Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 4

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"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 fis.h.!.+ 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 s.h.i.+ning 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 princ.i.p.al 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. n.o.body 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 flas.h.i.+ng 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.

Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 4

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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 4 summary

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