Part 3 out of 5
she was beginning to resent the influence which he was establishing over
her. The art of badinage in which she was so proficient stood her in no
stead. Words, even the power of light speech, had deserted her.
"Tell me about the changes that you see," she asked.
"Perhaps," he replied, after a moment's hesitation, "it is because I am
an occasional visitor that differences seem so marked to me, but look at
the tables there. That is the Duke of Illinton, is it not? At the next
table, the man in the strange clothes and uncomfortable hat--it seems to
me that I have seen him somewhere under different circumstances."
"Life is a terrible hotchpotch nowadays," she admitted. "After the war,
our gentry and aristocracy who were not wealthy were taxed out of
existence. The profiteers, and the men who had made fortunes during the
war, took their place. It has made the country prosperous but less
"You put things very clearly," he said. "To-day in England is certainly
the day of the shopkeeper's triumph. Wealth is a great thing, but it is
great only for what it leads to. I think your philosopher of the
streets, your new school of politicians, have alike forgotten that."
"You have lost sympathy with England, have you not, Prince Shan?" Maggie
He turned towards her, a faint but kindly smile upon his lips, a light
in his eyes which she did not altogether understand.
"Lady Maggie," he said quietly, "they tell me that you are interested in
the political side of my visit to this country."
"Who tells you that?" she demanded. "What have I to do with politics?"
"You have been gifted with great intelligence," he continued, "and you
are the confidante of your connection, Lord Dorminster. Lord Dorminster
is one of those few Englishmen who realise the ill direction of the
destinies of this country. You would like to help him in his present
very strenuous efforts to ascertain the truth as to certain movements
directed against the British Empire. That is so, is it not?"
"In plain words, you are accusing me of being a spy."
"Ah, no!" he protested gently. "No one can be a spy in one's own
country. You are within your rights as a patriot in seeking to discover
whatever may be useful knowledge to the English Government. That, I
fear, is one reason for your kindness to me, Lady Maggie. I trust that
it is not the only reason."
She knew better than to make the mistake of denial. After all, it was an
absurdly unequal contest.
"It is not the only reason," she assured him, a little tremulously.
"I am glad. One word more upon this subject, and we speak of other
things. Please, Lady Maggie, do not stoop to be hopelessly obvious in
these efforts of yours. If I drop a pocketbook, believe me there will be
nothing in it to interest you. If I speak with Immelan or any other,
save in the secrecy of my chamber, there will be nothing which it will
be worth your while to overhear. If Lord Dorminster should decide to
adopt buccaneering expedients and kidnap me, the attempt would probably
fail; and if it succeeded, it would in the end profit you nothing. As
you say over here, for your sake, Lady Maggie, I will lay the cards upon
the table. I am discussing with Oscar Immelan, and indirectly with an
emissary from Russia, a certain scheme which, if carried out, would
certainly be harmful to this country. I shall decide for or against that
scheme entirely as it seems to me that it will be for the good or evil
of my own country. Nothing will change my purpose in that. In your heart
you know that nothing should change it. But I bring to the deliberations
upon which we are engaged a new sentiment towards your country, since I
have known you. Other things being equal, I shall decline the scheme for
your sake, Lady Maggie."
There was a curious quivering at the corners of her mouth and a lump in
her throat. She was absolutely incapable of speech. His grave and
reasonable words seemed to fill her with a sense of importance. Her
little efforts and schemes seemed puny, almost laughable.
"So you see," he continued, after a moment's pause, "that you have done
your work. You have done it very effectually. You have created a strong
sentiment in my mind in favour of this country, a sentiment which I did
not previously possess. There is no other way in which you could have
influenced the decision soon to be arrived at. In return for what I have
told you, Lady Maggie, I ask for no promise, but I beg you to forget the
role you played in Germany; not to attempt--you will not be
offended?--to influence events so far as I am concerned by any attempt
at spying upon my actions, or by treating me any other way than with
your whole confidence. I do not ask for any promise. I have said
something to you which has been on my mind. Now I shall ask you a
favour," he declared, rising to his feet. "You will walk with me through
the flower gardens yonder. If there is one thing I miss in this country
so much that the want of it makes me sometimes a little homesick," he
went on, as they moved away together, "it is the perfume of the flowers
in the morning and at night from the gardens of my summer palace. Next
time you honour me with an hour or so of your time, I shall ask you to
let me bring some pictures of my favourite home in China."
Maggie walked dutifully by his side, answering his frequent questions
about flowers and shrubs, listening while he told her about his white
peacocks and the tame birds which were his own pets. Suddenly she broke
into a fit of laughter. She looked up into his grave face, her eyes
imploring him for sympathy.
"I feel so like a precocious child," she exclaimed, "who has been put in
her place! No one has ever turned me inside out so skilfully, has made
me feel such an ignorant little donkey. Do you know, I half like you for
it, Prince Shan, and half detest you."
He seemed suddenly to become younger, to meet her upon her own ground.
"Please do not be angry," he begged. "Please do not think that I look
upon you at all as a little child. You have brought something into my
life for which I have searched and hoped, and I am deeply grateful to
you. Shall I--go on?"
She caught at his wrist.
"Please not," she begged breathlessly. "Be content with this moment."
They had paused by the side of an arbour. She suddenly felt the
pressure of his fingers upon her hand.
"I shall be content," he said, in a low tone, the passion of which
seemed to throw her senses into complete turmoil, "only when I have what
my heart desires. But I will wait."
They walked almost into the midst of a little crowd of acquaintances.
Maggie was herself again immediately. She chattered away with Chalmers,
and led him off to see a wonderful yellow rose. He watched her
curiously. When they found themselves isolated at the end of the garden
path, he ignored for a moment their mission.
"Any luck, Lady Maggie?" he asked.
She looked up at him, and to his amazement her eyes were swimming.
"I think that Prince Shan will be on our side," she replied.
Monsieur Felix Senn, the distinguished Frenchman who had just acquitted
himself of the special mission which had brought him to London, was a
little loath to depart from the historical chamber in Downing Street.
Diplomatically, the interview was over. The Prime Minister, however, on
this occasion, was courteous, even affable. There seemed no reason for
his visitor to hurry away.
"You will accept, I trust, sir," the latter begged, "this assurance of
my extreme regret at the present unfortunate condition of affairs. I am
one of those who threw his hat into the air on the boulevards in August,
1914, when the news came that your great country had decided to fulfil
her unwritten promises and in the cause of honour had declared war
against Germany. I have never forgotten that moment, sir, even in those
months and years of misunderstandings which followed the signing of the
Treaty of Peace. I was one of those who pointed always to the sacrifices
which Great Britain had made on our behalf, to her glorious deeds on
land and sea. I have always been a friend of your country, Mr. Mervin
Brown. That is why I think I was chosen to bring this dispatch."
"You are very welcome," the Prime Minister assured him. "As for the
purpose of your mission, I assure you that I view it less seriously than
you do. Glance with me at the position for a moment. Notwithstanding the
era of peace which has sprung up all over the world, owing to the happy
influence of the League of Nations, France alone has decided to follow
still the path of militarism. Your last year's army estimates were
staggering. The number of men whom you keep out of your factories in
order that they may learn a useless drill and wear an unnecessary
uniform is, to the economist, simply scandalous. Look at the result.
Compare our imports and exports with yours. See the leaps and strides
with which we have improved our financial position during the last ten
years. We have not only recovered from the after effects of the war, but
we have reached a state of prosperity which we never previously
attained. You, on the other hand, are still groaning with enormous
taxes. You carry a burden which is self-imposed and unnecessary. You, of
all the nations, refuse to recognise the fact that the government of the
great countries of the world has passed into the hands of the democracy,
and that democracies will not tolerate war."
"There I join issue with you, sir," the Frenchman replied. "These are
the obvious and expressed views of other European countries, yet month
by month come rumours of the training of great masses of troops, far in
excess of the numbers permitted by the League of Nations. There is all
the time a haze of secrecy over what is going on in certain parts of
Germany. And as for Russia, ostensibly the freest country in the world,
Tsarism in its worst days never imposed such despotic restrictions
concerning the coming and going of foreigners, in one particular
district, at any rate."
"The Russian Government have certainly given us cause for complaint in
that direction," Mr. Mervin Brown admitted. "Strong representations are
being made to them at the present moment. On the other hand, the reason
for their attitude is easily enough understood. In the days when Russia
lay exhausted, foreigners took too much advantage of her, attained far
too close a grip upon her great natural resources. Russia has determined
that what she has left she will keep to herself. The attitude is
reasonable, although I am free to admit that she is carrying her
legislation against foreigners too far."
"What about the number of men she has under arms every year?" Monsieur
"Russia has always a possible danger to fear from China, the new
Colossus of Asia," the Prime Minister pointed out. "Even Russia herself
has not made such strides within the last fifteen years as China. The
secession of the Asiatic countries from the League of Nations demanded
certain precautions which Russia is justified in taking."
The Frenchman had risen to his feet, but he still lingered. A tall man,
of commanding presence, with olive complexion, deep brown eyes, and
black hair lightly streaked with grey, Monsieur Felix Senn had been a
great figure in the war of 1914-1918 and had retained since a commanding
position in French politics. It had often been said that nothing but his
great friendship for England had prevented his gaining the highest
honours. His present mission, therefore, which was practically to end
the alliance between the two countries, was a peculiarly painful one to
"I must tell you before we part, Mr. Mervin Brown," he said gravely,
"that neither I nor many of my fellow countrymen share your optimism.
