Part 4 out of 5
She knew then what it was that she had been hoping for. She looked down
at him and smiled.
"At four o'clock," she invited.
She nodded, touched her horse lightly with the whip, and cantered off.
Prince Shan found himself suddenly accosted by a dozen acquaintances,
all plying him with questions. He listened to them with an amused smile.
"The whole affair is a very simple one," he said. "A member of my
household was assassinated last night. It was probably a plot against my
own life. Those things are more common with us, perhaps, than over
"Jolly country, China, I should think," one of the younger members of
the group remarked. "You can buy a man's conscience there for
Prince Shan looked across at the speaker gravely.
"The market value here," he observed, "seems a little higher, but the
"_Touche_!" Karschoff laughed. "There is another point of view, too. The
further east you go, the less value life has. Westwards, it becomes an
absolute craze to preserve and coddle it, to drag it out to its
furthermost span. The American millionaire, for example, has a resident
physician attached to his household and is likely to spend the aftermath
of his life in a semi-drugged and comatose condition. And in the East,
who cares? If not to-day--to-morrow! Inevitability, which is the
nightmare of the West, is the philosophy of the East. By the by,
Prince," he added, "have you any theory as to last night's attempt?"
"That is just the question," Prince Shan replied, "which two very
intelligent gentlemen from Scotland Yard asked me this morning. Theory?
Why should I have a theory?"
"The attempt was without a doubt directed against you," Karschoff
observed. "Do you imagine that it was personal or political?"
"How can I tell?" the Prince rejoined carelessly. "Why should any one
desire my death? These things are riddles. Ah! Here comes my friend
Immelan!" he went on. "Immelan, help us in this discussion. You are not
one of those who place the gift of life above all other things in the
"My own or another's?" Immelan asked, with blunt cynicism.
"I trust," was the bland reply, "that you are, as I have always esteemed
you, an altruist."
Prince Shan shrugged his shoulders. He was a very agreeable figure in
the centre of the little group of men, the hands which held his malacca
cane behind his back, the smile which parted his lips benign yet
"Because," he explained, "it is a great thing to have more regard for
the lives of others than for one's own, and there are times," he added,
"when it is certainly one's own life which is in the more precarious
There was a little dispersal of the crowd, a chorus of congratulations
and farewells. Immelan and Prince Shan were left alone. The former
seemed to have turned paler. The sun was warm, and yet he shivered.
"Just what do you mean by that, Prince?" he asked.
"You shall walk with me to my house, and I will tell you," was the quiet
"I suppose," Immelan suggested, as the two men reached the house in
Curzon Street, "it would be useless to ask you to break your custom and
lunch with me at the Ritz or at the club?"
His companion smiled deprecatingly.
"I have adopted so many of your western customs," he said
apologetically. "To this lunching or dining in public, however, I shall
never accustom myself."
Immelan laughed good-naturedly. The conversation of the two men on their
way from the Park had been without significance, and some part of his
earlier nervousness seemed to be leaving him.
"We all have our foibles," he admitted. "One of mine is to have a pretty
woman opposite me when I lunch or dine, music somewhere in the distance,
a little sentiment, a little promise, perhaps."
"It is not artistic," Prince Shan pronounced calmly. "It is not when the
wine mounts to the head, and the sense of feeding fills the body, that
men speak best of the things that lie near their hearts. Still, we will
let that pass. Each of us is made differently. There is another thing,
Immelan, which I have to say to you."
They passed into the reception room, with its shining floor, its
marvellous rugs, its silken hangings, and its great vases of flowers.
Prince Shan led his companion into a recess, where the light failed to
penetrate so completely as into the rest of the apartment. A wide
settee, piled with cushions, protruded from the wall in semicircular
shape. In front of it was a round ebony table, upon which stood a great
yellow bowl filled with lilies. Prince Shan gave an order to one of the
servants who had followed them into the room and threw himself at full
length among the cushions, his head resting upon his hand, his face
turned towards his guest.
"They will bring you the aperitif of which you are so fond," he said,
"also cigarettes. Mine, I know, are too strong for you."
"They taste too much of opium," Immelan remarked.
Prince Shan's eyes grew dreamy as he gazed through a little cloud of
"There is opium in them," he admitted. "Believe me, they are very
wonderful, but I agree with you that they are not for the ordinary
The soft-footed butler presented a silver tray, upon which reposed a
glassful of amber liquid. Immelan took it, sipped it appreciatively, and
lit a cigarette.
"Your man, Prince," he acknowledged, "mixes his vermouths wonderfully."
"I am glad that what he does meets with your approval," was the
courteous reply. "He came to me from one of your royal palaces. I simply
told him that I wished my guests to have of the best."
"Yet you never touch this sort of drink yourself," Immelan observed
The Prince shook his head.
"Sometimes I take wine," he said. "That is generally at night. A few
evenings ago, for instance," he went on, with a reminiscent smile, "I
drank Chateau Yquem, smoked Egyptian cigarettes, ate some muscatel
grapes, and read 'Pippa Passes.' That was one of my banquets."
"As a matter of fact," Immelan remarked thoughtfully, "you are far more
western in thought than in habit. The temperance of the East is in your
"I find that my manner of life keeps the brain clear," Prince Shan said
slowly. "I can see the truth sometimes when it is not very apparent. I
saw the truth last night, Immelan, when I sent Sen Lu to die."
Immelan's expression was indescribable. He sat with his mouth wide open.
The hand which held his glass shook. He stared across the bowl of lilies
to where his host was looking up through the smoke towards the ceiling.
"Sen Lu was a traitor," the latter went on, "a very foolish man who with
one act of treachery wiped out the memory of a lifetime of devotion. In
the end he told the truth, and now he has paid his debt."
"What do you mean?" Immelan demanded, in a voice which he attempted in
vain to control. "How was Sen Lu a traitor?"
"Sen Lu," the Prince explained, "was in the pay of those who sought to
know more of my business than I chose to tell--who sought, indeed, to
anticipate my own judgment. When they gathered from him, and, alas! from
my sweet but frail little friend Nita, that the chances were against my
signing a certain covenant, they came to what, even now, seems to me a
strange decision. They decided that I must die. There I fail wholly to
follow the workings of your mind, Immelan. How was my death likely to
serve your purpose?"
Immelan was absolutely speechless. Three times he opened his lips, only
to close them again. Some instinct seemed to tell him that his companion
had more to say. He sat there as though mesmerised. Meanwhile, the
Prince lit another cigarette.
"A blunder, believe me, Immelan," he continued thoughtfully. "Death will
not lower over my path till my task is accomplished. I am young--many
years younger than you, Immelan--and the greatest physicians marvel at
my strength. Against the assassin's knife or bullet I am secure. You
have been brought up and lived, my terrified friend, in a country where
religion remains a shell and a husk, without comfort to any man. It is
not so with me, I live in the spirit as in the body, and my days will
last until the sun leans down and lights me to the world where those
dwell who have fulfilled their destiny."
Immelan drained the contents of the glass which his unsteady hand was
holding. Then he rose to his feet. The veins on his forehead were
standing out, his blue eyes were filled with rage.
"Blast Sen Lu!" he muttered. "The man was a double traitor!"
"He has atoned," his companion said calmly. "He made his peace and he
went to his death. It seems very fitting that he should have received
the dagger which was meant for my heart. Now what about you, Oscar
Immelan laughed harshly.
"If Sen Lu told you that I was in this plot against your life, he lied!"
The Prince inclined his head urbanely.
"Such a man as Sen Lu goes seldom to his death with a lie upon his
lips," he said. "Yet I confess that I am puzzled. Why should you plan
this thing, Immelan? You cannot know what is in my mind concerning your
covenant. I have not yet refused to sign it."
"You have not refused to sign it," Immelan replied, "but you will
"Indeed?" the Prince murmured.
"You are even now trifling with the secrets confided to you," Immelan
went on. "You know very well that the woman who came to you last night
is a spy whose whole time is spent in seeking to worm our secret from
"Your agents keep themselves well informed," was the calm comment.
"Yours still have the advantage of us," Immelan answered bitterly. "Now
listen to me. I have heard it said of you--I have heard that you claim
yourself--that you have never told a falsehood. We have been allies.
Answer me this question. Have you parted with any of our secrets?"
"Not one," the Prince assured him. "A certain lady visited this house
last night, not, as you seem to think, at my invitation, but on her own
initiative. She was not successful in her quest."
"She would not pay the price, eh?" Immelan sneered. "By the gods of your
ancestors, Prince Shan, are there not women enough in the world for you
without bartering your honour, and the great future of your country, for
a blue-eyed jade of an Englishwoman?"
The Prince sat slowly up. His appearance was ominous. His face had
become set as marble; there was a look in his eyes like the flashing of
a light upon black metal. He contemplated his visitor across the lilies.
"A man so near to death, Immelan," he enjoined, "might choose his words
Immelan laughed scornfully.
"I am not to be bullied," he declared. "Your doors with their patent
locks have no fears for me. When you walk abroad, you are followed by
members of your household. When you come to my rooms, they attend you. I
am not a prince, but I, too, have a care for my skin. Three of my secret
service men never let me out of their sight. They are within call at
His host smiled.
"This is very interesting," he said, "but you should know me better,
Immelan, than to imagine that mine are the clumsy methods of the dagger
or the bullet. The man whom I will to die--drinks with me."
