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?”
“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?”
“But with no tangible support for your suspicions?”
“You have not failed to watch him closely?”
“As a cat watches a mouse.”
“Yet I agree with you entirely, Shaik Tsin. I smell treachery.”
“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 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
“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:
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.”
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 negligee 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.