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Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell

Letter from Charles Doughty-Wylie to Gertrude Bell written over two days, the 14th and the 17th of January, 1915.

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Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Wylie, Charles Hotham Montagu Doughty-
Person(s) mentioned
Wylie, Lilian [Judith] Doughty-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

8.9806034, 38.7577605

14 Jan

Can you read this pencil?
Your letters came today – and to answer them- if I could – I must break through censors – Its too long ago – you wrote on Dec 9th & 16th – you won’t remember which letters anymore than I can when you breathe fire & slay me for Francis Thompson – (but I loved the letter!) and that next one answering something I had written on a night like this – But I wouldn’t have liked the Governor of Jibouti to read it as he will read this – or even Lij Yasu’s Minister for [?] & pleasures –

But its gone already – I had a million things to say a minute ago – and in your heart you must know them – say them then all over to yourself talking with my lips & in my silence –

And there are other things to say too – The F. O. have let me go as soon as I can leave Walker in charge - & I am fairly sure of him & already I think he’s got the atmosphere. So I sail from Jibouti on the last day of the month – i.e. by the first ship - & leave here in a week - & tomorrow is a fresh conference on Tsana – which I’ll tell you about later on – Now listen – When you get this write at once by means of the Paris Lyons mail now running again to the British disembarkation officer at Marseilles (there’s nearly sure to be such a somebody & Boulogne will know) – I’ll write to him too, so as to have letters ready for me. I shall be there about Feb. 10 or 12th – I will see you when you will – but as I shall probably go to London I would like to go with you if you can – I hope to have something to say to the F. O. & I have no uniform – so that I want 3 days or so – In Boulogne I shall probably see my wife as I pass through – Frevent is close & she will want help about certain things I daresay – but I do not think she’ll go to London – she may however – she’ll be much too busy - & I shall tell her to meet me in Boulogne if she can.

Without uniform & passes galore I can’t get to Frevent – All this dependent on what the War Office order in reply to my wire to them – I have heaps to do here – both business & private affairs – I have still 9 horses, endless kit & household furniture to dispose of – every Abyssinian chief of note to see etc etc - & the treaty – But I think I shall do it all right – The spur to keep the Habesh on the treaty is my rapid departure – but the treaty can scarcely be signed so quick as that in Abyssinia – even if the F. O. will accept my new annexe to it – It would be pleasing to get it through in the middle of the war & 100 difficulties – but I know its nearly impossible –

But my dear queen of fire & life it wasn’t of treaties that I took this pencil to write to you – only a mouldy censor drove me to it – No its not treaties – Really I warm my heart at your fire & life – I’m not altogether like you – You are there sitting by a far camp fire – I’m in the desert know it & even see it - & love it – but to reach it! one walks on in the night & the fire seems ever farther away – yet its there & one’s heart warms at it – Whether I ever get there or not for the thorns between, it burns & shines & I love it –

I wonder what the censor will make of that – Yes – fire & life they sit about you – you burn & they & my heart sit there and hold our hands to the blaze.

There’s another thing – these letters which go to London may be late – I may be in Marseilles first – If there is no letter I will wire to you, or if as I suspicion [sic] private wires cannot get through, I shall just walk into your office to enquire after – [?] camp fire – by ship will be a messageries [?] – at least as far as I know. I can’t waste time by going to Aden if I can help it –

No – it won’t do – don’t come to London with me even if I am alone without thinking that I shall have 100 things to do & people to see – that we shall see but little of each other – under bad conditions of hurry & business & interruptions – and that perhaps it will be hard - & things seem wrong & unnatural & altogether intolerable – and that for that you will have left you real and honest work & the double index will get all messy again – We live in the clouds – but I come out of them - & then perhaps really you wouldn’t like me so much – which I’d hate – and if you liked me more, why then you might afterwards hate it also – I’m talking nonsense in a way, but to you of courage & fire & truth, there’s something in it – one has always to look at the worst of the most smiling glories & be greater than they are – I won’t tell you I want you to come – but there’s something in me that says you will - & you shan’t come not knowing –

I try not to think of it because this is only a letter, because of the censor, because of a million things – but its like the night & runs in my blood – they may stick me in England – or in Egypt – god is great – my dear think – think of the bad things, think of afterwards, think of other things than those that keep running down this pencil and [?] to be written – but which I won’t write.

And don’t misunderstand or be angry or anything – nothing is changed or will alter – things that we once called devils (they are not devils) are thick about me – but I the real I call to you thorough the crush of them – if they are devils to you don’t come –

But its all nonsense & the night and those wild fire letters and the devil which has always been in me – probably we will cross together horribly cold & miserable & half cross and such off to separate ends of the world and perhaps you’ll want to dine with 100 people - & I’ll be too absolutely savage & unendurable – but to all outward appearances the same as before – Perhaps I won’t be alone – But well is there any good in thinking of nothing but whether you will come or not?

And anyway if you do come despite all the pencils & devils the real I knows it shall be as you like – neither shall it make any difference between us – only then we must keep to beaten tracks and the habits of things –

I won’t write another word – I’ll leave you & criticize some Gambela proposals, add up accounts, do anything – Goodnight


They wire to me to report to the War Office personally – so this much is sure I go to London – I am afraid the lake won’t work. Too short a time – too many hesitations – I hope to get off in 6 days – I must or miss my boat –

Never mind what I wrote some nights ago in pencil. I’ve just read it through and I don’t think you’ll understand (not even you) what a storm of contradictory thoughts ran in me then –

How should I know if you can come, or will come, or what would happen if you did? It is written in the book –

Only my dear do find some means – the staff or somebody – to let me know at Marseilles – if there is no British Staff Office there – does Cook yet exist? His agent in Marseilles was once my colour sergeant - There’ll also be Con’s agent.

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