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come to work this morning because I have been confinedAli Mohammed-to the house." And he addressed the letter “To the Proprietor Esq. Dear Lady."
The first time that the gramophone made its appearance in Cairo was at a performance in the Ezbekieh gardens; it was put on a table draped with cloth like a dressing-table. Presently a young man passed by with a dignified old sheikh on his arm. The young man explained that the voice was produced mechanically. The sheikh pooh-pooh'd the matter altogether, and said that he knew all about it. But Cromwell Rhodes saw the old man as he was leaving, slyly progging the cloth under the table with a walking-stick to make sure that there was not really a man there.
During the last big epidemic, a doctor was called to see an old Irishwoman who was dying of cholera. He said that she was filthier than any native, and that while she lay there dying, the natives came in and out, and took pulls at the waterküllas. The chance of a free drink weighed much more with them than the chance of swallowing a cholera microbe,
On the Humours of Egyptian Hotels
N Egypt there is nothing for a rational person to do
in the evening except read, or go to the Opera, or go to sleep. The last two can be combined.
There are no plays till the end of the season, and hardly any concerts. Evening entertainments are entirely for the flirting classes. Of course you must have your dinner, and it is very amusing, if you can afford it, to have it at one of the great Cairo hotels. But if you are satisfied with the mere fleshpots of Egypt you do not count: they are not really good enough for that. There is a dance at one or other of the big hotels every weekday night, and they are got up to help the pretty girls and pretty young married women, on the one hand, and the soldiers and the Golden Youth on the other, to play the old game. There are some girls, and a very few men, who like dancing for dancing's sake, and some men, and a few women, who like dining for dining's sake; but flirtation is the serious business of the evening in Cairo.
“ Egyptian hotels,” said Mrs. Grundy, in one of her inspired utterances, “are the limit.” It is doubtful if the good lady used these words in their fashionable sense. But she was right, as she often is in her wrong-headed way. Egyptian hotels are the limit in most respects. There are hotels in Cairo in which Mrs. Grundy would be told to go about her business.
It is not necessary to plunge into details of the lives of the ladies and gentlemen who rely upon the distance from the Divorce Courts of our country. In two, at any rate, of the best hotels the King's Proctor could combine business
with pleasure on a holiday. It is no part of my scheme to do his devilling for him. I shall confine myself to the hotels where husband-hunting and heiress-hunting take the place of post-matrimonial breaches of promise.
We tried all classes of hotels in Egypt, from the Cataract Hotel at Assuan to the Hôtel de la France at Damietta : the best were very expensive, the worst were the most amusing.
The strangest humour we struck in an hotel was an Italian hotel-keeper, who kept every one in terror but her guests. She had an overreaching and unscrupulous Arab landlord ; she ruled him with a rod of iron; she kept an Arab boy to beat when a visitor complained of anything; he had no duties except to flick the dust off your boots with an ostrich feather broom, and have his ears boxed by her heavy hand.
She fell between two stools. She could only speak Italian and Arabic, and Italians and Arabs are the least profitable customers for an Egyptian hotel. They pay little, demand much, and refuse to be hoodwinked. The English know less about prices, and grumble for their own amusement, not to enforce reforms. Flora wished to keep an English hotel. But the English only understand their own language—at all events not Italian or Arabic, so she had to hire a hall-porter and an omnibus conductor who spake English. The latter was simple; the American Mission schools turn out Englishspeaking boys by hundreds, and the Egyptian is a born 'bus conductor. But it was not so easy to find a hall-porter who understood what the English said, and understood what she said, and who did not promise too much. Flora soon found out that the English expected promises to be kept, and left the hotel if they were not kept.
The first hotel-porter she had was a tall, fine-looking man, who claimed to have been an officer in the Austrian Army. He was a good porter, because he was autocratic and dignified ; he laid down the law to visitors as if he had been the hall. porter at Shepheard's Hotel; he made them pay good rates, which yet were cheap for Egypt. But one day Flora found the autocrat in a most undignified position-he was lying on
the doormat dead-drunk. When he came to, he was ordered out of the house with much Italian vituperation. He defied her : she went to her office and fetched a revolver; he was not impressed, he had such confidence in the British régime, But when she opened fire he fled incontinently to fetch the police to help him to get his baggage. Flora would not allow either him or the policeman into the hotel, and when the man of law attempted to force an entrance beat him over the head with the revolver butt till he desisted. The policeman, being an Egyptian, was too afraid of responsibility to do any more; and there being no foreign police in the place, she remained mistress of the situation, with proceedings in two Consular Courts, and the Mixed Court, at Cairo, hanging over her head.
I could speak Italian to Flora, so we got along like a house on fire. If any new people arrived before eleven a.m., and the porter was not there to interpret for them, she would come to me in her night-dress and a Levantine wrapper, with hair à la Medusa, to get me to interpret.
Before we left Egypt, we grew accustomed to being at hotels where we and the landlord had no common language. At the Fayum hotel the landlord only spoke Greek and Arabic : he had sent away the English-speaking porter, on whom he relied, with some other English people to Lake Moeris. We waited till some one with a language for each of us came along. Finally we made our terms with the cook, who could speak Italian. And whenever we wanted anything the cook was relieved by the landlord in the kitchen, and came to wait on us. At Damietta we could not see our landlady at all. She was immured in the harem, but she sent her pretty daughter, who was dressed quite like a European, except that she wore heavy anklets on her daintily slippered feet. She was, I suspect, a Christian of sorts, though she only spoke Arabic and wished to make us all share one large room.
The best hotel at which we stayed, the Cataract at Assuan, had few humours, except those which arose out of the behaviour of prosaic people suddenly pitchforked into such
operatic surroundings. Fancy the feelings of a worthy business man from Perth, whose devotion to Liberal principles had given him a title, at never being able to come into the hotel without having his shapeless boots Alicked with ostrich feathers by beautiful Nubian boys in long white gowns and tall red tarbooshes. As he never went any distance, but spent his time in trotting in and out of the compound, he was dusted about a hundred times a day, in spite of his deprecations in broad Scots. The hotel had other humours, such as a Christmas-tree for a body of visitors which did not include a single child under twenty-one years of age, and turning down the lights when the ices came round, because the frozen sweetness representing Egyptian mythological incidents had electric lights inserted in each pièce de résistance. They made a very fine effect as they were carried round by coal-black Nubians with snow-white dresses and teeth.
Some one had a George Edwardes eye for effects at this hotel, which was built on natural terraces of Assuan granite sloping down to the Nile. The belvedere lounge at the back commanded a view of the broad pool below the cataract swirling round polished black rocks; of the ruined Roman city of Elephantine and the island palm groves; and of the golden sands and hills of the Libyan shore. The sun set directly behind this masterpiece of nature's scene-painting ; and in order that the visitors might enjoy it, and indulge in many afternoon teas, which were extras, the astute creator of the great Cataract Hotel had built a stately lounge, a kind of colonnade with Moorish arches, which had its ceiling (and its sides, when sun or wind needed excluding) covered with the gorgeous appliqué work in which the Arab tent-maker delights. Here all sorts of unsuitable people used to assemble every afternoon and, when they had gorged their teas, crowd to the balustrade and apostrophise, without knowing it, the death of Osiris. The suitable people were more occupied. If I had got home from my expeditions, I always stayed with the unsuitable, burning into my brain the pageant of the Egyptian evening—the rainbow hues of