Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father Hugh Bell, written over the course of several days from the 2nd to the 5th of January, 1922.
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Jan. 2. Dearest Father. It's over 3 weeks since I heard from you, for the last air mail brought me no letters. In other respects also I've been having an exceptionally horrid Xmas as I will now recount. Captain Clayton, Saiyid Husain and I intended to go to Ba'qubah on Dec 23. The day looked very threatening however we decided by telephone that we would start. I was motoring out separately and got off immediately after breakfast but before I reached the town gates it began to rain. I went on about half a mile when it became clear that the rain wasn't going to stop and I came unhappily back and presently plunged out in rain and mud to the office. In the afternoon the weather looked so bad that we gave up our scheme altogether, telegraphed to the Saiyid to say we couldn't come and to our grooms telling them to bring the horses back by train. So there I was landed into Xmas holidays with nothing to do and nowhere to go, disgustingly cold and wet weather, and an increasing cold which gradually developed into the worst I think I've ever had. It's still very bad. Mr Tod and Major Wilkinson came to lunch with me on Saturday which was cheerful, and Nuri Sa'id on Xmas Day, after which I went to tea with the King - he lives a long way outside the town, up river and the roads were indescribable; however I succeeded in getting there and we had the usual delightful talk. I didn't get in till nearly 7 and then to find that the cook and Zaya had had a difference of opinion during my absence which had ended in the cook's falling upon Zaya with a carving knife and cutting him about the head severely. I had them both up and rated them soundly for celebrating Xmas in so unsuitable a manner. Marie had gone out to dinner so I dined alone wondering dejectedly what steps I should take to reorganize my household. The end of it was, however, that they made up their quarrel and came repentently asking that all might be forgiven, and that being the line of least resistance I agreed. I lunched with Major Wilkinson on the 26th and went for a muddy ride in the afternoon, feeling rather ill and miserable; but I had to go out to dinner for, thinking I should be away, I had told Marie she might give a Xmas dinner party that night. , Capt. Clayton and Mr Thomson most aimiably [sic] provided for me, and still more kindly Captain Clayton fetched me in his motor - my house, I must tell you, has been almost unapproachable for mud and at night it's a matter of great difficulty to motor to my door. Next day Haddad Pasha and the Joyces came to lunch - the Joyces are most darling people; I like her particularly. They are just married, she came out a couple of months ago. On Wed. the damnable holidays were over - but not my cold. I went to the office and made it so much worse that I had to spend Thursday indoors. Mrs Garbett and the Bourdillons came to see me in the afternoon and were very welcome. The Garbetts are going home on leave this week - some family affairs that they have to settle - and Major Bourdillon who has just come back from leave, takes his place in the office. He is very nice and delightful to work with so that I am quite well suited. I like Colin Garbett too, very much, and our relations have always been everything that's most pleasant, but he isn't generally liked and there's an atmosphere of friction which is rather tiresome. It doesn't concern me much except that I'm the confidant of a great many complaints on both sides which I try to treat with discreet sympathy, but perhaps it's just as well he's going away. I myself think his work very good and Sir Percy will miss his skill in drafting the many and difficult telegrams which we are sending home. But Major Bourdillon will do the routine work better. I went to the office on Friday morning and came back to lunch feeling miserably ill. Mr Cook came to tea bringing with him a very nice man who had asked to make my acquaintance, Saiyid Nuri Barzanji. He is what you might call the King's chaplain, that's to say he is the preacher in the mosque where the King goes to Friday prayers - an intelligent, moderate sensible man. Rauf Chadirji also dropped in - he too is a sensible, well educated man - and we had a great talk about the municipal elections which are now being held. It will be most interesting to see the results. There has not been an elected municipality since the occupation and the extremists are making great efforts as they think, no doubt rightly, that if they get their candidates in they will be the better able to influence the general elections. Some of their candidates are quite good and suitable people, others