And he watched with strained, passionate eyes the movements of the Princess Ziska as they grew slower and slower, till she seemed floating merely like a foam-bell on a wave, and then ... from some unseen quarter of the room a rich throbbing voice began to sing:—
“Oh, for the passionless peace of
It floats in a waking dream on the waters chilly,
With its leaves unfurled
To the wondering world,
Knowing naught of the sorrow and restless pain
That burns and tortures the human brain;
Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!
Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!
Bared to the moon on the waters dark and chilly.
A star above
Is its only love,
And one brief sigh of its scented breath
Is all it will ever know of Death;
Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!”
As the sound died away in a sigh rather than a note, the Princess Ziska’s dancing ceased altogether. A shout of applause broke from all assembled, and in the midst of it there was a sudden commotion and excitement, and Dr. Dean was seen bending over a man’s prostrate figure. The great French painter, Armand Gervase, had suddenly fainted.
A curious yet very general feeling of superstitious uneasiness and discomfort pervaded the Gezireh Palace Hotel the day after the Princess Ziska’s reception. Something had happened, and no one knew what. The proprieties had been outraged, but no one knew why. It was certainly not the custom for a hostess, and a Princess to boot, to dance like a wild bacchante before a crowd of her invited guests, yet, as Dr. Dean blandly observed,—
“Where was the harm? In London, ladies of good birth and breeding went in for ‘skirt-dancing,’ and no one presumed to breathe a word against their reputations; why in Cairo should not a lady go in for a Theban dance without being considered improper?”
Why, indeed? There seemed no adequate reason for being either surprised or offended; yet surprised and offended most people were, and scandal ran rife, and rumor wagged all its poisonous tongues to spread evil reports against the Princess Ziska’s name and fame, till Denzil Murray, maddened and furious, rushed up to his sister in her room and swore that he would marry the Princess if he died for it.
“They are blackguarding her downstairs, the beasts!” he said hotly. “They are calling her by every bad name under the sun! But I will make everything straight for her; she shall be my wife! If she will have me, I will marry her to-morrow!”
Helen looked at him in speechless despair.
“Oh, Denzil!” she faltered, and then could say no more, for the tears that blinded her eyes.
“Oh, yes, of course, I know what you mean!” he continued, marching up and down the room excitedly. “You are like all the others; you think her an adventuress. I think her the purest, the noblest of women! There is where we differ. I spoke to her last night,—I told her I loved her.”