Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to Charles Doughty-Wylie

There is currently no summary available for this item.
Reference code
Wylie, Charles Hotham Montagu Doughty-
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cecil, Robert
Churchill, Winston
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

50.725231, 1.613334

Friday Feb 26. My dear. The last Abyssinian letter came this morning. What a fool I’ve been, oh what a fool. Never never again shall these regrets torment me. Dick don’t write me now the letters of a philosopher – I can’t bear it. Someday I’ll tell you, I’ll try to explain to you – the fear, the terror of it – oh you thought I was braver. Understand me; not the fear of 46 consequences – I’ve never weighed them for one second. It’s the fear of something I don’t know no man can really understand it; you must know all about it because I tell you. Every time it surged up in me & I wanted you to brush it aside – it’s only a ghost the shadow of a ghost. But I couldn’t say to you Exorcise it. I couldn’t. That last word I can never say. You must say it & break this evil spell. Fear is a horrible thing – don’t let me live under the shadow of it. It’s a shadow – I know it’s nothing but a phantom. Only you can free me from it – drive it away from me. I know now, but until the last moment I didn’t really know – can you believe it? I was terribly afraid. Then at the last I knew it was a shadow. I know it now. I can’t write more until you tell me I may. Let me know about the Egyptian postal arrangements that I may write more. I sent you a letter on Wednesday to tell you that I was sitting on the top of Olympus. It’s a very shady mountain – did you know that? It nods its old head & sends me toppling down pointed rocky crevices & over little precipices. But there is nothing broken & I pick myself up again, rub away the marks of the rock scratches & climb to the summit. And then I sit & cling to the very topmost peak for hours together – for hours. Presently sitting there I shall see your ship pass by, but the sound of battle can’t reach me – only one word reaches me there; the high air rings with it. And I sit still & listen, listen. It’s an echo, but it’s the echo of something which I have heard with my own ears. What tosh I write, to be sure – what wisdom; which is it? And I wonder when you’ll write to me. The Abyssinian letter will carry me over a day or two – such a letter! And then I shall want more news of you & go onto famine rations till it comes. Shall I tell you all my news now? it’s fantastically ridiculous what I’ve been doing, & all no good, but I’ll tell you. I spent the morning mostly with Lord Robert settling office things. And with Mrs Buckler & Sib Long – she’s the wife of Toby Long & Walter Long’s daughter in law, a delicious creature. They are both working under Lord Robert here. So we arranged all manner of things & put them straight – communications between my office & London. But what neither they nor I can put straight is the office here, which is a wild chaos. It’s wonderful how a few effete people can rout & scatter the most capable & Mrs Buckler is as capable as it’s as possible to be – so delightful to work with too. So is Lord Robert, but he can’t manage the details of office work – that’s not his job & shouldn’t be. So then I went to lunch with Harold & found him is despair because the newspapers will say that Germany is down & finished & the rest a walk over. We are in the thick of labour troubles & while such news is circulated what’s the good of telling the confounded artificers that we need every muscle on the stretch? They laugh & 47 turn to the posters. He had tried to get hold of Lloyd George for me & hadn’t succeeded. Failing him he advised me to go to Winston with schemes of Syrian bombardment. I didn’t think it was much good, but I rang up Eddie Marsh (not without secret laughter) & since he hadn’t come in yet to the office I saw Masterton Smith and told him how to detach the Arabs with a turn of the hand. He said it was all very fine but he was sure Winston wouldn’t listen & if he listened K. wouldn’t. And then he said Eddie Marsh had come back & wanted very much to see me before I left. So I said he might send him in. Well so then he came (& he is, Dick, you know; you’re quite right). I talked him pretty nearly over & by that time Winston had come in & I sent him to ask if he would see me. He couldn’t; he was just going to see K. & he hadn’t time. I didn’t care; I had done what I could & then was nothing more to be said. And with that I left them & went away to try on a gown in a truly feminine manner. Oh but I must tell you that when Mr Masterton Smith left me he went back to Eddie Marsh, reported to him that I had a masculine intelligence – they little knew about the gown, or about several other things; not typically masculine, fears & terrors & Olympian rocks & voices. But if I had told them about those echoes they wouldn’t have understood, they couldn’t possibly have understood, could they? I tell you about them & about everything besides, but then you are many sided. You talked about a thousand facets & I should have thought it was nearer the truth to talk of one single little meagre panel – yes, that’s it, one little narrow strip of looking glass, reflecting one image & one only. But