CHAPTER XXII - SUEZ
I WAS hospitably entertained by the British consul, or agent, as he is there styled. He is the EMPLOYE of the East India Company, and not of the Home Government. Napoleon during his stay of five days at Suez had been the guest of the consul's father, and I was told that the divan in my apartment had been the bed of the great commander.
There are two opinions as to the point at which the Israelites passed the Red Sea. One is, that they traversed only the very small creek at the northern extremity of the inlet, and that they entered the bed of the water at the spot on which Suez now stands; the other, that they crossed the sea from a point eighteen miles down the coast. The Oxford theologians, who, with Milman their professor, * believe that Jehovah conducted His chosen people without disturbing the order of nature, adopt the first view, and suppose that the Israelites passed during an ebb-tide, aided by a violent wind. One among many objections to this supposition is, that the time of a single ebb would not have been sufficient for the passage of that vast multitude of men and beasts, or even for a small fraction of it. Moreover, the creek to the north of this point can be compassed in an hour, and in two hours you can make the circuit of the salt marsh over which the sea may have extended in former times. If, therefore, the Israelites crossed so high up as Suez, the Egyptians, unless infatuated by Divine interference, might easily have recovered their stolen goods from the encumbered fugitives by making a slight detour. The opinion which fixes the point of passage at eighteen miles' distance, and from thence right across the ocean depths to the eastern side of the sea, is supported by the unanimous tradition of the people, whether Christians or Mussulmans, and is consistent with Holy Writ: "the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, AND ON THEIR LEFT." The Cambridge mathematicians seem to think that the Israelites were enabled to pass over dry land by adopting a route not usually subjected to the influx of the sea. This notion is plausible in a merely hydrostatical point of view, and is supposed to have been adopted by most of the Fellows of Trinity, but certainly not by Thorp, who is one of the most amiable of their number. It is difficult to reconcile this theory with the account given in Exodus, unless we can suppose that the words "sea" and "waters" are there used in a sense implying dry land.
* See Milman's "History of the Jews," first edition.
Napoleon when at Suez made an attempt to follow the supposed steps of Moses by passing the creek at this point, but it seems, according to the testimony of the people at Suez, that he and his horsemen managed the matter in a way more resembling the failure of the Egyptians than the success of the Israelites. According to the French account, Napoleon got out of the difficulty by that warrior-like presence of mind which served him so well when the fate of nations depended on the decision of a moment - he ordered his horsemen to disperse in all directions, in order to multiply the chances of finding shallow water, and was thus enabled to discover a line by which he and his people were extricated. The story told by the people of Suez is very different: they declare that Napoleon parted from his horse, got thoroughly submerged, and was only fished out by the assistance of the people on shore.
I bathed twice at the point assigned to the passage of the Israelites, and the second time that I did so I chose the time of low water and tried to walk across, but I soon found myself out of my depth, or at least in water so deep, that I could only advance by swimming.
The dromedary, which had bolted in the Desert, was brought into Suez the day after my arrival, but my pelisse and my pistols, which had been attached to the saddle, had disappeared. These articles were treasures of great importance to me at that time, and I moved the Governor of the town to make all possible exertions for their recovery. He acceded to my wishes as well as he could, and very obligingly imprisoned the first seven poor fellows he could lay his hands on.
At first the Governor acted in the matter from no other motive than that of courtesy to an English traveller, but afterwards, and when he saw the value which I set upon the lost property, he pushed his measures with a degree of alacrity and heat, which seemed to show that he felt a personal interest in the matter. It was supposed either that he expected a large present in the event of succeeding, or that he was striving by all means to trace the property, in order that he might lay his hands on it after my departure.
I went out sailing for some hours, and when I returned I was horrified to find that two men had been bastinadoed by order of the Governor, with a view to force them to a confession of their theft. It appeared, however, that there really was good ground for supposing them guilty, since one of the holsters was actually found in their possession. It was said too (but I could hardly believe it), that whilst one of the men was undergoing the bastinado, his comrade was overheard encouraging him to bear the torment without peaching. Both men, if they had the secret, were resolute in keeping it, and were sent back to their dungeon. I of course took care that there should be no repetition of the torture, at least so long as I remained at Suez.