He pointed a long forefinger at the empty glass. Immelan gazed at it,
and the sweat stood out upon his forehead.
"My God!" he muttered. "There was a queer taste! I thought that it was
"There was nothing in that glass," the Prince declared, "which the
greatest chemist who ever breathed could detect as poison, yet you will
die, my friend Immelan, without any doubt. Shall I tell you how? Would
you know in what manner the pains will come? No? But, my friend, you
disappoint me! You showed so much courage an hour ago. Listen. Feel for
a swelling just behind--Ah!"
Immelan was already across the room. The Prince touched a bell, the
doors were opened. Ghastly pale, his head swimming, the tortured man
dashed out into the street. The Prince leaned back amongst his cushions,
untied a straw-fastened packet of his long cigarettes, lit one, and
closed his eyes.
Nigel was just arriving at Dorminster House when Maggie returned from
her ride. He assisted her to dismount and entered the house with her.
"There is something here I should like to show you, Maggie," he said, as
he drew a dispatch from his pocket. "It was sent round to me half an
hour ago by Chalmers, from the American Embassy."
"It's about Gilbert Jesson!" Maggie exclaimed, holding out her hand for
"There's a note inside, and an enclosure," he said. "You had better read
Maggie opened out the former:
MY DEAR DORMINSTER,
I am afraid there is rather bad news about Jesson. One of our
regular line of airships, running from San Francisco to
Vladivostok, has picked up a wireless which must have come from
somewhere in the South of China. They kept it for a few days, worse
luck, thinking it was only nonsense, as it was in code. Washington
got hold of it, however, and cabled it to us last night. I enclose
a copy, decoded.
The copy was brief enough. Maggie felt her heart sink as she glanced
through the few lines:
Report dispatched London. Fear escape impossible. Good-by.
"Horrible!" Maggie exclaimed, with a shiver. "I thought he was in
"So did we all," Nigel replied. "He must have come to the conclusion
that the key to the riddle he was trying to solve was in China, and gone
on there. Look here, Maggie," he continued, after a moment's hesitation,
"do you think anything could be done for Jesson with Prince Shan?"
Maggie was silent. They were standing in a shaded corner of the hall,
but a fleck of sunshine shone in her hair. She was still a little out of
breath with the exercise, her cheeks full of healthy colour, her eyes
bright. She tapped her skirt with her riding whip. Nigel watched her a
"Prince Shan is calling here this afternoon," Maggie announced. "I hope
you don't mind."
"What are you going to say to him?" Nigel asked bluntly.
There was a short, tense silence. Even at the thought of the crisis
which she knew to be so close at hand, Maggie felt herself unnerved and
in dubious straits.
"I do not know," she said at last. "For one thing, I do not know what he
"What he wants seems perfectly plain to me," Nigel replied gravely. "He
Maggie made a desperate effort to regain the lightheartedness of a few
"If you believe that," she said, "your composure is most unflattering."
There was a ring at the front doorbell, and a familiar voice was heard
outside. Maggie turned away to the staircase with a little sigh of
"Naida!" she exclaimed. "I remember now I asked her for a quarter past
one instead of half-past. You must entertain her, Nigel. I'll change
into something quickly. And of course I'll speak to Prince Shan. We
mustn't lose a minute about that. I'll telephone from my room in a few
minutes, Naida. Nigel will look after you."
Naida came down the hall, cool and exquisitely gowned in a creation of
shimmering white. Nigel led her into the rarely used drawing-room and
found a chair for her between the open window and the conservatory. At
first they exchanged but few words. The sense of her near presence
affected Nigel as nothing of the sort had ever done before. She for her
part seemed quite content with a silence which had in it many of the
essentials of eloquence.
"If the history of these days is ever written by an irascible German
historian," Naida remarked at length, "he will probably declare that the
destinies of the world have been affected during this last month by an
outburst of primitivism. Do you know that I have written quite nice
things to Paul about you English people? Honest things, of course, but
still things which you helped me to discover. And Prince Shan, too. I
think that when he rode here through the clouds, he believed in his
heart that he was coming as a harbinger of woe."
"You really think, then, that the crisis is past?" Nigel asked.
"I am almost sure of it. Prince Shan returns to China within the course
of the next few days."
"We have lived so long," Nigel observed, "in dread of the unknown. I
wonder whether we shall ever understand the exact nature of the danger
with which we were faced."
"It depends upon Prince Shan," she replied. "The terms were Immelan's,
but the method was his."
"Do you believe," he asked a little abruptly, "that the attempt on
Prince Shan's life last night was made by Immelan?"
There was a touch, perhaps, of her Muscovite ancestry in the cool
indifference with which she considered the matter.
"I should think it most likely," she decided. "Prince Shan never changes
his mind, and I believe that he has decided against Immelan's scheme.
Immelan's only chance would be in Prince Shan's successor."
"Why is China so necessary?" Nigel asked.
She turned and smiled at her companion.
"Alas!" she sighed, "we have reached an _impasse_. The great English
diplomat asks too many questions of the simple Russian girl."
"It is unfortunate," he replied, in the same vein, "because I feel like
"As, for example?"
"Whether you would be content to live for the rest of your life in any
other country except Russia."
"A woman is content to live anywhere, under certain circumstances," she
Karschoff, discreetly announced, entered the room with flamboyant ease.
"It is well to be young!" he exclaimed, as he bent over Naida's fingers.
"You look, my far-away but much beloved cousin, as though you had slept
peacefully through the night and spent the morning in this soft, sunlit
air, with perhaps, if one might suggest such a thing, an hour at a Bond
Street beauty parlour. Here am I with crow's-feet under my eyes and
ghosts walking by my side. Yet none the less," he added, as the door
opened and Maggie appeared, "looking forward to my luncheon and to hear
all the news."
"There is no news," Naida declared, as the butler announced the service
of the meal. "We have reached the far end of the ways. The next
disclosures, if ever they are made, will come from others. At luncheon
we are going to talk of the English country, the seaside, the meadows,
and the quiet places. The time arrives when I weary, weary, of the
brazen ticking of the clock of fate."
"I shall tell you," Nigel declared, "of a small country house I have in
Devonshire. There are rough grounds stretching down to the sea and
crawling up to the moors behind. My grandfather built it when he was
Chancellor of England, or rather he added to an old farmhouse. He called
it the House of Peace."
"My father built a house very much in the same spirit," Naida told them.
"He called it after an old Turkish inscription, engraven on the front of
a villa in Stamboul--'The House of Thought and Flowers.'"
Maggie smiled across the table approvingly.
"I like the conversation," she said. "Naida and I are, after all, women
and sentimentalists. We claim a respite, an armistice--call it what you
will. Prince Karschoff, won't you tell me of the most beautiful house
you ever dwelt in?"
"Always the house I am hoping to end my days in," he answered. "But let
me tell you about a villa I had in Cannes, fifteen years ago. People
used to speak of it as one of the world's treasures."
When the two men were seated alone over their coffee, Nigel passed
Chalmers' note and the enclosure across to his companion.
"You remember I told you about Chalmers' friend, Jesson, the secret
service man who came over to us?" he said. "Chalmers has just sent me
Karschoff nodded and studied the message through his great horn-rimmed
"I thought that he was going to Russia for you," he said.
"So he did. He must have gone on from there."
"And the message comes from Southern China," Prince Karschoff reflected.
Nigel was deep in thought. China, Russia, Germany! Prince Shan in
England, negotiating with Immelan! And behind, sinister, menacing,
"Supposing," he propounded at last, "there really does exist a secret
treaty between China and Japan?"
"If there is," Prince Karschoff observed, "one can easily understand
what Immelan has been at. Prince Shan can command the whole of Asia. I
know they are afraid of something of the sort in the States. An American
who was in the club yesterday told us they had spent over a hundred
millions on their west coast fortifications in the last two years."
"One can understand, too, in that case," Nigel continued, "why Japan
left the League of Nations. That stunt of hers about being outside the
sphere of possible misunderstandings never sounded honest."
"It was unfortunate," Prince Karschoff said, "that America was dominated
for those few months by an honest but impractical idealist. He had the
germ of an idea, but he thrust it on the world before even his own
country was ready for it. In time the nations would certainly have
elaborated something more workable."
"You cannot keep a full-blooded man from clenching his fist if he's
insulted," Nigel pointed out, "and nations march along the same lines as
individuals. Its existence has never for a single moment weakened
Germany's hatred of England, and the stronger she grows, the more she
flaunts its conditions. France guards her frontiers, night and day, with
an army ten times larger than she is allowed. Russia has become the
country of mysteries, with something up her sleeve, beyond a doubt, and
there are cities in modern China into which no European dare penetrate.
Japan quite frankly maintains an immense army, the United States is
silently following suit--and God help us all if a war does come!"
"You are right," Karschoff assented gloomily. "The last glamour of
romance has gone from fighting. There were remnants of it in the last
war, especially in Palestine and Egypt and when we first overran
Austria. To-day, science would settle the whole affair. The war would be
won in the laboratory, the engine room and the workshop. I doubt
whether any battleship could keep afloat for a week, and as to the
fighting in the air, if a hundred airships were in action, I do not
suppose that one of them would escape. Then they say that France has a
gun which could carry a shell from Amiens to London, and more mysterious
than all, China has something up her sleeve which no one has even a
"Except Jesson," Nigel muttered.
