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Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

20 Somerset Terrace, (Duke’s Road, W.C.).—Discusses forthcoming meetings, and asks for a copy of his Echo leader. Describes a luxurious supper.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terr.
Sunday, 5. 4. 01

Dear Mr Lawrence,

I am sorry that I cannot be present at the Meeting tomorrow, especially as there are so many interesting points to bring forward—the Blatchford idea for one, and the idea about specializing in an industry and working up advertisements with reference to it. But as I shall not see you, I have a word to say about Friday. I remembered after sending off a hasty reply to you on Saturday that Friday is the day of our Meeting for “The Greene Ladie” at Lady Montague’s. That doesn’t matter except—we had better fix the hour for 7 instead of 6 o’clock. I hope this will not shorten the evening. I hope Mr Sauer will not be in haste to leave. Percy will be at that Meeting, and of course will come back with us. I am writing him a note by this post.

I missed the Echo yesterday—(Sat.)—was your leader in it?—if so you might send it me from the office “gefälligst”.

I am sending you one of my works tomorrow written nearly 7 years ago. I read it today—it turned up—and was amused and I think you will be to see that I had not got very far away from it after all these years! If you have nothing better to do—vain surmise—you can read it in the train on Thursday; only send it back to me as it is my sole copy.

Last night I returned to what should have been a fireless and dark home! to find what looked like a bit of conjuring: the fire bright—the lamp lit—a dainty supper spread—a little bottle of wine—strawberries and cream—and in the oven a great salmon trout done to a turn—with hot plates & everything just ready. “Is it my fault,” I said, “if I lose my immortal soul?” “Have I not striven not to be a pampered woman?” And all the while in my heart of hearts I loved it—the luxuries themselves perhaps, but certainly the fairy tale, which suited my fancy quite. (This is a secret, by the way.) Have you read R. L. Stevenson’s Vailima Letters? If not, you oughter. Talk about a temperament! “But,”—you will say—“we are not talking about temperaments or didn’t oughter be; this is the Echo Office and nothing is allowed here but business.” “Kindly keep to the point, Madam.” Oh well then, the point is—briefly—that I remain sincerely,

Emmeline Pethick

Talking about “the Apostle” and “the degradation of labour”, the enclosed little note may interest you to see. This is the side of the Apostle that his comrades in work know best. This is written after a party that my children gave to their parents, when A. S. was present.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

20 Somerset Terrace, W.C.—Reflects on their renewed understanding of one another.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace. | W.C.
13. 5. 01

Dear Mr Lawrence.

It is a matter of deep thankfulness & of gladness to me, that the mists have been swept away: that we can see each other again. I feel that every bit of misunderstanding is gone completely.

I can only wish now that the sense of an infinite security in God’s purpose in your life which came to you at the darkest hour may remain with you & abide with you now & for ever. Some sort of benediction has fallen on us both.

You hit a good many right nails on the head yesterday, you dear stupid old thing! One was your conclusion that I am a queer woman. That shows an amount of insight I shouldn’t have given you credit for—it was quite subtle! And another was your assertion that in a funny sort of way you understand me better than any of them: how you came to find that out, beats me quite. (Perhaps now that I admit it, you wont “quite agree”!—(you dont mind me teasing you a bit, do you?).)

Now there is just one word that I want to say—one word about yourself, & your mental habit of analysis & introspection which has (as you say) become a kind of tyranny: (I am not thinking of the personal bearing but simply of your health & balance.) Try your principle of non-resistance on your self. Dont struggle with this habit, you will only get entangled, you will only find that you are at war in yourself.
Give it rope: let it work itself out if it will, & exhaust its own power. Detach yourself, if you can. I can imagine a possibility of just simply breaking the connection between your self & the mental habit, so that the wheel can go round & round & the crank or whatever it is, be still, or if that isn’t possible, go with it, as you go down a hill on a bicycle coasting, knowing that you will eventually come to the bottom & that there will come the time for the other thing.

But dont have the waste of war, and dont resist any part of yourself.

And if you were to try what a little inspection would do sometimes just to balance the other thing: perhaps you wouldn’t be such a blind old bat as you are sometimes—you might even notice for instance next time you see her that Mrs Gwyther is a pretty woman!

Yours sincerely.
Emmeline Pethick

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

20 Somerset Terrace, Duke’s Road, W.C.—Encloses a draft manifesto. Suggests he write a letter to take advantage of the Daily News’s effort to ‘work up’ Merriman and Sauer. Discusses arrangements for going to the theatre and the opera, and refers to Club activities.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terr. | Dukes Rd W.C.
16. 5. 01 {1}

Dear Mr Lawrence.

I enclose my draft: The point is to be comprehensive—& yet so far as possible, definite: I just send it for what it is worth—without waiting to show it to Mary even.

