Page images

WOMEN MOURNING. This photo was taken at lusor on the Day of the Conscrip:ion. The women are weeping because their sons have not been pronounced p. 123]

physically unfit to serve their country.

by the bed and the washing-stand; and light was almost as scarce, for the windows were closely grated with meshrebiya work. The hygiene of that hotel was one of the dark spots of the earth. Our shifts for food must come into the chapter on Damietta.

The Fayum hotels had humours of their own. At the first one we tried to go to in Medinet Fayum, the hotel boots who took us round and could speak Italian, refused to let us contemplate staying there. He said, " It wouldn't do for you. The insects alone" That was sufficient, though its arrangements interested me, for it consisted of a square hall which served all purposes except sleeping, with a gallery round it, and a staircase wandering up one side. The bedrooms opened off the gallery, and the kitchens and so on off the ground floor-an excellent arrangement for a seaside bungalow. Then we struck the principal hotel, described above, except that I forgot to say that the residents took their meals in the billiard-room, divided from the kitchen by the bar. Foreigners, when there were any, had their meals in one of the bedrooms.

But this hotel had an original and fascinating annex on the shores of Lake Kurun, which involved an hour or so by train, and an hour or two's drive at the end of it. There you slept in tents or native huts, and dined in the upper part of a twostoreyed marquee, of which the bottom part was of substantial wood-work in case the lake suddenly rose, when I suppose the tents and the huts would float away, and the staff take refuge in the dining-room till they could be boated away. It looked as if it ought to be a good place for fishing and duckshooting, though there were no sporting touts about. It also looked as if it might be in the centre of Africa, living in tents on a patch of lawn surrounded by reeds twenty feet high. This is an excellent place to send people to, whose great desire when they go to a foreign country is to find a place which has no buildings to distinguish it from the backwoods of Middlesex.

The sight of even an antique temple shocks them. They say it looks too civilised. It is nothing to them that the civilisation broke off in a barbaric invasion of two thousand years ago. They attach a prairie value to sight-seeing. CI have purposely left Cairo to the end. We tried various hotels there. Two were pre-eminent for their humours.

One was kept by a German, who, as usual, was liberal with his food, and had good rooms in an excellent position, but who conducted his hotel with German indifference to refinement. I shall never forget coming down the first morning and discovering the leprous-looking Berberine who was under-waiter, besides being boots, cutting the bread into slices for breakfast. He was holding the loaf in hands white with his complaint

, but restored to their original hue by dirt.) It was winter-time, so we had the opportunity of learning that his real value lay in the skill with which he humoured the capricious gas of Cairo. The other Arab waiter was quite a good one, but he was generally in prison. We had a succession of excellent Swiss waiters. The proprietor's advertisements must have been very well-worded; they all came for a week's trial, and left at the end of the week to go to some place like the Savoy. We found one of them secondin-command of the servants of the Cataract Hotel when we got there. The leprous-looking man was also doorkeeper ; there was a good staircase for him to sleep under there. We were on the verge of going to another hotel of the same primeval class, but were warned off by a friendly dragoman, who told us that we could not go there because it was full of Englishmen's darlings.

There was another hotel in Cairo to which we went, where the rooms and the food were excellent, but the upstairs service was whimsical. We mostly fell into the hands of a Berberine named Mohammed. Like many Berberines, he could be a good servant ; like most of them, he was full of bad tricks. He was quite unable to leave machinery alone. He turned the handles of your kodaks, wasting the unborn films, and put the typewriter out of gear. This was too much. Having recently had a successful battle with a typewriter agent who wished to charge me twenty-five shillings for putting in a new main-spring, I told the proprietor that he must have it put

right. He had witnessed the battle and felt shy of typewriter agents. He said there was an Armenian gentleman in the house who understood typewriters. Might he look at the machine and see if it was necessary to send for the agent? Of course I acquiesced. He put it right with the skill of an operator. I asked him how he knew about it.

"I am an importer," he said. “I must have imported and sold twenty-five of these machines--the Williams-SOI make a point of understanding them.”

He was, I learned, one of the principal merchants of Cairo. Mohammed had many minor faults. My wife caught him wiping the washstand with her fine face sponge, and I found him polishing the floor with the Wren's paste I had given him for cleaning my brown boots, because it gave him less trouble than beeswax. He was finally sent away for twisting the Austrian chambermaid's hands behind her and almost dislocating her right arm. He had up to this contented himself with pinching her when she would not do his work for him. Yet he was a pleasant boy when you called him to do anything for you under your own eye. Berberines are, I fear, guileful.

The Egyptian climate is conducive to indolence in servants. I had three packing-cases which I wished to be kept dry for sending some of my curios home. I asked Mohammed when I arrived at the hotel to put them down in the basement of another part of the hotel. He put them in the garden behind the fence, because it was less trouble, and they were there still, with the ichneumons hunting rats over them, when I asked for them three months afterwards. But the climate is so dry that they had not suffered-I could almost have left the tall silk hat I bought for calling on the Khedive out in the garden. When I was going away the head Arab waiter expressed a great desire to have this hat as he learned that I was not going to take it back to England. I did not suppose he was going to call on the Khedive. I wondered if he was going to wear it at the Shem-en-Neseem bank holiday, or merely going to hire it out to Englishmen who wished to call on the Khedive and had not brought a hat with them. I gave him a highly checked golfing suit at the same time, and hoped that he would wear them together. He was an admirable servant-head-waiter in the season and chef in the off-season. He gave me a great deal of advice upon curios.

At the great hotels there are humours under the surface, but the general impression is one of much dignity and smart

There is always a row of smart dragomans standing or sitting outside ; there is a grand person in a short bolero and wide breeches of fine-faced cloth, generally scarlet, with a gold-laced waistcoat to match, who sees people into their carriages ; there are two very smart-looking boys dressed in scarlet and white, like the waiters, who dust the boots of every one who comes into the hotel with ostrich-feather brooms; there is a large German porter in an appropriate uniform, who can answer questions in any of the chief languages; and inside there are a swarm of clean, well-setup, good-looking Arab or Berberine waiters in spotless white gowns, with scarlet slippers, sashes, and tarbooshes, who have charming manners and glide about like ghosts. The entrances to these hotels are generally more or less Oriental in their decorations. Two or three of them have charming suites of Arab halls. They are softly and richly carpeted; they have fine ball-rooms, in which they give dances for their visitors, and those of the other chief hotels, once or twice a week ; their meals are luxurious, if not always successful ; everything is done in a first-class way. The prices are also firstclass. On paper, spending the season at Cairo means spending it at one of these hotels, but they are deficient in humours; they are all right for people who go to Cairo for the season, but those who go to Cairo to see Egypt will see more in proportion as they get nearer to the Esbekiya.

« PreviousContinue »