that one picture, that one reflection, it has caught & will hold for ever & ever. The rest’s a blank. But the one solitary picture in it is so glorious, that ever you will scarcely tire of looking at it. Hang it up at the foot of your camp bed – Did you take your camp bed, or di you forget it? I had a sudden fear you had left it behind - & then before you sleep & as you wake your eyes will fall on it. Why surely this is tosh I am writing again – it’s no wonder Winston didn’t want to hear me; who knows what I might have said? But anyway I’m yours & for the moment will be nameless. Just yours until you give me the only name I ask for. (You told me Bird-wood has the pianos, but it is at Broadwood. Your thoughts must have been wandering – I wonder why?) I can’t sleep – I can’t sleep. It is 1 in the morning of Sunday. I’ve tried to sleep, every night it becomes less & less possible. You & you & you are between me & any rest, but out of your arms there is no rest. Life, you called me – fire: Dick, it’s not possible to live like this. When it’s all over you must take your own. You must venture - is it I who cannot breathe courage into you, my soldier? Before all the word, claim me & take me & hold me for ever & ever. That is the only way it can be done – No I don’t present an ultimatum: whatever you wish I shall do. But it will come to the same in the end. Do you think I can hide a fire that blazes across half the world? Or share you with any other? Furtiveness I hate – in the end I should go under, & hate myself & die. But openly to come to you, that I can do & live. What should I lose? It’s all nothing to me; I breathe & think & move in you. Can you do it, dare you? When this thing is over, you work well done, will you risk it all for me? It’s that or nothing. I can’t live without you. There will be work to do still. They would send us to distant places. I shan’t be ashamed then, & the world would will forgive us, all the world that matters to us, if any of it matters. Think of it, think of it – there’s no other way. The people who love me would stand by me if I did it that way – I know them. But not the other way. Not to deceive, lie & cheat & at the last be found out, as I should be. Yet I shall do that too, use all the artifices & run to meet the inevitable end. Or is it that you think only of a moment, a night, a wish & then separation? Do you think I can give you nothing but the wild fire blaze? Trust me, believe me. I will delight you. Night & morning & at high noon you shall talk to me. I will give you tears & laughter & silence, speech, fondness & twilight rest; all the day between shall be made light for you, & the night a glory. I will know your thoughts before you think them, serve you, love you, live for you. If its honour you think of, this is honour & the other dishonour. If it’s faith you think of, this is faithfulness – keep faith with love. Listen, I speak these things against your lips when I speak nothing but the naked truth – when have I spoken any other thing to you? If I had only passion I could not urge you. I have so much more & all is yours – made for you, fostered for you, only to please you, to satisfy you. And I can. – It’s day now, calm & sober midday. For after I had written this to you I slept having found a solid world under my feet. I won’t let you go to Abyssinia again without me – but when I say I won’t, you know that I’ll do anything you command. There’s only one thing you can’t do with me, & that’s to make me live away from you. That I can’t do. If I were to take no steps to end it, the end would come of itself. Would you ask me if I were dying of a horrible torturing disease which must end one way only, to stretch it out into weeks, with 49 every breath an agony? I can’t do that – it’s more than you can ask. You know it won’t matter in Abyssinia – it would do you no harm. When you come home on leave you must drop me somewhere – in Italy – my friends will welcome me even so. Or perhaps I’ll come home a little to my sisters – they will welcome me. Because I held up my head & wouldn’t walk by devious ways. Perhaps in the end we can marry. I don’t count on it, but it would be better, far better for me. I’m being horribly selfish, yes I know it. I’m thinking only of what is best for us. Not only – I wouldn’t think it if I didn’t know I could make you know happiness, keep it. I do know that. And you know it’s true. I lay a greater responsibility on myself & I face it – I am so certain, that I don’t shrink from it for one second. Now listen – I won’t write to you like this any more. Take this letter & lay it somewhere near your heart that the truth of it may burn its way into you through the long months of war. I’ve finished. If you love me take me this way – if you only desire me for an hour, then have that hour & I will have it & meet the bill. I’ve told you the price. Whatever happens, whatever you decide, I will come to you & have that – I’m not afraid of deserts & mountains. I’ve crossed them before – they cannot keep me from you. And if you die, wait for me – I’m not afraid of that other crossing; I will come to you. I’ve said - & now I will write of kings & principalities & powers, wounded & missing – but don’t miss the camp fire that burns in this letter – a clear flame, a bright flame, fed by my life.

IIIF Manifest