“Ah! Then modern France is like old Egypt?” she queried, still smiling. “And Frenchmen can be found perhaps who are like Araxes in the number of their loves and infidelities?”
“I should say my country is populated entirely with copies of him,” replied Gervase, mirthfully. “Was he a very distinguished personage?”
“He was. Old legends say he was the greatest warrior of his time; as you, Monsieur Gervase, are the greatest artist.”
“You flatter me, fair Charmazel!” he said; then suddenly as the strange name passed his lips he recoiled as if he had been stung, and seemed for a moment dazed. The Princess turned her dark eyes on him inquiringly.
“Something troubles you, Monsieur Gervase?” she asked.
His brows knitted in a perplexed frown.
“Nothing ... the heat ... the air ... a trifle, I assure you? Will you not join the dancers? Denzil, the music calls you. When your waltz with the Princess is ended I shall claim my turn. For the moment ... au revoir!”
He stood aside and let the little group pass him by: the Princess Ziska moving with her floating, noiseless grace, Denzil Murray beside her, the little Nubian boy waving the peacock-plumes in front of them both, and all the other enslaved admirers of this singularly attractive woman crowding together behind. He watched the little cortege with strained, dim sight, till just at the dividing portal between the lounge and the ballroom the Princess turned and looked back at him with a smile. Over all the intervening heads their eyes met in one flash of mutual comprehension! then, as the fair face vanished like a light absorbed into the lights beyond it, Gervase, left alone, dropped heavily into a chair and stared vaguely at the elaborate pattern of the thick carpet at his feet. Passing his hand across his forehead he withdrew it, wet with drops of perspiration.
“What is wrong with me?” he muttered. “Am I sickening for a fever before I have been forty-eight hours in Cairo? What fool’s notion is this in my brain? Where have I seen her before? In Paris? St. Petersburg? London? Charmazel! ... Charmazel! ... What has the name to do with me? Ziska-Charmazel! It is like the name of a romance or a gypsy tune. Bah! I must be dreaming! Her face, her eyes, are perfectly familiar; where, where have I seen her and played the mad fool with her before? Was she a model at one of the studios? Have I seen her by chance thus in her days of poverty, and does her image recall itself vividly now despite her changed surroundings? I know the very perfume of her hair ... it seems to creep into my blood ... it intoxicates me ... it chokes me! ...”
He sprang up with a fierce gesture, then after a minute’s pause sat down again, and again stared at the floor.
The gay music from the ball-room danced towards him on the air in sweet, broken echoes,—he heard nothing and saw nothing.