You seem to have inherited the timeworn theory that the War of 1914 was
entirely provoked by the junker class of Germans. That is not true. It
was a people's war, and the people have never forgotten what they were
pleased to consider the harsh terms of the Treaty of Peace. Then as
regards Russia, have you ever considered that Russia financially and
politically is more than half German? When Germany lost the war, she had
one great consolation--she acquired Russia. You have compared the
economic condition of France to-day with that of your country, sir. I
admit your commercial supremacy, but let me tell you this. I would not,
for the greatest boon the gods could offer me, see France in the same
helpless state as England is in to-day."
The Prime Minister rose also to his feet. He wore an air of offended
"Monsieur Senn," he declared, "the spirit of militarism is in the blood
of your country. You cannot rid yourself of it in one generation or two.
But, believe me, no people's government at any time in the future,
whether it be English, Russian, German, or American, will ever dare to
suggest or even to dream of a war of aggression or revenge. If we are
comparatively unprotected, it is because we need no protection. We hear
the footfall of your marching millions, and we thank God that that sound
is represented in our country by the roar of machinery and the blaze of
The Frenchman bowed and accepted the hand which the Prime Minister
"I present to you once more, sir," he said, "the compliments and
infinite regrets of Monsieur le President."
A chapter of English history ended with the quiet passing of Monsieur
Senn into the sunlit street. The latter entered his waiting automobile
and drove at once to the French Embassy. The Ambassador listened in
silence to his report.
"What about the Press?" was his only question.
"Monsieur le President insists upon the truth being known," the emissary
announced. "France has pledged her word against secret treaties.
Besides, the honour of France must never afterwards be called in
The Ambassador sighed. He was new to his present post, but he had grown
grey in the service of his country.
"It is the end of a one-sided arrangement," he declared. "It is
incredible that these people do not realise that it is against their own
country--against themselves--that this slowly fermenting hatred is being
brewed. The racial enmity between Germany and France is nothing compared
with the hate of antagonistic kinship between Germany and England.
However, France is the gainer by to-day's event. We have only our own
frontiers to watch."
Monsieur Felix Senn wandered on to the St. Philip's Club, where he found
his old friend Prince Karschoff talking in a corner of the smoking room
with Nigel. They were both of them prepared for the news which he
presently communicated to them. Karschoff was bitter, Nigel silent.
"Well said Carlyle that 'History is philosophy teaching by examples',"
the former expounded. "How the historian of the future will revel in
this epoch! What treatises he will write, what parallels he will draw!
See him point to the days when the aristocracy ruled England, and
England fought and flourished; then to the epoch when the _bourgeoisie_
took their place, and with a mighty effort, met a great emergency and
flourished. And finally, in sympathy with the great European upheaval,
in sympathy with the great natural law of change, Labour ousts both,
single-eyed Labour, and down goes England, crumbling into the dust!--Let
us lunch, my friends. The cuisine is still good here."
Nigel excused himself.
"I am engaged," he said. "We may meet afterwards."
"Something tells me, my dear Nigel," Karschoff declared, "that you are
bent on frivolity."
"If to lunch with a woman is frivolous, I plead guilty," Nigel replied.
Karschoff's face was suddenly grave. He seemed on the point of saying
something but checked himself and turned away with a little shrug of the
"Each one to his taste," he murmured. "For my aperitif, a dash of
absinthe in my cocktail; for Dorminster here, the lure of a woman's
smile. Perhaps he gains. Who knows?"
Nigel waited for his luncheon companion in the crowded vestibule of
London's most famous club restaurant. He was to a certain extent out of
the picture among the crowd of this new generation of pleasure seekers,
on the faces of whom opulence and acquisitiveness had already laid its
branding hand. The Mecca alike of musical comedy and the Stock Exchange,
the place, however, still preserved a curious attraction for the foreign
element in London, so that when at last Naida appeared, she was
exchanging courtesies with an Italian Duchess on one side and a
celebrated Russian dancer on the other. Nigel led her at once to the
table which he had selected in the balcony.
"I have obeyed your wishes to the letter," he said, "and I think that
you are right. Up here we are entirely alone, and, as you see, they have
had the sense to place the tables a long way apart. Am I to blame, I
wonder, for asking you to do so unconventional a thing as to lunch here
again alone with me?"
She drew off her gloves and smiled across the table at him. Her plain,
tailor-made gown, with its high collar, was the last word in elegance.
The simplicity of her French hat was to prove the despair of a
well-known modiste seated downstairs, who made a sketch of it on the
menu and tried in vain to copy it. Even to Nigel's exacting taste she
"Is it unconventional?" she asked carelessly. "I do not study those
things. I lunch or dine with a party, generally, because it happens so.
I lunch alone with you because it pleases me."
"And for this material side of our entertainment?" he enquired, smiling,
as he handed her the menu card.
"A grapefruit, a quail with white grapes, and some asparagus," she
replied promptly. "You see, in one respect I am an easy companion. I
know exactly what I want. A mixed vermouth, if you like, yes. And now,
tell me your news?"
"There is news," he announced, "which the whole world will know of
before many hours are past. France has broken her pact with England."
"It is my opinion," she said deliberately, "that France has been very
patient with you."
"And mine," he acknowledged. "We have now to see what will become of a
fat and prosperous country with a semi-obsolete fleet and a comic opera
"Must we talk of serious things?" she asked softly. "I am weary of the
clanking wheels of life."
"And yet for you," he said, "they are not grinding out the fate of your
"Nevertheless, I too hear them all the time," she rejoined. "And I hate
them. They make one lose one's sense of proportion. After all, it is our
own individual and internal life which counts. I can understand Nero
fiddling while Rome burned, if he really had no power to call up fire
"Are you an individualist?" he asked.
"Not fundamentally," she replied, "but I am caught up in the throes of a
great reaction. I have been studying events, which it is quite true may
change the destinies of the world, so intently that I have almost
forgotten that, after all, the greatest thing in the world, my world, is
the happiness or ill-content of Naida Karetsky. It is really of more
importance to me to-day that my quail should be cooked as I like it than
that England has let go her last rope."
"You are not an Englishwoman," he reminded her.
"That is of minor importance. We are all so much immersed in great
affairs just now that we forget it is the small ones that count. I want
my luncheon to be perfect, I want you to seem as nice to me as I have
fancied you, and I want you to chase completely away the idea that you
are cultivating my acquaintance for interested motives."
"That I can assure you from the bottom of my heart is not the case," he
replied. "Whatever other interests I may feel in you," he added, after
a moment's hesitation, "my first and foremost is a personal one."
She looked at him with gratitude in her eyes for his understanding.
"A woman in my position," she complained, "is out of place. A man ought
to come over and study your deservings or your undeservings and pore
over the problem of the future of Europe. I am a woman, and I am not big
enough. I am too physical. I have forgotten how to enjoy myself, and I
love pleasure. Now am I a revelation to you?"
"You have always been that," he told her. "You are so truthful
yourself," he went on boldly, "that I shall run the risk of saying the
most banal thing in the world, just because it happens to be the truth.
I have felt for you since our first meeting what I have felt for no
other woman in the world."
"I like that, and I am glad you said it," she declared lightly enough,
although her lips quivered for a moment. "And they have put exactly the
right quantity of Maraschino in my grapefruit. I feel that I am on the
way to happiness. I am going to enjoy my luncheon.--Tell me about
"I saw her yesterday," he answered. "We have arranged for her to come
and live at Belgrave Square, after all."
"My terrible altruism once more," she sighed. "I had meant not to speak
another serious word, and yet I must. Maggie is very clever, amazingly
clever, I sometimes think, but if she had the brains of all of her sex
rolled into one, she would still be facing now an impossible situation."
"Just what do you mean?" he asked cautiously.
"Maggie seems determined to measure her wits with those of Prince Shan,"
she said. "Believe me, that is hopeless."
She looked up at him and laughed softly.
"Oh, my dear friend," she went on, "that wooden expression is wonderful.
You do not quite know where I stand, except--may I flatter myself?--as
regards your personal feelings for me. Am I for Immelan and his schemes,
or for your own foolish country? You do not know, so you make for
yourself a face of wood."
"Where do you stand?" he asked bluntly.
"Sufficiently devoted to your interests to beg you this," she replied.
"Do not let your little cousin think that she can deal with a man like
Prince Shan. There can be only one end to that."
Nigel moved a little uneasily in his place.
"Prince Shan is only an ordinary human being, after all," he protested.
"That is just where you are mistaken," she declared. "Prince Shan is one
of the most extraordinary human beings who ever lived. He is one of the
most farseeing men in the world, and he is absolutely the most
"But China," Nigel began--
"His power extends far beyond China," she interrupted, "and there is no
brain in the world to match his to-day."
"If he were a god wielding thunderbolts," Nigel observed, "he could
scarcely do much harm to Maggie here in London."
"There was an artist once," she said reflectively, "who drew a
caricature of Prince Shan and sent it to the principal comic paper in
America. It was such a success that a little time later on he followed
it up with another, which included a line of Prince Shan's ancestors.
Within a month's time the artist was found murdered. Prince Shan was in
China at the time."