"And Jesson's gleam of knowledge, or suspicion," Prince Karschoff
remarked, "seems to have brought him to the end of his days. Can
anything be done with Prince Shan about him, do you think?"
"Only indirectly, I am afraid," Nigel replied. "Maggie is seeing him
this afternoon. As a matter of fact, I believe she telephoned to him
before luncheon, but I haven't heard anything yet. When a man goes out
on that sort of a job, he burns his boats. And Jesson isn't the first
who has turned eastwards, during the last few months. I heard only
yesterday that France has lost three of her best men in China--one who
went as a missionary and two as merchants. They've just disappeared
without a word of explanation."
The telephone extension bell rang. Nigel walked over to the sideboard
and took down the receiver.
"Is that Lord Dorminster?" a man's voice asked.
"Speaking," Nigel replied.
"I am David Franklin, private secretary to Mr. Mervin Brown," the voice
continued. "Mr. Mervin Brown would be exceedingly obliged if you would
come round to Downing Street to see him at once."
"I will be there in ten minutes," Nigel promised.
He laid down the receiver and turned to Karschoff.
"The Prime Minister," he explained.
"What does he want you for?"
"I think," Nigel replied, "that the trouble cloud is about to burst."
Mr. Mervin Brown on this occasion did not beat about the bush. His old
air of confident, almost smug self-satisfaction, had vanished. He
received Nigel with a new deference in his manner, without any further
sign of that good-natured tolerance accorded by a busy man to a kindly
"Lord Dorminster," he began, "I have sent for you to renew a
conversation we had some little time since. I will be quite frank with
you. Certain circumstances have come to my notice which lead me to
believe that there may be more truth in some of the arguments you
brought forward than I was willing at the time to believe."
"I must confess that I am relieved to hear you say so," Nigel replied.
"All the information which I have points to a crisis very near at hand."
The Prime Minister leaned a little across the table.
"The immediate reason for my sending for you," he explained, "is this.
My friend the American Ambassador has just sent me a copy of a wireless
dispatch which he has received from China from one of their former
agents. The report seems to have been sent to him for safety, but the
sender of it, of whose probity, by the by, the American Ambassador
pledges himself, appears to have been sent to China by you."
"Jesson!" Nigel exclaimed. "I have heard of this already, sir, from a
friend in the American Embassy."
"The dispatch," Mr. Mervin Brown went on, "is in some respects a little
vague, but it is, on the other hand, I frankly admit, disturbing. It
gives specific details as to definite military preparations on the part
of China and Russia, associated, presumably, with a third Power whose
name you will forgive my not mentioning. These preparations appear to
have been brought almost to completion in the strictest secrecy, but the
headquarters of the whole thing, very much to my surprise, I must
confess, seems to be in southern China."
"In that case," Nigel pointed out, "if you will permit me to make a
suggestion, sir, you have a very simple course open to you."
"Send for Prince Shan."
"Prince Shan," the Prime Minister replied, with knitted brows, "is not
over in this country officially. He has begged to be excused from
accepting or returning any diplomatic courtesies."
"Nevertheless," Nigel persisted, "I should send for Prince Shan. If it
had not been," he went on slowly, "for the complete abolition of our
secret service system, you would probably have been informed before now
that Prince Shan has been having continual conferences in this country
with one of the most dangerous men who ever set foot on these
"Immelan has no official position in this country," the Prime Minister
"A fact which makes him none the less dangerous," Nigel insisted. "He is
one of those free lances of diplomacy who have sprung up during the last
ten or fifteen years, the product of that spurious wave of altruism
which is responsible for the League of Nations. Immelan was one of the
first to see how his country might benefit by the new regime. It is he
who has been pulling the strings in Russia and China, and, I fear,
"What I want to arrive at," Mr. Mervin Brown said, a little impatiently,
"is something definite."
"Let me put it my own way," Nigel begged. "A very large section of our
present-day politicians--you, if I may say so, amongst them, Mr. Mervin
Brown--have believed this country safe against any military dangers,
because of the connections existing between your unions of working men
and similar bodies in Germany. This is a great fallacy for two reasons:
first because Germany has always intended to have some one else pull the
chestnuts out of the fire for her, and second because we cannot
internationalise labour. English and German workmen may come together
on matters affecting their craft and the conditions of their labour, but
at heart one remains a German and one an Englishman, with separate
interests and a separate outlook."
"Well, at the end of it all," Mr. Mervin Brown said, "the bogey is war.
What sort of a war? An invasion of England is just as impossible to-day
as it was twenty years ago."
"I cannot answer your question," he admitted. "I was looking to Jesson's
report to give us an idea as to that."
"You shall see it to-morrow," Mr. Mervin Brown promised. "It is round at
the War Office at the present moment."
"Without seeing it," Nigel went on, "I expect I can tell you one
startling feature of its contents. It suggested, did it not, that the
principal movers against us would be Russian and China and--a country
which you prefer just now not to mention?"
"But that country is our ally!" Mr. Mervin Brown exclaimed.
Nigel smiled a little sadly.
"She has been," he admitted. "Still, if you had been _au fait_ with
diplomatic history thirty years ago, Mr. Mervin Brown, you would know
that she was on the point of ending her alliance with us and
establishing one with Germany. It was only owing to the genius of one
English statesman that at the last moment she almost reluctantly
renewed her alliance with us. She is in the same state of doubt
concerning our destiny to-day. She has seen our last two Governments
forget that we are an Imperial Power and endeavour to apply the
principles of sheer commercialism to the conduct of a great nation. She
may have opened her eyes a thousand years later than we did, but she is
awake enough now to know that this will not do. There is little enough
of generosity amongst the nations; none amongst the Orientals. I have a
conviction myself that there is a secret alliance between China and this
other Power, a secret and quite possibly an aggressive alliance."
Mr. Mervin Brown sat for a few moments deep in thought. Somehow or other
his face had gained in dignity since the beginning of the conversation.
The nervous fear in his eyes had been replaced by a look of deep and
"If you are right, Lord Dorminster," he pronounced presently, "the world
has rolled backwards these last ten years, and we who have failed to
mark its retrogression may have a terrible responsibility thrust upon
"Politically, I am afraid I agree with you," Nigel replied. "Only the
idealist, and the prejudiced idealist, can ignore the primal elements in
human nature and believe that a few lofty sentiments can keep the
nations behind their frontiers. War is a terrible thing, but human life
itself is a terrible thing. Its principles are the same, and force will
never be restrained except by force. If the League of Nations had been
established upon a firmer and less selfish basis, it certainly might
have kept the peace for another thirty or forty years. As it is, I
believe that we are on the verge of a serious crisis."
"War for us is an impossibility," Mr. Mervin Brown declared frankly,
"simply because we cannot fight. Our army consists of policemen; science
has defeated the battleship; and practically the same conditions exist
in the air."
"You sent for me, I presume, to ask for my advice," Nigel said. "At any
rate, let me offer it. I have reason to believe that the negotiations
between Prince Shan and Oscar Immelan have not been entirely successful.
Send for Prince Shan and question him in a friendly fashion."
"Will you be my ambassador?" the Prime Minister asked.
Nigel hesitated for a moment.
"If you wish it," he promised. "Prince Shan is in some respects a
strangely inaccessible person, but just at present he seems well
disposed towards my household."
"Arrange, if you can," Mr. Mervin Brown begged, "to bring him here
to-morrow morning. I will try to have available a copy of the dispatch
from Jesson. It refers to matters which I trust Prince Shan will be able
Nigel lingered for a moment over his farewell.
"If I might venture upon a suggestion, sir," he said, "do not forget
that Prince Shan is to all intents and purposes the autocrat of Asia. He
has taught the people of the world to remodel their ideas of China and
all that China stands for. And further than this, he is, according to
his principles, a man of the strictest honour. I would treat him, sir,
as a valued _confrere_ and equal."
The Prime Minister smiled.
"Don't look upon me as being too intensely parochial, Dorminster," he
said. "I know quite well that Prince Shan is a man of genius, and that
he is a representative of one of the world's greatest families. I am
only the servant of a great Power. He is a great Power in himself."
"And believe me," Nigel concluded fervently, as he made his adieux, "the
greatest autocrat that ever breathed. If, when you exchange farewells
with him, he says--'There will be no war'--we are saved, at any rate for
Maggie, very cool and neat, a vision of soft blue, a wealth of colouring
in the deep brown of her closely braided hair, her lips slightly parted
in a smile of welcome, felt, notwithstanding her apparent composure, a
strange disturbance of outlook and senses as Prince Shan was ushered
into her flower-bedecked little sitting room that afternoon. The unusual
formality of his entrance seemed somehow to suit the man and his manner.
He bowed low as soon as he had crossed the threshold and bowed again
over her fingers as she rose from her easy-chair.
"It makes me very happy that you receive me like this," he told her
simply. "It makes it so much easier for me to say the things that are in
"Won't you sit down, please?" Maggie invited. "You are so tall, and I
hate to be completely dominated."
He obeyed at once, but he continued to talk with grave and purposeful
"I wish," he said, "to bring myself entirely into accord, for these few
minutes, with your western methods and customs. I address you,
therefore, Lady Maggie, with formal words, while I keep back in my
heart much that is struggling to express itself. I have come to ask you
to do me the great honour of becoming my wife."
