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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 flicked 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
sunset; the afterglow which must have suggested the Hebrew conception of the jewelled floor of heaven that we have in the Bible ; and the night sunsets—the fires which kept the sky red long after the blackness had fallen upon the earth. I suppose that the reason why Egypt has such gorgeous sunsets is because it is such a dusty country. The particles of dust in the air give the sinking sun the same chance as the moisture in the air of Wales.
But there was one attitude of adoration which I found difficult to adopt-the laying the head over sideways to get new colours on the water, when you had exhausted your first fine careless rapture with your head in the ordinary biped's position. It is a fact that it makes the water look azure instead of silver. I did it for half a minute one afternoon, when every one was making a fool of himself to amuse the company; and I think that if I could have had the loggia entirely to myself I should have lain down on the floor with my right cheek on the tiles looking through the balcony railings, to see if the sky was as amenable to scientific observation as the tourist-ridden Nile.
I suspect that the best hotel at Assuan for humours was the Pension-de-Famille kept by the sister of Charles Neufeldt, the prisoner of the Mahdi. Neufeldt is said to be a Mohammedan; --if he is, it is to his credit that he adheres to the creed which he had adopted to save his life--and the hotel has a nice quiet back looking out on the Bishareen Bazar, where fuzzy-wuzzy sits on the ground between tall heaps of gaily coloured grain, under sheds of African thatch.
Both Khartum and Luxor are richer in hotel humours than Assuan. The Grand Hotel at Khartûm has distinct idiosyncrasies. To begin with, there are rikshas, though there are never any men to pull them, and a donkey has to be outspanned from the blue sheepskin mat which does duty for a saddle in the Sudan. All the rikshas belong to the Grand Hotel, and as drawn by donkeys cost more than Khartum's one cab, in the use of which tourists are handicapped by the cabman's being unable to speak a word of any European language The Grand Hotel has verandahs, and, in theory, a garden all round it; but the garden was still in the making when we were there, and I don't suppose that it is ready yet, because I never saw the gardeners doing anything but saying their prayers. The native servants inside the house hardly ever did anything except have their ears boxed by the proprietor's pretty young Dutch wife. The bedrooms were all built in pairs. This has its advantages for husbands and wives who do not wish to be quite inseparable and can afford the extra room, but it is awkward when the pair is occupied by people of opposite sexes who have no connection with each other. Miss Ireland, for instance, occupied the same bivalve as a witty old Cincinnati Dutchman. Nothing would induce the native servant not to bring her hot water through the Dutchman's bedroom in the morning. And during the day, if neither of them was in, the servants opened the folding doors between the two rooms as wide as they would go. It gave him a familiarity, which he may not have previously enjoyed, with the daintinesses of a particular woman's bedroom and attire, but unfortunately he carried all his travelling belongings in a Gladstone bag and mistrusted the servants, so her opportunities were not the same. The Sudan prides itself on its honesty and freedom from mosquitoes. The servants always left all the bedroom doors wide open to let the breezes of the Blue Nile blow through ; and to ask for a mosquito net brought down a torrent of defence of the Government, which claims to have eradicated the sever-inventive mosquito. But if there is as effective a substitute for dishonesty as there is for mosquitoes, the Sudan might do itself very well; the mosquito is nothing to the Jocal harvester, which makes little ridges like hard, itching blisters all over the unexposed parts of your body.
I really think the Sudanese must be honest, since the standard story there is that nobody will take a servant who has not been in prison, because none of the others have been taught to work, and most of the prisoners are living at the expense of their country only “because they have hit somebody rather hard on the head.” That is the definition.
The chief merit of the hotel in Khartûm was the verandah