Part 2 out of 5
"It is a mistake," she declared once, "to believe that a woman is ever
serious unless she is forced to be. All our natural proclivities are
towards gaiety. We are really butterflies by instinct, and we are at our
best when we are natural. Don't you agree with me, Maggie?"
"From the bottom of my heart," Maggie assented. "Nothing but conscience
ever induces me to pull a long face and turn my thoughts to serious
things. And I haven't a great deal of conscience."
"So you see," Naida continued, smiling up at her host, "when you try to
get a woman to talk politics or sociology with you, you are brushing a
little of the down off her wings. We really want to be told--other
"I should imagine," he replied, "that my sex frequently indulged you."
"Not so much as I should desire," she assured him. "I have somehow or
other acquired an undeserved reputation for brains. In Russia
especially, when I meet a stranger, they don't even look at my frock or
the way my hair is done. They plunge instead into a subject of which I
know nothing--philosophy or history, or international politics."
"Do you know nothing of international politics?" Nigel asked.
"A home thrust," she declared, laughing. "I suppose that is a subject
upon which I have some glimmerings of knowledge. Really not very much,
though, but then I have a theory about that. I think sometimes that the
clearest judgments are formed by some one who comes a little fresh to a
subject, some one who hasn't been dabbling in it half their lifetime and
acquired prejudices. Do you always provide strawberries for your guests,
Lord Dorminster? If so, I should like to come and live here."
"If you will promise to come and live here," he replied, "I will provide
strawberries if I have to start a nursery garden in Jersey."
"Maggie," Naida announced across the table, "Lord Dorminster has
proposed to me. The matter of strawberries has brought us together. I
don't think I shall accept him. There are no means of making him keep
"He'd make an awfully good husband," Maggie declared. "If no one else
wants me, I shall probably marry him myself some day."
Naida shook her head.
"Lord Dorminster is more my type," she declared. "Besides, you have had
your chance if you really wanted him. I have a great friend in Russia
who prophesies that I shall never marry. That does not please me. I
think not to be married is the worst fate that can happen to any woman."
"The remedy," Nigel told her, "is in your own hands."
Jesson, quieter than the others, was still an interesting personality,
often intervening with a shrewd remark and listening to the sallies of
the others with a humorous gleam in his spectacle-shielded eyes. When at
last the girls left them for a time, Nigel led the way at once into the
library, where coffee and liqueurs were served.
"I expect the others will find their way here in a few minutes," he
said, as the door closed behind Brookes and his satellite. "You had
something to say to me, Chalmers, about Mr. Jesson here."
"All that I have to say is in the nature of a testimonial," the young
American replied. "Jesson was easily one of our best men in Europe. He
resigned a few months ago simply because he wants a job with you
"I don't quite understand," Nigel began.
"Let me explain," Jesson begged. "I spent the last three years poking
about Europe, and so far as the United States is concerned, there's
nothing doing. My reports aren't worth much more than the paper they are
written on, and while I'm drawing my money from Washington, it's not my
business to collect information that affects other countries. That's why
I've sent in my resignation. There are great events brewing eastwards,
Lord Dorminster, and I want to take a hand in the game."
"Do you want to work for us?" Nigel asked.
"You're right," was the quiet reply. "I guess that's how I've figured it
out. You see, I'm one of those Americans who still consider themselves
half English. Next to the United States, Great Britain is the country
for me. I know what I'm talking about, Lord Dorminster, and I've come to
the conclusion that there's a lot of trouble in store for you people."
"I'm pretty well convinced of that myself," Nigel agreed, "but you know
how things are with us. We have a democratic Government who have placed
their whole faith in the League of Nations, and who are absolutely and
entirely anti-militarist. On paper, the governments of Russia, Germany,
and most of the other countries of Europe, are of the same ilk. Some of
us--my uncle was one--who have studied history and who know something of
the science of international politics, realise perfectly well that no
Empire can be considered secure under such conditions. This country
swarms with foreign secret-service men. What they are planning against
us, Heaven knows!"
"Heaven and Naida Karetsky," Chalmers intervened softly.
"You believe that she is our enemy?" Nigel asked, with a look of trouble
in his eyes.
"She is Immelan's friend," Chalmers reminded him.
"There was a man named Atcheson," Jesson began quietly--
"He was one of the men my uncle sent out. The first one was stabbed in
Petrograd. Jim Atcheson was poisoned and died in Berlin."
"There was rather a scare in a certain quarter about Atcheson," Jesson
observed. "He was supposed to have got a report through to the late Lord
"He got it through all right," Nigel replied. "My uncle was busy
decoding it, seated in this room, at that table, when he died."
"His death was very sudden," Jesson ventured.
"I have not the faintest doubt but that he was murdered," Nigel
declared. "The document upon which he was working disappeared entirely
except for one sheet."
"You have that one sheet?" Jesson asked eagerly.
Nigel produced it from his pocketbook, smoothed it cut, and laid it upon
"There are two things worth noticing here," he pointed out. "The first
is that the actual name of a town in Russia is given, and a telephone
number in London. Kroten I have looked up on the map. It seems to be an
unimportant place in a very desolate region. The telephone number is
"That is interesting, though not surprising," Jesson declared. "Immelan,
as you of course know, is one of your enemies, one of those who are
working in this country for purposes of his own. But as regards Kroten,
may I ask where you obtained your information about the place?"
Nigel dragged down the atlas and showed them the paragraph. Jesson read
it with a faint smile upon his lips.
"I fancy," he remarked, "that this is a little out of date. I should
like, if you have no objection, to start for Kroten this week."
"Good heavens! Why?" Nigel exclaimed.
"I can scarcely answer that question," Jesson said. "I am like a man
with a puzzle board and a heap of loose pieces. Kroten is one of those
pieces, but I haven't commenced the fitting-in process yet. Here," he
said, "is as much as I can tell you about it. There are three cities,
situated in different countries in the world, which are each in their
way connected with the danger which is brewing for this country. I have
heard them described as the three secret cities. One is in Germany. I
have been there at the risk of my life, and I came away simply puzzled.
Kroten is the next, and of the third I have still to discover the
whereabouts. Are you willing, Lord Dorminster, to let me act for you
abroad? I require no salary or remuneration of any sort. I am a wealthy
man, and investigations of this kind are my one hobby. I shall not move
without your permission, although I recognise, of course, that your own
position is entirely an unofficial one. If you will trust me, however, I
promise that all my energies shall be devoted to the interests of this
Nigel held out his hand.
"It is a pact," he decided. "Before you leave, I will give you the whole
of my uncle's brief correspondence with Sidwell. You may be able to
gather from it what he was after. Sidwell, you remember, was stabbed in
a cafe in the slums of Petrograd."
"I remember quite well," Jesson admitted quietly. "I knew Sidwell. He
was a clever person in his way, but he relied too much upon disguises. I
fancy that I hear the voices of the ladies coming. I shall just have
time to tell you rather a curious coincidence."
The two men waited eagerly. Jesson touched with his forefinger the sheet
of paper which he had been studying.
"Sidwell," he concluded, "could not have been so far off the mark. The
man with whom he was spending the evening in that cafe was a mechanic
Naida, early one afternoon, a few days after the dinner at Belgrave
Square, raised herself on one elbow from the sofa on which she was
resting, glanced at the roses and the card which the maid had presented
for her inspection, and waved them impatiently away.
"The gentleman waits," the woman reminded her.
Naida glanced out of the window across a dull and apparently uninviting
prospect of roofs and chimneys, to where in the background a faint line
of silver and a wheeling flock of sea gulls became dimly visible through
the branches of the distant trees. The window itself was flung wide
open, but the slowly moving air had little of freshness in it. Sparrows
twittered around the window-sill, and a little patch of green shone out
from the Embankment Gardens. The radiance of spring here found few
"The gentleman waits," the serving woman repeated stolidly, speaking in
her native Russian.
"You can show him up," her mistress replied a little wearily.
Immelan entered, a few moments later, spruce and neat in a well-fitting
grey suit, and carrying a grey Homburg hat. He was redolent of soaps
and perfumes. His step was buoyant, almost jaunty, yet in his blue eyes,
as he bent over the hand of the woman upon whom he had come to call,
lurked something of the disquietude which, notwithstanding his most
strenuous efforts, was beginning to assert itself.
"You make me very happy, my dear Naida," he began, "that you receive me
thus so informally. Your good father is smoking in the lounge. He bade
me come up."
She beckoned him to a seat.
"A thousand thanks for your flowers, my friend," she said. "Now tell me
why you are possessed to see me at this untimely hour. I always rest for
a time after luncheon, and I am only here because the sunshine filled my
room and made me restless."
"There is a little matter of news," he announced slowly. "I thought it
might interest you. I hoped it would."
She turned her head and looked at him.
"News?" she repeated. "News from you means only one thing. Is it good or
"It is good," he replied, "because it saves me a long and tedious
journey, because it saves me also from a separation which I should have
"Your journey to China, then, is abandoned?"
