“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 Sofia.”
“Your daughter, Excellency!”
“The young woman seems content to call herself that.... Can’t say I blame Karslake.”
“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 received.
“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 gratitude.”
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 Hell—!”
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.