Maggie sat for a few moments speechless. The thing which she had half
dreaded and half longed for--the low timbre of his caressing voice--was
entirely absent. Yet, somehow or other, his simple, formal words were at
least as disturbing. He leaned towards her, a quiet, dignified figure,
anxious yet in a sense confident. He had the air of a man who has
offered to share a kingdom.
"Your wife," Maggie repeated tremulously.
"The thought is new to you, perhaps," he went on, with gentle tolerance.
"You have believed the stories people tell that in my youth I was vowed
to celibacy and the priesthood. That is not true. I have always been
free to marry, but although to-day we figure as a great progressive
nation, many of the thousand-year-old ideas of ancient China have dwelt
in my brain and still sit enshrined in my heart. The aristocracy of
China has passed through evil times. There is no princess of my own
country whom I could meet on equal terms. So, you see, although it
develops differently, there is something of the snobbishness of your
western countries reflected in our own ideas."
"But I am not a princess," Maggie murmured.
"You are the princess of my soul," he answered, lowering his eyes for a
moment almost reverently. "I cannot quite hope to make you understand,
but if I took for my wife a Chinese lady of unequal mundane rank, I
should commit a serious offence against those who watch me from the
other side of the grave, and to whom I am accountable for every action
of my life. A lady of another country is a different matter."
"But I am an Englishwoman," Maggie said, "and I love my country. You
know what that means."
"I know very well," he admitted. "I had not meant to speak of those
things until later, but, for your country's sake, what greater alliance
could you seek to-day than to become the wife of him who is destined to
be the Ruler of Asia?"
Maggie caught hold of her courage. She looked into his eyes
unflinchingly, though she felt the hot colour rise into her cheeks.
"You did not speak to me of these things, Prince Shan, when I came to
your house last night," she reminded him.
His smile was full of composure. It was as though the truth which sat
enshrined in the man's soul lifted him above all the ordinary emotions
of fear of misunderstandings.
"For those few minutes," he confessed, "I was very angry. It brings
great pain to a man to see the thing he loves droop her wings, flutter
down to earth, and walk the common highway. It is not for you, dear one,
to mingle with that crowd who scheme and cheat, hide and deceive, for
any reward in the world, whether it be money, fame, or the love of
country. You were not made for those things, and when I saw you there,
so utterly in my power, having deliberately taken your risk, I was
angry. For a single moment I meant that you should realise the danger of
the path you were treading. I think that I did make you realise it."
Her eyes fell. He seemed to have established some compelling power over
her. He had met her thoughts before they were uttered, and answered even
her unspoken question.
"I wish you didn't make life so much like a kindergarten," she
complained, with an almost pathetic smile at the corners of her lips.
"It is a very different place," he rejoined fervently, "that I desire to
make of life for you. Listen, please. I have spoken to you first the
formal words which make all things possible between us, and now, if I
may, I let my heart speak. Somewhere not far from Pekin I have a palace,
where my lands slope to the river. For five months in the year my
gardens are starred with blue and yellow flowers, sweet-smelling as the
almond blossom, and there are little pagodas which look down on the blue
water, pagodas hung with creepers, not like your English evergreens, but
with blossoms, pink and waxen, which open as one looks at them and send
out sweet perfumes. When you are there with me, dear one, then I shall
speak to you in the language of my ancestors, which some day you will
understand, and you shall know that love has its cradle in the East, you
shall feel the flame of its birth, the furnace of its accomplishment.
Here my tongue moves slowly, yet I stoop my knee to you, I show you my
heart, and my lips tell you that I love. What that love is you shall
learn some day, if you have the will and the confidence and the soul.
Will you come back to China with me, Maggie?"
She rested her fingers on his hand.
"You are a magician," she confessed. "I am very English, and yet I want
He stood for a moment looking into her eyes. Then he stooped down and
raised her hesitating fingers to his lips.
"I believe that you will come," he said simply. "I believe that you will
ride over the clouds with me, back to the country of beautiful places.
So now I speak to you of serious things. Of money there shall be what
you wish, more than any woman even of your rank possesses in this
country. I shall give you, too, the sister of my great _Black Dragon_ so
that in five days, if you wish, you can pass from any of my palaces to
London. And further than that, behold!"
He drew from his pocket a roll of papers. Maggie recognised it, and her
heart beat faster. Curiously enough, just then she scarcely thought of
its world importance. She remembered only those few moments of strange
thrills, the wonder at finding him in that room, as he stood watching
her, the horror and yet the thrill of his measured words. He laid the
papers upon the table.
"Read them," he invited. "You will understand then the net that has been
closing around your country. You will understand the better if I tell
you this. China and Japan are one. It was my first triumph when
patriotism urged me into the field of politics. We have a single motto,
and upon that is based all that you may read there,--'_Europe for the
Europeans, Asia for us_.'"
Maggie was conscious of a sudden sense of escape from her almost
mesmeric state. The change in his tone, his calm references to things
belonging to another and altogether different world, had dissolved a
situation against the charm of which she had found herself powerless,
even unwilling to struggle. Once more she was back in the world where
for the last two years had lain her chief interests. She took the papers
in her hand and began reading them quickly through. Every now and then a
little exclamation broke from her lips.
"You will observe," her companion pointed out, looking over her
shoulder, "that on paper, at any rate, Japan is the great gainer. She
takes Australia, New Zealand and India. China absorbs Thibet and
reestablishes her empire of forty years ago. The arrangement is based
very largely on racial conditions. China is a self-centered country. We
have not the power of fusion of the Japanese. You will observe further,
as an interesting circumstance, that the American foothold in Asia
disappears as completely as the British."
"But tell me," she demanded, "how are these things to be brought about,
and where does Immelan come in?"
Prince Shan smiled.
"Immelan's position," he explained, "is largely a sentimental one, yet
on the other hand he saves his country from what might be a grave
calamity. The commercial advantages he gains under this treaty might
seem to be inadequate, although in effect they are very considerable.
The point is this. He soothes his country of the pain which groans day
by day in her limbs. He gratifies her lust for vengeance against Great
Britain without plunging her into any desperate enterprise."
"And France escapes," she murmured.
"France escapes," he assented. "Rightly or wrongly, the whole of
Germany's post-war animosity was directed against England. She
considered herself deceived by certain British statesmen. She may have
been right or wrong. I myself find the evidence conflicting. At this
moment the matter does not concern us."
"And is Great Britain, then," Maggie asked, "believed to be so helpless
that she can be stripped of the greater part of her possessions at the
will of China and Japan?"
Prince Shan smiled.
"Great Britain," he reminded her, "has taken the League of Nations to
her heart. It was a very dangerous thing to do."
"Still," Maggie persisted, "there remains the great thing which you have
not told me. These proposals, I admit, would strike a blow at the heart
of the British Empire, but how are they to be carried into effect?"
"If I had signed the agreement," he replied, "they could very easily
have been carried into effect. You have heard already, have you not,
through some of your agents, of the three secret cities? In the
eastern-most of them is the answer to your question."
"Is that a challenge to me to come out and discover for myself all that
I want to know?"
"If you come," he answered, "you shall certainly know everything. There
is another little matter, too, which waits for your decision."
"Tell me of it at once, please," she begged, with a sudden conviction of
He obeyed without hesitation.
"I spoke just now," he reminded her, "of the three secret cities. They
are secret because we have taken pains to keep them so. One is in
Germany, one in Russia, and one in China. A casual traveller could
discover little in the German one, and little more, perhaps, in the
Russian one. Enough to whet his curiosity, and no more. But in China
there is the whole secret at the mercy of a successful spy. A man named
Jesson, Lady Maggie--"
"I telephoned you about him before luncheon to-day," she interrupted.
"I had your message," he replied, "and the man is safe for the moment.
At the same time, Lady Maggie, let me remind you that this is a game the
rules of which are known the world over. Jesson has now in his
possession the secret on which I might build, if I chose, plans to
conquer the world. He knew the penalty if he was discovered, and he was
discovered. To spare his life is sentimentalism pure and simple, yet if
it is your will, so be it."
"You are very good to me," she declared gratefully, "all the more good
because half the time I can see that you scarcely understand."
"That I do not admit," he protested. "I understand even where I do not
sympathise. You make of life the greatest boon on earth. We of my race
and way of thinking are taught to take it up or lay it down, if not with
indifference, at any rate with a very large share of resignation.
However, Jesson's life is spared. From what I have heard of the man, I
imagine he will be very much surprised."
She gave a little sigh of relief.
"You have given me a great deal of your confidence," she said
"Is it not clear," he answered, "why I have done so? I ask of you the
greatest boon a woman has to give. I do not seek to bribe, but if you
can give me the love that will make my life a dream of happiness, then
will it not be my duty to see that no shadow of misfortune shall come to
you or yours? China stands between Japan and Russia, and I am China."
She gave him her hands.
"You are very wonderful," she declared. "Remember that at a time like
this, it is not a woman's will alone that speaks. It is her soul which
lights the way. Prince Shan, I do not know."
He smiled gravely.
"I leave," he told her, "on Friday, soon after dawn."
She found herself trembling.
"It is a very short time," she faltered.
