List Of Contents | Contents of George Walker At Suez, by Anthony Trollope
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from the 1864 Chapman and Hall "Tales of all Countries" edition.


by Anthony Trollope

Of all the spots on the world's surface that I, George Walker, of
Friday Street, London, have ever visited, Suez in Egypt, at the head
of the Red Sea, is by far the vilest, the most unpleasant, and the
least interesting.  There are no women there, no water, and no
vegetation.  It is surrounded, and indeed often filled, by a world
of sand.  A scorching sun is always overhead; and one is domiciled
in a huge cavernous hotel, which seems to have been made purposely
destitute of all the comforts of civilised life.  Nevertheless, in
looking back upon the week of my life which I spent there I always
enjoy a certain sort of triumph;--or rather, upon one day of that
week, which lends a sort of halo not only to my sojourn at Suez, but
to the whole period of my residence in Egypt.

I am free to confess that I am not a great man, and that, at any
rate in the earlier part of my career, I had a hankering after the
homage which is paid to greatness.  I would fain have been a popular
orator, feeding myself on the incense tendered to me by thousands;
or failing that, a man born to power, whom those around him were
compelled to respect, and perhaps to fear.  I am not ashamed to
acknowledge this, and I believe that most of my neighbours in Friday
Street would own as much were they as candid and open-hearted as

It is now some time since I was recommended to pass the first four
months of the year in Cairo because I had a sore-throat.  The doctor
may have been right, but I shall never divest myself of the idea
that my partners wished to be rid of me while they made certain
changes in the management of the firm.  They would not otherwise
have shown such interest every time I blew my nose or relieved my
huskiness by a slight cough;--they would not have been so intimate
with that surgeon from St. Bartholomew's who dined with them twice
at the Albion; nor would they have gone to work directly that my
back was turned, and have done those very things which they could
not have done had I remained at home.  Be that as it may, I was
frightened and went to Cairo, and while there I made a trip to Suez
for a week.

I was not happy at Cairo, for I knew nobody there, and the people at
the hotel were, as I thought, uncivil.  It seemed to me as though I
were allowed to go in and out merely by sufferance; and yet I paid
my bill regularly every week.  The house was full of company, but
the company was made up of parties of twos and threes, and they all
seemed to have their own friends.  I did make attempts to overcome
that terrible British exclusiveness, that noli me tangere with which
an Englishman arms himself; and in which he thinks it necessary to
envelop his wife; but it was in vain, and I found myself sitting
down to breakfast and dinner, day after day, as much alone as I
should do if I called for a chop at a separate table in the
Cathedral Coffee-house.  And yet at breakfast and dinner I made one
of an assemblage of thirty or forty people.  That I thought dull.

But as I stood one morning on the steps before the hotel, bethinking
myself that my throat was as well as ever I remembered it to be, I
was suddenly slapped on the back.  Never in my life did I feel a
more pleasant sensation, or turn round with more unaffected delight
to return a friend's greeting.  It was as though a cup of water had
been handed to me in the desert.  I knew that a cargo of passengers
for Australia had reached Cairo that morning, and were to be passed
on to Suez as soon as the railway would take them, and did not
therefore expect that the greeting had come from any sojourner in
Egypt.  I should perhaps have explained that the even tenor of our
life at the hotel was disturbed some four times a month by a flight
through Cairo of a flock of travellers, who like locusts eat up all
that there was eatable at the Inn for the day.  They sat down at the
same tables with us, never mixing with us, having their separate
interests and hopes, and being often, as I thought, somewhat loud
and almost selfish in the expression of them.  These flocks
consisted of passengers passing and repassing by the overland route
to and from India and Australia; and had I nothing else to tell, I
should delight to describe all that I watched of their habits and
manners--the outward bound being so different in their traits from
their brethren on their return.  But I have to tell of my own
triumph at Suez, and must therefore hasten on to say that on turning
round quickly with my outstretched hand, I found it clasped by John

"Well, Robinson, is this you?"  "Holloa, Walker, what are you doing
here?"  That of course was the style of greeting.  Elsewhere I
should not have cared much to meet John Robinson, for he was a man
who had never done well in the world.  He had been in business and
connected with a fairly good house in Sise Lane, but he had married
early, and things had not exactly gone well with him.  I don't think
the house broke, but he did; and so he was driven to take himself
and five children off to Australia.  Elsewhere I should not have
cared to come across him, but I was positively glad to be slapped on
the back by anybody on that landing-place in front of Shepheard's
Hotel at Cairo.

