Suddenly she dropped her hands and hobbled away at a great rate, disappearing finally into the maze of the street beyond. Concluding that she had decided to get quickly home with her great treasure, we commended her discretion and gave our attention to other things.
The drizzle fell uninterruptedly. We had edged sidewise the requisite distance, and were now gathering headway in our long voyage. The quail was beginning to recede and to diminish. Back from the street hastened the figure of the little old woman. She carried a large white cloth, of which she had evidently been in quest. This she unfolded and waved vigorously with both hands. Until we had passed quite from sight she stood there signalling her farewell. Long after we were beyond distinguishing her figure we could catch the flutter of white. Thus that ship’s company, embarking each on his Great Adventure, far from home and friends, received their farewell, a very genuine farewell, from one poor old woman. B. ventured the opinion that it was the best thing we had bought with our French money.
The time of times to approach Port Said is just at the fall of dusk. Then the sea lies in opalescent patches, and the low shores fade away into the gathering night. The slanting masts and yards of the dhows silhouette against a sky of the deepest translucent green; and the heroic statue of De Lesseps, standing for ever at the Gateway he opened, points always to the mysterious East.
The rhythmical, accustomed chug of the engines had fallen to quarter speed, leaving an uncanny stillness throughout the ship. Silently we slipped between the long piers, drew up on the waterside town, seized the buoy, and came to rest. All around us lay other ships of all sizes, motionless on the inky water. The reflections from their lights seemed to be thrust into the depths, like stilts; and the few lights from the town reflected shiveringly across. Along the water-front all was dark and silent. We caught the loom of buildings; and behind them a dull glow as from a fire, and guessed tall minarets, and heard the rising and falling of chanting. Numerous small boats hovered near, floating in and out of the patches of light we ourselves cast, waiting for permission to swarm at the gang-plank for our patronage.
We went ashore, passed through a wicket gate, and across the dark buildings to the heart of the town, whence came the dull glow and the sounds of people.
Here were two streets running across one another, both brilliantly lighted, both thronged, both lined with little shops. In the latter one could buy anything, in any language, with any money. In them we saw cheap straw hats made in Germany hung side by side with gorgeous and beautiful stuffs from the Orient; shoddy European garments and Eastern jewels; cheap celluloid combs and curious embroideries.