George Walker at Suez HTML version

George Walker At Suez
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