Louis Joseph Vance
Part 3 out of 5
wherries, its long oars swung by brawny arms and backs, stealing secretly
across the inky waters on some errand no less dark.
On land the buildings lined a cobbled street, from dawn to dark a
thoroughfare for thundering lorries and, twice daily, in murk of early
morning and gloom of early night, scoured by a nondescript rabble employed
in the vast dockyards whose man-made forests of masts and cordage, funnels
and cranes, on either hand lifted angular black silhouettes against the
misty silver of the sky.
Black and white and yellow and brown, men of every race and skin, they came
and went, their brief hours loud with babel of strange tongues and a
scuffling of countless feet like the sound of surf; and their goings left
the street strangely hushed, a way of sinister reticences, its winding
length ill-lighted by infrequent corner-lamps, its mephitic glooms
enlivened by windows of public houses all saffron with specious promise of
One of these, the Red Moon, faced the row of waterfront houses, standing at
the intersection of a street which struck inland to the pulsing heart of
Limehouse. A retired bully of the prize-ring ruled with a high hand over
its several bars and many patrons, yellow men and white girls, deck-hands
and dock-workers, pugilistic and criminal celebrities of the quarter, and
their sycophants. Its revels rendered the nights cacophonous, its portals
sucked in streams of sweethearts and more impersonal lovers of life and
laughter, and spewed out sots close-locked in embraces of maudlin affection
or brutal combat. Bobbies kept an eye on the Red Moon, a respectful one:
interference with the time-hallowed customs and prerogatives of its
clientele was something to be adventured with extreme discretion.
Out of the hinterland of Limehouse, a tall man came to the Red Moon that
night, walking with long, loose-jointed strides, holding his head high and
looking over the heads of all he passed with a fixed, far gaze. He had a
hatchet-face, sallow, with lantern jaws, a petulant mouth, hot eyes that
showed too much white above their pupils. A lank black mane greased his
collar. His garments, shoddy but whole, were stained and bleached in spots,
apparently the work of acids, and so wrinkled and shapeless as to suggest
that their owner slept without undressing as a matter of habit. The pockets
of his coat bulged noticeably.
Shouldering heedlessly into the saloon-bar, he found it deserted except for
a chinless potman: the liveliest evening trade was always plied in the
cheaper bars adjacent.
One glance sufficed to identify him: with a surly nod the potman ducked
behind a partition to call the proprietor. Drinks were in order when this
last appeared; and a brief conference in undertones ended when, having made
careful reconnaissance, the publican nodded shortly to the patron, a jerk
of his thumb designating a small door let into the wall to one side of the
Through this the tall man passed to find himself upon a dark stairway, at
the foot of which another door admitted to an underground chamber where an
apparently exclusive social gathering was in session of Saturnalia.
In one corner a long-suffering piano was taking cruel punishment at the
hands of a flashily dressed, sharp-faced man of horsey type. Flanking him,
two young women of the world, with that insouciance which appertains--in
Limehouse--to sweet sixteen, were chanting shrilly to his accompaniment:
both more than comfortably drunk. In the middle of the room assorted
lawbreakers gathered round a table were playing fan-tan at the top of their
lungs. At smaller tables men and women sat consuming poisons of which they
were obviously in no crying need; while in bunks builded against one wall
devotees of the pipe reclined in various stages of beatitude. The air was
hot, and foul with cigarette smoke, sickening fumes of sizzling opium,
effluvia of beer and spirits, sour reek of sweating flesh.
Incurious glances greeted the newcomer: none paid him more heed than an
indifferent nod. On his part, brief but comprehensive survey having
deepened the stamp of scorn upon his features, he ignored them all and,
proceeding directly to a bunk of the lowermost tier, aroused its occupant
with a smart tap on the shoulder.
The ostensible drug-addict looked up dreamily, then opened his eyes wide,
with surprising docility rolled out and, uttering no word, lurched to the
fan-tan table. The tall man took his place, lay down, and drew together the
unclean curtains of sleazy stuff provided to afford privacy to shrinking
souls. This done, he turned on his side and knuckled in peculiar rhythm the
back of the bunk, a solid panel which slipped smoothly to one side,
permitting the man to tumble out into still another room, a cheerless
place, with floor of stone and the smell of a vault.
When the panel had slipped back into place, closing out the bunk, the man
stood in night absolute. But after a minute a slender beam of golden light
struck suddenly athwart the darkness and found his face. This he endured
impassively, only lifting a hand to describe an obscure sign. Immediately
the light was shut off, a door opened in the wall opposite, dull light from
behind disclosed the silhouette of a man in Chinese robes, his head
inclined in a bow of courteous dignity.
In good English but with musical Eastern inflection a voice gave greeting:
"Good evening, Thirteen. You are awaited--and welcome!"
"Good evening, Shaik Tsin," the European replied in heavy un-English
accents. "Number One is here, yes?"
"Not yet. But we have just received a telautographic message saying he is
on his way."
Nodding impatiently, Thirteen passed through the door, which the Chinaman
quickly closed and barred.
The chamber to which one gained admittance by ways so devious and fantastic
was large--exactly how large it was difficult to guess, since all its walls
were screened by black silk panels upon which golden dragons writhed and
crawled. A thick carpet of black covered every inch of visible floor space,
a black silk canopy hid the ceiling, and all the room was in deep shadow
save the space immediately beneath a great lamp of opalescent glass,
likewise draped in black.
Here stood an octagonal table of black teakwood, on seven sides of which
seven chairs were placed. When Thirteen had taken his seat all these were
occupied. On the eighth side an eighth chair stood empty on a low dais, the
heavy carving of its high back, its massive arms and legs, picked out with
The six who had anticipated Thirteen at this bizarre rendezvous hailed him
as a familiar, according to their several idiosyncrasies, brusquely,
indifferently, or with some semblance of cordiality. They made a motley
Two were Englishman in appearance, though the figure of languid elegance in
evening dress that might have graced the lounge of a West End club had a
voice soft with Celtic brogue. The other owned a gross body clothed in loud
checks and, with his mean blue eyes, his mottled complexion, and cunning
leer, would not have seemed out of place in a betting-ring.
Aside from these there were a moon-faced Bengali babu, a dark Italian with
flashing eyes and teeth, and a stout person of bovine Teutonic cast--the
type that is sage, shrewd, easy-going when unopposed, but capable under
provocation of exhibiting the most conscienceless brutality.
From this last Thirteen got his warmest welcome.
"You are late, mine friend."
"In good time, however," Thirteen responded with a nod toward the vacant
chair. "More than that, the summons was handed me only twenty minutes ago."
"How was that?" the babu asked. "It was sent at six o'clock."
"I was at work in the laboratory and had left orders I was not to be
disturbed. But for one thing"--the petulance of Thirteen's habitual
expression was lightened by a flash of self-gratulation, and his voice
shook a little with excitement--"I might not have received the summons
"And that one thing?"
"Success, comrades! At last--after months of experimentation--I have been
"'Ow?" dryly demanded the man in the checked suit.
"I have discovered a great secret--discovered, perfected, adapted it to
common means at our command. Comrades, I tell you, to-night we hold all
England in the hollow of our hands!"
With an incoherent exclamation and eyes afire the Russian sat forward.
Unconsciously the others imitated his action. Only the man in evening dress
made a show of remaining unimpressed.
"It's fine, fat words you're after using," he commented. "'All England in
the hollow of our hands!' If they mean anything at all, comrade, they
"Everything!" Thirteen cut in with arrogant assertiveness; "all we've been
waiting for, hoping for, praying for--the end of the ruling classes,
extinction of the accursed aristocrats, subjugation of the thrice-damned
bourgeois, the triumph of the proletariat, all at a single stroke, swift,
subtle, and sure! Freedom for Ireland, freedom for India, freedom for
England, the speedy spreading of that red dawn which lights the Russian
skies to-day, till all the wide world basks in its warm radiance and
acclaims us, comrades, its redeemers!"
"Lieber Gott!" the German breathed. "Colossal!"
"'Ear, 'ear!" the Englishman applauded, perfunctory and skeptical. "Bli'me
if you didn't mike me forget where I was--'ad me thinking I was in 'Yde
Park, you did, listening to a bloody horator on a box."
"You may laugh," Thirteen replied with a sour glance; "but when you have
heard, you will not laugh. I am not boasting--I am telling you."
"Not a great deal," the Irishman suggested. "Your mouth is full of sounds
and fury, but till you tell us more you'll have told us nothing."
The face of Thirteen grew darker still, and for a moment he seemed to
meditate an angry retort; but he thought better of it, contenting himself
with an impatient movement and a mutter: "All in good time; Number One is
not here yet."
"W'y wyste time w'itin' for 'im?" demanded the Englishman. "'E's no good,
Thirteen's eyes narrowed. "How so?"
"'E's done, Number One is--finished, counted out, napoo! 'E's 'ad 'is d'y,
and a pretty mess 'e's mide of it--and it's 'igh time, I say, for 'im to
step down and let a better man tike 'old."
Growls in chorus endorsed this declaration of mutiny; but suddenly were
stilled by a voice, sonorous and calm, from outside the circle:
"You think so, Seven? Well--who knows?--perhaps you are right."
COUNCIL OF THE GODLESS
Someone exclaimed in an accent of alarm: "Number One!"
With a concerted turning of startled heads, a hasty thrusting back of
chairs, the gathering rose in involuntary deference. That is, five rose as
one; and, after a moment during which his spirit of insubordination
faltered and failed, the Englishman got awkwardly to his feet and stood
abashed and sullen.
