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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
failure?"

"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
instance ..."

"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
devices?"

"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?"

He lapsed immediately into remote abstraction, sitting with chin bent to
the tips of his joined fingers, his eyes downcast, motionless.

Disgruntled, but afraid to show it, the German cleared away the litter of
papers, assorting them into huge portfolios, and took himself off. Shaik
Tsin replaced him, moving noiselessly about the room, restoring the
reference books to the shelves and stowing the portfolios away in a massive
safe hidden behind a lacquered screen. This done, he stationed himself
before his master, awaiting his attention, a shape of affable placidity,
intelligent, at ease; his attitude not entirely lacking a suggestion of
familiarity.

Without changing his pose by so much as the lifting of an eyelash, Victor
spoke in Chinese:

"To-morrow afternoon, late, I shall motor down into the country with the
girl Sofia. I shall be gone three days - perhaps. I will leave a telephone
number with you, to be used only in emergency. As soon as I have left, you
will dismiss all the English servants, with a quarter's wage in advance in
lieu of notice. Karslake will provide the money."

"He does not accompany you?"

"No."

"And the man Nogam?"

Victor appeared to hesitate. "What do you think?" he enquired at length.

"What I have always thought."

"That he is a spy?"

"Yes."

"But with no tangible support for your suspicions?"

"None."

"You have not failed to watch him closely?"

"As a cat watches a mouse."

"But - nothing?"

"Nothing."

"Yet I agree with you entirely, Shaik Tsin. I smell treachery."

"And I."

"Nogam shall go with me as my bodyservant. Thus I shall be able to keep an
eye on him. Let Chou Nu be prepared to accompany us as maid to the girl
Sofia. In my absence you will be guided by such further instructions as I
may leave with you. These failing, consider the man Sturm, my personal
representative. In the contingency you know of, Sturm will warn you in time
to clear the house."

"Of everybody?"

"Of all servants except those whom you may need to guard the man Karslake.
These and yourself will be provided with means of self-protection by
Sturm."

"And Karslake?"

"I have not yet made up my mind."

"Hearing is obedience."

Victor relapsed into another reverie which lasted so long that even the
patience of Shaik Tsin bade fair to fail. In the end the silence was broken
by two words:

"The crystal."

From a cabinet at the end of the room Shaik Tsin brought a crystal ball
supported on the backs of three golden dragons standing tail to tail,
superbly wrought examples of Chinese goldsmithing. This he placed carefully
on the black teakwood surface at Victor's elbow.

"And now, inform the girl Sofia I wish to see her."

"And if she again sends her excuses?"

"Say, in that event, I shall be obliged to come to her room."



XV

INTUITION


She had not thought, of course, of going down to dinner; she had, instead,
sent Victor word simply that she begged to be excused from joining him for
that meal. Then, unable longer to endure Chou Nu's efforts to comfort or
distract her, Sofia had stepped out of her street frock and into a négligée
and, dismissing the maid, returned to the chaise-longue upon which, in vain
hope of being able to cry out the wretchedness of her heart, she had thrown
herself on first gaining the sanctuary of her room.

For hours, she did not guess how many, she scarcely stirred. Neither was
the blessed boon of tears granted unto her. Alone with her immense and
immitigable misery, she lay in darkness tempered only by the dim skyshine
that filtered through the window draperies; hating life, that had no mercy;
hating the duplicity that had led Karslake into making untrue love to her,
but inexplicably not hating Karslake himself, or the enshrined image that
wore his name; hating herself for her facile readiness to give love where
all but the guise of love was lacking, and for knowing this deep hurt
where she should have felt only scorn and anger; but hating, most of all,
or rather for the first time discovering how well she hated, him to whom
unerring intuition told her she owed this brimming measure of heartbreak
and humiliation, the man who called himself her father.

For if Karslake had done her a cruel wrong in winning her avowal of the
love that had been growing in her heart these many weeks, while he was
merely amusing himself or serving a secret purpose - whose was the initial
blame for that?

