Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul
Author: Corelli, Marie, 1855-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ZISKA

THE PROBLEM OF A WICKED SOUL

BY

MARIE CORELLI



Other Books by the same Author

THE SORROWS OF SATAN BARABBAS A ROMANCE OF TWO WORLDS THE MIGHTY ATOM,
ETC., ETC.



TO THE PRESENT LIVING RE-INCARNATION OF ARAXES



ZISKA.

THE PROBLEM OF A WICKED SOUL.



PROLOGUE.


Dark against the sky towered the Great Pyramid, and over its apex hung
the moon. Like a wreck cast ashore by some titanic storm, the Sphinx,
reposing amid the undulating waves of grayish sand surrounding it,
seemed for once to drowse. Its solemn visage that had impassively
watched ages come and go, empires rise and fall, and generations of men
live and die, appeared for the moment to have lost its usual expression
of speculative wisdom and intense disdain--its cold eyes seemed to
droop, its stern mouth almost smiled. The air was calm and sultry; and
not a human foot disturbed the silence. But towards midnight a Voice
suddenly arose as it were like a wind in the desert, crying aloud:
"Araxes! Araxes!" and wailing past, sank with a profound echo into the
deep recesses of the vast Egyptian tomb. Moonlight and the Hour wove
their own mystery; the mystery of a Shadow and a Shape that flitted out
like a thin vapor from the very portals of Death's ancient temple, and
drifting forward a few paces resolved itself into the visionary
fairness of a Woman's form--a Woman whose dark hair fell about her
heavily, like the black remnants of a long-buried corpse's wrappings; a
Woman whose eyes flashed with an unholy fire as she lifted her face to
the white moon and waved her ghostly arms upon the air. And again the
wild Voice pulsated through the stillness.

   "Araxes! ... Araxes! Thou art here,
  --and I pursue thee! Through life into
   death; through death out into life again!
   I find thee and I follow! I follow!
   Araxes!..."

Moonlight and the Hour wove their own mystery; and ere the pale opal
dawn flushed the sky with hues of rose and amber the Shadow had
vanished; the Voice was heard no more. Slowly the sun lifted the edge
of its golden shield above the horizon, and the great Sphinx awaking
from its apparent brief slumber, stared in expressive and eternal scorn
across the tracts of sand and tufted palm-trees towards the glittering
dome of El-Hazar--that abode of profound sanctity and learning, where
men still knelt and worshipped, praying the Unknown to deliver them
from the Unseen. And one would almost have deemed that the sculptured
Monster with the enigmatical Woman-face and Lion-form had strange
thoughts in its huge granite brain; for when the full day sprang in
glory over the desert and illumined its large features with a burning
saffron radiance, its cruel lips still smiled as though yearning to
speak and propound the terrible riddle of old time; the Problem which
killed!



CHAPTER I.


It was the full "season" in Cairo. The ubiquitous Britisher and the no
less ubiquitous American had planted their differing "society"
standards on the sandy soil watered by the Nile, and were busily
engaged in the work of reducing the city, formerly called Al Kahira or
The Victorious, to a more deplorable condition of subjection and
slavery than any old-world conqueror could ever have done. For the
heavy yoke of modern fashion has been flung on the neck of Al Kahira,
and the irresistible, tyrannic dominion of "swagger" vulgarity has laid
The Victorious low. The swarthy children of the desert might, and
possibly would, be ready and willing to go forth and fight men with
men's weapons for the freedom to live and die unmolested in their own
native land; but against the blandly-smiling, white-helmeted,
sun-spectacled, perspiring horde of Cook's "cheap trippers," what can
they do save remain inert and well-nigh speechless? For nothing like
the cheap tripper was ever seen in the world till our present
enlightened and glorious day of progress; he is a new-grafted type of
nomad, like and yet unlike a man. The Darwin theory asserts itself
proudly and prominently in bristles of truth all over him--in his
restlessness, his ape-like agility and curiosity, his shameless
inquisitiveness, his careful cleansing of himself from foreign fleas,
his general attention to minutiae, and his always voracious appetite;
and where the ape ends and the man begins is somewhat difficult to
discover. The "image of God" wherewith he, together with his fellows,
was originally supposed to be impressed in the first fresh days of
Creation, seems fairly blotted out, for there is no touch of the Divine
in his mortal composition. Nor does the second created phase-the copy
of the Divineo--namely, the Heroic,--dignify his form or ennoble his
countenance. There is nothing of the heroic in the wandering biped who
swings through the streets of Cairo in white flannels, laughing at the
staid composure of the Arabs, flicking thumb and finger at the patient
noses of the small hireable donkeys and other beasts of burden,
thrusting a warm red face of inquiry into the shadowy recesses of
odoriferous bazaars, and sauntering at evening in the Esbekiyeh
Gardens, cigar in mouth and hands in pockets, looking on the scene and
behaving in it as if the whole place were but a reflex of Earl's Court
Exhibition. History affects the cheap tripper not at all; he regards
the Pyramids as "good building" merely, and the inscrutable Sphinx
itself as a fine target for empty soda-water bottles, while perhaps his
chiefest regret is that the granite whereof the ancient monster is hewn
is too hard for him to inscribe his distinguished name thereon. It is
true that there is a punishment inflicted on any person or persons
attempting such wanton work--a fine or the bastinado; yet neither fine
nor bastinado would affect the "tripper" if he could only succeed in
carving "'Arry" on the Sphinx's jaw. But he cannot, and herein is his
own misery. Otherwise he comports himself in Egypt as he does at
Margate, with no more thought, reflection, or reverence than dignify
the composition of his far-off Simian ancestor.

Taking him all in all, he is, however, no worse, and in some respects
better, than the "swagger" folk who "do" Egypt, or rather, consent in a
languid way to be "done" by Egypt. These are the people who annually
leave England on the plea of being unable to stand the cheery, frosty,
and in every respect healthy winter of their native country--that
winter, which with its wild winds, its sparkling frost and snow, its
holly trees bright with scarlet berries, its merry hunters galloping
over field and moor during daylight hours, and its great log fires
roaring up the chimneys at evening, was sufficiently good for their
forefathers to thrive upon and live through contentedly up to a hale
and hearty old age in the times when the fever of travelling from place
to place was an unknown disease, and home was indeed "sweet home."
Infected by strange maladies of the blood and nerves, to which even
scientific physicians find it hard to give suitable names, they shudder
at the first whiff of cold, and filling huge trunks with a thousand
foolish things which have, through luxurious habit, become necessities
to their pallid existences, they hastily depart to the Land of the Sun,
carrying with them their nameless languors, discontents and incurable
illnesses, for which Heaven itself, much less Egypt, could provide no
remedy. It is not at all to be wondered at that these physically and
morally sick tribes of human kind have ceased to give any serious
attention as to what may possibly become of them after death, or
whether there IS any "after," for they are in the mentally comatose
condition which precedes entire wreckage of brain-force; existence
itself has become a "bore;" one place is like another, and they repeat
the same monotonous round of living in every spot where they
congregate, whether it be east, west, north, or south. On the Riviera
they find little to do except meet at Rumpelmayer's at Cannes, the
London House at Nice, or the Casino at Monte-Carlo; and in Cairo they
inaugurate a miniature London "season" over again, worked in the same
groove of dinners, dances, drives, picnics, flirtations, and
matrimonial engagements. But the Cairene season has perhaps some
advantage over the London one so far as this particular set of
"swagger" folk are concerned--it is less hampered by the proprieties.
One can be more "free," you know! You may take a little walk into "Old"
Cairo, and turning a corner you may catch glimpses of what Mark Twain
calls "Oriental simplicity," namely, picturesquely-composed groups of
"dear delightful" Arabs whose clothing is no more than primitive custom
makes strictly necessary. These kind of "tableaux vivants" or "art
studies" give quite a thrill of novelty to Cairene-English Society,--a
touch of savagery,--a soupcon of peculiarity which is entirely lacking
to fashionable London. Then, it must be remembered that the "children
of the desert" have been led by gentle degrees to understand that for
harboring the strange locusts imported into their land by Cook, and the
still stranger specimens of unclassified insect called Upper Ten, which
imports itself, they will receive "backsheesh."

"Backsheesh" is a certain source of comfort to all nations, and
translates itself with sweetest euphony into all languages, and the
desert-born tribes have justice on their side when they demand as much
of it as they can get, rightfully or wrongfully. They deserve to gain
some sort of advantage out of the odd-looking swarms of Western
invaders who amaze them by their dress and affront them by their
manners. "Backsheesh," therefore, has become the perpetual cry of the
Desert-Born,--it is the only means of offence and defence left to them,
and very naturally they cling to it with fervor and resolution. And who
shall blame them? The tall, majestic, meditative Arab--superb as mere
man, and standing naked-footed on his sandy native soil, with his one
rough garment flung round his loins and his great black eyes fronting,
eagle-like, the sun--merits something considerable for condescending to
act as guide and servant to the Western moneyed civilian who clothes
his lower limbs in straight, funnel-like cloth casings, shaped to the
strict resemblance of an elephant's legs, and finishes the graceful
design by enclosing the rest of his body in a stiff shirt wherein he
can scarcely move, and a square-cut coat which divides him neatly in
twain by a line immediately above the knee, with the effect of
lessening his height by several inches. The Desert-Born surveys him
gravely and in civil compassion, sometimes with a muttered prayer
against the hideousness of him, but on the whole with patience and
equanimity,--influenced by considerations of "backsheesh." And the
English "season" whirls lightly and vaporously, like blown egg-froth,
over the mystic land of the old gods,--the terrible land filled with
dark secrets as yet unexplored,--the land "shadowing with wings," as
the Bible hath it,--the land in which are buried tremendous histories
as yet unguessed,--profound enigmas of the supernatural,--labyrinths of
wonder, terror and mystery,--all of which remain unrevealed to the
giddy-pated, dancing, dining, gabbling throng of the fashionable
travelling lunatics of the day,--the people who "never think because it
is too much trouble," people whose one idea is to journey from hotel to
hotel and compare notes with their acquaintances afterwards as to which
house provided them with the best-cooked food. For it is a noticeable
fact that with most visitors to the "show" places of Europe and the
East, food, bedding and selfish personal comfort are the first
considerations,--the scenery and the associations come last. Formerly
the position was reversed. In the days when there were no railways, and
the immortal Byron wrote his Childe Harold, it was customary to rate
personal inconvenience lightly; the beautiful or historic scene was the
attraction for the traveller, and not the arrangements made for his
special form of digestive apparatus. Byron could sleep on the deck of a
sailing vessel wrapped in his cloak and feel none the worse for it; his
well-braced mind and aspiring spirit soared above all bodily
discomforts; his thoughts were engrossed with the mighty teachings of
time; he was able to lose himself in glorious reveries on the lessons
of the past and the possibilities of the future; the attitude of the
inspired Thinker as well as Poet was his, and a crust of bread and
cheese served him as sufficiently on his journeyings among the then
unspoilt valleys and mountains of Switzerland as the warm, greasy,
indigestible fare of the elaborate table-d'hotes at Lucerne and
Interlaken serve us now. But we, in our "superior" condition, pooh-pooh
the Byronic spirit of indifference to events and scorn of trifles,--we
say it is "melodramatic," completely forgetting that our attitude
towards ourselves and things in general is one of most pitiable bathos.
We cannot write Childe Harold, but we can grumble at both bed and board
in every hotel under the sun; we can discover teasing midges in the air
and questionable insects in the rooms; and we can discuss each bill
presented to us with an industrious persistence which nearly drives
landlords frantic and ourselves as well. In these kind of important
matters we are indeed "superior" to Byron and other ranting dreamers of
his type, but we produce no Childe Harolds, and we have come to the
strange pass of pretending that Don Juan is improper, while we pore
over Zola with avidity! To such a pitch has our culture brought us!
And, like the Pharisee in the Testament, we thank God we are not as
others are. We are glad we are not as the Arab, as the African, as the
Hindoo; we are proud of our elephant-legs and our dividing coat-line;
these things show we are civilized, and that God approves of us more
than any other type of creature ever created. We take possession of
nations, not by thunder of war, but by clatter of dinner-plates. We do
not raise armies, we build hotels; and we settle ourselves in Egypt as
we do at Homburg, to dress and dine and sleep and sniff contempt on all
things but ourselves, to such an extent that we have actually got into
the habit of calling the natives of the places we usurp "foreigners."
WE are the foreigners; but somehow we never can see it. Wherever we
condescend to build hotels, that spot we consider ours. We are
surprised at the impertinence of Frankfort people who presume to visit
Homburg while we are having our "season" there; we wonder how they dare
do it! And, of a truth, they seem amazed at their own boldness, and
creep shyly through the Kur-Garten as though fearing to be turned out
by the custodians. The same thing occurs in Egypt; we are frequently
astounded at what we call "the impertinence of these foreigners," i.e.
the natives. They ought to be proud to have us and our elephant-legs;
glad to see such noble and beautiful types of civilization as the stout
parvenu with his pendant paunch, and his family of gawky youths and
maidens of the large-toothed, long-limbed genus; glad to see the
English "mamma," who never grows old, but wears young hair in innocent
curls, and has her wrinkles annually "massaged" out by a Paris artiste
in complexion. The Desert-Born, we say, should be happy and grateful to
see such sights, and not demand so much "backsheesh." In fact, the
Desert-Born should not get so much in our way as he does; he is a very
good servant, of course, but as a man and a brother--pooh! Egypt may be
his country, and he may love it as much as we love England; but our
feelings are more to be considered than his, and there is no connecting
link of human sympathy between Elephant-Legs and sun-browned Nudity!

So at least thought Sir Chetwynd Lyle, a stout gentleman of coarse
build and coarser physiognomy, as he sat in a deep arm-chair in the
great hall or lounge of the Gezireh Palace Hotel, smoking after dinner
in the company of two or three acquaintances with whom he had
fraternized during his stay in Cairo. Sir Chetwynd was fond of airing
his opinions for the benefit of as many people who cared to listen to
him, and Sir Chetwynd had some right to his opinions, inasmuch as he
was the editor and proprietor of a large London newspaper. His
knighthood was quite a recent distinction, and nobody knew exactly how
he had managed to get it. He had originally been known in Fleet Street
by the irreverent sobriquet of "greasy Chetwynd," owing to his
largeness, oiliness and general air of blandly-meaningless benevolence.
He had a wife and two daughters, and one of his objects in wintering at
Cairo was to get his cherished children married. It was time, for the
bloom was slightly off the fair girl-roses,--the dainty petals of the
delicate buds were beginning to wither. And Sir Chetwynd had heard much
of Cairo; he understood that there was a great deal of liberty allowed
there between men and maids,--that they went out together on driving
excursions to the Pyramids, that they rode on lilliputian donkeys over
the sand at moonlight, that they floated about in boats at evening on
the Nile, and that, in short, there were more opportunities of marriage
among the "flesh-pots of Egypt" than in all the rush and crush of
London. So here he was, portly and comfortable, and on the whole well
satisfied with his expedition; there were a good many eligible
bachelors about, and Muriel and Dolly were really doing their best. So
was their mother, Lady Chetwynd Lyle; she allowed no "eligible" to
escape her hawk-like observation, and on this particular evening she
was in all her glory, for there was to be a costume ball at the Gezireh
Palace Hotel,--a superb affair, organized by the proprietors for the
amusement of their paying guests, who certainly paid well,--even
stiffly. Owing to the preparations that were going on for this
festivity, the lounge, with its sumptuous Egyptian decorations and
luxurious modern fittings, was well-nigh deserted save for Sir Chetwynd
and his particular group of friends, to whom he was holding forth,
between slow cigar-puffs, on the squalor of the Arabs, the frightful
thievery of the Sheiks, the incompetency of his own special dragoman,
and the mistake people made in thinking the Egyptians themselves a fine
race.

"They are tall, certainly," said Sir Chetwynd, surveying his paunch,
which lolled comfortably, and as it were by itself, in front of him,
like a kind of waistcoated air-balloon. "I grant you they are tall.
That is, the majority of them are. But I have seen short men among
them. The Khedive is not taller than I am. And the Egyptian face is
very deceptive. The features are often fine,--occasionally
classic,--but intelligent expression is totally lacking."

Here Sir Chetwynd waved his cigar descriptively, as though he would
fain suggest that a heavy jaw, a fat nose with a pimple at the end, and
a gross mouth with black teeth inside it, which were special points in
his own physiognomy, went further to make up "intelligent expression"
than any well-moulded, straight, Eastern type of sun-browned
countenance ever seen or imagined.

"Well, I don't quite agree with you there," said a man who was lying
full length on one of the divans close by and smoking. "These brown
chaps have deuced fine eyes. There doesn't seem to be any lack of
expression in them. And that reminds me, there is at fellow arrived
here to-day who looks for all the world like an Egyptian, of the best
form. He is a Frenchman, though; a Provencal,--every one knows him,--he
is the famous painter, Armand Gervase."

"Indeed!"--and Sir Chetwynd roused himself at the name--"Armand
Gervase! THE Armand Gervase?"

"The only one original," laughed the other. "He's come here to make
studies of Eastern women. A rare old time he'll have among them, I
daresay! He's not famous for character. He ought to paint the Princess
Ziska."

"Ah, by-the-bye, I wanted to ask you about that lady. Does anyone know
who she is? My wife is very anxious to find out whether she
is--well--er--quite the proper person, you know! When one has young
girls, one cannot be too careful."

Ross Courtney, the man on the divan, got up slowly and stretched his
long athletic limbs with a lazy enjoyment in the action. He was a
sporting person with unhampered means and large estates in Scotland and
Ireland; he lived a joyous, "don't-care" life of wandering about the
world in search of adventures, and he had a scorn of civilized
conventionalities--newspapers and their editors among them. And
whenever Sir Chetwynd spoke of his "young girls" he was moved to
irreverent smiling, as he knew the youngest of the twain was at least
thirty. He also recognized and avoided the wily traps and pitfalls set
for him by Lady Chetwynd Lyle in the hope that he would yield himself
up a captive to the charms of Muriel or Dolly; and as he thought of
these two fair ones now and involuntarily compared them in his mind
with the other woman just spoken of, the smile that had begun to hover
on his lips deepened unconsciously till his handsome face was quite
illumined with its mirth.

"Upon my word, I don't think it matters who anybody is in Cairo!" he
said with a fine carelessness. "The people whose families are all
guaranteed respectable are more lax in their behavior than the people
one knows nothing about. As for the Princess Ziska, her extraordinary
beauty and intelligence would give her the entree anywhere--even if she
hadn't money to back those qualities up."

"She's enormously wealthy, I hear," said young Lord Fulkeward, another
of the languid smokers, caressing his scarcely perceptible moustache.
"My mother thinks she is a divorcee."

Sir Chetwynd looked very serious, and shook his fat head solemnly.

"Well, there is nothing remarkable in being divorced, you know,"
laughed Ross Courtney. "Nowadays it seems the natural and fitting end
of marriage."

Sir Chetwynd looked graver still. He refused to be drawn into this kind
of flippant conversation. He, at any rate, was respectably married; he
had no sympathy whatever with the larger majority of people whose
marriages were a failure.

"There is no Prince Ziska then?" he inquired. "The name sounds to me of
Russian origin, and I imagined--my wife also imagined,--that the
husband of the lady might very easily be in Russia while his wife's
health might necessitate her wintering in Egypt. The Russian winter
climate is inclement, I believe."

"That would be a very neat arrangement," yawned Lord Fulkeward. "But my
mother thinks not. My mother thinks there is not a husband at
all,--that there never was a husband. In fact my mother has very strong
convictions on the subject. But my mother intends to visit her all the
same."

"She does? Lady Fulkeward has decided on that? Oh, well, in THAT
case!"--and Sir Chetwynd expanded his lower-chest air-balloon. "Of
course, Lady Chetwynd Lyle can no longer have any scruples on the
subject. If Lady Fulkeward visits the Princess there can be no doubt as
to her actual STATUS."

"Oh, I don't know!" murmured Lord Fulkeward, stroking his downy lip.
"You see my mother's rather an exceptional person. When the governor
was alive she hardly ever went out anywhere, you know, and all the
people who came to our house in Yorkshire had to bring their pedigrees
with them, so to speak. It was beastly dull! But now my mother has
taken to 'studying character,' don'cher know; she likes all sorts of
people about her, and the more mixed they are the more she is delighted
with them. Fact, I assure you! Quite a change has come over my mother
since the poor old governor died!"

Ross Courtney looked amused. A change indeed had come over Lady
Fulkeward--a change, sudden, mysterious and amazing to many of her
former distinguished friends with "pedigrees." In her husband's
lifetime her hair had been a soft silver-gray; her face pale, refined
and serious; her form full and matronly; her step sober and discreet;
but two years after the death of the kindly and noble old lord who had
cherished her as the apple of his eye and up to the last moment of his
breath had thought her the most beautiful woman in England, she
appeared with golden tresses, a peach-bloom complexion, and a figure
which had been so massaged, rubbed, pressed and artistically corseted
as to appear positively sylph-like. She danced like a fairy, she who
had once been called "old" Lady Fulkeward; she smoked cigarettes; she
laughed like a child at every trivial thing--any joke, however stale,
flat and unprofitable, was sufficient to stir her light pulses to
merriment; and she flirted--oh, heavens!--HOW she flirted!--with a
skill and a grace and a knowledge and an aplomb that nearly drove
Muriel and Dolly Chetwynd Lyle frantic. They, poor things, were beaten
out of the field altogether by her superior tact and art of "fence,"
and they hated her accordingly and called her in private a "horrid old
woman," which perhaps, when her maid undressed her, she was. But she
was having a distinctly "good time" in Cairo; she called her son, who
was in delicate health, "my poor dear little boy!" and he, though
twenty-eight on his last birthday, was reduced to such an abject
condition of servitude by her assertiveness, impudent gayety and
general freedom of manner, that he could not open his mouth without
alluding to "my mother," and using "my mother" as a peg whereon to hang
all his own opinions and emotions as well as the opinions and emotions
of other people.

"Lady Fulkeward admires the Princess very much, I believe?" said
another lounger who had not yet spoken.

"Oh, as to that!"--and Lord Fulkeward roused himself to some faint show
of energy. "Who wouldn't admire her? By Jove! Only, I tell you
what--there's something I weird about her eyes. Fact! I don't like her
eyes."

"Shut up, Fulke! She has beautiful eyes!" burst out Courtney, hotly;
then flushing suddenly he bit his lips and was silent.

"Who is this that has beautiful eyes?" suddenly demanded a slow, gruff
voice, and a little thin gentleman, dressed in a kind of academic gown
and cap, appeared on the scene.

"Hullo! here's our F.R.S.A.!" exclaimed Lord Fulkeward. "By Jove! Is
that the style you have got yourself up in for tonight? It looks
awfully smart, don'cher know!"

The personage thus complimented adjusted his spectacles and surveyed
his acquaintances with a very well-satisfied air. In truth, Dr. Maxwell
Dean had some reason for self-satisfaction, if the knowledge that he
possessed one of the cleverest heads in Europe could give a man cause
for pride. He was apparently the only individual in the Gezireh Palace
Hotel who had come to Egypt for any serious purpose. A purpose he had,
though what it was he declined to explain. Reticent, often brusque, and
sometimes mysterious in his manner of speech, there was not the
slightest doubt that he was at work on something, and that he also had
a very trying habit of closely studying every object, small or great,
that came under his observation. He studied the natives to such an
extent that he knew every differing shade of color in their skins; he
studied Sir Chetwynd Lyle and knew that he occasionally took bribes to
"put things" into his paper; he studied Dolly and Muriel Chetwynd Lyle,
and knew that they would never succeed in getting husbands; he studied
Lady Fulkeward, and thought her very well got up for sixty; he studied
Ross Courtney, and knew he would never do anything but kill animals all
his life; and he studied the working of the Gezireh Palace Hotel, and
saw a fortune rising out of it for the proprietors. But apart from
these ordinary surface things, he studied other matters--"occult"
peculiarities of temperament, "coincidences," strange occurrences
generally. He could read the Egyptian hieroglyphs perfectly, and he
understood the difference between "royal cartouche" scarabei and
Birmingham-manufactured ones. He was never dull; he had plenty to do;
and he took everything as it came in its turn. Even the costume ball
for which he had now attired himself did not present itself to him as a
"bore," but as a new vein of information, opening to him fresh glimpses
of the genus homo as seen in a state of eccentricity.

"I think," he now said, complacently, "that the cap and gown look well
for a man of my years. It is a simple garb, but cool, convenient and
not unbecoming. I had thought at first of adopting the dress of an
ancient Egyptian priest, but I find it difficult to secure the complete
outfit. I would never wear a costume of the kind that was not in every
point historically correct."

No one smiled. No one would have dared to smile at Dr. Maxwell Dean
when he spoke of "historically correct" things. He had studied them as
he had studied everything, and he knew all about them.

Sir Chetwynd murmured:

"Quite right--er--the ancient designs were very elaborate--"

"And symbolic," finished Dr. Dean. "Symbolic of very curious meanings,
I assure you. But I fear I have interrupted your talk. Mr. Courtney was
speaking about somebody's beautiful eyes; who is the fair one in
question?"

"The Princess Ziska," said Lord Fulkeward. "I was saying that I don't
quite like the look of her eyes."

"Why not? Why not?" demanded the doctor with sudden asperity. "What's
the matter with them?"

"Everything's the matter with them!" replied Ross Courtney with a
forced laugh. "They are too splendid and wild for Fulke; he likes the
English pale-blue better than the Egyptian gazelle-black."

"No, I don't," said Lord Fulkeward, speaking more animatedly than was
customary with him. "I hate, pale-blue eyes. I prefer soft violet-gray
ones, like Miss Murray's."

"Miss Helen Murray is a very charming young lady," said Dr. Dean. "But
her beauty is quite of an ordinary type, while that of the Princess
Ziska--"

"Is EXTRA-ordinary--exactly! That's just what I say!" declared
Courtney. "I think she is the loveliest woman I have ever seen."

There was a pause, during which the little doctor looked with a
ferret-like curiosity from one man to the other. Sir Chetwynd Lyle rose
ponderously up from the depths of his arm-chair.

"I think," said he, "I had better go and get into my uniform--the
Windsor, you know! I always have it with me wherever I go; it comes in
very useful for fancy balls such as the one we are going to have
tonight, when no particular period is observed in costume. Isn't it
about time we all got ready?"

"Upon my life, I think it is!" agreed Lord Fulkeward. "I am coming out
as a Neapolitan fisherman! I don't believe Neapolitan fishermen ever
really dress in the way I'm going to make up, but it's the accepted
stage-type, don'cher know."

"Ah! I daresay you will look very well in it," murmured Ross Courtney,
vaguely. "Hullo! here comes Denzil Murray!"

They all turned instinctively to watch the entrance of a handsome young
man, attired in the picturesque garb worn by Florentine nobles during
the prosperous reign of the Medicis. It was a costume admirably adapted
to the wearer, who, being grave and almost stern of feature, needed the
brightness of jewels and the gloss of velvet and satin to throw out the
classic contour of his fine head and enhance the lustre of his
brooding, darkly-passionate eyes. Denzil Murray was a pure-blooded
Highlander,--the level brows, the firm lips, the straight, fearless
look, all bespoke him a son of the heather-crowned mountains and a
descendant of the proud races that scorned the "Sassenach," and
retained sufficient of the material whereof their early Phoenician
ancestors were made to be capable of both the extremes of hate and love
in their most potent forms. He moved slowly towards the group of men
awaiting his approach with a reserved air of something like hauteur; it
was possible he was conscious of his good looks, but it was equally
evident that he did not desire to be made the object of impertinent
remark. His friends silently recognized this, and only Lord Fulkeward,
moved to a mild transport of admiration, ventured to comment on his
appearance.

"I say, Denzil, you're awfully well got up! Awfully well! Magnificent!"

Denzil Murray bowed with a somewhat wearied and sarcastic air.

"When one is in Rome, or Egypt, one must do as Rome, or Egypt, does,"
he said, carelessly. "If hotel proprietors will give fancy balls, it is
necessary to rise to the occasion. You look very well, Doctor. Why
don't you other fellows go and get your toggeries on? It's past ten
o'clock, and the Princess Ziska will be here by eleven."

"There are other people coming besides the Princess Ziska, are there
not, Mr. Murray?" inquired Sir Chetwynd Lyle, with an obtrusively
bantering air.

Denzil Murray glanced him over disdainfully.

"I believe there are," he answered coolly. "Otherwise the ball would
scarcely pay its expenses. But as the Princess is admittedly the most
beautiful woman in Cairo this season, she will naturally be the centre
of attraction. That's why I mentioned she would be here at eleven."

"She told you that?" inquired Ross Courtney.

"She did."

Courtney looked up, then down, and seemed about to speak again, but
checked himself and finally strolled off, followed by Lord Fulkeward.

"I hear," said Dr. Dean then, addressing Denzil Murray, "that a great
celebrity has arrived at this hotel--the painter, Armand Gervase."

Denzil's face brightened instantly with a pleasant smile.

"The dearest friend I have in the world!" he said. "Yes, he is here. I
met him outside the door this afternoon. We are very old chums. I have
stayed with him in Paris, and he has stayed with me in Scotland. A
charming fellow! He is very French in his ideas; but he knows England
well, and speaks English perfectly."

"French in his ideas!" echoed Sir Chetwynd Lyle, who was just preparing
to leave the lounge. "Dear me! How is that?"

"He is a Frenchman," said Dr. Dean, suavely. "Therefore that his ideas
should be French ought not to be a matter of surprise to us, my dear
Sir Chetwynd."

Sir Chetwynd snorted. He had a suspicion that he--the editor and
proprietor of the Daily Dial--was being laughed at, and he at once
clambered on his high horse of British Morality.

"Frenchman or no Frenchman," he observed, "the ideas promulgated in
France at the present day are distinctly profane and pernicious. There
is a lack of principle--a want of rectitude in--er--the French Press,
for example, that is highly deplorable."

"And is the English Press immaculate?" asked Denzil languidly.

"We hope so," replied Sir Chetwynd. "We do our best to make it so."

And with that remark he took his paunch and himself away into
retirement, leaving Dr. Dean and young Murray facing each other, a
singular pair enough in the contrast of their appearance and
dress,--the one small, lean and wiry, in plain-cut, loose-flowing
academic gown; the other tall, broad and muscular, clad in the rich
attire of mediaeval Florence, and looking for all the world like a fine
picture of that period stepped out from, its frame. There was a silence
between them for a moment,--then the Doctor spoke in a low tone:

"It won't do, my dear boy,--I assure you it won't do! You will break
your heart over a dream, and make yourself miserable for nothing. And
you will break your sister's heart as well; perhaps you haven't thought
of that?"

Denzil flung himself into the chair Sir Chetwynd had just vacated, and
gave vent to a sigh that was almost a groan.

"Helen doesn't know anything--yet," he said hoarsely. "I know nothing
myself; how can I? I haven't said a word to--to HER. If I spoke all
that was in my mind, I daresay she would laugh at me. You are the only
one who has guessed my secret. You saw me last night when I--when I
accompanied her home. But I never passed her palace gates,--she
wouldn't let me. She bade me 'good-night' outside; a servant admitted
her, and she vanished through the portal like a witch or a ghost.
Sometimes I fancy she IS a ghost. She is so white, so light, so
noiseless and so lovely!"

He turned his eyes away, ashamed of the emotion that moved him. Dr.
Maxwell Dean took off his academic cap and examined its interior as
though he considered it remarkable.

"Yes," he said slowly; "I have thought the same thing of her
myself--sometimes."

Further conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the military
band of the evening, which now crossed the "lounge," each man carrying
his instrument with him; and these were followed by several groups of
people in fancy dress, all ready and eager for the ball. Pierrots and
Pierrettes, monks in drooping cowls, flower-girls, water-carriers,
symbolic figures of "Night" and "Morning," mingled with the counterfeit
presentments of dead-and-gone kings and queens, began to flock
together, laughing and talking on their way to the ball-room; and
presently among them came a man whose superior height and build,
combined with his eminently picturesque, half-savage type of beauty,
caused every one to turn and watch him as he passed, and murmur
whispering comments on the various qualities wherein he differed from
themselves. He was attired for the occasion as a Bedouin chief, and his
fierce black eyes, and close-curling, dark hair, combined with the
natural olive tint of his complexion, were well set off by the snowy
folds of his turban and the whiteness of his entire costume, which was
unrelieved by any color save at the waist, where a gleam of scarlet was
shown in the sash which helped to fasten a murderous-looking dagger and
other "correct" weapons of attack to his belt. He entered the hall with
a swift and singularly light step, and made straight for Denzil Murray.

"Ah! here you are!" he said, speaking English with a slight foreign
accent, which was more agreeable to the ear than otherwise. "But, my
excellent boy, what magnificence! A Medici costume! Never say to me
that you are not vain; you are as conscious of your good looks as any
pretty woman. Behold me, how simple and unobtrusive I am!"

He laughed, and Murray sprang up from the chair where he had been
despondently reclining.

"Oh, come, I like that!" he exclaimed. "Simple and unobtrusive! Why
everybody is staring at you now as if you had dropped from the moon!
You cannot be Armand Gervase and simple and unobtrusive at the same
time!"

"Why not?" demanded Gervase, lightly. "Fame is capricious, and her
trumpet is not loud enough to be heard all over the world at once. The
venerable proprietor of the dirty bazaar where I managed to purchase
these charming articles of Bedouin costume had never heard of me in his
life. Miserable man! He does not know what he has missed!"

Here his flashing black eyes lit suddenly on Dr. Dean, who was
"studying" him in the same sort of pertinacious way in which that
learned little man studied everything.

"A friend of yours, Denzil?" he inquired.

"Yes," responded Murray readily; "a very great friend--Dr. Maxwell
Dean. Dr. Dean, let me introduce to you Armand Gervase; I need not
explain him further!"

"You need not, indeed!" said the doctor, with a ceremonious bow. "The
name is one of universal celebrity."

"It is not always an advantage--this universal celebrity," replied
Gervase. "Nor is it true that any celebrity is actually universal.
Perhaps the only living person that is universally known, by name at
least, is Zola. Mankind are at one in their appreciation of vice."

"I cannot altogether agree with you there," said Dr. Dean slowly,
keeping his gaze fixed on the artist's bold, proud features with
singular curiosity. "The French Academy, I presume, are individually as
appreciative of human weaknesses as most men; but taken collectively,
some spirit higher and stronger than their own keeps them unanimous in
their rejection of the notorious Realist who sacrifices all the canons
of art and beauty to the discussion of topics unmentionable in decent
society."

Gervase laughed idly.

"Oh, he will get in some day, you may be sure," he answered. "There is
no spirit higher and stronger than the spirit of naturalism in man; and
in time, when a few prejudices have died away and mawkish sentiment has
been worn threadbare, Zola will be enrolled as the first of the French
Academicians, with even more honors than if he had succeeded in the
beginning. That is the way of all those 'select' bodies. As Napoleon
said, 'Le monde vient a celui qui sait attendre.'"

The little Doctor's countenance now showed the most lively and eager
interest.

"You quite believe that, Monsieur Gervase? You are entirely sure of
what you said just now?"

"What did I say? I forget!" smiled Gervase, lighting a cigarette and
beginning to smoke it leisurely.

"You said, 'There is no spirit higher or stronger than the spirit of
naturalism in man.' Are you positive on this point?"

"Why, of course! Most entirely positive!" And the great painter looked
amused as he gave the reply. "Naturalism is Nature, or the things
appertaining to Nature, and there is nothing higher or stronger than
Nature everywhere and anywhere."

"How about God?" inquired Dr. Dean with a curious air, as if he were
propounding a remarkable conundrum.

"God!" Gervase laughed loudly. "Pardon! Are you a clergyman?"

"By no means!" and the Doctor gave a little bow and deprecating smile.
"I am not in any way connected with the Church. I am a doctor of laws
and literature,--a humble student of philosophy and science
generally..."

"Philosophy! Science!" interrupted Gervase. "And you ask about God!
Parbleu! Science and philosophy have progressed beyond Him!"

"Exactly!" and Dr. Dean rubbed his hands together pleasantly. "That is
your opinion? Yes, I thought so! Science and philosophy, to put it
comprehensively, have beaten poor God on His own ground! Ha! ha! ha!
Very good--very good! And humorous as well! Ha! ha!"

