Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 23

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"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 pa.s.sed. 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 sh.e.l.l, which was half-hidden by the rich loose cl.u.s.ters 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 pa.s.s 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 G.o.d 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 G.o.ds 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 pa.s.s 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 G.o.d' 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, pa.s.sionate 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 fas.h.i.+on," 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."

Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 23

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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 23 summary

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