I soon learned that Robinson with his wife and children, and indeed
with all the rest of the Australian cargo, were to be passed on to
Suez that afternoon, and after a while I agreed to accompany their
party.  I had made up my mind, on coming out from England, that I
would see all the wonders of Egypt, and hitherto I had seen nothing.
I did ride on one day some fifteen miles on a donkey to see the
petrified forest; but the guide, who called himself a dragoman, took
me wrong or cheated me in some way.  We rode half the day over a
stony, sandy plain, seeing nothing, with a terrible wind that filled
my mouth with grit, and at last the dragoman got off.  "Dere," said
he, picking up a small bit of stone, "Dis is de forest made of
stone.  Carry that home."  Then we turned round and rode back to
Cairo.  My chief observation as to the country was this--that
whichever way we went, the wind blew into our teeth.  The day's work
cost me five-and-twenty shillings, and since that I had not as yet
made any other expedition.  I was therefore glad of an opportunity
of going to Suez, and of making the journey in company with an

At that time the railway was open, as far as I remember, nearly half
the way from Cairo to Suez.  It did not run four or five times a
day, as railways do in other countries, but four or five times a
month.  In fact, it only carried passengers on the arrival of these
flocks passing between England and her Eastern possessions.  There
were trains passing backwards and forwards constantly, as I
perceived in walking to and from the station; but, as I learned,
they carried nothing but the labourers working on the line, and the
water sent into the Desert for their use.  It struck me forcibly at
the time that I should not have liked to have money in that

Well; I went with Robinson to Suez.  The journey, like everything
else in Egypt, was sandy, hot, and unpleasant.  The railway
carriages were pretty fair, and we had room enough; but even in them
the dust was a great nuisance.  We travelled about ten miles an
hour, and stopped about an hour at every ten miles.  This was
tedious, but we had cigars with us and a trifle of brandy and water;
and in this manner the railway journey wore itself away.  In the
middle of the night, however, we were moved from the railway
carriages into omnibuses, as they were called, and then I was not
comfortable.  These omnibuses were wooden boxes, placed each upon a
pair of wheels, and supposed to be capable of carrying six
passengers.  I was thrust into one with Robinson, his wife and five
children, and immediately began to repent of my good-nature in
accompanying them.  To each vehicle were attached four horses or
mules, and I must acknowledge that as on the railway they went as
slow as possible, so now in these conveyances, dragged through the
sand, they went as fast as the beasts could be made to gallop.  I
remember the Fox Tally-ho coach on the Birmingham road when Boyce
drove it, but as regards pace the Fox Tally-ho was nothing to these
machines in Egypt.  On the first going off I was jolted right on to
Mrs. R. and her infant; and for a long time that lady thought that
the child had been squeezed out of its proper shape; but at last we
arrived at Suez, and the baby seemed to me to be all right when it
was handed down into the boat at Suez.

The Robinsons were allowed time to breakfast at that cavernous
hotel--which looked to me like a scheme to save the expense of the
passengers' meal on board the ship--and then they were off.  I shook
hands with him heartily as I parted with him at the quay, and wished
him well through all his troubles.  A man who takes a wife and five
young children out into a colony, and that with his pockets but
indifferently lined, certainly has his troubles before him.  So he
has at home, no doubt; but, judging for myself, I should always
prefer sticking to the old ship as long as there is a bag of
biscuits in the locker.  Poor Robinson!  I have never heard a word
of him or his since that day, and sincerely trust that the baby was
none the worse for the little accident in the box.

And now I had the prospect of a week before me at Suez, and the
Robinsons had not been gone half an hour before I began to feel that
I should have been better off even at Cairo.  I secured a bedroom at
the hotel--I might have secured sixty bedrooms had I wanted them--
and then went out and stood at the front door, or gate.  It is a
large house, built round a quadrangle, looking with one front
towards the head of the Red Sea, and with the other into and on a
sandy, dead-looking, open square.  There I stood for ten minutes,
and finding that it was too hot to go forth, returned to the long
cavernous room in which we had breakfasted.  In that long cavernous
room I was destined to eat all my meals for the next six days.  Now
at Cairo I could, at any rate, see my fellow-creatures at their
food.  So I lit a cigar, and began to wonder whether I could survive
the week.  It was now clear to me that I had done a very rash thing
in coming to Suez with the Robinsons.