They had both risen to their feet. He was close to her now, and she felt
herself caught up in a passionate wave of inertia, an absolute inability
to protest or resist. His arms were clasped around her lightly and with
exceeding gentleness. He leaned down. She found herself wondering, even
in that tumultuous moment, at the strange clearness of his complexion,
the whiteness of his firm, strong teeth, the soft brilliance of his
eyes, which caressed her even before his lips rested upon hers.
"I think that you will come," he whispered. "I think that you will be
The great house in Curzon Street awoke, the following morning, to a
state of intense activity. Taxi-cabs and motor-cars were lined along the
street; a stream of callers came and went. That part of the
establishment of which little was seen by the casual caller, the rooms
where half a dozen secretaries conducted an immense correspondence,
presided over by Li Wen, was working overtime at full pressure. In his
reception room, Prince Shan saw a selected few of the callers, mostly
journalists and politicians, to whom Li Wen gave the entree. One visitor
even this most astute of secretaries found it hard to place. He took the
card in to his master, who glanced at it thoughtfully.
"The Earl of Dorminster," he repeated. "I will see him."
Nigel found himself received with courtesy, yet with a certain
aloofness. Prince Shan rose from his favourite chair of plain black oak
heaped with green silk cushions and held out his hand a little
"You are very kind to visit me, Lord Dorminster," he said. "I trust that
you come to wish me fortune."
"That," Nigel replied, "depends upon how you choose to seek it."
"I am answered," was the prompt acknowledgment. "One thing in your
country I have at least learnt to appreciate, and that is your love of
candour. What is your errand with me to-day? Have you come to speak to
me as an ambassador from your cousin, or in any way on her behalf?"
"My business has nothing to do with Lady Maggie," Nigel assured him
Prince Shan held out his hand.
"Stop," he begged. "Do not explain your business. If it is a personal
request, it is granted. If, on the other hand, you seek my advice on
matters of grave importance, it is yours. Before other words are spoken,
however, I myself desire to address you on the subject of Lady Maggie
"As you please," Nigel answered.
"It is not the custom of my country, or of my life," Prince Shan
continued, "to covet or steal the things which belong to another. If
fate has made me a thief, I am very sorry. I have proposed to Lady
Maggie that she accompany me back to China. It is my great desire that
she should become my wife."
Nigel felt himself curiously tongue-tied. There was something in the
other's measured speech, so fateful, so assured, that it seemed almost
as though he were speaking of pre-ordained things. Much that had seemed
to him impossible and unnatural in such an idea disappeared from that
"You tell me this," Nigel began--
"I announce it to you as the head of the family," Prince Shan
"You tell it to me also," Nigel persisted, "because you have heard the
rumours which were at one time very prevalent--that Lady Maggie and I
were or were about to become engaged to be married."
"I have heard such a rumour only very indirectly," Prince Shan
confessed, "and I cannot admit that it has made any difference in my
attitude. I think, in my land and yours, we have at least one common
convention. The woman who touches our heart is ours if we may win her.
Love is unalterably selfish. One must fight for one's own hand. And for
those who may suffer by our victory, we may have pity but no
"Am I to understand," Nigel asked bluntly, "that Lady Maggie has
consented to be your wife?"
"Lady Maggie has given me no reply. I left her alone with her thoughts.
Every hour it is my hope to hear from her. She knows that I leave for
China early to-morrow."
"So at the present moment you are in suspense."
"I am in suspense," Prince Shan admitted, "and perhaps," he went on,
with one of his rare smiles, "it occurred to me that it would be in one
sense a relief to speak to a fellow man of the hopes and fears that are
in my heart. You are the one person to whom I could speak, Lord
Dorminster. You have not wished my suit well, but at least you have been
clear-sighted. I think it has never occurred to you that a prince of
China might venture to compete with a peer of England."
"On the contrary," Nigel assented, "I have the greatest admiration for
the few living descendants of the world's oldest aristocracy. You have a
right to enter the lists, a right to win if you can."
"And what do you think of my prospects, if I may ask such a delicate
question?" Prince Shan enquired.
"I cannot estimate them," Nigel replied. "I only know that Maggie is
"I think," his companion continued softly, "that she will become my
Princess. You have never visited China, Lord Dorminster," he went on,
"so you have little idea, perhaps, as to the manner of our lives. Some
day I will hope to be your host, so until then, as I may not speak of my
own possessions, may I go just so far as this? Your cousin will be very
happy in China. This is a great country, but the very air you breathe is
cloyed with your national utilitarianism. Mine is a country of beautiful
thoughts, of beautiful places, of quiet-living and sedate people. I can
give your cousin every luxury of which the world has ever dreamed,
wrapped and enshrined in beauty. No person with a soul could be unhappy
in the places where she will dwell."
"You are at least confident," Nigel remarked.
"It is because I am convinced," was the calm rejoinder. "I shall take
your cousin's happiness into my keeping without one shadow of misgiving.
The last word, however, is with her. It remains to be seen whether her
courage is great enough to induce her to face such a complete change in
the manner of her life."
"It will not be her lack of courage which will keep her in England,"
Prince Shan bowed, with a graceful little gesture of the hands. The
subject was finished.
"I shall now, Lord Dorminster," he said, "take advantage of your kindly
presence here to speak to you on a very personal matter, only this time
it is you who are the central figure, and I who am the dummy."
"I do not follow you," Nigel confessed, with a slight frown.
"I speak in tones of apology," Prince Shan went on, "but you must
remember that I am one of reflective disposition; Nature has endowed me
with some of the gifts of my great ancestors, philosophers famed the
world over. It seems very clear to me that, if I had not come, from
sheer force of affectionate propinquity you would have married Lady
Nigel's frown deepened.
"Prince Shan!" he began.
Again the outstretched hand seemed as though the fingers were pressed
against his mouth. He broke off abruptly in his protest.
"You would have lived a contented life, because that is your province,"
his companion continued. "You would have felt yourself happy because you
would have been a faithful husband. But the time would have come when
you would both have realised that you had missed the great things."
"This is idle prophecy," Nigel observed, a little impatiently. "I came
to see you upon another matter."
"Humour me," the Prince begged. "I am going to speak to you even more
intimately. I shall venture to do so because, after all, she is better
known to me than to you. I am going to tell you that of all the women in
the world, Naida Karetsky is the most likely to make you happy."
Nigel drew himself up a little stiffly.
"One does not discuss these things," he muttered.
"May I call that a touch of insularity?" Prince Shan pleaded, "because
there is nothing else in the world so wonderful to discuss, in all
respect and reverence, as the women who have made us feel. One last
word, Lord Dorminster. The days of matrimonial alliances between the
reigning families of Europe have come to an end under the influence of a
different form of government, but there is a certain type of alliance,
the utility of which remains unimpaired. I venture to say that you could
not do your country a greater service, apart from any personal feelings
you might have, than by marrying Mademoiselle Karetsky. There, you see,
now I have finished. This is for your reflection, Lord Dorminster--just
the measured statement of one who wears at least the cloak of philosophy
by inheritance. Time passes. Your own reason for coming to see me has
not yet been expounded."
"I have come to ask you to visit the Prime Minister before you leave
England," Nigel announced.
Prince Shan changed his position slightly. His forehead was a little
wrinkled. He was silent for a moment.
"If I pay more than a farewell visit of ceremony," he said, "that is to
say, if I speak with Mr. Mervin Brown on things that count, I must
anticipate a certain decision at which I have not yet wholly arrived."
Nigel had a sudden inspiration.
"You are seeking to bribe Maggie!" he exclaimed.
"That is not true," was the dignified reply.
"Then please explain," Nigel persisted.
Prince Shan rose to his feet. He walked to the heavy silk curtains which
led into his own bedchamber, pushed them apart, and looked for a moment
at the familiar objects in the room. Then he came back, glancing on his
way at the ebony cabinet.
"One does not repeat one's mistakes," he said slowly, "and although you
and I, Lord Dorminster, breathe the common air of the greater world, my
instinct tells me that of certain things which have passed between your
cousin and myself it is better that no mention ever be made. I wish to
tell you this, however. There is in existence a document, my signature
to which would, without a doubt, have a serious influence upon the
destinies of this country. That document, unsigned, would be one of my
marriage gifts to Lady Maggie--and as you know I have not yet had her
answer. However, if you wish it, I will go to the Prime Minister."
Li Wen came silently in. He spoke to his master for a few minutes in
Chinese. A faint smile parted the latter's lips.
"You can tell the person at the telephone that I will call within the
next few minutes," he directed. "You will not object," he added, turning
courteously to Nigel, "if I stop for a moment, on the way to Downing
Street, at a small private hospital? An acquaintance of mine lies sick
there and desires urgently to see me."
"I am entirely at your service," Nigel assured him.
Prince Shan, with many apologies, left Nigel alone in the car outside a
tall, grey house in John Street, and, preceded by the white-capped nurse
who had opened the door, climbed the stairs to the first floor of the
celebrated nursing home, where, after a moment's delay, he was shown
into a large and airy apartment. Immelan was in bed, looking very ill
indeed. He was pale, and his china-blue eyes, curiously protruding, were
filled with an expression of haunting fear. A puzzled doctor was
standing by the bedside. A nurse, who was smoothing the bedclothes,
glanced around at Prince Shan's entrance. The invalid started
convulsively, and, clutching the pillows with his right hand, turned
towards his visitor.
"So you've come!" he exclaimed. "Stay where yon are! Don't go!