"It is rendered unnecessary. Prince Shan has decided after all to
adhere to his original plan and come to Europe."
"You are sure?"
"I have an official intimation," he replied. "I may probably have to go
to Paris, but no farther. It is even possible that I might leave
She was genuinely interested.
"There is no one in the whole world," she declared, "whom I have wanted
to meet so much as Prince Shan."
"You will not be disappointed," he promised her. "There is no one like
him. When he enters the room, you know that you are in the presence of a
great man. The three of us together! Naida, we will remake the map of
She frowned a little uneasily.
"Do not take too much for granted, Oscar," she enjoined. "Remember that
I am here to watch and to report. It is not for me to make decisions."
"Then for whom else?" he demanded. "Paul Matinsky himself wrote me that
you had his entire confidence--that you possessed full powers for
action. You will not be faint-hearted, Naida?"
"I shall never be false to my convictions," she replied.
There was a brief silence. He was not altogether satisfied, but he
judged the moment unpropitious for any further reference to the coming
of Prince Shan.
"My plans, as you see, are changed," he said at last, "and for that
reason a promise which I made to myself will not now be kept."
She rose to her feet a little uneasily, shook out her fluffy morning
gown, and retreated towards the door leading to the apartments beyond.
He watched her without movement. She picked up a pile of letters from a
table in the middle of the room, glanced at them, and threw them down.
"It is as well," she warned him, "to keep all promises."
"As for this one," he replied, "I have no responsibility save to myself.
I absolve myself. I give myself permission to speak. Your father is even
wishful that I should do so. I crave from you, Naida, the happiness
which only you can bring into my life. I ask you to become my wife."
She looked at him without visible change of expression. Her lips,
however, were a little parted. The air of aloofness with which she moved
through the world seemed suddenly more marked. He would have been a
brave man, or one entirely without perceptions, who would have advanced
towards her at that moment.
"That is quite impossible," she pronounced.
"I do not admit it," he contended. "No, I will never admit that. The
fates brought us together. It will take something stronger than fate to
drive us apart. I had not meant to speak yet. I had meant to wait until
the great pact was sealed and the glory to come assured, but during
these last few days I have suffered. A strange fancy has come to me. I
seem to feel something between us, so I speak before it can grow. I
speak because without you life for me would be a thing not worth having.
You are my life and my soul. You will not send me away?"
Naida was troubled but unhesitating. It was perhaps at that moment that
a hidden characteristic of her features showed itself. Her mouth,
sometimes almost too voluptuous in its softness, had straightened into a
firm line of scarlet. The deeper violet of her eyes had gone. So a woman
might have looked who watched suffering unmoved, the woman of the bull
or prize fight.
"I am glad that you have spoken, Oscar," she said. "I know a thing now
which has been a source of doubt and anxiety to me. What you ask is
impossible. I do not love you. I shall never love you. A few days ago, I
asked myself the very question you have just asked me, and I could not
answer it. Now I know."
Pain and anger struggled in his face. He was suffering, without a doubt,
but for a moment it seemed as though the anger would predominate. His
great shoulders heaved, his hands were clenched until the signet ring on
his left finger cut into the flesh, his eyes were like glittering points
"It is the old dream concerning Paul?" he demanded.
"It has nothing to do with Paul," she assured him. "Concerning him I
will admit that I have had my weak moments. I think that those have
passed. It was such a wonderful dream," she went on reflectively, "the
dream of ruling the mightiest nation in the world, a nation that even
now, after many years of travail, is only just finding its way through
to the light. It seemed such a small thing that stood in the way. Since
then I have met Paul's wife. She does not understand, but at least she
"She is a poor fool, no helpmate for any man," Immelan declared. "Yet it
is not his cause I plead, but mine. I, too, can minister to your
ambitions. Be my wife, and I swear to you that before five years have
passed I will be President of the German Republic. Germany is no strange
country to you," he went on passionately. "It is you who have helped in
the great _rapprochement_. At times when Paul has been difficult, you
have smoothed the way. I would not speak against your country, I would
not speak against anything which lies close to your heart, but let me
tell you that when the day of purification comes, the day when God gives
us leave to pour out the vials of vengeance, there will be no prouder,
no more glorious people than ours. Our triumph will be yours, Naida. You
yourself will help to cement the great alliance of these years."
She shook her head.
"I am a woman," she said simply. "Incidentally, I am a politician and
something of an altruist, but when it comes to marriage, I am a woman. I
do not love you, Oscar, and I will not marry you."
There was a darker shade upon his face now. Unconsciously he had drawn a
little nearer to her.
"Listen," he begged; "it is perhaps possible that I have not been
mistaken--that a certain change has crept up in you even within the last
few days? Tell me, is there any one else who has found his way into your
heart? No, I will not say heart! It could not be your heart in so short
a time. Into your fancy? Is there any one else, Naida, of whom you are
"That is my concern, Oscar, and mine only," she answered haughtily.
A weaker woman he would have bullied. His veins were filled with anger.
His tongue ached to spend itself. Naida's bearing cowed him. She
remained a dominating figure. The unnatural restraint imposed upon
himself, however, made his voice sound hard and unfamiliar. There were
little patches of white around his mouth; his teeth showed, when he
spoke, more than usual.
"If there were any one else," he declared, "and that some one else
should chance to be an Englishman, I would find a new hell for him."
"There is no one else," she answered calmly, "but if there ever should
be, Oscar Immelan, and if you ever interfered with him, either in this
country or any other, my arm would follow you around the world. Remember
She turned away for a moment, eager to gain a brief respite from his
darkening face. When she looked around, he was gone. She heard his
footsteps passing down the corridor, the bell ringing for the lift, the
clank of the gates as he stepped in. Once more she gazed out over the
uninspiring prospect. There was a little more sunshine upon the river;
more of the dusty chimney-pots seemed bathed in its silvery radiance. As
she stood there, she felt herself growing calmer. The tension passed
from her nerves. Her eyes grew soft again. Then an impulse came to her.
She stretched out her hand for the telephone book, turned over the pages
restlessly, looked through the "D's" until she found the name for which
she was searching. For a long time she hesitated. When at last she took
up the receiver and asked for a number, she was conscious of a slight
thrill, a sense of excitement which in moments of more complete
self-control would at least have served as a warning to her.
The curtain fell upon the first act of "Louise." The lights were turned
up, the tenseness relaxed, men made dives for their hats, and the
unmusical murmured the usual platitudes. Naida leaned forward from the
corner of her box to the man who was her sole companion.
"Father," she said, "I am expecting a caller with whom I wish to
speak--Lord Dorminster. If he comes, will you leave us alone? And if any
one else should be here, please take them away."
"More mysteries," her father muttered, not unkindly. "Who is this man
Naida leaned back in her chair and fanned herself slowly.
"No one I know very much about," she acknowledged. "I have selected him
in my mind, however as being a typical Englishman of his class. I wish
to talk to him, to appreciate his point of view. You know what Paul said
when he gave you the appointment and sent us over here: 'Find out for me
what sort of men these Englishmen are.'"
"Matinsky should know," her father observed. "He was here twelve years
ago. He came over with the first commission which established regular
relations with the British Government."
"No doubt," she said equably, "he was able to gauge the official
outlook, but this country, during the last ten years, has gone through
great vicissitudes. Besides, it is not only the official outlook in
which Paul is interested. He doesn't understand, and frankly I don't,
the position of what they call over here 'the man in the street.' You
see, he must be either a fool, or he must be grossly deceived."
"So far as my dealings with him go, I should never call the Englishman a
fool," Karetsky confessed.
"There are degrees and conditions of fools," his daughter declared
calmly. "A man with a perfectly acute brain may have simply idiotic
impulses towards credulity, and a credulous man is always a fool.
Anyhow, I know what Paul wants."
There was a knock at the door. Karetsky opened it and stood aside to let
Nigel pass in. Naida held out her hand to the latter with a smile.
"I am so glad that you have come," she said, raising her eyes for a
minute to his. "Father, you remember Lord Dorminster?"
The two men exchanged a few commonplace remarks. Then Karetsky reached
for his hat.
"Your arrival, Lord Dorminster," he observed, "leaves me free to make a
few calls myself. We shall, I trust, meet again."
Nigel murmured a few courteous words and watched the retreating figure
with some curiosity.
"Your father is very typical," he declared. "He reminds me of your
country itself. He is massive, has suggestions of undeveloped strength."
"Add that he is a little ponderous," Naida said lightly, "slow to make
up his mind, but as obstinate as the Urals themselves, and you have
described him. Now tell me what you think of a young woman who rings you
up without the slightest encouragement and invites you to come to the
Opera purposely to visit her box."
"I deny the absence of encouragement, and I am very grateful for the
opportunity of coming," Nigel answered. "And if I were to tell you all
that I think of you," he added, after a moment's pause, "it would take
me a great deal longer than this quarter of an hour's interval."
These were their first few moments absolutely alone. Neither of them was
unduly emotional, neither wholly free from experience, yet they looked
and spoke and felt as though the coming of new things was at hand. The
atmosphere of music, still present, was a wonderful background to the
intensified sensations of which both were conscious. Naida had the
utmost difficulty in steadying her voice.
