From habit his steps took him to the bazaars. But the zest of that bright pageant was dulled for him. The color was gone even from the red canopies, and the excitement had vanished from the din of noises, the interest fled from the grave figures squatting in their cubby holes of shops draped with silky rags or sewing upon scarlet slippers. He listened apathetically to the warring shouts of the donkey boys and the anathemas of a jostled water carrier stooping under his distended goatskin, then dodged out of the way of a goaded donkey and turned into one of the passages where the four-footed could not penetrate.
For a few moments the bargaining over a silver bracelet between two beturbaned and berobed Arabs caught the surface of his attention, and as the wrangling became a bedlam of imprecations, and the explosive gestures made physical violence a development apparently of mere seconds, Billy’s eyes brightened and he estimated chances. But as he picked his favorite there was one final frenzy of fury, and then—peace and joy, utter calm on the wild waters! One Arab counted out the coins from a little leather bag about his neck and the other passed over the bracelet, and with mutual salaams and smiling speeches, behold! the affair was accomplished.
Disgustedly Billy turned away. Then on the other side of him he heard a voice, a sweet and rather high voice, with a musical intensity of inflection that was as English as the Union Jack.
“Yes, it’s sweetly pretty,” the voice was saying irresolutely, “but I don’t think I quite care to—not at that price.”
“I—I will buy it for you—yes?” said another voice. “It is made for you—so ‘sweetly pretty’ as you say.”
Billy turned. A slim, tall girl in a dark blue frock was standing before a counter of Oriental jewelry, her head turned, with an air of startled surprise, to the man on the other side of her who had just spoken. He was a short, stout, blond man, heavily flushed, showily dressed, with a fulsome beam in his light-blue eyes and an ingratiating grin beneath his upturned straw-colored mustaches.
The girl turned her head away toward the shop-keeper and put back the turquoise-studded buckle she held in her hand. “No, I do not care for it,” she said in a steady voice whose coldness was for the intruder and turned away.
Billy had a glimpse of scarlet cheeks and dark lashed eyes before the blond young man again took his attention.
“You do not like it—no?” he said, blocking her path, his face thrust out to smile into hers. “But I buy you anything you wish—I make you one present——”
The girl gave a quick look about. But she was in a pocket; for there was no other exit to that line of shops but the path he was blocking. All about her the dark-skinned venders and shoppers, the bearded men, the veiled women, the impish urchins, were watching the encounter with beady eyes of malicious interest.