I see that there is an effort in Daily News to work up Merriman & Sauer even at the 11th hour—This ought to be made the most of. Can you write a letter by way of doing the very first next thing—& can we turn anybody on to the question. Can we get a little bit of “go” into the S. A Conciliation Talk to Percy—will you? I dont think his name ought to be used at the foot of a letter or publicly unless we really want it: because he has so much that is not his to lose: (you will understand just how far I think that this consideration weighs—)

We had a sweet day yesterday “round the billy fire”, Mary & Mac & “Katimole”, & my “Sweetest of All”, whose 7th birthday it was. I came home to the Club & then was too tired to do more than look at your Manifesto.

I am going this afternoon with dear Brother Jack to “Pelleas & Melisande” {2}. The angel never dreams of going anywhere without taking us along too!

By the way, I want to hear “The Walküre”, & you never know to a day or two when it is coming on at Covent Garden. You have simply to watch the papers & make a rush for the tickets. I am taking Emma Rozier (who lost her little sister last Friday). Shall I take a third ticket for you on spec: they cost 10/6. It is the one you want to hear. I daresay somebody else would take it if you couldn’t come.

One thing more. I want the children to have a very happy time at Canning Town on Sat. week (25th). I want them to come to the Residence to tea about 4.30. They love parties & I am consumed with the desire to give them every mortal thing they want. You know they are no trouble to entertain—they are not ordinary children, are they?—so keen, & so gentle. Of course I am writing to Percy, but I want you to be there, if you can possibly manage it.

Yes, I admire Miss Octavia Hill’s work very much—also above & beyond her accomplishment she was a pioneer, & that means the original mind & the heroic temper. I feel that I have heaps to talk to you about, but I may be wrong, it is only a vague impression!

Sincerely yours
Emmeline Pethick

P.S. Mac has just come in, & Mary. They approve of my draft.

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{1} ‘16’ altered from ‘15’.

{2} Mrs Patrick Campbell revived Maeterlinck’s play, with music by Fauré, for five mat-inees at the Royalty Theatre from 13 to 17 May (Monday to Friday). See The Times, 13 May 1901, p. 7.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

20 Somerset Terrace, W.C.—Encloses items (copies of a manifesto?) for distribution to friends and relations.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace, W.C.

Dear Mr Lawrence,

I am relying upon your energy & influence to get rid of the enclosed {1} amongst your friends & relations in the West End!

Yours sincerely,
Emmeline Pethick

19 May 1901

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{1} Perhaps copies of a manifesto. See PETH 7/81–2.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence (incomplete?)

20 Somerset Terrace, Duke’s Road, W.C.—Describes a quiet Sunday alone. Accepts his advice about funding the Club’s activities.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace | Dukes Rd WC.
21. May 1901

Thank you for your letter. Yes it was a day of days on Sunday {1}. I let all the others go off early & had a day of solitude in the blue kitchen—solitude broken only by the happy presence of my little Sunday visitor.

I thought perhaps somebody who had not been abused for a whole week would be ready for a little more scolding! But the dews of peace were falling all day long as the hours swing silently & slowly by—and the splendour of the sky changed from blue to gold & from gold to purple. There is a certain quality of happiness that has fallen upon me since childhood whenever the sun shines & the house is empty. I do not mean that I am not very dependent on companionship: it is only when there is a blue sky, and a human base not very far off, that I enjoy being Diogenes in my tub. But oh the wine of these hours!

And Maeterlinck’s bees (Bees)—I noticed yesterday that you had difficulty in reading my writing!—I say Maeterlincks Bees reconciled me to life and death & impelled me to kiss the black robe of Fate that is wrought with stars.

I must thank you for saying such nice things about our resources. Sister Mary & I will gladly accept your view of the position, though I think we are going to get all we want for the Green Lady & for the Children’s Holiday[,] for I agree with you that it is for the greater interests of the work to get the co-operation & help of the largest number of people that we can touch, leaving the reserves for emergencies.

Let me have your travels to take to Broadmoor {2}.

You couldnt be too prolix if you tried! I’m afraid that is one thing that you are to old to learn? You will never learn to babble?—

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This letter ends abruptly, and may be incomplete.

{1} 19th.

{2} The reference may be to the circular letters Lawrence sent home during his journey around the world in 1897–8 (PETH 5/30a–h). In early June this year Emmeline Pethick and Mary Neal took some girls of the Espérance Club to stay at Broadmoor, near Dorking, where a Mrs Brook had placed two cottages at their disposal. Lawrence joined the party for the weekend of 8 and 9 June.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

(Place of writing not indicated.)—Invites him to lunch on Sunday.

(Dated Friday.)

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Transcript

Friday Evening
Darling Freddy—

Just a line before ending the day in case I haven’t time tomorrow—Will you come to lunch here on Sunday. If you come about 11.30—we will go for a little walk in the Park. I shall be going with the Daddy to Hammersmith in the evening—about 5.30—you will be wanting to get back to Canning Town I expect.

