“Pardon me!” said the little savant, with a delicate, half-supercilious lifting of his eyebrows. “But—do you know the Princess Ziska?”
Gervase stared at him, still dazzled and confused.
“Whom did you say? ... the Princess Ziska? ... No, I don’t know her ... Yet, stay! Yes, I think I have seen her ... somewhere,—in Paris, possibly. Will you introduce me?”
“I leave that duty to Mr. Denzil Murray,” said the Doctor, folding his arms neatly behind his back ... “He knows her better than I do.”
And smiling his little grim, cynical smile, he settled his academic cap more firmly on his head and strolled off towards the ballroom. Gervase stood irresolute, his eyes fixed on that wondrous golden figure that floated before his eyes like an aerial vision. Denzil Murray had gone forward to meet the Princess and was now talking to her, his handsome face radiating with the admiration he made no attempt to conceal. After a little pause Gervase moved towards him a step or two, and caught part of the conversation.
“You look the very beau-ideal of an Egyptian Princess,” Murray was saying. “Your costume is perfect.”
She laughed. Again that sweet, rare laughter! Gervase thrilled with the pulsation of it,—it beat in his ears and smote his brain with a strange echo of familiarity.
“Is it not?” she responded. “I am ‘historically correct,’ as your friend Dr. Dean would say. My ornaments are genuine,—they all came out of the same tomb.”
“I find one fault with your attire, Princess,” said one of the male admirers who had entered with her; “part of your face is veiled. That is a cruelty to us all!”
She waived the compliment aside with a light gesture.
“It was the fashion in ancient Egypt,” she said. “Love in those old days was not what it is now,—one glance, one smile was sufficient to set the soul on fire and draw another soul towards it to consume together in the suddenly kindled flame! And women veiled their faces in youth, lest they should be deemed too prodigal of their charms; and in age they covered themselves still more closely, in order not to affront the Sun-God’s fairness by their wrinkles.” She smiled, a dazzling smile that drew Gervase yet a few steps closer unconsciously, as though he were being magnetized. “But I am not bound to keep the veil always up,” and as she spoke she loosened it and let it fall, showing an exquisite face, fair as a lily, and of such perfect loveliness that the men who were gathered round her seemed to lose breath and speech at sight of it. “That pleases you better, Mr. Murray?”