"Are you suggesting that the artist was murdered through Prince Shan's
"Am I a fool?" she answered. "Do you not know that to speak
disrespectfully of the ancestors of a Chinaman is unforgivable? To all
appearances Prince Shan never moved from his wonderful palace in Pekin,
many thousands of miles away. Yet he lifted his little finger and the
"Isn't this a little melodramatic?" Nigel murmured.
"Melodrama is often nearer the truth than people think," she said.
"Shall I give you another instance? I know of several."
"One more, then."
"Prince Shan was in Paris two years ago, incognito," she continued.
"There was at the time a small but very fashionable restaurant in the
Bois, close to the Pre Catelan. He presented himself one night there for
dinner, accompanied, I believe, by La Belle Nita, the Chinese dancer who
is in London to-day. As you know, there is little in Prince Shan's
appearance to denote the Oriental, but for some reason or other the
proprietor refused him a table. Prince Shan made no scene. He left and
went elsewhere. Three nights later, the cafe was burnt to the ground,
and the proprietor was ruined."
"Anything else?" Nigel asked.
"Only one thing more," she replied. "I have known him slightly for
years. In Asia he ranks to all men as little less than a god. His
palaces are filled with priceless treasures. He has the finest
collection of jewels in the world. His wealth is simply inexhaustible.
His appearance you appreciate. Yet I have never seen him look at a woman
as he looked at your cousin the first time he met her. I was at the Ritz
with my father, and I watched. I know you think that I am being foolish.
I am not. I am a person with a very great deal of common sense, and I
tell you that Prince Shan has never desired a thing in life to which he
has not helped himself. Maggie is a clever child, but she cannot toss
knives with a conjuror."
Nigel was impressed and a little worried.
"It seems absurd to think that anything could happen to Maggie here in
London," he said, "after--"
He paused abruptly. Naida smiled at him.
"After her escape from Germany, I suppose you were going to say? You
see, I know all about it. There was no Prince Shan in Berlin."
He shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Well," he admitted, "I don't quite bring myself to believe in your
terrible ogre, so I shall not worry. Tell me what news you have from
"I notice," she said, "that English people are changing their attitude
towards my country. A few years ago she seemed negligible to them. Now
they are beginning to have--shall I call them fears? Even my kind host,
I think, would like to know what is in Paul Matinsky's heart as he hears
the friends of Oscar Immelan plead their cause."
"I admit it," he told her frankly. "I will go farther. I would give a
great deal to know what is in your own mind to-day concerning us and our
destiny. But these things are not for the moment. It was not to discuss
or even to think of them that I asked you here to-day."
"Why did you invite me, then?" she asked, smiling.
"Because I wanted the pleasure of having you opposite me," he
replied,--"because I wanted to know you better."
"And are you progressing?"
"Indifferently well," he acknowledged. "I seem to gain a little and
slide back again. You are not an easy person to know well."
"Nothing that is worth having is easy," she answered, "and I can assure
you, when my friendship is once gained, it is a rare and steadfast
"And your affection?" he ventured.
Her eyes rested upon his for a moment and then suddenly drooped. A
little tinge of colour stole into her cheeks. For a moment she seemed to
have lost her admirable poise.
"That is not easily disturbed," she told him quietly. "I think that I
must have an unfortunate temperament, there are so few people for whom I
He took his courage into both hands.
"I have heard it rumoured," he said, "that Matinsky is the only man who
has ever touched your heart."
She shook her head.
"That is not the truth. Paul Matinsky cares for me in his strange way,
and he has a curiously exaggerated appreciation of my brain. There have
been times," she went on, after a moment's hesitation, "when I myself
have been disturbed by fancies concerning him, but those times have
"I am glad," he said quietly.
His fingers, straying across the tablecloth, met hers. She did not
withdraw them. He clasped her hand, and it remained for a moment passive
in his. Then she withdrew it and leaned back in her chair.
"Is that meant to introduce a more intimate note into our conversation?"
she asked, with a slight wrinkling of the forehead and the beginnings of
a smile upon her lips.
"If I dared, I would answer 'yes'," he assured her.
"They tell me," she continued pensively, "that Englishmen more than any
other men in the world have the flair for saying convincingly the things
which they do not mean."
"In my case, that would not be true," he answered. "My trouble is that I
dare not say one half of what I feel."
She looked across the table at him, and Nigel suddenly felt a great
weight of depression lifted from his heart. He forgot all about his
country's peril. Life and its possibilities seemed somehow all
different. He was carried away by a rare wave of emotion.
"Naida!" he whispered.
Her eyes were soft and expectant. Something of the gravity had gone from
her face. She was like a girl, suddenly young with new thoughts.
"You know what I am going to say to you?"
"Do not say it yet, please," she begged. "Somehow it seems to me that
the time has not come, though the thought of what may be in your heart
is wonderful. I want to dream about it first," she went on. "I want to
He laughed, a strange sound almost to his own ears, for Nigel, since his
uncle's death, had tasted the very depths of depression.
"I obey," he agreed. "It is well to dally with the great things.
Meanwhile, they grow."
She smiled across at him.
"I hope that they may," she answered. "And you will ask me to lunch
"Lunch or dine or walk or motor--whatever you will," he promised.
She reflected for a moment and then laughed. She was drawing on her
gloves now, and Nigel was paying the bill.
"There are some people who will not like this," she said.
"And one," he declared, "for whom it is going to make life a Paradise."
They passed out into the street and strolled leisurely westwards. As
they crossed Trafalgar Square, a stream of newsboys from the Strand were
spreading in all directions. Nigel and his companion seemed suddenly
surrounded by placards, all with the same headlines. They paused to
_TRIUMPH OF THE CHANCELLOR_
_HUGE REDUCTION OF THE NATIONAL DEBT_
_TOTAL ABOLITION OF THE INCOME TAX_
They walked on. Naida said nothing, although she shook her head a little
sorrowfully. Nigel glanced across the Square and down towards
"They will shout themselves hoarse there this afternoon," he groaned.
For the first time she betrayed her knowledge of coming events.
"It is amazing," she whispered, "for the writing on the wall is already
Seated in one of the first tier boxes at the Albert Hall, in the
gorgeous but obsolete uniform of a staff officer in the Russian Imperial
Forces, Prince Karschoff, with Nigel on one side and Maggie on the
other, gazed with keen interest at the brilliant scene below and around.
The greatest city the world has ever known seemed in those days to have
entered upon an orgy of extravagance unprecedented in history. Every box
and every yard of dancing space on the floor beneath was crowded with
men and women in wonderful fancy costumes, the women bedecked with
jewels which eager merchants had brought together from every market of
the world; even the men, in their silks and velvets and ruffles,
carrying out the dominant note of wealth. It was a ball given for
charity and under royal patronage.
"All our friends seem to be here to-night," the Prince remarked,
glancing around. "I saw Naida with her father and the eternal Oscar
Immelan. Chalmers is here with an exceedingly gay party, and yonder sits
his Imperial Highness, looking very much the barbaric prince.--By the
by," he added, glancing towards Maggie, "I thought that he was not
Maggie, who seemed a little tired, nodded quietly. It was a week or ten
days later, and an early season was now in full swing.
"He told me that he was not coming," she said. "I suppose the temptation
to wear that gorgeous raiment was too much for him."
"Apropos of that, there is one curious thing to be noted here with
regard to clothes," the Prince continued. "Amongst the men, you find
Venetian Doges, Chancellors, gallants of every age, but scarcely a
single uniform. In a way, this seems typical of the passing of the
militarism of your country. You are beginning to remind me of Venice in
the Middle Ages. There is a new type of brain dominant here, fat instead
of muscle, a citizen aristocracy instead of the lean, clear-eyed,
Maggie moved in her place a little irritably.
"I am tired of warnings," she declared. "I wish some one could do
"It is impossible," the Prince pronounced solemnly. "Napoleon earned for
himself a greater claim to immortality when he christened the English a
nation of shopkeepers than when he won the Battle of Austerlitz. If the
Englishman of to-day saw his material prosperity slipping away from him,
then indeed he would be nervous and restless, ready to lean towards
every wind that blew, to listen to every disquieting rumour. To-day his
bank balance is prodigious, and all's well with the world.--How
wonderfully Prince Shan lives up to his part to-night!"
They looked across towards the opposite box, whose single occupant, in
the bright green robes of a mandarin, sat looking down upon the gay
throng with an absolutely immovable expression. There was something
almost regal about his air of detachment, his solitude amidst such a gay
"There is one of the strangest and most consistent figures in history,"
Karschoff, who was in a talkative frame of mind, went on reflectively.
"I honestly believe that Prince Shan considers himself to be of
celestial descent, to carry in his person the honour of countless
generations of Manchus. He has no intimates. Even Immelan usually has to
seek an audience. What his pleasures may be, who knows?--because
everything that happens with him happens behind closed walls. To-night,
the door of his box is guarded as though he were more than royalty. No
one is allowed to enter unless he has special permission."
"There is some one entering now," Maggie pointed out, "for the first
La Belle Nita stood for a moment in the front of the box. She was
dressed in the gala costume of a Chinese lady, in a cherry-coloured robe
with wide sleeves, her hair, with its many jewelled ornaments, like a
black pool of night, her face ghastly white with a superabundance of
powder. Prince Shan turned his head slightly towards her, and though no
muscle of his face moved, it was obvious that her coming was unwelcome.
She began to talk. He listened with the face of a sphinx. Presently she
drew back into the shadows of the box. She had thrown herself into a
chair, and her face was hidden.