And a very droll appearance just then had this "humble student of
philosophy and science generally," for he bent himself to and fro with
laughter, and his small eyes almost disappeared behind his shelving
brows in the excess of his mirth. And two crosslines formed themselves
near his thin mouth--such lines as are carven on the ancient Greek
masks which indicate satire.

Denzil Murray flushed uncomfortably.

"Gervase doesn't believe in anything but Art," he said, as though half
apologizing for his friend: "Art is the sole object of his existence; I
don't believe he ever has time to think about anything else."

"Of what else should I think, mon ami?" exclaimed Gervase mirthfully.
"Of life? It is all Art to me; and by Art I mean the idealization and
transfiguration of Nature."

"Oh. if you do that sort of thing you are a romancist," interposed Dr.
Dean emphatically. "Nature neither idealizes nor transfigures itself;
it is simply Nature and no more. Matter uncontrolled by Spirit is
anything but ideal."

"Precisely," answered Gervase quickly and with some warmth; "but my
spirit idealizes it,--my imagination sees beyond it,--my soul grasps
it."

"Oh, you have a soul?" exclaimed Dr. Dean, beginning to laugh again.
"Now, how did you find that out?"

Gervase looked at him in a sudden surprise.

"Every man has an inward self, naturally," he said. "We call it 'soul'
as a figure of speech; it is really temperament merely."

"Oh, it is merely temperament? Then you don't think it is likely to
outlive you, this soul--to take new phases upon itself and go on
existing, an immortal being, when your body is in a far worse condition
(because less carefully preserved) than an Egyptian mummy?"

"Certainly not!" and Gervase flung away the end of his finished
cigarette. "The immortality of the soul is quite an exploded theory. It
was always a ridiculous one. We have quite enough to vex us in our
present life, and why men ever set about inventing another is more than
I am able to understand. It was a most foolish and barbaric
superstition."

The gay sound of music now floated towards them from the
ball-room,--the strains of a graceful, joyous, half-commanding,
half-pleading waltz came rhythmically beating on the air like the
measured movement of wings,--and Denzil Murray, beginning to grow
restless, walked to and fro, his eyes watching every figure that
crossed and re-crossed the hall. But Dr. Dean's interest in Armand
Gervase remained intense and unabated; and approaching him, he laid two
lean fingers delicately on the white folds of the Bedouin dress just
where the heart of the man was hidden.

"'A foolish and barbaric superstition!'" he echoed slowly and
meditatively. "You do not believe in any possibility of there being a
life--or several lives--after this present death through which we must
all pass inevitably, sooner or later?"

"Not in the least! I leave such ideas to the ignorant and uneducated. I
should be unworthy of the progressive teachings of my time if I
believed such arrant nonsense."

"Death, you consider, finishes all? There is nothing further--no
mysteries beyond? ..." and Dr. Dean's eyes glittered as he stretched
forth one thin, slight hand and pointed into space with the word
"beyond," an action which gave it a curious emphasis, and for a
fleeting second left a weird impression on even the careless mind of
Gervase. But he laughed it off lightly.

"Nothing beyond? Of course not! My dear sir, why ask such a question?
Nothing can be plainer or more positive than the fact that death, as
you say, finishes all."

A woman's laugh, low and exquisitely musical, rippled on the air as he
spoke--delicious laughter, rarer than song; for women as a rule laugh
too loudly, and the sound of their merriment partakes more of the
nature of a goose's cackle than any other sort of natural melody. But
this large, soft and silvery, was like a delicately subdued cadence
played on a magic flute in the distance, and suggested nothing but
sweetness; and at the sound of it Gervase started violently and turned
sharply round upon his friend Murray with a look of wonderment and
perplexity.

"Who is that?" he demanded. "I have heard that pretty laugh before; it
must be some one I know."

But Denzil scarcely heard him. Pale, and with eyes full of yearning and
passion, he was watching the slow approach of a group of people in
fancy dress, who were all eagerly pressing round one central
figure--the figure of a woman clad in gleaming golden tissues and
veiled in the old Egyptian fashion up to the eyes, with jewels flashing
about her waist, bosom and hair,--a woman who moved glidingly as if she
floated rather than walked, and whose beauty, half hidden as it was by
the exigencies of the costume she had chosen, was so unusual and
brilliant that it seemed to create an atmosphere of bewilderment and
rapture around her as she came. She was preceded by a small Nubian boy
in a costume of vivid scarlet, who, walking backwards humbly, fanned
her slowly with a tall fan of peacock's plumes made after the quaint
designs of ancient Egypt. The lustre radiating from the peacock's
feathers, the light of her golden garments, her jewels and the
marvellous black splendor of her eyes, all flashed for a moment like
sudden lightning on Gervase; something--he knew not what--turned him
giddy and blind; hardly knowing what he did, he sprang eagerly forward,
when all at once he felt the lean, small hand of Dr. Dean on his arm
and stopped short embarrassed.

"Pardon me!" said the little savant, with a delicate, half-supercilious
lifting of his eyebrows. "But--do you know the Princess Ziska?"



CHAPTER II.


Gervase stared at him, still dazzled and confused.

"Whom did you say? ... the Princess Ziska? ... No, I don't know her ...
Yet, stay! Yes, I think I have seen her ... somewhere,--in Paris,
possibly. Will you introduce me?"

"I leave that duty to Mr. Denzil Murray," said the Doctor, folding his
arms neatly behind his back ... "He knows her better than I do."

And smiling his little grim, cynical smile, he settled his academic cap
more firmly on his head and strolled off towards the ballroom. Gervase
stood irresolute, his eyes fixed on that wondrous golden figure that
floated before his eyes like an aerial vision. Denzil Murray had gone
forward to meet the Princess and was now talking to her, his handsome
face radiating with the admiration he made no attempt to conceal. After
a little pause Gervase moved towards him a step or two, and caught part
of the conversation.

"You look the very beau-ideal of an Egyptian Princess," Murray was
saying. "Your costume is perfect."

She laughed. Again that sweet, rare laughter! Gervase thrilled with the
pulsation of it,--it beat in his ears and smote his brain with a
strange echo of familiarity.

"Is it not?" she responded. "I am 'historically correct,' as your
friend Dr. Dean would say. My ornaments are genuine,--they all came out
of the same tomb."

"I find one fault with your attire, Princess," said one of the male
admirers who had entered with her; "part of your face is veiled. That
is a cruelty to us all!"

She waived the compliment aside with a light gesture.

"It was the fashion in ancient Egypt," she said. "Love in those old
days was not what it is now,--one glance, one smile was sufficient to
set the soul on fire and draw another soul towards it to consume
together in the suddenly kindled flame! And women veiled their faces in
youth, lest they should be deemed too prodigal of their charms; and in
age they covered themselves still more closely, in order not to affront
the Sun-God's fairness by their wrinkles." She smiled, a dazzling smile
that drew Gervase yet a few steps closer unconsciously, as though he
were being magnetized. "But I am not bound to keep the veil always up,"
and as she spoke she loosened it and let it fall, showing an exquisite
face, fair as a lily, and of such perfect loveliness that the men who
were gathered round her seemed to lose breath and speech at sight of
it. "That pleases you better, Mr. Murray?"

Denzil grew very pale. Bending down he murmured something to her in a
low tone. She raised her lovely brows with a little touch of surprise
that was half disdain, and looked at him straightly.

"You say very pretty things; but they do not always please me," she
observed. "However, that is my fault, no doubt."

And she began to move onwards, her Nubian page preceding her as before.
Gervase stood in her path and confronted her as she came.

"Introduce me," he said in a commanding tone to Denzil.

Denzil looked at him, somewhat startled by the suppressed passion in
his voice.

"Certainly. Princess, permit me!" She paused, a figure of silent grace
and attention. "Allow me to present to you my friend, Armand Gervase,
the most famous artist in France--Gervase, the Princess Ziska."

She raised her deep, dark eyes and fixed them on his face, and as he
looked boldly at her in a kind of audacious admiration, he felt again
that strange dizzying shock which had before thrilled him through and
through. There was something strangely familiar about her; the faint
odors that seemed exhaled from her garments,--the gleam of the
jewel-winged scarabei on her breast,--the weird light of the
emerald-studded serpent in her hair; and more, much more familiar than
these trifles, was the sound of her voice--dulcet, penetrating, grave
and haunting in its tone.

"At last we meet, Monsieur Armand Gervase!" she said slowly and with a
graceful inclination of her head. "But I cannot look upon you as a
stranger, for I have known you so long--in spirit!"

She smiled--a strange smile, dazzling yet enigmatical--and something
wild and voluptuous seemed to stir in Gervase's pulses as he touched
the small hand, loaded with quaint Egyptian gems, which she graciously
extended towards him.

"I think I have known you, too!" he said. "Possibly in a dream,--a
dream of beauty never realized till now!"

His voice sank to an amorous whisper; but she said nothing in reply,
nor could her looks be construed into any expression of either pleasure
or offence. Yet through the heart of young Denzil Murray went a sudden
pang of jealousy, and for the first time in his life he became
conscious that even among men as well as women there may exist what is
called the "petty envy" of a possible rival, and the uneasy desire to
outshine such an one in all points of appearance, dress and manner. His
gaze rested broodingly on the tall, muscular form of Gervase, and he
noted the symmetry and supple grace of the man with an irritation of
which he was ashamed. He knew, despite his own undeniably handsome
personality, which was set off to such advantage that night by the
richness of the Florentine costume he had adopted, that there was a
certain fascination about Gervase which was inborn, a trick of manner
which made him seem picturesque at all times; and that even when the
great French artist had stayed with him in Scotland and got himself up
for the occasion in more or less baggy tweeds, people were fond of
remarking that the only man who ever succeeded in making tweeds look
artistic was Armand Gervase. And in the white Bedouin garb he now wore
he was seen at his best; a certain restless passion betrayed in eyes
and lips made him look the savage part he had "dressed" for, and as he
bent his head over the Princess Ziska's hand and kissed it with an odd
mingling of flippancy and reverence, Denzil suddenly began to think how
curiously alike they were, these two! Strong man and fair woman, both
had many physical points in common,--the same dark, level brows,--the
same half wild, half tender eyes,--the same sinuous grace of form,--the
same peculiar lightness of movement,--and yet both were different,
while resembling each other. It was not what is called a "family
likeness" which existed between them; it was the cast of countenance or
"type" that exists between races or tribes, and had young Murray not
known his friend Gervase to be a French Provencal and equally
understood the Princess Ziska to be of Russian origin, he would have
declared them both, natives of Egypt, of the purest caste and highest
breeding. He was so struck by this idea that he might have spoken his
thought aloud had he not heard Gervase boldly arranging dance after
dance with the Princess, and apparently preparing to write no name but
hers down the entire length of his ball programme,--a piece of audacity
which had the effect of rousing Denzil to assert his own rights.

"You promised me the first waltz, Princess," he said, his face flushing
as he spoke.

"Quite true! And you shall have it," she replied, smiling. "Monsieur
Gervase will have the second. The music sounds very inviting; shall we
not go in?"

"We spoil the effect of your entree crowding about you like this," said
Denzil, glancing somewhat sullenly at Gervase and the other men
surrounding her; "and, by the way, you have never told us what
character you represent to-night; some great queen of old time, no
doubt?"

"No, I lay no claim to sovereignty," she answered; "I am for to-night
the living picture of a once famous and very improper person who bore
half my name, a dancer of old time, known as 'Ziska-Charmazel,' the
favorite of the harem of a great Egyptian warrior, described in
forgotten histories as 'The Mighty Araxes.'"

She paused; her admirers, fascinated by the sound of her voice, were
all silent. She fixed her eyes upon Gervase; and addressing him only,
continued:

"Yes, I am 'Charmazel,'" she said. "She was, as I tell you, an
'improper' person, or would be so considered by the good English
people. Because, you know, she was never married to Araxes!"

This explanation, given with the demurest naivete, caused a laugh among
her listeners.

"That wouldn't make her 'improper' in France," said Gervase gayly. "She
would only seem more interesting."

"Ah! Then modern France is like old Egypt?" she queried, still smiling.
"And Frenchmen can be found perhaps who are like Araxes in the number
of their loves and infidelities?"

"I should say my country is populated entirely with copies of him,"
replied Gervase, mirthfully. "Was he a very distinguished personage?"

"He was. Old legends say he was the greatest warrior of his time; as
you, Monsieur Gervase, are the greatest artist."

Gervase bowed.

"You flatter me, fair Charmazel!" he said; then suddenly as the strange
name passed his lips he recoiled as if he had been stung, and seemed
for a moment dazed. The Princess turned her dark eyes on him
inquiringly.

"Something troubles you, Monsieur Gervase?" she asked.

His brows knitted in a perplexed frown.

"Nothing ... the heat ... the air ... a trifle, I assure you? Will you
not join the dancers? Denzil, the music calls you. When your waltz with
the Princess is ended I shall claim my turn. For the moment ... au
revoir!"

He stood aside and let the little group pass him by: the Princess Ziska
moving with her floating, noiseless grace, Denzil Murray beside her,
the little Nubian boy waving the peacock-plumes in front of them both,
and all the other enslaved admirers of this singularly attractive woman
crowding together behind. He watched the little cortege with strained,
dim sight, till just at the dividing portal between the lounge and the
ballroom the Princess turned and looked back at him with a smile. Over
all the intervening heads their eyes met in one flash of mutual
comprehension! then, as the fair face vanished like a light absorbed
into the lights beyond it, Gervase, left alone, dropped heavily into a
chair and stared vaguely at the elaborate pattern of the thick carpet
at his feet. Passing his hand across his forehead he withdrew it, wet
with drops of perspiration.

"What is wrong with me?" he muttered. "Am I sickening for a fever
before I have been forty-eight hours in Cairo? What fool's notion is
this in my brain? Where have I seen her before? In Paris? St.
Petersburg? London? Charmazel! ... Charmazel! ... What has the name to
do with me? Ziska-Charmazel! It is like the name of a romance or a
gypsy tune. Bah! I must be dreaming! Her face, her eyes, are perfectly
familiar; where, where have I seen her and played the mad fool with her
before? Was she a model at one of the studios? Have I seen her by
chance thus in her days of poverty, and does her image recall itself
vividly now despite her changed surroundings? I know the very perfume
of her hair ... it seems to creep into my blood ... it intoxicates me
... it chokes me! ..."

He sprang up with a fierce gesture, then after a minute's pause sat
down again, and again stared at the floor.

The gay music from the ball-room danced towards him on the air in
sweet, broken echoes,--he heard nothing and saw nothing.

"My God!" he said at last, under his breath. "Can it be possible that I
love this woman?"



CHAPTER III.


Within the ball-room the tide of gayety was rising to its height. It
may be a very trivial matter, yet it is certain that fancy dress gives
a peculiar charm, freedom, and brightness to festivities of the kind;
and men who in the ordinary mournful black evening-suit would be
taciturn of speech and conventional in bearing, throw off their
customary reserve when they find themselves in the brilliant and
becoming attire of some picturesque period when dress was an art as
well as a fashion; and not only do they look their best, but they
somehow manage to put on "manner" with costume, and to become
courteous, witty, and graceful to a degree that sometimes causes their
own relatives to wonder at them and speculate as to why they have grown
so suddenly interesting. Few have read Sartor Resartus with either
comprehension or profit, and are therefore unaware, as Teufelsdrockh
was, that "Society is founded upon Cloth"--i.e. that man does adapt his
manners very much to suit his clothes; and that as the costume of the
days of Louis Quinze or Louis Seize inspired graceful deportment and
studied courtesy to women, so does the costume of our nineteenth
century inspire brusque demeanor and curt forms of speech, which,
however sincere, are not flattering to the fair sex.

More love-making goes on at a fancy-dress ball than at an ordinary one;
and numerous were the couples that strolled through the corridors and
along the terraces of the Gezireh Palace Hotel when, after the first
dozen dances were ended, it was discovered that one of the most
glorious of full moons had risen over the turrets and minarets of
Cairo, illumining every visible object with as clear a lustre as that
of day. Then it was that warriors and nobles of mediaeval days were
seen strolling with mythological goddesses and out-of-date peasants of
Italy and Spain; then audacious "toreadors" were perceived whispering
in the ears of crowned queens, and clowns were caught lingering
amorously by the side of impossible flower-girls of all nations. Then
it was that Sir Chetwynd Lyle, with his paunch discreetly restrained
within the limits of a Windsor uniform which had been made for him some
two or three years since, paced up and down complacently in the
moonlight, watching his two "girls," Muriel and Dolly, doing business
with certain "eligibles"; then it was that Lady Fulkeward, fearfully
and wonderfully got up as the "Duchess of Gainsborough" sidled to and
fro, flirted with this man, flouted that, giggled, shrugged her
shoulders, waved her fan, and comported herself altogether as if she
were a hoyden of seventeen just let loose from school for the holidays.
And then the worthy Dr. Maxwell Dean, somewhat exhausted by vigorous
capering in the "Lancers," strolled forth to inhale the air, fanning
himself with his cap as he walked, and listening keenly to every chance
word or sentence he could hear, whether it concerned himself or not. He
had peculiar theories, and one of them was, as he would tell you, that
if you overheard a remark apparently not intended for you, you were to
make yourself quite easy, as it was "a point of predestination" that
you should at that particular moment, consciously or unconsciously,
play the eavesdropper. The reason of it would, he always averred, be
explained to you later on in your career. The well-known saying
"listeners never hear any good of themselves" was, he declared, a most
ridiculous aphorism. "You overhear persons talking and you listen. Very
well. It may chance that you hear yourself abused. What then? Nothing
can be so good for you as such abuse; the instruction given is twofold;
it warns you against foes whom you have perhaps considered friends, and
it tones down any overweening conceit you may have had concerning your
own importance or ability. Listen to everything if you are wise--I
always do. I am an old and practised listener. And I have never
listened in vain. All the information I have gained through listening,
though apparently at first disconnected and unclassified, has fitted
into my work like the stray pieces of a puzzle, and has proved
eminently useful. Wherever I am I always keep my ears well open."

With such views as he thus entertained, life was always enormously
interesting to Dr. Dean--he found nothing tiresome, not even the
conversation of the type known as Noodle. The Noodle was as curious a
specimen of nature to him as the emu or the crocodile. And as he turned
up his intellectual little physiognomy to the deep, warm Egyptian sky
and inhaled the air sniffingly, as though it were a monster
scent-bottle just uncorked for his special gratification, he smiled as
he observed Muriel Chetwynd Lyle standing entirely alone at the end of
the terrace, attired as a "Boulogne fish-wife," and looking daggers
after the hastily-retreating figure of a "White Hussar,"--no other than
Ross Courtney.

"How extremely droll a 'Boulogne fish-wife' looks in Egypt," commented
the Doctor to his inward self. "Remarkable! The incongruity is
peculiarly typical of the Chetwynd Lyles. The costume of the young
woman is like the knighthood of her father,--droll, droll, very droll!"
Aloud he said--"Why are you not dancing, Miss Muriel?"

"Oh, I don't know--I'm tired," she said, petulantly. "Besides, all the
men are after that Ziska woman,--they seem to have lost their heads
about her!"

"Ah!" and Dr. Dean rubbed his hands. "Yes--possibly! Well, she is
certainly very beautiful."

"I cannot see it!" and Muriel Chetwynd Lyle flushed with the inward
rage which could not be spoken. "It's the way she dresses more than her
looks. Nobody knows who she is--but they do not seem to care about
that. They are all raving like lunatics over her, and that man--that
artist who arrived here to-day, Armand Gervase,--seems the maddest of
the lot. Haven't you noticed how often he has danced with her?"

"I couldn't help noticing that," said the Doctor, emphatically, "for I
have never seen anything more exquisite than the way they waltz
together. Physically, they seem made for one another."

Muriel laughed disdainfully.

"You had better tell Mr. Denzil Murray that; he is in a bad enough
humor now, and that remark of yours wouldn't improve it, I can tell
you!"

She broke off abruptly, as a slim, fair girl, dressed as a Greek vestal
in white, with a chaplet of silver myrtle-leaves round her hair,
suddenly approached and touched Dr. Dean on the arm.

"Can I speak to you a moment?" she asked.

"My dear Miss Murray! Of course!" and the Doctor turned to her at once.
"What is it?"

She paced with him a few steps in silence, while Muriel Chetwynd Lyle
moved languidly away from the terrace and re-entered the ball-room.

"What is it?" repeated Dr. Dean. "You seem distressed; come, tell me
all about it!"

Helen Murray lifted her eyes--the soft, violet-gray eyes that Lord
Fulkeward had said he admired--suffused with tears, and fixed them on
the old man's face.

"I wish," she said--"I wish we had never come to Egypt! I feel as if
some great misfortune were going to happen to us; I do, indeed! Oh, Dr.
Dean, have you watched my brother this evening?"

"I have," he replied, and then was silent.

"And what do you think?" she asked anxiously. "How can you account for
his strangeness--his roughness--even to me?"

And the tears brimmed over and fell, despite her efforts to restrain
them. Dr. Dean stopped in his walk and took her two hands in his own.

"My dear Helen, it's no use worrying yourself like this," he said.
"Nothing can stop the progress of the Inevitable. I have watched
Denzil, I have watched the new arrival, Armand Gervase, I have watched
the mysterious Ziska, and I have watched you! Well, what is the result?
The Inevitable,--simply the unconquerable Inevitable. Denzil is in
love, Gervase is in love, everybody is in love, except me and one
other! It is a whole network of mischief, and I am the unhappy fly that
has unconsciously fallen into the very middle of it. But the spider, my
dear,--the spider who wove the web in the first instance,--is the
Princess Ziska, and she is NOT in love! She is the other one. She is
not in love with anybody any more than I am. She's got something else
on her mind--I don't know what it is exactly, but it isn't love.
Excluding her and myself, the whole hotel is in love--YOU are in love!"

Helen withdrew her hands from his grasp and a deep flush reddened her
fair face.

"I!" she stammered--"Dr. Dean, you are mistaken. ..."

"Dr. Dean was never mistaken on love-matters in his life," said that
self-satisfied sage complacently. "Now, my dear, don't be offended. I
have known both you and your brother ever since you were left little
orphan children together; if I cannot speak plainly to you, who can?
You are in love, little Helen--and very unwisely, too--with the man
Gervase. I have heard of him often, but I never saw him before
to-night. And I don't approve of him."

Helen grew as pale as she had been rosy, and her face as the moonlight
fell upon it was very sorrowful.

"He stayed with us in Scotland two summers ago," she said softly. "He
was very agreeable..."

"Ha! No doubt! He made a sort of love to you then, I suppose. I can
imagine him doing it very well! There is a nice romantic glen near your
house--just where the river runs, and where I caught a fifteen-pound
salmon some five years ago. Ha! Catching salmon is healthy work; much
better than falling in love. No, no, Helen! Gervase is not good enough
for you; you want a far better man. Has he spoken to you to-night?"

"Oh, yes! And he has danced with me."

"Ha! How often?"

"Once."

"And how many times with the Princess Ziska?"

Helen's fair head drooped, and she answered nothing. All at once the
little Doctor's hand closed on her arm with a soft yet firm grip.

"Look!" he whispered.

She raised her eyes and saw two figures step out on the terrace and
stand in the full moonlight,--the white Bedouin dress of the one and
the glittering golden robe of the other made them easily
recognizable,--they were Gervase and the Princess Ziska. Helen gave a
faint, quick sigh.

"Let us go in," she said.

"Nonsense! Why should we go in? On the contrary, let us join them."

"Oh, no!" and Helen shrank visibly at the very idea. "I cannot; do not
ask me! I have tried--you know I have tried--to like the Princess; but
something in her--I don't know what it is--repels me. To speak
truthfully, I think I am afraid of her."

"Afraid! Pooh! Why should you be afraid? It is true one doesn't often
see a woman with the eyes of a vampire-bat; but there is nothing to be
frightened about. I have dissected the eyes of a vampire-bat--very
interesting work, very. The Princess has them--only, of course, hers
are larger and finer; but there is exactly the same expression in them.
I am fond of study, you know; I am studying her. What! Are you
determined to run away?"

"I am engaged for this dance to Mr. Courtney," said Helen, nervously.

"Well, well! We'll resume our conversation another time," and Dr. Dean
took her hand and patted it pleasantly. "Don't fret yourself about
Denzil; he'll be all right. And take my advice: don't marry a Bedouin
chief; marry an honest, straightforward, tender-hearted Englishman
who'll take care of you, not a nondescript savage who'll desert you!"

And with a humorous and kindly smile, Dr. Dean moved off to join the
two motionless and picturesque figures that stood side by side looking
at the moon, while Helen, like a frightened bird suddenly released,
fled precipitately back to the ball-room, where Ross Courtney was
already searching for her as his partner in the next waltz.

"Upon my word," mused the Doctor, "this is a very pretty kettle of
fish! The Gezireh Palace Hotel is not a hotel at all, it seems to me;
it is a lunatic asylum. What with Lady Fulkeward getting herself up as
twenty at the age of sixty; and Muriel and Dolly Chetwynd Lyle
man-hunting with more ferocity than sportsmen hunt tigers; Helen in
love, Denzil in love, Gervase in love--dear me! dear me! What a list of
subjects for a student's consideration! And the Princess Ziska ..."

He broke off his meditations abruptly, vaguely impressed by the strange
solemnity of the night. An equal solemnity seemed to surround the two
figures to which he now drew nigh, and as the Princess Ziska turned her
eyes upon him as he came, he was, to his own vexation, aware that
something indefinable disturbed his usual equanimity and gave him an
unpleasant thrill.

"You are enjoying a moonlight stroll, Doctor?" she inquired.

Her veil was now cast aside in a careless fold of soft drapery over her
shoulders, and her face in its ethereal delicacy of feature and
brilliant coloring looked almost too beautiful to be human. Dr. Dean
did not reply for a moment; he was thinking what a singular resemblance
there was between Armand Gervase and one of the figures on a certain
Egyptian fresco in the British Museum.

"Enjoying--er--er--a what?--a moonlight stroll? Exactly--er--yes!
Pardon me, Princess, my mind often wanders, and I am afraid I am
getting a little deaf as well. Yes, I find the night singularly
conducive to meditation; one cannot be in a land like this under a sky
like this"--and he pointed to the shining heaven--"without recalling
the great histories of the past."

"I daresay they were very much like the histories of the present," said
Gervase smiling.

"I should doubt that. History is what man makes it; and the character
of man in the early days of civilization was, I think, more forceful,
more earnest, more strong of purpose, more bent on great achievements."

"The principal achievement and glory being to kill as many of one's
fellow-creatures as possible!" laughed Gervase--"Like the famous
warrior, Araxes, of whom the Princess has just been telling me!"

"Araxes was great, but now Araxes is a forgotten hero," said the
Princess slowly, each accent of her dulcet voice chiming on the ear
like the stroke of a small silver bell. "None of the modern discoverers
know anything about him yet. They have not even found his tomb; but he
was buried in the Pyramids with all the honors of a king. No doubt your
clever men will excavate him some day."

"I think the Pyramids have been very thoroughly explored," said Dr.
Dean. "Nothing of any importance remains in them now."

The Princess arched her lovely eyebrows.

"No? Ah! I daresay you know them better than I do!" and she laughed, a
laugh which was not mirthful so much as scornful.

"I am very much interested in Araxes," said Gervase then, "partly, I
suppose, because he is as yet in the happy condition of being an
interred mummy. Nobody has dug him up, unwound his cerements, or
photographed him, and his ornaments have not been stolen. And in the
second place I am interested in him because it appears he was in love
with the famous dancer of his day whom the Princess represents
to-night,--Charmazel. I wish I had heard the story before I came to
Cairo; I would have got myself up as Araxes in person to-night."

"In order to play the lover of Charmazel?" queried the Doctor.

"Exactly!" replied Gervase with flashing eyes; "I daresay I could have
acted the part."

"I should imagine you could act any part," replied the Doctor, blandly.
"The role of love-making comes easily to most men."

The Princess looked at him as he spoke and smiled. The jewelled scarab,
set as a brooch on her bosom, flashed luridly in the moon, and in her
black eyes there was a similar lurid gleam.

"Come and talk to me," she said, laying her hand on his arm; "I am
tired, and the conversation of one's ball-room partners is very banal.
Monsieur Gervase would like me to dance all night, I imagine; but I am
too lazy. I leave such energy to Lady Fulkeward and to all the English
misses and madams. I love indolence."

"Most Russian women do, I think," observed the Doctor.

She laughed.

"But I am not Russian!"

"I know. I never thought you were," he returned composedly; "but
everyone in the hotel has come to the conclusion that you are!"

"They are all wrong! What can I do to put them right?" she inquired
with a fascinating little upward movement of her eyebrows.

"Nothing! Leave them in their ignorance. I shall not enlighten them,
though I know your nationality."

"You do?" and a curious shadow darkened her features. "But perhaps you
are wrong also!"

"I think not," said the Doctor, with gentle obstinacy. "You are an
Egyptian. Born in Egypt; born OF Egypt. Pure Eastern! There is nothing
Western about you. Is not it so?"

She looked at him enigmatically.

"You have made a near guess," she replied; "but you are not absolutely
correct. Originally, I am of Egypt."

Dr. Dean nodded pleasantly.

"Originally,--yes. That is precisely what I mean--originally! Let me
take you in to supper."

He offered his arm, but Gervase made a hasty step forward.

"Princess," he began--

She waved him off lightly.

"My dear Monsieur Gervase, we are not in the desert, where Bedouin
chiefs do just as they like. We are in a modern hotel in Cairo, and all
the good English mammas will be dreadfully shocked if I am seen too
much with you. I have danced with you five times, remember! And I will
dance with you once more before I leave. When our waltz begins, come
and find me in the upper-room."

She moved away on Dr. Dean's arm, and Gervase moodily drew back and let
her pass. When she had gone, he lit a cigarette and walked impatiently
up and down the terrace, a heavy frown wrinkling his brows. The shadow
of a man suddenly darkened the moonlight in front of him, and Denzil
Murray's hand fell on his shoulder.

"Gervase," he said, huskily, "I must speak to you."

Gervase glanced him up and down, taking note of his pale face and wild
eyes with a certain good-humored regret and compassion.

"Say on, my friend."

Denzil looked straight at him, biting his lips hard and clenching his
hands in the effort to keep down some evidently violent emotion.

"The Princess Ziska," he began,--

Gervase smiled, and flicked the ash off his cigarette.

"The Princess Ziska," he echoed,--"Yes? What of her? She seems to be
the only person talked about in Cairo. Everybody in this hotel, at any
rate, begins conversation with precisely the same words as you
do,--'the Princess Ziska!' Upon my life, it is very amusing!"

"It is not amusing to me," said Denzil, bitterly. "To me it is a matter
of life and death." He paused, and Gervase looked at him curiously.
"We've always been such good friends, Gervase," he continued, "that I
should be sorry if anything came between us now, so I think it is
better to make a clean breast of it and speak out plainly." Again he
hesitated, his face growing still paler, then with a sudden ardent
light glowing in his eyes he said--"Gervase, I love the Princess Ziska!"

Gervase threw away his cigarette and laughed aloud with a wild hilarity.

"My good boy, I am very sorry for you! Sorry, too, for myself! I
deplore the position in which we are placed with all my heart and soul.
It is unfortunate, but it seems inevitable. You love the Princess
Ziska,--and by all the gods of Egypt and Christendom, so do I!"



CHAPTER IV.


Denzil recoiled a step backward, then with an impulsive movement strode
close up to him, his face unnaturally flushed and his eyes glittering
with an evil fire.

"You--you love her! What!--in one short hour, you--who have often
boasted to me of having no heart, no eyes for women except as models
for your canvas,--you say now that you love a woman whom you have never
seen before to-night!"

"Stop!" returned Gervase somewhat moodily, "I am not so sure about
that. I HAVE seen her before, though where I cannot tell. But the fire
that stirs my pulses now seems to spring from some old passion suddenly
revived, and the eyes of the woman we are both mad for--well! they do
not inspire holiness, my dear friend! No,--neither in you nor in me!
Let us be honest with each other. There is something vile in the
composition of Madame la Princesse, and it responds to something
equally vile in ourselves. We shall be dragged down by the force of
it,--tant pis pour nous! I am sorrier for you than for myself, for you
are a good fellow, au fond; you have what the world is learning to
despise--sentiment. I have none; for as I told you before, I have no
heart, but I have passions--tigerish ones--which must be humored; in
fact, I make it my business in life to humor them."

"Do you intend to humor them in this instance?"

"Assuredly! If I can."

"Then,--friend as you have been, you can be friend no more," said
Denzil fiercely. "My God! Do you not understand? My blood is as warm as
yours,--I will not yield to you one smile, one look from Ziska! No!--I
will kill you first!"

Gervase looked at him calmly.

"Will you? Pauvre garcon! You are such a boy still,
Denzil,--by-the-bye, how old are you? Ah, I remember now,--twenty-two.
Only twenty-two, and I am thirty-eight! So in the measure of time
alone, your life is more valuable to you than mine is to me. If you
choose, therefore, you can kill me,--now, if you like! I have a very
convenient dagger in my belt--I think it has a point--which you are
welcome to use for the purpose; but, for heaven's sake, don't rant
about it--do it! You can kill me--of course you can; but you
cannot--mark this well, Denzil!--you cannot prevent my loving the same
woman whom you love. I think instead of raving about the matter here in
the moonlight, which has the effect of making us look like two orthodox
villains in a set stage-scene, we'd better make the best of it, and
resolve to abide by the lady's choice in the matter. What say you? You
have known her for many days,--I have known her for two hours. You have
had the first innings, so you cannot complain."

Here he playfully unfastened the Bedouin knife which hung at his belt
and offered it to Denzil, holding it delicately by the glittering blade.

"One thrust, my brave boy!" he said. "And you will stop the Ziska fever
in my veins at once and forever. But, unless you deal the murderer's
blow, the fever will go on increasing till it reaches its extremest
height, and then ..."

"And then?" echoed Denzil.

"Then? Oh--God only knows what then!"

Denzil thrust away the offered weapon with a movement of aversion.

"You can jest," he said. "You are always jesting. But you do not
know--you cannot read the horrible thoughts in my mind. I cannot
resolve their meaning even to myself. There is some truth in your light
words; I feel, I know instinctively, that the woman I love has an
attraction about her which is not good, but evil; yet what does that
matter? Do not men sometimes love vile women?"

"Always!" replied Gervase briefly.

"Gervase, I have suffered tortures ever since I saw her face!"
exclaimed the unhappy lad, his self-control suddenly giving way. "You
cannot imagine what my life has been! Her eyes make me mad,--the merest
touch of her hand seems to drag me away invisibly ..."

"To perdition!" finished Gervase. "That is the usual end of the journey
we men take with beautiful women."

"And now," went on Denzil, hardly heeding him, "as if my own despair
were not sufficient, you must needs add to it! What evil fate, I
wonder, sent you to Cairo! Of course, I have no chance with her now;
you are sure to win the day. And can you wonder then that I feel as if
I could kill you?"

"Oh, I wonder at nothing," said Gervase calmly, "except, perhaps, at
myself. And I echo your words most feelingly,--What evil fate sent me
to Cairo? I cannot tell! But here I purpose to remain. My dear Murray,
don't let us quarrel if we can help it; it is such a waste of time. I
am not angry with you for loving la belle Ziska,--try, therefore, not
to be angry with me. Let the fair one herself decide as to our merits.
My own opinion is that she cares for neither of us, and, moreover, that
she never will care for any one except her fascinating self. And
certainly her charms are quite enough to engross her whole attention.
By the way, let me ask you, Denzil, in this headstrong passion of
yours,--for it is a headstrong passion, just as mine is,--do you
actually intend to make the Ziska your wife if she will have you?"

"Of course," replied Murray, with some haughtiness.

A fleeting expression of amusement flitted over Gervase's features.

"It is very honorable of you," he said, "very! My dear boy, you shall
have your full chance. Because I--I would not make the Princess Madame
Gervase for all the world! She is not formed for a life of
domesticity--and pardon me--I cannot picture her as the contented
chatelaine of your grand old Scotch castle in Ross-shire."

"Why not?"

"From an artistic point of view the idea is incongruous," said Gervase
lazily. "Nevertheless, I will not interfere with your wooing."

Denzil's face brightened.

"You will not?"