have no qualification save that of being professional agitators and I haven't the least idea which way Baghdad will jump. Saturday was another holiday - just as well, for I was a very poor thing, but all the same I went out to dinner with the Garbetts. It's so uncheerful sitting by one's self on New Years' Eve. They had an immense party for a fancy dress ball to which I didn't go nor was I in fancy dress - unless to dine in one's fur coat is fancy dress. I didn't enjoy it very much because I was feeling so miserable and when they went to the ball I came home. However I can't complain of any loneliness on New Year's Day. My first callers arrived at 7.30 a.m. while I was still in bed. They were Haji Naji and a shaikh of the Dulaim. Accordingly I invited them to breakfast which seemed the best thing to do - not without some inward misgivings as to how the Dulaim shaikh would tackle a poached egg. However I pressed a spoon into his hand and though I don't suppose he had ever used an instrument of the kind, he acquitted himself with skill and preserved an unbroken dignity of manner. I must say they have a natural good breeding which never fails them. But I wished you could have observed, even for one minute, my breakfast party - I wrapped in furs and the shaikhs in their brown cloaks. You were present in spirit for Haji Naji always asks tenderly after you - did I tell you that he once confided to me that he had never seen anyone with such beautiful teeth? He's quite right too. After that I had an uninterrupted stream of visitors whom I regaled on coffee and chocolates until 1.15 when the last of them fortunately left and I went out to lunch with the Joyces, feeling more dead than alive. After I came back the throng set in again till about 6 o'clock when I closed my doors for a moment's breathing space before dinner. I dined with Sir Aylmer who, dear old thing, had asked the king and the eldest son of the Naqib and Haddad Pasha. No one else was there except Mr Tod and some of the G.H.Q. staff. Oh yes, a very nice man who is out on a visit, Sir John Davidson, a retired Major General and M.P. He is coming to have a heart to heart talk with me one of these days. The dinner was a huge success. Saiyid Mahmud enjoyed himself mightily. Faisal took me in and I must say I enjoyed myself mightily too. It's so pleasant and friendly at the General's house - everyone is at their ease and he is such a kind and delightful host. Jan. 5. [5 January 1922] I'm a trifle better and though far from well I begin to think I may ultimately recover! Jan. 2 was a holiday which I spent solidly in my house. Mr Thomson and Major Longrigg came to lunch and there were a certain number of Bellated New Year callers. Since then I've been back at the office. We're delighted with Sir Percy's GCMG and I think he is pleased too especially at finding that his staff hold that an honour to him is the best sort of honour that can be paid to them. I had Sir John Davidson to tea yesterday and he stayed talking for about 2 hours. He belongs to the Guinness, Ormesby Gore, Winterton, Ralph Glyn group with which I'm so much in sympathy that I wish I thought they cut more ice instead of which they seem to me to be essentially well-meaning and essentially ineffective. Sir John admitted that they hadn't a leader to put up and he told me he thought Lloyd George would come back again after the next general election. If he's the best we can produce I suppose we must just bow our heads and acknowledge it with shame. Today I had the Qadri family to tea - Tahsin Qadri is one of the King's ADCs and his brother is the King's physician - I don't like the doctor brother, but he has got a very beautiful if somewhat inert wife. Tahsin's wife is a little dear, as quick and clever as she can be. Mrs Davidson came to meet them - she's a delightful woman, indeed I feel that with her and Mrs Joyce a new era has dawned. They are real people, not the dreadful, second rate little minxes of which Baghdad society has so far mostly been composed. I know I'm regrettably inelastic, but I simply can't bear that sort and I just stand out - all the time wishing there were someone I liked to stand in with, but except for Mrs Bowman and Aurelia there hasn't been anyone; oh yes, and the darling wife of the ex-General. I've just read Lord Esher's book about Lord Kitchener which is a very interesting human document, isn't it. What a very big figure he just failed to be. Yet he did play a great part and if ever I meet his shade I should make it a curtsey. He was a greater man than I knew - it's a pity he didn't have a better biographer than Sir George Arthur. I'm very much hoping that this airmail will bring me a batch of letters from you - it's now nearly a month since I heard from you. Ever, dearest, your very loving daughter Gertrude