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Chapter 33 - Facts and Rumours

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« on: January 04, 2023, 06:05:14 am »

THE story of the second Masked Prophet, although extreme precautions were taken by the British secret service and by Sir Denis Nayland Smith, nevertheless leaked out and into the newspapers of Europe and America. It is well known to-day to everybody, so far as externals go.

Journalistic espionage triumphed even before the prophet appeared in Egypt. That ominous disturbance moving from Afghanistan down through Persia was paragraphed in the London Daily Telegraph, in the Times of New York, and in Le Temps of Paris. The Indian papers had fairly long accounts.

When that strange rumour, hitherto unsupported by tangible evidence, reached Egypt, a special correspondent of the Daily Mail interviewed prominent Moslems. With one exception these denied all knowledge of the matter. The one—a learned imam whose name I have forgotten, but which may be found in the files of the newspaper in question—admitted that news of this movement had come to him. But, he informed his interviewer, it was confined to members of certain unorthodox sects; therefore he was not in a position to express any opinion regarding it.

This interview must have taken place, I suppose, at about the time that we reached Cairo. It was not prominently featured; but later came a column account by the same correspondent, of a second gathering of Wise Men, numbering not three, but, according to his estimate, seventy; and a story of the apparition on the Great Pyramid which closely corresponded to the truth.

Since no other newspaper carried this story, I can only suppose that the correspondent of the Daily Mail was staying at Mena House.

Throughout these exacting days I lived in a state of unrelieved suspense. The watch on the Pyramid had had no results; the place was opened again to the public. Ramin, who narrowly escaped a serious breakdown, was not fit to be moved for some time. Indeed, during the first forty-eight hours, Dr. Petrie was unable to conceal his anxiety.

The chief remained at Shepheard’s awaiting the return of Ali Mahmoud with the heavy baggage; but I had moved to the hotel by the Pyramids in order to be near Ramin. He suffered from a strange delusion that I was dead, and my presence was frequently required to reassure him. Later, I learned the origin of this obsession, which at the time puzzled me, as it puzzled Petrie.

Acting partly, I think, upon that one memory which remained to me of the hiatus preceding Ramin’s abduction, Sir Denis had proceeded in a Royal Air Force plane to Damascus.

The chief during this period was wrapped in one of his most impossible moods. A score of times I tried to discuss the mystery of Fu Manchu’s disappearance; and:

“Your measurements were wrong, Greville,” was his invariable conclusion.

Characteristically, he did not question his own!

He referred, of course, to the investigation which we had carried out there, based upon his conviction that there were other chambers in the Great Pyramid. Sceptical as I had been at the time, I was disposed now to believe that Sir Lionel’s extraordinary imagination had not misguided him.

Failing the existence of other chambers, and, more astounding still, of another exit, the escape of Dr. Fu Manchu was susceptible of no material explanation. The later apparition of the Masked Prophet at an inaccessible point on the northern slope, might have been accounted for by daring trickery.

But these were trying days indeed. Knowing, as everyone knows who has spent much time among Orientals, that news travels among them faster than radio can carry it, I killed many idle hours in the native quarter, listening to the talk of shopkeepers, peddlers and mendicants.

In this way, thanks to my knowledge of vernacular Arabic, I kept abreast of the Mokanna movement. Probably I knew, before Nayland Smith and the British intelligence service knew, that the threat of that uprising grew less day by day. It had proved abortive; something had gone wrong. I used to report to the chief such scraps of rumour as reached me. They seemed to afford him matter for amusement.

“We’ll sail in the next P. & O., Greville,” he said one night. “Ramin should be fit enough by then. It’s high time we were out of Egypt. I’m only waiting for Ali Mahmoud. . . .”

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