much I would like to have you just for an hour and show you our office, I'm accustomed to it now, but it's a wonderful place. We occupy 2 big houses built round courtyards on the river. Capt W. and I have rooms next door to one another on the 1st floor. Mine is all shielded with mats and blinds against the sun and is beautifully cool. It has a writing table and a big map table, a sofa and some chairs with white cotton covers and lovely bits of Persian brocade over them, 2 or 3 very good rugs on the brick floor and a couple of exquisite old Persian glass vases on top of the blackwood bookcase. The walls covered with maps. It's a nice place. On the verandah which runs round the inside of the court sit our kawasses - office servants, in khaki uniform - to fetch and carry files and papers for us, run messages and so on. They are mostly Arabs, some Persians with immensely high bulbous felt hats. Opposite is the room of the Financial Adviser, Major May; the peacock mostly sits with him; and in between, the map room, the cypher room, the room of the P.O. Baghdad, Captain Gillan with a crowd of people waiting always to see him. In the next house all the clerks, British N.C.O.s, capital men, Eurasians doing the confidential work (and they are first rate too), two vernacular departments, Arab and Persian, the one presided over by a brilliant young Italian, born in Egypt, with an amazing gift of tongues, the other by an Afshan Nawab, born in Karbala, for whom I have a deep affection and esteem. He wears a very large white turban among other items, and looks what he is, a perfect gentleman. The fact is I love them all; they're so delightful to work with. But a medley, isn't it! And though I'm accustomed to it, I never quite get over the amusement and interest of it. I spend an entertaining hour every morning learning Persian which I've almost forgotten. But it comes back quickly and during the first week I've already begun to chatter an amazing jargon, 3 parts Arabic I'm afraid. I have the complete illusion of speaking Persian for my teacher (one of our vernacular clerks) instructs me in Arabic and understands what I'm trying to say, but I fear the natives of Persia won't. However it's great fun. Richard P.H. [Pope-Hennessy] has come back to Baghdad. It's very nice to have him, but I fear he'll be off soon. Ever dearest family, your very affectionate Gertrude

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