The one to remain seated was the Irishman so well turned out by Conduit
Street; who made no move more than slightly to elevate supercilious brows
and slouch a little lower in his chair, glancing from face to face of the
circle, then back to the cold countenance presented by the author of the
This last stood quietly beside the eighth chair, a hand on its carved arm,
one foot on the edge of the dais. A long robe of black silk enveloped him;
on its bosom a Chinese unicorn was embroidered. His girdle clasp was of
Imperial jade set with rubies. The girdle itself was yellow. A great ruby
button, nearly an inch in diameter, set in a mounting of worked gold,
crowned a hat like an inverted round bowl. His black silk shoes were heavy
with golden embroidery, and had white soles an inch thick. Authority lent
inches to his stature, so that he seemed to dominate his company physically
as well as spiritually.
A pace or two in the rear Shaik Tsin, with impassive face and arms folded
in voluminous sleeves, waited as might a bodyguard.
A sardonic glimmer in eyes half visible under heavy lids alone betrayed
relish of the situation, the homage commanded and the sensation created by
this inopportune and unheralded arrival: deliberately Number One mounted
the dais and posed himself in the throne-like chair. Then, as his look read
face after face, he smiled with twitching and disdainful nostrils.
"Gentlemen of the Council," he said, slowly, "I bow to you all. Pray be
In confounded silence the six resumed their seats, while the seventh--who
had not moved--lighted a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and through a veil of
smoke continued to regard Number One with insolent eyes.
"I fear my arrival was ill-timed, gentlemen. Seven had the floor, and I
confess to finding what I happened to overhear extremely interesting. If he
will be good enough to continue ..."
The Irishman gave a light, derisive laugh. Shifting uneasily in his chair,
the man in the checked suit flushed darkly, then stiffened his spine,
hardened his eyes, set his jaw, and faced Number One defiantly.
"You 'eard ... I 'olds by w'at I said."
"I am to understand, then, you think it time for me to abdicate and let
another lead you in my stead?"
The Englishman assented with an inarticulate monosyllable and a surly nod.
"And may one ask why?"
"Blue's plice in Pekin Street was r'ided this afternoon," Seven announced
truculently. "But per'aps you didn't know--"
"Not until some time before the news reached you," One replied, pleasantly.
"And what of it?"
"Three fycers in a week, Gov'ner--anybody'll tell you that's comin' it a
"Granted. What then?"
"That's only part of it. Tike last week: Eighteen pinched, the queer plant
in 'Igh Street pulled by the coppers--"
"I know, I know. To your point!"
Seven hesitated under that steely stare. "I leave it to you, Gov'ner," he
continued to stammer at length. "S'y you was me and I was Number One--w'at
would you think?"
"Why, quite naturally, that some superior intelligence has latterly been
collaborating with Scotland Yard."
"Aren't you a bit behindhand in arriving at that conclusion?" the Irishman
suggested with an ill-dissembled sneer.
"No, Eleven," Number One replied, mildly, "since I arrived at it some time
"But took no measures--"
"You are in a position to state that as a fact?"
Eleven shrugged lightly. "Need I be? Does not our situation speak for
"Since you cannot be as thoroughly acquainted as I am with the situation,
and since it seems I am required to account for my leadership or surrender
it to you, Eleven ... I believe you have selected yourself to replace me as
Number One, have you not?--that is to say, in the improbable event of my
"Improbable?" repeated the Irishman. "I wouldn't call it that."
"You are right," Number One assented, gravely: "unthinkable is the word.
But you haven't answered my question."
"Oh, as for that, if the Council should see fit to appoint me Number One,
I'd naturally do my best."
"And most noble of you, I'm sure. But rather than bring down any such
disaster upon this organization, I will say now that measures have already
been taken, and I am to-night in a position to promise you that the new
spirit in Scotland Yard will no longer be a factor in our calculations."
"That wants proving," Eleven contended.
A spasm of anger shook the figure in the throne-like chair, but only for
an instant; immediately the iron will of the man imposed rigid
self-control; almost without pause he proceeded in level and civil accents:
"I think I can satisfy you and--this once--I consent to do so. But first, a
question: Have you yourself formed any theory as to the identity of this
hostile intelligence which has so hindered us of late?"
"I'd be a raw fool if I hadn't," the Irishman retorted. "We know the Lone
Wolf has been hand-in-glove with the authorities ever since the British
Secret Service used him during the war."
"You think, then, it is Lanyard--?"
"It's a wise saying: 'Set a thief to catch a thief.' I believe there's no
man in England but Lanyard who has the wit and vision and audacity to fight
us on our ground and win."
"I agree entirely. Therefore, I have this day tied the hands of the Lone
Wolf; he will not again dare to contend against us."
Eleven sat up with a startled gesture.
"Are you meaning you've got the girl?"
Number One indulged a remote and chilly smile.
"Then you, too, noticed the advertisement? Accept my compliments, Eleven.
Decidedly you might prove a dangerous rival--were I in a temper to
countenance competition.... But it is true: I have the girl Sofia--the Lone
The smile faded; the man on the dais looked down loftily.
"It is enough for you to know I have proved far-sighted and unfailing in my
fidelity to our common cause."
"So _you_ say ..."
Though the Irishman winced and fell silent under the cold glare of the
other's eyes, the voice that answered him was level and passionless.
"I am not here to have my word challenged--or my authority. If any one of
you imagines I am even thinking of surrendering the latter, under any
conceivable circumstances, he is mad. And if any one of you doubts my power
to enforce my will, I promise him ample proof of it before the night is
ended.... Let us now proceed to business, the question held over from our
last meeting. If Comrade Four will consult his minutes"--a nod singled out
the babu, who, beaming with importance, produced a note-book--"they will
show we adjourned to consider overtures made by the Smolny Institute of
Petrograd, seeking our cooeperation toward accelerating the social
revolution in England."
"Thatt," the Bengali affirmed, "is true bill of factt."
"If the temper in which you received those proposals is fair criterion,"
Number One resumed, "there can be little doubt as to our decision. Speaking
for myself, I think it would be suicidal to reject the overtures of the
Soviet Government in Russia. Let me state why."
He bowed his forehead upon a hand and continued with thoughtful gaze
"England is ripe for revolution. The social discontent resulting from the
war has reached an acute stage. Only a spark is needed. It remains for us
to decide whether to permit Russia to bring about the explosion or--bring
it about ourselves. The soviet movement is irresistible, it will sweep
England eventually as it has swept Russia, as it is now sweeping Germany,
Hungary, Austria, Italy, as it must soon sweep France and Spain. Our power
in England is great; even so, we could hope to do no more than delay the
soviet movement were we to set ourselves against it--we could never hope to
stop it. It would seem, then, self-preservation to set ourselves at the
head of it, seize with our own hands--in the name of the British
Soviet--the symbols of power now held by an antiquated and doddering
Government. So shall we become to England what the Smolny Institute is to
Russia. Otherwise, in the end, we must be crushed."
"If we adopt the indicated course, there will be an end forever to this
hole-and-corner business which so hampers us, we will be able to work in
the open, the police will become our tools rather than weapons in the hands
of our enemies; our power will be without limits, Soviet Russia itself must
bow to our dictation."
He paused and lifted his head, looking round the circle of intent faces.
"If I am wrong or too sanguine, I am ready to be corrected."
He heard only a murmur of admiration, never a note of dissent; and a smile
of gratification, yet half satiric, curved his thin lips.
"I take it, then, the Council endorses my decision to proceed with the
negotiations instituted by Soviet Russia; to accept its proposals and
pledge our cooperation in every way?"
This time there was no mistaking the accuracy with which he had gauged the
minds of his associates.
"One thing remains to be decided: a plan of action, something which will
demand all that we have of imagination, ingenuity, common sense, and far
prevision. We can afford to waste not a single ounce of strength: the blow,
when we strike, must be sudden, sharp, merciless--irresistible. But if
Thirteen is not over-confident of the discovery which he says he has to-day
perfected, the means to deal just such a blow is ready to our hands....
A nod and gracious smile invited that one to speak. He rose, trembling a
little with excitement, bowed to Number One and, delving into capacious
pockets, produced a number of small tin canisters together with three
sealed bottles of brown glass. Surveying these, as he arranged them on the
teakwood table before him, he smiled a little to himself: the stars, it
seemed to him, were warring in their courses in his behalf; this was to
prove his hour of hours.
He began to speak in a quivering voice which soon grew more steady.
"It is true, Excellency--it is true, comrades--I have perfected a discovery
which I offer as a free gift to the cause, and by means of which,
intelligently employed, we can, if we will, make all London a graveyard.
Put the resources of this organization at my command, give me a week to
make the essential preparations, select a time of national crisis when the
Houses of Parliament are sitting and the Cabinet meets in Downing Street
with the King attending or in Buckingham Palace ..."
He paused and held the pause with a keen feeling for dramatic effect, his
eyes seeking in turn the faces of his fellow conspirators, an
insuppressible grin of malicious exultation twisting his scornful and
"Let this be done," he concluded, "and by means of these few tins and
bottles which you see before you, in one brief hour the ruling classes will
have perished almost to a man, there will be no more government of a
tyrannical bourgeoisie to grind down the proletariat, a bloodless
revolution will have made England the cradle of the new liberty!"
"Bloodless?" the man on the dais repeated; and even he was seen perceptibly
to shudder at the prospect unfolded to the vision of his mind. "Yes--but
more terrible than the massacre of the Huguenots, more savage than the
"But I believe," the inventor commented, "your Excellency said we required
the means to deal a 'blow sudden, sharp, merciless--irresistible'."
"Surely now," the Irishman suggested, mockingly--where a wiser man would
have held his tongue--"you'll not be sticking at a small matter like
wholesale murder if it's to make us masters of England?"