Doctor--nurse--leave us alone for a moment."
The nurse went at once. The doctor hesitated.
"My patient is a good deal exhausted," he said. "There are no dangerous
symptoms at present, but--"
"I will promise not to distress him," Prince Shan interrupted. "I am
myself somewhat pressed for time, and it is probable that your patient
will insist upon speaking to me in private."
The doctor followed the nurse from the room. Prince Shan stood looking
down upon the figure of quondam associate. There was a leaven of mild
wonder in his clear eyes, a faintly contemptuous smile about the corners
of his lips.
"So you are afraid of death, my friend," he observed, "afraid of the
death you planned so skilfully for me."
"It is a lie!" Immelan declared excitedly. "Sen Lu was never killed by
my orders. Listen! You have nothing against me. My death can do you no
good. It is you who have been at fault. You--Prince Shan--the great
diplomatist of the world--are gambling away your future and the future
of a mighty empire for a woman's sake. You have treated me badly enough.
Spare my life. Call in the doctor here and tell him what to do. He can
find nothing in my system. He is helpless."
The smile upon the Prince's lips became vaguer, his expression more
bland and indeterminate.
"My dear Immelan," he murmured, "you are without doubt delirious.
Compose yourself, I beg."
A light that was almost tragic shone in the man's face. He sat up with a
sudden access of strength.
"For the love of God, don't torture me!" he groaned. "The pains grow
worse, hour by hour. If I die, the whole world shall know by whose
The expression on Prince Shan's face remained unchanged. In his eyes,
however, there was a little glint of something which seemed almost like
"When you die," he pronounced calmly, "it will be by your own hand--not
For some reason or other, Immelan accepted these measured words of
prophecy as a total reprieve. The relief in his face was almost piteous.
He seized his visitor's hand and would have fawned upon it. Prince Shan
withdrew himself a little farther from the bed.
"Immelan," he said, "during my stay in England I have studied you and
your methods, I have listened to all you have had to say and to propose,
I have weighed the advantages and the disadvantages of the scheme you
have outlined to me, and I only arrived at my decision after the most
serious and unbiassed reflection. Your scheme itself was bold and almost
splendid, but, as you yourself well know at the back of your mind, it
would lay the seeds of a world tumult. I have studied history, Immelan,
perhaps a little more deeply than you, and I do not believe in
conquests. For the restoration to China of such lands as belong
geographically and rightly to the Chinese Empire, I have my own plans.
You, it seems to me, would make a cat's-paw of all Asia to gratify your
hatred of England."
"A cat's-paw!" Immelan gasped. "Australia, New Zealand and India for
Japan, new lands for her teeming population; Thibet for you, all
Manchuria, and the control of the Siberian Railway!"
"These are dazzling propositions," Prince Shan admitted, "and yet--what
about the other side of the Pacific?"
"America would be powerless," Immelan insisted.
"So you said before, in 1917," was the dry reminder. "I did not come
here, however, to talk world politics with you. Those things for the
moment are finished. I came in answer to your summons."
Immelan raised himself a little in the bed.
"You meant what you said?" he demanded, with hoarse anxiety. "There was
no poison? Swear that?"
Prince Shan moved towards the door. His backward glance was coldly
"What I said, I meant," he replied. "Extract such comfort from it as you
He left the room, closing the door softly behind him. Immelan stared
after him, hollow-eyed and anxious. Already the cold fears were seizing
upon him once more.
Prince Shan rejoined Nigel, and the two men drove off to Downing Street.
The former was silent for the first few minutes. Then he turned slightly
towards his companion.
"The man Immelan is a coward," he declared. "It is he whom I have just
Nigel shrugged his shoulders.
"So many men are brave enough in a fight," he remarked, "who lose their
nerve on a sick bed."
"Bravery in battle," Prince Shan pronounced, "is the lowest form of
courage. The blood is stirred by the excitement of slaughter as by
alcohol. With Immelan I shall have no more dealings."
"Speaking politically as well as personally?" Nigel enquired.
The other smiled.
"I think I might go so far as to agree," he acquiesced, "but in a sense,
there are conditions. You shall hear what they are. I will speak before
you to the Prime Minister. See, up above is the sign of my departure."
Out of a little bank of white, fleecy clouds which hung down, here and
there, from the blue sky, came the _Black Dragon_, her engines purring
softly, her movements slow and graceful. Both men watched her for a
moment in silence.
"At six o'clock to-morrow morning I start," Prince Shan announced. "My
pilot tells me that the weather conditions are wonderful, all the way
from here to Pekin. We shall be there on Wednesday."
"You travel alone?" Nigel enquired.
"I have passengers," was the quiet reply. "I am taking the English
chaplain to your Church in Pekin."
The eyes of the two men met.
"It is an ingenious idea," Nigel admitted dryly.
"I wish to be prepared," his companion answered. "It may be that he is
my only companion. In that case, I go back to a life lonelier than I
have ever dreamed of. It is on the knees of the gods. So far there has
come no word, but although I am not by nature an optimist, my
superstitions are on my side. All the way over on my last voyage, when I
lay in my berth, awake and we sailed over and through the clouds, my
star, my own particular star, seemed leaning always down towards me, and
for that reason I have faith."
Nigel glanced at his companion curiously but without speech. The car
pulled up in Downing Street. The two men descended and found everything
made easy for them. In two minutes they were in the presence of the
Mr. Mervin Brown was at his best in the interview to which he had, as a
matter of fact, been looking forward with much trepidation. He received
Prince Shan courteously and reproached him for not having paid him an
earlier visit. To the latter's request that Nigel might be permitted to
be present at the discussion, he promptly acquiesced.
"Lord Dorminster and I have already had some conversation," he said,
"bearing upon the matter about which I desire to talk to you."
"I have found his lordship," Prince Shan declared, "one of the few
Englishmen who has any real apprehension of the trend of events outside
his own country."
The Prime Minister plunged at once into the middle of things.
"Our national faults are without doubt known to you, Prince Shan," he
said. "They include, amongst other things, an over-confidence in the
promises of others; too great belief, I fear, in the probity of our
friends. We paid a staggering price in 1914 for those qualities. Lord
Dorminster would have me believe that there is a still more terrible
price for us to pay in the future, unless we change our whole outlook,
abandon our belief in the League of Nations, and once more acknowledge
the supremacy of force."
"Lord Dorminster is right," Prince Shan pronounced. "I have come here to
tell you so, Mr. Mervin Brown."
"You come here as a friend of England?" the latter asked.
"I come here as one who hesitates to become her enemy," was the measured
reply. "I will be perfectly frank with you, sir. I came to this country
to discuss a project which, with the acquiescence of China and Japan,
would have resulted in the humiliation of your country and the
gratification of Germany's eagerly desired revenge."
"You believe in the existence of that sentiment, then?" the Prime
"Any one short of a very insular Englishman," the Prince replied, "would
have realised it long ago. There is a great society in Germany, scarcely
even a secret society, pledged to wipe out the humiliations of the last
great war. Lord Dorminster tells me that you are to-day without a secret
service. For that reason you have remained in ignorance of the mines
beneath your feet. Germany has laid her plans well and carefully. Her
first and greatest weapon has been your sense of security. She has seen
you contemplate with an ill-advised smile of spurious satisfaction,
invincible France, regaining her wealth more slowly than you for the
simple reason that half the man power of the country is absorbed by her
military preparations. France is impregnable. A direct invasion of your
country is in all probability impossible. Those two facts have seemed to
you all-sufficient. That is where you have been, if I may say so, sir,
"Germany has no power to transport troops in other directions," Mr.
Mervin Brown observed.
Prince Shan smiled.
"You have another enemy besides Germany," he pointed out, "a great
democracy who has never forgiven your lack of sympathy at her birth,
your attempts to repress by force a great upheaval, borne in agony and
shame, yet containing the germs of worthy things which your statesmen in
those days failed to discern. Russia has never forgiven. Russia stands
hand in hand with Germany."
"But surely," the Prime Minister protested, "you speak in the language
of the past? The League of Nations still exists. Any directly predatory
expedition would bring the rest of the world to arms."
Prince Shan shook his head.
"One of the first necessities of a tribunal," he expounded, "is that
that tribunal should have the power to punish. You yourself are one of
the judges. You might find your culprit guilty. With what weapon will
you chastise him? The culprit has grown mightier than the judge."
"America," Prince Shan interrupted, "can, when she chooses, strike a
weightier blow than any other nation on earth, but she will never again
proceed outside her own sphere of influence."
"But she must protect her trade," the Prime Minister insisted.
"She has no need to do so by force of arms. Take my own country, for
instance. We need American machinery, American goods, locomotives and
mining plants. America has no need to force these things upon us. We are
as anxious to buy as she is to sell."
"I am to figure to myself, then," Mr. Mervin Brown reflected, "a
combination of Germany and Russia engaged in some scheme inimical to
"There was such a scheme definitely arranged and planned," Prince Shan
assured him gravely. "If I had seen well to sign a certain paper, you
would have lost, before the end of this month, India, your great
treasure house, Australia and New Zealand, and eventually Egypt. You
would have been as powerless to prevent it as either of us three would
be if called upon unarmed to face the champion heavyweight boxer."
"It is hard for me to credit the fact that officially Germany has any
knowledge of this scheme," the Prime Minister confessed.
