Nigel was just arriving at Dorminster House when Maggie returned from her ride. He assisted her to dismount and entered the house with her.
“There is something here I should like to show you, Maggie,” he said, as he drew a dispatch from his pocket. “It was sent round to me half an hour ago by Chalmers, from the American Embassy.”
“It’s about Gilbert Jesson!” Maggie exclaimed, holding out her hand for it.
“There’s a note inside, and an enclosure,” he said. “You had better read both.”
Maggie opened out the former:
MY DEAR DORMINSTER,
I am afraid there is rather bad news about Jesson. One of our regular line of airships, running from San Francisco to Vladivostok, has picked up a wireless which must have come from somewhere in the South of China. They kept it for a few days, worse luck, thinking it was only nonsense, as it was in code. Washington got hold of it, however, and cabled it to us last night. I enclose a copy, decoded.
The copy was brief enough. Maggie felt her heart sink as she glanced through the few lines:
Report dispatched London. Fear escape impossible. Good-by.
“Horrible!” Maggie exclaimed, with a shiver. “I thought he was in Russia.”
“So did we all,” Nigel replied. “He must have come to the conclusion that the key to the riddle he was trying to solve was in China, and gone on there. Look here, Maggie,” he continued, after a moment’s hesitation, “do you think anything could be done for Jesson with Prince Shan?”
Maggie was silent. They were standing in a shaded corner of the hall, but a fleck of sunshine shone in her hair. She was still a little out of breath with the exercise, her cheeks full of healthy colour, her eyes bright. She tapped her skirt with her riding whip. Nigel watched her a little uneasily.
“Prince Shan is calling here this afternoon,” Maggie announced. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“What are you going to say to him?” Nigel asked bluntly.
There was a short, tense silence. Even at the thought of the crisis which she knew to be so close at hand, Maggie felt herself unnerved and in dubious straits.
“I do not know,” she said at last. “For one thing, I do not know what he wants.”
“What he wants seems perfectly plain to me,” Nigel replied gravely. “He wants you.”
Maggie made a desperate effort to regain the lightheartedness of a few weeks ago.
“If you believe that,” she said, “your composure is most unflattering.”
There was a ring at the front doorbell, and a familiar voice was heard outside. Maggie turned away to the staircase with a little sigh of relief.
“Naida!” she exclaimed. “I remember now I asked her for a quarter past one instead of half-past. You must entertain her, Nigel. I’ll change into something quickly. And of course I’ll speak to Prince Shan. We mustn’t lose a minute about that. I’ll telephone from my room in a few minutes, Naida. Nigel will look after you.”