"Of England?" the German echoed. "Herr Gott! Of the world!"
"And you, Excellency, our master," the inventor added, shrewdly.
A sign at once impatient and imperative demanded silence, and for a few
minutes it obtained unbroken, while the gathering, keyed to high tension,
studied closely the face of their leader and found it altogether illegible.
On his part he seemed forgetful of the existence of anybody but himself,
forgetful almost of himself as well: sitting low in his great chair, his
body as stirless as it were bound by some spell of black magic, his far
gaze probing unfathomable remotenesses of thought.
Slowly he recalled himself to his surroundings; with a suggestion of
weariness he sat up and reviewed the little company that hung so
breathlessly upon the issue of his judgment. The shadow of that satiric
"If the thing be feasible," he promised, "it shall be done. It remains for
Thirteen to be more explicit."
With an extravagant flourish the inventor whipped from his breastpocket a
folded paper, and spread it out face uppermost on the table.
"A map of London," he announced, "based on the latest Ordnance Survey and
coloured to show the districts supplied by the mains of each individual gas
depot. Thus you will observe"--what his long, bony finger indicated--"the
district supplied by the mains of the Westminster gas works, comprising
Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the War Office, and the
Admiralty, Downing Street, the homes of hundreds of the aristocracy. All
these we can at will turn into the deadliest of death traps."
A tense voice interrupted with the demand: "How?"
"Quite easily, comrade: with the ramifications of our power throughout
London, all under the control of his Excellency"--the inventor bowed to
Number One--"it should be an easy matter to place a few trustworthy men
with the Westminster gas works."
"It can readily be done," Number One affirmed. "And then--?"
"While this is being done means must be found to smuggle other men, in the
guise of servants, into the various buildings selected, or to corrupt those
already so employed therein. At the designated hour--"
The words dried upon his lips as somewhere a hidden bell stabbed the quiet
with short, sharp thrills of sound, a code that spelled a message of
terrifying significance. The inventor started violently, but no more so
than every man about the table. Even Number One, shocked out of his
lounging pose, grasped the arms of his throne with convulsive hands.
Quietly and without a hint of hurry, the Chinese, Shaik Tsin, moved back
into the shadows and, unnoticed, disappeared behind a screen.
For a moment, when the bell had ceased, nobody spoke; but pallid face
consulted face and eyes grown wide with dread sought eyes that winced in
Then the Bengali leaped from his chair, jabbering with bloodless lips.
"Police! Raid! We are betrayed!"
He made an uncertain turn, as if thinking to seek safety in flight but
doubting which way to choose; and the movement struck panic into the minds
and hearts of his fellows. In a twinkling all were on their feet. But
before one could move a step the lamp in the ceiling winked out, the room
was left in darkness unrelieved, and the accents of Number One were heard,
"Gentlemen! be good enough to resume your places--let no one move before
there is light again. We are in no immediate danger: Shaik Tsin will show
you out by a secret way long before the police can hope to find and break
into this chamber. In the meantime--"
The infuriated voice of the Englishman interrupted:
"And 'oo're you to give us orders?--you 'oo talked so big about 'avin' tied
the 'ands of the Lone Wolf and Scotland Yard! You blarsted blow'ard! Bli'me
if I don't believe it's you 'oo--"
"Quietly, Seven! Have you forgotten you have a bad heart?--that excitement
may mean your sudden death?"
The rage of the Englishman ran out in a gasp and a whisper.
"In the meantime," Number One resumed as if there had been no break, "I
promised that, before the night was out, you should have proof of my
ability to enforce my will."
A groan of agony answered him, followed by an oath of witless fear. From a
distance the voice, now thin but still sonorous, added:
"Thirteen will hold himself ready to wait on me when I send for him
to-morrow. Gentlemen of the Council, I bow to you all."
Again silence held for a long minute during which no man stirred or spoke.
Then overhead the lamp burned bright again, discovering six frightened men
upon their feet and one who, still seated, did not stir, and never would
His head fallen forward, chin resting on his chest, mouth ajar, inert arms
dangling over the arms of the chair, heavy legs lax, the Englishman sat
quite dead, dead without a sign to show how death had come to him.
Number One had disappeared.
There was a remote rumour of cries and shouts, the muffled sound of axes
crashing into woodwork....
Late in the forenoon a pencil of golden light found a chink in jealously
drawn draperies, and groped the rich dusk of the bedchamber till it came to
rest, as if happy that its search had found so lovely a reward, upon the
face of a young girl who lay sleeping in a bed whose exquisite adornment
must have flattered even the exalted person of a princess.
With a swift but silent movement another girl, who had been sitting
patiently on a low stool near by, rose and put herself in the way of the
sunbeam. But too late: already long lashes were a-flutter upon the
delicately modelled cheeks of the sleeper.
A gentle sigh brushed parting lips; the sweet body stirred luxuriously;
unclouded by any shadow of misgiving, the blue eyes of the Princess Sofia
looked out upon the first day of her new world.
Then they grew wide with wonder, comprehending the sleek, pretty face of a
Chinese girl of about her own age who, with eyes downcast, demure mouth and
folded hands, submissively awaited recognition.
"Who are you?" Sofia demanded in a breath.
A bob of courtesy, wholly charming, prefaced a reply pattered in English
of quaintest accent:
"You' handmaiden--Chou Nu is my name."
"Les, Plincess Sofia."
"But I don't understand. How--when--?"
"Las' night Numbe' One he send for me, but when I come you go-sleep."
Surprise coloured faintly the explanation: "Plince Victo', honol'ble fathe'
of Plincess Sofia. You like get up now, take bath, have blekfuss?"
The smile was irresistibly ingratiating: Sofia could not but return it.
Delighted, Chou Nu ran to the windows, threw wide their draperies, and
darted into the bathroom.
Autumnal sunlight kindled to burning beauty the golden-bronze tresses
coiled upon the pillows where Sofia lay unstirring, like a princess
enchanted--as indeed she was. Surely nothing less potent than magic had
wrought this metamorphosis in the fabric of her life! And whether the magic
were white or black--what matter? Its work was good.
No more the Cafe des Exiles, no more the deadly tedium of daily service at
the desk of the caisse, no more the shrewish tongue of Mama Therese, the
odious oglings of Papa Dupont, the ceaseless cark of discontent....
As one who moves in a dream, Sofia rose presently and bathed, then, robed
in a ravishing negligee of rare brocade, breakfasted on melon, tea, and
toast from a service of eggshell china.
In a long mirror she saw and watched but did not know herself. Like Goody
Twoshoes of nursery fame she could have cried: Lawkamercy! this is never I!
The presence of Chou Nu served merely to stress the sense of unreality:
for, obviously, only the heroine of a true fairy tale could have broken
from a chrysalis stage of sordid Soho to the brilliant butterfly existence
of a Russian princess domiciled in the most aristocratic quarter of London
and attended by a Chinese maid!
And Chou Nu proved a delight. Once satisfied she need fear neither
ill-temper nor arrogance from her new mistress, she indulged an even and
constant flow of artless high spirits, her amusing, clipped English
affording Sofia considerable entertainment together with not a little food
Thus one learned that the main body of the service staff was Chinese under
a major domo named Shaik Tsin--Chou Nu's "second-uncle"--who enjoyed Prince
Victor's completest confidence and was, second to the latter only, the real
head of the establishment, its presiding genius. The front of the house
alone was dressed with a handful of English servants nominally under the
man Nogam, but actually, like him, answerable in the last instance to Shaik
Why this should be Chou Nu couldn't say. Sofia supposed it was because
Prince Victor thought his Occidental guests would feel more at ease with
English servants; or perhaps he himself preferred them, when it came to the
question of personal attendance.
No success rewarded efforts to extract from Chou Nu her reason for
referring to Victor as "Number One." She stated simply that all Chinamans
in London called him that; and being pressed further added, with as near an
approach to impatience as her gentle nature could muster, that it was
obviously because Plince Victo' _was_ Numbe' One: ev'-body knew _that_.
A knock at the door interrupted Sofia's questioning. Answering, Chou
brought back word that the honourable father of Princess Sofia submitted
his august felicitations and solicited the immediate favour of her serene
attendance in his study.
Hasty search failed to locate the garments discarded on going to bed and,
in the indifference of depression and fatigue, left in a tumble on the
floor. All had vanished while Sofia slept; Chou Nu professed blank
ignorance of their fate; and apparently nothing had been provided in their
stead but Chinese robes, of sumptuous vestments well suited to one of high
estate. With these, then, and with Chou Nu's guidance as to choice and
ceremonious arrangement, Sofia was obliged to make shift; and anything but
unbecoming she found them--or truly it was a shape of dream that looked
out from her mirror.
Yet it was with reluctant feet that she left her room, descended the broad
staircase to the entrance hall, and addressed herself to the study door. It
had been so beautiful, that waking dream the sequel to her night of
dreamless sleep, too beautiful to be foregone without regret.
For Sofia had not forgotten, she could never forget, she had merely been
successful temporarily in banishing from mind that bitter disillusionment
which had poisoned what should have been her time of greatest joy.
To be told, by the father of whose dear existence one had only learned
within the hour, that one was the child of a notorious thief and an
It needed more than common fortitude to face renewed reminder of that
Oddly enough, it seemed to help a bit, somehow to lend her courage and
assurance, to pass the man Nogam in the hall and acknowledge his bow and
smile. Sofia wondered vaguely what it was that made his smile seem so kind;
it was entirely respectful, there was nothing more in it that she could fix
on; and yet ...
