Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell written over multiple days from the 25th to the 27th of September, 1914.
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My dear Gertrude.
Your letter of the 23 to the 27 has just come – bless you – But lectures are the very things – and you can and will do them so very well – I know in my bones that the war must bring to your hand work fit for you, and you have found this. But oh my dear I’d like to hear you - & carry you round crusading in my own country as well.
You wrote at the beginning of the black week – now telegraphically el [?] lillah behind me – But send mail will be blacker. The costly desperately fought retreat from Cambrai – I long for details – for names. I do not even know at all if my regiment is there – the Welsh Fusiliers.
As for this country it seethes a little – I have been smoothing it as best I can, or there would have been war with Italy – there nearly was war – there may be yet – but I think not. The final arguments were too strong, but an accident may light it up again. I have still a stronger card up my sleeve, if Sir E. Grey lets me play it, to propose a joint guarantee by the three Powers of Abyssinian neutrality at a price to us & for a reason to stop if it may be stopped the restless irredentism of Italy.
Italy I take it is on fire for Trieste & Valona – this place for the time is chastely veiled – but sooner or later old passions will revive – a guarantee of non aggression leaves us to tell her stop – for her coming in must mean ours also.
And for that I want Tsana & a few other things. But I cannot begin yet.
And besides it is better to sit still and let fall from them the delusion that Germany would have the Sudan & Jibuti [sic] – and already has E. Africa. Even I hear in their churches they prayed for the success of German arms – now they change a little –
But Grey may not wish to commit himself to any guarantee, though it is nearly so written in the Tripartite Agreement. And as for Tsana, there are they say islands in it where are old churches & holy things. Lakes are always holy places for islands are nearly inviolable – like Hereward in his fens – these islands they say lie low, and will be ruined by the long flood of the held up lake – three months rain, four months dam, seven months of flooded fields & sloppy cells – But I don’t know more than that so they say – they say so much in Abyssinia - & no one has ever seen these islands –
Someday on an ambatch raft we will go a voyaging. They say that the old time kings were buried there.
Well then – what to do? if I knew the islands, how many & how low, I might do something but neither I nor they know them accurately, if at all – they cannot be in danger of submersion such as Philae suffers – perhaps a wall would do –
I talk about these things, but that’s all – I cannot do much for them – not yet.
To the Habesh I preach peace & riches & time & waiting & reform & trade – nice warm things to think of, but distant so very distant from their minds.
I told you of our hospital, our proposal. Italy refuses to let go anything of hers – she may want it – now we have wired to the Red X & to London & Paris – no answer yet.
The rains go on. This will be a record year in Egypt and the Sudan – after two bitter & lean ones.
Not much more news today – still a desperate fight – The Germans it seems to me striking between Toul & Verdun – But what is the good of speculating – to you its ancient history.
Yesterday all Abyssinia kept feast. I did not go. I do not care to go at present to any feast – but I have seen it – They circle a sort of maypole each chief with his following – from the Prince downwards - & every now & then rides up some warrior, lion’s man, & velvet, & gold shield. “I served your gather well” he shouts, bragging as the old Norsemen bragged, -“and I will serve you better – I am a great warrior – a brave man”.
It is a great sight, thousand after thousand of them.
And the Red X answered “No field hospitals required, ward in the base hospital useful”.
But they weren’t asked that, the poor old muddleheads. We will wait to see what the French say – what is wanted is a little independent show. Base hospitals, we know them well – to me, it would be all one – but not to my wife.
My dear, goodbye.