"I wanted to talk to you seriously because you can help me very much if
you will," she began. "In a sense, I am over here upon a mission. Some
of us in Russia feel that your nation is imperfectly understood there.
We are bearing grudges against you which may not be wholly justified.
You see, to speak very plainly, we are under the constant influence of a
people which cherishes no feelings of friendship towards you."
For a moment the personal element had disappeared. Nigel remembered who
his companion was and all that she stood for. He drew his chair a little
nearer to hers.
"If you are looking for a typical Englishman," he said, "I fear that I
shall be a disappointment to you. The typical Englishman of to-day is
hiding his head in the sand. I am not disposed to do anything of the
sort. I recognise a great coming danger, and I am afraid of your
"The attitude of the official Englishman I know," she declared, a little
eagerly. "What I want to find out is whether there are many like
yourself, who are awake."
"I am afraid that I am in the minority," he confessed. "I am trying to
carry on the work which my uncle commenced. I am trying to secure firm
and definite evidence of a certain plot which I believe to be brewing in
your country and in Germany."
"Tell me exactly what you know," she begged.
Nigel looked at her for several moments in silence. She was wearing a
Russian headdress, a low tiara of bound coils of pearls. A rope of
pearls hung from her neck. Her white net gown was trimmed with ermine.
At her first appearance in the front of the box she had created almost a
sensation among those to whom she was visible. In these darker shadows
the sensuous disturbance of which he had been conscious since his
entrance swept over him once more with overmastering power.
"You are very beautiful," he said, a little abruptly.
"I am glad you think so," she murmured, with a very sweet answering
light in her eyes, "but I am hoping that you have other things to tell
"You are the friend of Immelan," he reminded her.
"To some extent, yes," she assented, "but I admit of no prejudices. The
greatest friend I have in the world is Paul Matinsky, and it is at his
wish that I am here. He is anxious above all things not to make a
"Your country is very much under the dominance of Germany," he ventured.
"Very much, I admit, but not utterly so. You must remember that after
the cataclysm of 1917, Russia has been born again in travail and agony.
No hand was outstretched to help her, save that of Germany alone, for
her own sake ultimately, perhaps, but nevertheless with invaluable
results to Russia. We had vast resources which Germany exploited,
magnificent human material which Germany has educated and disciplined.
The two nations have grown together for their common interest. At the
same time, Paul Matinsky and very many others have always felt that
there is one of Germany's great ambitions in which Russia ought not
necessarily to become involved. I think--I hope that you understand me."
"In plain words," Nigel said, "you refer to this projected plan of
"In plain words, I do," she admitted. "Russia's intentions concerning
that are trembling in the balance. Germany is pressing her hard. Nothing
will be finally decided until I return to Petrograd. You see, I speak to
you quite openly, for I myself have had some experience of your present
statesmen. I believe if you were to repeat this conversation to any one
of them, if, even, you could open their eyes to what is happening, they
would only shrug their shoulders and say that they relied for their
protection on the League of Nations."
"You are unhappily right," Nigel groaned, "yet one perseveres, and after
all there is an element of mystery about the whole affair. The French,
as you know, have not imitated our blind credulity. Their frontier would
seem to be impregnable, and the difficulties of invading England, even
from the air, are very much as they were during the last war. It was
these considerations which made my uncle persevere in his attempt at
secret-service work on the Continent. Everything depends upon our
knowing exactly what is in store for us."
"And have you discovered that?" she enquired.
He shook his head.
"Everything that we have learnt so far has been of negative value," he
replied. "The German citizen army is large, but not threateningly so. So
far as we have been able to discover, they do not seem to have any
secret store of guns or ammunition. Their docks hold no secrets. Yet we
know that there is something brewing. Both the men upon whom my uncle
relied have been murdered."
"But one of them succeeded in getting a dispatch through, did he not?"
she asked quietly.
"Yes, he succeeded," Nigel acknowledged. "My uncle was murdered,
however, in the act of decoding it, and the dispatch itself was stolen."
"You are very frank," she said. "I suppose I ought to feel flattered
that you treat me with so little reserve."
"If you are a friend to Germany," he replied, "you probably know all
that I can tell you. If you are inclined towards friendship with us,
then it is as well that you should know everything."
"That is reasonable," she admitted. "Now listen. This conversation can
only last a few minutes longer. It is true that Oscar Immelan is my
father's old friend and also mine, but my judgment in all matters which
relate to the welfare of my country is not influenced by that fact."
"There was a report once," Nigel said, taking his courage into both
hands, "that you were engaged to be married to him."
She looked him in the eyes. Against the whiteness of his skin, the
colour of her own seemed more wonderful than ever.
"That is not true," she replied. "It will never be true."
"I am glad," he declared fervently.
There was a brief pause. Both seemed conscious of a renewal of that air
of disturbance which had reigned between them during their first few
moments alone. It was Naida who made an effort to restore their
conversation to its former tone.
"If Germany has any scheme against this country," she said, "believe me,
it will not be so obvious as you seem to think. It will be a scheme
which can only be carried out with the assistance of other countries,
and that assistance is not yet wholly promised. I cannot betray to you
my knowledge of certain things," she went on, after a moment's
hesitation, "but I can at least give you this warning. It is not for his
health alone that Prince Shan is flying from China to Paris. If there is
a single member of your Government who has the least apprehension of
world politics, now is the time for action."
"There is no one," Nigel answered gloomily.
The box was suddenly invaded. Karetsky reappeared with several other
men. In the rear of the little procession came Immelan. His face
darkened as he recognised Nigel. Naida looked across at him with a
slight frown upon her forehead.
"You have changed your mind?" she remarked. "I thought you were for
"A fortunate chance intervened," Immelan replied.
Immelan watched Nigel's retreating figure with a menacing frown.
"I find it so," he replied. "Our wonderful prima donna is in great voice
to-night--and I like to be prepared for all possible combinations."
Maggie came suddenly into the library at Belgrave Square, where Jesson,
Chalmers and Nigel were talking together. She carried in her hand a
note, which she handed to the latter.
"Naida is a dear, after all," she declared. "There is one person at
least who does not wish to have me pass away in a German nursing home or
fall a victim to Frau Essendorf's cooking."
Nigel read the note aloud. It consisted of only a sentence or two and
was dated from the Milan Court that morning:
Maggie dear, this is just a line of advice from your friend. You
must not go back to Germany.
"I fear," Maggie sighed, "that my little expedition is scotched, even if
I had been able to persuade you others to let me go. Every one seems to
have made up their mind that I shall not go to Germany. It will be such
a disappointment to those flaxen-haired atrocities, Gertrud and Bertha.
Their so-much-loved Miss Brown can never return to them again."
"In any case, the game was scarcely worth the candle," Nigel observed.
"We have already all the evidence we require that some scheme inimical
to this country is being proposed and fostered by Immelan. Our next move
must be to find out the nature of this scheme--whether it be naval,
military, or political. I don't think Essendorf would be at all likely
to give away any more interesting information in the domestic circle."
"What are we all going to do, then?" Maggie asked.
"We are met here to discuss it," Nigel replied. "Jesson is off to Russia
this afternoon. I asked him to come round and have a few last words with
us, in case there was anything to suggest for us stay-at-homes."
"We shall have to rely very largely upon luck," Jesson declared. "There
are three places, in any of which we might discover what we want to
know. One is Kroten, another is Paris, provided that Prince Shan really
goes there, and the third London."
"London?" Maggie repeated.
"There are two people in London," Jesson declared, "who know everything
we are seeking to discover. One is Immelan and the other Naida
"It seems to me," Maggie said, "that if that is so, the place for us is
where those two people are. What is the importance of Kroten, Mr.
"Kroten," Jesson replied, "is the second of what I have seen referred
to in a private diplomatic report, written in an enemy country, as the
three mystery cities of the world. The first one is in Germany, and I
have already explored it. I have information, but information which
without its sequel is valueless. Kroten is the second. Ten years ago it
was a town of eighteen thousand inhabitants. To-day there are at least
two hundred thousand people there, and it is growing all the time."
"Say, how can a town of that size," Chalmers enquired, "be termed a
mystery city in any sense of the word? Travelling's free in Russia. I
guess any one that wanted could take a ticket to Kroten."
"A good many do," Jesson assented calmly, "and some never come back.
America and Russia are on friendly terms, yet two men in my branch of
the service--good fellows they were, too--started out from Washington
for Kroten six months ago. Neither of them has been heard of since;
neither ever will be."
"How's it done?" Chalmers asked curiously.
"In the first place," Jesson explained, "the city itself stands at the
arm of the river, in a sort of cul-de-sac, with absolutely untraversable
mountains on three sides of it. All the roads have to come around the
plain and enter from eastwards. There is only one line of railway, so
that all the approaches into the city are easily guarded."
"That's all right geographically, of course," Nigel admitted, "but what
earthly excuse can any one make for keeping tourists or travellers out
of the place if they want to go there?"
