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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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

32.6027147, 44.0196987

Karbala Jan 3 Dearest Mother. I'm having a little holiday which is very pleasant and beneficial. I was beginning to feel terribly caged and stale and though I haven't stepped out of the cage very far, or for very long, it's agreeable to be knocking about a tiny corner of the world again. It's a corner so full of associations. So many times I've come over the Baghdad-Karbala road after long desert expeditions, with a sense of accomplishment - and at the same time with that curious sense of disappointment which one nearly always feels with the accomplished thing. The best time, I think, was when I came back with the plan of Ukhaidhar [Ukhaydir] in my pocket - the worst when I came up from Arabia. I find myself forever slipping back into a former atmosphere - knowing with my real self that it has all melted away and yet half drugged with the lingering savour of it; and chiefly what I miss is the friendly presence of my good Fattuh who smoothed all the way of travel and is now where? dead, I fear. I hear there are no men left in Aleppo [Halab]; all have been taken for the war and Turkish soldiers have a poor chance. However - I'll tell you my adventures, very modest ones, not like the old days. I left Baghdad on the 31st, a beautiful sunny morning, and motored out to Musaiyib [Musayyib, Al] on the Euphrates. We spun over the first 3/4s of the road but the last 8 miles over low ground, unspeakably muddy, were not so advantageous to motors. We stuck once badly and I called in some 10 or 15 Arabs who were removing the mud from one part of the road to another - that seemed to be the extent of their activities - and made them haul us out. We finally reached the Euphrates about 3 o'clock; it looked lovely with its edge of palms and yellow willows in the golden afternoon. I went to the house of the charming little A.P.O., Mr Thompson and found that he was putting me up. He lives on the river and had given me a nice little whitewashed room in which I set my furniture. I met Kermit Roosefelt, now an armoured car driver, as I came it, and then Major Bowers who looks after the Hindiyah Barrage. The latter came to tea and we arranged to lunch with him next day, Mr Thompson and I. So we spent a pleasant evening going over my maps and tribe lists and correcting the part he knew. One learns so much from the people on the spot. We rode down to the Barrage next day, saw all the new things we had done, including two big loop canals dug since the summer which will immensely improve irrigation here, and walked along the high river bank in glorious sun. After lunch we rode back by the opposite bank and I got a very clear idea of this important bit of ground where the two big channels of the Euphrates bifurcate. A couple of soldiers came to dinner and we talked of the Mesop. campaign from various aspects. They were very nice, both of them. Yesterday I motored out along the sandy road, the very familiar road, to Karbala and reached Major Pulley 's house about midday. He had put me up close at hand in Col. Leachman's house, the latter being out in the desert with the Arabs, my very own Arabs, Fahad Beg's tribe, but I can't go to them. I'm very comfortable in the funny little Persian house. After lunching with Major Pulley  I got onto his mare and rode through the town past the gates of the great mosque where Husain is buried which makes the fortune of Karbala, and then out through mud and swamp onto the the edge of the Syrian desert which lifted its yellow shoulder in front of me in a manner so inviting that I could scarcely bear to turn away from it. But I had to turn away and we skirted the desert edge through the great cemetary [sic] whither the pious are brought from far to be buried and turned down into the wonderful gardens in which Karbala stands. Underfoot the roads were deep in mud but above us the oranges hung thick on the trees and the sun yellowed the fronds of the palms and flamed on the golden minarets of the shrine of Abbas which is only less holy than that of Husain. I had tea in my own house before a wood fire and afterwards received a visit from one of the desert merchants, one of the 'Aqail, who had somehow heard I was here. I knew one of his brothers in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] and another in Baghdad. They come like all Aqail, from Central Arabia and we sat talking desert gossip for a long time - until I felt again that I could scarcely bear to be so close and not to go in to the tribes. What a welcome Fahad Beg would give me! He's about 2 days away. Major Eadie, a friend of Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An] days, dined with Major Pulley ; I was delighted to see him again. Now I'm going out to visit the most renowned holy man in Karbala, and afterwards to call on the President of the Municipality. I shall be here tomorrow also and then I go on south to Najaf [Najaf, An], probably on pack animals as the roads are muddy on the route I want to take, too muddy for civilized travel in motors. I don't intend to be back in Baghdad for another 10 days by which time I hope I may find another mail. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

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