“Not a very cheerful corner, is it? Some of these places are regular holes, don’cher know; but I daresay it’s all right inside.”
“You have never been inside?”
“Never.” And Fulkeward lowered his voice: “Look up there; there’s the beast that keeps everybody out!”
Gervase followed his glance, and perceived behind the projecting carved lattice-work of one of the windows a dark, wrinkled face and two gleaming eyes which, even at that distance, had, or appeared to have, a somewhat sinister expression.
“He’s the nastiest type of Nubian I have ever seen,” pursued Fulkeward. “Looks just like a galvanized corpse.”
Gervase smiled, and perceiving a long bell-handle at the gateway, pulled it sharply. In another moment the Nubian appeared, his aspect fully justifying Lord Fulkeward’s description of him. The parchment-like skin on his face was yellowish-black, and wrinkled in a thousand places; his lips were of a livid blue, and were drawn up and down above and below the teeth in a kind of fixed grin, while the dense brilliance of his eyes was so fierce and fiery as to suggest those of some savage beast athirst for prey.
“Madame la Princesse Ziska” began Gervase, addressing his unfascinating object with apparent indifference to his hideousness.
The Nubian’s grinning lips stretched themselves wider apart as, in a thick, snarling voice he demanded:
“Et moi?” queried Fulkeward, with a conciliatory smile.
“Non! Pas vous. Monsieur Armand Gervase, seul!”
Fulkeward gave a resigned shrug of his shoulders; Gervase looked round at him ere he crossed the threshold of the mysterious habitation.
“I’m sorry you have to walk back alone.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Fulkeward affably. “You see, you have come on business. You’re going to paint the Princess’s picture; and I daresay this blessed old rascal knows that I want nothing except to look at his mistress and wonder what she’s made of.”
“What she’s made of?” echoed Gervase in surprise. “Don’t you think she’s made like other women?”
“No; can’t say I do. She seems all fire and vapor and eyes in the middle, don’cher know. Oh, I’m an ass—always was—but that’s the feeling she gives me. Ta-ta! Wish you a pleasant morning!”
He nodded and strolled away, and Gervase hesitated yet another moment, looking full at the Nubian, who returned him stare for stare.
“Maintenant?” he began.
“Oui, maintenant” echoed the Nubian.
“La Princesse, ou est elle?”
“La!” and the Nubian pointed down a long, dark passage beyond which there seemed to be the glimmer of green palms and other foliage. “Elle vous attend, Monsieur Armand Gervase! Entrez! Suivez!”
Slowly Gervase passed in, and the great tomb-like door closed upon him with a heavy clang. The whole long, bright day passed, and he did not reappear; not a human foot crossed the lonely street and nothing was seen there all through the warm sunshiny hours save the long, black shadows on the pavement, which grew longer and darker as the evening fell.