Who had egged Karslake on, as he had asserted, "to win her confidence,"
leaving to him the choice of means to that end?

And - _why_?

The formulation of this question marked the turning point in Sofia's
descent toward the nadir of shame and anguish; from the moment its
significance was clearly apprehended (but it took her long to reach this
stage) the complexion of her thoughts took on another colour, and the smart
of chagrin was soothed even as the irritation excited by critical
examination of Victor's conduct grew more acute.

Why should the self-styled author of her being have thought it necessary,
or even wise or kind, to commission a paid employee to win his daughter's
confidence?

What had rendered the conquest of her confidence so needful in his sight?

What had made him think Sofia would prove loath to resign it to him, or
more likely to give it to another?

Why had Victor hesitated to bid for her confidence with his own tongue, on
his own merits?

One would think that, if he were her father -

If!

_Was_ he?

Sofia sat up sharply, her young body as taut as her temper. Pulses and
breathing quickened, intent eyes probed the shadows as if she thought to
wrest from them a clue to the mystery of her status in the household of
Victor Vassilyevski.

What proof had she that he was her father?

None but his word.... Well, and Karslake's.... None that would stand the
test of skepticism, none that either sentiment or reason could offer and
support. Certainly she resembled Prince Victor in no respect that she could
think of, not in person, not in mould of character, not in ways of thought.
From the very first she had been perplexed, and indeed saddened, by her
failure, her sheer inability, to react emotionally to their alleged
relationship. And surely there must exist between parent and child some
sort of spiritual bond or affinity, something to draw them together - even
if neither had never known the other. Whereas she on her part had never
been conscious of any sense of sympathy with Victor, but only of timidity
and reluctance which had latterly manifested in unquestionable aversion.
And then there was his attitude toward her, raising a question so
repugnant to her understanding that never before to-night had Sofia
admitted its existence and given it the freedom of her thoughts.

She had seen men, in the Café des Exiles, toast their mistresses with such
looks as Victor Vassilyevski reserved for the girl whom he claimed as his
child.

What, then, if he were not her father?

What if he had only pretended to paternal rights in furtherance of some
deep scheme of his? - perhaps thinking to use her as a pawn in that dark
plot which he was forever brewing in his study (with canaille like Sturm
for collaborators!) that mysterious "research work" that flavoured the
atmosphere of the house with a miasmatic reek of intrigue, stealth, and
fear - perhaps (more simply and terribly) designing in his own time and way
to avenge himself upon the daughter for the admitted slights he had
suffered at the hands of the mother, that poor dead woman whose fame he
never ceased to blacken while still her memory was potent to kindle fires
in those eyes otherwise so opaque, impenetrable, and lightless!

Now Sofia found herself unable to sit still; only through action of some
sort could she hope to win any measure of ease for brain and nerves. A
thought was shaping, claiming precedence over all others, the thought of
flight; bred of the feeling that, as long as she remained in ignorance of
the exact truth concerning their relationship, it was impossible for her to
remain longer under Victor's roof, eating his bread and salt, schooling
herself to suffer his endearments whose good faith she could not help
challenging, who inspired in her only antipathy, fear, and distrust.

It seemed clear beyond dispute that she must leave his protection, this
very night, before he could guess her mind and move to check her.

Sofia swung her feet down to the floor. One of her silken mules had fallen
off. Semi-consciously she groped for it with stockinged toes. As the
inanimate will, the mule eluded recapture with impish ease. But beneath her
foot something rustled and crackled lightly. She bent over and picked it
up: a square white envelope, sealed.

Switching on a lamp near by, she examined her find. It carried no address.
How it could have got there she could not imagine ... unless Chou Nu had
dropped it by inadvertence, which seemed as far-fetched as to suppose she
had left it there by design; for that would mean Chou Nu had been bribed to
convey a surreptitious note to her mistress; and Sofia knew that the
Chinese girl was at once too loyal to her "second-uncle," and too much in
awe of "Number One," to be corruptible.

