Item 151 - Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

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Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence


  • [25–26 Nov. 1904] (Creation)

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3 sheets

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Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.



5th Letter.

Nov. 25. Dahabijeh Bolbol.

Here we are at Ouasta at last—where letters have been waiting for me already for a week—we have passed an hour or two ago the village where 8 days ago we intended spending our first night—so contrary have the winds been. The good stupid old Mursi is despatched for the letters & told to run to the post & back as we do not want to stop & lose the wind: he bears my card, with a written request to the postmaster to deliver the letters to him & he brings me back such a very polite kind note from the postmaster, wishing me a pleasant journey—hoping my letters will be full of good news—saying that he will post forward to Minieh any belated dispatches. Amongst my letters is a very cordial one from Lady Cromer which has been waiting a week—asking us to tea with her & saying how great a pleasure it will be to see me & hear news of Fitzroy Sq. She often “looks back” to those days & would like to come back & see all again. There is also a kind little note from Mr Cope’s friend Mrs Vere Alston—hoping that she may meet us on our return. The letters from home fulfil the good wishes of the postmaster & add to our happiness. Abdul Enani is full of a new idea. He has just built a beautiful new house—it has a big “salon”, & a well, & a bathroom!—everything nice: now, won’t we go & live in it for the summer & he will be our servant? At first we do not take the project seriously but he is in earnest. He finds Hetty alone. Does she think “the great lady” (es Sitt gebir) will come. But Hetty says—“No, because the heart of the great lady is with her husband & where he is, she must be.” He shakes his head gloomily. Presently he renews the subject. “It is beautiful in the summer—you sit in the shade & feel the beautiful cool wind—& the wind from the desert smells so beautiful in the summer.” “But Enani, what would you do if we got ill?” “I would take you into the desert—no one is ever ill in the desert: you know that is true, Sitt” (appealing to Hetty). “You should live one week in the desert—& one week in the house, & you should ride horses in the desert.”

Presently he comes to Hetty again. “Would not the husband of the great lady stay with her if she wished it very much.

“No, Enani, I am afraid he could not.”


“Because he is like a great sheyk in his country & he must stay with the people in his country.”

Another gloomy shake of the head.

“Well then, you & the other lady, won’t you stay?”

“We should like to stay, but I am afraid it cannot be.”

“Why not? I would take care of you—you would be as safe with me as if you were at home—I never leave you.”

“Yes Enani, we should be safe with you I know. We can trust you entirely.”

“Then why not come?”

“There are many reasons.”

“What are they?”

“Well, Enani, for one thing it costs a great deal of money to live in your country—much more than it costs to live in our own.”

“What does that matter? English ladies are all rich.”

“No Enani—not all.”

“Oh but when they want money, they have only to go to the bank & get it. Well perhaps you will think about it—perhaps you will come.”

Enani himself is quite “a duke”. Smokes only the best cigarettes—dresses with magnificence & is lordly in all his ways.

When it was pointed out to him that if he became our servant he could not go with any tourists & would lose a lot of money, his reply was—“I have money enough”.

We are all very very happy—all the servants & all the crew as well as ourselves. “If you are happy, then all are happy” is often said to us. The men seem to find so much pleasure in pleasing. Tonight sitting on the bank close beside the boat I tell my first story, every word in arabic! The men are quite as pleased as I am & greet me as I return to the boat with “Es Sitte shrata”—“the wise lady”. Enani is a walking “Thousand & one nights”—& now we can understand most of all he says without stopping him for the meaning. One of his stories that fascinate me is about a fisherman who went to the river & caught a great big fish; it had no eyes—only a long head standing up like a tower & at the top of it a great mouth. And the fisherman said—“Never have I seen a fish like this—no eyes, only a mouth—how does he get food?” Then he looked again & saw a little ant climbing up the head with a grain of food, & after him another & another, & another, each ant with a grain of food, each dropped his grain into the mouth of the fish. Then the fisherman said—“Why does the Lord care for an ugly fish like this, & send him his food, & I have to work hard? I will not work any more, but will go home & prya the Lord to send food to me as he does to the fish.” The rest of the story is too long to tell & is not of importance. How many people one knows,—let me say rather, how all too easy it is to be that fish—to know no more of life than the bit that is pushed down one’s throat by the little circumstances & surroundings of every day.

Marie says—“I feel like that great big fish—the ants are coming too quickly & I can’t make room for all they are bringing every minute.”

Nov. 26th. Another day—blue, blue, blue—no wind except a breath from the South west—all the sails in the river flapping idly—the water like glass—the hills jagged in outline, limned in delicate lavendar against the sky. We have been for a walk—& now whilst I am writing in the saloon, Hetty & Ali are sitting on the bank—Hetty painting & Ali holding the umbrella. Marie, Enani & a circle of women & girls & children are laughing & talking on the bank. I have taken a photo of each group & hope they will give something of the spirit of the scene.

Now the girls come to the side of the boat & peep in at me through the windows of the saloon—full of admiration for everything—& delighted with some biscuits I give them. They ask for nothing. We have had no begging at all: no cries for backsheesh! A little boy comes with some spinning & Marie is taught how to do it, a little married girl about twelve years old strokes her velvet shoes tenderly & brushes the dust off them: presently they shyly invite Marie & Hetty to have a romp with them on the bank. But it is nearly noon & too hot for romping—otherwise of course we should all be delighted! {1}

There seems no hope of the wind waking up today—we have waited till nearly noon—now the men begin to tow the boat. It looks hard work—but how cheerfully they do it, singing the while. All through the afternoon “Kula na’im” (everything sleeps)—the winds sleep in the heavens, the light sleeps in the waters, the shadows sleep in the hills of gold, and the heart sleeps—a living sleep of light.

The sun slowly sinks towards the west, burnished gold are the sandbanks now, & the jagged mountains behind dream a purple dream. The supreme colour drama begins—this evening it is different from anything we have yet seen—more supernatural—the hills are nearer—they burn with light, a flame that is of rose & blue & mauve & lambent gold. We are moored now, & the soft contralto voices of the men sitting on the bank, waiting for the moment when they may break their fast, make a soft music. On the Eastern bank, two children, dots of purple & scarlet, lead their flock of sheep—& chant—a curious rhythm something like a yodelling. Absolute radiance, utter peace, beauty that makes the heart gasp! Complete & perfect happiness—a new revelation of the riches of the earth. Surely heaven & hell are included in this planet.


A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.

{1} The ink changes at this point. The passage which follows was probably added in the evening.

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