"I will not--I promise! But"--and here Gervase paused, looking his
young friend full in the eyes, "remember, if your chance falls to the
ground--if Madame gives you your conge--if she does not consent to be a
Scottish chatelaine and listen every day to the bagpipes at
dinner,--you cannot expect me then to be indifferent to my own desires.
She shall not be Madame Gervase,--oh, no! She shall not be asked to
attend to the pot-au-feu; she shall act the role for which she has
dressed to-night; she shall be another Charmazel to another Araxes,
though the wild days of Egypt are no more!"

A sudden shiver ran through him as he spoke, and instinctively he drew
the white folds of his picturesque garb closer about him.

"There is a chill wind sweeping in from the desert," he said, "an evil,
sandy breath tasting of mummy-dust blown through the crevices of the
tombs of kings. Let us go in."

Murray looked at him in a kind of dull despair.

"And what is to be done?" he asked. "I cannot answer for
myself--and--from what you say, neither can you."

"My dear friend--or foe--whichever you determine to be, I can answer
for myself in one particular at any rate, namely, that as I told you, I
shall not ask the Princess to marry me. You, on the contrary, will do
so. Bonne chance! I shall do nothing to prevent Madame from accepting
the honorable position you intend to offer her. And till the fiat has
gone forth and the fair one has decided, we will not fly at each
other's throats like wolves disputing possession of a lamb; we will
assume composure, even if we have it not." He paused, and laid one hand
kindly on the younger man's shoulder, "Is it agreed?"

Denzil gave a mute sign of resigned acquiescence.

"Good! I like you, Denzil; you are a charming boy! Hot-tempered and a
trifle melodramatic in your loves and hatreds,--yes!--for that you
might have been a Provencal instead of a Scot. Before I knew you I had
a vague idea that all Scotchmen were, or needs must be, ridiculous,--I
don't know why. I associated them with bagpipes, short petticoats and
whisky. I had no idea of the type you so well represent,--the dark,
fine eyes, the strong physique, and the impetuous disposition which
suggests the South rather than the North; and to-night you look so
unlike the accepted cafe chantant picture of the ever-dancing
Highlander that you might in very truth be a Florentine in more points
than the dress which so well becomes you. Yes,--I like you--and more
than you, I like your sister. That is why I don't want to quarrel with
you; I wouldn't grieve Mademoiselle Helen for the world."

Murray gave him a quick, half-angry side-glance.

"You are a strange fellow, Gervase. Two summers ago you were almost in
love with Helen."

Gervase sighed.

"True. Almost. That's just it. 'Almost' is a very uncomfortable word. I
have been almost in love so many times. I have never been drawn by a
woman's eyes and dragged down, down,--in a mad whirlpool of sweetness
and poison intermixed. I have never had my soul strangled by the coils
of a woman's hair--black hair, black as night,--in the perfumed meshes
of which a jewelled serpent gleams ... I have never felt the insidious
horror of a love like strong drink mounting through the blood to the
brain, and there making inextricable confusion of time, space,
eternity, everything, except the passion itself; never, never have I
felt all this, Denzil, till to-night! To-night! Bah! It is a wild night
of dancing and folly, and the Princess Ziska is to blame for it all!
Don't look so tragic, my good Denzil,--what ails you now?"

"What ails me? Good Heavens! Can you ask it!" and Murray gave a gesture
of mingled despair and impatience. "If you love her in this wild,
uncontrolled way ..."

"It is the only way I know of," said Gervase. "Love must be wild and
uncontrolled to save it from banalite. It must be a summer
thunderstorm; the heavy brooding of the clouds of thought, the
lightning of desire, then the crash, the downpour,--and the end, in
which the bland sun smiles upon a bland world of dull but wholesome
routine and tame conventionality, making believe that there never was
such a thing known as the past storm! Be consoled, Denzil, and trust
me,--you shall have time to make your honorable proposal, and Madame
had better accept you,--for your love would last,--mine could not!"

He spoke with a strange fierceness and irritability, and his eyes were
darkened by a sudden shadow of melancholy. Denzil, bewildered at his
words and manner, stared at him in a kind of helpless indignation.

"Then you admit yourself to be cruel and unprincipled?" he said.

Gervase smiled, with a little shrug of impatience.

"Do I? I was not aware of it. Is inconstancy to women cruelty and want
of principle? If so, all men must bear the brunt of the accusation with
me. For men were originally barbarians, and always looked upon women as
toys or slaves; the barbaric taint is not out of us yet, I assure
you,--at any rate, it is not out of me. I am a pure savage; I consider
the love of woman as my right; if I win it, I enjoy it as long as I
please, but no longer,--and not all the forces of heaven and earth
should bind me to any woman I had once grown weary of."

"If that is your character," said Murray stiffly, "it were well the
Princess Ziska should know it."

"True," and Gervase laughed loudly. "Tell her, man ami! Tell her that
Armand Gervase is an unprincipled villain, not worth a glance from her
dazzling eyes! It will be the way to make her adore me! My good boy, do
you not know that there is something very marvellous in the attraction
we call love? It is a pre-ordained destiny,--and if one soul is so
constituted that it must meet and mix with another, nothing can hinder
the operation. So that, believe me, I am quite indifferent as to what
you say of me to Madame la Princesse or to anyone else. It will not be
for either my looks or my character that she will love me if, indeed,
she ever does love me; it will be for something indistinct, indefinable
but resistless in us both, which no one on earth can explain. And now I
must go, Denzil, and claim the fair one for this waltz. Try and look
less miserable, my dear fellow,--I will not quarrel with you on the
Princess's account, nor on any other pretext if I can help it,--for I
don't want to kill you, and I am convinced your death and not mine
would be the result of a fight between us!"

His eyes flashed under his straight, fierce brows with a sudden touch
of imperiousness, and his commanding presence became magnetic, almost
over-powering. Tormented with a dozen cross-currents of feeling, young
Denzil Murray was mute;--only his breath came and went quickly, and
there was a certain silently-declared antagonism in his very attitude.
Gervase saw it and smiled; then turning away with his peculiarly
noiseless step and grace of bearing, he disappeared.



CHAPTER V.


Ten minutes later the larger number of dancers in the ball-room came to
a sudden pause in their gyrations and stood looking on in open-mouthed,
reluctantly-admiring wonderment at the exquisite waltz movements of the
Princess Ziska as she floated past them in the arms of Gervase, who, as
a "Bedouin chief," was perhaps only acting his part aright when he held
her to him with so passionate and close a grip and gazed down upon her
fair face with such a burning ardor in his eyes. Nothing in the dancing
world was ever seen like the dancing of these two--nothing so
languorously beautiful as the swaying grace of their well-matched
figures gliding to the music in as perfectly harmonious a measure as a
bird's two wings beat to the pulsations of the air. People noticed that
as the Princess danced a tiny tinkling sound accompanied her every
step; and the more curious observers, peeping downwards as she flew by,
saw that she had kept to the details of ancient Egyptian costume so
exactly that she even wore sandals, and that her feet, perfectly shaped
and lovely as perfectly shaped and lovely hands, were bare save for the
sandal-ribbons which crossed them, and which were fastened with jewels.
Round the slim ankles were light bands of gold, also glittering with
gems, and furthermore adorned by little golden bells which produced the
pretty tinkling music that attracted attention.

"What a delightful creature she is!" said Lady Fulkeward, settling her
"Duchess of Gainsborough" hat on her powdered wig more becomingly and
smiling up in the face of Ross Courtney, who happened to be standing
close by. "So sweetly unconventional! Everybody here thinks her
improper; she may be, but I like her. I'm not a bit of a prude."

Courtney smiled irreverently at this. Prudery and "old" Lady Fulkeward
were indeed wide apart. Aloud he said:

"I think whenever a woman is exceptionally beautiful she generally gets
reported as 'improper' by her own sex; especially if she has a
fascinating manner and dresses well."

"So true," and Lady Fulkeward simpered. "Exactly what I find wherever I
go! Poor dear Ziska! She has to pay the penalty for captivating all you
men in the way she does. I'm sure YOU have lost your heart to her quite
as much as anybody else, haven't you?"

Courtney reddened.

"I don't think so," he answered; "I admire her very much, but I haven't
lost my heart ..."

"Naughty boy! Don't prevaricate!" and Lady Fulkeward smiled in the
bewitching pearly manner her admirably-made artificial teeth allowed
her to do. "Every man in the hotel is in love with the Princess, and
I'm sure I don't blame them. If I belonged to your sex I should be in
love with her too. As it is, I am in love with the new arrival, that
glorious creature, Gervase. He is superb! He looks like an untamed
savage. I adore handsome barbarians!"

"He's scarcely a barbarian, I think," said Courtney, with some
amusement; "he is the great French artist, the 'lion' of Paris just
now,--only secondary to Sarah Bernhardt."

"Artists are always barbarians," declared Lady Fulkeward
enthusiastically. "They paint naughty people without any clothes on;
they never have any idea of time; they never keep their appointments;
and they are always falling in love with the wrong person and getting
into trouble, which is so nice of them! That's why I worship them all.
They are so refreshingly unlike OUR set!"

Courtney raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

"You know what I mean by our set," went on the vivacious old
"Gainsborough," "the aristocrats whose conversation is limited to the
weather and scandal, and who are so frightfully dull! Dull! My dear
Ross you know how dull they are!"

"Well, upon my word, they are," admitted Courtney. "You are right
there. I certainly agree with you."

"I'm sure you do! They have no ideas. Now, artists have ideas,--they
live on ideas and sentiment. Sentiment is such a beautiful thing--so
charming! I believe that fierce-looking Gervase is a creature of
sentiment--and how delightful that is! Of course, he'll paint the
Princess Ziska--he MUST paint her,--no one else could do it so well. By
the way, have you been asked to her great party next week?"

"Yes."

"And are you going?"

"Most assuredly."

"So am I. That absurd Chetwynd Lyle woman came to me this evening and
asked me if I really thought it would be proper to take her 'girls'
there," and Lady Fulkeward laughed shrilly. "Girls indeed! I should say
those two long, ugly women could go anywhere with safety. 'Do you
consider the Princess a proper woman?' she asked, and I said,
'Certainly, as proper as you are.'"

Courtney laughed outright, and began to think there was some fun in
Lady Fulkeward.

"By Jove! Did you tell her that?"

"I should think I did! Oh, I know a thing or two about the Chetwynd
Lyles, but I keep my mouth shut till it suits me to open it. I said I
was going, and then, of course, she said she would."

"Naturally."

And Courtney gave the answer vaguely, for the waltz was ended, and the
Princess Ziska, on the arm of Gervase, was leaving the ball-room.

"She's going," exclaimed Lady Fulkeward. "Dear creature! Excuse me--I
must speak to her for a moment."

And with a swish of her full skirts and a toss of her huge hat and
feathers, the lively flirt of sixty tripped off with all the agility of
sixteen, leaving Courtney to follow her or remain where he was, just as
he chose. He hesitated, and during that undecided pause was joined by
Dr. Maxwell Dean.

"A very brilliant and interesting evening!" said that individual,
smiling complacently. "I don't remember any time when I have enjoyed
myself so thoroughly."

"Really! I shouldn't have thought you a man to care for fancy-dress
balls," said Courtney.

"Shouldn't you? Ha! Well, some fancy-dress balls I might not care for,
but this one has been highly productive of entertainment in every way,
and several incidents connected with it have opened up to me a new
vista of research, the possibilities of which are--er--very interesting
and remarkable."

"Indeed!" murmured Courtney indifferently, his eyes fixed on the slim,
supple figure of the Princess Ziska as she slowly moved amid her circle
of admirers out of the ball-room, her golden skirts gleaming sun-like
against the polished floor, and the jewels about her flashing in vivid
points of light from the hem of her robe to the snake in her hair.

"Yes," continued the Doctor, smiling and rubbing his hands, "I think I
have got the clue to a very interesting problem. But I see you are
absorbed--and no wonder! A charming woman, the Princess
Ziska--charming! Do you believe in ghosts?"

This question was put with such unexpected abruptness that Courtney was
quite taken aback.

"Ghosts?" he echoed. "No, I cannot say I do. I have never seen one, and
I have never heard of one that did not turn out a bogus."

"Oh! I don't mean the usual sort of ghost," said the Doctor, drawing
his shelving brows together in a meditative knot of criss-cross lines
over his small, speculative eyes. "The ghost that is common to Scotch
castles and English manor-houses, and that appears in an orthodox
night-gown, sighs, screams, rattles chains and bangs doors ad libitum.
No, no! That kind of ghost is composed of indigestion, aided by rats
and a gust of wind. No; when I say ghosts, I mean ghosts--ghosts that
do not need the midnight hour to evolve themselves into being, and that
by no means vanish at cock-crow. My ghosts are those that move about
among us in social intercourse for days, months--sometimes
years--according to their several missions; ghosts that talk to us,
imitate our customs and ways, shake hands with us, laugh and dance with
us, and altogether comport themselves like human beings. Those are my
kind of ghosts--'scientific' ghosts. There are hundreds, aye, perhaps
thousands of them in the world at this very moment."

An uncomfortable shudder ran through Courtney's veins; the Doctor's
manner seemed peculiar and uncanny.

"By Jove! I hope not!" he involuntarily exclaimed. "The orthodox ghost
is an infinitely better arrangement. One at least knows what to expect.
But a 'scientific' ghost that moves about in society, resembling
ourselves in every respect, appearing to be actually human and yet
having no humanity at all in its composition, is a terrific notion
indeed! You don't mean to say you believe in the possibility of such an
appalling creature?"

"I not only believe it," answered the Doctor composedly, "I know it!"

Here the band crashed out "God save the Queen," which, as a witty
Italian once remarked, is the De Profundis of every English festivity.

"But--God bless my soul!" began Courtney ...

"No, don't say that!" urged the Doctor. "Say 'God save the Queen.' It's
more British."

"Bother 'God save the Queen,'" exclaimed Courtney impatiently.--"Look
here, you don't mean it seriously, do you?"

"I always mean everything seriously," said Dr. Dean,--"even my jokes."

"Now come, no nonsense, Doctor," and Courtney, taking his arm, led him
towards one of the windows opening out to the moonlit garden,--"can
you, as an honest man, assure me in sober earnest that there are
'scientific ghosts' of the nature you describe?"

The little Doctor surveyed the scenery, glanced up at the moon, and
then at his companion's pleasant but not very intelligent face.

"I would rather not discuss the matter," he said at last, with some
brusqueness. "There are certain subjects connected with psychic
phenomena on which it is best to be silent; besides, what interest can
such things have for you? You are a sportsman,--keep to your big game,
and leave ghost-hunting to me."

"That is not a fair answer to my question," said Courtney, "I'm sure I
don't want to interfere with your researches in any way; I only want to
know if it is a fact that ghosts exist, and that they are really of
such a nature as to deserve the term 'scientific.'"

Dr. Dean was silent a moment. Then, stretching out his small, thin
hand, he pointed to the clear sky, where the stars were almost lost to
sight in the brilliance of the moon.

"Look out there!" he said, his voice thrilling with sudden and solemn
fervor. "There in the limitless ether move millions of universes--vast
creations which our finite brains cannot estimate without
reeling,--enormous forces always at work, in the mighty movements of
which our earth is nothing more than a grain of sand. Yet far more
marvellous than their size or number is the mathematical exactitude of
their proportions,--the minute perfection of their balance,--the
exquisite precision with which every one part is fitted to another
part, not a pin's point awry, not a hair's breadth astray. Well, the
same exactitude which rules the formation and working of Matter
controls the formation and working of Spirit; and this is why I know
that ghosts exist, and, moreover, that we are COMPELLED by the laws of
the phenomena surrounding us to meet them every day."

"I confess I do not follow you at all," said Courtney bewildered.

"No," and Dr. Dean smiled curiously. "I have perhaps expressed myself
obscurely. Yet I am generally considered a clear exponent. First of
all, let me ask you, do you believe in the existence of Matter?"

"Why, of course!"

"You do. Then you will no doubt admit that there is Something--an
Intelligent Principle or Spiritual Force--which creates and controls
this Matter?"

Courtney hesitated.

"Well, I suppose there must be," he said at last. "I'm not a
church-goer, and I'm rather a free-thinker, but I certainly believe
there is a Mind at work behind the Matter."

"That being the case," proceeded the Doctor, "I suppose you will not
deny to this Invisible Mind the same exactitude of proportion and
precise method of action already granted to Visible Matter?".

"Of course, I could not deny such a reasonable proposition," said
Courtney.

"Very good! Pursuing the argument logically, and allowing for an
exactly-moving Mind behind exactly-working Matter, it follows that
there can be no such thing as injustice anywhere in the universe?"

"My dear Socrates redivivus," laughed Courtney, "I fail to see what all
this has to do with ghosts."

"It has everything to do with them," declared the Doctor emphatically,
"I repeat that if we grant these already stated premises concerning the
composition of Mind and Matter, there can be no such thing as
injustice. Yet seemingly unjust things are done every day, and
seemingly go unpunished. I say 'seemingly' advisedly, because the
punishment is always administered. And here the 'scientific ghosts'
come in. 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord,--and the ghosts I speak
of are the Lord's way of doing it."

"You mean ..." began Courtney.

"I mean," continued the Doctor with some excitement, "that the sinner
who imagines his sins are undiscovered is a fool who deceives himself.
I mean that the murderer who has secretly torn the life out of his
shrieking victim in some unfrequented spot, and has succeeded in hiding
his crime from what we call 'justice,' cannot escape the Spiritual law
of vengeance. What would you say," and Dr. Dean laid his thin fingers
on Courtney's coat-sleeve with a light pressure,--"if I told you that
the soul of a murdered creature is often sent back to earth in human
shape to dog its murderer down? And that many a criminal undiscovered
by the police is haunted by a seeming Person,--a man or a woman,--who
is on terms of intimacy with him,--who eats at his table, drinks his
wine, clasps his hand, smiles in his face, and yet is truly nothing but
the ghost of his victim in human disguise, sent to drag him gradually
to his well-deserved, miserable end; what would you say to such a
thing?"

"Horrible!" exclaimed Courtney, recoiling. "Beyond everything monstrous
and horrible!"

The Doctor smiled and withdrew his hand from his companion's arm.

"There are a great many horrible things in the universe as well as
pleasant ones," he observed dryly. "Crime and its results are always of
a disagreeable nature. But we cannot alter the psychic law of equity
any more than we can alter the material law of gravitation. It is
growing late; I think, if you will excuse me, I will go to bed."

Courtney look at him puzzled and baffled.

"Then your 'scientific ghosts' are positive realities?" he began; here
he gave a violent start as a tall white figure suddenly moved out of
the shadows in the garden and came slowly towards them. "Upon my life,
Doctor, you have made me quite nervous!"

"No, no, surely not," smiled the Doctor pleasantly--"not nervous! Not
such a brave killer of game as you are! No, no! You don't take Monsieur
Armand Gervase for a ghost, do you? He is too substantial,--far too
substantial! Ha! ha! ha!"

And he laughed quietly, the wrinkled smile still remaining on his face
as Gervase approached.

"Everybody is going to bed," said the great artist lazily. "With the
departure of the Princess Ziska, the pleasures of the evening are
ended."

"She is certainly the belle of Cairo this season," said Courtney, "but
I tell you what,--I am rather sorry to see young Murray has lost his
head about her."

"Parbleu! So am I," said Gervase imperturbably; "it seems a pity."

"He will get over it," interposed Dr. Dean placidly. "It's an
illness,--like typhoid,--we must do all we can to keep down the
temperature of the patient, and we shall pull him through."

"Keep him cool, in short!" laughed Gervase.

"Exactly!" The little Doctor smiled shrewdly. "You look feverish,
Monsieur Gervase."

Gervase flushed red under his dark skin.

"I daresay I am feverish," he replied irritably,--"I find this place
hot as an oven. I think I should go away to-morrow if I had not asked
the Princess Ziska to sit to me."

"You are going to paint her picture?" exclaimed Courtney. "By Jove! I
congratulate you. It will be the masterpiece of the next salon."

Gervase bowed.

"You flatter me! The Princess is undoubtedly an attractive subject.
But, as I said before, this place stifles me. I think the hotel is too
near the river,--there is an oozy smell from the Nile that I hate, and
the heat is perfectly sulphureous. Don't you find it so, Doctor?"

"N-n-o! I cannot say that I do. Let me feel your pulse; I am not a
medical man--but I can easily recognize any premonitions of illness."

Gervase held out his long, brown, well-shaped hand, and the savant's
small, cool fingers pressed lightly on his wrist.

"You are quite well, Monsieur Gervase," he said after a pause,--"You
have a little sur-excitation of the nerves, certainly,--but it is not
curable by medicine." He dropped the hand he held, and looked
up--"Good-night!"

"Good-night!" responded Gervase.

"Good-night!" added Courtney.

And with an amiable salutation the Doctor went his way. The ball-room
was now quite deserted, and the hotel servants were extinguishing the
lights.

"A curious little man, that Doctor," observed Gervase, addressing
Courtney, to whom as yet he had not been formally introduced.

"Very curious!" was the reply, "I have known him for some years,--he is
a very clever man, but I have never been able quite to make him out. I
think he is a bit eccentric. He's just been telling me he believes in
ghosts."

"Ah, poor fellow!" and Gervase yawned as, with his companion, he
crossed the deserted ball-room. "Then he has what you call a screw
loose. I suppose it is that which makes him interesting. Good-night!"

"Good-night!"

And separating, they went their several ways to the small, cell-like
bedrooms, which are the prime discomfort of the Gezireh Palace Hotel,
and soon a great silence reigned throughout the building. All Cairo
slept,--save where at an open lattice window the moon shone full on a
face up-turned to her silver radiance,--the white, watchful face, and
dark, sleepless eyes of the Princess Ziska.



CHAPTER VI.


Next day the ordinary course of things was resumed at the Gezireh
Palace Hotel, and the delights and flirtations of the fancy-ball began
to vanish into what Hans Breitmann calls "the ewigkeit". Men were
lazier than usual and came down later to breakfast, and girls looked
worn and haggard with over-much dancing, but otherwise there was no
sign to indicate that the festivity of the past evening had left
"tracks behind," or made a lasting impression of importance on any
human life. Lady Chetwynd Lyle, portly and pig-faced, sat on the
terrace working at an elaborate piece of cross-stitch, talking scandal
in the civilest tone imaginable, and damning all her "dear friends"
with that peculiar air of entire politeness and good breeding which
distinguishes certain ladies when they are saying nasty things about
one another. Her daughters, Muriel and Dolly, sat dutifully near her,
one reading the Daily Dial, as befitted the offspring of the editor and
proprietor thereof, the other knitting. Lord Fulkeward lounged on the
balustrade close by, and his lovely mother, attired in quite a charming
and girlish costume of white foulard exquisitely cut and fitting into a
waist not measuring more than twenty-two inches, reclined in a long
deck-chair, looking the very pink of painted and powdered perfection.

"You are so very lenient," Lady Chetwynd Lyle was saying, as she bent
over her needlework. "So very lenient, my dear Lady Fulkeward, that I
am afraid you do not read people's characters as correctly as I do. I
have had, owing to my husband's position in journalism, a great deal of
social experience, and I assure you I do NOT think the Princess Ziska a
safe person. She may be perfectly proper--she MAY be--but she is not
the style we are accustomed to in London."

"I should rather think not!" interrupted Lord Fulkeward, hastily. "By
Jove! She wouldn't have a hair left on her head in London, don'cher
know!"

"What do you mean?" inquired Muriel Chetwynd Lyle, simpering. "You
really do say such funny things, Lord Fulkeward!"

"Do I?" and the young nobleman was so alarmed and embarrassed at the
very idea of his ever saying funny things that he was rendered quite
speechless for a moment. Anon he took heart and resumed: "Er--well--I
mean that the society women would tear her to bits in no time. She'd
get asked nowhere, but she'd get blackguarded everywhere; she couldn't
help herself with that face and those eyes."

His mother laughed.

"Dear Fulke! You are such a naughty boy! You shouldn't make such
remarks before Lady Lyle. She never says anything against anyone!"

"Dear Fulke" stared. Had he given vent to his feelings he would have
exclaimed: "Oh, Lord!--isn't the old lady a deep one!" But as it was he
attended to his young moustache anxiously and remained silent. Lady
Chetwynd Lyle meanwhile flushed with annoyance; she felt that Lady
Fulkeward's remark was sarcastic, but she could not very well resent
it, seeing that Lady Fulkeward was a peeress of the realm, and that she
herself, by the strict laws of heraldry, was truly only "Dame" Chetwynd
Lyle, as wife of an ordinary knight, and had no business to be called
"her ladyship" at all.

"I should, indeed, be sorry," she said, primly, "if I were mistaken in
my private estimate of the Princess Ziska's character, but I must
believe my own eyes and the evidence of my own senses, and surely no
one can condone the extremely fast way in which she behaved with that
new man--that French artist, Armand Gervase--last night. Why, she
danced six times with him! And she actually allowed him to walk home
with her through the streets of Cairo! They went off together, in their
fancy dresses, just as they were! I never heard of such a thing!"

"Oh, there was nothing remarkable at all in that," said Lord Fulkeward.
"Everybody went about the place in fancy costume last night. I went out
in my Neapolitan dress with a girl, and I met Denzil Murray coming down
a street just behind here--took him for a Florentine prince, upon my
word! And I bet you Gervase never got beyond the door of the Princess's
palace; for that blessed old Nubian she keeps--the chap with a face
like a mummy--bangs the gate in everybody's face, and says in guttural
French: 'La Princesse ne voit per-r-r-sonne!' I've tried it. I tell you
it's no go!"

"Well, we shall all get inside the mysterious palace next Wednesday
evening," said Lady Fulkeward, closing her eyes with a graceful air of
languor, "It will be charming, I am sure, and I daresay we shall find
that there is no mystery at all about it."

"Two months ago," suddenly said a smooth voice behind them, "the
Ziska's house or palace was uninhabited."

Lady Fulkeward gave a little scream and looked round.

"Good gracious, Dr. Dean! How you frightened me!"

The Doctor made an apologetic bow.

"I am very sorry. I forgot you were so sensitive; pray pardon me! As I
was saying, two months ago the palace of the Princess Ziska was a
deserted barrack. Formerly, so I hear, it used to be the house of some
great personage; but it had been allowed to fall into decay, and nobody
would rent it, even for the rush of the Cairene season, till it was
secured by the Nubian you were speaking of just now--the interesting
Nubian with the face like a mummy; he took it and furnished it, and
when it was ready Madame la Princesse appeared on the scene and has
resided there every since."

"I wonder what that Nubian has to do with her?" said Lady Chetwynd
Lyle, severely.

"Nothing at all," replied the Doctor, calmly. "He is the merest
servant--the kind of person who is 'told off' to attend on the women of
a harem."

"Ah, I see you have been making inquiries concerning the princess,
Doctor," said Lady Fulkeward, with a smile.

"I have."

"And have you found out anything about her?"

"No; that is, nothing of social importance, except, perhaps, two
items--first, that she is not a Russian; secondly, that she has never
been married."

"Never been married!" exclaimed Lady Chetwynd Lyle, then suddenly
turning to her daughters she said blandly: "Muriel, Dolly, go into the
house, my dears. It is getting rather warm for you on this terrace. I
will join you in a few minutes."

The "girls" rose obediently with a delightfully innocent and juvenile
air, and fortunately for them did not notice the irreverent smile that
played on young Lord Fulkeward's face, which was immediately reflected
on the artistically tinted countenance of his mother, at the manner of
their dismissal.

"There is surely nothing improper in never having been married," said
Dr. Dean, with a mock serious air. "Consider, my dear Lady Lyle, is
there not something very chaste and beautiful in the aspect of an old
maid?"

Lady Lyle looked up sharply. She had an idea that both she and her
daughters were being quizzed, and she had some difficulty to control
her rising temper.

"Then do you call the Princess an old maid?" she demanded.

Lady Fulkeward looked amused; her son laughed outright. But the
Doctor's face was perfectly composed.

"I don't know what else I can call her," he said, with a thoughtful
air. "She is no longer in her teens, and she has too much voluptuous
charm for an ingenue. Still, I admit, you would scarcely call her 'old'
except in the parlance of the modern matrimonial market. Our
present-day roues, you know, prefer their victims young, and I fancy
the Princess Ziska would be too old and perhaps too clever for most of
them. Personally speaking, she does not impress me as being of any
particular age, but as she is not married, and is, so to speak, a maid
fully developed, I am perforce obliged to call her an old maid."

"She wouldn't thank you for the compliment," said Lady Lyle with a
spiteful grin.

"I daresay not," responded the Doctor blandly, "but I imagine she has
very little personal vanity. Her mind is too preoccupied with something
more important than the consideration of her own good looks."

"And what is that?" inquired Lady Fulkeward, with some curiosity.

"Ah! there is the difficulty! What is it that engrosses our fair friend
more than the looking-glass? I should like to know--but I cannot find
out. It is an enigma as profound as that of the sphinx. Good-morning,
Monsieur Gervase!"--and, turning round, he addressed the artist, who
just then stepped out on the terrace carrying a paintbox and a large
canvas strapped together in portable form. "Are you going to sketch
some picturesque corner of the city?"

"No," replied Gervase, listlessly raising his white sun-hat to the
ladies present with a courteous, yet somewhat indifferent grace. "I'm
going to the Princess Ziska's. I shall probably get the whole outline
of her features this morning."

"A full-length portrait?" inquired the Doctor.

"I fancy not. Not the first attempt, at any rate--head and shoulders
only."

"Do you know where her house is?" asked Lord Fulkeward. "If you don't,
I'll walk with you and show you the way."

"Thanks--you are very good. I shall be obliged to you."

And raising his hat again he sauntered slowly off, young Fulkeward
walking with him and chatting to him with more animation than that
exhausted and somewhat vacant-minded aristocrat usually showed to
anyone.

"It is exceedingly warm," said Lady Lyle, rising then and putting away
her cross-stitch apparatus, "I thought of driving to the Pyramids this
afternoon, but really ..."

"There is shade all the way," suggested the Doctor, "I said as much to
a young woman this morning who has been in the hotel for nearly two
months, and hasn't seen the Pyramids yet."

"What has she been doing with herself?" asked Lady Fulkeward, smiling.

"Dancing with officers," said Dr. Dean. "How can Cheops compare with a
moustached noodle in military uniform! Good-bye for the present; I'm
going to hunt for scarabei."

"I thought you had such a collection of them already," said Lady Lyle.

"So I have. But the Princess had a remarkable one on last night, and I
want to find another like it. It's blue--very blue--almost like a rare
turquoise, and it appears it is the sign-manual of the warrior Araxes,
who was a kind of king in his way, or desert chief, which was about the
same thing in those days. He fought for Amenhotep, and seemed from all
accounts to be a greater man than Amenhotep himself. The Princess Ziska
is a wonderful Egyptologist; I had a most interesting conversation with
her last night in the supper-room."

"Then she is really a woman of culture and intelligence?" queried Lady
Lyle.

The Doctor smiled.

"I should say she would be a great deal too much for the University of
Oxford, as far as Oriental learning goes," he said. "She can read the
Egyptian papyri, she tells me, and she can decipher anything on any of
the monuments. I only wish I could persuade her to accompany me to
Thebes and Karnak."

Lady Fulkeward unfurled her fan and swayed it to and fro with an
elegant languor.

"How delightful that would be!" she sighed. "So romantic and
solemn--all those dear old cities with those marvellous figures of the
Egyptians carved and painted on the stones! And Rameses--dear Rameses!
He really has good legs everywhere! Haven't you noticed that? So many
of these ancient sculptures represent the Egyptians with such angular
bodies and such frightfully thin legs, but Rameses always has good legs
wherever you find him. It's so refreshing! DO make up a party, Dr.
Dean!--we'll all go with you; and I'm sure the Princess Ziska will be
the most charming companion possible. Let us have a dahabeah! I'm good
for half the expenses, if you will only arrange everything."

The Doctor stroked his chin and looked dubious, but he was evidently
attracted by the idea.

"I'll see about it," he said at last. "Meanwhile I'll go and have a
hunt for some traces of Amenhotep and Araxes."

He strolled down the terrace, and Lady Chetwynd Lyle, turning her back
on "old" Lady Fulkeward, went after her "girls," while the fascinating
Fulkeward herself continued to recline comfortably in her chair, and
presently smiled a welcome on a youngish-looking man with a fair
moustache who came forward and sat down beside her, talking to her in
low, tender and confidential tones. He was the very impecunious colonel
of one of the regiments then stationed in Cairo, and as he never wasted
time on sentiment, he had been lately thinking that a marriage with a
widowed peeress who had twenty thousand pounds a year in her own right
might not be a "half bad" arrangement for him. So he determined to do
the agreeable, and as he was a perfect adept in the art of making love
without feeling it, he got on very well, and his prospects brightened
steadily hour by hour.

Meanwhile young Fulkeward was escorting Armand Gervase through several
narrow by-streets, talking to him as well as he knew how and trying in
his feeble way to "draw him out," in which task he met with but
indifferent success.

"It must be awfully jolly and--er--all that sort of thing to be so
famous," he observed, glancing up at the strong, dark, brooding face
above him. "They had a picture of yours over in London once; I went to
see it with my mother. It was called 'Le Poignard,' do you remember it?"

Gervase shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"Yes, I remember. A poor thing at its best. It was a woman with a
dagger in her hand."

"Yes, awfully fine, don'cher know! She was a very dark woman--too dark
for my taste,--and she'd got a poignard clasped in in her right hand.
Of course, she was going to murder somebody with it; that was plain
enough. You meant it so, didn't you?"

"I suppose I did."

"She was in a sort of Eastern get-up," pursued Fulkeward, "one of your
former studies in Egypt, perhaps."

Gervase started, and passed his hand across his forehead with a
bewildered air.

"No, no! Not a former study, by any means. How could it be? This is my
first visit to Egypt. I have never been here before."

"Haven't you? Really! Well, you'll find it awfully interesting and all
that sort of thing. I don't see half as much of it as I should like.
I'm a weak chap--got something wrong with my lungs,--awful bother, but
can't be helped. My mother won't let me do too much. Here we are; this
is the Princess Ziska's."

They were standing in a narrow street ending in a cul-de-sac, with tall
houses on each side which cast long, black, melancholy shadows on the
rough pavement below. A vague sense of gloom and oppression stole over
Gervase as he surveyed the outside of the particular dwelling Fulkeward
pointed out to him--a square, palatial building, which had no doubt
once been magnificent in its exterior adornment, but which now, owing
to long neglect, had fallen into somewhat melancholy decay. The sombre
portal, fantastically ornamented with designs copied from some of the
Egyptian monuments, rather resembled the gateway of a tomb than an
entrance to the private residence of a beautiful living woman, and
Fulkeward, noting his companion's silence, added:

"Not a very cheerful corner, is it? Some of these places are regular
holes, don'cher know; but I daresay it's all right inside."

"You have never been inside?"

"Never." And Fulkeward lowered his voice: "Look up there; there's the
beast that keeps everybody out!"

Gervase followed his glance, and perceived behind the projecting carved
lattice-work of one of the windows a dark, wrinkled face and two
gleaming eyes which, even at that distance, had, or appeared to have, a
somewhat sinister expression.

"He's the nastiest type of Nubian I have ever seen," pursued Fulkeward.
"Looks just like a galvanized corpse."

Gervase smiled, and perceiving a long bell-handle at the gateway,
pulled it sharply. In another moment the Nubian appeared, his aspect
fully justifying Lord Fulkeward's description of him. The
parchment-like skin on his face was yellowish-black, and wrinkled in a
thousand places; his lips were of a livid blue, and were drawn up and
down above and below the teeth in a kind of fixed grin, while the dense
brilliance of his eyes was so fierce and fiery as to suggest those of
some savage beast athirst for prey.

"Madame la Princesse Ziska" began Gervase, addressing his unfascinating
object with apparent indifference to his hideousness.

The Nubian's grinning lips stretched themselves wider apart as, in a
thick, snarling voice he demanded:

"Votre nom?"

"Armand Gervase."

"Entrez!"

"Et moi?" queried Fulkeward, with a conciliatory smile.

"Non! Pas vous. Monsieur Armand Gervase, seul!"

Fulkeward gave a resigned shrug of his shoulders; Gervase looked round
at him ere he crossed the threshold of the mysterious habitation.

"I'm sorry you have to walk back alone."

