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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 149 pages of information about The Quest of the Sacred Slipper.

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 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!”

“No—­an Egyptian!”

“It was a porter—?”

“What is it—?”

“Someone been stabbed!”

“Where’s the doctor?”

“Stand away there, if you please!”

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