The night came at last. It was exceedingly sultry, but bright and clear, and the moon shone with effective brilliance on the gayly-attired groups of people that between nine and ten o’clock began to throng the narrow street in which the carved tomb-like portal of the Princess Ziska’s residence was the most conspicuous object. Lady Chetwynd Lyle, remarkable for bad taste in her dress and the disposal of her diamonds, stared in haughty amazement at the Nubian, who saluted her and her daughters with the grin peculiar to his uninviting cast of countenance, and swept into the courtyard attended by her husband with an air as though she imagined her presence gave the necessary flavor of “good style” to the proceedings. She was followed by Lady Fulkeward, innocently clad in white and wearing a knot of lilies on her prettily-enamelled left shoulder, Lord Fulkeward, Denzil Murray and his sister. Helen also wore white, but though she was in the twenties and Lady Fulkeward was in the sixties, the girl had so much sadness in her face and so much tragedy in her soft eyes that she looked, if anything, older than the old woman. Gervase and Dr. Dean arrived together, and found themselves in a brilliant, crushing crowd of people, all of different nationalities and all manifesting a good deal of impatience because they were delayed a few minutes in an open court, where a couple of stone lions with wings were the only spectators of their costumes.
“Most singular behavior!” said Lady Chetwynd Lyle, snorting and sniffing, “to keep us waiting outside like this! The Princess has no idea of European manners!”
As she spoke, a sudden blaze of light flamed on the scene, and twenty tall Egyptian servants in white, with red turbans, carrying lighted torches and marching two by two crossed the court, and by mute yet stately gestures invited the company to follow. And the company did follow in haste, with scramble and rudeness, as is the way of “European manners” nowadays; and presently, having been relieved of their cloaks and wrappings, stood startled and confounded in a huge hall richly adorned with silk and cloth of gold hangings, where, between two bronze sphinxes, the Princess Ziska, attired wonderfully in a dim, pale rose color, with flecks of jewels flashing from her draperies here and there, waited to receive her guests. Like a queen she stood,—behind her towered a giant palm, and at her feet were strewn roses and lotus-lilies. On either side of her, seated on the ground, were young girls gorgeously clad and veiled to the eyes in the Egyptian fashion, and as the staring, heated and impetuous swarm of “travelling” English and Americans came face to face with her in her marvellous beauty, they were for the moment stricken spellbound, and could scarcely summon up the necessary assurance to advance and take the hand she outstretched to them in welcome. She appeared not to see the general embarrassment, and greeted all who approached her with courteous ease and composure, speaking the few words which every graceful hostess deems adequate before “passing on” her visitors. And presently music began,—music wild and fantastic, of a character unknown to modern fashionable ears, yet strangely familiar to Armand Gervase, who started at the first sound of it, and seemed enthralled.