Within the palace of the Princess Ziska a strange silence reigned. In whatever way the business of her household was carried on, it was evidently with the most absolute noiselessness, for not a sound disturbed the utter stillness environing her. She herself, clad in white garments that clung about her closely, displaying the perfect outlines of her form, stood waiting for her guest in a room that was fairly dazzling to the eye in its profusion of exquisitely assorted and harmonized colors, as well as impressive to the mind in its suggestions of the past rather than of the present. Quaint musical instruments of the fashion of thousands of years ago hung on the walls or lay on brackets and tables, but no books such as our modern time produces were to be seen; only tied-up bundles of papyri and curious little tablets of clay inscribed with mysterious hieroglyphs. Flowers adorned every corner—many of them strange blossoms which a connoisseur would have declared to be unknown in Egypt,—palms and ferns and foliage of every description were banked up against the walls in graceful profusion, and from the latticed windows the light filtered through colored squares, giving a kind of rainbow-effect to the room, as though it were a scene in a dream rather than a reality. And even more dream-like than her surroundings was the woman who awaited the approach of her visitor, her eyes turned towards the door—fiery eyes filled with such ardent watchfulness as seemed to burn the very air. The eyes of a hawk gleaming on its prey,—the eyes of a famished tiger in the dark, were less fraught with terrific meaning than the eyes of Ziska as she listened attentively to the on-coming footsteps through the outside corridor which told her that Gervase was near.
“At last!” she whispered, “at last!” The next moment the Nubian flung the door wide open and announced “Monsieur Armand Gervase!”
She advanced with all the wonderful grace which distinguished her, holding out both her slim, soft hands. Gervase caught them in his own and kissed them fervently, whereupon the Nubian retired, closing the door after him.
“You are very welcome, Monsieur Gervase,” said the Princess then, speaking with a measured slowness that was attractive as well as soothing to the ear. “You have left all the dear English people well at the Gezireh Palace? Lady Fulkeward was not too tired after her exertions at the ball? And you?”
But Gervase was gazing at her in a speechless confusion of mind too great for words. A sudden, inexplicable emotion took possession of him,—an emotion to which he could give no name, but which stupefied him and held him mute. Was it her beauty which so dazzled his senses? Was it some subtle perfume in the room that awoke a dim haunting memory? Or what was it that seemed so strangely familiar? He struggled with himself, and finally spoke out his thought: