Innumerable dhows and row-boats swarmed down, filled with eager salesmen of curios and ostrich plumes. They had not much time in which to bargain, so they made it up in rapid-fire vociferation. One very tall and dignified Arab had as sailor of his craft the most extraordinary creature, just above the lower limit of the human race. He was of a dull coal black, without a single high light on him anywhere, as though he had been sand-papered, had prominent teeth, like those of a baboon, in a wrinkled, wizened monkey face, across which were three tattooed bands, and possessed a little, long-armed, spare figure, bent and wiry. He clambered up and down his mast, fetching things at his master’s behest; leapt nonchalantly for our rail or his own spar, as the case might be, across the staggering abyss; clung so well with his toes that he might almost have been classified with the quadrumana; and between times squatted humped over on the rail, watching us with bright, elfish, alien eyes.
At last the big German sailors bundled the whole variegated horde overside. It was time to go, and our anchor chain was already rumbling in the hawse pipes. They tumbled hastily into their boats; and at once swarmed up their masts, whence they feverishly continued their interrupted bargaining. In fact, so fully embarked on the tides of commerce were they, that they failed to notice the tides of nature widening between us. One old man, in especial, at the very top of his mast, jerked hither and thither by the sea, continued imploringly to offer an utterly ridiculous carved wooden camel long after it was impossible to have completed the transaction should anybody have been moonstruck enough to have desired it. Our ship’s prow swung; and just at sunset, as the lights of Suez were twinkling out one by one, we headed down the Red Sea.
The red sea.
Suez is indeed the gateway to the East. In the Mediterranean often the sea is rough, the winds cold, passengers are not yet acquainted, and hug the saloons or the leeward side of the deck. Once through the canal and all is changed by magic. The air is hot and languid; the ship’s company down to the very scullions appear in immaculate white; the saloon chairs and transoms even are put in white coverings; electric fans hum everywhere; the run on lemon squashes begins; and many quaint and curious customs of the tropics obtain.
For example: it is etiquette that before eight o’clock one may wander the decks at will in one’s pyjamas, converse affably with fair ladies in pigtail and kimono, and be not abashed. But on the stroke of eight bells it is also etiquette to disappear very promptly and to array one’s self for the day; and it is very improper indeed to see or be seen after that hour in the rather extreme negligee of the early morning. Also it becomes the universal custom, or perhaps I should say