"Don't mention it," said Fulkeward affably. "You see, you have come on
business. You're going to paint the Princess's picture; and I daresay
this blessed old rascal knows that I want nothing except to look at his
mistress and wonder what she's made of."

"What she's made of?" echoed Gervase in surprise. "Don't you think
she's made like other women?"

"No; can't say I do. She seems all fire and vapor and eyes in the
middle, don'cher know. Oh, I'm an ass--always was--but that's the
feeling she gives me. Ta-ta! Wish you a pleasant morning!"

He nodded and strolled away, and Gervase hesitated yet another moment,
looking full at the Nubian, who returned him stare for stare.

"Maintenant?" he began.

"Oui, maintenant," echoed the Nubian.

"La Princesse, ou est elle?"

"La!" and the Nubian pointed down a long, dark passage beyond which
there seemed to be the glimmer of green palms and other foliage. "Elle
vous attend, Monsieur Armand Gervase! Entrez! Suivez!"

Slowly Gervase passed in, and the great tomb-like door closed upon him
with a heavy clang. The whole long, bright day passed, and he did not
reappear; not a human foot crossed the lonely street and nothing was
seen there all through the warm sunshiny hours save the long, black
shadows on the pavement, which grew longer and darker as the evening
fell.



CHAPTER VII.


Within the palace of the Princess Ziska a strange silence reigned. In
whatever way the business of her household was carried on, it was
evidently with the most absolute noiselessness, for not a sound
disturbed the utter stillness environing her. She herself, clad in
white garments that clung about her closely, displaying the perfect
outlines of her form, stood waiting for her guest in a room that was
fairly dazzling to the eye in its profusion of exquisitely assorted and
harmonized colors, as well as impressive to the mind in its suggestions
of the past rather than of the present. Quaint musical instruments of
the fashion of thousands of years ago hung on the walls or lay on
brackets and tables, but no books such as our modern time produces were
to be seen; only tied-up bundles of papyri and curious little tablets
of clay inscribed with mysterious hieroglyphs. Flowers adorned every
corner--many of them strange blossoms which a connoisseur would have
declared to be unknown in Egypt,--palms and ferns and foliage of every
description were banked up against the walls in graceful profusion, and
from the latticed windows the light filtered through colored squares,
giving a kind of rainbow-effect to the room, as though it were a scene
in a dream rather than a reality. And even more dream-like than her
surroundings was the woman who awaited the approach of her visitor, her
eyes turned towards the door--fiery eyes filled with such ardent
watchfulness as seemed to burn the very air. The eyes of a hawk
gleaming on its prey,--the eyes of a famished tiger in the dark, were
less fraught with terrific meaning than the eyes of Ziska as she
listened attentively to the on-coming footsteps through the outside
corridor which told her that Gervase was near.

"At last!" she whispered, "at last!" The next moment the Nubian flung
the door wide open and announced "Monsieur Armand Gervase!"

She advanced with all the wonderful grace which distinguished her,
holding out both her slim, soft hands. Gervase caught them in his own
and kissed them fervently, whereupon the Nubian retired, closing the
door after him.

"You are very welcome, Monsieur Gervase," said the Princess then,
speaking with a measured slowness that was attractive as well as
soothing to the ear. "You have left all the dear English people well at
the Gezireh Palace? Lady Fulkeward was not too tired after her
exertions at the ball? And you?"

But Gervase was gazing at her in a speechless confusion of mind too
great for words. A sudden, inexplicable emotion took possession of
him,--an emotion to which he could give no name, but which stupefied
him and held him mute. Was it her beauty which so dazzled his senses?
Was it some subtle perfume in the room that awoke a dim haunting
memory? Or what was it that seemed so strangely familiar? He struggled
with himself, and finally spoke out his thought:

"I have seen you before, Princess; I am quite sure I have! I thought I
had last night; but to-day I am positive about it. Strange, isn't it? I
wonder where we really met?"

Her dark eyes rested on him fully.

"I wonder!" she echoed, smiling. "The world is so small, and so many
people nowadays make the 'grand tour,' that it is not at all surprising
we should have passed each other en route through our journey of life."

Gervase still hesitated, glancing about him with a singularly
embarrassed air, while she continued to watch him intently. Presently
his sensations, whatever they were, passed off, and gradually
recovering his equanimity, he became aware that he was quite alone with
one of the most fascinating women he had ever seen. His eyes flashed,
and he smiled.

"I have come to paint your picture," he said softly. "Shall I begin?"

She had seated herself on a silken divan, and her head rested against a
pile of richly-embroidered cushions. Without waiting for her answer, he
threw himself down beside her and caught her hand in his.

"Shall I paint your picture?" he whispered. "Or shall I make love to
you?"

She laughed,--the sweet, low laugh that somehow chilled his blood while
it charmed his hearing.

"Whichever you please," she answered. "Both performances would no doubt
be works of art!"

"What do you mean?"

"Can you not understand? If you paint my picture it will be a work of
art. If you make love to me it will equally be a work of art: that is,
a composed thing--an elaborate study."

"Bah! Love is not a composed thing," said Gervase, leaning closer to
her. "It is wild, and full of libertinage as the sea."

"And equally as fickle," added the Princess composedly, taking a fan of
feathers near her and waving it to and fro. "Man's idea of love is to
take all he can get from a woman, and give her nothing in return but
misery sometimes, and sometimes death."

"You do not,--you cannot think that!" said Gervase, looking at her
dazzling face with a passion of admiration he made no attempt to
conceal. "Men on the whole are not as cruel or as treacherous as women.
I would swear, looking at you, that, beautiful as you are, you are
cruel, and that is perhaps why I love you! You are like a splendid
tigress waiting to be tamed!"

"And you think you could tame me?" interposed Ziska, looking at him
with an inscrutable disdain in her black eyes.

"Yes, if you loved me!"

"Ah, possibly! But then it happens that I do not love you. I love no
one. I have had too much of love; it is a folly I have grown weary of!"

Gervase fixed his eyes on her with an audacious look which seemed to
hint that he might possibly take advantage of being alone with her to
enforce his ideas of love more eloquently than was in accordance with
the proprieties. She perceived his humor, smiled, and coldly gave him
back glance for glance. Then, rising from the divan, she drew herself
up to her full height and surveyed him with a kind of indulgent
contempt.

"You are an uprincipled man, Armand Gervase," she said; "and do you
know I fear you always will be! A cleansing of your soul through
centuries of fire will be necessary for you in the next world,--that
next world which you do not believe in. But it is perhaps as well to
warn you that I am not without protection in this place ... See!" and
as she spoke she clapped her hands.

A clanging noise as of brazen bells answered her,--and Gervase,
springing up from his seat, saw, to his utter amazement, the apparently
solid walls of the room in which they were, divide rapidly and form
themselves in several square openings which showed a much larger and
vaster apartment beyond, resembling a great hall. Here were assembled
some twenty or thirty gorgeously-costumed Arab attendants,--men of a
dark and sinister type, who appeared to be fully armed, judging from
the unpleasant-looking daggers and other weapons they carried at their
belts. The Princess clapped her hands again, and the walls closed in
the same rapid fashion as they had opened, while the beautiful mistress
of this strange habitation laughed mirthfully at the complete confusion
of her visitor and would-be lover.

"Paint me now!" she said, flinging herself in a picturesque attitude on
one of the sofas close by; "I am ready."

"But _I_ am not ready!" retorted Gervase, angrily. "Do you take me for
a child, or a fool?"

"Both in one," responded the Princess, tranquilly; "being a man!"

His breath came and went quickly.

"Take care, beautiful Ziska!" he said. "Take care how you defy me!"

"And take care, Monsieur Gervase; take care how you defy ME!" she
responded, with a strange, quick glance at him. "Do you not realize
what folly you are talking? You are making love to me in the fashion of
a brigand, rather than a nineteenth-century Frenchman of good
standing,--and I--I have to defend myself against you also
brigand-wise, by showing you that I have armed servants within call! It
is very strange,--it would frighten even Lady Fulkeward, and I think
she is not easily frightened. Pray commence your work, and leave such
an out-of-date matter as love to dreamers and pretty sentimentalists,
like Miss Helen Murray."

He was silent, and busied himself in unstrapping his canvas and
paint-box with a great deal of almost vicious energy. In a few moments
he had gained sufficient composure to look full at her, and taking his
palette in hand, he began dabbing on the colors, talking between whiles.

"Do you suppose," he said, keeping his voice carefully subdued, "that
you can intimidate me by showing me a score of wretched black rascals
whom you have placed on guard to defend you out there? And why did you
place them on guard? You must have been afraid of me! Pardieu! I could
snatch you out of their midst, if I chose! You do not know me; if you
did, you would understand that not all the world, armed to the teeth
should balk me of my desires! But I have been too hasty--that I own,--I
can wait." He raised his eyes and saw that she was listening with an
air of amused indifference. "I shall have to mix strange tints in your
portrait, ma belle! It is difficult to find the exact hue of your
skin--there is rose and brown in it; and there is yet another color
which I must evolve while working,--and it is not the hue of health. It
is something dark and suggestive of death; I hope you are not destined
to an early grave! And yet, why not? It is better that a beautiful
woman should die in her beauty than live to become old and tiresome ..."

"You think that?" interrupted the Ziska suddenly, smiling somewhat
coldly.

"I do, most honestly. Had I lived in the early days of civilization,
when men were allowed to have as many women as they could provide for,
I would have mercifully killed any sweet favorite as soon as her beauty
began to wane. A lovely woman, dead in her first exquisite youth,--how
beautiful a subject for the mind to dwell upon! How it suggests all
manner of poetic fancies and graceful threnodies! But a woman grown
old, who has outlived all passion and is a mere bundle of fat, or a
mummy of skin and bone,--what poetry does her existence suggest? How
can she appeal to art or sentiment? She is a misery to herself and an
eyesore to others. Yes, Princess, believe me,--Love first, and Death
afterwards, are woman's best friends."

"You believe in Death?" ask the Princess, looking steadily at him.

"It is the only thing I do believe in," he answered lightly. "It is a
fact that will bear examination, but not contradiction. May I ask you
to turn your head slightly to the left--so! Yes, that will do; if I can
catch the look in your eyes that gleams there now,--the look of
intense, burning, greedy cruelty which is so murderously fascinating, I
shall be content."

He seated himself opposite to her, and, putting down his palette, took
up his canvas, and posing it on his knee, began drawing the first rough
outline of his sketch in charcoal. She, meanwhile, leaning against
heaped-up cushions of amber satin, remained silent.

"You are not a vain woman," he pursued, "or you would resent my
description of your eyes. 'Greedy cruelty' is not a pretty expression,
nor would it be considered complimentary by the majority of the fair
sex. Yet, from my point of view, it is the highest flattery I can pay
you, for I adore the eyes of savage animals, and the beautiful eye of
the forest-beast is in your head,--diableresse charmante comme vous
etes! I wonder what gives you such an insatiate love of vengeance?"

He looked up and saw her eyes glistening and narrowing at the corners,
like the eyes of an angry snake.

"If I have such a feeling," she replied slowly, "it is probably a
question of heritage."

"Ah! Your parents were perhaps barbaric in their notions of love and
hatred?" he queried, lazily working at his charcoal sketch with growing
admiration for its result.

"My parents came of a race of kings!" she answered. "All my ancestors
were proud, and of a temper unknown to this petty day. They resented a
wrong, they punished falsehood and treachery, and they took a life for
a life. YOUR generation tolerates every sin known in the calendar with
a smile and a shrug,--you have arrived at the end of your civilization,
even to the denial of Deity and a future life."

"That is not the end of our civilization, Princess," said Gervase,
working away intently, with eyes fixed on the canvas as he talked.
"That is the triumphal apex, the glory, the culmination of everything
that is great and supreme in manhood. In France, man now knows himself
to be the only God; England--good, slow-pacing England--is approaching
France in intelligence by degrees, and I rejoice to see that it is
possible for a newspaper like the Agnostic to exist in London. Only the
other day that excellent journal was discussing the possibility of
teaching monkeys to read, and a witty writer, who adopts the nom de
plume of 'Saladin,' very cleverly remarked 'that supposing monkeys were
able to read the New Testament, they would still remain monkeys; in
fact, they would probably be greater monkeys than ever.' The fact of
such an expression being allowed to pass muster in once pious London is
an excellent sign of the times and of our progress towards the pure Age
of Reason. The name of Christ is no longer one to conjure with."

A dead silence followed his words, and the peculiar stillness and
heaviness of the atmosphere struck him with a vague alarm. He lifted
his eyes,--the Princess Ziska met his gaze steadily, but there was
something in her aspect that moved him to wonderment and a curious
touch of terror. The delicate rose-tint of her cheeks had faded to an
ashy paleness, her lips were pressed together tightly and her eyes
seemed to have gained a vivid and angry lustre which Medusa herself
might have envied.

"Did you ever try to conjure with that name?" she asked.

"Never," he replied, forcing a smile and remonstrating with himself for
the inexplicable nature of his emotions.

She went on slowly:

"In my creed--for I have a creed--it is believed that those who have
never taken the sacred name of Christ to their hearts, as a talisman of
comfort and support, are left as it were in the vortex of
uncertainties, tossed to and fro among many whirling and mighty forces,
and haunted forever by the phantoms of their own evil deeds. Till they
learn and accept the truth of their marvellous Redemption, they are the
prey of wicked spirits who tempt and lead them on to divers miseries.
But when the great Name of Him who died upon the Cross is acknowledged,
then it is found to be of that transfiguring nature which turns evil to
good, and sometimes makes angels out of fiends. Nevertheless, for the
hardened reprobate and unbeliever the old laws suffice."

Gervase had stopped the quick movement of his "fusin," and looked at
her curiously.

"What old laws?" he asked.

"Stern justice without mercy!" she answered; then in lighter accents
she added: "Have you finished your first outline?"

In reply, he turned his canvas round to her, showing her a head and
profile boldly presented in black and white. She smiled.

"It is clever; but it is not like me," she said. "When you begin the
coloring you will find that your picture and I have no resemblance to
each other."

He flushed with a sense of wounded amour propre.

"Pardon, madame!--I am no novice at the art of painting," he said; "and
much as your charms dazzle and ensnare me, they do not disqualify my
brain and hand from perfectly delineating them upon my canvas. I love
you to distraction; but my passion shall not hinder me from making your
picture a masterpiece."

She laughed.

"What an egoist you are, Monsieur Gervase!" she said. "Even in your
professed passion for me you count yourself first,--me afterwards!"

"Naturally!" he replied. "A man must always be first by natural
creation. When he allows himself to play second fiddle, he is a fool!"

"And when he is a fool--and he often is--he is the first of fools!"
said the Princess. "No ape--no baboon hanging by its tail to a
tree--looks such a fool as a man-fool. For a man-fool has had all the
opportunities of education and learning bestowed upon him; this great
universe, with its daily lessons of the natural and the supernatural,
is his book laid open for his reading, and when he will neither read it
nor consider it, and, moreover, when he utterly denies the very Maker
of it, then there is no fool in all creation like him. For the ape-fool
does at least admit that there may be a stronger beast somewhere,--a
creature who may suddenly come upon him and end his joys of hanging by
his tail to a tree and make havoc of his fruit-eating and chattering,
while man thinks there is nothing anywhere superior to himself."

Gervase smiled tolerantly.

"I am afraid I have ruffled you, Princess," he said. "I see you have
religious ideas: I have none."

Once again she laughed musically.

"Religious ideas! I! Not at all. I have a creed as I told you, but it
is an ugly one--not at all sentimental or agreeable. It is one I have
adopted from ancient Egypt."

"Explain it to me," said Gervase; "I will adopt it also, for your sake."

"It is too supernatural for you," she said, paying no heed to the
amorous tone of his voice or the expressive tenderness of his eyes.

"Never mind! Love will make me accept an army of ghosts, if necessary."

"One of the chief tenets of my faith," she continued, "is the eternal
immortality of each individual Soul. Will you accept that?"

"For the moment, certainly!"

Her eyes glowed like great jewels as she proceeded:

"The Egyptian cult I follow is very briefly explained. The Soul begins
in protoplasm without conscious individuality. It progresses through
various forms till individual consciousness is attained. Once attained,
it is never lost, but it lives on, pressing towards perfection, taking
upon itself various phases of existence according to the passions which
have most completely dominated it from the first. That is all. But
according to this theory, you might have lived in the world long ago,
and so might I: we might even have met; and for some reason or other we
may have become re-incarnated now. A disciple of my creed would give
you that as the reason why you sometimes imagine you have seen me
before."

As she spoke, the dazed and troubled sensation he had once previously
experienced came upon him; he laid down the canvas he held and passed
his hand across his forehead bewilderedly.

"Yes; very curious and fantastic. I've heard a great deal about the
doctrine of reincarnation. I don't believe in it,--I can't believe in
it! But if I could: if I could imagine I had ever met you in some
bygone time, and you were like what you are at this moment, I should
have loved you,--I MUST have loved you! You see I cannot leave the
subject of love alone; and your re-incarnation idea gives my fancy
something to work upon. So, beautiful Ziska, if your soul ever took the
form of a flower, I must have been its companion blossom; if it ever
paced the forest as a beast of prey, I must have been its mate; if it
ever was human before, then I must have been its lover! Do you like
such pretty follies? I will talk them by the hour."

Here he rose, and with a movement that was half fierce and half tender,
he knelt beside her, taking her hands in his own.

"I love you, Ziska! I cannot help myself. I am drawn to you by some
force stronger than my own will; but you need not be afraid of me--not
yet! As I said, I can wait. I can endure the mingled torture and
rapture of this sudden passion and make no sign, till my patience
tires, and then--then I will win you if I die for it!"

He sprang up before she could speak a word in answer, and seizing his
canvas again, exclaimed gayly:

"Now for the hues of morning and evening combined, to paint the
radiance of this wicked soul of love that so enthralls me! First, the
raven-black of midnight for the hair,--the lustre of the coldest,
brightest stars for eyes,--the blush-rose of early dawn for lips and
cheeks. Ah! How shall I make a real beginning of this marvel?"

"It will be difficult, I fear," said Ziska slowly, with a faint, cold
smile; "and still more difficult, perchance, will be the end!"



CHAPTER VIII.


The table d'hote at the Gezireh Palace Hotel had already begun when
Gervase entered the dining-room and sat down near Lady Fulkeward and
Dr. Dean.

"You have missed the soup," said her ladyship, looking up at him with a
sweet smile. "All you artists are alike,--you have no idea whatever of
time. And how have you succeeded with that charming mysterious person,
the Princess Ziska?"

Gervase kept his gaze steadily fixed on the table-cloth. He was
extremely pale, and had the air of one who has gone through some great
mental exhaustion.

"I have not succeeded as well as I expected," he answered slowly. "I
think my hand must have lost its cunning. At any rate, whatever the
reason may be, Art has been defeated by Nature."

He crumbled up the piece of bread near his plate in small portions with
a kind of involuntary violence in the action, and Dr. Dean,
deliberately drawing out a pair of spectacles from their case, adjusted
them, and surveyed him curiously.

"You mean to say that you cannot paint the Princess's picture?"

Gervase glanced up at him with a half-sullen, half-defiant expression.

"I don't say that," he replied; "I can paint something--something which
you can call a picture if you like,--but there is no resemblance to the
Princess Ziska in it. She is beautiful, and I can get nothing of her
beauty,--I can only get the reflection of a face which is not hers."

"How very curious!" exclaimed Lady Fulkeward. "Quite psychological, is
it not, Doctor? It is almost creepy!" and she managed to produce a
delicate shudder of her white shoulders without cracking the blanc de
perle enamel. "It will be something fresh for you to study."

"Possibly it will--possibly," said the Doctor, still surveying Gervase
blandly through his round glasses; "but it isn't the first time I have
heard of painters who unconsciously produce other faces than those of
their sitters. I distinctly remember a case in point. A gentleman,
famous for his charities and general benevolence, had his portrait
painted by a great artist for presentation to the town-hall of his
native place, and the artist was quite unable to avoid making him unto
the likeness of a villain. It was quite a distressing affair; the
painter was probably more distressed than anybody about it, and he
tried by every possible means in his power to impart a truthful and
noble aspect to the countenance of the man who was known and admitted
to be a benefactor to his race. But it was all in vain: the portrait
when finished was the portrait of a stranger and a scoundrel. The
people for whom it was intended declared they would not have such a
libel on their generous friend hung up in their town-hall. The painter
was in despair, and there was going to be a general hubbub, when, lo
and behold the 'noble' personage himself was suddenly arrested for a
brutal murder committed twelve years back. He was found guilty and
hanged, and the painter kept the portrait that had so remarkably
betrayed the murderer's real nature, as a curiosity ever afterwards."

"Is that a fact?" inquired a man who was seated at the other side of
the table, and who had listened with great interest to the story.

"A positive fact," said the Doctor. "One of those many singular
circumstances which occur in life, and which are beyond all
explanation."

Gervase moved restlessly; then filling for himself a glass of claret,
drained it off thirstily.

"Something of the same kind has happened to me," he said with a hard,
mirthless laugh, "for out of the most perfect beauty I have only
succeeded in presenting an atrocity."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Lady Fulkeward. "What a disappointing day you must
have had! But of course, you will try again; the Princess will surely
give you another sitting?"

"Oh, yes! I shall certainly try again and yet again, and ever so many
times again," said Gervase, with a kind of angry obstinacy in his tone,
"the more so as she has told me I will never succeed in painting her."

"She told you that, did she?" put in Dr. Dean, with an air of lively
interest.

"Yes."

Just then the handing round of fresh dishes and the clatter of knives
and forks effectually put a stop to the conversation for the time, and
Gervase presently glancing about him saw that Denzil Murray and his
sister were dining apart at a smaller table with young Lord Fulkeward
and Ross Courtney. Helen was looking her fairest and best that
evening--her sweet face, framed in its angel aureole of bright hair had
a singular look of pureness and truth expressed upon it rare to find in
any woman beyond her early teens. Unconsciously to himself, Gervase
sighed as he caught a view of her delicate profile, and Lady
Fulkeward's sharp ears heard the sound of that sigh.

"Isn't that a charming little party over there?" she asked. "Young
people, you know! They always like to be together! That very sweet
girl, Miss Murray, was so much distressed about her brother
to-day,--something was the matter with him--a touch of fever, I
believe,--that she begged me to let Fulke dine with them in order to
distract Mr. Denzil's mind. Fulke is a dear boy, you know--very
consoling in his ways, though he says so little. Then Mr. Courtney
volunteered to join them, and there they are. The Chetwynd Lyles are
gone to a big dinner at the Continental this evening."

"The Chetwynd Lyles--let me see. Who are they?" mused Gervase aloud,
"Do I know them?"

"No,--that is, you have not been formally introduced," said Dr. Dean.
"Sir Chetwynd Lyle is the editor and proprietor of the London Daily
Dial, Lady Chetwynd Lyle is his wife, and the two elderly-youthful
ladies who appeared as 'Boulogne fishwives' last night at the ball are
his daughters."

"Cruel man!" exclaimed Lady Fulkeward with a girlish giggle. "The idea
of calling those sweet girls, Muriel and Dolly, 'elderly-youthful!'"

"What are they, my dear madam, what are they?" demanded the
imperturbable little savant. "'Elderly-youthful' is a very convenient
expression, and applies perfectly to people who refuse to be old and
cannot possibly be young."

"Nonsense! I will not listen to you!" and her ladyship opened her
jewelled fan and spread it before her eyes to completely screen the
objectionable Doctor from view. "Don't you know your theories are quite
out of date? Nobody is old,--we all utterly refuse to be old! Why," and
she shut her fan with a sudden jerk, "I shall have you calling ME old
next."

"Never, madam!" said Dr. Dean gallantly laying his hand upon his heart.
"You are quite an exception to the rule. You have passed through the
furnace of marriage and come out unscathed. Time has done its worst
with you, and now retreats, baffled and powerless; it can touch you no
more!"

Whether this was meant as a compliment or the reverse it would have
been difficult to say, but Lady Fulkeward graciously accepted it as the
choicest flattery, and bowed, smiling and gratified. Dinner was now
drawing to its end, and people were giving their orders for coffee to
be served to them on the terrace and in the gardens, Gervase among the
rest. The Doctor turned to him.

"I should like to see your picture of the Princess," he said,--"that is
if you have no objection."

"Not the least in the world," replied Gervase,--"only it isn't the
Princess, it is somebody else."

A faint shudder passed over him. The Doctor noticed it.

"Talking of curious things," went on that irrepressible savant, "I
started hunting for a particular scarabeus to-day. I couldn't find it,
of course,--it generally takes years to find even a trifle that one
especially wants. But I came across a queer old man in one of the
curiosity-shops who told me that over at Karnak they had just
discovered a large fresco in one of the tombs describing the exploits
of the very man whose track I'm on--Araxes ..."

Gervase started,--he knew not why.

"What has Araxes to do with you?" he demanded.

"Oh, nothing! But the Princess Ziska spoke of him as a great warrior in
the days of Amenhotep,--and she seems to be a great Egyptologist, and
to know many things of which we are ignorant. Then you know last night
she adopted the costume of a dancer of that period, named
Ziska-Charmazel. Well, now it appears that in one part of this fresco
the scene depicted is this very Ziska-Charmazel dancing before Araxes."

Gervase listened with strained attention,--his heart beat thickly, as
though the Doctor were telling him of some horrible circumstance in
which he had an active part; whereas he had truly no interest at all in
the matter, except in so far as events of history are more or less
interesting to everyone.

"Well?" he said after a pause.

"Well," echoed Dr. Dean. "There is really nothing more to say beyond
that I want to find out everything I can concerning this Araxes, if
only for the reason that the charming Princess chose to impersonate his
lady-love last night. One must amuse one's self in one's own fashion,
even in Egypt, and this amuses ME."

Gervase rose, feeling in his pocket for his cigarette-case.

"Come," he said briefly, "I will show you my picture."

He straightened his tall, fine figure and walked slowly across the room
to the table where Denzil Murray sat with his sister and friends.

"Denzil," he said,--"I have made a strange portrait of the Princess
Ziska, and I'm going to show it to Dr. Dean. I should like you to see
it too. Will you come?"

Denzil looked at him with a dark reproach in his eyes.

"If you like," he answered shortly.

"I do like!" and Gervase laid his hand on the young fellow's shoulder
with a kind pressure. "You will find it a piece of curious
disenchantment, as well as a proof of my want of skill. You are all
welcome to come and look at it except ..." here he hesitated,--"except
Miss Murray. I think--yes, I think it might possibly frighten Miss
Murray."

Helen raised her eyes to his, but said nothing.

"Oh, by Jove!" murmured Lord Fulkeward, feeling his moustache as usual.
"Then don't you come, Miss Murray. We'll tell you all about it
afterwards."

"I have no curiosity on the subject," she said a trifle coldly.
"Denzil, you will find me in the drawing-room. I have a letter to write
home."

With a slight salute she left them, Gervase watching the disappearance
of her graceful figure with a tinge of melancholy regret in his eyes.

"It is evident Mademoiselle Helen does not like the Princess Ziska," he
observed.

"Oh, well, as to that," said Fulkeward hastily, "you know you can't
expect women to lose their heads about her as men do. Beside, there's
something rather strange in the Princess's manner and appearance, and
perhaps Miss Murray doesn't take to her any more than I do."

"Oh, then you are not one of her lovers?" queried Dr. Dean smiling.

"No; are you?"

"I? Good heavens, my dear young sir, I was never in love with a woman
in my life! That is, not what YOU would call in love. At the age of
sixteen I wrote verses to a mature young damsel of forty,--a woman with
a remarkably fine figure and plenty of it; she rejected my advances
with scorn, and I have never loved since!"

They all laughed,--even Denzil Murray's sullen features cleared for the
moment into the brightness of a smile.

"Where did you paint the Princess's picture?" inquired Ross Courtney
suddenly.

"In her own house," replied Gervase. "But we were not alone, for the
fascinating fair one had some twenty or more armed servants within
call." There was a movement of surprise among his listeners, and he
went on: "Yes; Madame is very well protected, I assure you,--as much so
as if she were the first favorite in a harem. Come now, and see my
sketch."

He led the way to a private sitting-room which he had secured for
himself in the hotel at almost fabulous terms. It was a small
apartment, but it had the advantage of a long French window which
opened out into the garden. Here, on an easel, was a canvas with its
back turned towards the spectator.

"Sit down," said Gervase abruptly addressing his guests, "and be
prepared for a curiosity unlike anything you have ever seen before!" He
paused a moment, looking steadily at Dr. Dean. "Perhaps, Doctor, as you
are interested in psychic phenomena, you may be able to explain how I
got such a face on my canvas, for I cannot explain it to myself."

He slowly turned the canvas round, and, scarcely heeding the
exclamation of amazement that broke simultaneously from all the men
present, stared at it himself, fascinated by a singular magnetism more
potent than either horror or fear.



CHAPTER IX.


What a strange and awful face it was!--what a thing of distorted
passion and pain! What an agony was expressed in every line of the
features!--agony in which the traces of a divine beauty lingered only
to render the whole countenance more repellent and terrific! A kind of
sentient solemnity, mingled with wrath and terror, glared from the
painted eyes,--the lips, slightly parted in a cruel upward curve,
seemed about to utter a shriek of menace,--the hair, drooping in black,
thick clusters low on the brow, looked wet as with the dews of the
rigor mortis,--and to add to the mysterious horror of the whole
conception, the distinct outline of a death's-head was seen plainly
through the rose-brown flesh-tints. There was no real resemblance in
this horrible picture to the radiant and glowing loveliness of the
Princess Ziska, yet, at the same time, there was sufficient dim
likeness to make an imaginative person think it might be possible for
her to assume that appearance in death. Several minutes passed in utter
silence,--then Lord Fulkeward suddenly rose.

"I'm going!" he said. "It's a beastly thing; it makes me sick!"

"Grand merci!" said Gervase with a forced smile.

"I really can't help it," declared the young man, turning his back to
the picture. "If I am rude, you must excuse it. I'm not very strong--my
mother will tell you I get put out very easily,--and I shall dream of
this horrid face all night if I don't give it a wide berth."

And, without any further remark he stepped out through the open window
into the garden, and walked off. Gervase made no comment on his
departure; he turned his eyes towards Dr. Dean who, with spectacles on
nose, was staring hard at the picture with every sign of the deepest
interest.

"Well, Doctor," he said, "you see it is not at all like the Princess."

"Oh, yes it is!" returned the Doctor placidly. "If you could imagine
the Princess's face in torture, it would be like her. It is the kind of
expression she might wear if she suddenly met with a violent end."

"But why should I paint her so?" demanded Gervase. "She was perfectly
tranquil; and her attitude was most picturesquely composed. I sketched
her as I thought I saw her,--how did this tortured head come on my
canvas?"

The Doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. It was certainly a problem.
He stared hard at Gervase, as though searching for the clue to the
mystery in the handsome artist's own face. Then he turned to Denzil
Murray, who had not stirred or spoken.

"What do you think of it, eh, Denzil?" he asked.

The young man started as from a dream.

"I don't know what to think of it."

"And you?" said the Doctor, addressing Ross Courtney.

"I? Oh, I am of the same opinion as Fulkeward,--I think it is a
horrible thing. And the curious part of the matter is that it is like
the Princess Ziska, and yet totally unlike. Upon my word, you know, it
is a very unpleasant picture."

Dr. Dean got up and paced the room two or three times, his brows
knitted in a heavy frown. Suddenly he stopped in front of Gervase.

"Tell me," he said, "have you any recollection of ever having met the
Princess Ziska before?"

Gervase looked puzzled, then answered slowly:

"No, I have no actual recollection of the kind. At the same time, I
admit to you that there is something about her which has always struck
me as being familiar. The tone of her voice and the peculiar cadence of
her laughter particularly affect me in this way. Last night when I was
dancing with her, I wondered whether I had ever come across her as a
model in one of the studios in Paris or Rome."

The Doctor listened to him attentively, watching him narrowly the
while. But he shook his head incredulously at the idea of the Princess
ever having posed as a model.

"No, no, that won't do!" he said. "I do not believe she was ever in the
model business. Think again. You are now a man in the prime of life,
Monsieur Gervase, but look back to your early youth,--the period when
young men do wild, reckless, and often wicked things,--did you ever in
that thoughtless time break a woman's heart?"

Gervase flushed, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Pardieu! I may have done! Who can tell? But if I did, what would that
have to do with this?" and he tapped the picture impatiently.

The Doctor sat down and smacked his lips with a peculiar air of
enjoyment.

"It would have a great deal to do with it," he answered, "that is,
psychologically speaking. I have known of such cases. We will argue the
point out systematically thus:--Suppose that you, in your boyhood, had
wronged some woman, and suppose that woman had died. You might imagine
you had got rid of that woman. But if her love was very strong and her
sense of outrage very bitter, I must tell you that you have not got rid
of her by any means, moreover, you never will get rid of her. And why?
Because her Soul, like all Souls, is imperishable. Now, putting it as a
mere supposition, and for the sake of the argument, that you feel a
certain admiration for the Princess Ziska, an admiration which might
possibly deepen into something more than platonic, ... "--here Denzil
Murray looked up, his eyes glowing with an angry pain as he fixed them
on Gervase,--"why then the Soul of the other woman you once wronged
might come between you and the face of the new attraction and cause you
to unconsciously paint the tortured look of the injured and unforgiving
Spirit on the countenance of the lovely fascinator whose charms are
just beginning to ensnare you. I repeat, I have known of such cases."
And, unheeding the amazed and incredulous looks of his listeners, the
little Doctor folded both his short arms across his chest, and hugged
himself in the exquisite delight of his own strange theories." The fact
is," he continued," you cannot get rid of ghosts! They are all about
us--everywhere! Sometimes they take forms, sometimes they are content
to remain invisible. But they never fail to make their presence felt.
Often during the performance of some great piece of music they drift
between the air and the melody, making the sounds wilder and more
haunting, and freezing the blood of the listener with a vague agony and
chill. Sometimes they come between us and our friends, mysteriously
forbidding any further exchange of civilities or sympathies, and
occasionally they meet us alone and walk and talk with us invisibly.
Generally they mean well, but sometimes they mean ill. And the only
explanation I can offer you, Monsieur Gervase, as to the present
picture problem is that a ghost must have come between you and your
canvas!"

Gervase laughed loudly.

"My good friend, you are an adept in the art of pleading the
impossible! You must excuse me; I am a sceptic; and I hope I am also in
possession of my sober reason,--therefore, you can hardly wonder at my
entirely refusing to accept such preposterous theories as those you
appear to believe in."

Dr. Dean gave him a civil little bow.

"I do not ask you to accept them, my dear sir! I state my facts, and
you can take them or leave them, just as you please. You yourself can
offer no explanation of the singular way in which this picture has been
produced; I offer one which is perfectly tenable with the discoveries
of psychic science,--and you dismiss it as preposterous. That being the
case, I should recommend you to cut up this canvas and try your hand
again on the same subject."

"Of course, I shall try again," retorted Gervase. "But I do not think I
shall destroy this first sketch. It is a curiosity in its way; and it
has a peculiar fascination for me. Do you notice how thoroughly
Egyptian the features are? They are the very contour of some of the
faces on the recently-discovered frescoes."

"Oh, I noticed that at once," said the Doctor; "but that is not
remarkable, seeing that you yourself are quite of an Egyptian type,
though a Frenchman,--so much so, in fact, that many people in this
hotel have commented on it."

Gervase said nothing, but slowly turned the canvas round with its face
to the wall.

"You have seen enough of it, I suppose?" he inquired of Denzil Murray.

"More than enough!"

Gervase smiled.

"It ought to disenchant you," he said in a lower tone.

"But it is a libel on her beauty,--it is not in the least like her,"
returned Murray coldly.

"Not in the very least? Are you sure? My dear Denzil, you know as well
as I do that there IS a likeness, combined with a dreadful unlikeness;
and it is that which troubles both of us. I assure you, my good boy, I
am as sorry for you as I am for myself,--for I feel that this woman
will be the death of one or both of us!"

Denzil made no reply, and presently they all strolled out in the garden
and lit their cigars and cigarettes, with the exception of Dr. Dean who
never smoked and never drank anything stronger than water.