"La Belle Nita has made a mistake," Maggie observed. "His Serene
Highness evidently had no wish to be disturbed."
Karschoff's eyes rested upon the figure in green silk, and they were
filled with an unwilling admiration.
"That man is magnificent," he declared. "Watch his face now that he is
speaking. Not a muscle moves, not a flash in his eyes, yet one has the
fancy that he is saying terrible things."
It was obvious, a moment later, that La Belle Nita had left the box.
Maggie sprang up. Her colour was a little heightened. There was a rare
nervousness in her tone.
"Let us walk around and find some of the others," she suggested, turning
to Nigel. "I want to dance."
They all three passed out and mingled with the dancers. Maggie put on
her mask and deliberately glided into the crowd as though with the
intention of losing herself. It was not until she was underneath Prince
Shan's box and out of sight of its occupant that she paused. Her
thoughts were in a turmoil. His presence there, after his deliberate
assurance to her that he had no intention of coming, his calm and
unnoticing regard of her and every one else, seemed to confirm in every
way the wave of pessimism which she as well as Nigel was experiencing.
She had passed Immelan in the entrance, and there was something
ominously disturbing in his cool, triumphant smile. She pictured to
herself the agreement signed, some nameless terror already launched. She
remembered that Nigel had complained of Naida's inaccessibility during
the last few days. She herself had been surprised at Prince Shan's
apparent withdrawal, temporary though it might be, from the peculiar but
impressive position which he had taken up with regard to her.
She stood back against the wall, in a dark corner, striving to collect
her thoughts, thankful for the brief respite from conversation. A man in
the costume of a monk, who had followed her across the room, touched her
on the shoulder. He spoke in a quiet, unfamiliar voice with a foreign
"You are Lady Maggie Trent?"
"Will you please go to box number fourteen, on the second tier? There is
some one there who waits for you."
"Who is it?" she asked.
The monk had glided away. Maggie, after a few minutes' reflection,
slipped out into the corridor, mounted one flight of stairs, and passed
along the semicircular balcony. The door of box number fourteen was
ajar. She pushed it gently open and glanced in. Seated so as to be out
of sight of the whole house was La Belle Nita. For a moment the two
looked at each other. Then the Chinese girl sprang to her feet, made a
quaint little bow, and, gliding around, closed the door behind her
"Sit down, please," she invited. "I will tell you things you may like to
A sudden thought flashed into Maggie's mind. She began to see light. She
obeyed at once. The two women sat well back and out of sight of the
house. La Belle Nita held the handle of the door in her hand while she
spoke, as though to prevent any one entering.
"I have an enemy who was once a friend," she said, "and I wish to do him
evil. He is not only my enemy, but he is yours. He is the enemy of all
you English people, because it is a great disaster which he plans to
bring upon you."
"You speak of Prince Shan?" Maggie exclaimed.
Even at the mention of his name, the girl shook. She looked around as
though fearing the shadows. She rattled the door to make sure that it
"For him whom you call Prince Shan I have worked many years, first of
all in Paris, now here. I was content with small reward. That reward he
now takes from me. It is my wish to betray him."
"Why do you send for me?" Maggie asked.
"Because you have been an English spy," was the quiet reply. "It may
surprise you that I know that, but I do know. I have been a spy for
Prince Shan in Paris. You were a spy for England in Berlin. You were a
spy for your country's sake; I was a spy for love. Now I betray for
"Please go on."
"Prince Shan came this time to Europe with two schemes in his mind," the
girl continued. "One concerned France. That one he has discarded.
Through me he learned of the military strength of France, her secret
resources, of her tireless watch upon the Rhine. So he listens to
Immelan, and Immelan and he together, oh, English lady, they have made a
"Are you going to tell me what it is?" Maggie asked, her eyes bright
"I cannot tell you because I do not know," was the unwilling admission,
"but I will make it so that you can discover for yourself. A few hours
ago, the plan was submitted to Prince Shan. It lies in the third drawer
of an ebony cabinet, in the room on the left-hand side of the hall after
you have entered his house in Curzon Street."
"But no one can enter it!" Maggie exclaimed. "The place is like a fort.
No stranger may pass the threshold even. The Prince has told me himself
that he receives no visitors."
La Belle Nita smiled. From a pocket somewhere within the folds of her
flowing gown, she produced two small keys.
"Listen," she said. "The house in Curzon Street has been called the
House of Silence. There are many servants there, but they come only from
beneath and when they are summoned. There is what no other person has
ever possessed--the key of the front door. There is also the key of the
cabinet. Prince Shan has ordered his automobile for two o'clock. It is
now barely midnight."
The keys lay in the palm of Maggie's hand. Her heart had begun to beat
quickly. Somehow or other, she was conscious of a thrill of excitement
which she had never before experienced, even when she had sat back in
her corner of the railway carriage, watching for the frontier, knowing
that the wires were busy with her name, and that men who knew no mercy
were on her track.
"If the servants should hear me?" she faltered.
"You say only 'I await the Prince'," La Belle Nita murmured. "That key
never leaves his own person save for one in great favour. They will
believe that he gave it to you. You will be unmolested."
A queer sensation suddenly assailed Maggie. She felt extraordinarily
primitive, ridiculously feminine. She looked at the girl opposite to
her, the girl whose body was draped in perfumed silks, whose face was
thick with rice powder, whose eyes were sad. She felt no pity. What
feeling she had, she did not care to analyse.
"Is this your key?" she asked.
"It was mine once, but its use has been forbidden to me," the girl
replied. "Prince Shan is a changed man. Something has come into his life
of which I know nothing, but as it has come, so must I go. I give you
your chance, lady, but already I weaken. Go quickly, if you go at all.
Please leave me, for I am very unhappy."
Maggie stole quietly out and made her way through the jostling throng
back to her own box, which for the moment was empty. She slipped on her
cloak, and from the hidden spaces where she stood she looked across the
auditorium. The silent figure in green silk robes was still seated in
his place, his eyes following the movements of the dancers, his head a
little thrown back, a slight weariness in his face. He was still alone.
He still had the air of being alone because it was his desire. Once he
looked up towards the box in which she was, and Maggie, although she
knew she was invisible, shrank back against the wall. She set her teeth
hard and looked back through the slightly misty space. An unfamiliar
feeling for a moment almost choked her. She waited until she had
vanquished it, then adjusted her mask and left the box.
From the moment when the taxicab drove away and left her in the deserted
street, Maggie was conscious of a strange sense of suppressed
excitement, something more poignant and mysterious, even, than the
circumstances of her adventure might account for. It was exciting
enough, in its way, to play the part of a marauding thief, to find
herself unexpectedly face to face with a possible solution of the great
problem of Prince Shan's intentions. But beneath all this there was
another feeling, more entirely metaphysical, which in a sense steadied
her nerves because it filled her with a strange impression that she had
lost her own identity, that she was playing somebody else's part in a
novel and thrilling drama.
The street was empty when she inserted the little key in the front door.
There was not a soul there to see her step in as it swung open and then
softly, noiselessly, but without any conscious effort of hers, closed
again behind her. She held her breath and looked around.
The hall was round, painted white and dimly lit by an overhead electric
globe. In the centre was a huge green vase filled with great branches of
some sort of blossoms. Not a picture hung upon the walls, nor was there
any hall stand, chest, closet for coats or hats, or any of the usual
furbishings of such a place. There were three rugs upon the polished
floor and nothing else except a yawning stairway and closed doors.
Whatever servants might be in attendance were evidently in a distant
part of the building. Not a sound was to be heard. Still without any
lack of courage, but oppressed with that curious sense of unreality, she
turned almost automatically towards the door on the left and opened it.
Again it closed behind her noiselessly. She realised that she was in one
of the principal reception rooms of the house, dimly lit as the hall
from a dome-shaped globe set into the ceiling. She moved a yard or two
across the threshold and stood looking about her. Here again there was
an almost singular absence of furniture. The walls were hung with
apple-green silk, richly embroidered. There were some rugs upon the
polished floor, a few quaintly carved chairs set with their backs
against the wall, and opposite to her the ebony cabinet of which La
Belle Nita had spoken. She moved towards it. Somehow or other, she found
herself with the other key in her hand, stooping down. She counted the
drawers--one, two three--fitted in the key, turned it, and realised with
a little start the presence in the drawer of a roll of parchment, tied
around with tape and sealed with a black seal. She laid her hand upon
it, but even at that moment she felt a shiver pass through her body.
There had been no sound in the room, which she could have sworn had been
empty when she entered it, yet she had now a conviction that she was not
alone. She turned slowly around, her lips parted, breathing quickly.
Standing in the middle of the room, a grim, commanding figure in his
flowing green robes, the dim light flashing upon the great diamonds in
his belt, stood Prince Shan.
To Maggie at that moment came a great throbbing in her ears, a sense of
remoteness from this terrible happening, followed by an intense and
vital consciousness of danger. The man who had brought new things into
her life, the polished gentleman of the world, with his fascinating
brain and gentle courtesy, had gone. It was Prince Shan of China who
stood there. She felt the chill of his contempt and disapproval in her
heart. She had forfeited her high estate. She was a convicted thief,--an
She gripped at the side of the cabinet. Her poise had gone. She had the
air of a trapped animal.
"You!" she exclaimed. "How did you get here?"
