“The Egyptian cult I follow is very briefly explained. The Soul begins in protoplasm without conscious individuality. It progresses through various forms till individual consciousness is attained. Once attained, it is never lost, but it lives on, pressing towards perfection, taking upon itself various phases of existence according to the passions which have most completely dominated it from the first. That is all. But according to this theory, you might have lived in the world long ago, and so might I: we might even have met; and for some reason or other we may have become re-incarnated now. A disciple of my creed would give you that as the reason why you sometimes imagine you have seen me before.”
As she spoke, the dazed and troubled sensation he had once previously experienced came upon him; he laid down the canvas he held and passed his hand across his forehead bewilderedly.
“Yes; very curious and fantastic. I’ve heard a great deal about the doctrine of reincarnation. I don’t believe in it,—I can’t believe in it! But if I could: if I could imagine I had ever met you in some bygone time, and you were like what you are at this moment, I should have loved you,—I must have loved you! You see I cannot leave the subject of love alone; and your re-incarnation idea gives my fancy something to work upon. So, beautiful Ziska, if your soul ever took the form of a flower, I must have been its companion blossom; if it ever paced the forest as a beast of prey, I must have been its mate; if it ever was human before, then I must have been its lover! Do you like such pretty follies? I will talk them by the hour.”
Here he rose, and with a movement that was half fierce and half tender, he knelt beside her, taking her hands in his own.
“I love you, Ziska! I cannot help myself. I am drawn to you by some force stronger than my own will; but you need not be afraid of me—not yet! As I said, I can wait. I can endure the mingled torture and rapture of this sudden passion and make no sign, till my patience tires, and then—then I will win you if I die for it!”
He sprang up before she could speak a word in answer, and seizing his canvas again, exclaimed gayly:
“Now for the hues of morning and evening combined, to paint the radiance of this wicked soul of love that so enthralls me! First, the raven-black of midnight for the hair,—the lustre of the coldest, brightest stars for eyes,—the blush-rose of early dawn for lips and cheeks. Ah! How shall I make a real beginning of this marvel?”
“It will be difficult, I fear,” said Ziska slowly, with a faint, cold smile; “and still more difficult, perchance, will be the end!”
The table d’hote at the Gezireh Palace Hotel had already begun when Gervase entered the dining-room and sat down near Lady Fulkeward and Dr. Dean.
“You have missed the soup,” said her ladyship, looking up at him with a sweet smile. “All you artists are alike,—you have no idea whatever of time. And how have you succeeded with that charming mysterious person, the Princess Ziska?”