None the less, there the envelope was; and nobody but Chou Nu had entered
the room since Sofia had come straight from the study to it, late in the
afternoon.

It was just possible, however - Sofia's eyes measured the distance - that a
deft hand and a strong wrist might have slipped the envelope under the
door and sent it skimming across the floor to the foot of the
chaise-longue.

But nobody would have dared do that without a powerful motive for wishing
to communicate secretly with Sofia.

She tore the flap and withdrew a single sheet of notepaper penned in a hand
she knew too well. Her heart leapt....

I implore you, of your charity, do not condemn me without a hearing because
of anything you may have overheard me say. After you left us in the study I
saw his eyes watching the door while we talked, and knew from his look that
something to please him had happened behind my back. And in the temper he
was in only one thing could possibly have pleased him.

I said what I said to him, dear, because I had to - or lose the right,
dearer to me than life, to be near you, to serve and protect you. I lied to
him because I loved you. But I have never lied to you about my love - and
only once, through necessity, about anything else. Perhaps you can guess
what that lie was, somehow I rather think you do; at least, I am sure, you
are beginning to wonder if I told the truth - or knew it, then.

If this sound cryptic, I can only beg you to be patient and charitable
until I find opportunity to clear away this one lie which stands between
us - and which is, by comparison, almost immaterial, since all that matters
is the one great truth in my life, that I love you beyond all telling.

R.K.

If questions trouble your mind, I beg you do not let him know it. Your only
safety now lies in his continuing to believe that you are unsuspicious.
Above all, do your best to seem to fall in with his wishes, however strange
or unreasonable they may seem. It will be only a few days more before I can
claim you for my own, and laugh at his pretensions.

A curious love-letter; yet it was Sofia's first. If it made her
thoughtful, it made her illogically happy as well. If it put the issue to
her squarely, of loyalty to Prince Victor or loyalty to Karslake, she was
unaware that she had any choice of courses. When Shaik Tsin thumped the
panels of her door, she crushed the note into the bosom of her négligée
before answering.

When one is of an age to love, it is never the parent who gets the benefit
of a doubt.



XVI

THE CRYSTAL


Like some shy, sad shade summoned up by the malign genius of a haunted
chamber, a slender shape of pallor in softly flowing draperies slipped
through the silent door and, advancing a few reluctant steps into the
soundless gloom, paused and in apprehensive diffidence awaited the welcome
that was for a time withheld.

For minutes Victor gave no sign or stir; and in all the room nothing moved
but ghostly whorls of smoke writhing slowly upward from a pungent censer of
beaten gold.

The great lamp of brass was dark, and there was no other light than a
solitary bulb, whose hooded rays were concentrated upon the crystal ball,
so that the latter shone with a dead-white glare, somehow baleful, like an
elfin moon deeply lost in a sea of sombre enchantment.

Bending forward in his chair, an elbow planted on the table, his forehead
resting upon the tips of long, white fingers, Victor's gaze was steadfast
to the crystal. Refracted light sculptured with curious shadows that
saturnine face intent to immobility.

Too young, too inexperienced and sensitive to be insusceptible to the
spell of the theatrical, the girl was conscious of a steady ebb of her
new-found store of fortitude, skepticism, and defiance, together with an
equally steady inflow of timidity and uneasiness. That sinister figure at
the table, absorbed in study of the inscrutable sphere - what did he see
there, to hold his faculties in such deep eclipse? Adept in black arts of
the Orient as he was said to be, what wizardry was he brewing with the aid
of that traditional tool of the necromancer? What spectacle of divination
was in those pellucid depths unfolding to his rapt vision? And what had
this consultation of the occult to do with the man's mind concerning
herself?

Sofia was shaken by a tremor of dread....