He answered her without change of expression. A sense of crisis seemed
to have made his tone more level, his face stony.
"It is my house," he said. "I do not often leave it. I sat in my
sleeping chamber behind"--he pointed to the silken curtains through
which he had passed--"I heard your entrance and guessed with pain and
regret at your mission."
"But a quarter of an hour ago you were at the ball!"
"You are mistaken," he replied. "I do not attend such gatherings. I had
given you my word that I should not be there."
"But I saw you," she persisted, "in that same costume!"
"Surely not," he dissented. "The person whom you saw was a gentleman
from my suite, who wore the dress of an inferior mandarin. He is
sometimes supposed to resemble me. I should have believed that your
apprehension of such things would have informed you that no Prince of my
line would wear the garments of his order for a public show."
Her fingers had left the drawer now. She stood upright, pale and
"That woman of your country, then--La Belle Nita--did she lie to me?"
"How can I tell?" he answered coldly, "because I do not know what she
Maggie made an effort to test her position.
"I came here as a thief," she confessed. "I am detected. What are your
He moved very slowly a little closer to her. Maggie felt her sense of
"You came here as a thief," he repeated, "as a spy. Why did you not ask
me for the information you desired?"
"Because you would not have told me," she replied, "at least you would
not have told me the truth."
"For a price," he said, "the truth would have been yours for the asking.
For a different price it is yours now."
Again without noticeable movement he seemed to have drawn nearer. The
edge of that cool ebony cabinet seemed to be burning her fingers. Try
however hard, she could not frame the question which had risen to her
"The price," he continued, "is you--yourself. A few hours ago it was
your love I craved for. Now it is yourself."
He was so near to her now that she faced the steady radiance of his
wonderful eyes, so near that she could trace the faint lines about his
mouth, the strong, stern immobility of his perfectly shaped,
"You are too wonderful," he went on, "to remain a daughter of the crude
West. I want to take you back with me to the land where life still moves
to poetry, to the land where one can live in a world unknown by these
struggling hordes. You shall live in a palace where the perfume of
flowers lingers always, with the sound of running water in your ears, a
palace from which all sordid things and all manner of ugliness are
banished because we alone have found the key to the garden of
He raised his hand, and it seemed as though unseen eyes watched them
from every quarter. The silken curtains through which he had issued were
drawn back by invisible hands, and the inner apartment was disclosed.
Its faint illumination was obscured with purple shades. There was a high
lacquer bedstead, with little ivory ladders on either side, a bedstead
hung with silks of black and purple and mauve. There was a huge couch, a
shrine opposite the bed, in which was a kneeling figure of black marble.
A faint odour, as though from thousand-year-old sachets, very faint
indeed and yet with its mead of intoxication, seemed to steal out from
the room, which had borrowed from its curious hangings, its marvellous
adornments, its strangely attuned atmosphere, all the mysticism of a
"You have come," he said. "Will you stay?" The inertia seemed suddenly
to leave her limbs. She threw up her head as though gasping for air,
escaped, somehow or other, from the thrall of his eyes, and passed
across the smooth floor with flying footsteps. Her fingers seized the
handle of the door and turned it, only to find it held by some invisible
fastening. She shook it passionately. There was not even sound. She
turned back once more. Prince Shan had only slightly changed his
position. He stood upon the threshold of the inner room, and his arms
were outstretched in invitation.
"Am I a prisoner?" she sobbed.
"You came of your own free will," he replied. "You will stay for my
pleasure and for the joy of my being. As for these things," he went on,
moving slowly to the cabinet, picking up the pile of papers and throwing
them on one side contemptuously, "these are only one's amusements. I
pass my lighter hours with them. They interest me in the same manner as
a chess problem. We do not care, we in the mighty East, which of you
holds your head highest this side of Suez. All you western nations are
to us a peck of dust outside our palace gates. Listen, dear one. We can
leave, if you will, to-night, and top the clouds before sunrise. And I
promise you this," he went on, "when you pass from the greyness of these
sordid lands into the everlasting sunshine of the East, you will not
care any longer about these people who go about the world on all fours.
Day by day you will know what life and love mean. You will find the
cloying weight of material things pass from your brain and body, and the
joy of holy and wonderful living take their place."
Her whole being was in a turmoil. She drew nearer to the papers upon the
table. She was now within a yard of Prince Shan himself. He made no
effort to intercept her, no movement of any sort to stop her. Only his
eyes never left her face, and she felt a madness which seemed to be
choking the life out of her, a pounding of her heart against her ribs, a
strange and wonderful joy, a joy in which there was no fear, a joy of
new things and new hopes. With the papers for which she had come only a
few yards away, she forgot them. She turned her head slowly. His arms
seemed to steal out from those long, silken sleeves. She suddenly felt
herself held in a wonderful embrace.
"Dear lady of all my desires," he whispered in her ear, "you shall make
me happy and find the secret of happiness yourself in giving, in
suffering, in love."
For a long and wonderful moment she lay in his arms. She felt the soft
burning of his kisses, the call of the room with its intoxicating, yet
strangely ascetic perfume, the room to which all the time he seemed to
be gently leading her. And then a flood of strange, alien recollections
and realisations seemed to bring her from a better place back to a
worse,--the sound of a passing taxicab, the distant booming of Big Ben,
sounds of the world outside, the actual day-by-day world, with its
day-by-day code of morals, the world in which she lived, and her
friends, and all that had made life for her. She drew away, and he
watched the change in her.
"I want to go!" she cried. "Let me go!"
"You are no prisoner," he assured her sadly.
He clapped his hands. She had reached the door by now and found the
handle yield to her fingers. Outside in the hall, the front door stood
open, and a heavy rain was beating in on the white flags. She looked
around. She was in her own atmosphere here. Their eyes met, and his were
"My servants are assembling," he said. "You will find a car at your
Even then she hesitated. There was a strange return of the wonderful
emotion of a few minutes ago. She hoped almost painfully that he would
call. Instead, he lifted the silk hangings and passed out of sight.
Somehow or other, she made her way down the hall. A butler stood upon
the steps, another servant was holding open the door of a limousine just
drawn up. She had no distinct recollection of giving any address. She
simply threw herself back amongst the cushions. It was not until they
were in Piccadilly that she suddenly remembered that she had left upon
the table the papers he had scornfully offered her. Then she began to
It chanced that the box was empty when Maggie, with flying footsteps,
hastened down the corridor and pushed open the door. She sank into a
chair, her knees trembling, her senses still dazed. Deliberately,
although with hot and trembling fingers, she folded over and tore into
small pieces a programme of the dances, which she had picked up from an
adjoining chair. The action, insignificant though it was, seemed to
bring her back into touch with the real and actual world, the world of
music and wild gayety, of swiftly moving feet, of laughter and
languorous voices. For a brief space of time she had escaped, she had
wandered a little way into an unknown country, a country from whose
thrilling dangers she had emerged with a curious feeling that life would
never be altogether the same again. She glanced at the clock at the back
of the box. She had been absent from the Hall altogether only about an
hour and twenty minutes. There was still at least an hour before it
would be possible for her to plead weariness and escape. And opposite,
in the shadows of the distant box, the mock Prince Shan seemed always to
be gazing at her with that cryptic smile upon his lips.
Presently the door was stealthily opened. A face as pale as death, with
black eyes like pieces of coal, was framed for a moment in the shadowed
slit. A little waft of familiar perfume stole in. La Belle Nita, her
flaming lips widely parted, as soon as she recognised the sole occupant
of the box, crept through the opening and closed the door again.
"You are here?" she exclaimed incredulously. "Your courage failed you?
You did not go?"
"I have been and returned," Maggie answered. "Now tell me what I have
done that you should have plotted this thing against me?"
The girl sat on the edge of a chair and for a moment hummed the refrain
of a sad chant, as she rocked slowly backwards and forwards.
"'What have you done?' the rose asked the butterfly. 'What have you
done?' the mimosa blossom asked the little blue bird, whose wings
fluttered amongst her leaves. 'You have taken love from me, love which
is the blossom of life.'"
"It sounds very picturesque," Maggie said coldly, "but I do not follow
your allegory. What I want to know is why you lied to me, why you sent
me to that house to meet Prince Shan?"
"How did I lie to you?" Nita demanded. "The papers you sought were
there. Were they not yours for the asking, or was the price too great?"
"The papers were there, certainly," Maggie acquiesced, "but you knew
She stopped short. Slowly the Oriental idea of it all was beginning to
frame itself in her mind. She dimly understood the bewilderment in the
"The papers were there, and he, the most wonderful of all men, was
there," Nita murmured, "yet you leave him while the night is yet young,
you return here without them!"
Maggie rose from her chair, moved to the side table and poured herself
out a glass of wine, which she drank hastily. Anything to escape from
the scornful wonder of those questioning eyes!
"I did not go there," she said, "to make bargains with Prince Shan. I
believed as you wished me to believe, that he was here in that box. I
believed that I should have found the house empty, should have found
what I wanted and have escaped with it. Why did you do this thing? Why
did you send me on that errand when you knew that Prince Shan was
"It was my desire that he should know that you are no different from
other women," was the calm reply. "I was a spy for him. You are a
"It was a deliberate plot, then!" Maggie exclaimed, trying to feel the
anger which she imparted to her tone.
La Belle Nita suddenly laughed, softly and like a bird.
