6 March 1924

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

[6 March 1924] Baghdad March 6. Darling Father. Mother's letter missed this week, but I got your delightful letter of Feb 21, mostly about me, I may say - a subject I enjoyed. Poor Maisie! I do hope she got off to Madeira.

Oh dear, I've been so busy that I haven't written any letters and tomorrow is the mail. On Friday after lunch J.M. Wilson and I took the so called express and went to Ur to do the division. We arrived at 5.10 a.m. on Sat. and Zaya having omitted to wake me, I had a bare half hour to get up and back my bed and things. So I jumped up, put on my clothes, neither washed nor did my hair and J.M. and I, with old 'Abdul Qadir, my curator, walked out to Ur in the still dawn. It's about a mile. We arrived before sunrise, found no one up and went off to the zigurrat [sic] to see the uncovered stair. It's amazing and unexpected, a triple stair this shape [sketch] laid against the Zigurrat with blocks of masonry between the stairways. It's latest Babylonian - Nabonidus, after Nebuchadnezzar - and must cover an Ur 3rd dynasty stair of which as yet we know nothing. We climbed up it to the top and watched the sun rise over the desert which was green with grass and covered with flocks and tents. By this time the workmen began to arrive, saluting me as Pasha (I'm going up in rank); and next Mr Woolley, so we marvelled at the stair and all the rest and I went back to the house to wash, summarily and do my hair. By 8.15 when breakfast was ready I felt rather as if I had been up since the creation of the world, or at least since the time of Nabonidus. However that wasn't what we had to think about. Before 9 we started the division (it began by my winning the gold scarab on the toss of a a rupee) and we carried on till 12.30, when I struck. It's a difficult and rather agonizing job, you know. We sat with our catalogues and ticked the things off. But the really agonizing part was after lunch when I had to tell them that I must take the milking scene. I can't do otherwise. It's unique and it depicts the life of the country at an immensely early date. In my capacity as Director of Antiquities I'm an 'Iraqi official and bound by the terms on which we gave the permit for excavation. J.M. backed me but it broke Mr Woolley's heart, though he expected the decision. I've written to Sir F. Kenyon explaining. (By the way, this is confidential, Mr Woolley values it at £10,000, at least. I'm not going to tell the 'Iraq Govt lest they decide to sell it and thereby blacken my face and theirs. But you'll agree that it's a responsibility to decide the fate of objects of such value. The scarab is worth £1000, but Providence, for once the gentleman, gave it to me.) The milking plaque is going home for repair, so you'll see it.

I took very little of the bronze; we can't preserve it properly, and I gave them their choice with the door post stones - but there it is. I took the thing that was worth half of the whole of the rest. And I was obliged to do it.

By this time it was 3 p.m. J.M., poor dear, retired to bed with fever. 'Abdul Qadir vanished with some tummy troubles and Mr Woolley and I, undaunted, went on alone. We finished after 5 p.m. and I went to tea feeling so broken that all I could do afterwards was to play Patience with Mr Newton till 7, when I lept [sic] to catch my train. I dined therein on a "hard boil egg" and went to bed.

On Sunday I spent the whole day in the train writing the guide book to Baghdad, which I finished - with the exception of a hour when I lunched with Col. Slater who was in the train. I wrote 11 foolscap pages and then for the last 2 hours busied myself in a novel. We got in at 6.15 only 1 and a half hours late.

On Monday I had to write the fortnightly report for the Sec. of State which took from 8.15 till 5. So that was that.

I had a dinner party in the evening to meet a Mrs Harrison, an American traveller and writer and an exceptionally brilliant woman. She had just come from Turkey and told us a most interesting tale. I asked Ken, Iltyd Clayton and Lionel Smith and it was a rather remarkable evening.

Next day she spent two hours in my office while I got the rest of the details. I think I'll send you next week a copy of the report I've given to H.E. It's time, at least, sur le vif.

It so happened that I had her to dinner again on Tuesday for I was giving a dinner party for a ball at the Residency and the wife of my colleague in the office, Mr Channing Pearce, fell in[?] and dropped out. So I asked Mrs H. and took her to the ball - H.E. wanted to see her. I never had such an uproarious dinner party - she was extraordinarily amusing but the tales she then told us don't appear in the report. They would make the hoariest official blush. The other convives were Ken, Mr. C. Pearce, and two airmen, Wing Commander Bradley and Sqadron Leader Peck. I put her opposite me, and the two airmen on either side of her and they lent [sic] forward till they almost touched, so engrossed were they, while Ken, Mr C.P. and I rocked with laughter.

The ball was at 9.30 so reluctantly we had to go. I introduced her to everyone and she had a great success. She is very handsome too. I know nothing of the late (?) Harrison.

I was quite amused at the ball, but at 12.30 I went home, knowing that I had a heavy day today. And I had. Bernard has gone away on a few days' local leave and we have terrific problems what with the antics of the Kamalists about the Khalifate and the determination of King Husain to declare himself Khalif - if this hasn't happened by the time you get this letter, treat it as confidential. I had tea with H.M. {about it} yesterday. He is being very sensible about it. He's not going to proclaim Husain here but to leave it to the people to decide. I bet they won't proclaim him. But what is going to happen no one knows - in India, in the rest of the Islamic world. The bottom falls out.

Fortunately Sir Henry likes working with me so I step lightly into Bernard's place, but I miss him dreadfully to talk about things.

The overwhelming local excitement has been the elections. They have gone very well and we've a romping majority for the ratification of the treaty. But for all that I foresee difficulties (private, this is). There are clouds blowing up, rifts and manoeuvres for popularity. One has to keep one's eyes skinned.

I find this a tiring process and this afternoon when I left the office I felt dead beat. Now I'm dining with the J.M. Wilsons so I must go and dress.

Haji Naji is one of the deputies for Baghdad. He's enchanted; so am I.

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