He paused, startled at the turn his own thoughts were taking.
“Of what? Let me try and express to myself now what I could not express or realize last night. She—Ziska—I thought was mine,— mine from her dimpled feet to her dusky hair,—and she danced for me alone. It seemed that the jewels she wore upon her rounded arms and slender ankles were all love-gifts from me—every circlet of gold, every starry, shining gem on her fair body was the symbol of some secret joy between us—joy so keen as to be almost pain. And as she danced, I thought I was in a vast hall of a majestic palace, where open colonnades revealed wide glimpses of a burning desert and deep blue sky. I heard the distant sound of rolling drums, and not far off I saw the Sphinx—a creature not old but new—resting upon a giant pedestal and guarding the sculptured gate of some great temple which contained, as I then thought, all the treasures of the world. I could paint the picture as I saw it then! It was a fleeting impression merely, conjured up by the dance that dizzied my brain. And that song of the Lotus-lily! That was strange—very strange, for I thought I had heard it often before,—and I saw myself in the vague dream, a prince, a warrior, almost a king, and far more famous in the world than I am now!”
He looked about him uneasily, with a kind of nervous terror, and his eyes rested for a moment on the easel where the picture he had painted of the Princess was placed, covered from view by a fold of dark cloth.
“Bah!” he exclaimed at last with a forced laugh, “What stupid fancies fool me! It is all the vague talk of that would-be learned ass, Dr. Dean, with his ridiculous theories about life and death. I shall be imagining I am his fad, Araxes, next! This sort of thing will never do. Let me reason out the matter calmly. I love this woman,—love her to absolute madness. It is not the best kind of love, maybe, but it is the only kind I am capable of, and such as it is, she possesses it all. What then? Well! We go to-morrow to the Pyramids, and we join her at the Mena House, I and the poor boy Denzil. He will try his chance—I mine. If he wins, I shall kill him as surely as I myself live,—yes, even though he is Helen’s brother. No man shall snatch Ziska from my arms and continue to breathe. If I win, it is possible he may kill me, and I shall respect him for trying to do it. But I shall satisfy my love first; Ziska will be mine—mine in every sense of possession,—before I die. Yes, that must be—that will have to be. And afterwards,—why let Denzil do his worst; a man can but die once.”
He drew the cloth off his easel and stared at the strange picture of the Princess, which seemed almost sentient in its half-watchful, half-mocking expression.
“There is a dead face and a living one on this canvas,” he said, “and the dead face seems to enthral me as much as the living. Both have the same cruel smile,—both the same compelling magnetism of eye. Only it is a singular thing that I should know the dead face even more intimately than the living—that the tortured look upon it should be a kind of haunting memory—horrible—ghastly. ...”