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The Great Prince Shan by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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CHAPTER XXXII

Prince Shan stood in the tiny sitting room of his suite upon the _Black
Dragon_ and looked around him critically. The walls were of black oak,
with white inlaid plaques on which a great artist had traced little
fanciful figures,--a quaint Chinese landscape, a temple, a flower-hung
pagoda. There were hangings of soft, blue silk tapestry, brought from
one of his northern palaces. The cloth which covered the table was of
the finest silk. There were several bowls of flowers, a couch, and two
comfortable chairs. Through the open doors of the two bedchambers came a
faint glimpse of snow-white linen, a perfume reminiscent at once of
almond blossom, green tea, and crushed lavender, and in the little room
beyond glistened a silver bath. Already attired for the voyage, his
pilot stood on the threshold.

"Is all well, your Highness?" he asked.

"Everything is in order," Prince Shan replied. "Ching Su is a perfect
steward."

"The reverend gentleman is in his room, your Highness," the pilot went
on. "All the supplies have arrived, and the crew are at their stations.
At what hour will it please your Highness to start?"

Prince Shan looked through the open window, along the wooden platform,
out to the broad stretch of road which led to London.

"I announced the hour of my departure as six o'clock," he replied. "I
cannot leave before in case of any farewell message. Is the woman of
whom I spoke to you here?"

"She is in attendance, your Highness."

"She understands that she will not be required unless my other passenger
should desire to accompany us?"

"She understands perfectly, your Highness."

Prince Shan stepped through his private exit on to the narrow wooden
platform. Already the mighty engines had started, purring softly but
deeply, like the deep-throated murmurings of a giant soon to break into
a roar. It was a light, silvery morning, with hidden sunshine
everywhere. On the other side of the vast amphitheatre of flat,
cinder-covered ground, the Downs crept upwards, rolling away to the
blue-capped summit of a distant range of hills. Northwards, the pall of
London darkened the horizon. An untidy medley of houses and factories
stretched almost to the gates of the vast air terminus. Listening
intently, one could catch the faint roar of the city's awakening
traffic, punctuated here and there by the shrill whistling of tugs in
the river, hidden from sight by a shroud of ghostly mist. The dock on
which Prince Shan stood was one apportioned to foreign royalty and
visitors of note. A hundred yards away, the Madrid boat was on the point
of starting, her whistles already blowing, and her engines commencing to
beat. Presently the great machinery which assisted her flight from the
ground commenced its sullen roar. There was a chorus of farewell shouts
and she glided up into the air, a long row of people waving farewells
from the windows. Prince Shan glanced at his watch,--twenty minutes to
six. He paced the wooden boards and looked again,--ten minutes to six.
Then he stopped suddenly. Along that gleaming stretch of private road
came a car, driven at a rapid pace. Prince Shan stood and watched it,
and as he watched, it seemed almost as though the hidden sun had caught
his face and transfigured it. He stood as might stand a man who feels
his feet upon the clouds. His lips trembled. There was no one there to
see--his attendants stood respectfully in the background--but in his
eyes was a rare moisture, and for a single moment a little choking at
his throat. The car turned in under the arched roof. Prince Shan's
servants, obeying his gesture, hurried forward and threw open the gates.
The heavily laden limousine came to a standstill. Three people
descended. Nigel and Naida lingered, watching the luggage being
unloaded. Maggie came forward alone.

They met a few yards from the entrance to the platform. Prince Shan was
bare-headed, and Maggie, at least, saw those wonderful things in his
face. He bent down and took her hands in his.

"Dear and sweet soul," he whispered, as his lips touched her fingers,
"may my God and yours grant that you shall find happiness!"

Her own eyes were wet as she smiled up at him.

"I have been so long making up my mind," she said, "and yet I knew all
the time. I am so glad--so happy that I have come. Think, too, how
wonderful a start! We leave the earth for the clouds."

"It is a wonderful allegory," he answered, smiling. "We will take it
into our hearts, dear one. It rests within the power of every human
being to search for happiness and, in searching, to find it. I am
fortunate because I can take you to beautiful places. I can spell out
for you the secrets of a new art and a new beauty. We can walk in fairy
gardens. I can give you jewels such as Europe has never seen, but I can
give you, Maggie, nothing so strange and wonderful, even to me who know
myself, as the love which fills my heart."

Her laugh was like music.

"I am going to be so happy," she murmured.

The other two approached and they all shook hands. They looked over the
amazing little rooms, watched the luggage stowed away in some marvellous
manner, saw the crew, every one at his station like a motionless figure.
Then a whistle was blown, and once more they all clasped hands.

"Very soon," Prince Shan promised, as he and Maggie leaned from the
window of the car, "I shall send the _Black Dragon_ for you, Lord
Dorminster, and for the one other whom I think you may wish to bring.
Asia is not so far off, these days, and Maggie will love to see her
friends."

Almost imperceptibly the giant airship floated away.

"Watch, both of you," Maggie cried. "I am sending you down a farewell
present." She whispered to Prince Shan, who handed her something from
his pocket, smiled, and gave an order. The great ship passed in a
semicircle and hovered almost exactly above their heads. A little shower
of small scraps of paper came floating down. Nigel picked one up,
examined it, and understood. He waved his hat.

"It is Maggie's farewell gift to England," he said, "the treaty which
Prince Shan never signed."

They stood side by side, watching. With incredible speed, the _Black
Dragon_ passed into the clouds and out again. Then, as it roared away
eastwards, the sun suddenly disclosed itself. The airship mounted
towards it, shimmering and gleaming in every part. Naida passed her hand
a little shyly through her companion's arm.

"Isn't that rather a wonderful way to depart in search of happiness?"
she murmured.

He smiled down at her.

"I do not think that we shall find the search very difficult, dear," he
said, "though our feet may remain upon the earth."

Naida's lip quivered for a moment. Then she caught a glimpse of his face
and gave a little sigh of content.

"There is heaven everywhere," she whispered.

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