“Politically, I am afraid I agree with you,” Nigel replied. “Only the idealist, and the prejudiced idealist, can ignore the primal elements in human nature and believe that a few lofty sentiments can keep the nations behind their frontiers. War is a terrible thing, but human life itself is a terrible thing. Its principles are the same, and force will never be restrained except by force. If the League of Nations had been established upon a firmer and less selfish basis, it certainly might have kept the peace for another thirty or forty years. As it is, I believe that we are on the verge of a serious crisis.”
“War for us is an impossibility,” Mr. Mervin Brown declared frankly, “simply because we cannot fight. Our army consists of policemen; science has defeated the battleship; and practically the same conditions exist in the air.”
“You sent for me, I presume, to ask for my advice,” Nigel said. “At any rate, let me offer it. I have reason to believe that the negotiations between Prince Shan and Oscar Immelan have not been entirely successful. Send for Prince Shan and question him in a friendly fashion.”
“Will you be my ambassador?” the Prime Minister asked.
Nigel hesitated for a moment.
“If you wish it,” he promised. “Prince Shan is in some respects a strangely inaccessible person, but just at present he seems well disposed towards my household.”
“Arrange, if you can,” Mr. Mervin Brown begged, “to bring him here to-morrow morning. I will try to have available a copy of the dispatch from Jesson. It refers to matters which I trust Prince Shan will be able to explain.”
Nigel lingered for a moment over his farewell.
“If I might venture upon a suggestion, sir,” he said, “do not forget that Prince Shan is to all intents and purposes the autocrat of Asia. He has taught the people of the world to remodel their ideas of China and all that China stands for. And further than this, he is, according to his principles, a man of the strictest honour. I would treat him, sir, as a valued confrere and equal.”
The Prime Minister smiled.
“Don’t look upon me as being too intensely parochial, Dorminster,” he said. “I know quite well that Prince Shan is a man of genius, and that he is a representative of one of the world’s greatest families. I am only the servant of a great Power. He is a great Power in himself.”
“And believe me,” Nigel concluded fervently, as he made his adieux, “the greatest autocrat that ever breathed. If, when you exchange farewells with him, he says—’There will be no war’—we are saved, at any rate for the moment.”
Maggie, very cool and neat, a vision of soft blue, a wealth of colouring in the deep brown of her closely braided hair, her lips slightly parted in a smile of welcome, felt, notwithstanding her apparent composure, a strange disturbance of outlook and senses as Prince Shan was ushered into her flower-bedecked little sitting room that afternoon. The unusual formality of his entrance seemed somehow to suit the man and his manner. He bowed low as soon as he had crossed the threshold and bowed again over her fingers as she rose from her easy-chair.