"You very, very foolish Englishwoman," she said. "A hand leaned down
from Heaven, and you liked better to stay where you were, but I am
"Because I have been his slave," the girl continued. "At odd, strange
moments he has shown me a little love, he has let me creep into a small
corner of his heart. Now I am cast out, and there is no more life for me
because there is no more love, and there is no more love because, having
felt his, no other can come after. Here have I sat with all the tortures
of Hell burning in my blood because I knew that you and he were there
alone, because I was never sure that, after all, I was not doing my
lord's will. And now I know that I suffered in vain. You did not
Maggie looked across at her visitor reflectively. She was beginning to
regain her poise.
"Listen," she said, "did you seriously expect me to accept Prince Shan
as a lover?"
The girl's eyes were round with wonder.
"It would be your great good fortune," she murmured, "if he should offer
you so wonderful a thing."
Maggie laughed,--persisted in her laugh, although it sounded a little
hard and the mirth a little forced.
"I cannot reason with you," she declared, "because you would not
understand. If you love him so much, why not go back to him? You will
find him quite alone. I dare say you know the secrets of his lockless
doors and hordes of unseen servants."
La Belle Nita rose to her feet. About her lips there flickered the
"Young English lady," she said, "I shall not go, because I am shut for
ever out of his heart. But listen; would you have me go?"
For a moment Maggie's poise was gone again. A strange uncertainty was
once more upon her. She was terrified at her own feelings. The smile on
the other's lips deepened and then passed away.
"Ah," she murmured, as with a little bow she turned towards the door,
"you are not all snow and ice, then! There is something of the woman in
you. He must have known that. I am better content."
Alone in the box, Maggie was confronted once more with spectres. She
felt all the fear and the sweetness of this new awakening. The old
dangers and problems, the danger of life and death, the problem of her
well-ordered days, fell away from her as trifles. There was wilder music
in the world than any to which she had yet listened,--music which seemed
to be awakening vibrant melodies in her terrified heart. The curtain
which hung about the forbidden world had been suddenly lifted. Little
shivers of fear convulsed her. Her standards were confused, her whole
sense of values disturbed. Her primal virginity, left to itself because
it had never needed a guard, had suddenly become a questioning thing.
She sat there face to face with this new phase in her life. She was not
even conscious of the abrupt pause in the music, the agitated murmur of
voices, the sudden cessation of that rhythmical sweep of footsteps on
the floor below.
The door of the box was once more opened. Naida, attired as a lady of
the Russian Court, entered, followed by Nigel. Both were obviously
disturbed. Nigel, who was in ordinary evening dress, carrying his
discarded mask in his hand, was paler than usual and exceedingly grave.
Naida's dark eyes, too, seemed filled with a sense of awesome things.
Almost at the same moment, Maggie realised for the first time that the
music had ceased, that there was a hush outside, curiously perceptible,
"What has happened?" she asked breathlessly.
Nigel had poured out a glass of wine and was holding it to Naida's lips.
"Something very terrible," he said quietly. "Prince Shan was murdered in
his box there a few minutes ago."
Maggie half rose to her feet. The walls seemed spinning round. Then she
looked across the great empty space. The still figure in the apple-green
coat had disappeared.
"Prince Shan was murdered in that box," she repeated, "a few minutes
"Yes!" Nigel assented gravely. "He seems to have feared something of the
sort, for he had two servants on guard outside and announced that he
was not receiving visitors to-night. No one knows any particulars, but a
number of people in the auditorium saw him fall sideways from his chair.
When he was picked up, there was a small dagger through his heart."
"Through Prince Shan's heart?" Maggie persisted wildly.
Suddenly she began to laugh. It was a strange, hysterical ebullition of
feeling, frankly horrifying. Naida gazed at her with distended eyes.
"Prince Shan has never been here!" Maggie explained brokenly. "He has
never left his house in Curzon Street! He is there now!"
Nigel shook his head.
"What is the matter with you, Maggie?" he demanded. "Every one has seen
Prince Shan here. You spoke of him yourself. He was in the box exactly
She shook her head.
"That was one of his suite," she cried. "I know! I tell you I know!" she
went on, her voice rising a little. "Prince Shan is safe in his house in
"How can you possibly know this, Maggie?" Naida intervened eagerly.
"Because I left him there half an hour ago," was the tremulous reply.
There is in the Anglo-Saxon temperament an almost feverish desire to
break away from any condition of strain, a sort of shamefaced impulse to
discard emotionalism. The strange hush which had lent a queer sensation
of unreality to all that was passing in the great building was without
any warning brought to an end. Whispers swelled into speech, and speech
into almost a roar of voices. Then the music struck up, although at
first there were few who cared to dance. There were many who, like
Maggie and her companions, silently left their places and hurried
In the limousine scarcely a word was spoken. Maggie leaned back in her
seat, her face dazed and expressionless. Opposite to her, Nigel sat with
set, grim face, looking with fixed stare out of the window at the
deserted streets. Of the three, Naida seemed more on the point of giving
way to emotion. They had passed Hyde Park Corner, however, before a word
was spoken. Then it was she who broke the silence.
"Where do we go to first?" she demanded.
"To the Milan Court," Nigel replied.
"You are taking me home first, then?"
She was silent for a moment. Then she leaned forward and touched the
"Pull that down, please," she directed. "I am stifling."
He obeyed, and the rush of cold, wet air had a curiously quietening
effect upon the nerves of all of them. Raindrops hung from the leaves of
the lime trees and still glittered upon the windowpane. On the way
towards the river, the masses of cloud were tinged with purple, and
faintly burning stars shone out of unexpectedly clear patches of sky.
The night of storm was over, but the wind, dying away before the dawn,
seemed to bring with it all the sweetness of the cleansed places, to be
redolent even of the budding trees and shrubs,--the lilac bushes,
drooping with their weight of moisture, and the pink and white chestnut
blossoms, dashed to pieces by the rain but yielding up their lives with
sweetness. The streets, in that single hour between the hurrying
homewards of the belated reveller and the stolid tramp of the early
worker, were curiously empty and seemed to gain in their loneliness a
new dignity. Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery in the
background, became almost classical; Whitehall the passageway for
"What does it all mean?" Naida asked, almost pathetically.
It was Maggie who answered. Her tone was lifeless, but her manner
"It means that the attempt to assassinate Prince Shan has failed," she
said. "Prince Shan told me himself that he had no intention of going to
the ball. He kept his word. The man who was murdered was one of his
"But how do you know this?" Naida persisted.
"You heard what I told you in the box," was the quiet reply. "I shall
explain--as much as I can explain--to Nigel when we get home. He can
tell you everything later on to-day at lunch-time, if you like."
"It has been one of the strangest nights I ever remember," Naida
declared, after a brief pause. "Oscar Immelan, who was dining with us,
arrived half an hour late. I have never seen him in such a condition
before. He had the air of a broken man."
"Have you any idea of what had happened?" Nigel asked.
"Only this," Naida replied. "We saw Prince Shan last night. He spent
several hours with us. I may be wrong, but I came to the conclusion then
that he had at any rate modified his views about the whole situation
since his arrival in England."
Again there was a brief silence. The minds of all three of them were
busy with the same thought. Prince Shan's word had been spoken and
Immelan's hopes dashed to the ground,--and within a few hours, this
murder! They nursed the thought, but no one put it into words.
A sleepy-eyed porter opened the door of the car outside the Milan Court.
Naida gathered herself together with a little shiver.
"I think that after to-night," she said quietly, "there need be no
secrets between any of us."
Nigel held her hand in his. Their eyes met, and both of them were
conscious, in that moment, of closer personal relations, of the passing
of a certain sense of strain. She even smiled as she turned away.
"To-morrow," she concluded, "there must be a great exchange of
confidences. I am lunching at Belgrave Square, if Maggie has not
forgotten, and I shall tell you then what I have written to Paul
Matinsky. I showed it to Prince Shan yesterday. Good night!"
She patted Maggie's hand affectionately and flitted away. The revolving
doors closed behind her, and the car swung out once more into the
Strand, glided down the Mall, past Buckingham Palace, and stopped at
last before the great, lifeless house in Belgrave Square. Nigel opened
the front door with a latchkey and turned on the light.
"You won't mind sparing me a few minutes?" he begged.
"I suppose not," she answered, shivering.
He led the way to the study. She threw off her cloak and sank into the
depths of one of the big easy-chairs. She looked very frail and rather
pathetic as she leaned her head against the chair back. Now that the
excitement was over, the strain of the emotion she had experienced
showed in the violet shadows under her eyes and in the droop of her
"I am tired," she said plaintively.
Nigel came over and sat on the arm of her chair.
"Tell me what happened to-night, Maggie."
"The little Chinese girl sent for me to go to her box," she explained.
"She told me where in Prince Shan's house were hidden the papers which
revealed the understanding between Immelan and himself. She gave me a
key of the house and a key of the cabinet. We could both see the man
whom I believed to be Prince Shan seated in his box. She assured me that
he would be there for the next two hours. I went to the house in Curzon
His monosyllable was sharp and incisive. His face was grey and anxious.
She herself remained lifeless. All that there was of emotion between
them seemed to have become vested in his searching eyes.
"I found what I believe to have been the papers. They were in the
cabinet, just where she had told me. Then I turned around and found
Prince Shan watching me. He had been there all the time."
"Go on, please."
"At first he said little, but I knew that he was very angry. I have
never felt so ashamed in my life."