"I am going to get up a party for the Nile," he said as he turned his
sharp, ferret-like eyes upwards to the clear heavens; "and I shall take
the Princess into my confidence. In fact, I have written to her about
it to-day. I hear she has a magnificent electric dahabeah, and if she
will let us charter it. ..."

"She won't," said Denzil hastily, "unless she goes with it herself."

"You seem to know a great deal about her," observed Dr. Dean
indulgently, "and why should she not go herself? She is evidently well
instructed in the ancient history of Egypt, and, as she reads the
hieroglyphs, she will be a delightful guide and a most valuable
assistant to me in my researches."

"What researches are you engaged upon now?" inquired Courtney.

"I am hunting down a man called Araxes," answered the Doctor. "He
lived, so far as I can make out, some four or five thousand years ago,
more or less; and I want to find out what he did and how he died, and
when I know how he died, then I mean to discover where he is buried. If
possible, I shall excavate him. I also want to find the remains of
Ziska-Charmazel, the lady impersonated by our charming friend the
Princess last night,--the dancer, who, it appears from a
recently-discovered fresco, occupied most of her time in dancing before
this same Araxes and making herself generally agreeable to him."

"What an odd fancy!" exclaimed Denzil. "How can a man and woman dead
five thousand years ago be of any interest to you?"

"What interest has Rameses?" demanded the Doctor politely, "or any of
the Ptolemies? Araxes, like Rameses, may lead to fresh discoveries in
Egypt, for all we know. One name is as good as another,--and each
odoriferous mummy has its own mystery."

They all came just then to a pause in their walk, Gervase stopping to
light a fresh cigarette. The rays of the rising moon fell upon him as
he stood, a tall and stately figure, against a background of palms, and
shone on his dark features with a touch of grayish-green luminance that
gave him for the moment an almost spectral appearance. Dr. Dean glanced
at him with a smile.

"What a figure of an Egyptian, is he not!" he said to Courtney and
Denzil Murray. "Look at him! What height and symmetry! What a world of
ferocity in those black, slumbrous eyes! Yes, Monsieur Gervase, I am
talking about you. I am admiring you!"

"Trop d'honneur!" murmured Gervase, carefully shielding with one hand
the match with which he was kindling his cigarette.

"Yes," continued the Doctor, "I am admiring you. Being a little man
myself, I naturally like tall men, and as an investigator of psychic
forms I am immensely interested when I see a finely-made body in which
the soul lies torpid. That is why you unconsciously compose for me a
wonderful subject of study. I wonder now, how long this torpidity in
the psychic germ has lasted in you? It commenced, of course, originally
in protoplasm; but it must have continued through various low forms and
met with enormous difficulties in attaining to individual consciousness
as man,--because even now it is scarcely conscious."

Gervase laughed.

"Why, that beginning of the soul in protoplasm is part of a creed which
the Princess Ziska was trying to teach me to-day," he said lightly.
"It's all no use. I don't believe in the soul; if I did, I should be a
miserable man."

"Why?" asked Murray.

"Why? Because, my dear fellow, I should be rather afraid of my future.
I should not like to live again; I might have to remember certain
incidents which I would rather forget. There is your charming sister,
Mademoiselle Helen! I must go and talk to her,--her conversation always
does me good; and after that picture which I have been unfortunate
enough to produce, her presence will be as soothing as the freshness of
morning after an unpleasant nightmare."

He moved away; Denzil Murray with Courtney followed him. Dr. Dean
remained behind, and presently sitting down in a retired corner of the
garden alone, he took out a small pocket-book and stylographic pen and
occupied himself for more than half an hour in busily writing till he
had covered two or three pages with his small, neat caligraphy.

"It is the most interesting problem I ever had the chance of studying!"
he murmured half aloud when he had finished, "Of course, if my
researches into the psychic spheres of action are worth anything, it
can only be one case out of thousands. Thousands? Aye, perhaps
millions! Great heavens! Among what terrific unseen forces we live! And
in exact proportion to every man's arrogant denial of the 'Divinity
that shapes our ends, so will be measured out to him the revelation of
the invisible. Strange that the human race has never entirely realized
as yet the depth of meaning in the words describing hell: 'Where the
worm dieth not, and where the flame is never quenched. The 'worm' is
Retribution, the 'flame' is the immortal Spirit,--and the two are
forever striving to escape from the other. Horrible! And yet there are
men who believe in neither one thing nor the other, and reject the
Redemption that does away with both! God forgive us all our sins,--and
especially the sins of pride and presumption!"

And with a shade of profound melancholy on his features, the little
Doctor put by his note-book, and, avoiding all the hotel loungers on
the terrace and elsewhere, retired to his own room and went to bed.



CHAPTER X.


The next day when Armand Gervase went to call on the Princess Ziska he
was refused admittance. The Nubian attendant who kept watch and ward at
her gates, hearing the door-bell ring, contented himself with thrusting
his ugly head through an open upper window and shouting--

"Madame est sortie!"

"Ou donc?" called Gervase in answer.

"A la campagne--le desert--les pyramides!" returned the Nubian, at the
same time banging the lattice to in order to prevent the possibility of
any further conversation. And Gervase, standing in the street
irresolutely for a moment, fancied he heard a peal of malicious
laughter in the distance.

"Beast!" he muttered, "I must try him with a money bribe next time I
get hold of him. I wonder what I shall do with myself now?--haunted and
brain-ridden as I am by this woman and her picture?"

The hot sun glared in his eyes and made them ache,--the rough stones of
the narrow street were scorching to his feet. He began to move slowly
away with a curious faint sensation of giddiness and sickness upon him,
when the sound of music floating from the direction of the Princess
Ziska's palace brought him to a sudden standstill. It was a strange,
wild melody, played on some instrument with seemingly muffled strings.
A voice with a deep, throbbing thrill of sweetness in it began to sing:

  Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!
   It floats in a waking dream on the waters chilly,
     With its leaves unfurled
     To the wondering world,
   Knowing naught of the sorrow and restless pain
   That burns and tortures the human brain;
   Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!

  Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!
   Bared to the moon on the waters dark and chilly.
     A star above
     Is its only love,
   And one brief sigh of its scented breath
   Is all it will ever know of Death;
   Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!

When the song ceased, Gervase raised his eyes from the ground on which
he had fixed them in a kind of brooding stupor, and stared at the
burning blue of the sky as vaguely and wildly as a sick man in the
delirium of fever.

"God! What ails me!" he muttered, supporting himself with one hand
against the black and crumbling wall near which he stood. "Why should
that melody steal away my strength and make me think of things with
which I have surely no connection! What tricks my imagination plays me
in this city of the Orient--I might as well be hypnotized! What have I
to do with dreams of war and triumph and rapine and murder, and what is
the name of Ziska-Charmazel to me?"

He shook himself with the action of a fine brute that has been stung by
some teasing insect, and, mastering his emotions by an effort, walked
away. But he was so absorbed in strange thoughts, that he stumbled up
against Denzil Murray in a side street on the way to the Gezireh Palace
Hotel without seeing him, and would have passed him altogether had not
Denzil somewhat fiercely said:

"Stop!"

Gervase looked at him bewilderedly.

"Why, Denzil, is it you? My dear fellow, forgive me my brusquerie! I
believe I have got a stroke of the sun, or something of the sort; I
assure you I hardly know what I am doing or where I am going!"

"I believe it!" said Denzil, hoarsely. "You are as mad as I am--for
love!"

Gervase smiled; a slight incredulous smile.

"You think so? I am not sure! If love makes a man as thoroughly
unstrung and nervous as I am to-day, then love is a very bad illness."

"It is the worst illness in the world," said Denzil, speaking hurriedly
and wildly. "The most cruel and torturing! And there is no cure for it
save death. My God, Gervase! You were my friend but yesterday! I never
should have thought it possible to hate you!"

"Yet you do hate me?" queried Gervase, still smiling a little.

"Hate you? I could kill you! You have been with HER!"

Quietly Gervase took his arm.

"My good Denzil, you are mistaken! I confess to you frankly I should
have been with HER--you mean the Princess Ziska, of course--had it been
possible. But she has fled the city for the moment--at least, according
to the corpse-like Nubian who acts as porter."

"He lies!" exclaimed Denzil, hotly. "I saw her this morning."

"I hope you improved your opportunity," said Gervase, imperturbably.
"Anyway, at the present moment she is not visible."

A silence fell between them for some minutes; then Denzil spoke again.

"Gervase, it is no use, I cannot stand this sort of thing. We must have
it out. What does it all mean?"

"It is difficult to explain, my dear boy," answered Gervase, half
seriously, half mockingly. "It means, I presume, that we are both in
love with the same woman, and that we both intend to try our chances
with her. But, as I told you the other night, I do not see why we
should quarrel about it. Your intentions towards the Princess are
honorable--mine are dishonorable, and I shall make no secret of them.
If you win her, I shall ..."

He paused, and there was a sudden look in his eyes which gave them a
sombre darkness, darker than their own natural color.

"You shall--what?" asked Denzil.

"Do something desperate," replied Gervase. "What the something will be
depends on the humor of the moment. A tiger balked of his prey is not
an agreeable beast; a strong man deprived of the woman he passionately
desires is a little less agreeable even than the tiger. But let us
adopt the policy of laissez-faire. Nothing is decided; the fair one
cares for neither of us; let us be friends until she makes her choice."

"We cannot be friends," said Denzil, sternly.

"Good! Let us be foes then, but courteous, even in our quarrel, dear
boy. If we must kill each other, let us do it civilly. To fly at each
other's throats would be purely barbaric. We owe a certain duty to
civilization; things have progressed since the days of Araxes."

Denzil stared at him gloomily.

"Araxes is Dr. Dean's fad," he said. "I don't know anything about
Egyptian mummies, and don't want to know. My matter is with the
present, and not with the past."

They had reached the hotel by this time, and turned into the gardens
side by side.

"You understand?" repeated Denzil. "We cannot be friends!"

Gervase gave him a profoundly courteous salute, and the two separated.

Later on in the afternoon, about an hour before dinner-time, Gervase,
strolling on the terrace of the hotel alone, saw Helen Murray seated at
a little distance under some trees, with a book in her hand which she
was not reading. There were tears in her eyes, but as he approached her
she furtively dashed them away and greeted him with a poor attempt at a
smile.

"You have a moment to spare me?" he asked, sitting down beside her.

She bent her head in acquiescence.

"I am a very unhappy man, Mademoiselle Helen," he began, looking at her
with a certain compassionate tenderness as he spoke. "I want your
sympathy, but I know I do not deserve it."

Helen remained silent. A faint flush crimsoned her cheeks, but her eyes
were veiled under the long lashes--she thought he could not see them.

"You remember," he went on, "our pleasant times in Scotland? Ah, it is
a restful place, your Highland home, with the beautiful purple hills
rolling away in the distance, and the glorious moors covered with
fragrant heather, and the gurgling of the river that runs between birch
and fir and willow, making music all day long for those who have the
ears to listen, and the hearts to understand the pretty love tune it
sings! You know Frenchmen always have more or less sympathy with the
Scotch--some old association, perhaps, with the romantic times of Mary
Queen of Scots, when the light and changeful fancies of Chastelard and
his brother poets and lutists made havoc in the hearts of many a
Highland maiden. What is that bright drop on your hand, Helen?--are you
crying?" He waited a moment, and his voice was softer and more
tremulous. "Dear girl, I am not worthy of tears. I am not good enough
for you."

He gave her time to recover her momentary emotion and then went on,
still softly and tenderly:

"Listen, Helen. I want you to believe me and forgive me, if you can. I
know--I remember those moonlight evenings in Scotland--holy and happy
evenings, as sweet as flower-scented pages in a young girl's missal;
yes, and I did not mean to play with you, Helen, or wound your gentle
heart. I almost loved you!" He spoke the words passionately, and for a
moment she raised her eyes and looked at him in something of fear as
well as sorrow. "'Yes,' I said to my self, 'this woman, so true and
pure and fair, is a bride for a king; and if I can win her--if!' Ah,
there my musings stopped. But I came to Egypt chiefly to meet you
again, knowing that you and your brother were in Cairo. How was I to
know, how was I to guess that this horrible thing would happen?"

Helen gazed at him wonderingly.

"What horrible thing?" she asked, falteringly, the rich color coming
and going on her face, and her heart beating violently as she put the
question.

His eyes flashed.

"This," he answered. "The close and pernicious enthralment of a woman I
never met till the night before last; a woman whose face haunts me; a
woman who drags me to her side with the force of a magnet, there to
grovel like a brain-sick fool and plead with her for a love which I
already know is poison to my soul! Helen, Helen! You do not
understand--you will never understand! Here, in the very air I breathe,
I fancy I can trace the perfume she shakes from her garments as she
moves; something indescribably fascinating yet terrible attracts me to
her; it is an evil attraction, I know, but I cannot resist it. There is
something wicked in every man's nature; I am conscious enough that
there is something detestably wicked in mine, and I have not sufficient
goodness to overbalance it. And this woman,--this silent, gliding,
glittering-eyed creature that has suddenly taken possession of my
fancy--she overcomes me in spite of myself; she makes havoc of all the
good intentions of my life. I admit it--I confess it!"

"You are speaking of the Princess Ziska?" asked Helen, tremblingly.

"Of whom else should I speak?" he responded, dreamily. "There is no one
like her; probably there never was anyone like her, except, perhaps,
Ziska-Charmazel!"

As the name passed his lips, he sprang hastily up and stood amazed, as
though some sudden voice had called him. Helen Murray looked at him in
alarm.

"Oh, what is it?" she exclaimed.

He forced a laugh.

"Nothing--nothing--but a madness! I suppose it is all a part of my
strange malady. Your brother is stricken with the same fever. Surely
you know that?"

"Indeed I do know it," Helen answered, "to my sorrow!"

He regarded her intently. Her face in its pure outline and quiet
sadness of expression touched him more than he cared to own even to
himself.

"My dear Helen," he said, with an effort at composure, "I have been
talking wildly; you must forgive me! Don't think about me at all; I am
not worth it! Denzil has taken it into his head to quarrel with me on
account of the Princess Ziska, but I assure you I will not quarrel with
him. He is infatuated, and so am I. The best thing for all of us to do
would be to leave Egypt instantly; I feel that instinctively, only we
cannot do it. Something holds us here. You will never persuade Denzil
to go, and I--I cannot persuade myself to go. There is a clinging
sweetness in the air for me; and there are vague suggestions, memories,
dreams, histories--wonderful things which hold me spell-bound! I wish I
could analyze them, recognize them, or understand them. But I cannot,
and there, perhaps, is their secret charm. Only one thing grieves me,
and that is, that I have, perhaps, unwittingly, in some thoughtless
way, given you pain; is it so, Helen?"

She rose quickly, and with a quiet dignity held out her hand.

"No, Monsieur Gervase," she said, "it is not so. I am not one of those
women who take every little idle word said by men in jest au grand
serieux! You have always been a kind and courteous friend, and if you
ever fancied you had a warmer feeling for me, as you say, I am sure you
were mistaken. We often delude ourselves in these matters. I wish, for
your sake, I could think the Princess Ziska worthy of the love she so
readily inspires. But,--I cannot! My brother's infatuation for her is
to me terrible. I feel it will break his heart,--and mine!" A little
half sob caught her breath and interrupted her; she paused, but
presently went on with an effort at calmness: "You talk of our leaving
Egypt; how I wish that were possible! But I spoke to Denzil about it on
the night of the ball, and he was furious with me for the mere
suggestion. It seems like an evil fate."

"It IS an evil fate," said Gervase gloomily. "Enfin, my dear Helen, we
cannot escape from it,--at least, _I_ cannot. But I never was intended
for good things, not even for a lasting love. A lasting love I feel
would bore me. You look amazed; you believe in lasting love? So do many
sweet women. But do you know what symbol I, as an artist, would employ
were I asked to give my idea of Love on my canvas?"

Helen smiled sadly and shook her head.

"I would paint a glowing flame," said Gervase dreamily. "A flame
leaping up from the pit of hell to the height of heaven, springing in
darkness, lost in light; and flying into the centre of that flame
should be a white moth--a blind, soft, mad thing with beating,
tremulous wings,--that should be Love! Whirled into the very heart of
the ravening fire,--crushed, shrivelled out of existence in one wild,
rushing rapture--that is what Love must be to me! One cannot prolong
passion over fifty years, more or less, of commonplace routine, as
marriage would have us do. The very notion is absurd. Love is like a
choice wine of exquisite bouquet and intoxicating flavor; it is the
most maddening draught in the world, but you cannot drink it every day.
No, my dear Helen; I am not made for a quiet life,--nor for a long one,
I fancy."

His voice unconsciously sank into a melancholy tone, and for one moment
Helen's composure nearly gave way. She loved him as true women love,
with that sublime self-sacrifice which only desires the happiness of
the thing beloved; yet a kind of insensate rage stirred for once in her
gentle soul to think that the mere sight of a strange woman with dark
eyes,--a woman whom no one knew anything about, and who was by some
people deemed a mere adventuress,--should have so overwhelmed this man
whose genius she had deemed superior to fleeting impressions.
Controlling the tears that rose to her eyes and threatened to fall, she
said gently,

"Good-bye, Monsieur Gervase!"

He started as from a reverie.

"Good-bye, Helen! Some day you will think kindly of me again?"

"I think kindly of you now," she answered tremulously; then, not
trusting herself to say any more, she turned swiftly and left him.

"The flame and the moth!" he mused, watching her slight figure till it
had disappeared. "Yes, it is the only fitting symbol. Love must be
always so. Sudden, impetuous, ungovernable, and then--the end! To
stretch out the divine passion over life-long breakfasts and dinners!
It would be intolerable to me. Lord Fulkeward could do that sort of
thing; his chest is narrow, and his sentiments are as limited as his
chest. He would duly kiss his wife every morning and evening, and he
would not analyze the fact that no special thrill of joy stirred in him
at the action. What should he do with thrills of joy--this poor
Fulkeward? And yet it is likely he will marry Helen. Or will it be the
Courtney animal,--the type of man whose one idea is 'to arise, kill,
and eat?' "Ah, well!" and he sighed. "She is not for me, this maiden
grace of womanhood. If I married her, I should make her miserable. I am
made for passion, not for peace."

He started as he heard a step behind him, and turning, saw Dr. Dean.
The worthy little savant looked worried and preoccupied.

"I have had a letter from the Princess Ziska," he said, without any
preliminary. "She has gone to secures rooms at the Mena House Hotel,
which is situated close to the Pyramids. She regrets she cannot enter
into the idea of taking a trip up the Nile. She has no time, she says,
as she is soon leaving Cairo. But she suggests that we should make up a
party for the Mena House while she is staying there, as she can, so she
tells me, make the Pyramids much more interesting for us by her
intimate knowledge of them. Now, to me this is a very tempting offer,
but I should not care to go alone."

"The Murrays will go, I am sure," murmured Gervase lazily. "At any
rate, Denzil will."

The Doctor looked at him narrowly.

"If Denzil goes, so will you go," he said. "Thus there are two already
booked for company. And I fancy the Fulkewards might like the idea."

"The Princess is leaving Cairo?" queried Gervase presently, as though
it were an after thought.

"So she informs me in her letter. The party which is to come off on
Wednesday night is her last reception."

Gervase was silent a moment. Then he said:

"Have you told Denzil?"

"Not yet."

"Better do so then," and Gervase glanced up at the sky, now glowing red
with a fiery sunset. "He wants to propose, you know."

"Good God!" cried the Doctor, sharply, "If he proposes to that woman.
..."

"Why should he not?" demanded Gervase. "Is she not as ripe for love and
fit for marriage as any other of her sex?"

"Her sex!" echoed the Doctor grimly. "Her sex!--There!--for heaven's
sake don't talk to me!--leave me alone! The Princess Ziska is like no
woman living; she has none of the sentiments of a woman,--and the
notion of Denzil's being such a fool as to think of proposing to
her--Oh, leave me alone, I tell you! Let me worry this out!"

And clapping his hat well down over his eyes, he began to walk away in
a strange condition of excitement, which he evidently had some
difficulty in suppressing. Suddenly, however, he turned, came back and
tapped Gervase smartly on the chest.

"YOU are the man for the Princess," he said impressively. "There is a
madness in you which you call love for her; you are her fitting mate,
not that poor boy, Denzil Murray. In certain men and women spirit leaps
to spirit,--note responds to note--and if all the world were to
interpose its trumpery bulk, nothing could prevent such tumultuous
forces rushing together. Follow your destiny, Monsieur Gervase, but do
not ruin another man's life on the way. Follow your destiny,--complete
it,--you are bound to do so,--but in the havoc and wildness to come,
for God's sake, let the innocent go free!"

He spoke with extraordinary solemnity, and Gervase stared at him in
utter bewilderment and perplexity, not understanding in the least what
he meant. But before he could interpose a word or ask a question, Dr.
Dean had gone.



CHAPTER XI.


The next two or three days passed without any incident of interest
occurring to move the languid calm and excite the fleeting interest of
the fashionable English and European visitors who were congregated at
the Gezireh Palace Hotel. The anxious flirtations of Dolly and Muriel
Chetwynd Lyle afforded subjects of mirth to the profane,--the
wonderfully youthful toilettes of Lady Fulkeward provided several
keynotes from which to strike frivolous conversation,--and when the
great painter, Armand Gervase, actually made a sketch of her ladyship
for his own amusement, and made her look about sixteen, and girlish at
that, his popularity knew no bounds. Everyone wanted to give him a
commission, particularly the elderly fair, and he could have made a
fortune had he chosen, after the example set him by the English
academicians, by painting the portraits of ugly nobodies who were ready
to pay any price to be turned out as handsome somebodies. But he was
too restless and ill at ease to apply himself steadily to work,--the
glowing skies of Egypt, the picturesque groups of natives to be seen at
every turn,--the curious corners of old Cairo--these made no impression
upon his mind at all, and when he was alone, he passed whole half hours
staring at the strange picture he had made of the Princess Ziska,
wherein the face of death seemed confronting him through a mask of
life. And he welcomed with a strong sense of relief and expectation the
long-looked-for evening of the Princess's "reception," to which many of
the visitors in Cairo had been invited since a fortnight, and which
those persons who always profess to be "in the know," even if they are
wallowing in ignorance, declared would surpass any entertainment ever
given during the Cairene season.

The night came at last. It was exceedingly sultry, but bright and
clear, and the moon shone with effective brilliance on the
gayly-attired groups of people that between nine and ten o'clock began
to throng the narrow street in which the carved tomb-like portal of the
Princess Ziska's residence was the most conspicuous object. Lady
Chetwynd Lyle, remarkable for bad taste in her dress and the disposal
of her diamonds, stared in haughty amazement at the Nubian, who saluted
her and her daughters with the grin peculiar to his uninviting cast of
countenance, and swept into the courtyard attended by her husband with
an air as though she imagined her presence gave the necessary flavor of
"good style" to the proceedings. She was followed by Lady Fulkeward,
innocently clad in white and wearing a knot of lilies on her
prettily-enamelled left shoulder, Lord Fulkeward, Denzil Murray and his
sister. Helen also wore white, but though she was in the twenties and
Lady Fulkeward was in the sixties, the girl had so much sadness in her
face and so much tragedy in her soft eyes that she looked, if anything,
older than the old woman. Gervase and Dr. Dean arrived together, and
found themselves in a brilliant, crushing crowd of people, all of
different nationalities and all manifesting a good deal of impatience
because they were delayed a few minutes in an open court, where a
couple of stone lions with wings were the only spectators of their
costumes.

"Most singular behavior!" said Lady Chetwynd Lyle, snorting and
sniffing, "to keep us waiting outside like this! The Princess has no
idea of European manners!"

As she spoke, a sudden blaze of light flamed on the scene, and twenty
tall Egyptian servants in white, with red turbans, carrying lighted
torches and marching two by two crossed the court, and by mute yet
stately gestures invited the company to follow. And the company did
follow in haste, with scramble and rudeness, as is the way of "European
manners" nowadays; and presently, having been relieved of their cloaks
and wrappings, stood startled and confounded in a huge hall richly
adorned with silk and cloth of gold hangings, where, between two bronze
sphinxes, the Princess Ziska, attired wonderfully in a dim, pale rose
color, with flecks of jewels flashing from her draperies here and
there, waited to receive her guests. Like a queen she stood,--behind
her towered a giant palm, and at her feet were strewn roses and
lotus-lilies. On either side of her, seated on the ground, were young
girls gorgeously clad and veiled to the eyes in the Egyptian fashion,
and as the staring, heated and impetuous swarm of "travelling" English
and Americans came face to face with her in her marvellous beauty, they
were for the moment stricken spellbound, and could scarcely summon up
the necessary assurance to advance and take the hand she outstretched
to them in welcome. She appeared not to see the general embarrassment,
and greeted all who approached her with courteous ease and composure,
speaking the few words which every graceful hostess deems adequate
before "passing on" her visitors. And presently music began,--music
wild and fantastic, of a character unknown to modern fashionable ears,
yet strangely familiar to Armand Gervase, who started at the first
sound of it, and seemed enthralled.

"That is not an ordinary orchestra," said Dr. Dean in his ear. "The
instruments are ancient, and the form of melody is barbaric."

Gervase answered nothing, for the Princess Ziska just then approached
them.

"Come into the Red Saloon," she said. "I am persuading my guests to
pass on there. I have an old bas-relief on the walls which I would like
you to see,--you, especially, Dr. Dean!--for you are so learned in
antiquities. I hear you are trying to discover traces of Araxes?"

"I am," replied the Doctor. "You interested me very much in his
history."

"He was a great man," said the Princess, slowly piloting them as she
spoke, without hurry and with careful courtesy, through the serried
ranks of the now freely chattering and animated company. "Much greater
than any of your modern heroes. But he had two faults; faults which
frequently accompany the plentitude of power,--cruelty and selfishness.
He betrayed and murdered the only woman that ever loved him,
Ziska-Charmazel."

"Murdered her!" exclaimed Dr. Dean. "How?"

"Oh, it is only a legend!" and the Princess smiled, turning her dark
eyes with a bewitching languor on Gervase, who, for some reason or
other which he could not explain, felt as if he were walking in a dream
on the edge of a deep chasm of nothingness, into which he must
presently sink to utter destruction. "All these old histories happened
so long ago that they are nothing but myths now to the present
generation."

"Time does not rob any incident of its interest to me," said Dr. Dean.
"Ages hence Queen Victoria will be as much a doubtful potentate as King
Lud. To the wise student of things there is no time and no distance.
All history from the very beginning is like a wonderful chain in which
no link is ever really broken, and in which every part fits closely to
the other part,--though why the chain should exist at all is a mystery
we cannot solve. Yet I am quite certain that even our late friend
Araxes has his connection with the present, if only for the reason that
he lived in the past."

"How do you argue out that theory!" asked Gervase with sudden interest.

"How do you argue it? The question is, how can you argue at all about
anything that is so plain and demonstrated a fact? The doctrine of
evolution proves it. Everything that we were once has its part in us
now. Suppose, if you like, that we were originally no more than shells
on the shore,--some remnant of the nature of the shell must be in us at
this moment. Nothing is lost,--nothing is wasted,--not even a thought.
I carry my theories very far," pursued the Doctor, looking keenly from
one to the other of his silent companions as they walked beside him
through a long corridor towards the Red Saloon, which could be seen,
brilliantly lit up and thronged with people. "Very far indeed,
especially in regard to matters of love. I maintain that if it is
decreed that the soul of a man and the soul of a woman must meet,--must
rush together,--not all the forces of the universe can hinder them;
aye, even if they were, for some conventional cause or circumstance
themselves reluctant to consummate their destiny, it would
nevertheless, despite them, be consummated. For mark you,--in some form
or other they have rushed together before! Whether as flames in the
air, or twining leaves on a tree, or flowers in a field, they have felt
the sweetness and fitness of each other's being in former lives,--and
the craving sense of that sweetness and fitness can never be done away
with,--never! Not as long as this present universe lasts! It is a
terrible thing," continued the Doctor in a lower tone, "a terrible
fatality,--the desire of love. In some cases it is a curse; in others,
a divine and priceless blessing. The results depend entirely on the
temperaments of the human creatures possessed by its fever. When it
kindles, rises and burns towards Heaven in a steady flame of
ever-brightening purity and faith, then it makes marriage the most
perfect union on earth,--the sweetest and most blessed companionship;
but when it is a mere gust of fire, bright and fierce as the sudden
leaping light of a volcano, then it withers everything at a
touch,--faith, honor, truth,--and dies into dull ashes in which no
spark remains to warm or inspire man's higher nature. Better death than
such a love,--for it works misery on earth; but who can tell what
horrors it may not create Hereafter!"

The Princess looked at him with a strange, weird gleam in her dark eyes.

"You are right," she said. "It is just the Hereafter that men never
think of. I am glad you, at least, acknowledge the truth of the life
beyond death."

"I am bound to acknowledge it," returned the Doctor; "inasmuch as I
know it exists."

Gervase glanced at him with a smile, in which there was something of
contempt.

"You are very much behind the age, Doctor," he remarked lightly.

"Very much behind indeed," agreed Dr. Dean composedly. "The age rushes
on too rapidly for me, and gives no time to the consideration of things
by the way. I stop,--I take breathing space in which to think; life
without thought is madness, and I desire to have no part in a mad age."

At that moment they entered the Red Saloon, a stately apartment, which
was entirely modelled after the most ancient forms of Egyptian
architecture. The centre of the vast room was quite clear of furniture,
so that the Princess Ziska's guests went wandering up and down, to and
fro, entirely at their ease, without crush or inconvenience, and
congregated in corners for conversation; though if they chose they
could recline on low divans and gorgeously-cushioned benches ranged
against the walls and sheltered by tall palms and flowering exotics.
The music was heard to better advantage here than in the hall where the
company had first been received; and as the Princess moved to a seat
under the pale green frondage of a huge tropical fern and bade her two
companions sit beside her, sounds of the wildest, most melancholy and
haunting character began to palpitate upon the air in the mournful,
throbbing fashion in which a nightingale sings when its soul is
burdened with love. The passionate tremor that shakes the bird's throat
at mating-time seemed to shake the unseen instruments that now
discoursed strange melody, and Gervase, listening dreamily, felt a
curious contraction and aching at his heart and a sense of suffocation
in his throat, combined with an insatiate desire to seize in his arms
the mysterious Ziska, with her dark fathomless eyes and slight, yet
voluptuous, form,--to drag her to his breast and crush her there,
whispering:

"Mine!--mine! By all the gods of the past and present--mine! Who shall
tear her from me,--who dispute my right to love her--ruin her--murder
her, if I choose? She is mine!"

"The bas-relief I told you of is just above us," said the Princess
then, addressing herself to the Doctor; "would you like to examine it?
One of the servants shall bring you a lighted taper, and by passing it
in front of the sculpture you will be able to see the design better.
Ah, Mr. Murray!" and she smiled as she greeted Denzil, who just then
approached. "You are in time to give us your opinion. I want Dr. Dean
to see that very old piece of stone carving on the wall above us,--it
will serve as a link for him in the history of Araxes."

"Indeed!" murmured Denzil, somewhat abstractedly.

The Princess glanced at his brooding face and laughed.

"You, I know, are not interested at all in old history," she went on.
"The past has no attraction for you."

"No. The present is enough," he replied, with a glance of mingled hope
and passion.

She smiled, and signing to one of her Egyptian attendants, bade him
bring a lighted taper. He did so, and passed it slowly up and down and
to the right and left of the large piece of ancient sculpture that
occupied more than half the wall, while Dr. Dean stood by, spectacles
on nose, to examine the carving as closely as possible. Several other
people, attracted by what was going on, paused to look also, and the
Princess undertook to explain the scene depicted.

"This piece of carving is of the date of the King Amenhotep or
Amenophis III., of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It represents the return of
the warrior Araxes, a favorite servant of the king's, after some
brilliant victory. You see, there is the triumphal car in which he
rides, drawn by winged horses, and behind him are the solar
deities--Ra, Sikar, Tmu, and Osiris. He is supposed to be approaching
his palace in triumph; the gates are thrown open to receive him, and
coming out to meet him is the chief favorite of his harem, the
celebrated dancer of that period--Ziska-Charmazel."

"Whom he afterwards murdered, you say?" queried Dr. Dean meditatively.

"Yes. He murdered her simply because she loved him too well and was in
the way of his ambition. There was nothing astonishing in his behavior,
not even if you consider it in the light of modern times. Men always
murder--morally, if not physically--the women who love them too well."

"You truly think that?" asked Denzil Murray in a low tone.

"I not only truly think it, I truly know it!" she answered, with a
disdainful flash of her eyes. "Of course, I speak of strong men with
strong passions; they are the only kind of men women ever worship. Of
course, a weak, good-natured man is different; he would probably not
harm a woman for the world, or give her the least cause for pain if he
could help it, but that sort of man never becomes either an adept or a
master in love. Araxes was probably both. No doubt he considered he had
a perfect right to slay what he had grown weary of; he thought no more
than men of his type think to-day, that the taking of a life demands a
life in exchange, if not in this world, then in the next."

The group of people near her were all silent, gazing with an odd
fascination at the quaint and ancient-sculptured figures above them,
when all at once Dr. Dean, taking the taper from the hands of the
Egyptian servant, held the flame close to the features of the warrior
riding in the car of triumph, and said slowly:

"Do you not see a curious resemblance, Princess, between this Araxes
and a friend of ours here present? Monsieur Armand Gervase, will you
kindly step forward? Yes, that will do, turn your head slightly,--so!
Yes! Now observe the outline of the features of Araxes as carven in
this sculpture thousands of years ago, and compare it with the outline
of the features of our celebrated friend, the greatest French artist of
his day. Am I the only one who perceives the remarkable similarity of
contour and expression?"

The Princess made no reply. A smile crossed her lips, but no word
escaped them. Several persons, however, pressed eagerly forward to look
at and comment upon what was indeed a startling likeness. The same
straight, fierce brows, the same proud, firm mouth, the same
almond-shaped eyes were, as it seemed, copied from the ancient
entablature and repeated in flesh and blood in the features of Gervase.
Even Denzil Murray, absorbed though he was in conflicting thoughts of
his own, was struck by the coincidence.

"It is really very remarkable!" he said. "Allowing for the peculiar
style of drawing and design common to ancient Egypt, the portrait of
Araxes might pass for Gervase in Egyptian costume."

Gervase himself was silent. Some mysterious emotion held him mute, and
he was only aware of a vague irritation that fretted him without any
seemingly adequate cause. Dr. Dean meanwhile pursued his investigations
with the lighted taper, and presently, turning round on the assembled
little group of bystanders, he said:

"I have just discovered another singular thing. The face of the woman
here--the dancer and favorite--is the face of our charming hostess, the
Princess Ziska!"

Exclamations of wonder greeted this announcement, and everybody craned
their necks to see. And then the Princess spoke, slowly and languidly.

"Yes," she murmured, "I was hoping you would perceive that. I myself
noticed how very like me is the famous Ziska-Charmazel, and that is
just why I dressed in her fashion for the fancy ball the other evening.
It seemed to me the best thing to do, as I wanted to choose an ancient
period, and then, you know, I bear half her name."

Dr. Dean looked at her keenly, and a somewhat grim smile wrinkled his
lips.

"You could not have done better," he declared. "You and the
dancing-girl of Araxes might be twin sisters."

He lowered the taper he held that it might more strongly illumine her
face, and as the outline of her head and throat and bust was thrown
into full relief, Gervase, staring at her, was again conscious of that
sudden, painful emotion of familiarity which had before overwhelmed
him, and he felt that in all the world he had no such intimate
knowledge of any woman as he had of Ziska. He knew her! Ah!--how did he
NOT know her? Every curve of that pliant form was to him the living
memory of something once possessed and loved, and he pressed his hand
heavily across his eyes for a moment to shut out the sight of all the
exquisite voluptuous grace which shook his self-control and tempted him
almost beyond man's mortal endurance.

"Are you not well, Monsieur Gervase?" said Dr. Dean, observing him
closely, and handing back the lighted taper to the Egyptian servant who
waited to receive it. "The portraits on this old carving have perhaps
affected you unpleasantly? Yet there is really nothing of importance in
such a coincidence."

"Nothing of importance, perhaps, but surely something of singularity,"
interrupted Denzil Murray, "especially in the resemblance between the
Princess and the dancing-girl of that ancient period,--their features
are positively line for line alike."

The Princess laughed.

