“What old laws?” he asked.
“Stern justice without mercy!” she answered; then in lighter accents she added: “Have you finished your first outline?”
In reply, he turned his canvas round to her, showing her a head and profile boldly presented in black and white. She smiled.
“It is clever; but it is not like me,” she said. “When you begin the coloring you will find that your picture and I have no resemblance to each other.”
He flushed with a sense of wounded amour propre.
“Pardon, madame!—I am no novice at the art of painting,” he said; “and much as your charms dazzle and ensnare me, they do not disqualify my brain and hand from perfectly delineating them upon my canvas. I love you to distraction; but my passion shall not hinder me from making your picture a masterpiece.”
“What an egoist you are, Monsieur Gervase!” she said. “Even in your professed passion for me you count yourself first,—me afterwards!”
“Naturally!” he replied. “A man must always be first by natural creation. When he allows himself to play second fiddle, he is a fool!”
“And when he is a fool—and he often is—he is the first of fools!” said the Princess. “No ape—no baboon hanging by its tail to a tree—looks such a fool as a man-fool. For a man-fool has had all the opportunities of education and learning bestowed upon him; this great universe, with its daily lessons of the natural and the supernatural, is his book laid open for his reading, and when he will neither read it nor consider it, and, moreover, when he utterly denies the very Maker of it, then there is no fool in all creation like him. For the ape-fool does at least admit that there may be a stronger beast somewhere,—a creature who may suddenly come upon him and end his joys of hanging by his tail to a tree and make havoc of his fruit-eating and chattering, while man thinks there is nothing anywhere superior to himself.”
Gervase smiled tolerantly.
“I am afraid I have ruffled you, Princess,” he said. “I see you have religious ideas: I have none.”
Once again she laughed musically.
“Religious ideas! I! Not at all. I have a creed as I told you, but it is an ugly one—not at all sentimental or agreeable. It is one I have adopted from ancient Egypt.”
“Explain it to me,” said Gervase; “I will adopt it also, for your sake.”
“It is too supernatural for you,” she said, paying no heed to the amorous tone of his voice or the expressive tenderness of his eyes.
“Never mind! Love will make me accept an army of ghosts, if necessary.”
“One of the chief tenets of my faith,” she continued, “is the eternal immortality of each individual Soul. Will you accept that?”
“For the moment, certainly!”
Her eyes glowed like great jewels as she proceeded: