“I have seen you before, Princess; I am quite sure I have! I thought I had last night; but to-day I am positive about it. Strange, isn’t it? I wonder where we really met?”
Her dark eyes rested on him fully.
“I wonder!” she echoed, smiling. “The world is so small, and so many people nowadays make the ‘grand tour,’ that it is not at all surprising we should have passed each other en route through our journey of life.”
Gervase still hesitated, glancing about him with a singularly embarrassed air, while she continued to watch him intently. Presently his sensations, whatever they were, passed off, and gradually recovering his equanimity, he became aware that he was quite alone with one of the most fascinating women he had ever seen. His eyes flashed, and he smiled.
“I have come to paint your picture,” he said softly. “Shall I begin?”
She had seated herself on a silken divan, and her head rested against a pile of richly-embroidered cushions. Without waiting for her answer, he threw himself down beside her and caught her hand in his.
“Shall I paint your picture?” he whispered. “Or shall I make love to you?”
She laughed,—the sweet, low laugh that somehow chilled his blood while it charmed his hearing.
“Whichever you please,” she answered. “Both performances would no doubt be works of art!”
“What do you mean?”
“Can you not understand? If you paint my picture it will be a work of art. If you make love to me it will equally be a work of art: that is, a composed thing—an elaborate study.”
“Bah! Love is not a composed thing,” said Gervase, leaning closer to her. “It is wild, and full of libertinage as the sea.”
“And equally as fickle,” added the Princess composedly, taking a fan of feathers near her and waving it to and fro. “Man’s idea of love is to take all he can get from a woman, and give her nothing in return but misery sometimes, and sometimes death.”
“You do not,—you cannot think that!” said Gervase, looking at her dazzling face with a passion of admiration he made no attempt to conceal. “Men on the whole are not as cruel or as treacherous as women. I would swear, looking at you, that, beautiful as you are, you are cruel, and that is perhaps why I love you! You are like a splendid tigress waiting to be tamed!”
“And you think you could tame me?” interposed Ziska, looking at him with an inscrutable disdain in her black eyes.
“Yes, if you loved me!”
“Ah, possibly! But then it happens that I do not love you. I love no one. I have had too much of love; it is a folly I have grown weary of!”
Gervase fixed his eyes on her with an audacious look which seemed to hint that he might possibly take advantage of being alone with her to enforce his ideas of love more eloquently than was in accordance with the proprieties. She perceived his humor, smiled, and coldly gave him back glance for glance. Then, rising from the divan, she drew herself up to her full height and surveyed him with a kind of indulgent contempt.