And as if her emotion were somehow communicated, arousing him to knowledge
of her presence, Victor started, sat back, and with a sigh passed a hand
across his eyes. When the hand fell, his face wore its habitual look for
Sofia, modified by a slightly apologetic and weary smile.

"My child!" he exclaimed in accents of contrite surprise, "have I kept you
waiting long?"

"Only a few minutes. It doesn't matter."

But her voice seemed sadly small and thin in comparison with Victor's
rotund and measured intonations.

"Forgive me." Victor rose, nodding to indicate the shining crystal. "I have
been consulting my familiar," he said with a light laugh. "You have heard
of crystal-gazing? A fascinating art that languishes in undeserved neglect.
The ancients were more wise, they knew there was more in Heaven and
Earth.... You are incredulous? But I assure you, I myself, though far from
proficient, have caught strange glimpses of unborn events in the heart of
that transparent enigma."

He took her hands and cuddled them in his own.

She quivered irrepressibly to his touch.

"But you are trembling!" he protested, solicitous, looking down into her
face - "you are wan and sad, my dear. Tell me you are not ill."

"It is nothing," Sofia replied - again in that faint, stifled voice. She
added in determined effort to subdue her trembling and turn their talk to
essentials: "You sent for me - I am here."

"I am so sorry. If I had guessed ..." Enlightenment seemed to dawn all at
once. "But surely it isn't because of that stupid business with Karslake?
Surely you didn't take him seriously?"

"How should I - ?"

"It is too absurd. The poor fool misconstrued my instructions to make
himself agreeable - I am so taken up with the gravest matters at present, I
didn't want you to feel lonely or neglected - and, it appears, felt it
incumbent upon him to flirt with you as a matter of duty. I am out of
temper with him, but not unreasonable; I shan't dispense with his services
altogether, without more provocation, but will find other work to keep him
busy and out of your way. You need fear no more annoyance from that
quarter."

"I was not annoyed," Sofia found heart to contend. "I - like him."

"Nonsense!" Victor's laugh was rich with derision. "Don't ask me to believe
you were actually touched by the fellow's play-acting. You - my
daughter - wasting emotion on a mere commoner! The thing is too ridiculous.
Oblige me by thinking no more about it. I have better things in store for
you."

"Better than - love?" the girl questioned with grave eyes.

"When the time comes for that, you shall find a worthier parti than poor
Karslake, well-meaning though he may be. Moreover, you heard - forgive me
for reminding you - there was not an ounce of sincerity in all his
philandering for you to hold in sentimental recollection. So - forget
Karslake, please. It is a duty you owe your own pride and my dignity; it
is, furthermore, my wish."

She bowed her head, that he might not see the reflection in her face of the
glow that warmed her bosom, where Karslake's letter nestled. But Victor
took the nod for the word of submission, and patted her shoulder with an
indulgent hand, guiding her to a chair close by his.

"Sit down, my dear. I want to explain why I asked you to come to me at this
late hour - never dreaming my message would find you so overwrought.... You
quite see how needless it was to permit yourself to be upset by such a
trifling matter, don't you?"

"Oh, quite," Sofia murmured, with gaze fixed on the interlacing fingers in
her lap.

"That is sensible." Offering her shoulder one last accolade of approbation,
Victor moved toward his own chair. "And now that you are here, we may as
well have our little talk out," he continued, but broke off to stipulate:
"If, that is, you are sure you feel up to it?"

"Yes," Sofia assented, but without moving.

"I am not so sure. Perhaps a glass of wine might do you good."

"Oh, no!" the girl protested - "I don't need it, really."

But Victor wouldn't listen; and disappearing into shadowed distances,
returned presently with a brimming goblet.

"Drink this, dear. It will make you feel quite fit again."

Obediently, Sofia raised the goblet to her lips.

"You have never tasted a wine like that," Victor insisted, smiling down at
her.

