Item 162 - Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

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


  • 23–24 Nov. 1904 (Creation)

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4 sheets

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Dahabeeyah ‘Bolbol’.—Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.



Dahabijeh Bolbol. Nov. 23rd 1904

My darling Laddie. Almost a week gone by—but we have not yet come more than 20 miles out of 600. We have only had the North wind twice for a few hours in the afternoon—though it is the reputed one wind for November, December & January! When you get this we shall have reached Ouasta (I spelt it “Wasta” {1}) about 57 miles from Cairo. But you must not think that it is a disappointment. If only it were not a question of time limit, one would not care how long one loitered on the way. If we were to get a steady North wind we should be at Luxor in 14 days: a week before you come. I can hardly believe how happy we are! It seems ridiculous to go on day after day & night after night in one long dream of delight. We have everything to make us happy—a very contented & happy crew—everybody pleased—and our every wish & whim gratified. Talk about Mammy-babies! As for the little lady Hetty, it is most amusing—she won’t stir foot or finger for herself! It is “Abdul!” or “Ali!” or “Mursi!” if she wants a fly brushed off her noes. So different from the Hetty at Caversham!

We have a splendid cook, everything served so nicely—piping hot—& so nice. I have realized the possibilities of an omelette. The Turkish coffee is delicious & is served as often as one wants it. Toast for breakfast—& apricot jam! The waiter “Moorsi” always at hand, reading one’s wishes from one’s face before the word, & the fly-wisk† in his hands, always ready to brush the flies away. They keep every thing nicely covered up, even the salt & pepper pots have sliding glass covers. I have never seen the flies on any food—I wish folks would be as careful in England. We have a bath & a shower bath—& a tap of water in each room—every luxury! We shall have this cook & waiter in the desert, so I need not worry about your not getting the right food or being properly looked after! Though I find it next to impossible to look either forward or back—I think that Camp in the desert will be the very best part of all. You & I have a little tent for ourselves: oh Freddy how we shall love the whole thing. I don’t want you to sleep in hotels at all, except the first night & the last night you are in Egypt. I want to know just how much time you have to give: what seems a long time when you think of it at home is nothing at all when you are living this life—the sense of division of time seems to vanish. If you can spare 5 weeks you will be able to have at least two or three days with us on the Bolbol—but if you can spare only 4, we shall have to get on to Assouan first. We are all looking forward tremendously to your coming—the men are most interested in you—& you will get a great welcome. I think of you, not as though you were in London, but as though you were waiting at Luxor or Assouan. I simply cannot turn my thoughts Northward—they won’t go. I have never before been away without being able to look forward to going home. But now I feel no wish at all except to keep on—the days are not long enough & they follow each other all too quickly—I want weeks & months just going on like this. I am sure you will have noticed in my letters that I am quite rambling & incoherent. I don’t seem able to put words together—one is receiving impressions so quickly; one wants to stop & feel—to shut out the light & reconstruct in the dark. Even at night-time, there is the full goblet right to the second when one falls asleep. At first I was too happy to sleep—but now I sleep 8 or 9 hours right away. And yet the charm is so elusive & made up of such constantly shifting small things.

At this moment for instance—here moored alongside the bank, sitting under this awning on the deck—a delicious breeze blowing, the blue sky reflected in each ripple of the river—the opal gleam of the water as a whole—the rosy hills in the East—the big barges of hay in front of our bows, with their great curved masts, the barefooted, blue robed arabs at their various tasks—our crew squatting on the bank gossipping with the peasants—bargaining sometimes—laughing—telling stories—one of the men roasting the coffee over a little fire—men, women, children & animals passing—& light & colour, atmosphere & incident changing every minute. One wants nothing more than to sit in one’s chair dreaming oneself into this life & this world. Then when one thinks of all the wonderful past! We were walking this morning—such a perfect day—we felt we could easily have done the 30 miles to Ouasta.