"Official Germany would probably deny it," Prince Shan answered dryly.
"Official Russia might do the same. Official China would follow suit,
but the real China, in my person, assures you of the truth of what I
have told you. You have never heard, I suppose, of the three secret
"I have heard stories about them which sounded like fairy tales," Mr.
Mervin Brown admitted grudgingly.
"Nevertheless, they exist," Prince Shan continued, "and they exist for
the purpose of supplying means of offence for the expedition of which I
have spoken. There is one in Germany, one in Russia, and one in China.
The three between them have produced enough armoured airships of a new
design to conquer any country in the world."
"Armoured airships?" Mr. Mervin Brown repeated.
"Airships from which one fights on land as well as in the air," Prince
Shan explained. "On land they become moving fortresses. No shell has
ever been made which can destroy them. I should be revealing no secret
to you, because I believe I am right in saying, sir, that a model of
these amazing engines of destruction was first submitted to your
"I remember something of the sort," the Prime Minister assented. "The
inventor himself was an American, I believe."
"Precisely! I believe he told you in plain words that whoever possessed
his model might, if they chose, dominate the world."
"But who wants to dominate the world by force?" Mr. Mervin Brown
demanded passionately. "We have passed into a new era, an era of peace
and the higher fellowship. It is waste of time, labour and money to
create these horrible instruments of destruction. The League of Nations
has decreed that they shall not be built."
"Nevertheless," Prince Shan declared, with portentous gravity, "a
thousand of these engines of destruction are now ready in a certain city
of China. Each one of the three secret cities has done its quota of work
in the shape of providing parts. China alone has put them together. I
bought the secret, and I alone possess it. It rests with me whether the
world remains at peace or moves on to war."
"You cannot hesitate, then?" Mr. Mervin Brown exclaimed anxiously. "You
yourself are an apostle of civilisation."
Prince Shan smiled.
"It is because we are strong," he said, "that we love peace. It is
because you are weak that you fear war. I am not here to teach you
statesmanship. It is not for me to point out to you the means by which
you can make your country safe and keep her people free. Call a meeting
of what remains of the League of Nations and compare your strength with
that of the nations who have crept outside and lie waiting. Then take
the advice of experts and set your house in order. You sacrifice
everything to-day to the god of commerce. Take a few men like Dorminster
here into your councils. You are not a nation of fools. Speak the truth
at the next meeting of the League of Nations and see that it is properly
reported. Help yourselves, and I will help you."
"Will you come into my Cabinet, Lord Dorminster?" the Prime Minister
invited, turning to Nigel.
"If you will recreate the post of Minister for War, I will do so with
pleasure," was the prompt reply.
Prince Shan held out his hand.
"There is great responsibility upon your shoulders, Mr. Mervin Brown,"
he said. "You will never know how near you have been to disaster. Try
and wake up your nation gradually, if you can. Call together your
writers, your thinking men, your historians. Encourage the flagging
spirit of patriotism in your public schools and universities. Is this
presumption on my part that I give so much advice? If so, forgive me.
Truth that sits in the heart will sometimes demand to be heard."
At the Prime Minister's request, Nigel remained behind. They both looked
at the door through which Prince Shan had passed. Mr. Mervin Brown
metaphorically pinched himself. He was still feeling a little dazed.
"Is that man real flesh and blood?" he demanded.
"He is as real and as near the truth," Nigel replied solemnly, "as the
things of which he has told us."
That night, Nigel gave a dinner party on Maggie's account at the
fashionable London hotel of the moment. Invitations had been sent out by
telephone, by hurried notes, in one or two cases were delivered by word
of mouth. On the whole, the acceptances, considering the season was in
full swing, were a little remarkable. Every one was anxious to come,
because, as one of her girl friends put it, no one ever knew what Maggie
was going to be up to next. One of the few refusals came from Prince
Shan, and even he made use of compromise:
_My dear Lord Dorminster, will you forgive me if in this instance I
do not break a custom to which I have perhaps a little too rigidly
adhered. The Prime Minister telephoned, a few minutes after we left
him, asking me to meet two of his colleagues from the Foreign
Office to-night, and I doubt whether our conference will have
concluded at the hour you name._
_However, if you will permit me, I will give myself the pleasure of
joining you later in the evening, to make my adieux to those of my
friends whom I am quite sure I shall find amongst your company._
Maggie passed the note back with a little smile. She made no comment
whatever. Nigel watched her thoughtfully.
"I have carried out your orders," he observed. "Everything has been
attended to, even to the colour of your table decorations. Now tell me
what it all means?"
She looked him in the face quite frankly.
"How can I?" she answered. "I do not know myself."
"Is this by way of being a farewell party?" he persisted.
"I do not know that," she assured him. "The only thing is that if I do
decide--to go--well, I shall have had a last glimpse of most of my
"As your nearest male relative, in fact your guardian," Nigel went on,
with a touch of his old manner, "I feel myself deeply interested in your
present situation. If a little advice from one who is considerably your
senior would be acceptable--"
"It wouldn't," Maggie interrupted quietly. "There are just two things in
life no girl accepts advice upon--the way she does her hair and the man
she means to marry. You see, both are decided by instinct. I shall know
before dawn to-morrow what I mean to do, but until then nothing that
anybody could say would make any difference. Besides, your mind ought to
be full of your own matrimonial affairs. I hear that Naida is talking
of going back to Russia next week."
"My own affairs are less complex," Nigel replied. "I am going to ask
Naida to marry me--to-night if I have the opportunity."
Maggie made a little grimace.
"There goes my second string!" she exclaimed. "Nigel, you are horribly
callous. I have never been in the least sure that I haven't wanted to
marry you myself."
Nigel lit a cigarette and pushed the box across to his companion.
"I've frequently felt the same way," he confessed. "The trouble of it is
that when the really right person comes along, one hasn't any doubt
about it whatever. I should have made you a stodgy husband, Maggie."
"I think that considering the way you've flirted with me," she declared,
"you ought at least to have given me the opportunity of refusing you."
"If Naida refuses me," he began--
"And I decide that Asia is too far away," she interrupted--
"We may come together, after all," he said, with a resigned little sigh.
"Glib tongue and empty heart," she quoted. "Nigel, I would never trust
you. I believe you're in love with Naida."
"And I'm not quite so sure about you," he observed, watching the colour
rise quickly in her cheeks. "Off with you to dress, young woman. It's
past seven, and we must be there early. I still have the wine to order."
The dinner party was in its way a complete success. Prince Karschoff was
there, benign and distinguished; Chalmers and one or two other young men
from the American Embassy. There was a sprinkling of Maggie's girl
friends, a leaven of the older world in Nigel's few intimates,--and
Naida, very pale but more beautiful than ever in a white velvet gown,
her hair brushed straight back, and with no jewellery save one long rope
of pearls. Nigel who in his capacity as host had found little time for
personal conversation during the service of dinner, deliberately led her
a little apart when they passed out into the lounge for coffee and to
watch the dancing.
"My duties are over for a time," he said. "Do you realise that I have
not had a word with you alone since our luncheon at Ciro's?"
"We have all been a little engrossed, have we not?" she murmured. "I
hope that you are satisfied with the way things have turned out."
"Nothing shall induce me to talk politics or empire-saving to-night," he
declared, with a smile. "I have other things to say."
"Tell me why you asked us all to dine so suddenly," she enquired. "I do
not know whether it is my fancy, but there seems to be an air of
celebration about. Is there any announcement to be made?"
He shook his head.
"None. The party was just a whim of Maggie's."
They both looked across towards the ballroom, where she was dancing with
"Maggie is very beautiful to-night," Naida said. "I could scarcely
listen to my neighbour's conversation at dinner time for looking at her.
Yet she has the air all the time of living in a dream, as though
something had happened which had lifted her right away from us all. I
began to wonder," she added, "whether, after all, Oscar Immelan had not
told me the truth, and whether we should not be drinking her health and
yours before the evening was over."
"You could scarcely believe that," he whispered, "if you have any memory
There was a faint touch of pink in her cheeks, a tinge of colour as
delicate as the passing of a gleam of sunshine over a sea-glistening
"But Englishmen are so unfaithful," she sighed.
"Then I at least am an exception," Nigel answered swiftly. "The words
which you checked upon my lips the last time we were alone together
still live in my heart. I think, Naida, the time has come to say them."
Their immediate neighbours had deserted them. He leaned a little
"You know so well that I love you, Naida," he said. "Will you be my
She looked up at him, half laughing, yet with tears in her eyes. With an
impulsive little gesture, she caught his hand in hers for a moment.
"How horribly sure you must have felt of me," she complained, "to have
spoken here, with all these people around! Supposing I had told you that
my life's work lay amongst my own people, or that I had made up my mind
to marry Oscar Immelan, to console him for his great disappointment."
"I shouldn't have believed you," he answered, smiling.
"Conceit!" she exclaimed.
He shook his head.
"In a sense, of course, I am conceited," he replied. "I am the happiest
and proudest man here. I really think that after all we ought to turn it
into a celebration."
The band was playing a waltz. Naida's head moved to the music, and
presently Nigel rose to his feet with a smile, and they passed into the
ballroom. Karschoff and Mrs. Bollington Smith watched them with
"Naida is looking very wonderful to-night," the latter remarked. "And
Nigel, too; I wonder if there is anything between them."