She was able to offer Victor a composed, almost a happy countenance, and to
return cheerful assurances to punctilious enquiries after her well-being
and her comfort overnight. To the real affection in which he held her, the
warmth of his embrace, and the lingering pressure of his lips gave
convincing testimony; and in time, no doubt, as she grew to know him
better, her response would become more spontaneous and true. Indeed, she
insisted, it must; she would school herself, if need be, to remember that
this strange man was the author of her being, the natural object of her
affections--deserving all her love if only because of that nobility which
had enabled him to renounce those evil ways of years long dead.
But to-day--and this, of course, she couldn't understand--a slight but
invincible shiver, perceptible to herself alone, attended her submission to
paternal caresses; and the eyes were too dispassionate with which she saw
Prince Victor. Still, they found little to which fair exception might be
taken. If Life had thus far been callously frank with Sofia as to its
broader aspects, the niceties of its technique remained measurably a
mystery, she was insufficiently instructed to perceive that Victor's
morning coat (for example) had been cut a shade too cleverly, or that the
ensemble of his raiment was a trace ornate; and where a mind more mondain
would have marked ponderable constraint in his manner, she saw only dignity
and reserve. But for all that she recognized intuitively a lack of
something in the man, the sum of this second impression of him was formless
disappointment, she felt somehow cheated, disheartened, chilled.
That she was able at all to dissemble this sense of dashed expectations
was thanks in the main to a third party, a stranger whose presence she
overlooked on entering, when Prince Victor met her near the door, while the
other remained aside, half hidden in the recess of a window.
Directly, however, that Victor half turned away, saying "I have found a
friend for you, my dear," Sofia, following his glance, discovered a woman
whose every detail of dress and deportment was unmistakably of the
fashionable world and whose face carried souvenirs of loveliness as
Smiling and offering her hands, she approached, while Victor's voice of
heavy modulations uttered formally:
"Sybil, permit me to present my daughter. Sofia, Mrs. Waring has graciously
offered to sponsor your introduction to Society, to guide and instruct you
and be in every way your mentor."
"My dear!" the woman exclaimed, holding Sofia's hands and kissing her
cheek. And then, looking aside to Victor, "But how very like!" she added
with the air of tender reminiscence.
"Oh!" Sofia cried, "you knew my mother?"
"Indeed--and loved her." Sofia never dreamed to question the woman's
sincerity; and her charm of manner was irresistible. "You must try to like
me a little for her sake--"
"As if one could help liking you for your own, Mrs. Waring!"
"Prettily said, my dear. You have inherited more from your mother than
your good looks alone. Is it not so, mon prince?"
"Much more." Victor's enigmatic smile gave place to a look of regret and
uneasiness. "Let us hope, however, not too much. Heredity," he mused in
sombre mood, "is a force of such fatality in our lives...."
He gave a gesture of solicitude and continued with characteristic
deliberation, and that preciseness of diction which he seemed never able to
forget, even though deeply moved.
"More than ever, now that Sofia is restored to me, I could wish the past
other than what it was, that she might start life with a handicap less
cruel of inherited tendencies. But when I reflect that both her parents--"
"Please!" Sofia begged, piteous. "Oh, please!"
"I am sorry, my dear." Victor closed tender hands over those which the girl
had lifted in appeal. "It is for your own good only I give myself this pain
of warning you against your worst enemy, I mean yourself, the self that is
so strange a compound of hereditary weaknesses.... Please remember always
that, no matter what may happen, however far you may be led into
transgression of the social codes, I shall never reproach you, on the
contrary, you may count implicitly on my sympathetic understanding. Never
forget, I, too, have known, have suffered and fought myself--and in the end
won at a cost I am not yet finished paying, nor will be, I fear, this side
He sighed from his heart, and bowing a stricken head, seemed to lose
himself in disconsolate reverie--but not so far as to suffer the
interruption which Sofia made to offer and which he stayed with an eloquent
"You do not understand? But naturally. Let me explain. No: there is no
reason why Sybil--Mrs. Waring--should not hear. She is a dear friend of
long years, she understands."
With a quiet murmur--"Oh, quite!"--Mrs. Waring ran an affectionate arm
round Sofia's shoulders and gently held the girl to her.
"When I determined to forsake the bad old ways," Victor pursued--"this you
must know, my dear--I had friends--of a sort--who resented my defection,
set themselves against my will and, when they found they could not swerve
me from my purpose, became my enemies. That was long ago, but to this day
some of them persist in their enmity--I have to be constantly on my guard."
"You mean there is danger?" Sofia asked in quick anxiety. "Your life--?"
"Always," Victor assented, gravely. With a shrug he added: "It is nothing;
for myself, I am used to it, I do not greatly care. But for you--that is
another matter altogether. I have a great fear for you, my child. That,
indeed, is why I never tried to find you till yesterday--believing, as I
mistakenly did, you were in good hands, well cared for, happy--lest my
enemies seek to strike at me through you. But when I saw that unfortunate
advertisement I dared delay not another hour about bringing you within the
compass of my protection. Even now, untiring as my care for you shall ever
be, I know my enemies will be as tireless in endeavours to rob me of you.
You will be followed, hounded, importuned, lied to, threatened--all without
rest. If they cannot take you from me bodily, they will seek to poison your
mind against me. Therefore, rather than keep you practically a prisoner in
your home, I feel obliged to require a promise of you."
Deeply stirred by the melancholy gravity that informed his pose, the girl
protested earnestly: "Anything--I will promise anything, rather than be an
anxiety to one who is so kind."
"Kind? To my own daughter?" Victor smiled sadly. "But I love you, little
Sofia. Nor is it much that I must ask of you: merely that you never go out
alone, but only in the company of Mrs. Waring or Mr. Karslake or,
"Oh, I promise that--"
"But there is more: If by any accident you should ever find yourself left
alone in public, do not let strangers speak to you, refuse to listen to
"And finally: If anybody should ever seek to turn you against me, come to
me instantly and tell me about it."
"But naturally I would do that, father."
"Good. I rely upon your discretion and loyalty. At another time I will
explain matters in more detail. For the present--enough of an unpleasant
subject. You have a busy day before you. At my request Mrs. Waring has
arranged to have various tradespeople wait upon you this morning to take
your orders for the beginnings of a wardrobe. If you can find something
ready-made to wear you will want, no doubt, to spend the afternoon
shopping. A car will be at your disposal, and I give you carte blanche. I
wish you never to know an unsatisfied need or desire. Still, I am selfish
enough to reserve for myself the happiness of selecting your jewels."
"Oh!" Sofia cried, breathlessly. Victor was holding his arms open; and how
should she deny him? "You are too good to me," she murmured. "How can I
ever show my gratitude?"
Holding her close, Victor smiled a singular smile.
"Some day I may tell you. But to-day--no more. I am much preoccupied with
affairs; but Mrs. Waring will take care of you till evening, when I promise
myself the pleasure of dining with you both."
At the sound of a knock he put Sofia gently from him, and said in a strong
The door opened, Nogam announced:
Hard on the echo of his name a man swung into the room with an air at once
nervous and aggressive--a tall man shabbily dressed, holding his head
high--and at sight of Sofia and Mrs. Waring, where he had doubtless thought
to find Prince Victor alone, stopped short, betraying disconcertion in the
way he instinctively assumed the stand of a soldier at attention, bringing
his heels together with an undeniable click, straightening his shoulders,
stiffening both arms to rigidity at his sides. And for a bare thought his
eyes rolled almost wildly in their deep sockets. Then he bowed twice, from
the hips, with mechanical precision, profoundly to Victor, with deep
respect to the women.
Victor smothered an exclamation of annoyance.
Unbidden, a word shaped in Sofia's consciousness, a French monosyllable
into which the war had packed every shade and gradation of hatred and
contempt, the epithet _Boche_.
Immediately erasing every sign of irritation, Victor greeted the man with
casual suavity. "Oh, there you are, eh, Sturm?" Then, as Sofia and Mrs.
Waring turned to go, he added quickly: "A moment, please. Since Mr. Sturm
to-day becomes a member of the household, acting as my assistant in some
research work which I am undertaking, I may as well present him now. Mrs.
Waring, permit me: Mr. Sturm. And the Princess Sofia Vassilyevski, my
Mumbling their names after Victor, the man Sturm executed two more bows. At
the same time he seemed to remind himself that his soldierly carriage was
perhaps injudicious, and forthwith abandoned it for a studied slouch which,
in Sofia's sight, was little less than insolent. And unmistakably there was
something nearly resembling insolence in the eyes that boldly sought hers:
a look equivocal at best and, intentionally or no, wholly offensive in
essence; as if the fellow were asserting their partnership in some secret
understanding; or as if he knew something by no means to Sofia's credit....
Her acknowledgment of his salute was accordingly cool, and she was glad
when a nod from Prince Victor gave her leave to go.
VICTOR ET AL
Those first few weeks of emancipation from the ennui of existence at the
Cafe des Exiles were so replete with wonders that Sofia lived largely in a
beatific state of breathless excitement, devoting the best part of her days
to thoughtless flying from delight to new delight, and going nightly to her
bed so healthily tired that she slept like a top and never once awakened to
memories of disturbing dreams.
Perhaps her pleasure burned the brighter for its dark, ambiguous
background--those many questions which Prince Victor persisted in leaving
unanswered. Sofia knew bad times of perplexity and depression, when the
price of translation from drudge to princess seemed a sore price to pay.
And yet, required to state the cost to her in terms explicit, she must have
hesitated lest she appear ungrateful in complaining, who hardly needed to
express a wish to have it granted, who indeed knew many a wish realized in
fact before she was fully aware of its inception in her private thoughts.