"Yes, is it not curious?" she said, and, taking the taper from her
servant, she sprang lightly on one of the benches near the wall and
leaned her beautiful head on the entablature, so that her profile stood
out close against that of the once reputed Ziska-Charmazel. "We are, as
Dr. Dean says, twins!"

Several of the guests had now gathered together in that particular part
of the room, and they all looked up at her as she stood thus, in silent
and somewhat superstitious wonderment. The fascinating dancer, famed in
ages past, and the lovely, living charmeresse of the present were the
image of each other, and so extraordinary was the resemblance that it
was almost what some folks would term "uncanny." The fair Ziska did
not, however, give her acquaintances time for much meditation or
surprise concerning the matter, for she soon came down from her
elevation near the sculptured frieze and, extinguishing the taper she
held, she said lightly:

"As Dr. Dean has remarked, there is really nothing of importance in the
coincidence. Ages ago, in the time of Araxes, roses must have bloomed;
and who shall say that a rose in to-day's garden is not precisely the
same in size, scent and color as one that Araxes himself plucked at his
palace gates? Thus, if flowers are born alike in different ages, why
not women and men?"

"Very well argued, Princess," said the Doctor. "I quite agree with you.
Nature is bound to repeat some of her choicest patterns, lest she
should forget the art of making them."

There was now a general movement among the guests, that particular kind
of movement which means irritability and restlessness, and implies that
either supper must be immediately served, or else some novel
entertainment be brought in to distract attention and prevent tedium.
The Princess, turning to Gervase, said smilingly:

"Apropos of the dancing-girl of Araxes and the art of dancing
generally, I am going to entertain the company presently by letting
them see a real old dance of Thebes. If you will excuse me a moment I
must just prepare them and get the rooms slightly cleared. I will
return to you presently."

She glided away with her usual noiseless grace, and within a few
minutes of her departure the gay crowds began to fall back against the
walls and disperse themselves generally in expectant groups here and
there, the Egyptian servants moving in and out and evidently informing
them of the entertainment in prospect.

"Well, I shall stay here," said Dr. Dean, "underneath this remarkable
stone carving of your warrior-prototype, Monsieur Gervase. You seem
very much abstracted. I asked you before if you were not well; but you
never answered me."

"I am perfectly well," replied Gervase, with some irritation. "The heat
is rather trying, that is all. But I attach no importance to that stone
frieze. One can easily imagine likenesses where there are really none."

"True!" and the Doctor smiled to himself, and said no more. Just then a
wild burst of music sounded suddenly through the apartment, and he
turned round in lively anticipation to watch the proceedings.

The middle of the room was now quite clear, and presently, moving with
the silent grace of swans on still water, came four girls closely
veiled, carrying quaintly-shaped harps and lutes. A Nubian servant
followed them, and spread a gold-embroidered carpet upon the ground,
whereon they all sat down and began to thrum the strings of their
instruments in a muffled, dreamy manner, playing a music which had
nothing of melody in it, and which yet vaguely suggested a passionate
tune. This thrumming went on for some time when all at once from a side
entrance in the hall a bright, apparently winged thing bounded from the
outer darkness into the centre of the hall,--a woman clad in glistening
cloth of gold and veiled entirely in misty folds of white, who, raising
her arms gleaming with jewelled bangles high above her head, remained
poised on tiptoe for a moment, as though about to fly. Her bare feet,
white and dimpled, sparkled with gems and glittering anklets; her
skirts as she moved showed fluttering flecks of white and pink like the
leaves of May-blossoms shaken by a summer breeze; the music grew louder
and wilder, and a brazen clang from unseen cymbals prepared her as it
seemed for flight. She began her dance slowly, gliding mysteriously
from side to side, anon turning suddenly with her head lifted, as
though listening for some word of love which should recall her or
command; then, bending down again, she seemed to float lazily like a
creature that was dancing in a dream without conscious knowledge of her
actions. The brazen cymbals clashed again, and then, with a wild,
beautiful movement, like that of a hunted stag leaping the brow of a
hill, the dancer sprang forward, turned, pirouetted and tossed herself
round and round giddily with a marvellous and exquisite celerity, as if
she were nothing but a bright circle of gold spinning in clear ether.
Spontaneous applause broke forth from every part of the hall; the
guests crowded forward, staring and almost breathless with amazement.
Dr. Dean got up in a state of the greatest excitement, clapping his
hands involuntarily; and Gervase, every nerve in his body quivering,
advanced one or two steps, feeling that he must stop this bright, wild,
wanton thing in her incessant whirling, or else die in the hunger of
love which consumed his soul. Denzil Murray glanced at him, and, after
a pause, left his side and disappeared. Suddenly, with a quick
movement, the dancer loosened her golden dress and misty veil, and
tossing them aside like falling leaves, she stood confessed--a
marvellous, glowing vision in silvery white-no other than the Princess
Ziska!

Shouts echoed from every part of the hall:

"Ziska! Ziska!"

And at the name Lady Chetwynd Lyle rose in all her majesty from the
seat she had occupied till then, and in tones of virtuous indignation
said to Lady Fulkeward:

"I told you the Princess was not a proper person! Now it is proved I am
right! To think I should have brought Dolly and Muriel here! I shall
really never forgive myself! Come, Sir Chetwynd,--let us leave this
place instantly!"

And stout Sir Chetwynd, gloating on the exquisite beauty of the
Princess Ziska's form as she still danced on in her snowy white attire,
her lovely face alight with mirth at the surprise she had made for her
guests, tried his best to look sanctimonious and signally failed in the
attempt as he answered:

"Certainly! Certainly, my dear! Most improper ... most astonishing!"

While Lady Fulkeward answered innocently:

"Is it? Do you really think so? Oh, dear! I suppose it is improper,--it
must be, you know; but it is most delightful and original!"

And while the Chetwynd Lyles thus moved to depart in a cloud of
outraged propriety, followed by others who likewise thought it well to
pretend to be shocked at the proceeding, Gervase, dizzy, breathless,
and torn by such conflicting passions as he could never express, was in
a condition more mad than sane.

"My God!" he muttered under his breath. "This--this is love! This is
the beginning and end of life! To possess her,--to hold her in my
arms--heart to heart, lips to lips ... this is what all the eternal
forces of Nature meant when they made me man!"

And he watched with strained, passionate eyes the movements of the
Princess Ziska as they grew slower and slower, till she seemed floating
merely like a foam-bell on a wave, and then ... from some unseen
quarter of the room a rich throbbing voice began to sing:--

  "Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!
   It floats in a waking dream on the waters chilly,
     With its leaves unfurled
     To the wondering world,
   Knowing naught of the sorrow and restless pain
   That burns and tortures the human brain;
   Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!
   Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!
   Bared to the moon on the waters dark and chilly.
     A star above
     Is its only love,
   And one brief sigh of its scented breath
   Is all it will ever know of Death;
   Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!"

As the sound died away in a sigh rather than a note, the Princess
Ziska's dancing ceased altogether. A shout of applause broke from all
assembled, and in the midst of it there was a sudden commotion and
excitement, and Dr. Dean was seen bending over a man's prostrate
figure. The great French painter, Armand Gervase, had suddenly fainted.



CHAPTER XII.


A curious yet very general feeling of superstitious uneasiness and
discomfort pervaded the Gezireh Palace Hotel the day after the Princess
Ziska's reception. Something had happened, and no one knew what. The
proprieties had been outraged, but no one knew why. It was certainly
not the custom for a hostess, and a Princess to boot, to dance like a
wild bacchante before a crowd of her invited guests, yet, as Dr. Dean
blandly observed,--

"Where was the harm? In London, ladies of good birth and breeding went
in for 'skirt-dancing,' and no one presumed to breathe a word against
their reputations; why in Cairo should not a lady go in for a Theban
dance without being considered improper?"

Why, indeed? There seemed no adequate reason for being either surprised
or offended; yet surprised and offended most people were, and scandal
ran rife, and rumor wagged all its poisonous tongues to spread evil
reports against the Princess Ziska's name and fame, till Denzil Murray,
maddened and furious, rushed up to his sister in her room and swore
that he would marry the Princess if he died for it.

"They are blackguarding her downstairs, the beasts!" he said hotly.
"They are calling her by every bad name under the sun! But I will make
everything straight for her; she shall be my wife! If she will have me,
I will marry her to-morrow!"

Helen looked at him in speechless despair.

"Oh, Denzil!" she faltered, and then could say no more, for the tears
that blinded her eyes.

"Oh, yes, of course, I know what you mean!" he continued, marching up
and down the room excitedly. "You are like all the others; you think
her an adventuress. I think her the purest, the noblest of women! There
is where we differ. I spoke to her last night,--I told her I loved her."

"You did?" and Helen gazed at him with wet, tragic eyes,--"And she ..."

"She bade me be silent. She told me I must not speak--not yet. She said
she would give me her answer when we were all together at the Mena
House Hotel."

"You intend to be one of the party there then?" said Helen faintly.

"Of course I do. And so do you, I hope."

"No, Denzil, I cannot. Don't ask me. I will stay here with Lady
Fulkeward. She is not going, nor are the Chetwynd Lyles. I shall be
quite safe with them. I would rather not go to the Mena House,--I could
not bear it ..."

Her voice gave way entirely, and she broke out crying bitterly.

Denzil stood still and regarded her with a kind of sullen shame and
remorse.

"What a very sympathetic sister you are!" he observed. "When you see me
madly in love with a woman--a perfectly beautiful, adorable woman--you
put yourself at once in the way and make out that my marriage with her
will be a misery to you. You surely do not expect me to remain single
all my life, do you?"

"No, Denzil," sobbed Helen, "but I had hoped to see you marry some
sweet girl of our own land who would be your dear and true
companion,--who would be a sister to me,--who ... there! don't mind me!
Be happy in your own way, my dear brother. I have no business to
interfere. I can only say that if the Princess Ziska consents to marry
you, I will do my best to like her, for your sake."

"Well, that's something, at any rate," said Denzil, with an air of
relief. "Don't cry, Helen, it bothers me. As for the 'sweet girl' you
have got in view for me, you will permit me to say that 'sweet girls'
are becoming uncommonly scarce in Britain. What with bicycle riders and
great rough tomboys generally, with large hands and larger feet, I
confess I do not care about them. I like a womanly woman,--a graceful
woman,--a fascinating, bewitching woman, and the Princess is all that
and more. Surely you consider her beautiful?"

"Very beautiful indeed!" sighed poor Helen.--"Too beautiful!"

"Nonsense! As if any woman can be too beautiful! I am sorry you won't
come to the Mena House. It would be a change for you,--and Gervase is
going."

"Is he better to-day?" inquired Helen timidly.

"Oh, I believe he is quite well again. It was the heat or the scent of
the flowers, or something of that sort, that made him faint last night.
He is not acclimatized yet, you know. And he said that the Princess's
dancing made him giddy."

"I don't wonder at that," murmured Helen.

"It was marvellous--glorious!" said Denzil dreamily. "It was like
nothing else ever seen or imagined!"

"If she were your wife, would you care for her to dance before people?"
inquired Helen tremblingly.

Denzil turned upon her in haughty wrath.

"How like a woman that is! To insinuate a nasty suggestion--to imply an
innuendo without uttering it! If she were my wife, she would do nothing
unbecoming that position."

"Then you did think it a little unbecoming?" persisted Helen.

"No, I did NOT!" said Denzil sharply. "An independent woman may do many
things that a married woman may not. Marriage brings its own duties and
responsibilities,--time enough to consider them when they come."

He turned angrily on his heel and left her, and Helen, burying her fair
face in her hands, wept long and unrestrainedly. This "strange woman
out of Egypt" had turned her brother's heart against her, and stolen
away her almost declared lover. It was no wonder that her tears fell
fast, wrung from her with the pain of this double wound; for Helen,
though quiet and undemonstrative, had fine feelings and unsounded
depths of passion in her nature, and the fatal attraction she felt for
Armand Gervase was more powerful than she had herself known. Now that
he had openly confessed his infatuation for another woman, it seemed as
though the earth had opened at her feet and shown her nothing but a
grave in which to fall. Life--empty and blank and bare of love and
tenderness, stretched before her imagination; she saw herself toiling
along the monotonously even road of duty till her hair became gray and
her face thin and wan and wrinkled, and never a gleam again of the
beautiful, glowing, romantic passion that for a short time had made her
days splendid with the dreams that are sweeter than all realities.

Poor Helen! It was little marvel that she wept as all women weep when
their hearts are broken. It is so easy to break a heart; sometimes a
mere word will do it. But the vanishing of the winged Love-god from the
soul is even more than heart-break,--it is utter and irretrievable
loss,--complete and dominating chaos out of which no good thing can
ever be designed or created. In our days we do our best to supply the
place of a reluctant Eros by the gilded, grinning Mammon-figure which
we try to consider as superior to any silver-pinioned god that ever
descended in his rainbow car to sing heavenly songs to mortals; but it
is an unlovely substitute,--a hideous idol at best; and grasp its
golden knees and worship it as we will, it gives us little or no
comfort in the hours of strong temptation or trouble. We have made a
mistake--we, in our progressive generation,--we have banished the old
sweetnesses, triumphs and delights of life, and we have got in exchange
steam and electricity. But the heart of the age clamors on
unsatisfied,--none of our "new" ideas content it--nothing pacifies its
restless yearning; it feels--this great heart of human life--that it is
losing more than it gains, hence the incessant, restless aching of the
time, and the perpetual longing for something Science cannot
teach,--something vague, beautiful, indefinable, yet satisfying to
every pulse of the soul; and the nearest emotion to that divine solace
is what we in our higher and better moments recognize as Love. And Love
was lost to Helen Murray; the choice pearl had fallen in the vast gulf
of Might-have-been, and not all the forces of Nature would ever restore
to her that priceless gem.

And while she wept to herself in solitude, and her brother Denzil
wandered about in the gardens of the hotel, encouraging within himself
hopes of winning the bewitching Ziska for a wife, Armand Gervase, shut
up in his room under plea of slight indisposition, reviewed the
emotions of the past night and tired to analyze them. Some men are born
self-analysts, and are able to dissect their feelings by some peculiar
form of mental surgery which finally leads them to cut out tenderness
as though it were a cancer, love as a disease, and romantic aspirations
as mere uncomfortable growths injurious to self-interest, but Gervase
was not one of these. Outwardly he assumed more or less the composed
and careless demeanor of the modern French cynic, but inwardly the man
was a raging fire of fierce passions which were sometimes too strong to
be held in check. At the present moment he was prepared to sacrifice
everything, even life itself, to obtain possession of the woman he
coveted, and he made no attempt whatever to resist the tempest of
desire that was urging him on with an invincible force in a direction
which, for some strange and altogether inexplicable reason, he dreaded.
Yes, there was a dim sense of terror lurking behind all the wild
passion that filled his soul--a haunting, vague idea that this sudden
love, with its glowing ardor and intoxicating delirium, was like the
brilliant red sunset which frequently prognosticates a night of storm,
ruin and death. Yet, though he felt this presentiment like a creeping
shudder of cold through his blood, it did not hold him back, or for a
moment impress him with the idea that it might be better to yield no
further to this desperate love-madness which enthralled him.

Once only, he thought, "What if I left Egypt now--at once--and saw her
no more?" And then he laughed scornfully at the impossibility proposed.
"Leave Egypt!" he muttered, "I might as well leave the world
altogether! She would draw me back with those sweet wild eyes of
hers,--she would drag me from the uttermost parts of the earth to fall
at her feet in a very agony of love. My God! She must have her way and
do with me as she will, for I feel that she holds my life in her hands!"

As he spoke these last words half aloud, he sprang up from the chair in
which he had been reclining, and stood for a moment lost in frowning
meditation.

"My life in her hands!" he repeated musingly. "Yes, it has come to
that! My life!" A great sigh broke from him. "My life--my art--my
work--my name! In all these things I have taken pride, and she--she can
trample them under her feet and make of me nothing more than man
clamoring for woman's love! What a wild world it is! What a strange
Force must that be which created it!--the Force that some men call God
and others Devil! A strange, blind, brute Force!--for it makes us
aspire only to fall; it gives a man dreams of ambition and splendid
attainment only to fling him like a mad fool on a woman's breast, and
bid him find there, and there only, the bewildering sweetness which
makes everything else in existence poor and tame in comparison. Well,
well--my life! What is it? A mere grain of sand dropped in the sea; let
her do with it as she will. God! How I felt her power upon me last
night,--last night when her lithe figure swaying in the dance reminded
me ..."

He paused, startled at the turn his own thoughts were taking.

"Of what? Let me try and express to myself now what I could not express
or realize last night. She--Ziska--I thought was mine,--mine from her
dimpled feet to her dusky hair,--and she danced for me alone. It seemed
that the jewels she wore upon her rounded arms and slender ankles were
all love-gifts from me--every circlet of gold, every starry, shining
gem on her fair body was the symbol of some secret joy between us--joy
so keen as to be almost pain. And as she danced, I thought I was in a
vast hall of a majestic palace, where open colonnades revealed wide
glimpses of a burning desert and deep blue sky. I heard the distant
sound of rolling drums, and not far off I saw the Sphinx--a creature
not old but new--resting upon a giant pedestal and guarding the
sculptured gate of some great temple which contained, as I then
thought, all the treasures of the world. I could paint the picture as I
saw it then! It was a fleeting impression merely, conjured up by the
dance that dizzied my brain. And that song of the Lotus-lily! That was
strange--very strange, for I thought I had heard it often before,--and
I saw myself in the vague dream, a prince, a warrior, almost a king,
and far more famous in the world than I am now!"

He looked about him uneasily, with a kind of nervous terror, and his
eyes rested for a moment on the easel where the picture he had painted
of the Princess was placed, covered from view by a fold of dark cloth.

"Bah!" he exclaimed at last with a forced laugh, "What stupid fancies
fool me! It is all the vague talk of that would-be learned ass, Dr.
Dean, with his ridiculous theories about life and death. I shall be
imagining I am his fad, Araxes, next! This sort of thing will never do.
Let me reason out the matter calmly. I love this woman,--love her to
absolute madness. It is not the best kind of love, maybe, but it is the
only kind I am capable of, and such as it is, she possesses it all.
What then? Well! We go to-morrow to the Pyramids, and we join her at
the Mena House, I and the poor boy Denzil. He will try his chance--I
mine. If he wins, I shall kill him as surely as I myself live,--yes,
even though he is Helen's brother. No man shall snatch Ziska from my
arms and continue to breathe. If I win, it is possible he may kill me,
and I shall respect him for trying to do it. But I shall satisfy my
love first; Ziska will be mine--mine in every sense of
possession,--before I die. Yes, that must be--that will have to be. And
afterwards,--why let Denzil do his worst; a man can but die once."

He drew the cloth off his easel and stared at the strange picture of
the Princess, which seemed almost sentient in its half-watchful,
half-mocking expression.

"There is a dead face and a living one on this canvas," he said, "and
the dead face seems to enthral me as much as the living. Both have the
same cruel smile,--both the same compelling magnetism of eye. Only it
is a singular thing that I should know the dead face even more
intimately than the living--that the tortured look upon it should be a
kind of haunting memory--horrible--ghastly. ..."

He flung the cloth over the easel again impatiently, and tried to laugh
at his own morbid imagination.

"I know who is responsible for all this nonsense," he said. "It is that
ridiculous little half-mad faddist, Dr. Dean. He is going to the Mena
House, too. Well!--he will be the witness of a comedy or a tragedy
there,--and Heaven alone knows which it will be!"

And to distract his thoughts from dwelling any longer on the haunting
ideas that perplexed him, he took up one of the latest and frothiest of
French novels and began to read. Some one in a room not far off was
singing a French song,--a man with a rich baritone voice,--and
unconsciously to himself Gervase caught the words as they rang out full
and clearly on the quiet, heated air--

    O toi que j'ai tant aimee
   Songes-tu que je t'aime encor?
     Et dans ton ame alarmee,
   Ne sens-tu pas quelque remord?
     Viens avec moi, si tu m'aimes,
     Habiter dans ces deserts;
   Nous y vivrons pour nous memes,
     Oublies de tout l'univers!

And something like a mist of tears clouded his aching eyes as he
repeated, half mechanically and dreamily--

    O toi que j'ai tant aimee,
   Songes-tu que je t'aime encor?



CHAPTER XIII.


For the benefit of those among the untravelled English who have not yet
broken a soda-water bottle against the Sphinx, or eaten sandwiches to
the immortal memory of Cheops, it may be as well to explain that the
Mena House Hotel is a long, rambling, roomy building, situated within
five minutes' walk of the Great Pyramid, and happily possessed of a
golfing-ground and a marble swimming-bath. That ubiquitous nuisance,
the "amateur photographer," can there have his "dark room" for the
development of his more or less imperfect "plates"; and there is a
resident chaplain for the piously inclined. With a chaplain and a "dark
room," what more can the aspiring soul of the modern tourist desire?
Some of the rooms at the Mena House are small and stuffy; others large
and furnished with sufficient elegance: and the Princess Ziska had
secured a "suite" of the best that could be obtained, and was soon
installed there with befitting luxury. She left Cairo quite suddenly,
and without any visible preparation, the morning after the reception in
which she had astonished her guests by her dancing: and she did not
call at the Gezireh Palace Hotel to say good-bye to any of her
acquaintances there. She was perhaps conscious that her somewhat "free"
behavior had startled several worthy and sanctimonious persons; and
possibly she also thought that to take rooms in an hotel which was only
an hour's distance from Cairo, could scarcely be considered as
absenting herself from Cairene society. She was followed to her desert
retreat by Dr. Dean, Armand Gervase, and Denzil Murray, who drove to
the Mena House together in one carriage, and were more or less all
three in a sober and meditative frame of mind. They arrived in time to
see the Sphinx bathed in the fierce glow of an ardent sunset, which
turned the golden sands to crimson, and made the granite monster look
like a cruel idol surrounded by a sea of blood. The brilliant red of
the heavens flamed in its stony eyes, and gave them a sentient look as
of contemplated murder,--and the same radiance fitfully playing on the
half-scornful, half-sensual lips caused them to smile with a seeming
voluptuous mockery. Dr. Dean stood transfixed for a while at the
strange splendor of the spectacle, and turning to his two silent
companions, said suddenly:

"There is something, after all, in the unguessed riddle of the Sphinx.
It is not a fable; it is a truth. There is a problem to be solved, and
that monstrous creature knows it! The woman's face, the brute's
body--Spiritualism and Materialism in one! It is life, and more than
life; it is love. Forever and forever it teaches the same wonderful,
terrible mystery. We aspire, yet we fall; love would fain give us wings
wherewith to fly; but the wretched body lies prone--supine; it cannot
soar to the Light Eternal."

"What IS the Light Eternal?" queried Gervase, moodily. "How do we know
it exists? We cannot prove it. This world is what we see; we have to do
with it and ourselves. Soul without body could not exist. ..."

"Could it not?" said the Doctor. "How, then, does body exist without
soul?"

This was an unexpected but fair question, and Gervase found himself
curiously perplexed by it. He offered no reply, neither did Denzil, and
they all three slowly entered the Mena House Hotel, there to be met
with deferential salutations by the urbane and affable landlord, and to
be assured that they would find their rooms comfortable, and also that
"Madame la Princesse Ziska" expected them to dine with her that
evening. At this message, Denzil Murray made a sign to Gervase that he
wished to speak to him alone. Gervase move aside with him.

"Give me my chance!" said Denzil, fiercely.

"Take it!" replied Gervase listlessly. "Let to-night witness the
interchange of hearts between you and the Princess; I shall not
interfere."

Denzil stared at him in sullen astonishment.

"You will not interfere? Your fancy for her is at an end?"

Gervase raised his dark, glowing eyes and fixed them on his would-be
rival with a strange and sombre expression.

"My 'fancy' for her? My good boy, take care what you say! Don't rouse
me too far, for I am dangerous! My 'fancy' for her! What do you know of
it? You are hot-blooded and young; but the chill of the North controls
you in a fashion, while I--a man in the prime of manhood--am of the
South, and the Southern fire brooks no control. Have you seen a quiet
ocean, smooth as glass, with only a dimple in the deep blue to show
that perhaps, should occasion serve, there might arise a little wave?
And have you seen the wild storm breaking from a black cloud and
suddenly making that quiet expanse nothing but a tourbillon of furious
elements, in which the very sea-gull's cry is whelmed and lost in the
thunder of the billows? Such a storm as that may be compared to the
'fancy' you suppose I feel for the woman who has dragged us both here
to die at her feet--for that, I believe, is what it will come to. Life
is not possible under the strain of emotion with which we two are
living it. ..."

He broke off, then resumed in quieter tones:

"I say to you: Use your opportunities while you have them. After dinner
I will leave you alone with the Princess. I will go out for a stroll
with Dr. Dean. Take your chance, Denzil, for, as I live, it is your
last! It will be my turn next! Give me credit for to-night's patience!"

He turned quickly away, and in a moment was gone. Denzil Murray stood
still for a while, thinking deeply, and trying to review the position
in which he found himself. He was madly in love with a woman for whom
his only sister had the most violent antipathy; and that sister, who
had once been all in all to him, had now become almost less than
nothing in the headstrong passion which consumed him. No consideration
for her peace and ultimate happiness affected him, though he was
sensible of a certain remorseful pity when thinking of her gentle ways
and docile yielding to his often impatient and impetuous humors; but,
after all, she was only his sister,--she could not understand his
present condition of mind. Then there was Gervase, whom he had for some
years looked upon as one of his most admired and intimate friends; now
he was nothing more or less than a rival and an enemy, notwithstanding
his seeming courtesy and civil self-restraint. As a matter of fact, he,
Denzil, was left alone to face his fate: to dare the brilliant
seduction of the witching eyes of Ziska,--to win her or to lose her
forever! And consider every point as he would, the weary conviction was
borne in upon him that, whether he met with victory or defeat, the
result would bring more misery than joy.

When he entered the Princess's salon that evening, he found Dr. Dean
and Gervase already there. The Princess herself, attired in a
dinner-dress made with quite a modern Parisian elegance, received him
in her usual graceful manner, and expressed with much sweetness her
hope that the air of the desert would prove beneficial to him after the
great heats that had prevailed in Cairo. Nothing but conventionalities
were spoken. Oh, those conventionalities! What a world of repressed
emotions they sometimes cover! How difficult it is to conceive that the
man and woman who are greeting each other with calm courtesy in a
crowded drawing-room are the very two, who, standing face to face in
the moonlit silence of some lonely grove of trees or shaded garden,
once in their lives suddenly realized the wild passion that neither
dared confess! Tragedies lie deepest under conventionalities--such
secrets are buried beneath them as sometimes might make the angels
weep! They are safeguards, however, against stronger emotions; and the
strange bathos of two human creatures talking politely about the
weather when the soul of each is clamoring for the other, has
sometimes, despite its absurdity, saved the situation.

At dinner, the Princess Ziska devoted herself almost entirely to the
entertainment of Dr. Dean, and awakened his interest very keenly on the
subject of the Great Pyramid.

"It has never really been explored," she said. "The excavators who
imagine they have fathomed its secrets are completely in error. The
upper chambers are mere deceits to the investigator; they were built
and planned purposely to mislead, and the secrets they hide have never
even been guessed at, much less discovered."

"Are you sure of that?" inquired the Doctor, eagerly. "If so, would you
not give your information. ..."

"I neither give my information nor sell it," interrupted the Princess,
smiling coldly. "I am only a woman--and women are supposed to know
nothing. With the rest of my sex, I am judged illogical and
imaginative; you wise men would call my knowledge of history deficient,
my facts not proven. But, if you like, I will tell you the story of the
construction of the Great Pyramid, and why it is unlikely that anyone
will ever find the treasures that are buried within it. You can receive
the narrative with the usual incredulity common to men; I shall not
attempt to argue the pros and cons with you, because I never argue.
Treat it as a fairy-tale--no woman is ever supposed to know anything
for a fact,--she is too stupid. Only men are wise!"

Her dark, disdainful glance flashed on Gervase and Denzil; anon she
smiled bewitchingly, and added:

"Is it not so?"

"Wisdom is nothing compared to beauty," said Gervase. "A beautiful
woman can turn the wisest man into a fool."

The Princess laughed lightly.

"Yes, and a moment afterwards he regrets his folly," she said. "He
clamors for the beautiful woman as a child might cry for the moon, and
when he at last possesses her, he tires. Satisfied with having
compassed her degradation, he exclaims: 'What shall I do with this
beauty, which, because it is mine, now palls upon me? Let me kill it
and forget it; I am aweary of love, and the world is full of women!'
That is the way of your sex, Monsieur Gervase; it is a brutal way, but
it is the one most of you follow."

"There is such a thing as love!" said Denzil, looking up quickly, a
pained flush on his handsome face.

"In the hearts of women, yes!" said Ziska, her voice growing tremulous
with strange and sudden passion. "Women love--ah!--with what force and
tenderness and utter abandonment of self! But their love is in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred utterly wasted; it is a largesse
flung to the ungrateful, a jewel tossed in the mire! If there were not
some compensation in the next life for the ruin wrought on loving
women, the Eternal God himself would be a mockery and a jest."

"And is he not?" queried Gervase, ironically. "Fair Princess, I would
not willingly shake your faith in things unseen, but what does the
'Eternal God,' as you call Him, care as to the destiny of any
individual unit on this globe of matter? Does He interfere when the
murderer's knife descends upon the victim? And has He ever interfered?
He it is who created the sexes and placed between them the strong
attraction that often works more evil and misery than good; and what
barrier has He ever interposed between woman and man, her natural
destroyer? None!--save the trifling one of virtue, which is a flimsy
thing, and often breaks down at the first temptation. No, my dear
Princess; the 'Eternal God,' if there is one, does nothing but look on
impassively at the universal havoc of creation. And in the blindness
and silence of things, I cannot recognize an Eternal God at all; we
were evidently made to eat, drink, breed and die--and there an end."

"What of ambition?" asked Dr. Dean. "What of the inspiration that lifts
a man beyond himself and his material needs, and teaches him to strive
after the Highest?"

"Mere mad folly!" replied Gervase impetuously. "Take the Arts. I, for
example, dream of painting a picture that shall move the world to
admiration,--but I seldom grasp the idea I have imagined. I paint
something,--anything,--and the world gapes at it, and some rich fool
buys it, leaving me free to paint another something; and so on and so
on, to the end of my career. I ask you what satisfaction does it bring?
What is it to Raphael that thousands of human units, cultured and
silly, have stared at his 'Madonnas' and his famous Cartoons?"

"Well, we do not exactly know what it may or may not be to Raphael,"
said the Doctor, meditatively. "According to my theories, Raphael is
not dead, but merely removed into another form, on another planet
possibly, and is working elsewhere. You might as well ask what it is to
Araxes now that he was a famous warrior once?"

Gervase moved uneasily.

"You have got Araxes on the brain, Doctor," he said, with a forced
smile, "and in our conversation we are forgetting that the Princess has
promised to tell us a fairytale, the story of the Great Pyramid."

The Princess looked at him, then at Denzil Murray, and lastly at Dr.
Dean.

"Would you really care to hear it?" she asked.

"Most certainly!" they all three answered.

She rose from the dinner-table.

"Come here to the window," she said. "You can see the great structure
now, in the dusky light,--look at it well and try, if you can, to
realize that deep, deep down in the earth on which it stands is a
connected gallery of rocky caves wherein no human foot has ever
penetrated since the Deluge swept over the land and made a desert of
all the old-time civilization!"

Her slight figure appeared to dilate as she spoke, raising one slender
hand and arm to point at the huge mass that towered up against the
clear, starlit sky. Her listeners were silent, awed and attentive.

"One of the latest ideas concerning the Pyramids is, as you know, that
they were built as towers of defence against the Deluge. That is
correct. The wise men of the old days foretold the time when 'the
waters should rise and cover the earth,' and these huge monuments were
prepared and raised to a height which it was estimated would always
appear above the level of the coming flood, to show where the treasures
of Egypt were hidden for safety. Yes,--the treasures of Egypt, the
wisdom, the science of Egypt! They are all down there still! And there,
to all intents and purposes, they are likely to remain."

"But archaeologists are of the opinion that the Pyramids have been
thoroughly explored," began Dr. Dean, with some excitement.

The Princess interrupted him by a slight gesture.

"Archaeologists, my dear Doctor, are like the rest of this world's
so-called 'learned' men; they work in one groove, and are generally
content with it. Sometimes an unusually brilliant brain conceives the
erratic notion of working in several grooves, and is straightway judged
as mad or fanatic. It is when these comet-like intelligences sweep
across the world's horizon that we hear of a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon,
a Shakespeare. But archaeologists are the narrowest and dryest of
men,--they preconceive a certain system of work and follow it out by
mathematical rule and plan, without one touch of imagination to help
them to discover new channels of interest or historical information. As
I told you before I began to speak, you are welcome to entirely
disbelieve my story of the Great Pyramid,--but as I have begun it, you
may as well hear it through." She paused a moment, then went on:
"According to my information, the building of the Pyramids was
commenced three hundred years before the Deluge, in the time of Saurid,
the son of Sabaloc, who, it is said, was the first to receive a warning
dream of the coming flood. Saurid, being convinced by his priests,
astrologers and soothsayers that the portent was a true one, became
from that time possessed of one idea, which was that the vast learning
of Egypt, its sciences, discoveries and strange traditions should not
be lost,--and that the exploits and achievements of those who were
great and famous in the land should be so recorded as never to be
forgotten. In those days, here where you see these measureless tracts
of sand, there were great mountainous rocks and granite quarries, and
Saurid utilized these for the hollowing out of deep caverns in which to
conceal treasure. When these caverns were prepared to his liking, he
caused a floor to be made, portions of which were rendered movable by
means of secret springs, and then leaving a hollow space of some four
feet in height, he started foundations for another floor above it. This
upper floor is what you nowadays see when you enter the Pyramid,--and
no one imagines that under it is an open space with room to walk in,
and yet another floor below, where everything of value is secreted."

Dr. Dean drew a long breath of wonderment.

"Astonishing, if true!"

The Princess smiled somewhat disdainfully, and went on:

"Saurid's work was carried on after his death by his successors, and
with thousands of slaves toiling night and day the Pyramids were in the
course of years raised above the caverns which concealed Egypt's
mysteries. Everything was gradually accumulated in these underground
store-houses,--the engraved talismans, the slabs of stone on which were
deeply carved the geometrical and astronomical sciences; indestructible
glass chests containing papyri, on which were written the various
discoveries made in beneficial drugs, swift poisons, and other
medicines. And among these many things were thirty great jars full of
precious stones, some of which were marvels of the earth. They are
there still! And some of the great men who died were interred in these
caves, every one in a separate chamber inlaid with gold and gems, and I
think," here the Princess turned her dark eyes full on Dr. Dean, "I
think that if you knew the secret way of lifting the apparently
immovable floor, which is like the solid ground, and descending through
the winding galleries beneath, it is more than probable you would find
in the Great Pyramid the tomb of Araxes!"

Her eyes glistened strangely in the evening light with that peculiar
fiery glow which had made Dr. Dean once describe them as being like the
eyes of a vampire-bat, and there was something curiously impressive in
her gesture as she once more pointed to the towering structure which
loomed against the heavens, with one star flashing immediately above
it. A sudden involuntary shudder shook Gervase as with icy cold; he
moved restlessly, and presently remarked:

"Well, it is a safe tomb, at any rate! Whoever Araxes was, he stands
little chance of being exhumed if he lies two floors below the Great
Pyramid in a sealed-up rocky cavern! Princess, you look like an
inspired prophetess!--so much talk of ancient and musty times makes me
feel uncanny, and I will, with your permission, have a smoke with Dr.
Dean in the garden to steady my nerves. The mere notion of thirty vases
of unclaimed precious stones hidden down yonder is enough to upset any
man's equanimity!"

"The papyri would interest me more than the jewels," said Dr. Dean.
"What do you say, Denzil?"

Denzil Murray woke up suddenly from a fit of abstraction.

"Oh, I don't know anything about it," he answered. "I never was very
much interested in those old times,--they seem to me all myth. I could
never link past, present and future together as some people can; they
are to me all separate things. The past is done with,--the present is
our own to enjoy or to detest, and the future no man can look into."

