Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 8
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"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."
"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 extinguis.h.i.+ng 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!"
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.
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-st.i.tch, talking scandal in the civilest tone imaginable, and d.a.m.ning 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 bal.u.s.trade 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 a.s.sure 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 n.o.bleman was so alarmed and embarra.s.sed 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 ladys.h.i.+p" 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 n.o.body 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."
Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 8
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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 8 summary
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