Page images

The members had to give receipts for the gloves, and received their IOUS back when they returned them.

About that time an American lady got up private operaticals. The opera was about ancient Egypt, and the Khedive lent her all the jewellery that had been made for the great performance of Aida, But he made her give receipts. It is not surprising that Ismail's mind ran in this direction, considering how he had been plundered by the world. One imitation tiara worn by the Queen had cost him two hundred pounds. It nearly caused bloodshed between the two leading ladies in the amateur theatricals' opera to decide who should wear it.

Among other reforms, Ismail Pasha decided that Egypt ought to have a Navy. He appointed an Admiral of the Fleet, but the Admiral, who was not a sailor, did not know what to do. Ismail told him to go round the Mediterranean paying visits, especially to Malta. “You'll find the British Navy there," he said ; "if you imitate them you must be right.”

The Admiral cruised about till he was afraid to stay at sea any longer, and came back in six days saying: " Malta mafeesh"-I cannot find Malta.

One night Ismail was giving a party, and the vegetables which he required did not arrive in time. He sent telegraphic instructions to caution the station-master with fifty strokes of the bastinado on the soles of his feet, which that functionary duly received. It afterwards appeared that the vegetables had never been delivered at that station. The stationmaster's intelligence and zeal, however, were so quickened by the caution he had received that he rose to be the Administrator of one of the great Departments of State, and lived to be the devoted servant of three Khedives. He was a Copt.

[ocr errors]


The Man About Town in Egypt


NE of the best stories I heard about Johnnies in Egypt

was that of the muezzin. The muezzin is the man who gives the Azam, or call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque (when it has a minaret)-five times a day, at daybreak, at noon, at afternoon, at sunset, and when it is quite dark. He calls out in a sonorous voice six different invocations, all of them twice, and one of them four times. As he generally has a good voice and intones charmingly, the muezzin is a pleasing feature in the landscape except at daybreak, when some people want to sleep undisturbed. When Johnny Lavercombe first went to Cairo it required all Lord Cromer's influence to shield him for throwing stones at the muezzin "for making such a row at such a ridiculous hour in the morning." That was the way it looked to Johnny Lavercombe.

I never saw Johnny Lavercombe which is not his real name—till long residence in Egypt had made him a wiser man, though he still sometimes used some language, as when he fell through the prompter's trap in the stage at the Cairo A.D.C.s' theatricals. I went with him for a drive in a cab; it was a filthy, tumble-to-pieces cab, with weeds of horses; the man drove into everything and everybody. I never saw such a dirty, ragged, disreputable, pock-marked, bow-legged, cross-eyed creature. When we got out, Lavercombe expressed his mind in Arabic, and I noticed that the driver looked absolutely crushed. “What did you say to him, Lavercombe ?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing. I just told him that the only decent thing

[ocr errors]
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

about his cab was its beautiful driver." Egyptians are positively wilted by sarcasm when they understand it.

Lavercombe had something to do with irrigation, I think, because I used to be told about his famous suppression of a swaggering Egyptian called Sheikh Ali something, who had big estate that filled a whole loop of the Nile. An emissary came from Sheikh Ali with some preposterous request, and was very "large” about it. Lavercombe took him to the window.

"Do you see the loop the Nile makes here?” he asked "making almost an island of the Sheikh's estate?”

“Yes," said the emissary.

"And do you know why the Nile makes such a tremendous loop here?"

“No," said the emissary.

"Because, when God made that river, He said, 'I daren't go through Sheikh Ali's land.'”

When Sheikh Ali heard this he conceived a great respect for the new Inspector of Irrigation.

Lavercombe's Coptic clerk said that a silent man never learns a language; that the reason the Egyptian speaks languages so well is because he practises so much that he gets the sound of the language. He thought volubility was a virtue.

In the old days when the Hôtel Angleterre, which is now the Church and Family Hotel, was the most up-to-date place in Cairo, the Johnnies who were staying there used to turn out every night and make a row in the streets. You can still see occasional boabs, the door-porters, sleeping on their angeribs, or native bedsteads, outside shops in Cairo. In those days there were whole streets of them doing it, though they prefered sleeping in a packing-box if they got the chance. Packing-cases big enough to hold a piano are ordinary incidents of the Cairo pavement in the best regulated thoroughfares.

Lavercombe found a boab asleep in a packing-box one night. With a mixture of skill and strength, he turned it over and danced on it, and then jumped down and assumed

« PreviousContinue »