I am thinking of you constantly. Your own Woman—

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

&20 Somerset Terrace (Duke’s Road, W.C.).*—Asks him to get Shepherd to look at a house in Woburn Square, and mentions other places (as possible locations for a home). Asks him to speak to Gooch about tomorrow.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

Littlehampton.—Discusses her activities with the children, and asks him to visit Mrs Reed at Notting Hill Infirmary. Is awaiting a reply from Pearse. Encloses a letter from her second cousin, Mary Neale.

Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.

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Transcript

4th Letter.

Nov. 19.

Radiant sunset, calm & serene, afterglow of flame & then the silver light of the moon almost at the full. We think of the desert & the Sphinx—we must see her once again. Here, to wish is to have your wish fulfilled. Nobody says—it is impossible. If it comes into your mind to have dinner at 6 instead of 7 o’clock—you say so, that is all! We set out, we three, the dragoman Abdul Enani, & our ‘big dog’ Ali, and reaching the edge of the desert we walk under the mighty shadows of the pyramids—& the sand is soft & warm under our feet. The light that never was on sea or land is on the desert tonight—it is the eternal life. No stories tonight, only the subdued musical voices of the men susceptible to every change of mood.

Nov. 20.

A visit to Cairo in the morning—a quiet afternoon listening to stories from the Koran—the most delightful way of learning arabic that can possibly be imagined. The only drawback, from that point of view, is that the face & voice & gestures of the narrator are themselves a study so fascinating as to make me at times quite oblivious to everything else—at the harrowing or exciting points of the story the words drop to a dramatic whisper or flash in rapid emphasis. This is one of the stories from the Koran. “The Lord said once to his servant the Prince Moses—“I do not like that black dog there; he has not a single white hair on him”. Then the Prince Moses sought to serve the Lord & he said—“I will kill this dog”. So he put a collar round his neck & led him away to the desert & there he tied him up, thinking that without food or drink he would surely die. After three days he went to see if the dog were dead. He found that a river of water ran beside him & fish leaped from the river into his mouth—and the dog was not dead—for he drank of the water of the river & ate of the fish in the river. Then Moses was astonished & said—“Lord, didst thou not say that thou likest not this black dog without one white hair”. And the Lord said—“It is true, oh Moses, that I like not this black dog without one white hair—but I have no wish to kill him”. Then Moses went to his home puzzled, for he understood not the way of the Lord.”

From stories we fall into conversation—of travel & different countries & customs. Enani could not believe that my husband had not paid any money for me! He wished he could get his wives so cheap. He had paid £200 each & they were both lazy & not even good looking! He has sent away the first & is going to send away the second & buy another. “If I came to live in England I would have six wives! English men must live very cheap—wives not cost them nothing!” “No Enani, if you came to England you could only have one wife.” “One wife! Only one wife!! No that is impossible. What does the English man do when he sees somebody he loves, prettier than his one wife?” It is strange to think what an utterly different conception of life these Arabs have. Not less moral! They never touch strong drink, they keep the fast of Ramadan most strictly—they pray devoutly several times a day—they have a code of honour which when once understood is no less sacred & binding than our own: but when I thought of telling our western stories to this Bedawin, I saw how impossible they would be. Grim’s fairy tales were the only ones I could think of.

Nov. 21.

Monday. Still in Cairo—my letters sent on to Ouasta! But a mail was due I knew & I sent a messenger into Cairo to wait & bring me back that day’s tidings from home. While he was away the right wind suddenly sprang up! We were in the middle of a story, at the most exciting point, when in dashed one of the crew—with the cry—“The wind”. In a moment all is bustle & noise—such a commotion—the great sail is hoisted to a chorus in which all the crew join—& the boat spreads its great wings & away we go—the most delicious motion in the world. Not only our boat, but all the boats large & small wake up & the river is full of life. One boat in front of us, turning broadside looks like a huge butterfly just pitching. We cannot go far as we have left two men behind & have to wait for them to pick us up. Presently after we have anchored for the night, they pick us up—bringing a goodly packet of letters—& we have some music & dancing from the crew, to celebrate the return of the wind.

Nov. 22.

Really one never gets a minute. Our curtains are all made now though & are put up—the flags are made—it is like setting up house! We get a little walk on the bank before starting—then the wind has dropped again. But about 1 o’clock, the chorus begins, the cries of Allah! Allah! and sails are set & once more we are flying before the wind. It is the most delicious movement in the world—free & swift, with no sense of limitation or friction—we pass groups of peasants—we see camels running against the skyline, here close at hand are the dates growing upon the palm trees—barks in full sail swish past us, laden with sacks or with cattle, & each with its group of squatting figures: the afternoon is all too short—the sun sets, the moon rises—and we moor again for the night. Dark craft in full sail creep up silently & pass on wrapt in the mystery of the night.

