Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell written over the course of several days, on the 24th, 26th and 27th of December, 1914.
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My dear – a bad blow – no mail has arrived, and so no letter from you – you’ve spoilt me so new by your beloved letters, that I find it very [?] without them – and am all manner of ways out of temper & lost – there are days which go ill, ridiculously ill, when there hangs heavy on me some feeling of disaster and blackness – a most contemptible thing but by confession I will purge my soul, and out of my muddy mind I will climb by writing to you –
But one can’t do it all at once – I will tell you of things here – they go better – the Habesh are coming back to me – they are just like children after all, fickle & rather vicious children, but quick & changeable – they will do nothing against us I believe – it is not quite certain whether they will send the unwelcome Governor to the Somali border – but if they do it is not quite yet, and he’ll do us harm later on - & they’ve moved their fort, about which I never said a single word directly.
And idea of the Sudan invasion makes no way – there is a noticeable change – one of many perhaps –
Our hospital is at Frevent, some 20 miles west of Arras, and very little way down from the Carency fight – within sound of the guns probably – and very busy. Lij Yasu has never paid, - I don’t intend to remind him, and don’t care either way.
The wire is broken and I have had no news for 2 days –
My dear are you still at [?]don? are you still straightening things – no, they will long ago have been straightened – Have you gone to France I wonder, or Arabia – its no good talking of my affairs to you, - it only sinks me in deeper in my slough – by some ridiculous feeling which I know very well will pass soon – I’ve been alone for 3 months, and now one Walker, the Western Abyssinia Consul is coming in a few days or so. He is a nice fellow. I took him down once to shoot partridges at Theberton, but somehow (except for the judicial& copying work) I don’t want him. I’d sooner be alone with my own thoughts, even if they do cloud over sometimes. Someday I will live in a cottage and see nobody at all except you – every now & then you shall come out of your world and go back to it –
I still won’t believe, Yorkshire raid or no, on any descent on England. They have too much to do to send & lose 200,000 men even – bombardments do us good, and will bring recruits – but we must stop the commerce destroyers getting out – invasion would be suicide. And Turkey – I wonder if Djemal will dare to try the desert – a railway might be laid I suppose for 2/3 of the way – but that should spell suicide too. Its good news about Egypt, but I know nothing of Hussein Kamil.
And who are the Commissioners? What’s the Sennani[?] doing? Have I got these blue devils because I am in prison, or because I want you, or because it is so written? anyway its wretched business to give way to them, even if I didn’t get a mail, and I won’t. Where’s Shakespear?
Are we going one from Basreh? I should think not force enough, but its rather a pity. What about East Africa? There is an old friend mine commanding in the Cameroons – we went into our first fight together, and he stood over me revolver working when I was shot in the knee – As far as I know, but oh so damnably little, the Cameroons show is finished – Did I tell you the last man senior to me in the regiment, Cadogan is missing, and I ought to be leading them.
Tell me about Constantinople – Is Russia to have it?
Yesterday I went out to see the old minister for Warm and certain other people to spread or rather try to spread an atmosphere – but the poor old thing has gout worse than mine, and couldn’t listen though he made a gallant try – and tonight I have to go & dine with the Italians – which for the time I loathe, though it is only a mile or so to ride – a Christmas feast – and I’ve got to give one later on to all & sundry, narrow eyed Cypriotes included – one of them is President now of a sort of foreign Admiralty Council, and will probably want to sell arms as does the French Minister – but he’s a tool in my box, and he & his females must be feasted –
And the Abuna & his Copts are translating things for me. My dear why do I tell you all these rotten little things? I suppose it is really just to keep you there at the end of the pen, to picture you & hear you talking –
But the mail did come in after all, two days late - & now you’re in Boulogne looking for mining and doing good work I know – it wants doing badly that tracing of the mining – and you’ll see everybody & smell the war close – Not so close as my wife though, who was under shellfire for a day at Soissons, before she went to Frevent. She pictures a Red X muddle both French & English such I feared – But the English are not so helpless if only they would amalgamate, with the State, with the Joker of [?] and not have 12 independent commissioners in France – all working without informing each other of what they do – Doctors are so often the most jealous and unbusinesslike of men.
But I am so glad you’ve gone to Boulogne my dear – all good go with you – Your letters are as usual delightful & full of news – I’m so pleased we are going to Baghdad – as you it [sic] will help to solve some Indian questions and I suppose Russia at Constantinople will nod assent – But it’s a big commitment, and a thing worth doing – Direct government is such a nice clean stuff to model in –
At Boulogne there is a Genl. Asser who years ago worked with me as staff officers at Omdurman – He’s a clever fellow in his way – we were both under Maxwell, a still cleverer – but I don’t know if you’ll like him – I’ve only seen him once in the last 15 years, and thought he’d gone back a bit. Deedes would be a useful fellow at Baghdad & Basra – he has the knack. But Boulogne will be full of people whom I know more or less. I hear Philip is in England for short leave.
Touching hospitals, I offered mine naturally to the English, who wired back that private hospitals were being held in reserve – It then went to the French – I hear now that forgetting what they said they are now asking why it wasn’t given to them, and that they have many private hospitals working for them – The same old story I suppose – one hit the wrong man at the wrong time – But it doesn’t make much odds, as long as it works.
Mail night – the end of the usual busy day – the long letter to the Sudan, to Harar, to all sorts of people – I keep you always for the last – I hate Sundays – I seem doomed to have to have people everyday next week – Cypriots Monday – French Tuesday – Abyssinians Wednesday a damnable New Year’s feast Thursday – but then alhandolillah I shall have the mail & your letter. Yes – go on tracing the mining – I’m one of them –
I really ought to be doing those foul accounts, most hateful of things – but I can’t, I want to go on trying to listen to you – and they must wait another week for Walker – And its more than a year since you went to Nefd [sic] – more than year [sic] since that night at Rounton – more than year (no – not yet -) since the first book of revelations – my dear my dear I bless you for loving me – although why on earth you should have picked such an old cripple, married & exiled, and altogether unworthy of love, is more than I can think –
The longer I stay here alone, the greater the distance from which I see love – like a crystal in his clearness – but away and floating unattainable – that is the whole love of man & woman, when all the little veins sing together – yes – away – off.
I feel as if I was very old (I am ever so old physically) and looking back at the lovely world from the last turning – and seeing you full of youth & life & fire & energy tackling the day’s work, as it should be tackled.
Did I tell earlier in this letter that I have been trying again to get out of this – its all in the day’s work I know – but still Thesiger seems to think he’s coming back, and if so nothing will keep me here – I should just go at once, whatever they said.
Goodnight my dear – I’m going to read your book.