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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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1 letter, paper

S.S. Lotus. Tuesday 18th. Darling Mother. We reach Alexandria at 1 o'clock this afternoon, after by far the best voyage I have ever known. There was a strong mistral blowing at Marseilles [Marseille] and the Captain did not leave till early 3 instead of 11, but by that time the wind was going down, and the sea too; we rolled a bit, but nothing to speak of, and the whole way out we have had a light following wind, an absolutely smooth sea, sun and warm weather. After all I did change my cabin. I found we were 3 in the cabin assigned to me and I could not bear it. So I banged the £8 and I've never regretted it. When does one regret one's follies! I've had a deck cabin so that I could have my windows open night and day, and peace, and I have slept every morning till 9 - and once till 10 - and feel rested. Moreover one of my fellow travellers that were to be turned out in the clear light of the deck to be the most awful dyed and painted harridan. It's her business whether she dyes and paints, but I trembled to think of the time it must take her to dress in the morning. And me asleep in my cabin by myself! We have 2 days at Alexandria but I resist the temptation to go to Cairo. It isn't much of a temptation. I would rather on the whole stay quietly here, yes much rather. Also I haven't finished the subject index of my book, which I have been making all these days. A long job, but I'm very glad I'm doing it because I see, as I advance, that it will add immensely to the value of the book for working purposes. The only people I have made friends with are the Bp of Ipswich and his son and daughter, Fisher is their name. The son (about 30 I suppose) is in the central office of the {unemployment} labour exchanges in London, secretary to Mr Ray. He has just had an operation and they have come to Egypt for 6 weeks for him to recover. He is a delightful creature, very eager and intelligent; I like him particularly. The sister is a sweet creature, but rather stupid; the Bp a dear old boy. I made their acquaintance the first day and have sat at their table at meals. I shall miss them when they leave today. They have interests in Durham coal - they are very well off apparently - and he is on the Wearmouth board and knows about Father of course, knows Frank Stobart, and realized where I came from at once. I have also made acquaintance with an Anglo Egyptian family, name unknown. He has been out there in some position 24 years. She is almost as dyed and painted as my French friend, and there is a strapping girl. I have not talked to them much. I like the Fishers a great deal better. I always hobnob with bishops on these voyages. I had an episcopal friend last time. It's safe company anyhow.
In the watches of a night I suddenly bethought me that I had forgotten to get a passport! that such a hardened old traveller as I should do such a thing is unpardonable. Fortunately it won't matter. I shall go to the Consul here - I don't know him, but his name is Cameron - and ask him to give me a passport for Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)] if he thinks it necessary. Perhaps he won't even think it necessary for Mr Cumberbatch is sending a kavass to meet me and I should not be surprised if he came himself. But I think it would probably be better to have a London passport viséd at the Turkish Embassy for future purposes in the interior. It's a good plan to have all the right papers and no explanations, and therefore I should be very grateful if you would telephone to Sir Eyre or to Willie if he is back, at the F.O., and ask them to prepare a passport for me, have it viséd and send it to you. Then you would post it to me at Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] and perhaps Father would stand the expenses, which are I think about half a crown. Will you please do that?

There are one or two things to see at Alexandria, a museum which I only know very cursorily, and some catacombs which I don't know at all, though they are very interesting Ptolomaic catacombs, not early Xian. And they are all that remains of a city which for quite 400 years was one of the greatest, richest and most luxurious in the world, full of splendid Ptolomaic monuments, sending out its artists to every place, and mainly to Pompeii [Pompei], and to Rome [Roma], setting the fashion everywhere. Nothing left of it save a few underground vaults wherein the Ptolomies were buried - and those stripped of all their marble and ornament. It's one of the most provoking of disappearances.

It's as warm as summer today and the sea like glass. I wish some of my dear family were here to enjoy it with me. It's wonderful to get out of rainy foggy England into this sun. Doesn't Father wish he were here too? how I wish he were! Also I should like you to see my dear Fattuh some day. He would expire with pride and joy. My heart warms at the thought of meeting him at Beyrout - faithful friend.

I may stay there 2 days if the Cumberbatches will keep me, for it is just possible that the Jesuits may have a very important book by some Jerusalem [(El Quds esh sherif, Yerushalayim)] Dominicans on the desert borders where I'm going - not exactly my part, but near - and if they have it I should like to read it. It hadn't reached me before I left England. I ought to know what the learned fathers have to say.

I will write before I leave Alexandria. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude

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