"The days of foreign alliances are past," Karschoff replied, "but a few
intermarriages might be very good for this country."
"Are you serious?" she asked.
"Absolutely! I would not suggest anything of the sort with Germany, but
with this new Russia, the Russia of which Naida Karetsky is a daughter,
why not? Although they will not have me back there, Russia is some day
going to lay down the law to Europe."
"I wonder whether Maggie has any ideas of the sort in her mind," Mrs.
Bollington Smith observed. "She seems curiously abstracted to-night."
Chalmers came grumblingly up to Mrs. Bollington Smith, with whom he was
an established favourite.
"Lady Maggie is treating me disgracefully," he complained. "She will
scarcely dance at all. She goes around talking to every one as though it
were a sort of farewell party."
"Perhaps it may be," Karschoff remarked quietly.
"She isn't going away, is she?" Chalmers demanded.
"Who knows?" the Prince replied. "Lady Maggie is one of those strange
people to whom one may look with every confidence for the unexpected."
She herself came across to them, a few moments later.
"Something tells me," she declared, "that you are talking about me."
"You are always a very much discussed young lady," Karschoff rejoined,
with a little bow.
She made a grimace and sank into a chair by her aunt. She talked on
lightly enough, but all the time with that slight suggestion of
superficiality which is a sign of strain. She glanced often towards the
entrance of the lounge, yet no one seemed less disturbed when at a few
minutes before eleven Prince Shan came quietly in. He made his way at
once to Mrs. Bollington Smith and bent over her fingers.
"It is so kind of you and Lord Dorminster," he said, "to give me this
opportunity of saying good-by to a few friends."
"You are leaving us so soon, Prince?"
"To-morrow, soon after dawn," he replied, his eyes wandering around the
little circle. "I wish to be in Pekin, if possible, by Wednesday, so my
_Dragon_ must spread his wings indeed."
He said a few words to almost everybody. Last of all he came to Maggie,
and no one heard what he said to her. There was no change in his face as
he bent low over her fingers, no sign of anything which might have
passed between them, as a few minutes later he turned to one side with
Nigel. Maggie held out her hand to Chalmers. The strain seemed to have
passed. Her lips were parted in a wonderful smile, her feet moved to the
"Come and dance," she invited.
They moved a few steps away together, when Maggie came to an abrupt
standstill. The two stood for a moment as though transfixed, their eyes
upon the arched entrance which led from the restaurant into the lounge.
A man was standing there, looking around, a strange, menacing figure, a
man dressed in the garb of fashion but with the face of a savage, with
eyes which burned in his head like twin dots of fire, with drawn, hollow
cheeks and mouth a little open like a mad dog's. As his eyes fell upon
the group and he recognised them, a look of horrible satisfaction came
into his face. He began to approach quite deliberately. He seemed to
take in by slow degrees every one who stood there,--Maggie herself and
Chalmers, Naida, Nigel and Prince Shan. He moved forward. All the time
his right hand was behind him, concealed underneath the tails of his
"Be careful!" Maggie cried out. "It is Oscar Immelan! He is mad!"
Some of the party and many of the bystanders had shrunk away from the
menacing figure. Naida stepped out from among the little group of those
who were left.
"Oscar," she said firmly, "what is the matter with you? You are not well
enough to be here."
He came to a standstill. At close quarters his appearance was even more
terrible. Although by some means he had gotten into his evening clothes,
he was only partly shaven, and there were gashes in his face where the
hand which had held his razor had slipped. The pupils of his eyes were
distended, and the eyes themselves seemed to have shrunk back into their
sockets. His whole frame seemed to have suddenly lost vigour, even
substance. He had the air of a man in clothes too large for him. Even
his voice was shriller,--shriller and horrible with the slow and bestial
satisfaction of his words.
"So here you are, the whole nest of you together, eh?" he exclaimed.
"Good! Very good indeed! Prince Shan, the poisoner! Dorminster, enjoying
your brief triumph, eh? And you, Naida Karetsky, traitress to your
"That will do, Immelan," Nigel interrupted sharply. "We are all here.
What do you want with us?"
"That comes," Immelan replied. "Soon you shall all know why I have come!
Let me speak to my friend Shan for a moment. I carry your poison in my
veins, but there is a chance--just a chance," he added slowly, with a
horrible smile upon his lips, "that you may go first, after all."
Nigel made a stealthy but rapid movement forward, drawing Naida gently
out of the way. Immelan was too quick, however. He swung around, showing
the revolver which he had been concealing behind him, and moved to one
side until his back was against one of the pillars. By this time, most
of the other occupants of the ballroom had either rushed screaming away
altogether, or were hiding, peering out in fascinated horror from the
different recesses. The chief maitre d'hotel bravely held his ground and
came to within a few paces of Immelan.
"We can't have any brawling here," he said. "Put that revolver away."
Immelan took no notice of the intervener, except that for a single
moment the muzzle yawned in the latter's face. The maitre d'hotel was a
brave man, but he had a wife and family, and after all, it was not his
affair. There were other men there to look after the ladies. He hurried
off to call for the police. Almost as he went, Prince Shan stepped into
the foreground. His voice was calm and expressionless. His eyes, in
which there shone no shadow of fear, were steadily fixed upon Immelan.
He spoke without flurry.
"So you carry your own weapons to-night, Immelan," he said. "That at
least is more like a man. You seem to have a grievance against every
one. Start with me. What is it?"
There were some of them who wondered why, at this juncture when he so
clearly dominated his assailant, Prince Shan, whose courage was superb
and whose _sang froid_ absolutely unshaken did not throw himself upon
this intruder and take his chance of bringing the matter to an end at
the moment when the man's nerve was undoubtedly shaken. Then they looked
towards the entrance, and they understood. Creeping towards the little
gathering came Li Wen and another of the Prince's suite, a younger and
even more active man. The two came on tiptoe, crouching and moving
warily, with the gleam of the tiger in their anxious eyes. Maggie caught
a warning glance from Nigel and looked away.
"You are my murderer!" Immelan cried hoarsely. "It is through you I
suffer these pains! I am dying of your accursed poison!"
"If that were true," Prince Shan replied, with the air of one willing to
discuss the subject impartially, "might I remind you of Sen Lu, who died
in my box at the Albert Hall? For whom was that dagger thrust meant,
Immelan? Not for the man whom you had bought to betray me, the only one
of my suite who has ever been tempted with gold. That dagger thrust was
meant for me, and the assassin was one of your creatures. So even if
your words were true, Immelan, and the poison which you imagine to be in
your body were planted there by me, are we less than quits?"
Immelan's lie was unconvincing.
"I know nothing of Sen Lu's death," he declared. "I employ no assassins.
When there is killing to be done, I can do it myself. I am here to-night
for that purpose. You have deserted me at the last moment, Prince
Shan--played me and my country false for the sake of the English woman
whom you think to carry back with you to China. And you," he added,
turning with a sudden furious glance at Naida, "you have deceived the
man who trusted you, the man who sent you here for one purpose, and one
purpose only. You have done your best to ruin my scheme. Not only that,
but you have given the love which was mine--mine, I say--to another--an
Englishman! I hate you all! That is why I, a dying man, have crawled
here to reap my little harvest of vengeance.--You, Naida--you shall be
Naida was suddenly swung on one side, and the shot which rang out passed
through Nigel's coat sleeve, grazing his wrist,--the only shot that was
fired. Prince Shan, watching for his moment, as his two attendants threw
themselves upon the madman from behind, himself sprang forward, knocked
Immelan's right hand up with a terrible blow, and sent the revolver
crashing to the ground. It was a matter of a few seconds. Immelan, when
he felt himself seized, scarcely struggled. The courage of his madness
seemed to pass, the venom died out of his face, he shook like a man in
an ague. Prince Shan kicked the revolver on one side and looked
scornfully down upon him, now a nerveless wreck.
"Immelan," he said, "it is a pity that you did not wait until to-morrow
morning. You would then have known the truth. You are no more poisoned
than I am. If you had been in China--well, who knows? In England there
is so much prejudice against the taking of a worthless life that as a
guest I subscribed to it and mixed a little orris-root tooth powder
with your vermouth."
The man's eyes suddenly opened. He was feverishly, frantically anxious.
"Tell me that again," he shrieked. "You mean it? Swear that you mean
Prince Shan's gesture as he turned away was one of supreme contempt.
"A Shan," he said, "never needs to repeat."
There was the bustle of arriving police, the story of a revolver which
had gone off by accident, a very puzzling contretemps expounded for
their benefit. The situation, and the participants in it, seemed to
dissolve with such facility that it was hard for any one to understand
what had actually happened. Prince Shan, with Maggie on his arm, was
talking to the leader of the orchestra, who had suddenly reappeared. The
former turned to his companion.
"It is not my custom to dance," he said, "but the waltz that they were
beginning to play seemed to me to have a little of the lure of our own
music. Will you do me the honour?"
They moved away to the music. Chalmers stood and watched them, with one
hand in his pocket and the other on Nigel's shoulder. He turned to
Naida, who was on the other side.
"Nothing like a touch of melodrama for the emotions," he grumbled. "Look
at Lady Maggie! Her head might be touching the clouds, and I never saw
her eyes shine like that when she danced with me."
"You don't dance as well as Prince Shan, old fellow," Nigel told him.
"And the Prince sails for China at dawn," Naida murmured.