"You must tell me the rest, please."
She stirred uneasily in her chair.
"It is very difficult," she confessed frankly.
"Remember," he persisted, "that in a way, Maggie, I am your guardian. I
am responsible, too, for anything which may happen to you whilst you are
engaged in work for the good of our cause. You seem to have walked into
a trap. Did he threaten you, or what?"
"There was nothing definite," she answered, "and yet--he made me
"Made you understand what?"
"His wishes," she replied, looking up coolly. "He offered me the
"That damned Chinaman!"
There was a cold light in her eyes which Nigel had met with before and
"You forget yourself, Nigel," she said. "Prince Shan is a great
"The rest? Tell me the rest," he demanded.
"I am here," she reminded him.
"And the papers?"
"I came away without them."
He turned, and, walking to the window, threw it open. The dawn had
become almost silvery, and the leaves of the overhanging trees were
rustling in the faintest of breezes. Presently he came back.
"What exactly are your feelings for this man, Maggie?" he asked.
For the first time he was struck with a certain pathos in her immobile
face. She looked up at him, and there was a gleam almost of fear in her
"I don't know, Nigel," she confessed.
He moved restlessly about the room, seemed to notice for the first time
the whisky and soda set out upon the sideboard and the open box of
cigarettes. He helped himself and came back.
"Did you read the papers?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I had no chance."
"You don't know for certain what they were about?"
"I think I do," she replied. "I believe they contained the text of the
agreement between Immelan and Prince Shan. I believe they would have
shown us exactly what we have to fear."
He stood there for a moment thoughtfully.
"To-night," he said, "I find it difficult to concentrate upon these
things. Naida was extraordinarily hopeful. She has seen Prince Shan, and
between them I believe that they have decided to let Oscar Immelan's
scheme alone. Karschoff, too, has heard rumours. He is of the same
opinion. Somehow or other, though, I seem to have lost my sense of
perspective. A greater fear has come into my heart, Maggie."
She rose to her feet and laid her hands upon his shoulders.
"Nigel," she whispered, "I cannot answer you. I cannot say what you
would like me to say, although, on the other hand, there is no surety of
what you seem to fear. I am going to bed. I am very tired."
A feeble shaft of sunlight stole into the room, flickered and passed
away, then suddenly reappeared. Nigel turned and opened the door, and
she passed out, curiously silent and absorbed. He looked after her,
perplexed and worried. Suddenly a strangely commonplace, yet--in the
silence of the house and the great hall--an almost dramatic sound
startled him. The front doorbell rang sharply. After a moment's
hesitation, he hurried to it himself. Karschoff stood upon the steps,
still in his evening clothes, his face a little drawn and haggard in the
"I could not resist coming in, Nigel," he said. "I saw the light in the
study from outside. Is there any definite news?"
Nigel drew him inside.
"There are indications," he replied cautiously, "that the present danger
"I gathered so from Naida," he admitted. "Prince Shan, though, is the
pivot upon which the whole thing turns. You have heard nothing final
"Nothing! Tell me, was any one arrested at the Albert Hall?"
"No one. The murdered man, as I suppose you have heard, was Sen Lu, one
of the Prince's secretaries."
"The whole thing seems strange," Nigel remarked. "Do you suppose Prince
Shan knew that an attempt upon his life was likely to-night?"
Karschoff shook his head doubtfully.
"It is difficult to say. These Orientals contrive to surround themselves
with such an atmosphere of mystery. But from what I know of Prince
Shan," he went on, "I do not think that he is one to shirk danger--even
from the assassin's dagger."
A milk cart drew up with a clatter outside. There was the sound of the
area gate being opened. Karschoff put on his hat. He looked Nigel in the
"Maggie," he began--
Nigel nodded understandingly as he threw open the front door.
"I'll tell you about it to-morrow," he promised, "or rather later on
to-day. She's a little overwrought. Otherwise--there's nothing."
Karschoff turned away with a sigh of relief.
"I am glad," he said. "Prince Shan is the soul of honour according to
his own standard, but these Orientals--one never knows. I am glad,
In his spacious reception room, with its blue walls, the high vases of
flowers, the faint odour of incense, its indefinable ascetic charm,
Prince Shan sat in his high-backed chair whilst Li Wen, his trusted
secretary talked. Li Wen was very eloquent. His tone was never raised,
he never forgot that he was speaking to a being of a superior world. He
had a great deal to say, however, and he was eager to say it. Prince
Shan, as he listened, smoked a long cigarette in a yellow tube. He wore
a ring in which was set an uncut green stone on the fourth finger of his
left hand. Although the hour was barely nine o'clock, he was shaved and
dressed as though for a visit of ceremony. He listened to Li Wen gravely
"I am sorry about the little one," he said, looking through the cloud of
tobacco smoke up towards the ceiling. "Nita has been very useful. She
has been as faithful, too, as is possible for a woman."
Li Wen bowed and waited. He knew better than to interrupt.
"It was through the information which Nita brought me," his master went
on, "that I have been able to check the truth of Immelan's statement as
to the French dispositions and the _rapprochement_ with Italy. Nita has
served me very well indeed. What she has done in this matter, she has
done in a moment of caprice."
"My lord," Li Wen ventured, "a woman is of no account in the plans of
the greatest. She is like a leaf blown hither or thither on the winds of
love or jealousy. She may be used, but she must be discarded."
"It is a strange world, this western world," Prince Shan mused. "In our
own country, Li Wen, we plot or we fight, we build the great places,
climb to the lofty heights, and when we rest we pluck flowers, and women
are our flowers. But here, while one builds, the women are there; while
one climbs, the women are in the way. They jostle the thoughts, they
disturb the emotions, not only of the poet and the pleasure seeker, but
of the man who hews his way upwards to the goal he seeks. And it is very
deliberate, Li Wen. An Englishman eats and drinks in public and places
opposite him a flower he has plucked or hopes to pluck. He drugs himself
deliberately. Half the time when he should be soaring in his thoughts,
he descends of deliberate intent. Instead of his flower, he makes his
woman the partner of his grossness."
"The master speaks," Li Wen murmured. "But what of the woman? She awaits
"I shall hear what she has to say," Prince Shan decided.
Walking backwards as nimbly as a cat, his head drooped, his hands in
front of him, Li Wen left his master's presence. A moment later he
reappeared, ushering in La Belle Nita. Prince Shan waved him away. The
girl came slowly forward, pale and trembling, smouldering fires in her
narrow eyes. Not a muscle of Prince Shan's face moved. He watched her
approach in silence. She sank on to the floor by the side of his chair.
"What is my master's will?" she asked.
Prince Shan looked downwards at her, and she began to tremble again.
There was nothing threatening in his eyes, nothing menacing in his
expression. Nevertheless, she felt the chill of death.
"You have done me many good and faithful services, Nita," he said. "What
evil spirit has put it into your brain that it would be a good thing to
Her scarlet lips opened and closed again.
"How have I deceived?" she faltered. "I gave the keys to the woman with
the blue eyes, and I sent her to my lord. It was a hard thing to do
that, but I did it. Was there any risk of evil? My lord was here to deal
"Why did you do this thing, Nita?" he asked.
"My lord knows," she answered simply. "I did it to bring evil upon this
English woman whom he has preferred. I did it that he might understand.
It was my lord himself who told me that she was a spy. Now it is
Prince Shan's fingers stole into the pocket of his coat. He held out a
crumpled sheet of paper, on which was written a single sentence. The
girl began to shiver.
"You have been very anxious indeed, Nita," he said, "to bring evil upon
this woman. This is the message you sent to Immelan. Do you recognise
your words? Listen, these are your words:
"'The greatest of all will desert you, if the Englishwoman whom he loves
is not speedily removed. Even to-night he may give papers into her hand,
and your secret will be known.'"
The girl sat transfixed. She seemed to have lost all power of speech.
"That is a copy of the message which you sent to Immelan," he told her
"It is the terrible Li Wen," she faltered. "He has the second sight. The
devil walks with him."
"The devil is sometimes a useful confederate," her companion continued
equably. "You warned Immelan that it was in my mind to refuse his terms
and to open my heart to the Englishwoman, and you seduced Sen Lu to
carry your message. Yet your judgment was at fault. The hand of Immelan
was stretched out against me, and me alone. But for my knowledge of
these things, I might have sat in the place of Sen Lu, who rightly died
in my stead. What have you to say?"
She rose to her feet. He made no movement, but his eyes watched her, and
the muscles of his body stiffened. He watched the white hand which stole
irresolutely towards the loose folds of her coat.
"You ask me why I have done this," she cried, "but you already know. It
is because you have taken this woman with the blue eyes into your
"If that were true," he answered, "of what concern is it to others? I am
"You sent me here to breathe this cursed western atmosphere," she
moaned, "to drink in their thoughts and see with their eyes. I see and
know the folly of it all, but who can escape? Jealousy with us is a
disease. Over there one creeps away like a hurt animal because there is
nothing else. Here it is different. The Frenchwoman, the Englishwoman,
who loses her lover--she does not fold her hands. She strikes, she is a
wronged creature. I too have felt that."
Her master sat for long in silence.
"You are right," he pronounced. "I shall try to be just. You are a
person of small understanding. You have never made any effort to live
with your head in the clouds. Let that be so. The fault was mine."
