Denzil gave a mute sign of resigned acquiescence.
“Good! I like you, Denzil; you are a charming boy! Hot-tempered and a trifle melodramatic in your loves and hatreds,—yes!—for that you might have been a Provencal instead of a Scot. Before I knew you I had a vague idea that all Scotchmen were, or needs must be, ridiculous,—I don’t know why. I associated them with bagpipes, short petticoats and whisky. I had no idea of the type you so well represent,—the dark, fine eyes, the strong physique, and the impetuous disposition which suggests the South rather than the North; and to-night you look so unlike the accepted cafe chantant picture of the ever-dancing Highlander that you might in very truth be a Florentine in more points than the dress which so well becomes you. Yes,—I like you—and more than you, I like your sister. That is why I don’t want to quarrel with you; I wouldn’t grieve Mademoiselle Helen for the world.”
Murray gave him a quick, half-angry side-glance.
“You are a strange fellow, Gervase. Two summers ago you were almost in love with Helen.”
“True. Almost. That’s just it. ‘Almost’ is a very uncomfortable word. I have been almost in love so many times. I have never been drawn by a woman’s eyes and dragged down, down,—in a mad whirlpool of sweetness and poison intermixed. I have never had my soul strangled by the coils of a woman’s hair—black hair, black as night,—in the perfumed meshes of which a jewelled serpent gleams ... I have never felt the insidious horror of a love like strong drink mounting through the blood to the brain, and there making inextricable confusion of time, space, eternity, everything, except the passion itself; never, never have I felt all this, Denzil, till to-night! To-night! Bah! It is a wild night of dancing and folly, and the Princess Ziska is to blame for it all! Don’t look so tragic, my good Denzil,—what ails you now?”
“What ails me? Good Heavens! Can you ask it!” and Murray gave a gesture of mingled despair and impatience. “If you love her in this wild, uncontrolled way ...”
“It is the only way I know of,” said Gervase. “Love must be wild and uncontrolled to save it from banalite. It must be a summer thunderstorm; the heavy brooding of the clouds of thought, the lightning of desire, then the crash, the downpour,—and the end, in which the bland sun smiles upon a bland world of dull but wholesome routine and tame conventionality, making believe that there never was such a thing known as the past storm! Be consoled, Denzil, and trust me,—you shall have time to make your honorable proposal, and Madame had better accept you,—for your love would last,—mine could not!”
He spoke with a strange fierceness and irritability, and his eyes were darkened by a sudden shadow of melancholy. Denzil, bewildered at his words and manner, stared at him in a kind of helpless indignation.