Page images
PDF
EPUB

Directly he arrived the little nigger boy, whose duty it was to flick the dust off people's boots with an ostrich feather broom, used to rush forward, and say, “Your lady is in the garden,” or “Your lady is in the summer-house"; while there was an old gardener who followed her about everywhere. One day, when she was sitting in the garden beginning to say good-bye to R, the mosquitoes bit her badly, and she said, “Oh, bother the mosquitoes, I wish they wouldn't bite me so !” A voice—it was the old gardener's --came from just behind them, “Oh, but you are so sweet !".

Agenoria had a German maid for a while, who had been at the Mena House from November to the first of May, and had never once been to the Pyramids. It was not for want of spirit apparently, because Agenoria heard her having an impassioned quarrel with her lovely Arab cook. When she went to see what had happened she found the wall of the servants' hall covered with squashed food. The cook had brought the German girl vol-au-vent, when she wished for roast beef, so she threw it against the wall. The cook-man was heart-broken. The vol-au-vent was probably a lovegage.

This man's weakness was his sweet-tooth. What between him and a sharp little English maid, Agenoria could never keep cakes or sweets for tea. First she called the girl, whose name was very appropriately Swallow. “Swallow," she said, "I am going to put poison into the cakes. I shan't say when, but, if Hassan gets very sick indeed, come and tell me.” Swallow said nothing. Then Agenoria sent for Hassan. "Hassan," she said, " I know you never take the cakes, so it doesn't much matter to you, but I'm going to put poison into them one day." “Oh, madam," he cried," you couldn't do that!"

"But why not? It won't matter to you. I know you don't touch the things, because you told me so."

Then she called the boy Ibrahim, and told him the same thing. And after that she was able to keep her cakes. She said, "I shan't eat the poisoned one. I shall know which cake it is."

Agenoria had another servant at the time, who was a funny, slow old thing, a Syrian woman eaten up with rheumatism. She came one day to ask for a whole holiday.

“What are you going to do with it?" Agenoria inquired. "Go to a restaurant, madam, and have a good dinner.”

On another occasion Agenoria asked the same old woman, who spoke a little queer English, “Won't you have some milk?"

“ No, I can't bear that bullock's milk, madam." She thought it was buffalo's.

When Agenoria first went to Egypt she took out the English servants who had been living with her for some time ; but, after a while, they had constant rows with the native servants.

The man-servant had been a very humble individual in England; but when he was in Egypt it was necessary to have everything fetched for him by the suffragis. One day Agenoria saw a fine little comedy of this going on in the servants' hall. Bond, the butler, was having a meal, and, by stretching backwards, he could have helped himself to the bread he wanted off the sideboard. But he prefered to get up, and walk across the room, to ring the bell for a native to hand it to him. This showed true grandeur and nobility of soul.

One day he was in doubt whether Agenoria wished some sardines to be eaten at some al-fresco meal, and asked in his best manner, "Madame, do you wish me to push these sardines ? " He meant press people to take them.

Whenever the servants were making a noise, and they do sometimes, he used to say, “Madame, it is a perfect babyloon," and he was always talking of "them there A-rabs.” He was not kind to his wife. One night screams of murder came from the window of the room, which he occupied, on the first floor in the servants' quarter. Agenoria ordered the door to be broken open, but the Arabs said, “Leave him alone ; he'll soon throw her out.”

I have said that Egyptian boy-servants are charming up to a certain age, and then go off like a vegetable marrow.

Agenoria had a little Arab boy called Ahmed, trained up from the kitchen. He knew nothing at all when he came to her, but was extremely clever at learning house things. He used lo arrange the table very well, and had a genius for varying things. One day when she was going to have a dinner-party she found the table decorated in the most wonderful way with cypress leaves and oranges. Whenever he was asked how he did this, that, or the other, he used to reply with great dignity, “Me watch Madame much.”

