Gervase looked at him calmly.
“Will you? Pauvre garcon! You are such a boy still, Denzil,—by-the-bye, how old are you? Ah, I remember now,—twenty-two. Only twenty-two, and I am thirty-eight! So in the measure of time alone, your life is more valuable to you than mine is to me. If you choose, therefore, you can kill me,—now, if you like! I have a very convenient dagger in my belt—I think it has a point—which you are welcome to use for the purpose; but, for heaven’s sake, don’t rant about it—do it! You can kill me—of course you can; but you cannot—mark this well, Denzil!—you cannot prevent my loving the same woman whom you love. I think instead of raving about the matter here in the moonlight, which has the effect of making us look like two orthodox villains in a set stage-scene, we’d better make the best of it, and resolve to abide by the lady’s choice in the matter. What say you? You have known her for many days,—I have known her for two hours. You have had the first innings, so you cannot complain.”
Here he playfully unfastened the Bedouin knife which hung at his belt and offered it to Denzil, holding it delicately by the glittering blade.
“One thrust, my brave boy!” he said. “And you will stop the Ziska fever in my veins at once and forever. But, unless you deal the murderer’s blow, the fever will go on increasing till it reaches its extremest height, and then ...”
“And then?” echoed Denzil.
“Then? Oh—God only knows what then!”
Denzil thrust away the offered weapon with a movement of aversion.
“You can jest,” he said. “You are always jesting. But you do not know—you cannot read the horrible thoughts in my mind. I cannot resolve their meaning even to myself. There is some truth in your light words; I feel, I know instinctively, that the woman I love has an attraction about her which is not good, but evil; yet what does that matter? Do not men sometimes love vile women?”
“Always!” replied Gervase briefly.
“Gervase, I have suffered tortures ever since I saw her face!” exclaimed the unhappy lad, his self-control suddenly giving way. “You cannot imagine what my life has been! Her eyes make me mad,— the merest touch of her hand seems to drag me away invisibly ...”
“To perdition!” finished Gervase. “That is the usual end of the journey we men take with beautiful women.”
“And now,” went on Denzil, hardly heeding him, “as if my own despair were not sufficient, you must needs add to it! What evil fate, I wonder, sent you to Cairo! Of course, I have no chance with her now; you are sure to win the day. And can you wonder then that I feel as if I could kill you?”