“And this in a world of sophistication!” murmured the man blankly, but the girl was moving off with graceful majesty through the trees, the jewels in her hair alive in the lantern-lit dusk. The Black Palmer sprang after her.
“Tell me, I beg of you,” he exclaimed earnestly, “you who are so grave and beautiful and apart from this world of mine, like a fresh keen wind in a scorching desert, in Heaven’s name tell me who you are!”
But the girl’s dark, fine eyes flashed quick rebuke.
Nothing daunted the Black Palmer impudently stripped the golden mask from her face. The soft yellow light of the Venetian lamp in the tree above her fell full upon the lovely oval of a face so peculiar in its striking beauty of line and vivid coloring that he fell back staring.
“Lord, what a face!” exclaimed the Greek, too taken aback to resent the Palmer’s insolence.
And the Bedouin rumbled: “Exquisite! But she is not of your land. Italian, Spanish, or some bizarre mingling of strange races, but none of your colder lands!”
Now as the Black Palmer stared at the dark, accusing eyes of the girl, a singular thing occurred. His cloak of impudence fell suddenly from his shoulders and returning the golden mask, he bowed and begged her pardon with unmistakable deference.
“Let a humbled Palmer,” he said quietly, “pay his sincerest homage to the most beautiful woman he has even seen.” And as the girl moved proudly away, the strain of fantastic music which followed her was subtly deferential.
At midnight a mellow chime rang somewhere by the cypress pool. Laughing and jesting, calling to one another, the masked crowd moved off to the vine-hung villa ahead, gleaming moon-white through the shrubbery.
Somewhat reluctantly the minstrel followed. It had been his intention to unmask in some secluded corner whence, presently, he might slip away to his room, but finding himself jostled and pushed on by a Greek and a Bedouin who, to do them justice, seemed quite unaware of their importunities, he surrendered to the press about him and presently found himself in an unpleasantly conspicuous spot in the great room which the Sherrills occasionally used as a ballroom.
All about him girls and men were unmasking amid a shower of laughing raillery. That the Seminole chief with her tunic and beaded sash and her brilliant turban was very near him, was a pleasant and altogether accidental mitigation of his mishap. That a Greek and a Bedouin were just behind him—a fact not in the least accidental—and that a gray monk was slipping about among the guests whispering to receptive ears, did not interest him in the least. A string orchestra played softly in an alcove. The leader’s eyes, oddly enough, were upon the ancient Greek.
Now suddenly a curious hush swept over the room. Uncomfortably aware that he was a spectacular object of interest by reason of his mask and that every unmasked eye was full upon him, the minstrel, following the lines of least resistance, removed the bit of cambric from his eyes. After all, in the sea of faces before him, there were none familiar.