“I suppose,” Immelan suggested,
as the two men reached the house in Curzon Street,
“it would be useless to ask you to break your
custom and lunch with me at the Ritz or at the club?”
His companion smiled deprecatingly.
“I have adopted so many of your
western customs,” he said apologetically.
“To this lunching or dining in public, however,
I shall never accustom myself.”
Immelan laughed good-naturedly.
The conversation of the two men on their way from
the Park had been without significance, and some part
of his earlier nervousness seemed to be leaving him.
“We all have our foibles,”
he admitted. “One of mine is to have a pretty
woman opposite me when I lunch or dine, music somewhere
in the distance, a little sentiment, a little promise,
“It is not artistic,”
Prince Shan pronounced calmly. “It is not
when the wine mounts to the head, and the sense of
feeding fills the body, that men speak best of the
things that lie near their hearts. Still, we will
let that pass. Each of us is made differently.
There is another thing, Immelan, which I have to say
They passed into the reception room,
with its shining floor, its marvellous rugs, its silken
hangings, and its great vases of flowers. Prince
Shan led his companion into a recess, where the light
failed to penetrate so completely as into the rest
of the apartment. A wide settee, piled with cushions,
protruded from the wall in semicircular shape.
In front of it was a round ebony table, upon which
stood a great yellow bowl filled with lilies.
Prince Shan gave an order to one of the servants who
had followed them into the room and threw himself at
full length among the cushions, his head resting upon
his hand, his face turned towards his guest.
“They will bring you the aperitif
of which you are so fond,” he said, “also
cigarettes. Mine, I know, are too strong for you.”
“They taste too much of opium,” Immelan
Prince Shan’s eyes grew dreamy
as he gazed through a little cloud of odorous smoke.
“There is opium in them,”
he admitted. “Believe me, they are very
wonderful, but I agree with you that they are not for
the ordinary person.”
The soft-footed butler presented a
silver tray, upon which reposed a glassful of amber
liquid. Immelan took it, sipped it appreciatively,
and lit a cigarette.
“Your man, Prince,” he
acknowledged, “mixes his vermouths wonderfully.”
“I am glad that what he does
meets with your approval,” was the courteous
reply. “He came to me from one of your royal
palaces. I simply told him that I wished my guests
to have of the best.”
“Yet you never touch this sort
of drink yourself,” Immelan observed curiously.
The Prince shook his head.
“Sometimes I take wine,”
he said. “That is generally at night.
A few evenings ago, for instance,” he went on,
with a reminiscent smile, “I drank Chateau Yquem,
smoked Egyptian cigarettes, ate some muscatel grapes,
and read ‘Pippa Passes.’ That was
one of my banquets.”
“As a matter of fact,”
Immelan remarked thoughtfully, “you are far more
western in thought than in habit. The temperance
of the East is in your blood.”
“I find that my manner of life
keeps the brain clear,” Prince Shan said slowly.
“I can see the truth sometimes when it is not
very apparent. I saw the truth last night, Immelan,
when I sent Sen Lu to die.”
Immelan’s expression was indescribable.
He sat with his mouth wide open. The hand which
held his glass shook. He stared across the bowl
of lilies to where his host was looking up through
the smoke towards the ceiling.
“Sen Lu was a traitor,”
the latter went on, “a very foolish man who with
one act of treachery wiped out the memory of a lifetime
of devotion. In the end he told the truth, and
now he has paid his debt.”
“What do you mean?” Immelan
demanded, in a voice which he attempted in vain to
control. “How was Sen Lu a traitor?”
“Sen Lu,” the Prince explained,
“was in the pay of those who sought to know
more of my business than I chose to tell who
sought, indeed, to anticipate my own judgment.
When they gathered from him, and, alas! from my sweet
but frail little friend Nita, that the chances were
against my signing a certain covenant, they came to
what, even now, seems to me a strange decision.
They decided that I must die. There I fail wholly
to follow the workings of your mind, Immelan.
How was my death likely to serve your purpose?”
Immelan was absolutely speechless.