And now I have to tell you how I got your dear letters on Monday—three of them. As we had not started, I went into Cairo & found out from Cook’s that a mail from England was expected that afternoon. So I asked them to keep back the letters until a certain hour & sent Ali in to fetch them. While he was away, the North wind came & they spread the sails—we could not go far of course. We left another man on the bank to tell Ali where to catch us up—& all too soon we had to anchor & wait. He came at dark bringing the letters & oh how glad I was—for Sweetheart, I was getting hungry—it was the 5th day. I read your letters & read them again—so glad. I am sending you a little list of some little things I should like you to bring out. Three weeks tomorrow! & a fortnight tomorrow you will be starting. Oh I do hope you will find everything as we find it—that you will feel the same enchantment. It will all be so very different from anything you have ever done before. I can’t imagine anything better for a holiday—to forget, to have to forget everything—to leave the whole world behind. You must try & read “The Garden of Allah” on your way out. You can skip a great deal, leave out the descriptions & go on to the main points of the story. I found every word fascinating—not one too many, but mere words do not delight you as they delight me. Don’t think you will read it after you come: you must read it now before you start, or else on the journey.

I told you in my last letter {2}, that I want to have 6 months with you camping & journeying in the desert: another time we will have a dahabijeh—but no! I don’t think that would suit you quite so well—& though I love this, I love the other life still more. Enani wants to teach me to ride when we get on the desert—“to gallop like the wind”. I want to ride like that. Don’t you see how very very short the time is for all we want to do? I shall feel when I have to go home as I used to feel on summer evenings when I was playing in the garden—& they took me in to bed before the sun had set!

I am asking you, (see my modest list) to bring me some packets of self toning printing papers. I also want you to send me by post ½ packets of printing paper self-toning. I could not get any in Cairo.

The Kodak & developer have turned out a great success, though there have been some failures & the conditions of developing have not been quite ideal in some ways: our first were spoilt a bit with the Nile mud—yesterday something awful happened, I don’t know what—we had a whole roll of a dozen films—the day’s history—all total blanks.

Nov. 24th. But yesterday’s the films {3} were splendid. I have printed one of each & fixed them to send in my circular letter {4}. I am glad to hear that things are moving along at home. What a lot you will have to tell me! I do not yet know the name of your boat. I think you will like Josephine Plunkett very much. I don’t want you to meet her husband—he stands for everything we are fighting against—an honorable & upright man, but his outlook on life comprises everything we hate. Some of her ideas Josephine gets from him—her contempt & fear of the Arabs. Bullying is their one idea of governing, and the relationship is war—always war, with the big guns on our side—& big guns our only safety. She cannot understand Hetty’s relationship with them at all. She besought me to buy a revolver & have it loaded under my pillow! I said I would rather spend the money on a good filter! She was really very conscious about us. Of course it is absolutely ridiculous. There are at least two men who would die before any harm came to us. This time three weeks, if all is well—you will be here with us. We passed about 4 o’clock this afternoon, the village where we had intended passing the first night on the boat—a week ago! We have been going well today though. The moon-rise this evening was like another dawn—a tawny shadowy dawn. It has been a wonderful day. Marie says I look as I used to look when I was still going to school & in truth this life suits me right well. I should like to see two more moons come to the full in Egypt.

If you could get a small portable volume of Heroditus† I should like to have it out here.

I am sending the photos in the circular letter—you had better take possession of the “Peace, perfect peace” one—it might shock some of our good folks.

We began a story today, which is to last for many days—Enani told us Chapter 1. It was quite easy today to understand the arabic—we hardly had to pull up at all. Every day it opens a little more to one. . .

And now my best & dearest, my one great thing, I send you back my heart. Come, come quickly, for everything is ready for you. Come to the heart of the sun & to the heart of the woman to whom you belong. Come, live, taste the forgetfulness which is the sleep & re-creation of the soul—& carry back the might & beneficence of the sun-lord. God keep you & bless you & hold safely in his hand in store for me, the happy day when I shall see again your face.

Your Littley Patz


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

{1} See PETH 7/161.

{2} Not extant.

{3} Presumably a slip for either ‘yesterday’s films’ or ‘yesterday the films’.

{4} PETH 7/150.

† Sic.

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