All those lovely material things of life which her famished girlhood had
ached for so hopelessly now were hers in abundant measure, and all the less
tangible things, too, so requisite to the happiness of women in a worldly
world--or nearly all. Frocks she had, with furs and furbelows no end;
flowers and flattery and frivolities; freedom within limitations as yet not
irksome; jewels that would have graced an imperial diadem--everything but
the single essential without which everything is hollow nothing and life
itself only the dreaming of a dream.
The one lack known to the Sofia of those days was the lack of Love.
She had gone so long longing to love, questing blindly and vainly for some
human being to whom her affection would mean something vital and dear--it
seemed cruel that her longing must be still denied. As it had been with
Mama Therese, it was now with the romantic father so newly self-declared.
She wanted desperately and tried her best to love Victor as his daughter
should; and that he cared for her profoundly she knew and never questioned;
yet when she searched her secret heart Sofia discovered no feeling for the
man other than a singular form of fear. His look, his tone, his manner, his
presence altogether, inspired a nameless sort of shrinking, inarticulate
apprehensions, and mistrust which the girl found at once utterly
unaccountable and dismally disappointing; so that, with every wish and will
to do otherwise, she found herself involuntarily making excuse of trivial
interests to keep out of Victor's way and, when there was no escaping,
sitting silent and ill at ease in his society, or seizing on some slender
pretext, it didn't matter what, to inveigle into their company a third
somebody, it didn't matter whom--Mrs. Waring, Karslake, even the
Nevertheless, there were times, far too many of them, too, when of a sudden
Victor would forsake his occult preoccupations and, unceremoniously
upsetting whatever arrangements Sofia might have made with Mrs. Waring or
Karslake, would find other pleasures of his own invention for her to share
with him alone: long motor jaunts through the English countryside,
apparently his favourite recreation; a box all to themselves at a theatre,
where Victor would sit watching the girl with a fascination only rivalled
by her fascination with the traffic of the boards; curiously constrained
little dinners a deux in fashionable restaurants; morning rides in Rotten
Row, where it oddly appeared that Victor knew everybody, whereas not one in
five hundred seemed to know him--or to care to know him.
Sofia, indeed, was often puzzled to account for what to her appeared to be
an almost pathetic eagerness on the part of Victor, in strange accord with
his lofty pretensions, to claim acquaintanceship with and win the
recognition even of persons of the utmost inconsequence. And she remarked,
too, that his temper was apt to be raw in sequel to their excursions into
the haunts of the well-known. But it was for other reasons altogether that
she came to dread them most.
For one thing, Victor's conversation was ordinarily rather dull; at best,
the reverse of exhilarating. And in spite of her unquestioning acceptance
of him as her father, he remained to Sofia actually a new acquaintance; in
effect, a strange man. And from strangers, more than from relatives with
whose minds one is presumably on terms of close intimacy, one is warranted
in expecting something in the way of mutual stimulation through the opening
of new perspectives of experience, thought, and feeling. Whereas--with
Sofia, at least--Victor seemed unable to talk on more than two subjects,
one or the other of which was constantly uppermost in his thoughts.
He never wearied of warning Sofia against the dangers of those moral
infirmities which he asserted were hers by legitimate inheritance; and
which, if Victor were right in his contentions, she could hardly hope to
overcome without a desperate struggle. She would have to be forever on
guard, he insisted, lest the temptation of some moment, not to be foreseen,
prove too strong for her latent weakness of character, and commit her,
through some unpremeditated act of defiance to the law--most probably an
act of theft--to the life of a social outcast.
To do her justice, the girl was consciously not much impressed by this
alleged peril. She had never been aware of any failing such as Victor would
have endowed her with; so far as she could remember she had never been
tempted to commit more venial sins than inhered in lying to Mama Therese
now and then in order to escape unmerited disciplining at the heavy hands
of that industrious virago; and as for thieving, the very thought of
anything of that sort was detestable to Sofia.
But unconsciously, no doubt, the everlasting iteration of Victor's
admonitions had its purposed effect upon that sensitive and impressionable
Then, too, by degrees, but all too soon, it became manifest that the memory
of his passionate attachment for her mother possessed Victor to the point
of monomania. It was only with an effort that he could force himself to
talk to Sofia on other subjects. He thought of nothing else while with her;
if she read his eyes aright, often glimpses of weird light flickering in
their opaque depths, like heat lightning of a murky summer's night, fairly
frightened her, and she knew a shuddering perception of the possibility
that Victor was at times in danger of confusing the daughter with the
"Never was there such resemblance," he once uttered, in a stare. "You are
more like her than she herself!"
Sofia was pardonably puzzled, and looked it.
"I mean, you re-create my vision of the woman I loved and lost--the woman I
saw in her, not the woman she was."
"Lost?" the girl murmured.
The gray countenance took on an added shade of sombre passion. "She never
understood me, she treated me badly. Once, in a fit of pique, she ran away.
I did everything--everything, I tell you!--to win her back, but--"
He choked on bitter recollections--and Sofia was painfully reminded of the
Chinese devil-masks in Victor's study. But the likeness faded even as she
saw it, under her gaze the twisted features were ironed back into their
accustomed cast of austerity.
"Before I could persuade her, you were born.... Then she died."
Sensible though she was of the ellipsis, and afraid it would never be
filled in if she interrupted, Sofia could not help uttering a sound of
regret and pity for the lot of the mother she had never seen, whose
untimely death had ended a life accounted unendurable as Victor's wife, for
reasons unknown but none the less, to the daughter, vaguely and lamentably
For Sofia by now had passed the stage of pretending to herself that she was
not happier away from her father.
Victor mistook the nature of the feeling that swayed the girl--took to
himself the sympathy excited by his revelations.
"But do not grieve on my account. Is not that which was lost restored again
to me? In you my old love lives once more ... little Sofia!"
He caught and pressed a hand that rested on the cloth between them. (They
happened that night to be dining at the Ritz.) And Sofia re-experienced
that inevitable, hateful flinching with which she was growing too familiar.
She dropped her head that her eyes might not betray her.
"People will see ..."
"What if they do? Those who know us will hardly see any wrong in my
squeezing the hand of my own daughter; and the others--not that they
matter--will only think me the luckiest dog alive--as I am!"
Chuckle and smirk both were indescribably odious, reminding Sofia of the
creature Sturm; _he_ had a laugh like that for her, on the rare occasion
when chance propinquity encouraged the Boche to begin one of his uncouth
essays in flirtation.
Sturm's attitude, in truth, perplexed Sofia to exasperation; that is to
say, as much as it offended her. For Victor the man seemed to entertain an
exaggerated yet deeply rooted respect, approaching actual awe, which he
tried his best to carry off with a swagger; for to hold anybody in any
degree of deference was, one judged, somehow deplorable, even shameful, in
the code of Sturm; but in Victor's presence the fellow's bravado would
quickly wilt into hopeless servility, he would cringe and crawl like a dog
currying the favour of a harsh master.
Nevertheless, Victor's daughter seemed to be no more than fair game, in
Sturm's understanding, and a source of supercilious amusement but thinly
veiled or not at all. Alone with the girl, Sturm put on the airs of a
Prussianized pasha condescending to a new odalisque.
Sofia held the animal in a deadly loathing which, betrayed in word or look
or gesture, animated in him only a spirit of derision. In the absence of
Victor, Sturm's eyes were ever ironic, his bows and leers mocking, his
speeches flavoured with clumsy sarcasm; from which it resulted that the
girl never quite forgot the impression which he had managed to convey in
those few moments of their first encounter, that Sturm knew something she
ought to know but didn't, and was meanly jeering at her in his sleeve.
What virtues Victor Vassilyevski perceived in the man passed comprehension.
But so did most of Victor's whims and ways. What riddle more obscure than
that portentous business which permeated the atmosphere of the
establishment with the taint of stealth and terror?--the famous "research
work" that kept Victor closeted with Sturm in his study daily for hours at
a time, often in confabulation with others of like ilk, men of furtive and
unprepossessing cast who came and went by appointment at all hours, but as
a rule late at night!
Into these conferences, Sofia observed, Karslake was never summoned. She
wondered why. He was, as she saw him, so unquestionably the better man,
everything that Sturm was not, open of countenance, fair of temper and
tongue, well-bred and well-mannered, light of heart and high spirited, and
at the same time dependable, with metal of sincerity and earnestness like
tempered steel in his character--or Sofia misread him woefully.
She had been quick to see the man behind the misleading little moustache.
And already she was beginning to count that amusement tame which Karslake
did not share.
Mrs. Waring was undeniably a dear. Sofia could hardly be grateful enough to
the happy chance which had cast that lady for the role of her chaperone;
lacking her guidance the girl must have been innocently guilty of many a
gaucherie in ways new and strange to untried, faltering feet. And it was to
her alone that Sofia owed the slow but constant widening of her social
horizon. For Sybil Waring, it seemed, quite literally "knew everybody"; and
Sofia soon learned to count it an off day when Sybil failed to present her
protegee to the notice of somebody of position and influence.
Most of these persons were women with sounding names and the solid backing
of much money conspicuously in evidence--matrons of the younger and more
giddy generation which was just then so busily engaged in providing
material for the most hectic chapters of London's post-war social history.
But Sofia was scarcely qualified to be critical or to guess that they were
climbers equally with herself, and that if their footing had been of older
establishment the name of Vassilyevski would have rung sinister echoes in
their memories, deafening them to the rich allure inherent in the title of
So she was fain to accept them all at their own valuation, and thought most
of them entirely charming. And though she had hardly had time as yet to
progress beyond the introductory stages of chance meetings and informal
little teas in public, she began clearly to descry enchanting vistas of
better days to come, when the Princess Sofia Vassilyevski would have not
only teas but dinners and dances given in her honour, and would be asked to
spend gay week-ends in the country houses of the people with whom she
contracted the stronger friendships.