"Ah, Denzil, you are young, and reflection has not been very hard at
work in that headstrong brain of yours," said Dr. Dean with an
indulgent smile, "otherwise you would see that past, present and future
are one and indissoluble. The past is as much a part of your present
identity as the present, and the future, too, lies in you in embryo.
The mystery of one man's life contains all mysteries, and if we could
only understand it from its very beginning we should find out the cause
of all things, and the ultimate intention of creation."

"Well, now, you have all had enough serious talk," said the Princess
Ziska lightly, "so let us adjourn to the drawing-room. One of my
waiting-women shall sing to you by and by; she has a very sweet voice."

"Is it she who sings that song about the lotus-lily?" asked Gervase,
suddenly.

The Princess smiled strangely.

"Yes,--it is she."

Dr. Dean chose a cigar from a silver box on the table; Gervase did the
same.

"Won't you smoke, Denzil?" he asked carelessly.

"No, thanks!" Denzil spoke hurriedly and hoarsely. "I think--if the
Princess will permit me--I will stay and talk with her in the
drawing-room while you two have your smoke together."

The Princess gave a charming bow of assent to this proposition. Gervase
took the Doctor somewhat roughly by the arm and led him out through the
open French window into the grounds beyond, remarking as he went:

"You will excuse us, Princess? We leave you in good company!"

She smiled.

"I will excuse you, certainly! But do not be long!"

And she passed from the dining-room into the small saloon beyond,
followed closely by Denzil.

Once out in the grounds, Gervase gave vent to a boisterous fit of wild
laughter, so loud and fierce that little Dr. Dean came to an abrupt
standstill, and stared at him in something of alarm as well as
amazement.

"Are you going mad, Gervase?" he asked.

"Yes!" cried Gervase, "that is just it,--I am going mad,--mad for love,
or whatever you please to call it! What do you think I am made of?
Flesh and blood, or cast-iron? Heavens! Do you think if all the
elements were to combine in a war against me, they should cheat me out
of this woman or rob me of her? No, no! A thousand times no! Satisfy
yourself, my excellent Doctor, with your musty records of the
past,--prate as you choose of the future,--but in the immediate,
burning, active present my will is law! And the fool Denzil thinks to
thwart me,--I, who have never been thwarted since I knew the meaning of
existence!"

He paused in a kind of breathless agitation, and Dr. Dean grasped his
arm firmly.

"Come, come, what is all this excitement for?" he said. "What are you
saying about Denzil?"

Gervase controlled himself with a violent effort and forced a smile.

"He has got his chance,--I have given it to him! He is alone with the
Princess, and he is asking her to be his wife!"

"Nonsense!" said the Doctor sharply. "If he does commit such a folly,
it will be no use. The woman is NOT HUMAN!"

"Not human?" echoed Gervase, his black eyes dilating with a sudden
amazement--"What do you mean?"

The little Doctor rubbed his nose impatiently and seemed sorry he had
spoken.

"I mean--let me see! What do I mean?" he said at last
meditatively--"Oh, well, it is easy enough of explanation. There are
plenty of people like the Princess Ziska to whom I would apply the
words 'not human.' She is all beauty and no heart. Again--if you follow
me--she is all desire and no passion, which is a character 'like unto
the beasts which perish.' A large majority of men are made so, and some
women,--though the women are comparatively few. Now, so far as the
Princess Ziska is concerned," continued the Doctor, fixing his keen,
penetrative glance on Gervase as he spoke, "I frankly admit to you that
I find in her material for a very curious and complex study. That is
why I have come after her here. I have said she is all desire and no
passion. That of itself is inhuman; but what I am busy about now is to
try and analyze the nature of the particular desire that moves her,
controls her, keeps her alive,--in short. It is not love; of that I
feel confident; and it is not hate,--though it is more like hate than
love. It is something indefinable, something that is almost occult, so
deep-seated and bewildering is the riddle. You look upon me as a
madman--yes! I know you do! But mad or sane, I emphatically repeat, the
Princess is NOT HUMAN, and by this expression I wish to imply that
though she has the outward appearance of a most beautiful and seductive
human body, she has the soul of a fiend. Now, do you understand me?"

"It would take Oedipus himself all his time to do that,"--said Gervase,
forcing a laugh which had no mirth in it, for he was conscious of a
vaguely unpleasant sensation--a chill, as of some dark presentiment,
which oppressed his mind. "When you know I do not believe in the soul,
why do you talk to me about it? The soul of a fiend,--the soul of an
angel,--what are they? Mere empty terms to me, meaning nothing. I think
I agree with you though, in one or two points concerning the Princess;
par exemple, I do not look upon her as one of those delicately embodied
purities of womanhood before whom we men instinctively bend in
reverence, but whom, at the same time, we generally avoid, ashamed of
our vileness. No; she is certainly not one of the

    "'Maiden roses left to die
   Because they climb so near the sky,
   That not the boldest passer-by
   Can pluck them from their vantage high.'

And whether it is best to be a solitary 'maiden-rose' or a Princess
Ziska, who shall say? And human or inhuman, whatever composition she is
made of, you may make yourself positively certain that Denzil Murray is
just now doing his best to persuade her to be a Highland chatelaine in
the future. Heavens, what a strange fate it will be for la belle
Egyptienne!"

"Oh, you think she IS Egyptian then?" queried Dr. Dean, with an air of
lively curiosity.

"Of course I do. She has the Egyptian type of form and countenance.
Consider only the resemblance between her and the dancer she chose to
represent the other night--the Ziska-Charmazel of the antique sculpture
on her walls!"

"Ay, but if you grant one resemblance, you must also admit another,"
said the Doctor quickly. "The likeness between yourself and the
old-world warrior, Araxes, is no less remarkable!" Gervase moved
uneasily, and a sudden pallor blanched his face, making it look wan and
haggard in the light of the rising moon. "And it is rather singular,"
went on the imperturbable savant, "that according to the legend or
history--whichever you please to consider it,--for in time, legends
become histories and histories legends--Araxes should have been the
lover of this very Ziska-Charmazel, and that you, who are the living
portrait of Araxes, should suddenly become enamored of the equally
living portrait of the dead woman! You must own, that to a mere
onlooker and observer like myself, it seems a curious coincidence!"

Gervase smoked on in silence, his level brows contracted in a musing
frown.

"Yes, it seems curious," he said at last, "but a great many curious
coincidences happen in this world--so many that we, in our days of rush
and turmoil, have not time to consider them as they come or go. Perhaps
of all the strange things in life, the sudden sympathies and the
headstrong passions which spring up in a day or a night between certain
men and certain women are the strangest. I look upon you, Doctor, as a
very clever fellow with just a little twist in his brain, or let us say
a 'fad' about spiritual matters; but in one of your more or less
fantastic and extravagant theories I am half disposed to believe, and
that is the notion you have of the possibility of some natures, male
and female, having met before in a previous state of existence and
under different forms, such as birds, flowers, or forest animals, or
even mere incorporeal breaths of air and flame. It is an idea which I
confess fascinates me. It seems fairly reasonable too, for, as many
scientists argue that you cannot destroy matter, but only transform it,
there is really nothing impossible in the suggestion."

He paused, then added slowly as he flung the end of his cigar away:

"I have felt the force of this odd fancy of yours most strongly since I
met the Princess Ziska."

"Indeed! Then the impression she gave you first is still upon you--that
of having known her before?"

Gervase waited a minute or two before replying; then he answered:

"Yes. And not only of having known her before, but of having loved her
before. Love!--mon Dieu!--what a tame word it is! How poorly it
expresses the actual emotion! Fire in the veins--delirium in the
brain--reason gone to chaos! And this madness is mildly described as
'love?'"

"There are other words for it," said the Doctor. "Words that are not so
poetic, but which, perhaps, are more fitting."

"No!" interrupted Gervase, almost fiercely. "There are no words which
truly describe this one emotion which rules the world. I know what YOU
mean, of course; you mean evil words, licentious words, and yet it has
nothing whatever to do with these. You cannot call such an exalted
state of the nerves and sensations by an evil name."

Dr. Dean pondered the question for a few moments.

"No, I am not sure that I can," he said, meditatively. "If I did, I
should have to give an evil name to the Creator who designed man and
woman and ordained the law of attraction which draws, and often DRAGS
them together. I like to be fair to everybody, the Creator included;
yet to be fair to everybody I shall appear to sanction immorality. For
the fact is that our civilization has upset all the original intentions
of nature. Nature evidently meant Love, or the emotion we call Love, to
be the keynote of the universe. But apparently Nature did not intend
marriage. The flowers, the birds, the lower animals, mate afresh every
spring, and this is the creed that the disciples of Naturalism nowadays
are anxious to force upon the attention of the world. It is only men
and women, they say, that are so foolish as to take each other for
better or worse till death do them part. Now, I should like, from the
physical scientist's point of view, to prove that the men and women are
wrong, and that the lower animals are right; but spiritual science
comes in and confutes me. For in spiritual science I find this truth,
which will not be gainsaid--namely, that from time immemorial, certain
immortal forms of Nature have been created solely for one another; like
two halves of a circle, they are intended to meet and form the perfect
round, and all the elements of creation, spiritual and material, will
work their hardest to pull them together. Such natures, I consider,
should absolutely and imperatively be joined in marriage. It then
becomes a divine decree. Even grant, if you like, that the natures so
joined are evil, and that the sympathy between them is of a more or
less reprehensible character, it is quite as well that they should
unite, and that the result of such an union should be seen. The evil
might come out of them in a family of criminals which the law could
exterminate with advantage to the world in general. Whereas on the
other hand, given two fine and aspiring natures with perfect sympathy
between them, as perfect as the two notes of a perfect chord, the
children of such a marriage would probably be as near gods as humanity
could bring them. I speak as a scientist merely. Such consequences are
not foreseen by the majority, and marriages as a rule take place
between persons who are by no means made for each other. Besides, a
kind of devil comes into the business, and often prevents the two
sympathetic natures conjoining. Love-matters alone are quite sufficient
to convince me that there IS a devil as well as a divinity that 'shapes
our ends.'"

"You speak as if you yourself had loved, Doctor," said Gervase, with a
half smile.

"And so I have," replied the Doctor, calmly. "I have loved to the full
as passionately and ardently as even you can love. I thank God the
woman I loved died,--I could never have possessed her, for she was
already wedded,--and I would not have disgraced her by robbing her from
her lawful husband. So Death stepped in and gave her to me--forever!"
and he raised his eyes to the solemn starlit sky. "Yes, nothing can
ever come between us now; no demon tears her white soul from me; she
died innocent of evil, and she is mine--mine in every pulse of her
being, as we shall both know hereafter!"

His face, which was not remarkable for any beauty of feature, grew rapt
and almost noble in its expression, and Gervase looked at him with a
faint touch of ironical wonder.

"Upon my word, your morality almost outreaches your mysticism!" he
said. "I see you are one of those old-fashioned men who think marriage
a sacred sort of thing and the only self-respecting form of love."

"Old-fashioned I may be," replied Dr. Dean; "but I certainly believe in
marriage for the woman's sake. If the license of men were not
restrained by some sort of barrier it would break all bounds. Now I,
had I chosen, could have taken the woman I loved to myself; it needed
but a little skilful persuasion on my part, for her husband was a
drink-sodden ruffian..."

"And why, in the name of Heaven, did you not do so?" demanded Gervase
impatiently.

"Because I know the end of all such liaisons," said the Doctor sadly.
"A month or two of delirious happiness, then years of remorse to
follow. The man is lowered in his own secret estimation of himself, and
the woman is hopelessly ruined, socially and morally. No, Death is far
better; and in my case Death has proved a good friend, for it has given
me the spotless soul of the woman I loved, which is far fairer than her
body was."

"But, unfortunately, intangible!" said Gervase, satirically.

The Doctor looked at him keenly and coldly.

"Do not be too sure of that, my friend! Never talk about what you do
not understand; you only wander astray. The spiritual world is a blank
to you, so do not presume to judge of what you will never realize TILL
REALIZATION IS FORCED UPON YOU!"

He uttered the last words with slow and singular emphasis.

"Forced upon me?" began Gervase. "What do you mean? ..."

He broke off abruptly, for at that moment Denzil Murray emerged from
the doorway of the hotel, and came towards them with an unsteady,
swaying step like that of a drunken man.

"You had better go in to the Princess," he said, staring at Gervase
with a wild smile; "she is waiting for you!"

"What's the matter with you, Denzil?" inquired Dr. Dean, catching him
by the arm as he made a movement to go on and pass them.

Denzil stopped, frowning impatiently.

"Matter? Nothing! What should be the matter?"

"Oh, no offence; no offence, my boy!" and Dr. Dean at once loosened his
arm. "I only thought you looked as if you had had some upset or worry,
that's all."

"Climate! climate!" said Denzil, hoarsely. "Egypt does not agree with
me, I suppose!--the dryness of the soil breeds fever and a touch of
madness! Men are not blocks of wood or monoliths of stone; they are
creatures of flesh and blood, of nerve and muscle; you cannot torture
them so..."

He interrupted himself with a kind of breathless irritation at his own
speech. Gervase regarded him steadily, slightly smiling.

"Torture them how, Denzil?" asked the Doctor, kindly. "Dear lad, you
are talking nonsense. Come and stroll with me up and down; the air is
quite balmy and delightful; it will cool your brain."

"Yes, it needs cooling!" retorted Denzil, beginning to laugh with a
sort of wild hilarity. "Too much wine,--too much woman,--too much of
these musty old-world records and ghastly pyramids!"

Here he broke off, adding quickly:

"Doctor, Helen and I will go back to England next week, if all is well."

"Why, certainly, certainly!" said Dr. Dean, soothingly. "I think we are
all beginning to feel we have had enough of Egypt. I shall probably
return home with you. Meanwhile, come for a stroll and talk to me;
Monsieur Armand Gervase will perhaps go in and excuse us for a few
minutes to the Princess Ziska."

"With pleasure!" said Gervase; then, beckoning Denzil Murray aside, he
whispered:

"Tell me, have you won or lost?"

"Lost!" replied Denzil, fiercely, through his set teeth. "It is your
turn now! But, if you win, as sure as there is a God above us, I will
kill you!"

"SOIT! But not till I am ready for killing! AFTER TO-MORROW NIGHT I
shall be at your service, not till then!"

And smiling coldly, his dark face looking singularly pale and stern in
the moonlight, Gervase turned away, and, walking with his usual light,
swift, yet leisurely tread, entered the Princess's apartment by the
French window which was still open, and from which the sound of sweet
music came floating deliciously on the air as he disappeared.



CHAPTER XIV.


In a half-reclining attitude of indolently graceful ease, the Princess
Ziska watched from beneath the slumbrous shadow of her long-fringed
eyelids the approach of her now scarcely-to-be controlled lover. He
came towards her with a certain impetuosity of movement which was so
far removed from ordinary conventionality as to be wholly admirable
from the purely picturesque point of view, despite the fact that it
expressed more passion and impatience than were in keeping with
nineteenth-century customs and manners. He had almost reached her side
before he became aware that there were two other women in the room
besides the Princess,--silent, veiled figures that sat, or rather
crouched, on the floor, holding quaintly carved and inlaid musical
instruments of some antique date in their hands, the only sign of life
about them being their large, dark, glistening almond-shaped eyes,
which were every now and then raised and fixed on Gervase with an
intense and searching look of inquiry. Strangely embarrassed by their
glances, he addressed the Princess in a low tone:

"Will you not send away your women?"

She smiled.

"Yes, presently; if you wish it, I will. But you must hear some music
first. Sit down there," and she pointed with her small jewelled hand to
a low chair near her own. "My lutist shall sing you something,--in
English, of course!--for all the world is being Anglicized by degrees,
and there will soon be no separate nations left. Something, too, of
romantic southern passion is being gradually grafted on to English
sentiment, so that English songs are not so stupid as they were once. I
translated some stanzas from one of the old Egyptian poets into English
the other day, perhaps you will like them. Myrmentis, sing us the 'Song
of Darkness.'"

An odd sensation of familiarity with the name of "Myrmentis" startled
Gervase as he heard it pronounced, and he looked at the girl who was so
called in a kind of dread. But she did not meet his questioning
regard,--she was already bending over her lute and tuning its strings,
while her companion likewise prepared to accompany her on a similar
though larger instrument, and in an-other moment her voice, full and
rich, with a sobbing passion in it which thrilled him to the inmost
soul, rang out on the warm silence:

  In the darkness what deeds are done!
     What wild words spoken!
   What joys are tasted, what passion wasted!
     What hearts are broken!
   Not a glimpse of the moon shall shine,
     Not a star shall mark
   The passing of night,--or shed its light
     On my Dream of the Dark!

  On the scented and slumbrous air,
     Strange thoughts are thronging;
   And a blind desire more fierce than fire
     Fills the soul with longing;
   Through the silence heavy and sweet
     Comes the panting breath
   Of a lover unseen from the Might-Have-Been,
     Whose loving is Death!

  In the darkness a deed was done,
     A wild word spoken!
   A joy was tasted,--a passion wasted,--
     A heart was broken!
   Not a glimpse of the moon shall shine,
     Not a star shall mark
   The passing of night,--or shed its light
     On my Dream of the Dark!

The song died away in a shuddering echo, and before Gervase had time to
raise his eyes from their brooding study of the floor the singer and
her companion had noiselessly disappeared, and he was left alone with
the Princess Ziska. He drew along breath, and turning fully round in
his chair, looked at her steadily. There was a faint smile on her
lips--a smile of mingled mockery and triumph,--her beautiful witch-like
eyes glittered. Leaning towards her, he grasped her hands suddenly in
his own.

"Now," he whispered, "shall I speak or be silent?"

"Whichever you please," she responded composedly, still smiling.
"Speech or silence rest equally with yourself. I compel neither."

"That is false!" he said passionately. "You do compel! Your eyes drag
my very soul out of me--your touch drives me into frenzy! You
temptress! You force me to speak, though you know already what I have
to say! That I love you, love you! And that you love me! That your
whole life leaps to mine as mine to yours! You know all this; if I were
stricken dumb, you could read it in my face, but you will have it
spoken--you will extort from me the whole secret of my madness!--yes,
for you to take a cruel joy in knowing that I AM mad--mad for the love
of you! And you cannot be too often or too thoroughly assured that your
own passion finds its reflex in me!"

He paused, abruptly checked in his wild words by the sound of her low,
sweet, chill laughter. She withdrew her hands from his burning grasp.

"My dear friend," she said lightly, "you really have a very excellent
opinion of yourself--excuse me for saying so! 'My own passion!' Do you
actually suppose I have a 'passion' for you?" And rising from her
chair, she drew up her slim supple figure to its full height and looked
at him with an amused and airy scorn. "You are totally mistaken! No one
man living can move me to love; I know all men too well! Their natures
are uniformly composed of the same mixture of cruelty, lust and
selfishness; and forever and forever, through all the ages of the
world, they use the greater part of their intellectual abilities in
devising new ways to condone and conceal their vices. You call me
'temptress';--why? The temptation, if any there be, emanates from
yourself and your own unbridled desires; I do nothing. I am made as I
am made; if my face or my form seems fair in your eyes, this is not my
fault. Your glance lights on me, as the hawk's lights on coveted prey;
but think you the prey loves the hawk in response? It is the mistake
all men make with all women,--to judge them always as being of the same
base material as themselves. Some women there are who shame their
womanhood; but the majority, as a rule, preserve their self-respect
till taught by men to lose it."

Gervase sprang up and faced her, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"Do not make any pretence with me!" he said half angrily. "Never tell
me you cannot love! ..."

"I HAVE loved!" she interrupted him. "As true women love,--once, and
only once. It suffices; not for one lifetime, but many. I loved; and
gave myself ungrudgingly and trustingly to the man my soul worshipped.
I was betrayed, of course!--it is the usual story--quite old, quite
commonplace! I can tell it to you without so much as a blush of pain!
Since then I have not loved,--I have HATED; and I live but for one
thing--Revenge."

Her face paled as she spoke, and a something vague, dark, spectral and
terrible seemed to enfold her like a cloud where she stood. Anon she
smiled sweetly, and with a bewitching provocativeness.

"Your 'passion,' you see, my friend awakens rather a singular 'reflex'
in me!--not quite of the nature you imagined!"

He remained for a moment inert; then, with an almost savage boldness,
threw his arm about her.

"Have everything your own way, Ziska!" he said in quick, fierce
accents. "I will accept all your fancies, and humor all your caprices.
I will grant that you do not love me--I will even suppose that I am
repellent to you,--but that shall make no difference to my desire! You
shall be mine!--willing or unwilling! If every kiss I take from your
lips be torn from you with reluctance, yet those kisses I will
have!--you shall not escape me! You--you, out of all women in the
world, I choose..."

"As your wife?" said Ziska slowly, her dark eyes gleaming with a
strange light as she dexterously withdrew herself from his embrace.

He uttered an impatient exclamation.

"My wife! Dieu! What a banalite! You, with your exquisite, glowing
beauty and voluptuous charm, you would be a 'wife'--that tiresome
figure-head of utterly dull respectability? You, with your unmatched
air of wild grace and freedom, would submit to be tied down in the
bonds of marriage,--marriage, which to my thinking and that of many
other men of my character, is one of the many curses of this idiotic
nineteenth century! No, I offer you love, Ziska!--ideal, passionate
love!--the glowing, rapturous dream of ecstasy in which such a thing as
marriage would be impossible, the merest vulgar commonplace--almost a
profanity."

"I understand!" and the Princess Ziska regarded him intently, her
breath coming and going, and a strange smile quivering on her lips.
"You would play the part of an Araxes over again!"

He smiled; and with all the audacity of a bold and determined nature,
put his arms round her and drew her close up to his breast.

"Yes," he said, "I would play the part of an Araxes over again!"

As he uttered the words, an indescribable sensation of horror seized
him--a mist darkened his sight, his blood grew cold, and a tremor shook
him from head to foot. The fair woman's face that was lifted so close
to his own seemed spectral and far off; and for a fleeting moment her
very beauty grew into something like hideousness, as if the strange
effect of the picture he had painted of her was now becoming actual and
apparent--namely, the face of death looking through the mask of life.
Yet he did not loosen his arms from about her waist; on the contrary he
clasped her even more closely, and kept his eyes fixed upon her with
such pertinacity that it seemed as if he expected her to vanish from
his sight while he still held her.

"To play the part of an Araxes aright," she murmured then in slow and
dulcet accents, "you would need to be cruel and remorseless, and
sacrifice my life--or any woman's life--to your own clamorous and
selfish passion. But you,--Armand Gervase,--educated, civilized,
intellectual, and totally unlike the barbaric Araxes, could not do
that, could you? The progress of the world, the increasing intelligence
of humanity, the coming of the Christ, these things are surely of some
weight with you, are they not? Or are you made of the same savage and
impenitent stuff as composed the once famous yet brutal warrior of old
time? Do you admire the character and spirit of Araxes?--he who, if
history reports him truly, would snatch a woman's life as though it
were a wayside flower, crush out all its sweetness and delicacy, and
then fling it into the dust withered and dead? Do you think that
because a man is strong and famous, he has a right to the love of
woman?--a charter to destroy her as he pleases? If you remember the
story I told you, Araxes murdered with his own hand Ziska-Charmazel the
woman who loved him."

"He had perhaps grown weary of her," said Gervase, speaking with an
effort, and still studying the exquisite loveliness of the bewitching
face that was so close to his own, like a man in a dream.

At this she laughed, and laid her two hands on his shoulders with a
close and clinging clasp which thrilled him strangely.

"Ah, there is the difficulty!" she said.

"What cure shall ever be found for love-weariness? Men are all like
children--they tire of their toys; hence the frequent trouble and
discomfort of marriage. They grow weary of the same face, the same
caressing arms, the same faithful heart! You, for instance, would grow
weary of me!"

"I think not," answered Gervase. And now the vague sense of uncertainty
and pain which had distressed him passed away, leaving him fully
self-possessed once more. "I think you are one of those exceptional
women whom a man never grows weary of: like a Cleopatra, or any other
old-world enchantress, you fascinate with a look, you fasten with a
touch, and you have a singular freshness and wild attraction about you
which makes you unlike any other of your sex. I know well enough that I
shall never get the memory of you out of my brain; your face will haunt
me till I die!"

"And after death?" she queried, half-closing her eyes, and regarding
him languorously through her silky black lashes.

"Ah, ma belle, after that there is nothing to be done even in the way
of love. Tout est fini! Considering the brevity of life and the
absolute certainty of death, I think that the men and women who are so
foolish as to miss any opportunities of enjoyment while they are alive
deserve more punishment than those who take all they can get, even in
the line of what is called wickedness. Wickedness is a curious thing:
it takes different shapes in different lands, and what is called
'wicked' here, is virtue in, let us say, the Fiji Islands. There is
really no strict rule of conduct in the world, no fixed law of
morality."

"There is honor!" said the Princess, slowly;--"A code which even
savages recognize."

He was silent. For a moment he seemed to hesitate; but his indecision
soon passed. His face flushed, and anon grew pale, as closing his arms
more victoriously round the fair woman who just then appeared
voluntarily to yield to his embrace, he bent down and whispered a few
words in the tiny ear, white and delicate as a shell, which was
half-hidden by the rich loose clusters of her luxuriant hair. She
heard, and smiled; and her eyes flashed with a singular ferocity which
he did not see, otherwise it might have startled him.

"I will answer you to-morrow," she said. "Be patient till then."

And as she spoke, she released herself determinedly from the clasp of
his arms and withdrew to a little distance, looking at him with a fixed
and searching scrutiny.

"Do not preach patience to me!" he exclaimed with a laugh. "I never had
that virtue, and I certainly cannot begin to cultivate it now."

"Had you ever any virtues?" she asked in a playful tone of something
like satire.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I do not know what you consider virtues," he answered lightly: "If
honesty is one, I have that. I make no pretence to be what I am not. I
would not pass off somebody else's picture as my own, for instance. But
I cannot sham to be moral. I could not possibly love a woman without
wanting her all to myself, and I have not the slightest belief in the
sanctimonious humbug of a man who plays the Platonic lover only. But I
don't cheat, and I don't lie. I am what I am. ..."

"A man!" said Ziska, a lurid and vindictive light dilating and firing
her wonderful eyes. "A man!--the essence of all that is evil, the
possibility of all that is good! But the essence is strong and works;
the possibility is a dream which dissolves in the dreaming!"

"Yes, you are right, ma chere!" he responded carelessly. "Goodness--as
the world understands goodness--never makes a career for itself worth
anything. Even Christ, who has figured as a symbol of goodness for
eighteen hundred years, was not devoid of the sin of ambition: He
wanted to reign over all Judaea."

"You view Him in that light?" inquired Ziska with a keen look. "And as
man only?"

"Why, of course! The idea of an incarnate God has long ago been
discarded by all reasoning thinkers."

"And what of an incarnate devil?" pursued Ziska, her breath coming and
going quickly.

"As impossible as the other fancy!" he responded almost gayly. "There
are no gods and no devils, ma belle! The world is ruled by ourselves
alone, and it behoves us to make the best of it. How will you give me
my answer to-morrow? When shall I see you? Speak low and quickly,--Dr.
Dean is coming in here from the garden: when--when?"

"I will send for you," she answered.

"At what hour?"

"The moon rises at ten. And at ten my messenger shall come for you."

"A trustworthy messenger, I hope? One who knows how to be silent?"

"As silent as the grave!" she said, looking at him fixedly. "As secret
as the Great Pyramid and the hidden tomb of Araxes!"

And smiling, she turned to greet Dr. Dean, who just then entered the
saloon.

"Denzil has gone to bed," he announced. "He begged me to excuse him to
you, Princess. I think the boy is feverish. Egypt doesn't agree with
him."

"I am sorry he is ill," said the Princess with a charming air of
sympathy.

"Oh, he isn't exactly ill," returned the Doctor, looking sharply at her
beautiful face as he spoke. "He is simply unnerved and restless. I am a
little anxious about him. I think he ought to go back to England--or
Scotland."

"I think so, too," agreed Gervase. "And Mademoiselle Helen with him."

"Mademoiselle Helen you consider very beautiful?" murmured the
Princess, unfurling her fan and waving it indolently to and fro.

"No, not beautiful," answered the Doctor quickly. "But very pretty,
sweet and lovable--and good."

"Ah then, of course some one will break her heart!" said the Princess
calmly. "That is what always happens to good women."

And she smiled as she saw Gervase flush, half with anger, half with
shame. The little Doctor rubbed his nose crossly.

"Not always, Princess," he said. "Sometimes it does; in fact pretty
often. It is an unfortunate truth that virtue is seldom rewarded in
this world. Virtue in a woman nowadays---"

"Means no lovers and no fun!" said Gervase gayly. "And the possibility
of a highly decorous marriage with a curate or a bankclerk, followed by
the pleasing result of a family of little curates or little
bank-clerks. It is not a dazzling prospect!"

The Doctor smiled grimly; then after a wavering moment of indecision,
broke out into a chuckling laugh.

"You have an odd way of putting things," he said. "But I'm afraid you
may be right in your estimate of the position. Quite as many women are
as miserably sacrificed on the altar of virtue as of vice. It is 'a mad
world,' as Shakespeare says. I hope the next life we pass into after
this one will at least be sane."

"Well, if you believe in Heaven, you have Testament authority for the
fact that there will be 'neither marriage nor giving in marriage'
there, at any rate," laughed Gervase. "And if we wish to follow that
text out truly in our present state of existence and become 'as the
angels of God' we ought at once to abolish matrimony."

"Have done! Have done!" exclaimed the Doctor, still smiling, however,
notwithstanding his protest. "You Southern Frenchmen are half
barbarians,--you have neither religion nor morality."

"Dieu merci!" said Gervase, irreverently; then turning to the Princess
Ziska, he bowed low and with a courtly grace over the hand she extended
towards him in farewell. "Good-night, Princess!"--then in a whisper he
added: "To-morrow I shall await your summons."

"It will come without fail, never fear!" she answered in equally soft
tones. "I hope it may find you ready."

He raised his eyes and gave her one long, lingering, passionate look;
then with another "Good-night," which included Dr. Dean, left the room.
The Doctor lingered a moment, studying the face and form of the
Princess with a curiously inquisitive air; while she in her turn
confronted him haughtily, and with a touch of defiance in her aspect.

"Well," said the savant presently, after a pause: "Now you have got
him, what are you going to do with him?"

She smiled coldly, but answered nothing.

"You need not flash your beautiful eyes at me in that eminently
unpleasant fashion," pursued the Doctor, easily. "You see I KNOW YOU,
and I am not afraid of you. I only make a stand against you in one
respect: you shall not kill the boy Denzil."

"He is nothing to me!" she said, with a gesture of contempt.

"I know he is nothing to you; but you are something to him. He does not
recognize your nature as I do. I must get him out of the reach of your
spell--"

"You need not trouble yourself," she interrupted him, a sombre
melancholy darkening her face; "I shall be gone to-morrow."

"Gone altogether?" inquired the Doctor calmly and without
surprise,--"Not to come back?"

"Not in this present generation!" she answered.

Still Dr. Dean evinced no surprise.

"Then you will have satisfied yourself?" he asked.

She bent her head.

"For the time being--yes! I shall have satisfied myself."

There followed a silence, during which the little Doctor looked at his
beautiful companion with all the meditative interest of a scientist
engaged in working out some intricate and deeply interesting problem.

"I suppose I may not inquire how you propose to obtain this
satisfaction?" he said.

"You may inquire, but you will not be answered!" she retorted, smiling
darkly.

"Your intentions are pitiless?"

Still smiling, she said not a word.

"You are impenitent?"

She remained silent.

"And, worst of all, you do not desire redemption! You are one of those
who forever and ever cry, 'Evil, be thou my good!' Thus for you, Christ
died in vain!"

A faint tremor ran through her, but she was still mute.

"So you and creatures like you, must have their way in the world until
the end," concluded the Doctor, thoughtfully. "And if all the
philosophers that ever lived were to pronounce you what you are, they
would be disbelieved and condemned as madmen! Well, Princess, I am glad
I have never at any time crossed your path till now, or given you cause
of offence against me. We part friends, I trust? Good-night! Farewell!"

She held out her hand. He hesitated before taking it.

"Are you afraid?" she queried coldly. "It will not harm you!"

"I am afraid of nothing," he said, at once clasping the white taper
fingers in his own, "except a bad conscience."

"That will never trouble you!" and the Princess looked at him full and
steadily. "There are no dark corners in your life--no mean side-alleys
and trap-holes of deceit; you have walked on the open and straight
road. You are a good man and a wise one. But though you, in your
knowledge of spiritual things, recognize me for what I am, take my
advice and be silent on the matter. The world would never believe the
truth, even if you told it, for the time is not yet ripe for men and
women to recognize the avengers of their wicked deeds. They are kept
purposely in the dark lest the light should kill!"

And with her sombre eyes darkening, yet glowing with the inward fire
that always smouldered in their dazzling depths, she saluted him
gravely and gracefully, watching him to the last as he slowly withdrew.



CHAPTER XV.


The next day broke with a bright, hot glare over the wide desert, and
the sky in its cloudless burning blue had more than its usual
appearance of limitless and awful immensity. The Sphinx and the
Pyramids alone gave a shadow and a substance to the dazzling and
transparent air,--all the rest of the visible landscape seemed naught
save a far-stretching ocean of glittering sand, scorched by the blazing
sun. Dr. Maxwell Dean rose early and went down to the hotel breakfast
in a somewhat depressed frame of mind; he had slept badly, and his
dreams had been unpleasant, when not actually ghastly, and he was
considerably relieved, though he could not have told why, when he saw
his young friend Denzil Murray, seated at the breakfast table,
apparently enjoying an excellent meal.

"Hullo, Denzil!" he exclaimed cheerily, "I hardly expected you down
yet. Are you better?"

"Thanks, I am perfectly well," said Denzil, with a careless air. "I
thought I would breakfast early in order to drive into Cairo before the
day gets too sultry."

"Into Cairo!" echoed the Doctor. "Why, aren't you going to stay here a
few days?"

"No, not exactly," answered Denzil, stirring his coffee quickly and
beginning to swallow it in large gulps. "I shall be back to-night,
though. I'm only going just to see my sister and tell her to prepare
for our journey home. I shan't be absent more than a few hours."

"I thought you might possibly like to go a little further up the Nile?"
suggested the Doctor.

"Oh, no, I've had enough of it! You see, when a man proposes to a woman
and gets refused, he can't keep on dangling round that woman as if he
thought it possible she might change her mind." And he forced a smile.
"I've got an appointment with Gervase to-morrow morning, and I must
come back to-night in order to keep it--but after that I'm off."

"An appointment with Gervase?" repeated the Doctor, slowly. "What sort
of an appointment?"

Denzil avoided his keen look.

"Really, Doctor, you are getting awfully inquisitive!" he exclaimed
with a hard laugh. "You want to know altogether too much!"

"Yes, I always do; it is a habit of mine," responded Dr. Dean, calmly.
"But in the present case, it doesn't need much perspicuity to fathom
your mystery. The dullest clod-hopper will tell you he can see through
a millstone when there's a hole in it. And I was always a good hand at
putting two and two together and making four out of them. You and
Gervase are in love with the same woman; the woman has rejected you and
is encouraging Gervase; Gervase, you think, will on this very night be
in the position of the accepted lover, for which successful fortune,
attending him, you, the rejected one, propose to kill him to-morrow
morning if you can, unless he kills you. And you are going to Cairo to
get your pistols or whatever weapons you have arranged to fight with,
and also to say good-bye to your sister."

Denzil kept his eyes fixed studiously on the table-cloth and made no
answer.

"However," continued the Doctor complacently, "you can have it all your
own way as far as I am concerned. I never interfere in these sort of
matters. I should do no good if I attempted it. Besides, I haven't the
slightest anxiety on your behalf--not the slightest. Waiter, some more
coffee, please?"

"Upon my word!" exclaimed Denzil, with a fretful laugh, "you are a most
extraordinary man, Doctor!"

"I hope I am!" retorted the Doctor. "To be merely ordinary would not
suit my line of ambition. This is very excellent coffee"--here he
peered into the fresh pot of the fragrant beverage just set before him.
"They make it better here than at the Gezireh Palace. Well, Denzil, my
boy, when you get into Cairo, give my love to Helen and tell her we'll
all go home to the old country together; I, myself, have got quite
enough out of Egypt this time to satisfy my fondness for new
experiences. And let me assure you, my good fellow, that your proposed
duel with Gervase will not come off!"

