Letter from Gertrude Bell to Charles Doughty-Wylie written over the course of several days, from the 25th to the 27th of April, 1915.
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Ap 25 (1915)
After all, my very dear, there did come a letter this Monday in the evening, when I had wholly given up expecting it. I found it when I came in from Arlington St at past 8, & put off dinner that I might have time to read it two or three times first. For it contrives to say a good deal in spite of the censor. My letters have reached you — that’s an immense lightening of burdens. For if I’m only words (which I’m not) it’s unreasonable that the only thing I am can’t come to you; & if I’m more, why all that more is yours & can’t be represented for the moment except by letters. But I’ve got to you, & heaven be praised. Has the watch come too? & the infamous Cox — has his parcel come? Too many questions; you won’t answer them, & I return to the main theme which is that your letter is dated Ap 15 & that therefore you’re no more than ten days off. That’s worth thinking about. Much that you say is still far from the truth. I’m not glad to be with my own people; I don’t want them at all. They have all gone away now & I’m alone which is what I like. And secondly I shall not write a book of any kind, ever. I shall never write again except to you. And even that will cease, I hope, some day; then there will be nothing. I’ll copy your despatches [sic] faithfully; perhaps putting the sentences into different places from time to time — may I? Don’t you understand? I write only for you, & only because of you — because you created the things I say; there’s nothing else left of me but what you made. The immense flood of the last nearly two years has obliterated the old landmarks. I never cared for writing except to silence a few ears; now I care to write for no eyes & ears but yours. You don’t really understand, do you? Well, leave it at that; some day I’ll make it plain. You are my sole theatre. And now be audience; I’ll tell you what an afternoon I’ve had. When I went back to Arlington St after lunch, Una Pope Hennessy was there — I’ve put her at the head of a big department & washed my hands of it with a clear conscince. She had had a letter from her husband, who is on the Flying Corps staff, giving a terrible account of the battle N. of Ypres. German shells were falling on Poperinghe he said, & Ypres in flames, & no one could stand up against the asphyxiating bombs. On the 22nd he had seen my brigade at Cassell — that was where Maurice wrote from as I had guessed; he had asked them to dine with him next day, they having no idea that they were immediately for the front. And next day they had all gone. There’s no doubt they are in it, & I spent then the whole afternoon miserably anxious, thinking of the relentless bombs & the rest. And then there dropped from Heaven — via Boulogne — Mr Dove, about 6 o’clock; straight from Boulogne today. He said it was all exaggerated, a tremendous business, no question, but not a desperate business — not a desperate battle that my brigade is fighting. He had seen officers back from it in hospital in Boulogne yesterday. They said the gases were very uncomfortable, but not so deadly as we thought. They faced them when they had covered their mouths with handkerchiefs. The German advance was checked, repulsed even. The wounded were all in high spirits. The beginning was the worst when they pumped the gas into the trenches of the Tarcos. The Tarcos broke & ran — if they had stood we shouldn’t have had this affair. We must have been hard pressed. We sent up the reserves & the cavalry to straighten the line back; we sent up even the battalions that had been fighting the battle of Hill 60 & were already decimated by it. The 2KOSB — they came from Hill 60
— have ceased as a unit to exist. They have 200 men left & 4 officers.
The E. Yorks have suffered nearly as much, in the two actions. But we have righted the thing again. He brought me immense comfort, I don’t know why. Oh yes, I do know why. A forlorn hope is very different from a victorious attack. But my battalion must have been part of it, & they must have lost — well, then I came home & found your letter. See now how God sent it was. I must write to Maurice before I go to bed. — Now I come back for a moment. I loved what you said about the wake of our collier. That was delicious of you, though the application of the parable far overshot the mark. Rupert Brooke has died at Lemnos. Did you see him, I wonder, & did you realize that they were his, some little verses I quoted to you the night you left? And the couplet I began to quote to you, but you got up very hastily, I’ll tell it to you now for I’m not the least afraid of the omen & it’s so fine.
I thought when love for you died, I should die.
It’s dead; alone, most strangely, I live on.
— He has written splendid things; we’ll read them together; & some that are unpardonable, but we’ll turn that page over. You who are so stirred by words, you won’t read them unmoved. But I shall be there & it won’t matter how much you are stirred. No, it won’t matter. And Rupert Brooke, who died at Lemnos, will live again in us. I think that would please him.
Ap 27. There seems to be a Medit. mail of some sort tomorrow — why should not this go? I’ve no idea what mails may catch you nor how my letters go. I lunched with Harold B. today but he had no news except of the 3 points of landing. Are you ashore I wonder? He told me that a Brig. Gen. Napier had been killed — is that the Sofia man? Scarcely possible. But it made me tremble; I dared scarcely ask if other casualties had been telegraphed; but there were none. Frank’s telegram today is very optimistic if that counts for much. At least the tide seems to have been stemmed & with bi—carbonate of soda on rags over their mouth [sic] our men make light of the poisonous fumes. Suddenly this morning I was mastered by a feeling of hatred for Germans, severally & individually. I’ve never had it. But now I begin to think that it will not ever be possible to meet & greet one’s German friends. It was the starvation of the prisoners which conquered me today. Almost daily we have postcards from prisoners saying that they are dying of hunger. The relations send them & ask us what they can do. And there’s no answer. A strong neutral could alone intervene with effect. There’s only one, & she does nothing. Yet you have only to think of the enormous indirect trade between the USA & Germany to feel sure that a threat to stop it must be effective. It’s not given — the American purse would suffer. The policy of reprisals was most futile — it was Winston’s need I say. Harold tells me that the anger which overcame me this morning when I read the Times is growing in this country. People tell him that the temper at recruiting meetings is changing. It’s partly the prisoners & partly the submarine attacks on trawlers. God foster it.
Dearest, love & anger, aren’t they akin? If one knows one passion, one must know the other. Yet it seems to me that I know only one — the other’s but an artificial light, a pale candle, beside the flame through which my life burns up to you. Love me, I’m yours.