There were just two things to do. The first was to discover the message hidden in those unknown words.
The second was to do exactly as that message bade.
OVER THE GARDEN WALL
Two oil lamps flared in the little coffee-house. In one circle of yellow light two bearded Sheiks were playing dominoes with imperturbable gravity; the other lamp flickered over an empty table beneath which the thin, flea-bitten legs of a ragged urchin were showing in the oblivion of his tired sleep. In the shadow beyond sat a young American with a keen, impatient face, and a one-eyed Arab shrouded in a huge burnous.
“I make fine dragoman?” the Arab was saying proudly. “This is ver’ old coffee-house. Many things happen here, ver’ strange——”
“Yes, but I’m sick of the doggone place,” said Billy fiercely. “I can’t sit still and swallow coffee any longer. Can’t we start now?”
“Too soon—too soon before the time. You say ten? Come, we go next door. Nice place next door, perhaps—dancing, maybe.”
There was noise enough next door, certainly, to promise dancing. The strident notes of Oriental music came shrieking out the open doorway, but as Billy stepped within and stared over the heads of the squatting throng, he saw no sinewy dancers, but only two tiny girls in bright colors huddled wearily against the wall. The music which was absorbing every look came from the brazen throat of a huge instrument in the corner.
“Lord—a phonograph!” thought the young man in disgust, resenting this intrusion of the genius of his race into foreign fields.
The squatting men, their dark lips parted in pleased smiles, were too intent upon the innovation to turn at his entrance, but the little girls caught sight of him and ran forward, begging clamorously, their bracelets clanking on their outstretched arms.
With a little silver he tried to soften the vigor of the one-eyed man’s dismissal. “This cheap place—no good dancers any more,” the Arab uttered in disgust. “New man here—no good. Maybe next door better—eh?”
But next door was only a flight of steps and a lone little doll of a sentinel, painted and hung like a bedizened idol. Only the dark eyes in the tinted sockets were alive, and these turned curiously after the strange young white man who had dropped a coin into her outstretched hand and passed on so hurriedly.
“I don’t want any more of these joints,” Billy was saying vehemently to his harassed guide. “It’s dark as the Styx now—let’s be on our way.”
The street they were on was narrow enough for any antiquarian, but the one into which the Arab guide now turned was so narrow that the jutting bays of the houses seemed pushing their faces impudently against their neighbors. A voice in one room could have been heard as clearly in the one over the way. It was a mean little street, squalid and poor and pitiful, but it maintained its stripped dignities of screened windows and isolation. It was better not to wonder what nights were like in those women’s rooms in summer heat.