Letters

11 May 1900

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Friday 11. [May 11 1900] Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], but a long long day to get to it. I was up at 4, after rather a restless night, owing to sand flies. There appeared upon the scene a charming Druze from Kafr, a friend of mine, who was on his way to Damascus and he rode with us all day. His name is Hammad, may God protect him! We were off at 6 and after an hour's riding we got to Burak [Buraq] and passed the first Turkish garrison without remark. Then came an endless 5 hours: we never seemed to gain on the scenery. Every time we surmounted one slope of corn and fallow, there was another exactly like it behind. We had left the Lejah [Al Laja] - it was most curious to see the first white and brown, mud and plaster, village. One realised how black all the volcanic villages had been. Hannah and I rode on and at 12 I struck and declared I must lunch, which I did under some delicious apricot trees by a little khan. All the day, the world smelt too heavenly. I don't know what it was, unless it was a little clover that was out everywhere, but too nice. I rested an hour, to Hannah's disgust! and slept a little; 6 hours, I think a good morning's ride. We were off again at 1, caught up the mules and Hammad and went on together to the River 'Awaj [A'waj], where we watered man and beast under the poplars and willows, a charming spot. Here I left them and rode on alone up the Black Mountains, a low range of hills separating the 'Awaj valley from the Abana, and at the top I saw far away in a green plain and ringed round with gardens, Damascus. This is the way to arrive at a great eastern city. I journeyed along with the trains of camels carrying the merchandise of Damascus to and fro and the Arabs on their pretty mares, and the donkey boys bringing in grass and all the varied population of an Oriental road. But the way was very long. It was 4 before I got into the town. I dawdled up through the bazaars and stopped to eat ices made of milk and snow and lemonade from a china bowl half full of snow and half of lemon juice and water - nothing was ever so good. At 5 I reached my hotel, saw that my horse was properly looked after and went off to the German Consulate to get the box of clothes I had sent from Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)]. There I also, to my joy, found letters from you all. I spent the time till dinner washing and changing. I couldn't telegraph last night as the post office shut at 4. I am dreadfully unhappy about my dear little dog. I shall miss her so much when I come home. The German consul, LÃ…tticke, is away at Baalbek; he comes back today or tomorrow. A very civil Oriental secretary has been giving me advice about Palmyra [Tadmur], whither I shall go, if you telegram is satisfactory, on Wednesday, returning here in about a fortnight. I can't telegraph to you on the way, I'm afraid, because there are never any telegraph offices in the places I go to. After dinner, I went to see the English consul. He was ill in bed with influenza, but I saw his wife, Mrs Richards, and she gave me the latest telegrams and papers which were a little later than mine. I've just been lunching with her. I shall telegraph to you again before I leave. Dearest Father! you are a perfect angel to let me do all this! I don't see that the Palmyra journey ought to be much more expensive than all the others. It seems I shan't have to take more than 3 soldiers at the outside. Your latest letter says you are rather a poor thing - I do hope you are all right again. I've got so many things to say to you, Mother, that I should have to make my letter as long again if I begain saying them. It is at times a very odd sensation to be out in the wilds quite by oneself, but mostly I take it as a matter of course now that I'm beginning to be used to it. I don't think I ever feel lonely, though the one person I often wish for is Papa. I think he really would enjoy it and I keep wanting to compare notes with him. You, I want to talk to, but not in a tent with earwigs and black beetles around and muddy water to drink! I don't think you would be your true self under such conditions! I am most rateful for M. [Maurice]'s letter - isn't he a dear! I am now very anxious for your telegram but I think everything is all right or I should have found word from you here. Of course Arabic makes just all the difference. It would be small fun without. Damascus is too lovely and wonderful, but I must tell you about it another time. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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