But for the immediate present, and especially in the paramount business of
having a good time, Karslake was fairly a necessity. He thought of
everything and forgot nothing, was ever fertile of fresh expedient if the
pastime of a moment began to pall, and was capable of sustained fits of
irresponsible gaiety which enchanted Sofia, so well did they chime with her
own eagerness for sheer fun.
Decidedly she would have been lost without Sybil Waring; but without
Karslake she would have been forlorn.
Not yet prepared to admit it even to herself, in her heart Sofia knew she
prized the companionship of Karslake for something more than the mere
amusement it afforded her: there was a deeper feeling she would not name.
For all that, her times of solitude knew dreams quick and warm with the
thought of Karslake, his words and ways, the gracious little attentions he
had accustomed her to expect of him and which his manner subtly invested
with a personal flavour inexpressibly delightful, indispensably sweet.
Nor did she ever quite forget how long he had worshipped with
unostentatious devotion at her lowly shrine of the caisse in the Cafe des
Exiles, and how shabbily she had rewarded his admiration--never once, in
those many months, with so much as a smile--and how unresentful had been
his acceptance of her half-feigned, half-real indifference to his
But whenever her reflections took that back-turning she would recall the
man who had talked to Karslake in the cafe, that day so long ago, of his
own humble past as a 'bus-boy in Troyon's in Paris, and who on leaving had
given Sofia herself that odd look of half-recognition tempered by
She tried once to draw Karslake about this acquaintance of his, but
Karslake's memory proved unusually sluggish.
"No-o," he drawled after a tolerably long pause for thought--"can't say I
place the chap you mean, can't seem somehow to think back that far, you
know. One meets such a lot of people, first and last, they talk such a lot
"But it couldn't have been only tosh you were talking," the girl persisted,
"because--_I_ remember--you were so keen about keeping what you said
secret, you spoke the strangest language together most of the time. I could
hear every word"--she had already explained about the freak acoustics of
the Cafe des Exiles--"and not one meant anything to me."
"Stupid of me, but I simply can't think what it could have been."
Karslake looked askance at Sofia.
"Since I've heard so much Chinese spoken by the servants--now I come to
think of it"--Sofia's eyes grew bright with triumph--"I'm sure it must have
been Chinese you were speaking to the man I mean."
"Impossible," Karslake pronounced calmly.
"But you do know Chinese, don't you?"
"Not a syllable."
Sofia opened her lips to protest, but delayed to study Karslake's face
intently. He didn't try to escape her scrutiny, he even seemed to court it;
but there was a curious, quizzical look in his eyes, those half-smiling
lips had a whimsical droop.
"Mr. Karslake!" Sofia announced, severely, "you're fibbing."
"Nice thing to say to me."
"You do speak Chinese--confess."
"My dear Princess Sofia," Karslake protested: "if I had known one word of
Chinese I could never have landed my job with your father."
"He expressly stipulated that I should be ignorant of that language."
"What a silly condition to make!"
"Still, I daresay Prince Victor had his reasons."
"I can't imagine what ..."
"Possibly preferred a secretary who couldn't understand everything he said
to the servants. I've never pretended to know all Prince Victor's secrets,
After a little pause Sofia asked gently: "Did you really need the job so
badly, Mr. Karslake?"
"To get it meant more to me than I can tell you--almost as much as to hold
on to it does to-day."
Sofia turned her eyes away at this, and for the rest of the ride--they were
homeward bound from a matinee, having dropped Sybil Waring at her flat in
Mayfair--kept her thoughts to herself.
Only the most perfunctory civilities passed between them, in fact, until
they had been ushered into the study by Nogam, who advised them that Prince
Victor had ordered tea to be served there and had promised to be home in
good time for it.
The tea service was already set out on a little table beside the fireplace
in that room of secrets, whose normal atmosphere of brooding gloom was now
the darker for the deepening dusk. Only the tea itself remained to be
served, a special rite never performed in that household by hands more
profane than those of the major-domo, Shaik Tsin himself. And this last
could be counted upon not to put in appearance until Nogam took him word
that Victor was waiting.
So, having laid aside her furs and satisfied herself, by a seemingly
aimless but in fact exacting survey, that the abominable Sturm was not
skulking anywhere in the shadows, Sofia established herself on a lounge
that faced the fireplace, while Karslake stood before the fire, looking
down with an expectant smile of which she was but half aware.
"Aren't you going to forgive me?" he asked, quietly, after a time.
Sofia withdrew a pensive gaze from the ruddy bed of coals.
"You were kind enough to call it merely fibbing."
"I'm still thinking about that."
In fact, she had been thinking of nothing else. There was so much to be
considered. Imprimis, that Karslake had been guilty of practising a
deception upon her father. Deceit in itself was one form of treachery. And
how often had Victor stressed to her the dangers of his position,
surrounded by nameless but implacable enemies who would stick at no infamy
to compass his ruin!
But if she told him that Karslake understood Chinese she would lose her
friend forever--no question about that. Victor would not hesitate an
instant--indeed, Sofia felt sure he was only waiting for some such pretext
to get rid of his secretary. She was anything but unobserving, this child
of Soho, whose wits had been sharpened in the sophisticated atmosphere of a
French restaurant; and more than once she had seen Victor's face duplicate
the expression Papa Dupont's had so often assumed on his discovering that
some patron of the cafe was taking too personal an interest in the pretty
young dame du comptoir. A look of insensate jealousy ...
To risk forfeiting the comradeship that had grown to be so dear? Or to be
constructively derelict in her duty as a daughter?
A difficult choice to make; but Sofia made it honestly. In point of fact,
she assured herself, coldly, there was no choice, there was only one thing
she could do under the circumstances. And she hardened her heart and eyes
as she rose to face Karslake on more equal terms.
But when she saw him waiting patiently, with that friendly smile of his she
knew so well, she hesitated long enough to permit his anticipating her with
a quiet question:
"Well, Princess Sofia?"
And then, amazingly, her tongue betrayed her, the phrases she had framed so
carefully vanished utterly from out her mind; and she heard herself saying
in rather tremulous accents:
"It's all right. I shan't tell."
"About my understanding Chinese?"
"Then you do care--?"
She was panicky with knowledge that somehow her emotions had managed to
slip their moorings and get beyond her handling. It didn't help or mend
matters much to hear her own voice stammering:
"Yes, of course, I--I don't want you to--to have to go away--"
Oh, the vanity of trying to hoodwink him who knew so well what she was now
for the first time realizing!
"Because you like me a little, Princess Sofia?"
"Why--yes--of course I do--"
"Because you know I love you, dear."
And then she found herself clinging to Karslake; and his lips were warm
upon her hands ...
So suddenly and at long last it came to Sofia, that Love for which all her
days had been one long weariness of waiting, Love that brimmed with
raptures what had been only aching emptiness and made the desert places to
blossom as the rose. And the joy of it proved overmastering, sweeping her
off her feet and dazing her, leaving her breathless and thoughtless but for
the all-obscuring thought--at length she loved, and the one whom she loved
And for a space she existed in an iridescent dream of happiness, without
sense of relation to a material world, forgetful of the flight of time,
lost to everything but her lover's arms and voice and lips.
It might have been five minutes, it might have been sixty, before she
became aware that Karslake was gently disengaging her hands. "Dearest,
dearest!" she heard him say. "We must be sensible. That was the front door,
The meaning in his insistence presently began to penetrate, if vaguely, and
she suffered him to go from her a pace or two. But, still a little blind
with the beauty of the revelation that had been granted unto her, nothing
that met her gaze seemed to be in true focus except her lover's face: even
the countenance of Victor swam into her ken as if blurred by veils of mist,
its dour, forbidding look had no significance to her intelligence. Victor
himself, for that matter, was a figure without real consequence other than
as a symbol of the old order, the tedious old ways of the world from which
she had magically escaped.
A ring of sarcastic apology provided the only clue she got to the import
of Victor's words. Sobered a trifle, her mental processes somewhat less
incoherent, still she knew she would hardly regain her poise until she was
alone. And breathing an excuse, she left the room with such dignity as she
In the hall, with the closed door behind her, she paused to collect
herself. Then she missed furs and gloves and handbag and, remembering that
she had left them in the study, for some obscure reason imagined she must
have them before proceeding to her room.
Much more mistress of herself by now, it never occurred to Sofia that there
could be any reason why she should hesitate about returning or feel
embarrassed before Victor. True, he had surprised them, Sofia was not at
all sure he hadn't actually seen her in Karslake's arms. But what of that?
Love like hers was nothing to be ashamed of; and that Victor could
reasonably object to her giving her heart to one of his secretaries was
something far from her thought just then.
She put a hand to the knob, turned it, and swung the door open--all on
impulse--then faltered, transfixed by the tableau before the fireplace.
The door was silent on its hinges, and Karslake's back was to her. Victor,
on the other hand, facing both Karslake and the door, unquestionably saw
Sofia, but pretended not to, and had his say out with Karslake in a manner
"... sadly in error if you flatter yourself I pay you a wage to make love
to Sofia behind my back."
"Sorry, sir." Karslake's tone was level, respectful but firm. "Your
instructions were, I believe, to win her confidence. Well--I have always
found love the one sure key to a woman's confidence. Of course, if I had
understood you cared one way or the other--"
Sofia heard no more: unconsciously she had closed the door, at one and the
same time shutting from her sight Victor's exultant sneer and from her
hearing the words with which the man whom she loved had damned himself
irretrievably and dashed her spirit from radiant pinnacles of ecstasy into
the profoundest black abyss of shame and despair.