"That is perhaps the most ingenious thing of all," Jesson replied. "You
know that Russia is now practically a tranquil country, but there are
certain bands of the extreme Bolshevistic faction who never gave in to
authority and who practically exist in the little-known places by means
of marauding expeditions. The mountains about Kroten are supposed to
have been infested by these nomadic companies. Whether the outrages set
down to them are really committed or not, I don't suppose any one knows,
but my point of view is that the presence of these people is absolutely
encouraged by the Government, to give them an excuse for the most
extraordinary precautions in issuing passports or allowing any one from
the outside world to pass into the city. If you get in, I understand you
are waited upon by the police within half an hour and have to tell them
the story of your past life and your future intentions. After that you
are allowed to go about on parole. If you get too inquisitive, you are
discovered to be in touch with the robber bands, and--well--that's an
end of you."
"A nice, salubrious spot," Nigel murmured.
"It sounds most interesting," Maggie declared. "I think a woman would
be less likely to cause suspicion," she added hopefully.
"Utterly out of the question," Jesson pronounced. "Kroten is the one
place that must be left in my hands. I know more about the getting there
than any of you, and I know the tricks of changing my identity."
"I should rather like to go with you," Nigel confessed.
"Impossible!" was the brief reply.
"To be perfectly frank," he said, "because you are developing an
interest in the one person in the world who might give success over into
our hands. It is necessary for you to remain where you can encourage
Nigel was a little staggered.
"My friendship with Mademoiselle Karetsky," he protested, "is scarcely
likely to influence her political views."
"I am a somewhat close observer," Jesson continued. "You will not ask me
to believe that your conversation with mademoiselle in her box at the
Opera last night related all the time to--well, shall we say music?"
"Nigel, you never told me you were at the Opera," Maggie intervened.
"What made you go?"
"I think that it was a message from Mademoiselle Karetsky," Jesson
"Upon my word, I think you're going to be a success, Jesson," he
declared. "Perhaps you can tell me what we did talk about?"
"I believe I almost could," was the calm reply. "In any case, I think I
see the situation as it exists. Mademoiselle Karetsky is a wonderful
woman. She has a great, open mind. To a certain extent, of course, she
has seen things from the point of view of Paul Matinsky, Immelan, and
that little coterie of Russo-Germans who see a future for both countries
only in an alliance of the old-fashioned order. Matinsky, however, has
always had his doubts. That is why he sent over here the one person whom
he trusted. Presently she will make a report, and the whole issue will
remain with her. Immelan knows this and pays her ceaseless court. My
impression, however, is that his influence is waning. I believe that
to-day he is terrified at the bare reflection of how much Naida Karetsky
"You believe that she does know exactly what is intended?" Nigel asked.
"I am perfectly certain of it," Jesson replied. "If she could be induced
to tell us everything, my journey to Kroten might just as well be
abandoned. Yet somehow I do not think she will go so far as that. The
most that we can hope for is that she will advise Matinsky to reject
Immelan's proposals, and that she will perhaps bring some influence to
bear in the same direction upon Prince Shan."
"I am inclined to agree with Jesson," Nigel pronounced, "inasmuch as I
believe that Mademoiselle Karetsky is disposed to change or modify her
views concerning us. You see, after all, this threatened blow against
England is purely a private affair of Germany's. There is really no
reason why Russia or any other country should be dragged into it. She is
the monkey pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for her most dangerous
"Matinsky might be brought to think that way," Chalmers observed, "but
they say half the members of his Cabinet are under German influence."
"If Matinsky believed that," Nigel declared, "he is quite strong enough
to clear them all out and make a fresh start."
"In the meantime," Maggie interposed, "I should like to know in what way
you propose to use poor little me? I am not to go to Germany, the man
whom I at one time seriously thought of marrying is told off to engage
the attentions of another woman, Mr. Jesson here is going to Kroten, and
he doesn't show the slightest inclination to take me with him. Am I to
sit here and do nothing?"
"There remains for you the third enterprise," Jesson replied, "one in
which, so far as I can see," he continued, with a smile, "you have not
the faintest chance of success."
"Tell me what it is, at least?" she begged.
"The conversion of Prince Shan."
Maggie made a little grimace.
"Aren't you trying me a little high?" she murmured.
"Very high indeed," Jesson acknowledged. "Prince Shan, for all his
wonderful statesmanship and his grip upon world affairs, is reputed to
be almost an anchorite in his daily life. No woman has ever yet been
able to boast of having exercised the slightest influence over him. At
the same time, he is an extraordinarily human person, and success with
him would mean the end of your enemies."
"It sounds a bit of a forlorn hope," Maggie remarked cheerfully, "but
I'll do my little best."
"Prince Shan has abandoned his idea of landing at Paris," Jesson
continued. "He is coming direct to London. I have to thank Chalmers for
that information. Immelan will meet him directly he arrives, and their
first conversations will make history. Afterwards, if things go well,
Mademoiselle Karetsky will join the conference."
"I fear," Maggie sighed, "that there will be difficulties in the way of
my establishing confidential relations with Prince Shan."
"There will be difficulties," Jesson assented, "but the thing is not so
impossible as it would be in Paris. Prince Shan has a very fine house
in Curzon Street, which is kept in continual readiness for him. He will
probably entertain to some extent. You will without doubt have
opportunities of meeting him socially."
Maggie glanced at herself in the glass.
"A Chinaman!" she murmured.
"I guess that doesn't mean what it did," Chalmers pointed out. "Prince
Shan is an aristocrat and a born ruler. He has every scrap of culture
that we know anything about and something from his thousand-year-old
family that we don't quite know how to put into words. Don't you worry
about Prince Shan, Lady Maggie. Ask Dorminster here what they called him
"The first gentleman of Asia," Nigel replied. "I think he deserves the
On the morning following the conclave in Belgrave Square, the Right
Honourable Mervin Brown received two extremely distinguished visitors in
Downing Street. It was doubtful whether the Prime Minister was
altogether at his best. There was a certain amount of irritability
rankling beneath his customary air of bonhommie. He motioned his callers
to take chairs, however, and listened attentively to the few words of
introduction which his secretary thought necessary.
"This is General Dumesnil, sir, of the French Staff, and Monsieur
Pouilly of the French Cabinet. They have called according to
appointment, on Government business."
"Very glad to see you, gentlemen," was the Prime Minister's brisk
welcome. "Sorry I can't talk French to you. Politics, these last ten
years, haven't left us much time for the outside graces."
Monsieur Pouilly at once took the floor. He was a thin, dark man with a
beautifully trimmed black beard, flashing black eyes, and thoughtful,
delicate features. He was attired in the frock coat and dark trousers of
diplomatic usage, and he appeared to somewhat resent the brown tweed
suit and soft collar of the man who was receiving him.
"Mr. Mervin Brown," he began, "you will kindly look upon our visit as
official. We are envoys from Monsieur le President and the French
Government. General Dumesnil has accompanied me, in case our
conversation should turn upon military matters here or at the War
The General saluted. The Prime Minister bowed a little awkwardly.
"So far as I am concerned," the latter declared, "I will be perfectly
frank with you from the start. I know nothing whatever about military
affairs. My job is to govern this country, to make the most of its
resources, and to bring prosperity to its citizens from the English
Channel to the North Sea. We don't need soldiers and never shall, that I
can see. I am firmly convinced that the days of wars are over. The
government of every country in the world is getting into the hands of
the democracy, and the democracy don't want war and never did. If any of
the more quarrelsome folk on the continent get scrapping, well, my
conception of my duty is to keep out of it."
Monsieur Pouilly restrained himself. To judge from his appearance,
however, it was not altogether an easy matter.
"You belong, sir," he said, "to a type of statesman whose rise to power
in this country some of us have watched with a certain amount of
concern, for although it is not my mission here to-day to talk politics,
I am yet bound to remind you that you do not stand alone. The very
League of Nations upon which you rely imposes certain obligations upon
you, some actual, some understood. It is to discuss the situation
arising from your neglect to make the provisions called for in that
agreement that I am here to-day."
Mr. Mervin Brown glanced at some figures which his secretary had laid
"You complain, I presume, of the reduction of our standing army?" he
"We complain of that," Monsieur Pouilly replied, "and we complain also
of the gradually decreasing interest shown by your Government in matters
of aeronautics, artillery, and naval construction. We learnt our lesson
in 1914. If trouble should come again, our country would once more be
the sufferer. You would no doubt do everything that was expected of you,
in time. Before you were ready, however, France would be ruined. You
entered into certain obligations under the League of Nations. My
Government begs to call your attention to the fact that you are not
"It is my intention within the course of the next few months," Mervin
Brown declared, "to lay before the League of Nations a scheme for total
Monsieur Pouilly was staggered. A little exclamation escaped the
"What about those nations," the latter enquired, "who were left outside
the League? What of Russia, for instance?"
"Russia is a great and peaceful republic," Mervin Brown replied. "All
her efforts are devoted towards industrial development. No nation would
have less to gain by a return to militarism."
