"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.
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?"
"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.
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:
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!
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:
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.
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?"
"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.