"It will come off!" said Denzil, with sudden fierceness. "By Heaven, it
shall!--it must!"

"More wills than one have the working out of our destinies," answered
Dr. Dean with some gravity. "Man is not by any means supreme. He
imagines he is, but that is only one of his many little delusions. You
think you will have your way; Gervase thinks he will have his way; I
think I will have my way; but as a matter of fact there is only one
person in this affair whose 'way' will be absolute, and that person is
the Princess Ziska. Ce que femme veut Dieu veut."

"She has nothing whatever to do with the matter," declared Denzil.

"Pardon! She has everything to do with it. She is the cause of it and
she knows it. And as I have already told you, your proposed fight will
not come off." And the little Doctor smiled serenely. "There is your
carriage at the door, I suppose. Off with you, my boy!--be off like a
whirlwind, and return here armed to the teeth if you like! You have
heard the expression 'fighting the air'? That is what you will do
tomorrow morning!"

And apparently in the best of all possible humors, Dr. Dean accompanied
his young friend to the portico of the hotel and watched him drive off
down the stately avenue of palm-trees which now cast their refreshing
shade on the entire route from the Pyramids to Cairo. When he had
fairly gone, the thoughtful savant surveyed the different tourists who
were preparing to ascend the Pyramids under the escort of their Arab
guides, regardless of the risks they ran of dislocated arms and broken
shoulder-bones,--and in the study of the various odd types thus
presented to him, he found himself fairly well amused.

"Protoplasm--mere protoplasm!" he murmured. "The germ of soul has not
yet attained to individual consciousness in any one of these strange
bipeds. Their thoughts are as jelly,--their reasoning powers in
embryo,--their intellectual faculties barely perceptible. Yet they are
interesting, viewed in the same light and considered on the same scale
as fish or insects merely. As men and women of course they are
misnomers,--laughable impossibilities. Well, well!--in the space of two
or three thousand years, the protoplasm may start into form out of the
void, and the fibres of a conscious Intellectuality may sprout,--but it
will have to be in some other phase of existence--certainly not in this
one. And now to shut myself up and write my memoranda--for I must not
lose a single detail of this singular Egyptian psychic problem. The
whole thing I perceive is rounding itself towards completion and
catastrophe--but in what way? How will it--how CAN it end?"

And with a meditative frown puckering his brows, Dr. Dean folded his
hands behind his back and retired to his own room, from whence he did
not emerge all day.

Armand Gervase in the meanwhile was making himself the life and soul of
everything at the Mena House Hotel. He struck up an easy acquaintance
with several of the visitors staying there,--said pretty things to
young women and pleasant things to old,--and in the course of a few
hours succeeded in becoming the most popular personage in the place. He
accepted invitations to parties, and agreed to share in various'
excursions, till he engaged himself for every day in the coming week,
and was so gay and gallant and fascinating in manner and bearing that
fair ladies lost their hearts to him at a glance, and what amusement or
pleasure there was at the Mena House seemed to be doubly enhanced by
the mere fact of his presence. In truth Gervase was in a singular mood
of elation and excitation; a strong inward triumph possessed him and
filled his soul with an imperious pride and sense of conquest which,
for the time being, made him feel as though he were a very king of men.
There was nothing in his nature of the noble tenderness which makes the
lover mentally exalt his beloved as a queen before whom he is content
to submit his whole soul in worship; what he realized was merely this:
that here was one of the most beautiful and seductive women ever
created, in the person of the Princess Ziska, and that he, Gervase,
meant to possess that loveliest of women, whatever happened in the near
or distant future. Of her, and of the influence of his passion on her
personally, he did not stop to think, except with the curiously blind
egotism which is the heritage of most men, and which led him to judge
that her happiness would in some way or other be enhanced by his brief
and fickle love. For, as a rule, men do not understand love. They
understand desire, amounting sometimes to merciless covetousness for
what they cannot get,--this is a leading natural characteristic of the
masculine nature--but Love--love that endures silently and faithfully
through the stress of trouble and the passing of years--love which
sacrifices everything to the beloved and never changes or
falters,--this is a divine passion which seldom or never sanctifies and
inspires the life of a man. Women are not made of such base material;
their love invariably springs first from the Ideal, not the Sensual,
and if afterwards it develops into the sensual, it is through the rough
and coarsening touch of man alone.

Throughout the entire day the Princess Ziska herself never left her
private apartments, and towards late afternoon Gervase began to feel
the hours drag along with unconscionable slowness and monotony. Never
did the sun seem so slow in sinking; never did the night appear so far
off. When at last dinner was served in the hotel, both Denzil Murray
and Dr. Dean sat next to him at table, and, judging from outward
appearances, the most friendly relations existed between all three of
them. At the close of the meal, however, Denzil made a sign to Gervase
to follow him, and when they had reached a quiet corner, said:

"I am aware of your victory; you have won where I have lost. But you
know my intention?"

"Perfectly!" responded Gervase, with a cool smile.

"By Heaven!" went on the younger man, in accents of suppressed fury,
"if I yielded to the temptation which besets me when I see you standing
there facing me, with your easy and self-satisfied demeanor,--when I
know that you mean dishonor where I meant honor,--when you have had the
effrontery to confess to me that you only intend to make the Princess
Ziska your mistress when I would have made her my wife,--God! I could
shoot you dead at this moment!"

Gervase looked at him steadily, still smiling slightly; then gradually
the smile died away, leaving his countenance shadowed by an intense
melancholy.

"I can quite enter into your feelings, my dear boy!" he said. "And do
you know, I'm not sure that it would not be a good thing if you were to
shoot me dead! My life is of no particular value to anybody,--certainly
not to myself; and I begin to think I've been always more or less of a
failure. I have won fame, but I have missed--something--but upon my
word, I don't quite know what!"

He sighed heavily, then suddenly held out his hand.

"Denzil, the bitterest foes shake hands before fighting each other to
the death, as we propose to do to-morrow; it is a civil custom and
hurts no one, I should like to part kindly from you to-night!"

Denzil hesitated; then something stronger than himself made him yield
to the impulsive note of strong emotion in his former friend's voice,
and the two men's hands met in a momentary silent grasp. Then Denzil
turned quickly away.

"To-morrow morning at six," he said, briefly; "close to the Sphinx."

"Good!" responded Gervase. "The Sphinx shall second us both and see
fair play. Good-night, Denzil!"

"Good-night!" responded Denzil, coldly, as he moved on and disappeared.

A slight shiver ran through Gervase's blood as he watched him depart.

"Odd that I should imagine I have seen the last of him!" he murmured.
"There are strange portents in the air of the desert, I suppose! Is he
going to his death? Or am I going to mine?"

Again the cold tremor shook him, and combating with his uneasy
sensations, he went to his own apartment, there to await the expected
summons of the Princess. No triumph filled him now; no sense of joy
elated him; a vague fear and dull foreboding were all the emotions he
was conscious of. Even his impatient desire of love had cooled, and he
watched the darkening of night over the desert, and the stars shining
out one by one in the black azure of the heavens, with a gradually
deepening depression. A dreamy sense stole over him of remoteness or
detachment from all visible things, as though he were suddenly and
mysteriously separated from the rest of humankind by an invisible force
which he was powerless to resist. He was still lost in this vague
half-torpor or semi-conscious reverie, when a light tap startled him
back to the realization of earth and his earthly surroundings. In
response to his "Entrez!" the tall Nubian, whom he had seen in Cairo as
the guardian of the Princess's household, appeared, his repulsive
features looking, if anything, more ghastly and hideous than ever.

"Madame la Princesse demande votre presence!" said this unlovely
attendant of one of the fairest of women. "Suivez-moi!"

Without a moment's hesitation or loss of time, Gervase obeyed, and
allowing his guide to precede him at a little distance, followed him
through the corridors of the hotel, out at the hall door and beyond,
through the garden. A clock struck ten as they passed into the warm
evening air, and the mellow rays of the moon were beginning to whiten
the sides of the Great Pyramid. A few of the people staying in the
hotel were lounging about, but these paid no particular heed to Gervase
or his companion. At about two hundred yards from the entrance of the
Mena House, the Nubian stopped and waited till Gervase came up with him.

"Madame la Princesse vous aime, Monsieur Gervase!" he said, with a
sarcastic grin. "Mais,--elle veut que l'Amour soit toujours aveugle!
oui, toujours! C'est le destin qui vous appelle,--il faut soumettre!
L'Amour sans yeux! oui!--en fin,--comme ca!"

And before Gervase could utter a word of protest, or demand the meaning
of this strange proceeding, his arms was suddenly seized and pinioned
behind his back, his mouth gagged, and his eyes blindfolded.

"Maintenant," continued the Nubian. "Nous irons ensemble!"

Choked and mad with rage, Gervase for a few moments struggled furiously
as well as he was able with his powerful captor. All sorts of ideas
surged in his brain: the Princess Ziska might, with all her beauty and
fascination, be nothing but the ruler of a band of robbers and
murderers--who could tell? Yet reason did not wholly desert him in
extremity, for even while he tried to fight for his liberty he
remembered that there was no good to be gained out of taking him
prisoner; he had neither money nor valuables--nothing which could
excite the cupidity of even a starving Bedouin. As this thought crossed
his brain, he ceased his struggles abruptly, and stood still, panting
for breath, when suddenly a sound of singing floated towards him:

 "Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!
    A star above
    Is its only love,
  And one brief sigh of its scented breath
  Is all it will ever know of Death!
  Oh, for the passionless heart of the Lotus-Lily!"

He listened, and all power of resistance ebbed slowly away from him; he
became perfectly passive--almost apathetic--and yielding to the
somewhat rough handling of his guide, allowed himself to be urged with
silent rapidity onward over the thick sand, till he presently became
conscious that he was leaving the fresh open air and entering a
building of some sort, for his feet pressed hard earth and stone
instead of sand. All at once he was forcibly brought to a standstill,
and a heavy rolling noise and clang, like distant muttered thunder,
resounded in his ears, followed by dead silence. Then his arm was
closely grasped again, and he was led on, on and on, along what seemed
to be an interminable distance, for not a glimmer of light could be
seen under the tight folds of the bandage across his eyes. Presently
the earth shook under him,--some heavy substance was moved, and there
was another booming thunderous noise, accompanied by the falling of
chains.

"C'est l'escalier de Madame la Princesse!" said the Nubian. "Pres de la
chambre nuptiale! Descendez! Vite!"

Down--down! Resistance was useless, even had he cared to resist, for he
felt as though twenty pairs of hands instead of one were pushing him
violently on all sides; down, still down he went, dumb, blind and
helpless, till at last he was allowed to stop and breathe. His arms
were released, the bandage was taken from his eyes, the gag from his
mouth--he was free! Free--yes! but where? Thick darkness encompassed
him; he stretched out his hands in the murky atmosphere and felt
nothing.

"Ziska!" he cried.

The name sprang up against the silence and struck out numberless
echoes, and with the echoes came a shuddering sigh, that was not of
them, whispering:

"Charmazel!"

Gervase heard it, and a deadly fear, born of the supernatural,
possessed him.

"Ziska! Ziska!" he called again wildly.

"Charmazel!" answered the penetrating unknown voice; and as it thrilled
upon the air like a sob of pain, a dim light began to shine through the
gloom, waveringly at first, then more steadily, till it gradually
spread wide, illuminating with a pale and spectral light the place in
which he found himself,--a place more weird and wondrous than any
mystic scene in dream-land. He stumbled forward giddily, utterly
bewildered, staring about him like a man in delirium, and speechless
with mingled horror and amazement. He was alone--utterly alone in a
vast square chamber, the walls and roof of which were thickly patterned
and glistening with gold. Squares of gold were set in the very pavement
on which he trod, and at the furthest end of the chamber, a magnificent
sarcophagus of solid gold, encrusted with thousands upon thousands of
jewels, which were set upon it in marvellous and fantastic devices,
glittered and flashed with the hues of living fire. Golden cups, golden
vases, a golden suit of armor, bracelets and chains of gold intermixed
with gems, were heaped up against the walls and scattered on the floor;
and a round shield of ivory inlaid with gold, together with a sword in
a jewelled sheath, were placed in an upright position against the head
of the sarcophagus, from whence all the spectral and mysterious light
seemed to emerge. With thickly beating heart and faltering pulses
Gervase still advanced, gazing half entranced, half terrified at the
extraordinary and sumptuous splendor surrounding him, muttering almost
unconsciously as he moved along:

"A king's sepulchre,--a warrior's tomb! How came I here?--and why? Is
this a trysting-place for love as well as death?--and will she come to
me? ..."

He recoiled suddenly with a violent start, for there, like a strange
Spirit of Evil risen from the ground, leaning against the great gold
sarcophagus, her exquisite form scarcely concealed by the misty white
of her draperies, her dark hair hanging like a cloud over her
shoulders, and her black eyes aflame with wrath, menace and passion,
stood the mysterious Ziska!



CHAPTER XVI.


Stricken dumb with a ghastly supernatural terror which far exceeded any
ordinary sense of fear, he gazed at her, spellbound, his blood
freezing, his very limbs stiffening, for now--now she looked like the
picture he had painted of her; and Death--Death, livid, tortured and
horrible, stared at him skull-wise from the transparent covering of her
exquisitely tinted seeming-human flesh. Larger and brighter and wilder
grew her eyes as she fixed them on him, and her voice rang through the
silence with an unearthly resonance as she spoke and said:

"Welcome, my lover, to this abode of love! Welcome to these arms, for
whose embraces your covetous soul has thirsted unappeased! Take all of
me, for I am yours!--aye, so truly yours that you can never escape
me!--never separate from me--no! not through a thousand thousand
centuries! Life of my life! Soul of my soul! Possess me, as I possess
you!--for our two unrepenting spirits form a dual flame in Hell which
must burn on and on to all eternity! Leap to my arms, master and
lord,--king and conqueror! Here, here!" and she smote her white arms
against her whiter bosom. "Take all your fill of burning wickedness--of
cursed joy! and then--sleep! as you have slept before, these many
thousand years!"

Still mute and aghast he stared at her; his senses swam, his brain
reeled, and then slowly, like the lifting of a curtain on the last
scene of a dire tragedy, a lightning thought, a scorching memory,
sprang into his mind and overwhelmed him like a rolling wave that
brings death in its track. With a fierce oath he rushed towards her,
and seized her hands in his--hands cold as ice and clammy as with the
dews of the grave.

"Ziska! Woman! Devil! Speak before you drive me to madness! What
passion moves you thus--what mystic fooling? Into what place have I
been decoyed at your bidding? Why am I brought hither? Speak,
speak!--or I shall murder you!"

"Nay!" she said, and her slight swaying form dilated and grew till she
seemed to rise up from the very ground and to tower above him like an
enraged demon evoked from mist or flame. "You have done that once! To
murder me twice is beyond your power!" And as she spoke her hands
slipped from his like the hands of a corpse newly dead. "Never again
can you hurl forth my anguished soul unprepared to the outer darkness
of things invisible; never again! For I am free!--free with an immortal
freedom--free to work out repentance or revenge,--even as Man is free
to shape his course for good or evil. He chooses evil; I choose
revenge! What place is this, you ask?" and with a majestic gliding
motion she advanced a little and pointed upward to the sparkling
gold-patterned roof. "Above us, the Great Pyramid lifts its summit to
the stars; and here below,--here where you will presently lie, my lover
and lord, asleep in the delicate bosom of love--here..."

She paused, and a low laugh broke from her lips; then she added slowly
and impressively:

"Here is the tomb of Araxes!"

As she spoke, a creeping sense of coldness and horror stole into his
veins like the approach of death,--the strange impressions he had felt,
the haunting and confusing memory he had always had of her face and
voice, the supernatural theories he had lately heard discussed, all
rushed at once upon his mind, and he uttered a loud involuntary cry.

"My God! What frenzy is this! A woman's vain trick!--a fool's mad
scheme! What is Araxes to me?--or I to Araxes?"

"Everything!" replied Ziska, the vindictive demon light in her eyes
blazing with a truly frightful intensity. "Inasmuch as ye are one and
the same! The same dark soul of sin--unpurged, uncleansed through ages
of eternal fire! Sensualist! Voluptuary! Accursed spirit of the man I
loved, come forth from the present Seeming-of-things! Come forth and
cling to me! Cling!--for the whole forces of a million universes shall
not separate us! O Eternal Spirits of the Dead!" and she lifted her
ghostly white arms with a wild gesture. "Rend ye the veil! Declare to
the infidel and unbeliever the truth of the life beyond death; the life
wherein ye and I dwell and work, clamoring for late justice!"

Here she sprang forward and caught the arm of Gervase with all the
fierce eagerness of some ravenous bird of prey; and as she did so he
knew her grasp meant death.

"Remember the days of old, Araxes! Look back, look back from the
present to the past, and remember the crimes that are still unavenged!
Remember the love sought and won!--remember the broken heart!--remember
the ruined life! Remember the triumphs of war!--the glories of
conquest! Remember the lust of ambition!--the treachery!--the
slaughter!--the blasphemies against high Heaven! Remember the night of
the Feast of Osiris--the Feast of the Sun! Remember how Ziska-Charmazel
awaited her lover, singing alone for joy, in blind faith and blinder
love, his favorite song of the Lotus-Lily! The moon was high, as it is
now!--the stars glittered above the Pyramids, as they glitter now!--in
the palace there was the sound of music and triumph and laughter, and a
whisper on the air of the fickle heart and changeful mood of Araxes; of
another face which charmed him, though less fair than that of
Ziska-Charmazel! Remember, remember!" and she clung closer and closer
as he staggered backward half suffocated by his own emotions and the
horror of her touch. "Remember the fierce word!--the quick and
murderous blow!--the plunge of the jewelled knife up to the hilt in the
passionate white bosom of Charmazel!--the lonely anguish in which she
died! Died,--but to live again and pursue her murderer!--to track him
down to his grave wherein the king strewed gold, and devils strewed
curses!--down, down to the end of all his glory and conquest into the
silence of yon gold-encrusted clay! And out of silence again into sound
and light and fire, ever pursuing, I have followed--followed through a
thousand phases of existence!--and I will follow still through
limitless space and endless time, till the great Maker of this terrible
wheel of life Himself shall say, 'Stop! Here ends even the law of
vengeance!' Oh, for ten thousand centuries more in which to work my
passion and prove my wrong! All the treasure of love despised!--all the
hope of a life betrayed!--all the salvation of heaven denied! Tremble,
Soul of Araxes!--for hate is eternal, as love is eternal!--the veil is
down, and Memory stings!"

She turned her face, now spectral and pallid as a waning moon, up to
him; her form grew thin and skeleton-like, while still retaining the
transparent outline of its beauty; and he realized at last that no
creature of flesh and blood was this that clung to him, but some
mysterious bodiless horror of the Supernatural, unguessed at by the
outer world of men! The dews of death stood thick on his forehead;
there was a straining agony at his heart, and his breath came in quick
convulsive gasps; but worse than his physical torture was the
overwhelming and convincing truth of the actual existence of the
Spiritual Universe, now so suddenly and awfully revealed. What he had
all his life denied was now declared a certainty; where he had been
deaf and blind, he now heard and saw. Ziska! Ziska-Charmazel! In very
truth he knew he remembered her; in very truth he knew he had loved
her; in very truth he knew he had murdered her! But another still
stranger truth was forcing itself upon him now; and this was, that the
old love of the old old days was arising within him in all its strength
once more, and that he loved her still! Unreal and terrible as it
seemed, it was nevertheless a fact, that as he gazed upon her tortured
face, her beautiful anguished eyes, her phantom form, he felt that he
would give his own soul to rescue hers and lift her from the coils of
vengeance into love again! Her words awoke vibrating pulsations of
thought, long dormant in the innermost recesses of his spirit, which,
like so many dagger-thrusts, stabbed him with a myriad recollections;
and as a disguising cloak may fall from the figure of a friend in a
masquerade, so his present-seeming personality dropped from him and no
longer had any substance. He recognized himself as Araxes--always the
same Soul passing through a myriad changes,--and all the links of his
past and present were suddenly welded together in one unbroken chain,
stretching over thousands of years, every link of which he was able to
count, mark, and recognize. By the dreadful light of that dumb
comprehension which flashes on all parting souls at the moment of
dissolution, he perceived at last that not the Body but the Spirit is
the central secret of life,--not deeds, but thoughts evolve creation.
Death? That was a name merely; there was no death,--only a change into
some other form of existence. What change--what form would be his now?
This thought startled him--roused him,--and once again the low
spirit-voice of his long-ago betrayed and murdered love thrilled in his
ears:

"Soul of Araxes, cling to my soul!--for this present life is swiftly
passing! No more scorn of the Divine can stand whither we are speeding,
for the Terrible and Eternal Truth overshadows us and our destinies!
Closed are the gates of Heaven,--open wide are the portals of Hell!
Enter with me, my lover Araxes!--die as I died, unprepared and alone!
Die, and pass out into new life again--such life as mine--such torture
as mine--such despair as mine--such hate as mine! ..."

She ceased abruptly, for he, convinced now of the certainty of
Immortality, was suddenly moved to a strange access of courage and
resolution. Something sweet and subtle stirred in him,--a sense of
power,--a hint of joy, which completely overcame all dread of death.
Old love revived, grew stronger in his soul, and his gaze rested on the
shadowy form beside him, no longer with horror but with tenderness. She
was Ziska-Charmazel,--she had been his love--the dearest portion of his
life--once in the far-off time; she had been the fairest of women--and
more than fair, she had been faithful! Yes, he remembered that, as he
remembered Her! Every curve in her beautiful body had been a joy for
him alone; and for him alone her lips, sweet and fresh as rosebuds, had
kept their kisses. She had loved him as few women have either heart or
strength to love, and he had rewarded her fidelity by death and eternal
torment! A struggling cry escaped him, and he stretched out his arms:

"Ziska! Forgive--forgive!"

As he uttered the words, he saw her wan face suddenly change,--all the
terror and torture passed from it like a passing cloud,--beautiful as
an angel's, it smiled upon him,--the eyes softened and flashed with
love, the lips trembled, the spectral form glowed with a living
luminance, and a mystic Glory glittered above the dusky hair! Filled
with ecstasy at the sight of her wondrous loveliness, he felt nothing
of the coldness of death at his heart,--a divine passion inspired him,
and with the last effort of his failing strength he strove to gather
all the spirit-like beauty of her being into his embrace.

"Love--Love!" he cried. "Not Hate, but Love! Come back out of the
darkness, soul of the woman I wronged! Forgive me! Come back to me!
Hell or Heaven, what matters it if we are together! Come to me,--come!
Love is stronger than Hate!"

Speech failed him; the cold agony of death gripped at his heart and
struck him mute, but still he saw the beautiful passionate eyes of a
forgiving Love turned gloriously upon him like stars in the black chaos
whither he now seemed rushing. Then came a solemn surging sound as of
great wings beating on a tempestuous air, and all the light in the tomb
was suddenly extinguished. One instant more he stood upright in the
thick darkness; then a burning knife seemed plunged into his breast,
and he reeled forward and fell, his last hold on life being the
consciousness that soft arms were clasping him and drawing him
away--away--he knew not whither--and that warm lips, sweet and tender,
were closely pressed on his. And presently, out of the heavy gloom came
a Voice which said:

"Peace! The old gods are best, and the law is made perfect. A life
demands a life. Love's debt must be paid by Love! The woman's soul
forgives; the man's repents,--wherefore they are both released from
bondage and the memory of sin. Let them go hence, the curse is lifted!"

* * * *

Once more the wavering ghostly light gave luminance to the splendor of
the tomb, and showed where, fallen sideways among the golden treasures
and mementoes of the past, lay the dead body of Armand Gervase. Above
him gleamed the great jewelled sarcophagus; and within touch of his
passive hand was the ivory shield and gold-hilted sword of Araxes. The
spectral radiance gleamed, wandered and flitted over all things,--now
feebly, now brilliantly,--till finally flashing with a pale glare on
the dark dead face, with the proud closed lips and black level brows,
it flickered out; and one of the many countless mysteries of the Great
Pyramid was again hidden in impenetrable darkness.

* * * *

Vainly Denzil Marray waited next morning for his rival to appear. He
paced up and down impatiently, watching the rosy hues of sunrise
spreading over the wide desert and lighting up the massive features of
the Sphinx, till as hour after hour passed and still Gervase did not
come, he hurried back to the Mena House Hotel, and meeting Dr. Maxwell
Dean on the way, to him poured out his rage and perplexity.

"I never thought Gervase was a coward!" he said hotly.

"Nor should you think so now," returned the Doctor, with a grave and
preoccupied air. "Whatever his faults, cowardice was not one of them.
You see, I speak of him in the past tense. I told you your intended
duel would not come off, and I was right. Denzil, I don't think you
will ever see either Armand Gervase or the Princess Ziska again."

Denzil started violently.

"What do you mean? The Princess is here,--here in this very house."

"Is she?" and Dr. Dean sighed somewhat impatiently. "Well, let us see!"
Then, turning to a passing waiter, he inquired: "Is the Princess Ziska
here still?"

"No, sir. She left quite suddenly late last night; going on to Thebes,
I believe, sir."

The Doctor looked meaningly at Denzil.

"You hear?"

But Denzil in his turn was interrogating the waiter.

"Is Mr. Gervase in his room?"

"No, sir. He went out about ten o'clock yesterday evening, and I don't
think he is coming back. One of the Princess Ziska's servants--the tall
Nubian whom you may have noticed, sir--brought a message from him to
say that his luggage was to be sent to Paris, and that the money for
his bill would be found on his dressing-table. It was all right, of
course, but we thought it rather curious."

And glancing deferentially from one to the other of his questioners
with a smile, the waiter went on his way.

"They have fled together!" said Denzil then, in choked accents of fury.
"By Heaven, if I had guessed the plan already formed in his treacherous
mind, I would never have shaken hands with Gervase last night!"

"Oh, you did shake hands?" queried Dr. Dean, meditatively. "Well, there
was no harm in that. You were right. You and Gervase will meet no more
in this life, believe me! He and the Princess Ziska have undoubtedly,
as you say, fled together--but not to Thebes!"

He paused a moment, then laid his hand kindly on Denzil's shoulder.

"Let us go back to Cairo, my boy, and from thence as soon as possible
to England. We shall all be better away from this terrible land, where
the dead have far more power than the living!"

Denzil stared at him uncomprehendingly.

"You talk in riddles!" he said, irritably. "Do you think I shall let
Gervase escape me? I will track him wherever he has gone,--I daresay I
shall find him in Paris."

Dr. Dean took one or two slow turns up and down the corridor where they
were conversing, then stopping abruptly, looked his young friend full
and steadily in the eyes.

"Come, come, Denzil. No more of this folly," he said, gently. "Why
should you entertain these ideas of vengeance against Gervase? He has
really done you no harm. He was the natural mate of the woman you
imagined you loved,--the response to her query,--the other half of her
being; and that she was and is his destiny, and he hers, should not
excite your envy or hatred. I say you IMAGINED you loved the Princess
Ziska,--it was a young man's hot freak of passion for an almost
matchless beauty, but no more than that. And if you would be frank with
yourself, you know that passion has already cooled. I repeat, you will
never see Gervase or the Princess Ziska again in this life; so make the
best of it."

"Perhaps you have assisted him to escape me!" said Denzil frigidly.

Dr. Dean smiled.

"That's rather a rough speech, Denzil! But never mind!" he returned.
"Your pride is wounded, and you are still sore. Suspect me as you
please,--make me out a new Pandarus, if you like--I shall not be
offended. But you know--for I have often told you--that I never
interfere in love matters. They are too explosive, too vitally
dangerous; outsiders ought never to meddle with them. And I never do.
Come back with me to Cairo. And when we are once more safely
established on the solid and unromantic isles of Britain, you will
forget all about the Princess Ziska; or if you do remember her, it will
only be as a dream in the night, a kind of vague shadow and
uncertainty, which will never seriously trouble your mind. You look
incredulous. I tell you at your age love is little more than a vision;
you must wait a few years yet before it becomes a reality, and then
Heaven help you, Denzil!--for you will be a troublesome fellow to deal
with! Meanwhile, let us get back to Cairo and see Helen."

Somewhat soothed by the Doctor's good-nature, and a trifle ashamed of
his wrath, Denzil yielded, and the evening saw them both back at the
Gezireh Palace Hotel, where of course the news of the sudden
disappearance of Armand Gervase with the Princess Ziska created the
utmost excitement. Helen Murray shivered and grew pale as death when
she heard it; lively old Lady Fulkeward simpered and giggled, and
declared it was "the most delightful thing she had ever heard of!"--an
elopement in the desert was "so exquisitely romantic!" Sir Chetwynd
Lyle wrote a conventional and stilted account of it for his paper, and
ponderously opined that the immorality of Frenchmen was absolutely
beyond any decent journalist's powers of description. Lady Chetwynd
Lyle, on the contrary, said that the "scandal" was not the fault of
Gervase; it was all "that horrid woman," who had thrown herself at his
head. Ross Courtney thought the whole thing was "queer;" and young Lord
Fulkeward said there was something about it he didn't quite
understand,--something "deep," which his aristocratic quality of
intelligence could not fathom. And society talked and gossiped till
Paris and London caught the rumor, and the name of the famous French
artist, who had so strangely vanished from the scene of his triumphs
with a beautiful woman whom no one had ever heard of before, was soon
in everybody's mouth. No trace of him or of the Princess Ziska could be
discovered; his portmanteau contained no letters or papers,--nothing
but a few clothes; his paint-box and easel were sent on to his deserted
studio in Paris, and also a blank square of canvas, on which, as Dr.
Dean and others knew, had once been the curiously-horrible portrait of
the Princess. But that appalling "first sketch" was wiped out and clean
gone as though it had never been painted, and Dr. Dean called Denzil's
attention to the fact. But Denzil thought nothing of it, as he imagined
that Gervase himself had obliterated it before leaving Cairo.

A few of the curious among the gossips went to see the house the
Princess had lately occupied, where she had "received" society and
managed to shock it as well. It was shut up, and looked as if it had
not been inhabited for years. And the gossips said it was "strange,
very strange!" and confessed themselves utterly mystified. But the fact
remained that Gervase had disappeared and the Princess Ziska with him.
"However," said Society, "they can't possibly hide themselves for long.
Two such remarkable personalities are bound to appear again somewhere.
I daresay we shall come across them in Paris or on the Riviera. The
world is much too small for the holding of a secret."

And presently, with the approach of spring, and the gradual break-up of
the Cairo "season," Denzil Murray and his sister sailed from Alexandria
en route for Venice. Dr. Dean accompanied them; so did the Fulkewards
and Ross Courtney. The Chetwynd-Lyles went by a different steamer,
"old" Lady Fulkeward being quite too much for the patience of those
sweet but still unengaged "girls" Muriel and Dolly. One night when the
great ship was speeding swiftly over a calm sea, and Denzil, lost in
sorrowful meditation, was gazing out over the trackless ocean with
pained and passionate eyes which could see nothing but the witching and
exquisite beauty of the Princess Ziska, now possessed and enjoyed by
Gervase, Dr. Dean touched him on the arm and said:

"Denzil, have you ever read Shakespeare?"

Denzil started and forced a smile.

"Why, yes, of course!"

"Then you know the lines--

 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,  Than are
dreamt of in your philosophy?'

The Princess Ziska was one of those 'things.'"

Denzil regarded him in wonderment.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, of course, you will think me insane," said the Doctor, resignedly.
"People always take refuge in thinking that those who tell them
uncomfortable truths are lunatics. You've heard me talk of
ghosts?--ghosts that walk and move about us like human beings?--and
they are generally very brilliant and clever impersonations of
humanity, too--and that nevertheless are NOT human?"

Denzil assented.

"The Princess Ziska was a ghost!" concluded the Doctor, folding his
arms very tightly across his chest and nodding defiantly.

"Nonsense!" cried Denzil. "You are mad!"

"Precisely the remark I thought you would make!" and Dr. Dean unfolded
his arms again and smiled triumphantly. "Therefore, my dear boy, let us
for the future avoid this subject. I know what I know; I can
distinguish phantoms from reality, and I am not deceived by
appearances. But the world prefers ignorance to knowledge, and even so
let it be. Next time I meet a ghost I'll keep my own counsel!" He
paused a moment,--then added: "You remember I told you I was hunting
down that warrior of old time, Araxes?"

Denzil nodded, a trifle impatiently.

"Well," resumed the Doctor slowly,--"Before we left Egypt I found him!
But how I found him, and where, is my secret!"

Society still speaks occasionally of Armand Gervase, and wonders in its
feeble way when he will be "tired" of the Egyptian beauty he ran away
with, or she of him. Society never thinks very far or cares very much
for anything long, but it does certainly expect to see the once famous
French artist "turn up" suddenly, either in his old quarters in Paris,
or in one or the other of the fashionable resorts of the Riviera. That
he should be dead has never occurred to anyone, except perhaps Dr.
Maxwell Dean. But Dr. Dean has grown extremely reticent--almost surly;
and never answers any questions concerning his Scientific Theory of
Ghosts, a work which, when published, created a great deal of
excitement, owing to its singularity and novelty of treatment. There
was the usual "hee-hawing" from the donkeys in the literary pasture,
who fondly imagined their brayings deserved to be considered in the
light of serious opinion;--and then after a while the book fell into
the hands of scientists only,--men who are beginning to understand the
discretion of silence, and to hold their tongues as closely as the
Egyptian priests of old did, aware that the great majority of men are
never ripe for knowledge. Quite lately Dr. Dean attended two
weddings,--one being that of "old" Lady Fulkeward, who has married a
very pretty young fellow of five-and-twenty, whose dearest
consideration in life is the shape of his shirt-collar; the other, that
of Denzil Murray, who has wedded the perfectly well-born, well-bred and
virtuous, if somewhat cold-blooded, daughter of his next-door neighbor
in the Highlands. Concerning his Egyptian experience he never
speaks,--he lives the ordinary life of the Scottish land-owner, looking
after his tenantry, considering the crops, preserving the game, and
clearing fallen timber;--and if the glowing face of the beautiful Ziska
ever floats before his memory, it is only in a vague dream from which
he quickly rouses himself with a troubled sigh. His sister Helen has
never married. Lord Fulkeward proposed to her but was gently rejected,
whereupon the disconsolate young nobleman took a journey to the States
and married the daughter of a millionaire oil-merchant instead. Sir
Chetwynd Lyle and his pig-faced spouse still thrive and grow fat on the
proceeds of the Daily Dial, and there is faint hope that one of their
"girls" will wed an aspiring journalist,--a bold adventurer who wants
"a share in the paper" somehow, even if he has to marry Muriel or Dolly
in order to get it. Ross Courtney is the only man of the party once
assembled at the Gezireh Palace Hotel who still goes to Cairo every
winter, fascinated thither by an annually recurring dim notion that he
may "discover traces" of the lost Armand Gervase and the Princess
Ziska. And he frequently accompanies the numerous sight-seers who
season after season drive from Cairo to the Pyramids, and take pleasure
in staring at the Sphinx with all the impertinence common to pigmies
when contemplating greatness. But more riddles than that of the Sphinx
are lost in the depths of the sandy desert; and more unsolved problems
lie in the recesses of the past than even the restless and inquiring
spirit of modern times will ever discover;--and if it should ever
chance that in days to come, the secret of the movable floor of the
Great Pyramid should be found, and the lost treasures of Egypt brought
to light, there will probably be much discussion and marvel concerning
the Golden Tomb of Araxes. For the hieroglyphs on the jewelled
sarcophagus speak of him thus and say:--

"Araxes was a Man of Might, far exceeding in Strength and Beauty the
common sons of men. Great in War, Invincible in Love, he did Excel in
Deeds of Courage and of Conquest,--and for whatsoever Sins he did in
the secret Weakness of humanity commit, the Gods must judge him. But in
all that may befit a Warrior, Amenhotep The King doth give him
honor,--and to the Spirits of Darkness and of Light his Soul is here
commended to its Rest."

Thus much of the fierce dead hero of old time,--but of the mouldering
corpse that lies on the golden floor of the same tomb, its skeleton
hand touching, almost grasping, the sword of Araxes, what shall be
said? Nothing--since the Old and the New, the Past and the Present, are
but as one moment in the countings of eternity, and even with a late
repentance Love pardons all.



FINIS.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home