Letters

11 September 1923

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

[11 September 1923] Baghdad Sep. 11. Dearest Mother. Here's an interesting experiment: I am going to post this tomorrow by the overland mail, i.e. by car to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. Will you tell me how many days it is on the way, for if it proves a success I shall write to you weekly instead of fortnightly.

I'm suffering from a violent cold in the head which I've caught from everybody else - there's a plague of colds. Mine began two days ago and today I hope to have nearly settled it by staying in all day. That seems absurd with the temperature at 100, but if I dine out at all I should have had to dine with the King and sit under a punkah all the evening. So I made my excuse and he has kindly put me off till Friday. I was sorry not to go today because I haven't yet had a real good talk with him, other people being there when I dined with him before. However it doesn't matter much since things are going quite reasonably well.

Captain Clayton came down from Mosul [Mawsil, Al] on Thursday, the day I posted my last letter, with the Amir Zaid. I haven't seen Zaid yet but Captain C. came in the afternoon for a long talk and he and Mr Thomson and I dined with Haji Naji on Friday. That was a very delightful occasion, Haji Naji most beaming and an excellent dinner spread on his roof over which nodded the tops of the mulberry trees. Such broiled fish and such a lamb roasted whole and such figs from our host's garden! We dined about 7 and going back early, the other two spent the rest of the evening with me. I had had a dinner party the night before, the Lloyds (he is Mr Cornwallis's assistant in the Interior and I like both him and his wife) Mr Jardine from Mosul, Assistant Inspector, and a nice man called Mackay in the APOC. I enjoy seeing them all again.

On Saturday I rode out to see the Arab Army play polo - Mr Thomson plays with them and all their British officers; they are getting quite good. But it's sad to ride out over that great stretch of desert which had been converted first by our army into a wonderful farm and was then taken over by the King. The floods of last spring have sent it back to desert, the roads are blotted out, the irrigation channels half filled in and the young trees which the King planted in hundreds, all killed or uprooted. And all the desert which was under water is horrid to ride on, covered with a cracked mud surface and full of holes.

I meant to have dined by myself and done some work, but Sir Henry, with whom I always lunch, pressed to come to dinner too. His ADC went out and we remained tàte a tàte while he told me of various problems. He is very pleasant and friendly, much more conversable than Sir Percy of course. He babbles on agreeably and amusingly and he is shrewd, too, in his appreciation of things. I think he is much liked; the Arabs find him so affable. He has them to dinner a good deal, which is excellent. Yes, the atmosphere of the Residency has undergone a remarkable change. If we haven't Sir Percy's wisdom, neither have we Lady Cox's folly and Sir Henry brings a geniality of his own. Sirr Hon-ri the Arabs call him.

J.M. Wilson and I have been labouring at the Antiquities Law - we spent most of Sunday morning at it, under the guidance of kind Mr Drower, Adviser to Justice. My Minister, Yasin Pasha, tried to rush through a law of his own drafting while I was away - a mean trick. Fortunately it contained so many absurdities that it wasn't difficult to show that it couldn't work. I haven't tackled Yasin on the subject for J.M. and I agreed to get our new version ready and then take him on. J.M. thinks he won't be very difficult to persuade - I hope not.

I had Nuri Pasha to lunch. He is one of my best friends here though by no means a model of virture or of political honesty. He knows it himself - well, I suppose he can't help knowing that he drinks and carries on a good deal. But I love him because you have no difficulty in making [him] understand your point of view and he respects it even when he doesn't act on what you say.

Mr Drower, Capt Clayton and I dined with Mr Cornwallis for our usual bridge party on a Sunday, Mr Drower taking the place of Nigel Davidson who hasn't come back yet. Ja'far Pasha is on his way back and I expect he will remain and go back to his old job of Minister of Defence. He also wants to be elected a member of the Constituent Assembly I hear.

I've had a fearful brawl in my household - not the fault of my household fortunately. You remember Mr Thomson dismissed my rogue of a gardener, Mizhir, and installed a more respectable brother in his place. When I came back Mizhir turned up at once expecting to be reinstated. I refused and finding him a day or two ago making claims to draw water at my pipe I forbade him to come into my garden feeling sure that his appearance would lead to rows. Yesterday while I was at the office and Zaya and the new gardener, Haji Marzuq, were out being innoculated for cholera (we've all been docilely innoculated to show bonne volontÇ) did Mizhir and two other brothers come in and beat Haji 'Ali, my inestimable cook, over the head. Haji 'Ali quite rightly hauled Mizhir off to the police station next door and I who was lunching at home because of the cold in my head, telephoned to a British Inspector and told him what had happened. And then I heard shouting and screaming in the street and behold there was Mizhir let out and one of his brothers struggling in the arms of some privates of the Levies with the evident intention of renewing their proceedings with me or any other victim. So I had the police up at once and clapped all three into the police station. This morning they were taken to court and given a good wigging by the judge, but Haji 'Ali who was being pestered by all their women folk announced that he would withdraw the case if they were bound over. The matter was referred to me on condition that they should never come into my garden again and that the police should keep an eye on them. So I hope that's happily concluded.

I've been spending such part of the day as was not taken up in telephonic communication with the police in writing an article about the 'Iraq for the Round Table. They don't want it in till the end of October however so I shall have to let it lie for a bit till I can tell of the result of the elections and see how the preliminary negotiations with the Turks are going.



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