About this time Suez, Alexandria and Cairo were full of war correspondents. Some of them in pretty bad shape after a month or two in Eritrea, and over the Ethiopian border, Webb Miller, Bill Courtney, Knickerbocker, and Floyd Gibbons among them. The evening, I met Floyd at the St. James in Cairo, he wes wearing a beautiful new pearl-grey fedora hat. He threw it on a chair at a vacant table and sat down with me. When we had finished dinner Floyd picked up his headgear and looked at it in dismay.
"Who the devil sat on my hat?" he said.
An Englishman at the next table got up.
"That is not your hat, sir, and nobody sat on it," he said indignantly.
Floyd's hat was on the next chair.
The heat drove me from Cairo to Alexandria, where at least I could get some swimming. I spent most of my time in the water, for it was useless to dress. In an hour a linen suit would be soaking. Around five one afternoon I scraped ny shin on a submerged rock. By midnight I could not walk. My leg had begun to swell. By morning I was unconscious. A doctor came and shot some kind of serum into me, but in spite of six more injections the leg kept swelling. Then he said I would have to go to the hospital at once. I refused, because the barman at the hotel where I was staying had the same thing happen to him and went to the hospital to wake up the next morning minus a foot. Then the doctor said he thought my leg should be sawed off at the knee. If not, the poison, which was going up, would kill me likely as not. I was in great pain, but I refused to go to hospital.
After a consultation with four other doctors, mine hired me a day and a night nurse. To the night nurse, a Greek, I owe at least a foot, for, disobeying the doctor's orders, she opened my leg and took a gallon of pus out of it. When I waa able to hobble on a crutch as far as the mirror I saw myself naked. From my six weeks bout with Egyptian microbes, on a diet of grepefruit juice, I had acquired an alarmingly ethereal aspect, and the knowledge of how it feels to have a shape like Ghandi.
Some time before this I had applied at the Hedjaz legation in Cairo for permission to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. When word came through that my request had been granted I made plans to join the party of a friend of mine, a Moroccan Kaid, in Cairo, and make the Hadj with him the following March. But my doctor said I was in no physical condition to endure the intolerable heat of an Egyptian summer, let alone attempt the Hadj, which is a pretty strenuous affair. He said I needed a long sea voyage, and told me to put all thought of Mecca out of my mind until I was thoroughly fit again. Recalling that the hardships of the pilgrimage had been responsible for the death of my friend Etienne Dinet, the orientalist painter, I took his advice.
On March the 17th my boat slipped in past the statue of Liberty. Ten years had passed since I had last seen that skyline...it seemed to have spent them creeping higher into the clouds.
Alice was on the docks waiting for me,—a surprise. We had planned to meet in California.
I am a light traveller. My baggage, after ten years abroad, was an old army steamer-trunk and two valises. Alice and I had tramped a quarter of a custom house mile before I located it, corraled under the letter I. When the inspector came along I noticed the green bow pinned to his lapel. He noticed the spray of shamrock in my buttonhole and wanted to know how I came by it. I explained that a friend in Tipperary sent me shamrock once a year, and gave him half of my spray. He looked at my valises and then at me. I got out my keys. I had nothing to declare, I declared. Without a word he chalked a heiroglyph on both of them and grinned when I looked surprised.
"The Irish have a break coming the 17th of March," he said.
He started reading the labels on the steamer-trunk. It was pretty well messed-up with them. As he chalked it, he remarked:
"This old trunk has sure been places a long way from Tipperary."