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Full of daring, she used to lead her little brother, whose tender years were ill equipped for so much enterprise, into the most perilous adventures, such as commanding him, to his terror, to follow her example in jumping from the top of a garden wall nine feet high to the ground. Some of these early letters are to her parents, others of which fragmentary extracts are given, are to Flora Russell who remained her intimate friend all her life. They intermarry a great deal with these slaves and the son of a slave woman is as good as another.
She used to alight on her feet, he very seldom did. Flora was the elder daughter of Lord and Lady Arthur Russell, who lived in Audley Square. Sheikh Muhammad went to and fro, superintending the cooking and bringing food for us all.
These were usually addressed to her father and dispatched to her family by every mail and by every extra opportunity. We had soup fish mince crockets Puding, cheese and butter and desert. What with one thing and another, it was before I could retire and wash and go to bed, but I then slept most blissfully for a couple of hours; after which I had tea and received all the worthies of the town-the Mudir is an old Turk, who talks much less Arabic than I do--and when I had sent them away happy I walked Out and down the street of columns into the Temple of the Sun--the town, I should say, for it is nearly all included within its enormous outer walls. As I rode over the hill, Palmyra looked like a beautiful ghost in the pale stormy light.
From 1919 onwards the confidential detailed letters of many pages, often written day by day, took its place. Then we went downstairs to breakfast Mother and Maurice and I cooked a dinner because it was wet. We had a capital cooking lesson yesterday, made scones and gingerbread and boiled potatoes . There seems to be always a wind here; it was such a hurricane in the afternoon and evening that I thought my tent would go, but it held firm.
In the letters contained in this book there will be found many Eastern names, both of people and places, difficult to handle for those, like myself, not conversant with Arabic. They foreshadow the pictures given in her subsequent family letters of her gradual development on all sides through the years, garnering as she went the almost incredible variety of experiences which culminated and ended in Bagdad. Then after their father's second marriage the two Lascelles boys came into the circle as intimates and cousins, the sons of my sister Mary spoken of in the letters as Auntie Mary, wife of Sir Frank Lascelles. I found them breakfasting on dates,-camels' milk and the bitter black coffee of the Arabs--a peerless drink.
These variations in spelling have added a good deal to the difficulty of editing her letters especially as reference to expert opinion has occasionally shown that experts themselves do not always agree as to which form of transliteration is the best. But the letters here published, from the time she was twenty until the end of her life, show such an amazing range of many-sided ability that they may seem to those who read them to present a picture worth recording at every stage. The time had not yet come when it was a usual part of a girl's education to go to a University, and it was with some qualms that we consented. Gertrude went to Lady Margaret Hall, in 1886 just before she was eighteen, she left it in June 1888 just before she was twenty, and wound up, after those two years, by taking a brilliant First Class in Modern History. Courtney, who, in a delightful article contributed to the North American Review, entitled "Gertrude Bell, a personal study" and also in her interesting book "Recollected in Tranquillity," has described Gertrude as she was when she first arrived at Lady Margaret Hall-I quote both from the article and the book. "She threw herself with untiring energy into every phase of college life, she swam, she rowed, she played tennis, and hockey, she danced, she spoke in debates; she kept up with modern literature, and told us tales of modern authors, most of whom were her childhood's friends. Kitcat] and I walked across the Green Park to the London Library where I had a delicious rummage with a very amiable sub-librarian who routed out all the editions of Sir Th. Sidney for me to see I took down the names and dates and armed with these I felt prepared to face Bain himself. Mrs Norman Grosvenor] house, I came back here, dressed, and went to Queen Street for a seven o'clock dinner-we were going to the Spanish exhibition after it. The children and I played the race game in the nursery. It was so fine this afternoon, a rough sea almost up to the esplanade. I wouldn't really have changed places with them, and I prefer a Sheikh from Nejd to a dragoman from Jerusalem as a travelling companion.
