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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother Florence Bell, written over the course of several days from the 9th to the 11th of January, 1914.

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

34.802075, 38.996815

As I said before, paff! I'm caught. I was an idiot to come in so close to the railway, but I was like an ostrich with its head in the sand and didn't know all the fuss there had been about me. Besides I wanted my letters and Fattuh. Well, I've got both. Fattuh turned up yesterday morning, just arrived from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], still looking pale and thin (and no wonder) but with a clean bill of health from Dr Mackinnon. And do you know I really believe that his coming makes up for all the misadventure. I have missed him dreadfully, my faithful travelling companion. Never in the world was anybody given more devoted service and friendship than he gives me. He was in the seventh heaven at being with us. Well, meantime none of the 4 men whom I had sent in to Madeba [Madaba] and Ziza [Jiza] to buy stores had returned. In the middle of the morning one of the camel drivers arrived with chopped straw and after the camels and I had lunched (I on all the luxuries Fattuh had brought from Damascus I rode off to Mshetta [Qasr el Mushatta], which is only an hour from my camp. As we came back, Ali, the camel driver, looked up and said "Are these horsemen or camel riders going to our tents?" I looked, and they were horsemen, and what is more they were soldiers, and when we rode in they were sitting round our campfire. More and more came, to the number of 10, and last of all a very angry, rude (and rather drunken) little Jack in Office of a Chowwish who said they had been looking for me ever since I left Damascus. There it was. We put on a good countenance, and when the chowwish stormed in held our tongue. I sent off at once telegrams to Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)] and Damascus to the two consuls, but I had to send a man with them to Madeba, and the chowwish intercepted them and put the man, one of my camel drivers, into the Ziza castle, practically a prisoner. Thither he presently sent Fattuh also, on some imaginary insult (F. had said nothing) and then he ransacked our baggage, took possession of our arms and posted men all round my tent. All this he had not the smallest right to do with an icy calmness for which God give me the reward; and later in the evening he began to feel a little alarmed himself - and sent to ask me whether I would like Fattuh back. But I refused to have Fattuh routed out again, for the night was as icy as my demeanour, and I, shivering in bed, had some satisfaction in thinking of how much those unwelcome guardians of mine were shivering outside. The temperature was 22° and there was a frozen fog. Today we have waited for the Qaimmaqam of Salt to turn up or send permission for us to go elsewhere - he is the nearest authority and I only wish he would come. The chowwish left us in the early morning, to the care of 6 or 7 soldiers, and turned up in the evening very affable. We have spent the day not unpleasantly, gossiping with the soldiers, mending a broken tent pole, and also in very long periods of gossip in Fattuh's tent, one member of the expedition or another dropping in to share in the talk. And I am busy forging new plans; for I am not beaten yet. But I fancy this road is closed and I shall probably have to go up to Damascus and start afresh via Palmyra [Tadmur]. The Baghdad Residency is the best address for me. It's all rather comic; I don't much care. It's a laughable episode in the adventure, but I don't think the adventure is ended; only it must take another turn. I have done some interesting work in the last 3 weeks - just what I meant to do, but I have not enjoyed the thing much up to now and my impression is that this is not the right road. I think I can do better; anyhow I will try. God ordains. Fattuh observes cheerfully: "I spent the first night of the journey in the railway station, and the second in prison, and now where?"

Sat. Jan 10. [10 January 1914] So far all is well. The Qaimmaqam not having arrived this morning I came down to 'Ammân ['Amman (Rabbah)] and here I found him on his way to me, a charming, educated man, a Christian, willing and ready to let me go anywhere I like by any road I please. The Commandant here, a Circassian, ditto. But there comes in a question of conscience. I don't want to get the Qaimmaqam into any trouble by taking advantage of his kindness, so I have telegraphed to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] for permission to visit the ruins round Ziza [Jiza] and if I get that (I see no reason why I should not) I shall have relieved my friend of all responsibility and shall be free, as occasion offers, to go my own way. I am bound to say that I shall be glad when the permission comes. It was curious riding through hilly ways and cultivated country today after these weeks of desert. But such weather! wind and sleet and it's blowing like the devil tonight. They wanted me to sleep in the serai, but I preferred my tent. This is such a wonderful place. If only it is fine tomorrow I shall like seeing it again. I was here with the Rosens 14 years ago. But it has been a heavy road for the laden camels, up and down hill. Your camel is not a mountain bird in this part of the world. They all know me in these parts. I have met here a nephew of Namrud, the man who helped me into the Jebel Druze [Duruz, Jabal ad] in 1905 - vide the Desert and the Sown. And they are all as nice as can be. Altogether the misadventure is rather fun so far. What will Damascus say? Well, I shall know tomorrow. But I can take no other course than that which I have taken.

Jan. 11. [11 January 1914] The reply has not yet come from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], but the Qaimmaqam thinks they can't refuse the permit, so I wait with an easy mind. I am sending letters up to Damascus tonight and this shall go with them. I have spent the day receiving and returning visits from the notables of 'Amman [(Rabbah)] - and it has been very amusing. Also I took a long walk with the Qaimmaqam in the afternoon and had an interesting talk with him. He is a very nice man, but these Christians always give me a hopeless feeling. They walk blindfold and won't look facts in the face. It is not easy for them to work with the Mohammadans, but if you think they meet them half way - well, it isn't so. Yet this is a capable man and intelligent. I have liked being with him and with the good old Circassian magnates - I expect I shall be here tomorrow too. There was no sun today, but tonight it is fine again and I have a good deal of photography to do tomorrow. Ever dearest Father your very affectionate daughter Gertrude
I have written to Sir Louis.

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