Primitive instinct bade the stricken girl seek her room and hide her
suffering there; but the shock had stunned her to the point of physical
weakness. Already a hand was pressed above her heart, that ached cruelly;
and as she moved to cross to the foot of the staircase her knees gave under
her. She clutched the newel-post for support, waiting to find strength for
From the shadowed back part of the hall the man Nogam moved hastily into
view, his features twisted in a grimace of concern as he recognized the
bleak misery of Sofia's face. His voice sounded strangely thin and remote.
"Is there anything the matter, miss?--anything I can do?"
She contrived to shake her head slightly and utter an inarticulate sound
of negation, then began slowly to mount the stairs.
Below, Nogam stood watching, in a pose of indecision, as if tempted to
follow and offer the support of an arm lest she fall, restrained only by
fear of a rebuff. But Sofia's leaden limbs carried her safely to the upper
landing, then on to the blessed shelter of her room, where she collapsed
upon a chaise-longue and there lay in a stirless huddle, dry of eye but
deaf to the plaintive entreaties of Chou Nu and numb to all sensation but
the anguish of her humiliated heart.
Toward mid-evening the man Victor Vassilyevski and his creature Sturm sat
where the lamp of hand-wrought brass made the top of the teakwood table an
oasis of light amid a waste of shadows, their heads together over a vast
glut of books and papers--maps printed and sketched, curious diagrams,
works of reference, documents all dark with columns of figures and
cabalistic writings intelligible only to initiated eyes.
They had the study all to themselves. Nevertheless, when they spoke it was
in the discreet pitch of those who deal in fatal secrets. At a distance of
two paces only a lip-reader could have caught the substance of their
communications, and even such a one must have failed unless equally at home
in German and in English.
Aside from these occasional and circumspect voices, and the busy rustle of
a steel pen in the hand of Sturm, the quiet of the room had a tolerably
constant background of sound in a subdued whisper punctuated by muffled
clicks, emanating from the bronze casket that housed the telautographic
From time to time, as this noise temporarily suspended, Victor would get
up, read what the mechanical stylus had inscribed, tear off the paper, and
return to his chair.
Some of the messages thus received he made known to Sturm, who invariably
acknowledged this courtesy with effusive gratitude, sometimes adding a few
words of contented comment. Other messages Victor chose to keep to himself,
silently setting fire to them and adding their brittle ashes to those of
their predecessors on the brazen tray provided for the purpose. At such
times Sturm would bend lower over his work. But Victor was well able to
guess what resentment glimmered in the eyes so studiously averted; and his
cold, sardonic smile more than once commented, unknown to Sturm, upon the
accuracy with which he read the mean workings of his "secretary's" mind.
The buzz of a muted bell presently interrupted the even tenor of their
industry, causing Sturm to start sharply, drop his pen, and slue round in
his chair, turning to Victor a livid face in which his dark eyes of a
fanatic were live embers of excitement.
Without a sign to show he shared or even was aware of Sturm's emotion,
Victor deliberately fished from beneath the table a telephone instrument,
unhooked the receiver, and pronounced a conventional phrase of greeting. To
this he added a short "Yes," and after listening quietly for some seconds,
"Very good--in twenty minutes, then." Wasting no more time on the author
of the call, he hung up, returned the telephone to its place of
concealment, and helped himself to a cigarette before deigning to
acknowledge Sturm's persistent stare.
Then, elevating his eyebrows in mild impatience, he made the laconic
Sturm's mouth twitched nervously, his eyes burned with a keener fire.
"Coming here? To-night?"
"Then"--a gaunt hand described a gesture of agitation--"the hour strikes!"
Victor looked bored.
"Who knows?" he replied, as who should say: "Does it matter?"
"But--Gott in Himmel--!"
"Sturm," Victor interposed, critically, "if you Bolsheviki were a trifle
more consistent, one might repose greater faith in your sincerity. But when
one hears you deny the Deity in one breath and call on him by name in the
"A mere mode of speech," Sturm muttered.
"If you must invoke a spiritual patron, why not Satan? Or don't you believe
in the Powers of Darkness, either?"
"I believe in you."
"As temporal viceroy of Lucifer? Many thanks! But you were about to say--?"
"Nothing. That is--I was envying your poise, Excellency. You take things
"With Eleven coming here to tell us when we are to strike?"
"Why not?" Victor repeated. "We are prepared to strike at any hour. What
matters whether to-night or a week from to-night--since we cannot fail?"
"If that were only certain!"
"It rests with you."
"That's just it," Sturm doubted moodily. "Suppose _I_ fail?"
"Why, then--I suppose--you will die."
"I know. And so will all of us, Excellency."
"Oh, no. Undeceive yourself, my friend. I shall survive. You will surely
die, and perhaps many others with you; but I would not be Number One if I
had turned my hand to this scheme without discounting failure first of all.
My way of escape is sure."
"I believe you," Sturm grumbled.
With a languid hand Victor found and pressed a button embedded in the table
near the edge.
"You have reason. Whatever my shortcomings, my good Sturm, they do not
include hypocrisy; I do not pretend, like your noble Bolsheviki, I am in
this business for the sake of humanity or anything but my own selfish
ends--power, plunder"--a slight wait prefaced one final word, spoken in a
key of sombre passion--"revenge."
"Revenge?" Sturm echoed, staring.
"I have more than one score to pay out before I can cry even with life ...
one above all!"
Studying intently that darkened face, and misled by its look of
abstraction, Sturm was guilty of the indiscretion of his malicious smile.
"The Lone Wolf?"
Victor turned weary eyes his way, and under their black and lustreless
regard the smile merged swiftly into a grin of nervous apology.
"You are shrewd," Victor observed, thoughtfully. "Be careful: it is a
The man Nogam gently opened the door and approached the table, stopping
just outside the area of illumination shed by the shaded lamp. But since
Victor continued to smoke absently, paying no attention, Nogam resigned
himself to wait with entire patience: the perfect pattern of a servant
tempered by long servitude to the erratic winds of employers' whims;
efficient, assiduous, mute unless required to speak, long-suffering.
Victor addressed him suddenly, in a sharp voice that drew from Sturm a
glitter of eager spite.
"Where is the Princess Sofia?"
"In 'er apartment, sir."
"And Mr. Karslake?"
"Then be good enough to send Shaik Tsin to me."
"And, Nogam!"--the servant checked in the act of turning--"I shan't need
you again to-night."
"'Nk you, sir."
When Nogam had left the room, Sturm, remarking the slight frown that
knitted Victor's brows, ventured an impertinence couched in a form of
"Excellency, perhaps you trust that fellow too much, hein?"
"You think so?"
"He is too perfect, if you ask me--never makes a false move."
"Either he is what he seems, in which event a false move would be against
nature; or he is not, and knows one slip would mean his death."
"Still, I maintain you trust him too much."
"The freedom of your house, the opportunity to spy, to get to know who
comes to see you and when, to listen at doors."
"You have caught him listening at doors?"
"Not yet. But in time--"
"I think not. I don't think he has to."
"You mean," Sturm stammered, perturbed, "you think he knows--suspects?"
"I think he is one thing or the other: merely Nogam, or one of the greatest
of living actors. In either case he is flawless--thus far. But if not
merely Nogam, he will have a subtler means of eavesdropping than by
listening at doors."
"Make your mind easy about that. This room is searched regularly by Shaik
Tsin. So is Nogam's. It is certain there is neither a dictograph installed
here nor any means at Nogam's disposal for connecting with a dictograph
installation. Indeed, so closely is Nogam watched, and by more cunning eyes
than mine--sometimes I begin to be afraid he is simply what he seems."
"Then you do suspect him!"
"My good Sturm, I suspect everybody."
Sturm pondered this before pressing his point again.
"Karslake found the fellow for you," he suggested at length.
"Has been guilty of nothing more treacherous than falling in love with
"Your daughter, Excellency!"
"The young woman seems content to call herself that.... Can't say I blame
"But do you forgive him?"
"Ah, that is another matter. Mine is not a forgiving nature, Sturm--not
even toward excessive shrewdness."
Victor took up a docket of papers, and Sturm, mumbling an apology, gave
himself up to jealous brooding till he forgot the broad hint he had
"If I can satisfy you that Nogam is untrustworthy--" he began, meaning to
continue: _Karslake will stand his proved accomplice_.
But Victor would not let him finish. "Nothing could please me more," he
interrupted. "Do so, by all means--if you can--and earn my everlasting
Sturm questioned him with puzzled eyes.
"I ask no greater service of any man," Victor elucidated with a smile that
made Sturm shiver, "than proof that Nogam is what I suspect him of being."
A hand extended upon the table unclosed and closed slowly, with fingers
tensed, like a murderous claw. "I want no greater favour of Heaven or
He broke off abruptly. Having entered noiselessly in his padded shoes,
Shaik Tsin now stood before Victor, offering a low obeisance.
"You took your time," Victor grumbled. And Shaik Tsin smiled serenely. "I
want you to tend the door to-night," Victor pursued. "Eleven is expected at
any moment. You need not announce him, simply show him in."
"Hearing is obedience."
"Wait"--as the Chinaman began to bow himself out--"Karslake is still in his
room, I suppose?"
"Has just gone to his."
"When did you last search their quarters?"
"And of course found nothing?" Shaik Tsin bowed. "Make sure neither leaves
his room to-night. Set a watch outside each door."
"I have done so."
Victor gave a sign of dismissal.
In a spacious chamber beneath the eaves, hideously papered and furnished
with cheerless, massive relics of the early Victorian era, the man Nogam
pursued methodical preparations for bed.
