“W’y wyste time w’itin’ for ’im?” demanded the Englishman. “’E’s no good, ’e’s done.”
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 abrupt interruption.
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 seated.”
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 ...”