“Say on, my friend.”
Denzil looked straight at him, biting his lips hard and clenching his hands in the effort to keep down some evidently violent emotion.
“The Princess Ziska,” he began,—
Gervase smiled, and flicked the ash off his cigarette.
“The Princess Ziska,” he echoed,—“Yes? What of her? She seems to be the only person talked about in Cairo. Everybody in this hotel, at any rate, begins conversation with precisely the same words as you do,—’the Princess Ziska!’ Upon my life, it is very amusing!”
“It is not amusing to me,” said Denzil, bitterly. “To me it is a matter of life and death.” He paused, and Gervase looked at him curiously. “We’ve always been such good friends, Gervase,” he continued, “that I should be sorry if anything came between us now, so I think it is better to make a clean breast of it and speak out plainly.” Again he hesitated, his face growing still paler, then with a sudden ardent light glowing in his eyes he said—“Gervase, I love the Princess Ziska!”
Gervase threw away his cigarette and laughed aloud with a wild hilarity.
“My good boy, I am very sorry for you! Sorry, too, for myself! I deplore the position in which we are placed with all my heart and soul. It is unfortunate, but it seems inevitable. You love the Princess Ziska,—and by all the gods of Egypt and Christendom, so do I!”
Denzil recoiled a step backward, then with an impulsive movement strode close up to him, his face unnaturally flushed and his eyes glittering with an evil fire.
“You—you love her! What!—in one short hour, you—who have often boasted to me of having no heart, no eyes for women except as models for your canvas,—you say now that you love a woman whom you have never seen before to-night!”
“Stop!” returned Gervase somewhat moodily, “I am not so sure about that. I have seen her before, though where I cannot tell. But the fire that stirs my pulses now seems to spring from some old passion suddenly revived, and the eyes of the woman we are both mad for—well! they do not inspire holiness, my dear friend! No,— neither in you nor in me! Let us be honest with each other. There is something vile in the composition of Madame la Princesse, and it responds to something equally vile in ourselves. We shall be dragged down by the force of it,—tant pis pour nous! I am sorrier for you than for myself, for you are a good fellow, au fond; you have what the world is learning to despise—sentiment. I have none; for as I told you before, I have no heart, but I have passions—tigerish ones—which must be humored; in fact, I make it my business in life to humor them.”
“Do you intend to humor them in this instance?”
“Assuredly! If I can.”
“Then,—friend as you have been, you can be friend no more,” said Denzil fiercely. “My God! Do you not understand? My blood is as warm as yours,—I will not yield to you one smile, one look from Ziska! No!—I will kill you first!”