"Pardon, monsieur, but how do you know anything about Russia?" Monsieur
Pouilly asked. "You have not a single secret service agent there, and
your ambassadors are ambassadors of commerce."
"I know what every one else knows," Mervin Brown declared. "Our
commercial travellers are our secret service agents. They travel where
they please in Russia."
"And Germany?" the General queried.
"I defy you to say that there is the slightest indication of any
militarism in Germany," the Prime Minister insisted. "I was there myself
only a few months ago. The country is quiet and moving on now to a new
prosperity. I am absolutely and entirely convinced that the world has
nothing to fear from either Russia or Germany."
"Have you any theory, sir," General Dumesnil enquired, "as to why Russia
refused to join the League of Nations?"
"None whatever," was the genial acknowledgment. "Russia was left out at
the start through jealous statesmanship, and afterwards she preferred
her independence. I have every sympathy with her attitude."
"One more question," the soldier begged. "Are you aware, sir, that since
Japan left the League of Nations on the excuse of her isolation, she has
been building aeroplanes and battleships on a new theory, instigated, if
you please, by China?"
"And look at her last balance sheet as a result of it," was the prompt
retort. "If a nation chooses to make herself a bankrupt by building war
toys, no one in the world can help her. Legislation of that sort is
foolish and simply an incitement to revolution. Look at the difference
in our country. Our income tax is practically abolished, our industrial
troubles are over. Our credit never stood so high, the wealth of the
country was never so great. We are satisfied. A peaceful nation makes
for peace. The rattling of the sabre incites military disturbance. Do
not ask us, gentlemen, to train armies or build ships."
"We ask you only to keep your covenant," Monsieur Pouilly pronounced
"Who does keep it?" the Prime Minister demanded. "The world is governed
now by common sense and humanity. I look upon a war of aggression on the
part of any country as a sheer impossibility."
"What about a war of revenge?" the General enquired quietly.
"You can search Germany from end to end," Mervin Brown declared, "and
find no trace of any spirit of the sort. I am sorry if I am a
disappointment to you, gentlemen, but the present Government views your
attitude without sympathy. General Richardson is expecting a visit from
you this morning at the War Office, and he will give you any information
you desire. An appointment has also been made for you this afternoon at
the Admiralty. You are doing me the honour of dining with me here
to-morrow night to meet certain members of my Cabinet, and we will, if
you choose, discuss the matter further then. I have thought it best to
place my views clearly before you, however, at the outset of your visit
The Frenchmen rose a few minutes later and took their leave,
ceremoniously but with obvious discontent. The Prime Minister leaned
back in his chair and awaited his secretary's return with a
well-satisfied smile. In a few minutes the latter presented himself.
"Well, Franklin," the great man said, "I've let them hear the truth for
once. Plain speaking, eh?"
The young man bowed.
"They certainly know your views, sir."
The Minister glanced at his subordinate sharply.
"What's the matter with you this morning, Franklin?" he demanded.
"There is nothing the matter with me, thank you, sir," was the quiet
"You're not going to tell me that you disapprove of my attitude?"
"By no means, sir," the young man assured his Chief hastily,--"not
altogether, that is to say. At the same time, one wonders how far those
two men represent the feeling of France."
His Chief shrugged his shoulders.
"The military spirit is hard to kill," he said. "It is in the blood of
most Frenchmen. They are not big enough to understand that the world is
moving on to greater things. What did they say to you before they left?"
"Nothing much, sir. The General just asked me whether I thought you
would soon be content to leave London unpoliced."
"What rubbish! Any one else for me to see this morning?"
"You promised to give Lord Dorminster ten minutes," the young man
reminded him. "He is in the anteroom now."
The Prime Minister frowned.
"Dorminster," he repeated. "He is a nephew of the man who was always
worrying the Government to reestablish the secret service. I remember he
came to see me the other day, declared that his uncle had been
murdered, and a secret dispatch from Germany stolen. I wonder he didn't
wind up with a report that the Chinese were on their way to seize
"It is the same man, sir."
"Well, I suppose I'd better see him and get it over," his Chief declared
irritably. "If only one could make these people realize how far behind
the times they are!"
Nigel was shown in, a few minutes later. Mr. Mervin Brown was gracious
"I haven't had the opportunity of congratulating you upon becoming one
of our hereditary legislators, Lord Dorminster, since you took your seat
in the House of Lords," he said. "Pray let me do so now. I hope that we
may count upon your support."
"My support, sir," Nigel replied, "will be given to any Party which will
take the urgent necessary steps to protect this country against a great
"God bless my soul!" the Prime Minister exclaimed. "Another of you!"
"I can only guess who my predecessors were," Nigel continued, smiling,
"but I will frankly confess that the object of my visit is to beg you to
reestablish our secret service in Germany, Russia and China."
"Nothing," the other declared, "would induce me to do anything of the
"Are you aware," Nigel enquired, "that there is a considerable foreign
secret service at work in this country at the present moment?"
"I am not aware of it, and I don't believe it," was the blunt retort.
"I have absolute proof," Nigel insisted. "Not only that, but two
ex-secret service men whom my uncle sent out to Germany and Russia on
his own account were murdered there as soon as they began to get on the
track of certain things which had been kept secret. A report from one of
these men got through and was stolen from my uncle's library in Belgrave
Square on the day he was murdered. You will remember that I placed all
these facts before you on the occasion of a previous visit."
Mervin Brown nodded.
"Anything else?" he asked patiently.
"You know that a special envoy from China is on his way here at the
present moment to meet Immelan?"
"Oscar Immelan, the German Commissioner?"
"The same," Nigel assented.
"A most delightful fellow," the Prime Minister declared warmly, "and a
great friend to this country."
"I must take the liberty of disagreeing with you," Nigel rejoined,
"because I know very well that he is our bitter enemy. Prince Shan, who
is on his way from China to meet him, is the envoy of the one country
outside Europe whom we might fear. We sit still and do nothing. We have
no means of knowing what may be plotted against us here in London. At
least a polite request might be sent to Prince Shan to ask him to pay
you a visit and disclose the nature of his conference with Immelan."
"If he cares to come, we shall be glad to see him," Mervin Brown
replied, "but I for one shall not go out of my way to talk politics."
"Do you know what politics are, sir?" Nigel asked, in a sudden fury.
The Prime Minister's eyes flashed for a moment. He controlled himself,
however, and rang the bell.
"I have an idea that I do," he answered. "A few millions of my fellow
countrymen believe the same thing, or I should not be here. I think that
you know what my principles are, Lord Dorminster. I am here to govern
this country for the benefit of the people. We don't want to govern any
one else's country, we don't want to meddle in any one else's affairs.
Least of all do we want to revert to the times when your uncle was a
young man, and every country in Europe was sitting with drawn sword,
trusting nobody, fearing everybody, living in a state of nerves, with
the roll of the drum always in their ears. The best preventative of war,
in my opinion, is not to believe in it. Good morning, Lord Dorminster."
It was a dismissal against which there was no appeal. Nigel followed the
secretary from the room.
"You found the Chief a little bit ratty this morning, I expect, Lord
Dorminster," the latter remarked. "We've had the French Mission here."
"Mr. Mervin Brown has at least the virtue of knowing his own mind,"
Nigel replied dryly.
The automobile turned in through the great entrance gates of the South
London Aeronautic Terminus and commenced a slow ascent along the broad
asphalted road to what, a few years ago, had been esteemed a new wonder
of the world. Maggie rose to her feet with a little exclamation of
"Do you know I have never been here at night before?" she exclaimed.
"Isn't it wonderful!"
"Marvellous!" Nigel replied. "It's the largest aeronautic station in the
world--bigger, they say, than all our railway termini put together. Look
at the flares, Maggie! No wonder the sky from the housetop at Belgrave
Square seems always to be on fire at night!"
They were approaching now the first of the huge sheds which were
arranged in circular fashion around an immense stretch of perfectly
level asphalted ground. Every shed was as big as an ordinary railway
station, its arched opening framed with electric illuminations. Inside
could be seen the crowds of people waiting on the platforms; in many of
them, the engine of a great airship was already throbbing, waiting to
start. In the background was a huge wireless installation, and around,
at regular intervals, enormous pillars, on the top of which flares of
different-coloured fire were burning. The automobile came to a
standstill before a large electrically illuminated time chart. Nigel
alighted for a moment and spoke to one of the inspectors.
"Which station for the _Black Dragon_, private ship from China?" he
The man glanced at the chart.
"Number seven, on the other side," he replied. "You can drive around."
"How is she for time?"
"She crossed the North Sea punctually," he replied. "We should see her
violet lights in ten minutes. Mind the traffic as you pass number three.
The North ship from Norway is just in."
Nigel addressed a word of caution to the chauffeur, and they drove on.
