Letters

6 April 1926

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

[6 April 1926] Baghdad. April 6. Dearest Mother. I am sitting in my garden to write and it's the most delicious weather after 2 days' south wind and dust which were intolerable. I had such a nice day on Good Friday. I went up to Qaraghan on Thursday night, had my carriage slipped and got up at the reasonable hour of 6.30. Iltyd appeared at 7 from his camp. We breakfasted (heartily) at the house of one of the railway officials Mr Peter Williams I. (There's a Mr Peter Williams II who is one of Iltyd's lieutenants.) Afterwards I got into riding clothes and we sauntered leisurely over the rolling ground all the morning and came home along the bank of the Diyala [(Sirwan)]. In 30 years I don't suppose there has been such a spring. There were slopes and rivers of scarlet ranunculus, meadows of purple stock and wild mignonette, blue lilies, black arums and once a bank of yellow tulips. These and commoner things made the world look like a brilliant piece of enamel. A field of buttercups in England isn't less gorgeous but it is far less varied. We lunched with Mr Peter Williams I and were joined by Mr Peter Williams II with whom Iltyd went back to his camp. But I could not stay indoors so I walked all the afternoon with my little dog over the flowery hills and found lots more sorts of flowers. After tea I saw the railway gardens and institute and sat by the Diyala till sunset. The same party at dinner, plus another of Iltyd's officers, a Major Dimmock who has just come out and was wildly thrilled by the flowers. If the poor man thinks that is always what it is like he will be rudely disillusioned presently.

Iltyd went back to Baghdad that night, but I slept in my railway carriage, breakfasted there and went out riding with Mr Peter Williams II. First we saw the cadets learning to drive gun carriages and then we rode among the hills on the other side of the river which were deep in flowers.

I hitched my carriage onto the afternoon train and went up to Khanaqin where I spent a couple of hours in the King's house noting down all the things which had not been done - there were a good many. I came back at night and got to Baghdad on Sunday morning in a dust storm.

Though it was Easter Sunday, most of the British officials were working in the Govt offices, so I went to Public Works and saw the measured drawings for my museum cases. Mr Woolley and I (chiefly Mr Woolley) have standardized wall cases and table cases so that one drawing does for all and the size suits the new building. But there were a good many points which hadn't been understood and the drawings needed careful revision. In the museum afterwards I found Squadron Leader Harnett, who takes a deep interest in archaeology and will be very helpful when it comes to arranging the things in the cases. We sat each on a Sumerian gate socket and drew up a scheme for numbering. You see, every object must have a running museum number besides its number in its particular room - the latter for making a catalogue easily usable by the public. As yet we have only the excavators' numbers, Ur 1 to 4000, say, and Kish ditto; while objects that don't come from an excavation have no number at all. The new arrangement will be chronological not geographical except in the downstairs rooms where all the big, heavy stone objects, too heavy to carry upstairs, will stand - a Babylonian room, an Assyrian room and an Arab room are what I shall begin on downstairs when the necessary fittings are made. I foresee that I shall be very boring about museums for some time to come! also that I shall make innumerable mistakes.

Mr Lloyd, one of the nicest of Ken's young men, came to lunch. He has just returned from 9 months' leave and is going to Kirkuk. He was at Geneva [Genäve] in Dec. and was very full of Mr Amery's staunchness. It was too horribly dusty to go out, however Iltyd came to tea and Ken to dinner and a game of piquet, Iltyd having gone to Mosul [Mawsil, Al].

The dust storm went on all Monday and in the evening extinguished all the electric lights in my quarter. I was dining with Mr Greenhouse (oil) to meet some of his geologists but as his lights were out too he had quickly to transfer the dinner party to a hotel further up the town. It was very prompt of him. The Higginses were there and we played bridge afterwards. I had tea with the King to talk about his house.

Yesterday was at last fine and Michael (dog) and I went for a long walk. The desert is covered with grass and tiny flowers, not like the upland country but green and sweet smelling.

Today I lunched with the Cookes to meet Professor Langdon (Kish) who is just recovering from an attack of jaundice. Fortunately he wasn't well enough to come down to lunch - always a terrible hypochondriac, he is now a shocking orange in the face. We sat on the balcony after and looked at Mr Cooke's seals, of which he has a collection that I would like to put into the museum. It's very fine. I find it great fun looking at seals now that I am beginning to have a smattering of knowledge about them. Up to now they have all looked alike.

I must write to Violet about Beryl - I'm so glad she is pleased. I hope Moll is better - this is all in answer to your letter of March 23. As you say, the wonder was that Austen Chamberlain made a success before, not that he has failed now. It's good that Frances has finally got a house.

Dearest, I hope Mt Grace is being nice. My love to Elsa. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

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