Somebody about the place had asked me my name, and I had told it
plainly--George Walker.  I never was ashamed of my name yet, and
never had cause to be.  I believe at this day it will go as far in
Friday Street as any other.  A man may be popular, or he may not.
That depends mostly on circumstances which are in themselves
trifling.  But the value of his name depends on the way in which he
is known at his bank.  I have never dealt in tea spoons or gravy
spoons, but my name will go as far as another name.  "George
Walker," I answered, therefore, in a tone of some little authority,
to the man who asked me, and who sat inside the gate of the hotel in
an old dressing-gown and slippers.

That was a melancholy day with me, and twenty times before dinner
did I wish myself back at Cairo.  I had been travelling all night,
and therefore hoped that I might get through some little time in
sleeping, but the mosquitoes attacked me the moment I laid myself
down.  In other places mosquitoes torment you only at night, but at
Suez they buzz around you, without ceasing, at all hours.  A
scorching sun was blazing overhead, and absolutely forbade me to
leave the house.  I stood for a while in the verandah, looking down
at the few small vessels which were moored to the quay, but there
was no life in them; not a sail was set, not a boatman or a sailor
was to be seen, and the very water looked as though it were hot.  I
could fancy the glare of the sun was cracking the paint on the
gunwales of the boats.  I was the only visitor in the house, and
during all the long hours of the morning it seemed as though the
servants had deserted it.

I dined at four; not that I chose that hour, but because no choice
was given to me.  At the hotels in Egypt one has to dine at an hour
fixed by the landlord, and no entreaties will suffice to obtain a
meal at any other.  So at four I dined, and after dinner was again
reduced to despair.

I was sitting in the cavernous chamber almost mad at the prospect of
the week before me, when I heard a noise as of various feet in the
passage leading from the quadrangle.  Was it possible that other
human beings were coming into the hotel--Christian human beings at
whom I could look, whose voices I could hear, whose words I could
understand, and with whom I might possibly associate?  I did not
move, however, for I was still hot, and I knew that my chances might
be better if I did not show myself over eager for companionship at
the first moment.  The door, however, was soon opened, and I saw
that at least in one respect I was destined to be disappointed.  The
strangers who were entering the room were not Christians--if I might
judge by the nature of the garments in which they were clothed.

The door had been opened by the man in an old dressing-gown and
slippers, whom I had seen sitting inside the gate.  He was the Arab
porter of the hotel, and as he marshalled the new visitors into the
room, I heard him pronounce some sound similar to my own name, and
perceived that he pointed me out to the most prominent person of
those who then entered the apartment.  This was a stout, portly man,
dressed from head to foot in Eastern costume of the brightest
colours.  He wore, not only the red fez cap which everybody wears--
even I had accustomed myself to a fez cap--but a turban round it, of
which the voluminous folds were snowy white.  His face was fat, but
not the less grave, and the lower part of it was enveloped in a
magnificent beard, which projected round it on all sides, and
touched his breast as he walked.  It was a grand grizzled beard, and
I acknowledged at a moment that it added a singular dignity to the
appearance of the stranger.  His flowing robe was of bright colours,
and the under garment which fitted close round his breast, and then
descended, becoming beneath his sash a pair of the loosest
pantaloons--I might, perhaps, better describe them as bags--was a
rich tawny silk.  These loose pantaloons were tied close round his
legs, above the ankle, and over a pair of scrupulously white
stockings, and on his feet he wore a pair of yellow slippers.  It
was manifest to me at a glance that the Arab gentleman was got up in
his best raiment, and that no expense had been spared on his suit.

And here I cannot but make a remark on the personal bearing of these
Arabs.  Whether they be Arabs or Turks, or Copts, it is always the
same.  They are a mean, false, cowardly race, I believe.  They will
bear blows, and respect the man who gives them.  Fear goes further
with them than love, and between man and man they understand nothing
of forbearance.  He who does not exact from them all that he can

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