The gay sound of music now floated towards them from the ball-room,—the strains of a graceful, joyous, half-commanding, half-pleading waltz came rhythmically beating on the air like the measured movement of wings,—and Denzil Murray, beginning to grow restless, walked to and fro, his eyes watching every figure that crossed and re-crossed the hall. But Dr. Dean’s interest in Armand Gervase remained intense and unabated; and approaching him, he laid two lean fingers delicately on the white folds of the Bedouin dress just where the heart of the man was hidden.
“‘A foolish and barbaric superstition!’” he echoed slowly and meditatively. “You do not believe in any possibility of there being a life—or several lives—after this present death through which we must all pass inevitably, sooner or later?”
“Not in the least! I leave such ideas to the ignorant and uneducated. I should be unworthy of the progressive teachings of my time if I believed such arrant nonsense.”
“Death, you consider, finishes all? There is nothing further—no mysteries beyond? ...” and Dr. Dean’s eyes glittered as he stretched forth one thin, slight hand and pointed into space with the word “beyond,” an action which gave it a curious emphasis, and for a fleeting second left a weird impression on even the careless mind of Gervase. But he laughed it off lightly.
“Nothing beyond? Of course not! My dear sir, why ask such a question? Nothing can be plainer or more positive than the fact that death, as you say, finishes all.”
A woman’s laugh, low and exquisitely musical, rippled on the air as he spoke—delicious laughter, rarer than song; for women as a rule laugh too loudly, and the sound of their merriment partakes more of the nature of a goose’s cackle than any other sort of natural melody. But this large, soft and silvery, was like a delicately subdued cadence played on a magic flute in the distance, and suggested nothing but sweetness; and at the sound of it Gervase started violently and turned sharply round upon his friend Murray with a look of wonderment and perplexity.
“Who is that?” he demanded. “I have heard that pretty laugh before; it must be some one I know.”
But Denzil scarcely heard him. Pale, and with eyes full of yearning and passion, he was watching the slow approach of a group of people in fancy dress, who were all eagerly pressing round one central figure—the figure of a woman clad in gleaming golden tissues and veiled in the old Egyptian fashion up to the eyes, with jewels flashing about her waist, bosom and hair,—a woman who moved glidingly as if she floated rather than walked, and whose beauty, half hidden as it was by the exigencies of the costume she had chosen, was so unusual and brilliant that it seemed to create an atmosphere of bewilderment and rapture around her as she came. She was preceded by a small Nubian boy in a costume of vivid scarlet, who, walking backwards