Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell written over two days from the 3rd to the 4th of December, 1914.
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3rd December –
Today came two letters from you and the book – Some Russians came to dinner & wouldn’t go away – and I had only read the letters – but now I’ve read the book the first time – the first time of many it will be – its late – but I my room my heart everything is full of you – and something I must write before I go to bed – My dear my dear that splendid magic love of yours humbles me – you say that I am not to love you as a dream – but even if you were here in my arms living breathing beloved still there would be about you the glory & the dream – over us & round us we would draw it – for its yours and yours only – and in it and through it I kiss you – I can’t write – but you know – it’s the being with you that I want – that I want now – that I reach after with some wretched ink – you who write – in the midst of a hundred cares & days & wearinesses & people & work & lectures – you write to me like that – bless you – I envy you those perfect letters – no I don’t because they are mine – but I wish I was like that – wasn’t it some Princess in the fairy tales out of whose mouth dropped pearls & rubies? – and I can only sit like some old crow in my mountains & croak – or like the jackdaw you pictured once dropping certain sticks in a chimney –
You don’t want me to thank you for your love, but I will thank you – its so great a thing, everything – oh yes I know women have loved me – but yours is love itself the thing devised and dreamed of – It lived I knew somewhere but I had never found it, and my goddess of solitude had smiled and half consoled me – yes – I will thank you – but if I have no words, then with what else? I don’t know – with just love – trust & understanding –
As I read that book my heart went with you – to meetings, - I was in the stirred audience – to see you writing to me – and I kissed your fingers – to you awake & dreaming under your oak tree – and I was your lover.
And now you are quartermaster of Lord Onslow’s hospital – and very well you’ll do it – only dear humble one it is not big enough for you – & I know you’ll be already as I write in some larger room – not that any work isn’t good – it is – all of it. Our hospital is at Beauvais – And of course he’s fond of you – he’d be a fool if he wasn’t – more power to him – my role in those days was to urge her to marry him & be happy – that was for her – for you, I don’t want you to like him better than me – this which is entirely unworthy of a philosopher.
My dear its bright moonlight – lovely – a little cold – I went out to see solitude - & you came and we looked at the hills - & the great valley in the full moon – I do not think I am much of a philosopher – and I think I’ll go to bed – If I haven’t said one thing that isn’t soberer than winter, yet all the time I have been sending you my love.
You in a hospital my quartermaster – But well I know that in the 24 hours you’ll run the whole place, the Onslows, the doctors, the patients, the nurses, their friends and visitors - & have a nice word & quickest understanding for each one of them.
Well, I suppose I must stop – as I can’t see anymore tonight.
Here beginneth the sober letter aforesaid – I have been very busy all day writing to everybody who has subscribed all over Abyssinia to the P of W’s Fund – exchanging & sending off the money – interviewing excited Italo-Austrian merchants who declare their house comes from Manchester – ditto Indians whose trade out [of] Jibouti is blocked (and really the French there are quite absurd & panicky - & they never can govern not really in other people’s countries) – copying war telegrams – writing a monthly intelligence report, a secret thing they call it, which I circulate to London, Cairo, Khartoum, Berbera, Nairobi, etc – damn nuisance as it has to be type written several times over – dispelling certain of the Arumi with fair words, poor devils who came from days away to complain against some swindling Armenian Egyptians – writing to Lij Yasu & sending away heated interpreters and such ones – Lij Yasu having condemned to death a syee[?] of mine whose horse ran away, so that they knocked over a woman who a month later died – queer law in Abyssinia -
Rotten things all of them – except the report which also when I think of it is rotten – but they’ve filled the whole day – Five minutes only I took to see if some newly planted trees had been watered – then dinner – one Times – and you & the big empty house to myself. Its an ordinary day – like so many now – Oh yes I paid my Sikhs, translated to them as every day the war news, sent off for them their savings to India – telegraphed to the Sirdar that I want the Gambela Consul here – that all is quiet in Gondar – and that I think I can hold a border chief – looked through a heap of papers for notes for the report - & considered the new question of the Trinity – which may split the country.
Yes – an ordinary day – but why do I tell you about it? You asked to hear bless you – It wasn’t an interesting day such as comes with Tsana or discussions with the Foreign Minister & the like – just a day’s work - & my eyes are rather rotten again – its reading at night – even goggled I suppose oughtn’t to – but else can a man do? Writing is easier – I don’t have to look at the words –
I often have people to lunch or dine, but not today – the doctor, the Abyssinian Secretary ( a Greek named Zaphiro he is & a useful man but has to be handled nicely – Thesiger he hates & loves me) – The Italians Count Colli & his wife, her two very pretty grown up daughters, or one or all of them – The Russians he & she, nice woman having a baby, he a little monkey man – a dashing French woman – the bourgeois old French Minister – sometimes an Abyssinian –
I’m puzzling a little over Poland. The telegrams say so little – but working things out I think the Russians had a setback near Kalisch - & are slowly coming on again – It will be frozen now the ground and they can move sledges, & things should go better – Your letters, your book, keep calling to me – for a moment I won’t listen – I’ll go on being sober – Clive Dixon of whom you spoke was with me in Chitral, we ran transport together for Gatacre – Did I ever thank dear loyal Gertrude for trying to move for me the Pharaoh like F.O? I’ve thought thanks so often – but did I say them? There must be many things like that – I think things at night, or in the garden, - I say them to you – suddenly perhaps they come to me while somebody talks some nonsense – from me to you they go – but probably I never write them, and how should you know? And what you said about Philip touched me rather – why shouldn’t you be fond of him & he of you? Why should those few words of the greater affection in his letters touch me? Like a reproach – I like Philip, but I don’t know him very well – Linnet was my friend.
And I work here – do what I can – it is not much of really useful it seems to me – but it seems set down in the book –
Ah my dear but the book I love is your book – the book of your heart – and I have it now that I am alone held closer. That other beloved one that I sent to my bankers – that bewildering blinding live thing – like this one its own sister – yes it is as far away as yourself – some incredible way – but the new one I have – for me alone, dearer for that, set in a fitter circle –
My dear dream woman – alive you are, but dream woman to me so often & now in Africa – by the book you are evoked and I love it and you – But by so many other things & times you come – I am always thinking of you and wanting you – the devils you talk of – and I have talked of sometimes – our own devils – they’re not you know – not devils at all – only the blood in our veins and the wind in the trees – I don’t know why that brought me sharply to your tent under the oak – but you are not there now – its winter for one thing & you’re a quartermaster – Is it allowed to love a quartermaster? I don’t believe its in the regulations – But then I never cared about the regulations – And you oh most unbelievable quartermaster you don’t care either –
I suppose I’d better write to Sloane Street. It will get to you quicker wheresoever – Tomorrow if I can I will write to you soberly – (as I normally do and you try not to resent it, you dear, but sometimes you do) – Tonight all about me hangs that golden book of love – your hair loose – a very philtre if enchantments – do you really love me like that, me unworthy? The power of the thing the fury & black darkness sweeps us away – but after come green lawns & quiet streams – and we rest under the trees –
When shall I see you? I don’t know – like all else it is in the book – only nothing in that hidden page seems quite so important. But the days pass, and I shall be old.
I can’t write any more – there aren’t any words – But I love you – and I kiss your hands and your feet.