His face, which was not remarkable for any beauty of feature, grew rapt and almost noble in its expression, and Gervase looked at him with a faint touch of ironical wonder.
“Upon my word, your morality almost outreaches your mysticism!” he said. “I see you are one of those old-fashioned men who think marriage a sacred sort of thing and the only self-respecting form of love.”
“Old-fashioned I may be,” replied Dr. Dean; “but I certainly believe in marriage for the woman’s sake. If the license of men were not restrained by some sort of barrier it would break all bounds. Now I, had I chosen, could have taken the woman I loved to myself; it needed but a little skilful persuasion on my part, for her husband was a drink-sodden ruffian...”
“And why, in the name of Heaven, did you not do so?” demanded Gervase impatiently.
“Because I know the end of all such liaisons,” said the Doctor sadly. “A month or two of delirious happiness, then years of remorse to follow. The man is lowered in his own secret estimation of himself, and the woman is hopelessly ruined, socially and morally. No, Death is far better; and in my case Death has proved a good friend, for it has given me the spotless soul of the woman I loved, which is far fairer than her body was.”
“But, unfortunately, intangible!” said Gervase, satirically.
The Doctor looked at him keenly and coldly.
“Do not be too sure of that, my friend! Never talk about what you do not understand; you only wander astray. The spiritual world is a blank to you, so do not presume to judge of what you will never realize till realization is forced upon you!”
He uttered the last words with slow and singular emphasis.
“Forced upon me?” began Gervase. “What do you mean? ...”
He broke off abruptly, for at that moment Denzil Murray emerged from the doorway of the hotel, and came towards them with an unsteady, swaying step like that of a drunken man.
“You had better go in to the Princess,” he said, staring at Gervase with a wild smile; “she is waiting for you!”
“What’s the matter with you, Denzil?” inquired Dr. Dean, catching him by the arm as he made a movement to go on and pass them.
Denzil stopped, frowning impatiently.
“Matter? Nothing! What should be the matter?”
“Oh, no offence; no offence, my boy!” and Dr. Dean at once loosened his arm. “I only thought you looked as if you had had some upset or worry, that’s all.”
“Climate! climate!” said Denzil, hoarsely. “Egypt does not agree with me, I suppose!—the dryness of the soil breeds fever and a touch of madness! Men are not blocks of wood or monoliths of stone; they are creatures of flesh and blood, of nerve and muscle; you cannot torture them so...”
He interrupted himself with a kind of breathless irritation at his own speech. Gervase regarded him steadily, slightly smiling.