We begin our evening task. When the sun has set, Marie & I get into the little rowing boat & develop our Kodak films—a great disappointment tonight: a clean dozen films, not a mark on them—as the result of the day’s selection. What has happened? We cannot imagine. Better luck tomorrow.

After dinner Ali says—“I go a fishing”. He is dressed now in a short blue cotton petticoat, with legs bare from the knees—& he has his net & basket. Very strange is it, & very lovely in the stillness of the night, no sound but the soft lapping of the water & the swish of the net as it is thrown by the fisherman.

[Nov. 23.]

Another night of long delicious sleep—one is generally waked by the dawn, only to fall asleep again at once, until the full day has come. But oh how quickly the days fly by. It is Wednesday already—nearly one week out of our four on the Nile gone! No wind again—we go walking along the bank, Ali fishes again, we stop & talk with the charming little groups we meet. Sunshine, absolute well being, constant entertainment, perfect content—what can one want more. What a world, where the sun shines every day & the moon every night. Perhaps there will be another “holy man” presently to give us his blessing & bring the wind. That was the cause of the good luck the other day. We were lying moored to the bank, and he passed along—& wished us well. We gave him a coin & soon were sailing merrily.

In the afternoon we have visitors from the village & from the barges lying just ahead. Enani entertains them with stories on the bank—the picturesque groups arrange & rearrange themselves—now they are playing a game with squares marked in the sand & pebbles. Marie wants to understand—& “Ali” is only too happy to show her, & is very much impressed with the intelligence of the lady—an impression which is presently deepened & shared by all the crew when the lady takes an oar in the rowing boat! Books, letters, photo printing compete for one’s attention—but everything fares badly except “tea”. It is enough, to dream oneself into the centre of the life going on around & to pick up a few new words of arabic. However at sunset we develop our films again in the boat—& anxiously await the result. Every one of them splendid—a great success. The moon rises big & golden—we take the rowing boat & a lamp & row out on the river. On one of the barges some one is playing the flute. We row in & are greeted with smiles of welcome. The flute—oh yes we are welcome to that—it is nothing. With thanks for the gift & salaams we push off into the river again, & Enani takes the flute; which is simply a reed made of the sugar cane—& its long drawn out notes float back to our dahabiyeh—& are answered by tom-toms on the barges.

In the evening the circle of arabs on our lower deck is much larger—not only our own crew are gathered but visitors from the barges—& the music & dancing is very spirited—the long pipe of hashish is passed round, the tom-toms are passed from hand to hand to be heated by the wood fire, which thickens the atmosphere on the tented deck with curling smoke—the flute sounds like the Scotch bagpipes—the dandes are more & more wonderful—the dancers make themselves taller & shorter, the head held quite still, the muscles undulating like those of a snake. Then farewells are said & the visitors troop silently away. Marie & Hetty sit down on one of the sails on the upper deck to talk—after a little while they feel their seat move under them.—Horror! They have been sitting on the Captain who has already retired for the night!

Nov. 24.

And so here we go again before the wind, over dancing waves & this for the next three weeks will be our life—hour after hour & day after day the same yet not the same for two minutes together.

This day three weeks Fred will be coming—& we shall leave the boat & take to tents—but before then, there will be all the wonderful things between here & Luxor to see. Up to now, the study of Arabic has proved much more fascinating than hieroglyphs—and though it may shock erudite friends—the Egyptian sky & sunshine are better than the temples of the ages gone by—for they are older than all, yet vital—& divinity yet dwells in them & diffuses from them, and there is but one tense in the verb “To be”.

Southward! Southward! All the North behind—right into the heart of the noon sun—to the centre of light. Oh the joy of it—the delight! The sense of being unmoored at last! The sense of movement without friction, of life without limitation. Perhaps it is even so, when the soul passes the portals of death, leaves the gloom & the shadow & the cold which we call life, knowing nothing better & emerges into the God-lighted life radiating universe. But there is only one tense, I said. The sunbeams are dancing from the water ripples right into my heart. Greeting & love to all our dear ones. Think of us well & happier than words can tell. Joy be with you all.

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

Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.

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Transcript

6th Letter.

Nov. 27.

