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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Balfour, Frank
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Nov 2 Dearest Mother. I've got your letter of Sep 21 for which many thanks. There appears to be a post out once a week - I wonder whether it arrives with any regularity? I've had a week of endless visitors. Everyone comes to see me on my return - it's rather nice but it takes up an immense time. As a rule they occupy the morning solidly and begin again after 3 p.m. With all this I'm trying to write a report of Syria which I usually do from 8 p.m. till midnight. It's nearly finished. I have been myself to see the Naqib and to pay a visit of condolence on one of the big families, the head of which, an old friend of mine, has died. I'm very sorry he's dead. But I'm glad he won't have the opportunity of doing it again so that I shall not have to pay another visit of condolence. It was awful. All the women of the family met me on the threshold of the haram, dressed in the blackest black their hair cut short and tears streaming down their cheeks. NB he has been dead a month. They cried uninterruptedly for 10 minutes and again at intervals whenever they remembered to do so. They were very fond of him, I know, his wife and sisters, but no one can, unless they determine to do so, cry solidly for a month. He was very very rich and has left 2 little girls, but the widow is going to have a baby and the chief subject of conversation in Baghdad is whether it will be a boy.
I have also attended a meeting for the promotion of a public library for the native population. The scheme was started by the wife of one of the judicial officers, Mrs Forbes; I met her at the meeting for the first time - she seems a nice woman. The proceedings were in Arabic and I made a speech - it was not extempore, I had been asked to do it the day before and had carefully prepared it with the aid of a native, for one has to make speeches in high falutin literary Arabic. Everyone else was much more high falutin. The chief man of letters recited an ode specially written for the occasion. It had an immense success. After any specially eloquent couplet the audiences cried out "True! true!" and sometimes "Repeat!" It was a long ode anyway even without encores but the enthusiasm lasted to the end. And I made some valuable mental notes as to the right way of making public meetings agreeable to Baghdad audiences. The rules are quite different from ours. There was much praise of Mrs Forbes, but as she doesn't understand a word of Arabic she sat through it unblushingly. I however bridled suitably when it came to my turn to be eulogized.

I dined with Mrs Evelyn Howell, a dull little lady. Evelyn was away on tour but she was kind enough to ask me to dinner because I had no cook - I've got one now. And I dined with Frank Balfour, a pleasant evening in his large mess. I haven't seen him much alone yet. My dear Mr Bullard is here, working with Evelyn. He spent an evening with me. And Sir G. MacMunn is here; he came back from Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] yesterday, and we went out motoring in the evening. She will be out in the middle of Dec.! He doesn't know whether he is going to get the Q. job in India and the appointment probably won't be made till next Feb. Meantime I'm glad to have him here. He and his staff came to tea with me today.

My garden is full of zinnias and marigolds and there are masses of chrysanthemums just coming out. The weather is delicious - a maximum temp. of about 88°.

I think you said you would order books for me for a month or 6 weeks after I left? Meantime, I don't like to send an order direct since I don't know what you have sent me. So for the next month or so I will send a little list to you and will you please send it on to whatever bookseller you have ordered my books from? He'll know if anything I order has already been on your list. I'm afraid this is rather a trouble for you but in a little while I'll order direct - as soon as the books ordered by you cease coming. My dear love and I'm your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

Oh please will you send me a dozen B pencils - the pencils supplied to us by the Govt of India are execrable.

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