I was not the only passenger aboard the S.S. Mandalay who perceived the disturbance and wondered what it might portend and from whence proceed. A goodly number of passengers were joining the ship at Port Said. I was lounging against the rail, pipe in mouth, lazily wondering, with a large vagueness.
What a heterogeneous rabble it was!-a brightly coloured rabble, but the colours all were dirty, like the town and the canal. Only the sky was clean; the sky and the hard, merciless sunlight which spared nothing of the uncleanness, and defied one even to think of the term dear to tourists, 'picturesque.' I was in that kind of mood. All the natives appeared to be pockmarked; all the Europeans greasy with perspiration.
But what was the stir about?
I turned to the dark, bespectacled young man who leaned upon the rail beside me. From the first I had taken to Mr. Ahmad Ahmadeen.
'There is some kind of undercurrent of excitement among the natives,' I said, 'a sort of subdued Greek chorus is audible. What's it all about?'
Mr. Ahmadeen smiled. After a gaunt fashion, he was a handsome man and had a pleasant smile.
'Probably,' he replied, 'some local celebrity is joining the ship.'
I stared at him curiously.
'Any idea who he is?' (The soul of the copyhunter is a restless soul.)
A group of men dressed in semi-European fashion-that is, in European fashion save for their turbans, which were green-passed close to us along the deck.
Ahmadeen appeared not to have heard the question.
The disturbance, which could only be defined as a subdued uproar, but could be traced to no particular individual or group, grew momentarily louder-and died away. It was only when it had completely ceased that one realized how pronounced it had been-how altogether peculiar, secret; like that incomprehensible murmuring in a bazaar when, unknown to the insular visitor, a reputed saint is present.
Then it happened; the inexplicable incident which, though I knew it not, heralded the coming of strange things, and the dawn of a new power; which should set up its secret standards in England, which should flood Europe and the civilized world with wonder.
A shrill scream marked the overture-a scream of fear and of pain, which dropped to a groan, and moaned out into the silence of which it was the cause.
'My God! what's that?'
I started forward. There was a general crowding rush, and a darkly tanned and bearded man came on board, carrying a brown leather case. Behind him surged those who bore the victim.
'It's one of the lascars!'