The men towing & wading, sometimes having to swim—until suddenly the North wind springs up & wafts us to Beni Sueff. Here the stores are to be replenished—& the crew are to buy a sheep for themselves & some tobacco & presently they will have a feast. They have not tasted meat since they left Cairo: their frugal fare consisting of soaked black bread & lentils. All are in great spirits. Marketing has to be done quickly as the North wind is blowing now & we do not want to lose our chance of getting on. So Ali & Muhammed are left to be our guard, while the others do the business. Beni Suef is a squalid town—the people seem very poor & everything is very dirty. We are followed by a great crowd, mostly children, & feel like a trio of Pied Pipers. Presently a lad who has been walking with us all the way opens a conversation in English. “Do not be angry”, he says. “Do not be angry with the Children.” We assure him that on the contrary we are amused & pleased—another boy joins the conversation. They have learnt English in the school—& from that moment we have a delighted escort—indeed, such naive expressions of open appreciation would be embarrassing if not so amusing. “The first moment I saw your face,” said the smaller boy to Marie, “my heart was moved.” “I have never spoken to an English lady before, I have followed the English always, but I did not speak to them & they did not speak to me. It is a great joy to speak to such a good lady as you!” They wrote their names down & gave them to us, begging for ours in exchange & the big boy took an old coin out of his clothes & begged us to have it as a remembrance & we must promise never never to forget him, as he would never never forget this day. And, said the little boy to Marie, “if I come to London when I am a man I shall go all over the country till I find you!” We gave them some English coins & parted at the boat-side. “Mursi” is waiting to welcome us, with tea ready—we are received back like long-lost children. It is amusing to think of all our packets of tea & Nestle’s milk & arrowroot & bovril etc that we brought out with us. We have only to ask for the Moon to have half a dozen men climbing the sky to get it. I verily believe that if Enani, or Mursi or Ali were to see us making tea, they would be as surprised as we should be to see a baby warming the milk for its own bottle. Anything we want, at any minute is there at once, if we call Ya Enani! Ya Ali! or Ya Mursi!

Soon Enani & the men are seen striding along with their big basket & parcels, & in five minutes more we are off. But the wind already begins to sleep— {1} & soon after dark we moor for the night—and the evening is spent in telling stories & in watching the Fantasia, which the men make for us. They are very much pleased when I take the tom tom & beat it for them to dance.

Nov. 28th

A walk after breakfast & then the start. A good day’s journey—for we have the wind all day. Now the sun sets & we we† steer right into the cloudless glory. Two stars are burning in the burning sky. The days are like a necklace of opals which I saw in the bazaar at Cairo—each opal separated by a white sapp[h]ire from the next. The days are opals & the nights are the white sapphires—& this day has held the heart of fire. The light fades—it is time for Enani to bring his flute & play to us. Hetty is touching her Spanish guitar with the soft sweet tones so suited to this world, where a piano would seem an absurdity, almost an outrage. {1} The night falls softly. Presently we are listening to a most dramatic & exciting story told by Enani. After dinner tonight, Marie reads an arabic story which she has carefully written out. It is received with enthusiasm. It is perfect arabic! Dark eyes shine with pride & delight. Afterwards Enani has his first lesson in writing English.

Nov. 29.

Awake with the dawn. A little walk before breakfast. We come across an encampment—a happy family—donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs. If I had my camera! The words are scarcely said before feet are flying over the sand back to the boat. The camera is brought—the picture is taken. “Kulu mabsut” (“Everybody happy!”)

My whole morning is spent writing out the story of Big Claws & Little Claws in arabic—to read to the men tonight. This night there is a sunset of passionate peace, glowing into passionate intensity. Water & wind quiet—the world a deep blue well of peace, a purple well of peace, the palm trees along the edge of the Eastern bank reflected in the water. Then the purple glows in the west—& becomes a fire, wonderful beyond words. {1} The wind has dropped again & the men are punting with long poles. Suddenly there comes just a breath—the men throw down their poles & begin to sing & to dance—caper in a circle—it is a sort of incantation to keep the wind. This is such a land of rites & incantations & prayers. This morning I woke before the dawn—there was a great stillness. Just one dark barge was gliding silently downstream, & silhoutted against the Eastern sky was a tall cloaked figure, bowing down his head repeatedly & standing in prayer. Wherever they are the men pray—telling their beads—kneeling & touching the ground with their forehead. Just now Ali was fishing on the shore & the Nubian boy was carrying the pail—& when there was a minute or two to wait he just knelt down & said his prayers.

Tonight Enani has another lesson in reading & writing & is very proud of himself.

Nov. 30.

A great gale of wind! Unluckily from the wrong quarter—dead South. We are moored to a great stretch of desolate sand—white & wintry. The wind becomes a sandstorm—everything is blotted out: the sun when it shows at all, is a ghastly sulphur: we might be in the middle of a London fog.

Everything is full of sand. The wind continues dead against us, till sunset, when it drops & we walk over the waste into the sunset. There is some peculiar excitement in the sand, the look of it, the feel of it under the feet. One wants to leap rather than walk, there is [a] sense of glorious freedom. Can we give up this new glorious freedom at the end of a few weeks. Why not forget everything & stay here for ever? The spirit of the river shall say. So Ali Suefi, Hetty’s faithful one of old times, who is fishing from the bank, casts in his net. If a big fish comes back with the net, we stay. We hold our breath in suspense. The net is flung out, forms a magic circle over the water, it drops & is drawn back with care—& lo & behold! a big fish is in its meshes—the only big fish caught that evening!