From the first shed they passed a stream of vehicles was pouring
out,--porters with luggage, jostling throngs of newly arrived passengers
on their way to the Electric Underground. They drove into number seven
shed, left the car, and walked to the end of the long platform. The
great arc of glass-covered roof above them was brilliantly illuminated,
throwing a queer downward light upon the long line of waiting porters,
the refreshment rooms, the kiosks and newspaper stalls. In the far end,
a huge airship, bound for the East, was already filling up. Maggie and
her companion stood for a few minutes gazing into the huge void of
"Tell me about Naida," the former begged, a little abruptly.
"Naida is a wonderful woman," Nigel declared enthusiastically. "We
lunched at Ciro's. She wore a black and white muslin gown which arrived
this morning from Paris. Afterwards we went down to Ranelagh and sat
under the trees."
"Throwing yourself thoroughly into your little job, aren't you!" Maggie
"You'll have a chance to catch me up before long," he replied. "Naida
has promised that she will arrange a meeting with the Prince."
"I wonder what Oscar Immelan will have to say about it," Maggie
"To tell you the truth," Nigel said hopefully, "I believe that Immelan
is losing ground. His whole scheme is too selfish. Of course, Naida
won't discuss these things with me in plain words, but she gives me a
hint now and then. Amongst her gifts, she has a marvellous sense of
justice and a hatred of any form of bribery. That is where I feel
convinced that she and Immelan will never come together. Immelan could
never see more than the selfish side, even of a world upheaval. Naida
searches everywhere for motive. She has the altruistic instinct. I
wonder no longer at Matinsky. She is a born ruler herself."
"I'm glad you are getting along with her," Maggie remarked. "Look!" she
broke off, catching at his arm. "The violet lights!"
High up in the sky outside, two violet specks of light suddenly rose and
fell like airballs. A crowd of mechanics appeared through subterranean
doors and stood about in the vast arena. Very soon the airship came into
sight, her cars brilliantly illuminated. She circled slowly round and
came noiselessly to the ground, and with the mechanics running by her
side, and her engines now scarcely audible, came slowly into the shed
and to a standstill by the side of the platform. Maggie and her
companion stood well in the background.
"There he is," the latter whispered.
Immelan, suddenly appeared as though from the bowels of the earth, was
shaking hands warmly with a tall, slender man who was one of the first
to descend from the airship. They talked rapidly together for a few
minutes. Then they disappeared, walking down towards the
luggage-clearing station. Maggie watched the retreating figures
"He doesn't look in the least Chinese," she declared.
"I told you he didn't," Nigel replied. "He was considered the
best-looking man of his year up at Oxford."
Maggie was unusually silent on their way back.
"It was perhaps scarcely worth our while, this little expedition of
ours," Maggie said thoughtfully.
"You're not sorry that we came?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I think not," she replied.
"Why only 'think'?"
She roused herself with an effort.
"I don't know, Nigel," she confessed. "I can't imagine what is wrong
with me. I feel shivery--nervous--as though something were going to
He looked at her curiously. This was a Maggie whom he scarcely
"Presentiments?" he asked.
"Absurd, isn't it!" she replied, with a weak smile. "I'll get over it
directly. I don't think I am going to like Prince Shan, Nigel."
"Well, you haven't been long making up your mind," he observed. "I
shouldn't have thought you had been able even to see his face."
"I had a queer, lightning-like glimpse of it," she reflected. "To me it
seemed as though it were carved out of granite, and as though all that
was human about him were the mouth and the eyes. I wish he hadn't been
"Are you flattering yourself that he will recognise you?" Nigel asked.
"I know that he will," she answered simply.
* * * * *
In a corner of the white-and-gold restaurant at the Ritz on the
following evening, Prince Shan and Immelan dined tete-a-tete, Immelan in
the best of spirits, talking of the pleasant trifles of the world,
drinking champagne and pointing out notabilities; Prince Shan, his
features and expression unchanging, and his face as white as the
perfectly fitting shirt he wore. His clothes were fashionable and
distinctive, his black pearls unobtrusive but wonderful, his smoothly
brushed dark hair, his immaculate finger nails, his skilfully tied tie
all indicative of his close touch with western civilization. There was
nothing, in fact, except his sphinx-like expression, the slightly
unusual shape of his brilliant eyes, and his queer air of personal
detachment, to denote the Oriental. He drank water, he ate sparingly, he
preserved an almost unbroken silence, yet he had the air of one giving
courteous attention to everything which his companion said and finding
interest in it. Only once he asked a question.
"You are well acquainted here, my host," he said. "You know the trio at
the table just behind the entrance--the attractive young lady with her
chaperon, and a gentleman who I rather fancy must be an old college
acquaintance whose name I have forgotten. Tell me some more about them
in their private capacity, and not as saviours of their country."
Immelan frowned slightly as he glanced across the room.
"There is not much to tell," he answered, without enthusiasm. "The young
lady is, as you know, Lady Maggie Trent. The older lady, with the white
hair, is, I believe, her aunt. The name of their escort is Lord
Dorminster. You would probably know him by the name of Kingley--he has
only just succeeded to the title."
Prince Shan was looking straight across the room, his eyes travelling
over the heads of the many brilliant little groups of diners to rest
apparently upon an empty space in the white-and-gold walls. He had been
a great traveller, but always his first evening, when he came once more
into touch with a civilisation more meretricious but more poignant than
his own, resulted in this disturbing cloud of sensations. His
companion's voice sounded emptily in his ears.
"They say that the young lady is engaged to Lord Dorminster. That is
only gossip, however."
For the second time Prince Shan looked directly at the little group. His
eyes rested upon Maggie, simply dressed but wonderfully _soignee_, very
alluring, laughing up into the face of her escort. Their eyes did not
actually meet, but each was conscious of the other's regard. Once more
he felt the disturbance of the West.
"If we should chance to come together naturally," he said, "it would
gratify me to make the acquaintance of Lady Maggie Trent."
The introduction which Prince Shan had requested came about very
naturally. The lounge of the hotel was more than usually crowded that
evening, and the table towards which an attentive _maitre d'hotel_
conducted Immelan and his companion was next to the one reserved by
Nigel. The transference of a chair opened up conversation. Immelan was
bland and ingenuous as usual, introducing every one, glad, apparently,
to make one common party. Prince Shan remained by Maggie's side after
the introduction had been effected. A chair which Immelan schemed to
offer him elsewhere he calmly refused.
"This is my first evening in London, Lady Maggie," he said. "I am
"Why?" she asked.
He looked at her meditatively. Then he accepted her unspoken invitation
and seated himself on the lounge by her side.
"We who come from the self-contained countries of the world," he
explained, "and China is one of them, come always with the desire and
longing for new experiences, new sensations. My own appetite for these
"And am I a new sensation?" Maggie asked, glancing up at him innocently
enough, but with a faint gleam of mockery in her eyes.
"You are," he answered placidly. "You reveal--or rather you suggest--the
things of which in my country we know nothing."
"But I thought you were all so hyper-civilised over there," Maggie
observed. "Please tell me at once what it is that I possess which your
womenkind do not."
"If I answered all that your question implies," he said, "I should make
use of speech too direct for the conventions of the world in which you
live. I would simply remind you that whereas we men in China may claim,
I think, to have reached the same standard of culture and civilisation
as Europeans, we have left our womenkind far behind in that respect. The
Chinese woman, even the noble lady, does not care for serious affairs.
The God of the Mountains, as they call him, made her a flower to pluck,
a beautiful plaything for her chosen mate. She remains primitive. That
is why, in time, man wearies of her, why the person of imagination looks
sometimes westward, finds a new joy and a strange new fascination in a
wholly different type of femininity."
"But you have many European women now living in China," Maggie reminded
him,--"American women, too, and they are so much admired everywhere."
"The Chinese, especially we of the nobility," Prince Shan replied, "are
born with racial prejudices. An individual may forgive an affront, a
nation never. The days of retaliation by force of arms may indeed have
passed, but the gentleman of China, even of these days, is not likely to
take to his heart the woman of America."
"Dear me," Maggie murmured, "isn't it rather out of date to persevere in
these ancient feuds?"
"Feeling of all sorts is out of date," he admitted patiently, "yet there
are some things which endure. I should be honoured by your friendship,
"This is very sudden," she laughed. "I am very flattered--but what does
"Permission to call upon you--and your aunt," he added, glancing around
the little circle.
"We shall be delighted," Maggie replied, "but you won't like my aunt.
She is a little deaf, and she has no sense of humour. She has come to
live with us because Lord Dorminster and I are not really related,
although we call ourselves cousins, and I should hate to leave Belgrave
Square. You shall take me out to tea to-morrow afternoon instead, if you
A smouldering fire burned for a moment in his eyes.
"That will make me very happy," he said. "I shall attend you at four
Thenceforward, conversation became general. Prince Shan, with the air
of one who has achieved his immediate object, left his place by Maggie's
side and talked with grave courtesy to her aunt. Presently the little
party broke up, bound, it seemed, for the same theatre. Nigel had become
a little serious.
"Well, you've made a good start, Maggie," he remarked, leaning forward
in his place in the limousine.
"Have I?" Maggie answered thoughtfully. "I wonder!"
