Denzil looked at him with a dark reproach in his eyes.
“If you like,” he answered shortly.
“I do like!” and Gervase laid his hand on the young fellow’s shoulder with a kind pressure. “You will find it a piece of curious disenchantment, as well as a proof of my want of skill. You are all welcome to come and look at it except ...” here he hesitated,—“except Miss Murray. I think—yes, I think it might possibly frighten Miss Murray.”
Helen raised her eyes to his, but said nothing.
“Oh, by Jove!” murmured Lord Fulkeward, feeling his moustache as usual. “Then don’t you come, Miss Murray. We’ll tell you all about it afterwards.”
“I have no curiosity on the subject,” she said a trifle coldly. “Denzil, you will find me in the drawing-room. I have a letter to write home.”
With a slight salute she left them, Gervase watching the disappearance of her graceful figure with a tinge of melancholy regret in his eyes.
“It is evident Mademoiselle Helen does not like the Princess Ziska,” he observed.
“Oh, well, as to that,” said Fulkeward hastily, “you know you can’t expect women to lose their heads about her as men do. Beside, there’s something rather strange in the Princess’s manner and appearance, and perhaps Miss Murray doesn’t take to her any more than I do.”
“Oh, then you are not one of her lovers?” queried Dr. Dean smiling.
“No; are you?”
“I? Good heavens, my dear young sir, I was never in love with a woman in my life! That is, not what you would call in love. At the age of sixteen I wrote verses to a mature young damsel of forty,— a woman with a remarkably fine figure and plenty of it; she rejected my advances with scorn, and I have never loved since!”
They all laughed,—even Denzil Murray’s sullen features cleared for the moment into the brightness of a smile.
“Where did you paint the Princess’s picture?” inquired Ross Courtney suddenly.
“In her own house,” replied Gervase. “But we were not alone, for the fascinating fair one had some twenty or more armed servants within call.” There was a movement of surprise among his listeners, and he went on: “Yes; Madame is very well protected, I assure you,—as much so as if she were the first favorite in a harem. Come now, and see my sketch.”
He led the way to a private sitting-room which he had secured for himself in the hotel at almost fabulous terms. It was a small apartment, but it had the advantage of a long French window which opened out into the garden. Here, on an easel, was a canvas with its back turned towards the spectator.
“Sit down,” said Gervase abruptly addressing his guests, “and be prepared for a curiosity unlike anything you have ever seen before!” He paused a moment, looking steadily at Dr. Dean. “Perhaps, Doctor, as you are interested in psychic phenomena, you may be able to explain how I got such a face on my canvas, for I cannot explain it to myself.”