We come back to the deck, the dark & the stars. Lying on the divans on deck, tucked up warm in our big shawls, we summon Enani & his flute. Looking up into the clear sky, there enters into me a spirit of glad & eager adventure untouched by any afterthought. Danger, Death, even a violent death could be welcomed in a mood like this! One would go forth to the “adventure wild & new” of a new life in the unknown, with an exulting heart. The universe in all light—all God.

Surely that is one of the gifts of the desert—Courage.

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

{1} The ink changes at this point.

† Sic.

Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.

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Transcript

8th Letter

Dec. 20th Dahabeah Bolbol.

So the days drift on, with a dear monotony of fulness of light: sense of time has gone—is it a week, a month or a year since we began? one scarcely knows, or stops to count. Only let it go on!. It is now Tuesday—5 days since Fred came—5 days since we got up in the dark, & left an illuminated boat, with Enani & Ali carrying lanterns. The train was late, & the dawn came stealing over the world—and it was light before we got back to the boat. A gorgeous day—no wind. The awnings of the boat were up—& there were so many things to talk about. The men took the opportunity to get their store of bread baked. We left Sohag about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, taking advantage of a little puff of wind to get away from the landing stage & the entourage of craft, & anchoring on a little island within sight of the town. The next day a good wind sprang up & has been with us ever since—and we have been sailing swiftly through dancing waves—the song of the day, of the sun, of the water dancing in the heart—the song of the men working the shadoufs on the bank haunting in its elusive rhythm.

On the banks are fishing fleets of pelicans, huge brown eagles gathered in tens & twenties—& smaller white ones amongst them; herons, storks, hawks & plovers, and the solitary dignified white ibis. The morning afternoon & evening melt into each other with infinite changes of colour, light & temperature. It is nearing sunset, & the river bends South East—behind us is a glowing sky and a purple river, before us a glowing sail and a flood of deepest blue—to our left, the rugged mountains covered with sand, have caught the radiance and are alight; & over the coarse reedy grass upon the near bank (the left) the shadow of our two great sails flies like a flying cloud—and on and on we go. Later in the moonlight, we take the rowing boat, or we stroll upon the dry sand—listening to stories or the reed flute with its high piercing passionate note. We lie on the sand Bedawin-fashion—tucked up in our warm rugs—and Enani tells the story which is the origin of the Bedawin phrase—“I have killed my camel a long time ago”.

Once upon a time there were two men, a “fellah” & a “bedawin” arab—they were journeying together—the fellah had a flock of goats, the bedawin had one camel. At night the fellah proposed that each should watch for half the night—but the bedawin wanted to sleep without care—so he killed his camel & lay down—while the fellah sat up & watched through all the night. And to this day, the fellah squats, while the bedawin takes his ease. And if anyone remonstrates he replies—“I have killed my camel”.

We moor at Abutig, at Balliana, at Nagh-Hamadah and Desluch {1}. At Nagh-Hamadah we met with some charming French people, & a glorious bouquet of lovely roses with great long stems & beautiful leaves is brought to the boat, from the sister of the chief engineer—a little box of chocolates which Fred has brought out from London is sent back with our thanks—the flowers are a great joy—with the roses are sprays of lemon-scented verbena, which are constant in their reminder that there are very nice people in the world.

A jackal strolls by our window early this morning, welcome as a sign of how far away we are from the restraining hands of civilization—launched well on our wander-quest. But oh, how can one put into words anything of the joy made up of endless appeal to sight & sense. One sits for hours & hours on the deck, with the sound of the water parting under the bows, with the leaping of the sail & of the flags, with the waves & the sunbeams running along with us in their thousands, laughing with the fun of the race—with the changing drama of the bank-side—content to be, and wanting nothing—books, thoughts, words put aside—life full of outward physical things, and time an eternal present.

Denderah! There is a fine temple a few miles from here, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, queen of love & beauty. A good gallop on donkeys brings us to the temple gate all too quickly—the great vestibule with its 24 columns each adorned with the head of Hathor leads one into the first temple, & thence into courts, in the ancient worship each more sacred than the last, until the Holy of Holies is reached. Every inch of stone, wall & pillar, stairway & roof—is covered with the imprint of human feeling & devotion & imagination. One feels how impossible it is by a mere visit, to grasp anything of the significance of such a building—one needs to pos[s]ess the key of knowledge first & afterwards to have time to think & dream oneself back to that old intensity of faith & feeling—that made such everlasting monuments possible. We can catch but the merest suggestion of all this. To us, the expedition is mainly a frolic. It is great fun, the gallop back, & lunch waiting at the end—and a magnificent sailing wind all the rest of the day.