"I do not wish to live," she cried.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Live or die--what does it matter?" he answered indifferently. "With
life there is pain, and with death there is none, but if you choose
life, remember this. The woman with the blue eyes, as you call her, has
become the star of my life. If harm should come to her, not only you,
but every one of your family and race, in whatsoever part of the world
they may be, will leave this life in agony."
The girl stood and wondered.
"My lord thinks so much of a plaything?" she murmured.
Prince Shan frowned. His finely shaped, silky eyebrows almost met. She
covered her eyes and drooped her head.
"We of the East," he said, "although we are the mightier race, progress
slowly, because the love of new things is not with us. Something of
western ways I have learned, and the love of woman. It is not for a
plaything I desire her whom we will not name. She shall sit by my side
and rule. I shall wed her with my brain as with my body. Our minds will
move together. We shall feel the same shivering pleasure when we rule
the world with great thoughts as when our bodies touch. I shall teach
her to know her soul, even as my own has been revealed to me."
"No woman is worthy of this, my lord," the girl faltered.
He waved his hand and she stole away. At the door he stopped her.
"Do you go to life or death, Nita?" he asked.
She looked at him with a great sorrow.
"I am a worthless thing," she replied. "I go where my lord's words have
Li Wen reappeared presently for an appointed audience. He brought
"Highness," he announced, "there is a code dispatch here from Ki-Chou.
An American gained entrance to the City last week. Yesterday he left by
aeroplane for India. He was overtaken and captured. It is feared,
however, that he has agents over the frontier, for no papers were found
"It was a great achievement," Prince Shan said thoughtfully. "No other
foreigner has ever passed into our secret city. Is there word as to how
he got there?"
"He came as a Russian artificer from that city in Russia of which we do
not speak," Li Wen replied. "He brought letters, and his knowledge was
"His name?" the Prince asked.
"Gilbert Jesson, Highness. His passport and papers refer to Washington,
but his message, if he sent one, is believed to have come to London."
"The man must die," the Prince said calmly. "That, without doubt, he
expects. Yet the news is not serious. My heart has spoken for peace, Li
Li Wen bowed low. His master watched him curiously.
"If I had asked it, Li Wen, where would your counsel have led?"
"Towards peace, Highness. I do not trust Immelan. It is not in such a
manner that China's Empire shall spread. There are ancestors of mine who
would turn in their graves to find China in league with a western
"You are a wise man, Li Wen," his master declared. "We hold the mastery
of the world. What shall we do with it?"
"The mightiest sword is that which enforces peace," was the calm reply.
"Highness, the lady whom you were expecting waits in the anteroom."
Prince Shan nodded. He welcomed Naida, who was ushered in a moment or
two later, with rather more than his usual grave and pleasant courtesy,
leading her himself to a chair.
"I wondered," she confessed, "if I were ever to be allowed to see inside
your wonderful house."
"It is my misfortune to be compelled to pay so brief a visit to this
country," he replied. "As a rule, it gives me great pleasure to open my
rooms three evenings and entertain those who care to come and see me."
"I have heard of your entertainments," she said, smiling. "Prima donnas
sing. You rob the capitals of Europe to find your music. Then the great
Monsieur Auguste is lured from Paris to prepare your supper, and not a
lady leaves without some priceless jewel."
"I entertain so seldom," he reminded her. "I fear that the fame of my
feasts has been exaggerated."
"When do you leave, Prince?" she asked him.
"Within a few days," he replied.
"I come for your last word," she announced. "All that I have written to
Paul Matinsky you know."
"The last word is not yet to be spoken," he said. "This, however, you
may tell Matinsky. The scheme of Oscar Immelan has been laid before me.
I have rejected it."
"In what other way, then, would you use your power?" she asked.
He made no answer. She watched him with a great and growing curiosity.
"Prince," she said, "they tell me that you are a great student of
"I have read what is known of the history of most of the countries of
the world," he admitted.
"There have been men," she persisted, "who have dealt in empires for the
price of a woman's smile."
"Such men have loved," he said, "as I love."
"Yet for you life has always been a great and lofty thing," she reminded
him. "You could not stand where you do if you had not realised the
beauty and wonder of sacrifice. Fate has given the peace of the world
into your keeping. You will not juggle with the trust?"
He rose to his feet. A servant stood almost immediately at the open
"Fate and an American engineer," he remarked with a smile. "I thank you,
dear lady, for your visit. You will hear my news before I leave."
She looked into his eyes for a moment.
"It is a great decision," she said, "which rests with you!"
An hour or so later, Prince Shan left his house in Curzon Street and,
followed at a discreet distance by two members of his household,
strolled into the Park. It had pleased him that morning to conform
rigorously to the mode of dress adopted by the fashionable citizens of
the country which he was visiting. Few people, without the closest
observation, would have taken him for anything but a well-turned-out,
exceedingly handsome and distinguished-looking Englishman. He carried
himself with a faint air of aloofness, as though he moved amongst scenes
in which he had no actual concern, as though he were living, in thought
at any rate, in some other world. The morning was brilliantly sunny, and
both the promenade and the Row were crowded. Slightly hidden behind a
tree, he stood and watched. A gay crowd of promenaders passed along the
broad path, and the air was filled with the echo of laughter, the jargon
of the day, intimate references to a common world, invitations lightly
given and lightly accepted. It was Sunday morning, in a season when
colour was the craze of the moment, and the women who swept by seemed to
his rather mystical fancy like the flowers in some of the great open
spaces he knew so well, stirred into movement by a soft wind. They were
very beautiful, these western women; handsome, too, the men with whom
they talked and flirted. Always they had that air, however, of absolute
complacency, as though they felt nothing of the quest which lay like a
thread of torture amongst the nerves of Prince Shan's being. There was
no more distinguished figure among the men there than he himself, and
yet the sense of alienation grew in his heart as he watched. There were
many familiar faces, many to whom he could have spoken, no one who would
not have greeted him with interest, even with gratification. And yet he
had never been so deeply conscious of the gulf which lay between the
oriental fatalism of his life and ways and the placid self-assurance of
these westerners, so well-content with the earth upon which their feet
fell. He had judged with perfect accuracy the place which he held in
their thoughts and estimation. He was something of a curiosity, his
title half a joke, the splendour of his long race a thing unrealisable
by these scions of a more recent aristocracy. Yet supposing that this
new wonder had not come into his life, that Immelan had been a shade
more eloquent, had pleaded his cause upon a higher level, that Naida
Karetsky also had formed a different impression of the world which he
was studying so earnestly,--what a transformation he could have brought
upon this light-hearted and joyous scene! The scales had so nearly
balanced; at the bottom of his heart he was conscious of a certain faint
contempt for the almost bovine self-satisfaction of a nation without
eyes. Literature and painting, art in all its far-flung branches, even
science, were suffering in these days from a general and paralysing
inertia. Life which demanded no sacrifice of anybody was destructive of
everything in the nature of aspiration. Sport seemed to be the only
incentive to sobriety, the desire to live long in this fat land the only
brake upon an era of self-indulgence. He looked eastwards to where his
own millions were toiling, with his day-by-day maxims in their ears, and
it seemed to his elastic fancy that he was inhaling a long breath of
cooler and more vigorous life.
The current of his reflections was broken. He had moved a little towards
the rails, and he was instantly aware of the girl cantering towards
him,--a slight, frail figure, she seemed, upon a great bay horse. She
wore a simple brown habit and bowler hat, and she sat her horse with
that complete lack of self-consciousness which is the heritage of a born
horsewoman. She was looking up at the sky as she cantered towards him,
with no thought of the crowds passing along the promenade. Yet, as she
drew nearer, she suddenly glanced down, and their eyes met. As though
obeying his unspoken wish, she reined in her horse and came close to the
rails behind which he stood for a moment bareheaded. There was the
faintest smile upon her lips. She was amazingly composed. She had asked
herself repeatedly, almost in terror, how they should meet when the time
came. Now that it had happened, it seemed the most natural thing in the
world. She was scarcely conscious even of embarrassment.
"You are demonstrating to the world," she remarked, "that the reports of
your death this morning were exaggerated?"
"I had forgotten the incident," he assured her calmly.
His callousness was so unaffected that she shivered a little.
"Yet this Sen Lu, this man for whom you were mistaken, was an intimate
member of your household, was he not?"
"Sen Lu was a very good friend," Prince Shan answered. "He did his duty
for many years. If he knows now that his life was taken for mine, he is
happy to have made such atonement."
She manoeuvred her horse a little to be nearer to him.
"Why was Sen Lu murdered?" she asked.
"There are those," he replied, "of whom I myself shall ask that question
before the day is over."
"You have an idea, then?" she persisted.
"If," he said, "you desire my whole confidence, it is yours."
She sat looking between her horse's ears.
"To tell you the truth," she confessed, "I do not know what I desire.
Your philosophy, I suppose, does not tolerate moods. I shall escape from
them some time, I expect, but just now I seem to have found my way into
a maze. The faces of these people don't even seem real to me, and as for
you, I am perfectly certain that you have never been in China in your
"Tell me the stimulant that is needed to raise you from your apathy," he
asked. "Will you find it in the rapid motion of your horse--a very noble
animal--in the joy of this morning's sunshine and breeze, or in the
toyland where these puppets move and walk?" he added, glancing down the
promenade. "Dear Lady Maggie, I beg permission to pay you a visit of
ceremony. Will you receive me this afternoon?"