"I wish we could get at him in some different fashion," her companion
"My dear man, I'm hardened to these enterprises," Maggie assured him. "I
even let the President of the German Republic hold my hand once when his
wife wasn't looking. Nothing came of it," she added, with a little sigh.
"These Germans are terribly sentimental when it doesn't cost them
anything. They've no idea of a fair exchange."
"By a 'fair exchange' you mean," her aunt suggested, a little
censoriously, "that you expected him to barter his country's secrets for
a touch of your fingers?"
"Or my lips, perhaps," Maggie added, with a little grimace. "Please
don't look so serious, Aunt. I'm not really in love with Prince Shan,
you know, and to-night I rather feel like marrying Nigel, if I can get
him back again. I like his waistcoat buttons, and the way he has tied
"Too late, my dear," Nigel warned her. "I give you formal notice. I
have transferred my affections."
"That decides me," Maggie declared firmly. "I shall collect you back
again. I hate to lose an admirer."
"The nonsense you young people talk!" Mrs. Bollington Smith observed, as
they reached the theatre.
Chalmers joined them soon after they had reached their box. He sank into
the empty place by Maggie's side which Nigel had just vacated and leaned
"So you've started the campaign," he whispered.
"How do you know?" she enquired.
"I was at the Ritz to-night," he told her, "at the far end of the room
with my Chief and two other men. We were behind you in the lounge
"I was so engrossed," Maggie murmured.
Chalmers paused for a moment to watch the performance. When he spoke
again, his voice, was, for him, unusually serious.
"Young lady," he said, "I told you on our first meeting my idea of
diplomacy. Truth! No beating about the bush--just the plain, unvarnished
truth! I have conceived an affection for you."
"Goodness gracious!" Maggie exclaimed softly. "Are you going to
"Nothing," he assured her, "is farther from my thoughts. Lest I should
be misunderstood, let me substitute the term 'affectionate interest' for
'affection.' I have felt uneasy ever since I saw Prince Shan watching
you across the restaurant to-night."
"Did he really watch me?" Maggie asked complacently.
"He not only watched you," Chalmers assured her, "but he thought about
you--and very little else."
"Congratulate me, then," she replied. "I am on the way to success."
"I'm not quite so sure," he said. "You'll think I'm an illogical sort of
person, but I've changed my mind about your role in this little affair."
"Because I am afraid of Prince Shan," he answered deliberately.
She looked at him from behind her fan. Her eyes sparkled with interest.
If there were any other feeling underneath, she showed no trace of it.
"What a queer word for you to use!"
"I know it. I would back you, Lady Maggie, to hold your own against any
male creature breathing, of your own order and your own race, but Prince
Shan plays the game differently. He possesses every gift which women and
men both admire, but he hasn't our standards. Life for him means power.
A wish for him entails its fulfilment."
"You are afraid," Maggie suggested, still with the laughter in her eyes,
"that he will trifle with my affections?"
"Something like that," he admitted bluntly. "Prince Shan will be here
for a week--perhaps a fortnight. When he goes, he goes a very long
"I may decide to marry him," Maggie said. "One gets rather tired here of
the regular St. George's, Hanover Square, business, and all that comes
"Dear Lady Maggie," Chalmers replied, "that is the trouble. Prince Shan
would never marry you."
"Why not?" she asked simply.
"First of all," Chalmers went on, after a moment's hesitation, "because
Prince Shan, broad-minded though he seems to be and is on all the great
questions of the world, still preserves something of what we should call
the superstition of his country and order. I believe, in his own mind,
he looks upon himself as being one of the few elect of the earth. He
travels, he is gracious everywhere, but though his manner is the
perfection of form, in his heart he is still aloof. He rides through the
clouds from Asia, and he leaves always something of himself over there
on the other side. Let me tell you this, Lady Maggie. I have never
forgotten it. He was at Harvard in my year, and so far as he unbent to
any one, he sometimes unbent to me. I asked him once whether he were
ever going to marry. He shook his head and sighed. 'I can never marry,'
he replied. 'Why not?' I asked him. 'Because there are no women of the
Shan line alive,' he answered. Later, he took pity on my bewilderment.
He let me understand. For two thousand years, no Shan has married, save
one of his own line. To ally himself with a princess of the royal house
of England would be a mesalliance which would disturb his ancestors in
their graves. Of course, this sounds to us very ridiculous, but to him
it isn't. It is part of the religion of his life."
"You are not very encouraging, are you?" Maggie remarked. "Perhaps he
has changed since those days."
Her companion shook his head.
"I should say not," he replied, "the Prince is not of the order of those
"Is it matrimony alone," she asked, "which he denies himself?"
Chalmers glanced towards Mrs. Bollington Smith, whose eyes were closed.
Then he nodded towards the stage.
"You see the woman who has just come upon the stage?"
Maggie glanced downwards. A very wonderful little figure in white satin,
lithe and sinuous as a cat, Chinese in the subtlety of her looks,
European in her almost sinister over-civilisation, stood smiling
blandly at the applauding audience.
"La Belle Nita," Maggie murmured. "I thought she was in Paris. Well,
what of her?"
"She is reputed to be a protegee of Prince Shan. You see how she looks
up at his box."
Maggie was conscious of a queer and almost incomprehensible stab at the
heart. She answered without hesitation or change of expression, however.
"The Prince must be kind to a fellow countrywoman," she declared
indulgently. "You are talking terrible scandal."
La Belle Nita danced wonderfully, sang like a linnet, danced again and
disappeared, notwithstanding the almost wild calls for an encore. With
the end of her turn came a selection from the orchestra and a general
emptying of the boxes. Presently Chalmers went in search of Nigel. A few
moments later there was a knock at the door. Maggie gripped the sides of
her chair tightly. She was moved almost to fury by the turmoil in which
she found herself. Her invitation to enter was almost inaudible.
"I am deserted," Prince Shan explained, as he made his bow and took the
chair to which Maggie pointed. "My friend Immelan has left me to visit
acquaintances, and I chance to be unattended this evening. I trust that
I do not intrude."
"You are very welcome here," Maggie replied. "Will you listen to the
orchestra, or talk to me?"
"I will talk, if I may," he answered. "Lord Dorminster is not with
"Nigel went to look up a friend whom he wants to bring to supper. He is
one of those people who seem to discover friends and acquaintances in
every quarter of the globe."
"And to that fortunate chance," her visitor continued, dropping his
voice a little, "I owe the happiness of finding you alone."
Maggie glanced towards her aunt, who was leaning back in her seat.
"Aunt seems to be asleep, but she isn't," she declared. "She is really a
very efficient chaperon. Talk to me about China, please, and tell me
about your _Dragon_ airship. Is it true that you have silver baths, and
that Gauteron painted the walls of your dining salon?"
"One is in the air five days on the way over," he answered
indifferently. "It is necessary that one's surroundings should be
agreeable. Perhaps some day I may have the honour of showing it to you.
In the darkness, and when she is docked, there is little to be seen."
She looked at him curiously.
"You knew that I was there, then?"
"Yours was the first face I saw when I descended from the car," he told
her. "You stood apart, watching, and I wondered why. I knew, too, that
you would be at the Ritz to-night. That is why I came there. As a rule,
I do not dine in public."
"How could you possibly know that I was going to be there?" Maggie asked
"I sent a gentleman of my suite to look through the names of those who
had booked tables," he answered. "It was very simple."
"It was only a chance that the table was reserved in my name," she
"It was chance which brought us together," he rejoined. "It is chance
under another name to which I trust in life."
For the first time in her life, in her relations with the other sex,
Maggie felt a queer sensation which was almost fear. She felt herself
losing poise, her will governed, her whole self dominated. Unconsciously
she drew herself a little away. Her eyes travelled around the crowded
house and suddenly rested on the box which her visitor had just vacated.
Seated behind the curtains, but leaning slightly forward, her eyes fixed
intently upon Prince Shan, was La Belle Nita, a green opera cloak thrown
around her dancing costume, a curious, striking little figure in the
"You have some one waiting for you in your box," Maggie told him.
He glanced across the auditorium and rose to his feet. She gave him
credit for the adroitness of mind which rejected the obvious
explanation of her presence there.
"I must go," he said simply, "but I have many things which I desire to
say to you. You will not forget to-morrow afternoon?"
"I shall not forget," she answered, in a low tone.
There was a half reluctant admiration in Prince Shan's eyes as he sat
back in the dim recesses of his box and scrutinised his visitor. La
Belle Nita had learnt all that Paris and London could teach her.
"You are very beautiful, Nita," he said.
"Many men tell me so," she answered.
"Life has gone well with you since we met last?" he asked reflectively.
"The months have passed," she replied.
"You have been faithful?"
"Fidelity is of the soul."
He paused, as though pondering over her answer. A famous French comedian
was holding the stage, and the house rocked with laughter.
"You have the same apartment?"
She pressed the clasp of a black velvet bag which rested on the edge of
the box, opened it, and passed him a key.
"It is the same."
He held the key in his fingers for a moment, but he had the air of a man
to whom the action had no significance.