Dec. 21. The shortest day and, as we fondly dream, our last on board our dear little Bolbol. At sunset we are but 8 miles from Luxor—& we sail forward into the West—a world of Asphodel—and behind us the white & mauve of the full risen moon—where gliding white sails follow our own. But a further bend due west brings us into the teeth of the wind—& for our flat-bottomed keelless boat makes the end of the journey impossible. Still, “we shall sleep in camp tomorrow night”—we say.

Dec. 22.

But it is not so written. For in the morning the same west wind blows strong. But the Sheikh of the village sends his son to invite us into his garden—& we spend a pleasant morning—we are taken to the Guest-house—coffee is brought—& we are urged to stay, until a feast can be prepared & brought. But this invitation we put aside with many thanks & are presently escorted back to the boat. Then men are engaged to tow the boat as the work against wind & tide is too hard for our unaided crew, & slowly through the afternoon we fight on through the difficulties of the way. But at last the bend of the river is turned & now we have the wind with us again. Away we go in first rate style. We make a brilliant arrival at Luxor—Enani fires off his revolver—there are congratulations all round & the due festivities. After dinner, we explore Luxor a little & get our first glimpse of the great temple in the serene light of the moon.

Dec. 23rd.

It is the first freshness of the morning & the light is dancing in the waves—as we set out in the little boat to cross the river. Two good donkeys are chosen & we set off at a good gal[l]op. The spot is chosen—just outside the boundary wall of the Temple of Karnak—not far from the river—close to a good well—a sufficient distance from the native village—& a few steps from “the sacred lake”. Back to the boat & breakfast & the Christmas post. Time to say “Goodbye” now to the dear Bolbol—but all the men are coming to see us safely settled in our camp. An hour or two of loitering in the bazaar at Luxor—then we set out of {2}for our new home. As we catch sight of the 4 white tents—set out under the sunshine—we feel a thrill of pleasure: the servants come forward to welcome us, anxious to see the effect of their morning’s work. The tents are double, white on the outside, on the inside a dark Turkish blue, embroidered with scarlet & white—very restful to the eyes. Luncheon is served in the ‘salon’ tent—and after getting things straight & resting till early tea—we set off on our donkeys for Thebes—cross the river in a ferry—(donkeys & all) & ride to the Colossi of Memnon. There we wait to see the moon rise & are held by the weird spell & fascination of these great figures, seated on their throne for thousands of years looking into the noon sun, while the generations of men, have sown & reaped their little harvest at their feet—& have been gathered themselves by the great Reaper. And they are sowing & reaping still—all unheeding of these watchers of Time—“They take no notice of these monuments?” “Well you see,” says Enani, “these monuments dont take much notice of them!” As the full moon rises, and the mysterious glamour of the light that softens & conceals falls upon those great figures—they seem to breathe with intense silent life—& to thrill with that passion which is patience. And all the time the donkey boys keep up their sweet monotonous little song—an Arab love lament. At last we have to go—& home we ride to find the camp glistening in the moonlight & dinner ready. A few hours later, & the tents are closed & we sleep for the first time in the desert, while the guards watch, & the dogs from the neighbouring village keep up a barking chorus.

Dec. 24th.

The dawn!—the sudden waking!—the dash for the door of the tent & the open—the world bathed in the first fresh radiance of day. A happy light on all the faces—a hasty dressing, a walk & the call the breakfast—and life has begun again.

The whole morning is spent in the great wonderful temple of Karnak—the greatest & most wonderful human conception of a divine habitation—to those who can read a great Book, full of intense meaning; to us, who can only look at the pictures, full of the interest of the obvious. We go again at night to see in the moonlight the presences of those who filed in great procession through these halls thousands of years ago.