It was true enough, what he claimed; though it had something of character
of a sound old Madeira, this wine had more, a surpassing richness, a
fruitiness in no way cloying, a peculiarly aromatic taste and fragrance,
elusive and provoking, with a hint of bitterness never to be analyzed by
the most experienced palate.

"What is it?" Sofia asked after her first sip.

"You like it, eh? An old wine of China, unknown to Western Europe." Victor
gave it a musical name in what Sofia took to be Chinese. "Outside my
cellars, I'll wager there's not another bottle of it this side of
Constantinople. Drink it all. It will do you good."

He seated himself. "And now my reason for wishing to talk with you
to-night.... A note came by the last delivery from Lady Randolph West. You
met her, I understand, through Sybil Waring, a few days ago. She was
apparently much taken with you."

"She is very kind."

Victor had found a sheet of notepaper and, bending to the light, was
searching its scrawled lines with narrowed eyes.

"'Too lovely,' she calls you - and quite justly, my dear. Yes; here it is:
'Too lovely for words.' And she wants me to bring my 'charming daughter'
down to Frampton Court for this week-end."

Sofia said nothing, but put her half-empty glass aside. The wine had done
her good, she thought. She felt better, stronger, mentally more alert, and
at the same time curiously soothed.

Victor refolded the note and tapped the table with it, holding Sofia with
speculative eyes.

"It should be amusing," he said, thoughtfully, "a new experience for you.
Elaine - I mean Lady Randolph West, of course - is a charming hostess, and
never fails to fill Frampton Court with delightful people."

"I'm sure I should love it."

"I am sure you would. And yet ... I may have been a little premature, since
I have already written accepting the invitation." He indicated an addressed
envelope face up on the table. "But on second thoughts, it seemed perhaps
wiser to consult you first."

"But if it is your wish, I must go," Sofia replied, mindful of Karslake's
injunction not to oppose Victor. "What have I to say - ?"

"Everything about whether we accept or do not - or if not everything, at
least the final word. I must abide by your decision."

"But I shall be only too glad - "

"Think a moment. It might be wiser not to go. You alone can say."

"I don't quite understand ..."

Victor sighed. "It is a painful subject," he said, slowly - "one I hesitate
to reopen. But we can never profit by closing our minds to facts; I mean,
to the reality of the danger which is always with us, since it is within
us."

"What danger?" Sofia enquired, sullenly, knowing the answer too well before
it was spoken.

"The danger of sudden temptation to indulge the lawless appetites with
which heredity has endued us - me from the nameless forebears whom I never
knew, you directly from parents both of whom boasted criminal records."

"I don't believe it!" Sofia declared, passionately - "I can't believe it, I
won't! Even if you are - "

She was going on to say "if you are my father," but caught herself in time.
Had not Karslake warned her in his note: "_Your only safety now lies in his
continuing to believe that you are unsuspicious._" She continued in a
tempest of expostulation whose fury covered her break:

"Even if you were once a thief and my mother - my mother! - everything vile,
as you persist in trying to make me believe - God knows why! - it is possible
I may still have failed to inherit your criminal tendencies; and not only
possible, but true, if I know myself at all. For I have never felt the
temptation to steal that you insist I must have inherited from you - nor any
other inclination toward things as mean, contemptible, and dishonourable as
they are dishonest!"

With only his slow, forbearing smile by way of comment, Victor heard her
out, but when she paused to reassort her thoughts, lifted a temporizing
hand.

"Not yet, perhaps," he said, gently. "There is always the first time with
every rebel against man-made laws. But, where the predisposition so
indubitably exists, it is inevitable, soon or late it must come to you, my
dear - the time when the will is too weak, temptation too strong. Against
it we must be forever on our guard."

"I am not afraid," Sofia contended.

"Naturally; you will not be before the hour of ordeal which shall prove
your strength or your weakness, your confidence in yourself, or my loving
fears for you."

Sofia gave a gesture of weariness and confusion. What did it matter? If he


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