We have therefore in dealing with them to content ourselves with transliterations, some of which in words more or less frequently used in English have become translations, such as 'Koran,' 'kavass,' etc. She also loved her country life, in which her occupations included an absorbing amount of gardening, fox hunting--she was a bold rider to hounds--interesting herself in the people at her father's ironworks, and in her country village, making friends in every direction. She was a good deal younger than her two brothers and Gertrude, but as she grew up she was always one of Gertrude's chosen friends and companions. When Gertrude was fifteen and Maurice had gone to school, she went, first as a day scholar and afterwards as a boarder, to Queen's College in Harley Street, where a friend of her mother's, Camilla Croudace, had just been made Lady Resident. Her journeys in Arabia and her achievements in Iraq have passed into history. RED BARNS, November 25th, 1889 My gown came from Kerswell this morning-charming I am so glad I did not have a black one. The reason Sheikh Muhammad wants to travel with me is that he is anxious to have the extra protection of my three soldiers--he has two of his own--fearing a raid of Arabs on his camels on the way to Karyatein.
But even these words (there are many others, but I take these two as an example) which have almost become a part of the English language are now spelt differently by experts, and at first sight it is difficult to recognise them in 'Quran' and 'qawas'--which latter form is I believe in accordance with the standardised spelling now being officially introduced in Bagdad. Hogarth, Elizabeth Robins, and Major General Sir Percy Cox, who has had the kindness to read and correct many of the Proofs. And when she was wandering far afield (her wanderings began very early--she went to Roumania when she was twenty-two and to Persia when she was twenty-three) she was always ready to take up her urban or country life at home on her return with the same zest as before, carrying with her, wherever she was, her ardent zest for knowledge, turning the flashlight of her eagerness on to one field of the mind after another and making it her own, reading, assimilating, discussing until the years found her ranged on equal terms beside some of the foremost scholars of her time. Gertrude lived at first at 95 Sloane Street with my mother Lady Olliffe, who took her and Maurice to her heart as if they had been grandchildren of her own. I need only recall the bright promise of her college days, when the vivid, rather untidy, auburn-haired girl of seventeen first came amongst us and took our hearts by storm with her brilliant talk and her youthful confidence in her self and her belongings. Billy [Lascelles] and I sat in the garden and had a long talk so long that he only left himself a quarter of an hour to catch his train. He wanted to take me with him to Paddington and send me back in a hansom, don't be afraid, I didn't go-What would have happened if I had, it was ten o'clock! I had a delightful dancing lesson, learnt two more parts of the sword dance, began the minuet. I think it's great sport; I'm not sorry to be able to do a good turn to an Agail, and he and his Bagdadis are very interesting to talk to, with their dragoman on the box and their mules following behind the crowds of tents.
[This is the earliest letter extant from Gertrude, dated when she was six years old. But it was all part of her entire honesty and independence of judgment: and the time was to come when many a distinguished foreign statesman not only listened to the opinions she proffered but accepted them and acted on them. I paid everything but the butcher with what you sent, and had over 1 pound balance which I have kept for next time. So we all played at jumping over a string, not a very cooling occupation, till fortunately Miss Thomson came and called them in. There is no water between Ain el Baida and Karyatein, three hours on.
It is addressed to me, at a time when she was not yet my little daughter but my "affectionate little friend." Mopsa, about whom she writes, was a large grey Persian cat, who played a very prominent part in the household.] REDBARNS, COATHAM, REDCAR, Sept., 25th, 1874. Gertrude hardly ever dated her letters except by the day of the week, sometimes not even that, so that where the envelope has not been preserved I have had to guess the year by the context. I went to Clarence to-day and arranged about the nursing lecture to-morrow,-there were a lot of things to prepare for it. Did we tell you how Molly puzzled and shocked her dreadfully the other day by asking her suddenly what was the French for "this horse has the staggers"! I caught up the Agail who had stopped to breakfast and were making coffee and baking bread--they eat nothing in the morning before they start.