While serving as Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner in Baghdad, Bell was a spy. Often her dual roles were indistinguishable, never more so at picnics

Once using a picnic as a mask, she and her companions took an official to a lonely beach for an interrogation. She and her colleagues “bathed from a little sandy island below Baghdad and went back to dine on the Davidson’s terrace . . .  to make it as much as possible like a picnic.”

Another time, Bell recalls that King Faisal provided a royal picnic: “The palace servants had brought up some 8 or 10 huge fish [unidentified]which they roasted before a bonfire of palm fronds, a delectable food which formed the principal course. But besides that there was a multitude of excellent Syrian dishes. You get to hate food in this weather and the Sunday picnic after swimming is the only meal in the week, which I enjoy. We lay on carpets and cushions, like ancient Greeks, and eat by the light of a little moon, after which we remained for a long time under the tamarisk bushes.”

While Bell and the king chatted amiably about family matters, she privately wondered, “I hope he’ll go on being as devoted to me as he is now, for it does make things easier to deal with.”

Featured Image: Gertrude Bell (in Western garb), sitting in the Arab fashion, picnicking with King Faisal and British military officers at Tel ‘Aquar  Quf (August 1921)

See: Gertrude Bell Archives, New Castle University, http://www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk/ ;Rory Stewart, “Queen of Quagmire,” The New York Review of Books (October 25, 2007)