Denzil made no reply, and presently they all strolled out in the garden and lit their cigars and cigarettes, with the exception of Dr. Dean who never smoked and never drank anything stronger than water.
“I am going to get up a party for the Nile,” he said as he turned his sharp, ferret-like eyes upwards to the clear heavens; “and I shall take the Princess into my confidence. In fact, I have written to her about it to-day. I hear she has a magnificent electric dahabeah, and if she will let us charter it. ...”
“She won’t,” said Denzil hastily, “unless she goes with it herself.”
“You seem to know a great deal about her,” observed Dr. Dean indulgently, “and why should she not go herself? She is evidently well instructed in the ancient history of Egypt, and, as she reads the hieroglyphs, she will be a delightful guide and a most valuable assistant to me in my researches.”
“What researches are you engaged upon now?” inquired Courtney.
“I am hunting down a man called Araxes,” answered the Doctor. “He lived, so far as I can make out, some four or five thousand years ago, more or less; and I want to find out what he did and how he died, and when I know how he died, then I mean to discover where he is buried. If possible, I shall excavate him. I also want to find the remains of Ziska-Charmazel, the lady impersonated by our charming friend the Princess last night,—the dancer, who, it appears from a recently-discovered fresco, occupied most of her time in dancing before this same Araxes and making herself generally agreeable to him.”
“What an odd fancy!” exclaimed Denzil. “How can a man and woman dead five thousand years ago be of any interest to you?”
“What interest has Rameses?” demanded the Doctor politely, “or any of the Ptolemies? Araxes, like Rameses, may lead to fresh discoveries in Egypt, for all we know. One name is as good as another,—and each odoriferous mummy has its own mystery.”
They all came just then to a pause in their walk, Gervase stopping to light a fresh cigarette. The rays of the rising moon fell upon him as he stood, a tall and stately figure, against a background of palms, and shone on his dark features with a touch of grayish-green luminance that gave him for the moment an almost spectral appearance. Dr. Dean glanced at him with a smile.
“What a figure of an Egyptian, is he not!” he said to Courtney and Denzil Murray. “Look at him! What height and symmetry! What a world of ferocity in those black, slumbrous eyes! Yes, Monsieur Gervase, I am talking about you. I am admiring you!”
“Trop d’honneur!” murmured Gervase, carefully shielding with one hand the match with which he was kindling his cigarette.
“Yes,” continued the Doctor, “I am admiring you. Being a little man myself, I naturally like tall men, and as an investigator of psychic forms I am immensely interested when I see a finely-made body in which the soul lies torpid. That is why you unconsciously compose for me a wonderful subject of study. I wonder now, how long this torpidity in the psychic germ has lasted in you? It commenced, of course, originally in protoplasm; but it must have continued through various low forms and met with enormous difficulties in attaining to individual consciousness as man,— because even now it is scarcely conscious.”