Spying eyes, had there been any--and for all Nogam knew, there were--would
have seen him follow step by step a programme from whose order he had
departed by scarcely as much as a single gesture on any night since his
first installation in the house near Queen Anne's Gate.
Loosening the waistcoat of his evening livery, he freed the heavy silver
watchchain from its buttonhole, drew from its pocket an old-fashioned
silver watch of that obese style which first earned the portable timepiece
its nickname of "turnip," and opening its back inserted a key attached to
the other end of the chain. Its winding was a laborious process,
prodigiously noisy. Once finished, Nogam shut the back with a loud click,
and reverently deposited the watch on the marble slab of the black walnut
Then he hung coat and waistcoat over the back of a chair which stood
between the foot of his bed and the door. Sheer chance may have decreed
selection of this chair for the purpose on Nogam's first night in the room;
whether or no, it was not in character that, having established this
precedent, Nogam should depart from it. And in any event, the coat-draped
chair effectually eclipsed a possible keyhole view of the room.
Notwithstanding, Nogam pursued his bedtime rites with precisely the same
deliberation and absence of perceptible self-consciousness as before. One
never knew: there might be other peepholes in the walls.
His trousers, neatly folded, he laid out on the seat of the chair. Then he
pulled off square-toed boots with elastic inserts in their uppers, put on a
pair of worn slippers, carried the boots to the door and set them outside,
closed the door, and turned the key in its lock.
If aware that, by so doing, he made his privacy just as secure as if he had
fastened the door with a bent hair-pin, he gave evidence of no uneasiness
in the knowledge. A clear conscience is the best of nerve tonics.
Throughout, his features preserved their mild, subdued, dull habit with
which the household was familiar. Nogam off duty was in no way different
from the unthinking creature of habit who performed belowstairs the
prescribed functions of his office.
Having donned a nightshirt of coarse cotton, he knelt for several minutes
in a devout attitude by the side of his bed, then rising opened the window,
took the turnip from the bureau, and snuggled it beneath his pillow,
inserted his bare shanks between the sheets, and opened at a marked place a
Bible bound in black cloth.
On the table by his shoulder a battered electric standard with a frayed
cord and a dingy shade remained alight long enough to permit Nogam to spell
out a short chapter. Then he put the Bible aside, yawned wearily, and
switched out the lamp.
Profound darkness now possessed the room, immaterially modified by the
light-struck sky beyond the windows. And in this grateful obscurity Nogam
permitted himself the luxury of ceasing to be Nogam. A light suddenly
flashed upon his face would have discovered a keen and alert intelligence
transfiguring the apathetic mask of every day. Also, it would have rendered
Nogam's probable duration of life an interesting speculation.
Under cover of the darkness, furthermore, he did a number of things which
Nogam, qua Nogam, would never have dreamed of doing.
His first act was to withdraw from under his pillow the turnip, his next to
re-open the back of its silver case and then the inner lid--something which
a deft thumbnail accomplished without a sound.
From the roomy interior of the case--whose bulky ancient works had been
replaced by a wafer-thin modern movement, leaving much useful space back
of the dial--sensitive fingers extracted a metal disk about the size and
thickness of a silver dollar. One face of this disk was generously
perforated, the other, solid, boasted a short blunt post round which
several feet of extremely fine wire had been coiled.
Unwinding the wire and bending the free end into the form of a rude hook,
the man attached this last to the cord of his bedside lamp at a point,
located by sense of touch, where a minute section of electric light wire
had been left naked by defective insulation.
Direct connection now being established with a microphone secreted in the
base of the brass lamp on the study table, three floors below, and the
perforated side of the microphone detector serving as an earpiece, one
could hear every word uttered by the conspirators.
The man in bed contributed a broad smile to the kind darkness--sheer luxury
to facial muscles cramped and constrained to the cast of Nogam for eighteen
hours a day. He was now at last to reap the reward of three months of
preparation and three weeks of ingenious, but necessarily spasmodic, and at
all times desperately dangerous, tampering with the house wiring system.
He lay very still for a long time, listening ...
CONFERENCE OF THE DAMNED
An Irish voice was making the hush of the study musical with mellow
"This week-end sure, your Excellency--within the next three nights--the
little Welshman will be after summoning the Cabinet to sit in secret in
Downing Street, with His Most Gracious Majesty attending in person; the
emergency extraordinary being thoughtfully provided by this shindig me
amiable but spirited fellow-countrymen are kicking up across the
Channel--God bless the work!"
The speaker laughed lightly, flashing white teeth at Prince Victor across
the width of the paper-strewn table.
"In more Parliamentary language, by the Irish Question. But we'll hear no
more of that, I'm thinking, once we've proclaimed the Soviet Government of
Victor bowed in grave assent.
"You have my word as to that," he said; and after a moment of thoughtful
consideration: "You speak, no doubt, from the facts?"
"I do that. It's straight I've come from the House of Commons to bring you
the news without an hour's delay. There's more than one advantage in being
an Irish Member these days."
"On the other hand, Eleven"--Victor stressed the numeral as if to remind
the Irishman that even a Member of Parliament for Ireland held no higher
standing in his esteem than any other underling in his association of
anonymous conspirators--"even so, it appears you are uncertain as to the
"I'm after telling you it'll be to-morrow night or more likely
Saturday--Sunday at the latest." A mildly impatient accent alone betrayed
resentment of the snub. "I'll know in good time, long before the hour
appointed; and that ought to do, providing you on your part are prepared."
"An hour's notice will be ample," Victor agreed. "We have been ready for
days, needing only the knowledge you bring us--or will, when you have it
The Irishman chuckled.
"It's hard to believe. Not that I'd dream of doubting your statement,
sir--but yourself won't be denying you must have worked fast to organize
England for revolution in less than three weeks."
"I have been busy," Victor admitted. "But the work was not so difficult ...
Seeds of revolution are easily sown in land thoroughly tilled by forces of
discontent. And what land has been better tilled? To vary the figure:
England is all seething beneath a thin crust of custom and established
habit whose integrity a conservative and reactionary government has ever
since the war been struggling desperately to preserve. The blow we shall
strike within three days will shatter that crust in a hundred places."
"And let Hell loose!" the Irishman added with a nervous laugh.
In a dry voice Victor commented: "Precisely."
"Omelettes," Sturm interjected, assertively, "are not made without breaking
"And all rivers, no doubt, flow to the sea? What a lot you know, Herr
Sturm! Is it the Portfolio of the Minister of Education you've picked out
for your very own, after the explosion comes off--if it's a fair question?"
"You Irish are all mad," the German complained, sourly--"mad about
laughing. Even me you will laugh at, while you trust your very life to me,
while you trust to my genius to make Soviet England possible and Ireland
"Faith! you're away off there, me friend. If it was you and your genius I
had to trust, it's meself would turn violent reactionary and advise Ireland
to be a good dog and come to England's heel and lick England's hand and
live off England's leavings. I'll trust nobody in this black business but
"You have changed your tune since that night at the Red Moon," Sturm
reminded him, angrily.
"I had me lesson then and there," Eleven agreed, cheerfully. "And I don't
mind telling you, the next time I'm taken with a fancy to call me soul me
own, I'll be after asking himself first for a license."
Victor put a period to the passage with a dispassionate "By your leave,
gentlemen--that will do." To the Irishman he added: "You understand the
danger, I believe, of remaining within the condemned area--that is to say,
except in the open air?"
"Can't say I do, altogether."
"It is simple: no person in any house supplied by the mains of the
Westminster gas works will be safe for hours after the formula of Thirteen
has begun its work. My advice to you is to keep out of the district
"Faith, and I'll do that! But how about yourself in this house?"
"I shall spend the week-end outside of London," Victor replied, "not too
far away, of course, and"--the shadow of his satiric smile was briefly
visible--"prepared at any moment to answer the call of my stricken
country.... The few who remain here will be provided with the essentials
for their protection. Furthermore, a general warning will be sent out to
all who can be trusted."
"And the others--?"
"With them it must be as Fate wills."
"Women and children, potential sympathizers and supporters of all classes?"
the Irishman persisted in incredulous horror--"all?"
"All," Victor affirmed, coldly. "We who deal in the elemental passions
that make revolutions, that is to say, in Life and Death, cannot afford
qualms and scruples. What are a few lives more or less in London? These
British breed like rabbits."
"I see," said Eleven, indistinctly. He stared a moment and swallowed hard,
then glanced hastily at his watch. "I'll be after bidding you good-night,"
he said, "and pleasant dreams. For meself, I'm a fool if I go to bed this
night sober enough to dream at all, at all!"
Victor rang for Shaik Tsin to show him out.
"One question more, if you won't take it amiss," Eleven suggested,
lingering. And Victor inclined a gracious head. "Have you thought of
"I have thought of everything."
"Well, and if we do fail--?"
"How, for example?"
"How do I know what hellish accident may kick our plans into a cocked hat?
Anything might happen. There's your friend, the Lone Wolf, for
"Have you not forgotten him yet?" Victor enquired in simulated surprise.
"Have you neglected to remark that since the blunderer failed to find the
Council Chamber that night, when his raid at the Red Moon netted him only a
handful of coolie gamblers and drug-addicts, he has left us to our own
"That's what makes me wonder what the divvle's up to. His sort are never so
dangerous as when apparently discouraged." "Be reassured. I promised you
three weeks ago his interference would not continue beyond that night. It
has not. Lanyard knows I have his daughter, that any blow aimed at me must
first strike her."
"Doubtless yourself knows best...."
With the Irishman gone, Prince Victor turned to Sturm.
"You will want a good night's sleep," he suggested with pointed solicitude.
"Who knows but that to-morrow will bring your night of nights, my friend?"
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