“You cannot keep a full-blooded man from clenching his fist if he’s insulted,” Nigel pointed out, “and nations march along the same lines as individuals. Its existence has never for a single moment weakened Germany’s hatred of England, and the stronger she grows, the more she flaunts its conditions. France guards her frontiers, night and day, with an army ten times larger than she is allowed. Russia has become the country of mysteries, with something up her sleeve, beyond a doubt, and there are cities in modern China into which no European dare penetrate. Japan quite frankly maintains an immense army, the United States is silently following suit—and God help us all if a war does come!”
“You are right,” Karschoff assented gloomily. “The last glamour of romance has gone from fighting. There were remnants of it in the last war, especially in Palestine and Egypt and when we first overran Austria. To-day, science would settle the whole affair. The war would be won in the laboratory, the engine room and the workshop. I doubt whether any battleship could keep afloat for a week, and as to the fighting in the air, if a hundred airships were in action, I do not suppose that one of them would escape. Then they say that France has a gun which could carry a shell from Amiens to London, and more mysterious than all, China has something up her sleeve which no one has even a glimmering of.”
“Except Jesson,” Nigel muttered.
“And Jesson’s gleam of knowledge, or suspicion,” Prince Karschoff remarked, “seems to have brought him to the end of his days. Can anything be done with Prince Shan about him, do you think?”
“Only indirectly, I am afraid,” Nigel replied. “Maggie is seeing him this afternoon. As a matter of fact, I believe she telephoned to him before luncheon, but I haven’t heard anything yet. When a man goes out on that sort of a job, he burns his boats. And Jesson isn’t the first who has turned eastwards, during the last few months. I heard only yesterday that France has lost three of her best men in China—one who went as a missionary and two as merchants. They’ve just disappeared without a word of explanation.”
The telephone extension bell rang. Nigel walked over to the sideboard and took down the receiver.
“Is that Lord Dorminster?” a man’s voice asked.
“Speaking,” Nigel replied.
“I am David Franklin, private secretary to Mr. Mervin Brown,” the voice continued. “Mr. Mervin Brown would be exceedingly obliged if you would come round to Downing Street to see him at once.”
“I will be there in ten minutes,” Nigel promised.
He laid down the receiver and turned to Karschoff.
“The Prime Minister,” he explained.
“What does he want you for?”
“I think,” Nigel replied, “that the trouble cloud is about to burst.”