Dec. 25. Christmas day—we are up soon after 5 o’clock, to see the day dawn, & the sun rise, from the top of the great Pylon of the Karnak Temple. Ali bears our rugs—& kettle, spirit-stove etc, for we mean to have our first breakfast there on the summit. It is all so beautiful—the Libyan Hills are rosy red and every moment the drama of glow & light & colour changes. We, wrapped in our rugs, wait for the signal of the sun; he rises in unclouded glory—and we begin our early Christmas Feast. Then back to the Camp—& to our real breakfast!—and at 10 o’clock we are in the train en route for Assuan. For we have arranged to leave the camp & have two days of hotel life & civilisation for the sake of seeing Philae & the Barage†!—& in order to come back to Luxor down the river (by the weekly post boat that leaves Assuan every Tuesday) we have to put in those two days now. So we kept our Christmas in camp on Christmas Eve, ate our Christmas pudding, thought & spoke of absent friends & drank their health—& tonight, we shall join with people of our own country and keep the feast with them. At the Station at Luxor, we find that our train has been delayed by some accident, but the Station Master is most friendly & polite—a local train is put on, & a restaurant car is attached for our sole convenience—there is only one other European on the train. We arrive about 4.30—& oh how good it is to turn out of the dusty train into the sunset light & delicious fresh air. We take two of those jolly little carriages with awnings—get to the Cataract Hotel & are shown into most delightful bedrooms, each with a verandah, overlooking the river & the sunset & the mountains. We lose no time in getting out for the glory of the evening is upon every thing touching all these new scenes with a glamour all its own. We are delighted with Assuan—the atmosphere is sparkling—the warmth is delicious, the rocks & cataracts of the river are wholly different from anything we have seen—& the whole effect is as though one had been put down in the enchanted land of some fairy tale. Civilisation is not so bad either! The Hotel is one of the very nicest possible, everything first rate. There is a gala dinner, with a lighted Christmas tree at the top of the Dining Hall. Music. The place is full—& everybody gay & jolly & friendly. We are all very merry & happy—and all of the same mind. We could not possibly have had a jollier Christmas.

—————

A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.
{1} The readings of these names are uncertain.
{2} A slip for ‘for’.
† Sic.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Mena House Hotel (Cairo).—Describes her first few days in Egypt.

—————

Transcript

Mena House Hotel. Nov. 10. Wednesday evening {1}.

Beloved. I scarcely know how to sit down & write to you tonight. My heart is too full. I could sit still for hours wrapt in a garment of joy. Every sense satisfied to the uttermost—one’s whole being steeped in sensation. Nothing has ever been the least bit like it—light & colour & wonder. I don’t think I have ever felt so splendidly well, so vitalized, so filled with life. Your dear dear letter coming as the last touch of completeness to the day’s glory! My love for you & the possession of your great love is the glow behind the sunset—the glow that never fades. Bye & bye I shall sit down calmly & write something consecutive. But at this moment that is impossible. Still, I will tell you that we had a delightful 4 hours in Port Said {2}. Our boat arrived about 2 P.M. & the train left at 6.45. We strolled into the town & drank coffee on the arcade of the Hotel Continental, where we were infinitely amused by the street sellers who laid their wares before us. Hetty chaffed & chaffed with them all. We went round the shops too. Then—but oh, you darling I simply can’t write anything but my love to you & again & again tell you how happy I am—how happy we all are! I never saw Marie look like she looks now, her eyes shining with radiant happiness & excitement. She says she sends you ever so much love, & I am to tell you she will write, but not now, & to say—she simply does not know where she is, & can only walk round & smile! She & Hetty have made great plans about getting work here, & running a dahabehah together & I do believe something or other will open up to them. Hetty & Marie & I are speaking of you constantly & longing to have you here too. Freddy, I don’t want work to suffer, as you know, but if it is feasible do arrange to lengthen your stay as much as possible. I am sure you will want to stay.

Mena House is perfect—you will love the style of the place, I never saw anything to please me more—architecture, space—every detail. The curtains are just cotton, but perfectly charming—& the atmosphere of place & people is most harmonious: we have separate bedrooms & we pay 12/6 a day.

Freddy, I am absolutely ashamed of this letter—utterly ashamed of it: I have so much to say that I can’t say it. But tomorrow out in the desert—there I will write to you & tell you all. And I will send this to catch the mail. But I can only tell you this—there is something here that is quite different from anything I have ever known, though it is something I have guessed at—dreamed of—there is something here that fills up one’s mind with light & glory—& calls new things into being. Oh Freddy, if I were a man I should bring the woman I loved here—out of the Shadow into the light, out of the cold into the heart of the sun—where day lights its burning torches heralding the night.

I did not think, I hardly dared to this it would really be like this—that one’s flights of imagination could really be fulfilled. It’s just absolutely different from Europe—you might be one another planet.

Well Freddy. Goodbye now. Goodbye dear. And God bless you. Your very happy Woman.

Hetty is splendid—we could not possibly be more lucky in our little drago-woman. I would far rather have her from quite a business point of view than any courier, however good. She is in her element here & is a capital little manager & organizer. As we all three have exactly the same preferences, there could not possibly be a more mutually satisfied little party.

I will just add that we stayed at Shepheard’s Hotel last night, did a good deal of business in Cairo & had a fascinating time in the Bazaars & came out here at sunset. More anon.

Hetty asks me to enclose this letter.

This rambling incoherent letter of mine is for you alone of course—no one else. I shall write up my general letter tomorrow {3}. I hope you got my telegram sent off this morning. I thought “The Echo. London.” would find you. Did you think me reckless extravagant? I had to—& if it had cost 10 times as much would have been worth it!

—————

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

{1} The day of the month is incorrect. The 10th was a Thursday.

{2} On Tuesday, the 8th.

{3} PETH 7/148.

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