The Quest of the Sacred Slipper
1. The Phantom Scimitar
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
"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.