At the sôk-el-Abeed it was the hour of the outcry, announced by a blast of trumpets and
the thudding of tom-toms. The traders that until then had been licensed to ply within the
enclosure now put up the shutters of their little booths. The Hebrew pedlar of gems
closed his box and effaced himself, leaving the steps about the well clear for the most
prominent patrons of the market. These hastened to assemble there, surrounding it and
facing outwards, whilst the rest of the crowd was ranged against the southern and western
walls of the enclosure.
Came negro water-carriers in white turbans with aspersers made of palmetto leaves to
sprinkle the ground and lay the dust against the tramp of slaves and buyers. The trumpets
ceased for an instant, then wound a fresh imperious blast and fell permanently silent. The
crowd about the gates fell back to right and left, and very slowly and stately three tall
dalals, dressed from head to foot in white and with immaculate turbans wound about their
heads, advanced into the open space. They came to a halt at the western end of the long
wall, the chief dalal standing slightly in advance of the other two.
The chattering of voices sank upon their advent, it became a hissing whisper, then a faint
drone like that of bees, and then utter silence. In the solemn and grave demeanour of the
dalals there was something almost sacerdotal, so that when that silence fell upon the
crowd the affair took on the aspect of a sacrament.
The chief dalal stood forward a moment as if in an abstraction with downcast eyes; then
with hands outstretched to catch a blessing he raised his voice and began to pray in a
"In the name of Allah the Pitying the Pitiful Who created man from clots of blood! All
that is in the Heavens and in the Earth praiseth Allah, Who is the Mighty, the Wise! His
the kingdom of the Heavens and of the Earth. He maketh alive and killeth, and He hath
power over all things. He is the first and the last, the seen and the unseen, and He
knoweth all things."
"Ameen," intoned the crowd.
"The praise to Him who sent us Mahomet His Prophet to give the world the True Belief,
and curses upon Shaitan the stoned who wages war upon Allah and His children."
"The blessings of Allah and our Lord Mahomet upon this market and upon all who may
buy and sell herein, and may Allah increase their wealth and grant them length of days in
which to praise Him."
"Ameen," replied the crowd, as with a stir and rustle the close ranks relaxed from the
tense attitude of prayer, and each man sought elbow-room.