Three times he opened his lips, only to close them
again. Some instinct seemed to tell him that his
companion had more to say. He sat there as though
mesmerised. Meanwhile, the Prince lit another
“A blunder, believe me, Immelan,”
he continued thoughtfully. “Death will
not lower over my path till my task is accomplished.
I am young many years younger than you,
Immelan and the greatest physicians marvel
at my strength. Against the assassin’s
knife or bullet I am secure. You have been brought
up and lived, my terrified friend, in a country where
religion remains a shell and a husk, without comfort
to any man. It is not so with me, I live in the
spirit as in the body, and my days will last until
the sun leans down and lights me to the world where
those dwell who have fulfilled their destiny.”
Immelan drained the contents of the
glass which his unsteady hand was holding. Then
he rose to his feet. The veins on his forehead
were standing out, his blue eyes were filled with
“Blast Sen Lu!” he muttered.
“The man was a double traitor!”
“He has atoned,” his companion
said calmly. “He made his peace and he
went to his death. It seems very fitting that
he should have received the dagger which was meant
for my heart. Now what about you, Oscar Immelan?”
Immelan laughed harshly.
“If Sen Lu told you that I was in this plot
against your life, he lied!”
The Prince inclined his head urbanely.
“Such a man as Sen Lu goes seldom
to his death with a lie upon his lips,” he said.
“Yet I confess that I am puzzled. Why should
you plan this thing, Immelan? You cannot know
what is in my mind concerning your covenant.
I have not yet refused to sign it.”
“You have not refused to sign
it,” Immelan replied, “but you will refuse.”
“Indeed?” the Prince murmured.
“You are even now trifling with
the secrets confided to you,” Immelan went on.
“You know very well that the woman who came to
you last night is a spy whose whole time is spent
in seeking to worm our secret from you.”
“Your agents keep themselves
well informed,” was the calm comment.
“Yours still have the advantage
of us,” Immelan answered bitterly. “Now
listen to me. I have heard it said of you I
have heard that you claim yourself that
you have never told a falsehood. We have been
allies. Answer me this question. Have you
parted with any of our secrets?”
“Not one,” the Prince
assured him. “A certain lady visited this
house last night, not, as you seem to think, at my
invitation, but on her own initiative. She was
not successful in her quest.”
“She would not pay the price,
eh?” Immelan sneered. “By the gods
of your ancestors, Prince Shan, are there not women
enough in the world for you without bartering your
honour, and the great future of your country, for
a blue-eyed jade of an Englishwoman?”
The Prince sat slowly up. His
appearance was ominous. His face had become set
as marble; there was a look in his eyes like the flashing
of a light upon black metal. He contemplated
his visitor across the lilies.
“A man so near to death, Immelan,”
he enjoined, “might choose his words more carefully.”
Immelan laughed scornfully.
“I am not to be bullied,”
he declared. “Your doors with their patent
locks have no fears for me. When you walk abroad,
you are followed by members of your household.
When you come to my rooms, they attend you. I
am not a prince, but I, too, have a care for my skin.
Three of my secret service men never let me out of
their sight. They are within call at this moment.”
His host smiled.
“This is very interesting,”
he said, “but you should know me better, Immelan,
than to imagine that mine are the clumsy methods of
the dagger or the bullet. The man whom I will
to die drinks with me.”
He pointed a long forefinger at the
empty glass. Immelan gazed at it, and the sweat
stood out upon his forehead.
“My God!” he muttered.
“There was a queer taste! I thought that
it was aniseed!”
“There was nothing in that glass,”
the Prince declared, “which the greatest chemist
who ever breathed could detect as poison, yet you will
die, my friend Immelan, without any doubt. Shall
I tell you how? Would you know in what manner
the pains will come? No? But, my friend,
you disappoint me! You showed so much courage
an hour ago. Listen. Feel for a swelling
just behind Ah!”
Immelan was already across the room.
The Prince touched a bell, the doors were opened.
Ghastly pale, his head swimming, the tortured man
dashed out into the street. The Prince leaned
back amongst his cushions, untied a straw-fastened
packet of his long cigarettes, lit one, and closed