A one-eyed man with a stuffed crocodile upon his head paused before the steps of Cairo’s gayest hotel and his expectant gaze ranged hopefully over the thronged verandas. It was afternoon tea time; the band was playing and the crowd was at its thickest and brightest. The little tables were surrounded by travelers of all nations, some in tourist tweeds and hats with the inevitable green veils; others, those of more leisurely sojourns, in white serges and diaphanous frocks and flighty hats fresh from the Rue de la Paix.
It was the tweed-clad groups that the crocodile vender scanned for a purchaser of his wares and harshly and unintelligibly exhorted to buy, but no answering gaze betokened the least desire to bring back a crocodile to the loved ones at home. Only Billy B. Hill grinned delightedly at him, as Billy grinned at every merry sight of the spectacular East, and Billy shook his head with cheerful convincingosity, so the crocodile merchant moved reluctantly on before the importunities of the Oriental rug peddler at his heels.
Then he stopped. His turbaned head, topped by the grotesque, glassy-eyed, glistening-toothed monster, revolved slowly as the Arab’s single eye steadily followed a couple who passed by him up the hotel steps. Billy, struck by the man’s intense interest, craned forward and saw that one of the couple, now exchanging farewells at the top of the steps, was a girl, a pretty girl, and an American, and the other was an officer in a uniform of considerable green and gold, and obviously a foreigner.
He might be any kind of a foreigner, according to Billy’s lax distinctions, that was olive of complexion and very black of hair and eyes. Slender and of medium height, he carried himself with an assurance that bordered upon effrontery, and as he bowed himself down the steps he flashed upon his former companion a smile of triumph that included and seemed to challenge the verandaful of observers.
The girl turned and glanced casually about at the crowded groups that were like little samples of all the nations of the earth, and with no more than a faint awareness of the battery of eyes upon her she passed toward the tables by the railing. She was a slim little fairy of a girl, as fresh as a peach blossom, with a cloud of pale gold hair fluttering round her pretty face, which lent her a most alluring and deceptive appearance of ethereal mildness. She had a soft, satiny, rose-leaf skin which was merely flushed by the heat of the Egyptian day, and her eyes were big and very, very blue. There were touches of that blue here and there upon her creamy linen suit, and a knot of blue upon her parasol and a twist of blue about her Panama hat, so that she could not be held unconscious of the flagrantly bewitching effect. Altogether she was as upsettingly pretty a young person as could be seen in a year’s journey, and the glances of the beholders brightened vividly at her approach.