As he grew up he became rather a nuisance, because he paid so much attention to the female element in the house, and was very insubordinate to the housekeeper, while Cromwell Rhodes was away. When R. came back the servants came to him in a body to complain about that boy. When he was taken to task about it he answered insolently, “Oh, I cannot stand those women." This was at the great age of fourteen. R. replied with the wellknown Egyptian formula, “You had better stand outside the gate in the future.” Agenoria saw him about a year afterwards, a meek, thin thing, though he had been extremely fat when he could not “ stand those women."

It was high time that he stood outside the door, for, when Agenoria was going into her new palace, she sent in her European servants to see that the native servants cleaned the floors properly. Ahmed made them understand that he did not mean to wash the floors. The maids flew back to Agenoria. She could not speak much Arabic in those days, but she followed them as soon as she could, and with about two words of Arabic, and a haughty mien, intimidated him into doing the work, in spite of his indignant protest of “Why should I? It was done three weeks ago."

CHAPTER VII

Doing Business with Egyptians

“IF

F you think that I am harsh in my estimate of the

Egyptians,” said Cromwell Rhodes, “I recommend you to go and try to do business with a Mudir, something that should only take five minutes to do, when you have a train leaving in two hours. The Mudir will welcome you with any amount of palaver, as his oldest friend. While he is still palavering, before you have time to get a word in about your business, somebody else will come in, and the same thing will happen; you will be quite forgotten. There is nothing to do but sit the other man out, and try and get a word in when he is gone, if no one else has come in to repeat the performance. If you do get as far as discussing your business, every one in the room proceeds to discuss it; they all agree that it is a good thing. Still nothing is done ; no instruction is given. The only thing to do is to pay the Coptic clerk a bribe to worry the Mudir in every leisure moment."

Yet the Mudir cannot be accused of being unsympathetic. If a prisoner is brought before him, both he and the trooper in charge of the prisoner address the villain in affectionate tones as 'Oh, my brother !' In Egypt the man in authority, though he may use frantic language and bully a subordinate one moment, treats him as a friend the next.

Arabs never pay a debt until they are obliged; they would rather pay a lawyer double the money so as to have the satisfaction of not paying the debt. R. lent an Arab some money on mortgage; he has to bring a lawsuit every year to get the interest; and the Arab has to pay R.'s lawyer

and his own lawyer as well as the interest. The Arabs are not a business people at all. R. told me that he had never known an Arab who had borrowed money pay it when it was due. They think it is oppression to try and make them pay, and immediately say that interest on money is usury, and contrary to their religion. When an Arab does not want to do a thing, it is always contrary to his religion. R. had a servant who did not like the taste of some medicine he was told to take. He said there was pig in it.

The Egyptians are born cheats; they put water in their cotton and put stones in the cotton bags, which is worse, for they break the machinery when the cotton is being ginned. Watering the cotton not only makes it weigh heavier, but liable to spontaneous combustion when it dries. That is why Egyptian cotton fetches such poor prices unless it has been inspected by British inspectors. The native inspector takes a bribe to pass frauds. R. asked a Greek cotton-buyer how he managed to deal with the Egyptian. The Greek said: “The Egyptian is never satisfied unless he is cheating you ; he cheats so hard that he does not notice when you are cheating him. While he is watering the cotton I change the weights and put in lead ones.” They ought to have a new proverb “When Greek meets Egyptian," or perhaps it should be “When Egyptian meets Greek”!

So incorrigible are the Egyptians that there is as much competition to get the boys out of the Ghezira Reformatory for servants as there is to get convicts out of the prison at Khartům. Nobody else has been taught how to work. R. found the best plan was to start by treating an Egyptian as if he had no honour; then you were sometimes surprised to find how much he did have.

The lady in charge of the slave-home tries to teach the slaves how to work while they are there, which is very difficult, and then marry them off to give them a home. There is no difficulty about this: they are taught to make such good wives that the fame of their excellence reached the ears of the Khedive, and this incident actually happened when R. was in the office talking to the lady in charge. The

« PreviousContinue »