"You have enough money?" he asked.
"I have saved a million francs," she told him. "I am waiting for my
lord to speak of things that matter. The woman in the box over
there--who is she?"
"An English spy," he answered calmly.
She lowered her eyes for a moment, as though to conceal the sudden soft
"An English spy," she repeated. "My rival in espionage."
"You have no rival, Nita," he replied, "and she is in the opposite
Her two red lips were distorted into a pout.
"Is it over, my task?" she asked. "I am weary of Paris. I love it over
here better. I am weary of French officers, of these solemn officials
who come to my room like guilty schoolboys, and who speak of themselves
and their importance with bated breath, as though their whisper would
rock the world. My master has enough information?"
"More than enough," he assured her. "You have done your work
"Shall I now deal with her?" she continued, with a slight, eager
movement of her head towards the opposite box.
"She is harmless, she and her entourage," he replied. "Some stroke of
good fortune brought them word of the meeting between myself and
Immelan, and beyond that they guessed at its significance. They were at
the shed to watch my arrival. Now, with their mouths open, they sit and
wait for the information which they hope will drop in. They are very
ingenuous, these Anglo-Saxons, but they are not diplomats."
She turned her head and looked across the auditorium. Maggie was talking
to a man whom Nigel had just brought in, and who was bending over her in
obvious admiration. Nita, with her wealth of cosmetics, her over-red
lips, stared curiously at this possible rival, with her clear skin, her
beautiful neck and shoulders, her hair dressed close to her head, her
air of quiet, almost singular distinction.
"The young lady," she confessed, "wears her clothes well for an English
woman. She is _bien soignee_, but she looks a little difficult."
His eyes followed the direction of hers, and her object was achieved.
She read correctly the light that gleamed in them.
"I may come to-night?" she asked quietly.
He shook his head.
"Not again," he replied.
A violinist now held the stage, a Pole newly come to London. La Belle
Nita closed her eyes. For a few minutes her sorrow seemed to throb to
the minor music to which she was listening.
"For all my work, then," she said presently, "for the suffering and the
risk, there is to be nothing?"
"Is it nothing for you to be invited to live in whatsoever manner you
choose?" he remonstrated.
"It is little," she replied steadily. "There are a dozen who would do
this for me, who pray every day that they may do so. What are all these
things beside the love of my master?"
He looked at her a little sadly, yet without any sign of real feeling.
To him she represented nothing more than a doll with brains, from whose
intelligence he had profited, but of whose beauty he was weary.
"You know what our poet says, Nita," he reminded her. "'Love is like the
rustling of the wind in the almond trees before dawn.' We cannot command
it. It comes to us or leaves us without reason."
She looked across the auditorium once more and spoke with her head
turned away from her companion.
"There is no one in the East," she said, "because those who write me
weekly send news of my lord's doings. There is no one in the East,
because there they give the body who know nothing of the soul. And so my
Prince is safe amongst them. But here--these western women have other
gifts. Is that she, master of my life and soul?"
"I met her this evening for the first time," he replied.
She laughed drearily.
"Eyes may meet in the street without speech, a glance may burn its way
into the soul. Once I thought that I might love again, because a
stranger smiled at me in the Bois, and he had grey eyes, and that look
about his mouth which a woman craves for. He passed on, and I forgot.
You see, my lord was still there.--So this is the woman."
"Who knows?" he answered.
Immelan came into the box a little abruptly. There was a cloud upon his
face which he did his best to conceal. Almost simultaneously, a
messenger from behind the scenes arrived for Nita. She rose to her feet
and wrapped her green cloak closely around her lissom figure.
"In a quarter of an hour," she said, "I have to appear again. It is to
be good-night, then?"
She raised her eyes to his, and for a moment the appeal which knows no
nationality shone out of their velvety depths. She stood before him
simply, like a slave who pleads. Not a muscle of Prince Shan's face
"It is to be good-night, Nita," he answered calmly.
Her head drooped, and she passed out. She had the air of a flower whose
petals have been bruised. Immelan looked after her curiously, almost
"It is finished, then, with the little one, Prince?" he enquired.
"It is finished," was the calm reply.
Immelan stroked his short moustache thoughtfully.
"Is it wise?" he ventured. "She has been faithful and assiduous. She
knows many things."
Prince Shan's eyes were filled with mild wonder.
"She has had some years of my occasional companionship," he said. "It is
surely as much as she could hope for or expect. We are not like you
Westerners, Immelan," he went on. "Our women are the creatures of our
will. We call them, or we send them away. They know that, and they are
"It seems a little brutal," Immelan muttered.
"You prefer your method?" his companion asked. "Yet you practise deceit.
Your fancy wanders, and you lie about it. You lose your dignity, my
friend. No woman is worth a man's lie."
Immelan was leaning back in his chair, gazing steadfastly across the
"Your principles," he said, "are suited to your own womenkind. La Belle
Nita has become westernised. Are you sure that she accepts the situation
as she would if she dwelt with you in Pekin?"
"I am her master," Prince Shan declared calmly. "I have made no promises
that I have not fulfilled."
"The promise between a man and a woman is an unspoken one," Immelan
persisted. "You have not been in Europe for five months. All that time
she has awaited you."
"Something else has happened," Prince Shan said deliberately.
"Since your arrival in London?"
"Since my arrival in London, since I stepped out of my ship last night."
Immelan was frankly incredulous.
"You mean Lady Maggie Trent?"
"Certainly! I have always felt that some day or other my thoughts would
turn towards one of these strange, western women. That time has come.
Lady Maggie possesses those charms which come from the brain, yet which
appeal more deeply than any other to the subtle desires of the poet, the
man of letters and the philosopher. She is very wonderful, Immelan. I
thank you for your introduction."
Immelan ceased to caress his moustache. He leaned back in his chair and
gazed at his companion. For many years he and the Prince had been
associates, yet at that moment he felt that he had not even begun to
"But you forget, Prince," he said, "that Lady Maggie and her friends are
in the opposite camp. When our agreement is concluded and known to the
world, she will look upon you as an enemy."
"As yet," Prince Shan answered calmly, "our agreement is not concluded."
Immelan's face darkened. Nothing but his awe of the man with whom he sat
prevented an expression of anger.
"But, Prince," he expostulated, "apart from political considerations,
you cannot really imagine that anything would be possible between you
and Lady Maggie?"
"Why not?" was the cool reply.
"Lady Maggie is of the English nobility," Immelan pointed out. "Neither
she nor her friends would be in the least likely to consider anything in
the nature of a morganatic alliance."
"It would not be necessary," Prince Shan declared. "It is in my mind to
offer her marriage."
Immelan dropped the cigarette case which he had just drawn from his
pocket. He gazed at his companion in blank and unaffected astonishment.
"Marriage?" he muttered. "You are not serious!"
"I am entirely serious," the Prince insisted. "I can understand your
amazement, Immelan. When the idea first came into my mind, I tore at it
as I would at a weed. But we who have studied in the West have learnt
certain great truths which our own philosophers have sometimes missed.
All that is best of life and of death our own prophets have taught us.
From them we have learnt fortitude and chastity: devotion to our country
and singleness of purpose. Over here, though, one has also learnt
something. Nobility is of the soul. A Prince of the Shans must seek not
for the body but for the spirit of the woman who shall be his mate. If
their spirits meet on equal terms, then she may even share the throne of
Immelan was speechless. There was something final and convincing in his
companion's measured words. His own protest, when at last he spoke,
"But supposing it is true that she is already engaged to Lord
Prince Shan smiled very quietly.
"That," he said, "can easily be disposed of."
"But do you seriously believe that you would be able to induce her to
return with you to Pekin?" Immelan persisted.
At that moment it chanced that Maggie turned her head and looked across
at the two men. Prince Shan leaned a little forward to meet her gaze.
His face was expressionless. The lines of his mouth were calm and
restful, yet in his eyes there glowed for a single moment the fire of a
man who looks upon the thing he covets.
"I seriously believe it," he answered under his breath.
Maggie leaned back in her chair with a little sigh of content. The
scarlet-coated waiter had just removed their tea tray, a pleasant breeze
was rustling through the leaves of the trees under which she and Prince
Shan were seated. From the distance came the low strains of a military
band. Everywhere on the lawns and along the paths men and women were
"Confess that this is better than Rumpelmayer's or the Ritz," she
"It is better," he admitted. "It is a very wonderful place."
"You have nothing like it in China?" she asked him.
"It would not be possible," he answered. "Democracy there is confined to
politics. In other respects, our class prejudices are far more rigid
than yours. But then I see a great change in this country since I was
here as a student."
"You have lost your affection for it, perhaps?" she ventured, looking at
him through half-closed eyes.
"On the contrary," he assured her, "my gratitude towards her was never
so great as at this moment. Your country has given me nothing I prize
so much, Lady Maggie, as my knowledge of you."
She looked away from his very earnest eyes, and the light retort died
away upon her lips. The men and women whom she watched so steadfastly
seemed like puppets, the flowers artificial, the music unreal. Already