The Great Prince Shan - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Great Prince Shan ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Written in 1922, this story of world politics in 1934 has everything that goes to the making of an enthralling tale. A theme of present import, an intricate plot full of suspense and surprise, fascinating characters and an unusual love interest. The central figure of this absorbing story is the mysterious and cultured Prince Shan, ruler of China; the heroines are captivating English girl and a exotically beautiful Russian who pit their charm, their loveliness, and their wisdom against each other and against the highly-trained diplomats of many countries. Each of them attempts to influence the decision which may change the map of the world. Will Germany, Russia and China parcel out the world amongst themselves?

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Liczba stron: 318

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER I

“A club for diplomats and gentlemen,” Prince Karschoff remarked, looking lazily through a little cloud of tobacco smoke around the spacious but almost deserted card room. “The classification seems comprehensive enough, yet it seems impossible to get even a decent rubber of bridge.”

Sir Daniel Harker, a many years retired plenipotentiary to one of the smaller Powers, shrugged his shoulders.

“Personally, I have come to the conclusion,” he declared, “that the raison d’être for the club seems to be passing. There is no diplomacy, nowadays, and every man who pays his taxes is a gentleman. Kingley, you are the youngest. Ransack the club and find a fourth.”

The Honourable Nigel Kingley smiled lazily from the depths of his easy-chair. He was a young Englishman of normal type, long-limbed, clean-shaven, with good features, a humorous mouth and keen grey eyes.

“In actual years,” he admitted, “I may have the advantage of you two, but so far as regards the qualities of youth, Karschoff is the youngest man here. Besides, no one could refuse him anything.”

“It is a subterfuge,” the Prince objected, “but if I must go, I will go presently. We will wait five minutes, in case Providence should be kind to us.”

The three men relapsed into silence. They were seated in a comfortable recess of the card room of the St. Philip’s Club. The atmosphere of the apartment seemed redolent with suggestions of faded splendour. There was a faint perfume of Russian calf from the many rows of musty volumes which still filled the stately bookcases. The oil paintings which hung upon the walls belonged to a remote period. In a distant corner, four other men were playing bridge, speechless and almost motionless, the white faces of two of them like cameos under the electric light and against the dark walls. There was no sound except the soft patter of the cards and the subdued movements of a servant preparing another bridge table by the side of the three men. Then the door of the room was quietly opened and closed. A man of youthful middle-age, carefully dressed, with a large, clean-shaven face, blue eyes, and fair hair sprinkled with grey, came towards them. He was well set up, almost anxiously ingratiating in manner.

“You see now what Providence has sent,” Sir Daniel Harker observed under his breath.

“It is enough to make an atheist of one, this!” the Prince muttered.

“Any bridge?” the newcomer enquired, seating himself at the table and shuffling one of the packs of cards.

The three men rose to their feet with varying degrees of unwillingness.

“Immelan is too good for us,” Sir Daniel grumbled. “He always wins.”

“I am lucky,” the newcomer admitted, “but I may be your partner; in which case, you too will win.”

“If you are my partner,” the Prince declared, “I shall play for five pounds a hundred. I desire to gamble. London is beginning to weary me.”

“Mr. Kingley is a better player, though not so lucky,” Immelan acknowledged, with a little bow.

“Never believe it, with all due respect to our young friend here,” Sir Daniel replied, as he cut a card. “Kingley plays like a man with brain but without subtlety. In a duel between you two, I would back Immelan every time.”

Kingley took his place at the table with a little gesture of resignation. He looked across the table to where Immelan sat displaying the card which he had just cut. The eyes of the two men met. A few seconds of somewhat significant silence followed. Then Immelan gathered up the cards.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Kingley as an adversary,” he said.

The latter bowed a little ironically.

“May you always preserve that sentiment! To-day, chance seems to have made us partners. Your deal, Mr. Immelan.”

“What stakes?” the Prince enquired, settling himself down in his chair.

“They are for you to name,” Immelan declared.

The Prince laughed shortly.

“I believe you are as great a gambler at heart as I am,” he observed.

“With Mr. Kingley for my partner, and the game one of skill,” was the courteous reply, “I do not need to limit my stakes.”

A servant crossed the room, bringing a note upon a tray. He presented it to Kingley, who opened and read it through without change of countenance. When he had finished it, however, he laid his cards face downwards upon the table.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I owe you my most profound apologies. I am called away at once on a matter of urgent business.”

“But this is most annoying,” the Prince declared irritably.

“Here comes my saviour,” Kingley remarked, as another man entered the card room. “Henderson will take my place. Glad I haven’t to break you up, after all. Henderson, will you play a rubber?”

The newcomer assented. Nigel Kingley made his adieux and crossed the room. Immelan watched him curiously.

“What is our friend Kingley’s profession?” he enquired.

“He has no profession,” Sir Daniel replied. “He has never come into touch with the sordid needs of these money-grubbing days. He is the nephew and heir of the Earl of Dorminster.”

Immelan looked away from the retreating figure.

“Lord Dorminster,” he murmured. “The same Lord Dorminster who was in the Government many years ago?”

“He was Foreign Secretary when I was Governor of Jamaica,” Sir Daniel answered. “A very brilliant man he was in those days.”

Immelan nodded thoughtfully.

“I remember,” he said.

Nigel Kingley, on leaving the St. Philip’s Club, was driven at once, in the automobile which he found awaiting him, to a large corner house in Belgrave Square, which he entered with the air of an habitué. The waiting major-domo took him at once in charge and piloted him across the hall.

“His lordship is very much occupied, Mr. Nigel,” he announced. “He is not seeing any other callers. He left word, however, that you were to be shown in the moment you arrived.”

“His lordship is quite well, I hope?”

“Well in health, sir, but worried, and I don’t wonder at it,” the man replied, speaking with the respectful freedom of an old servant. “I never thought I’d live to see such times as these.”

A man in the early sixties, still good-looking, notwithstanding a somewhat worn expression, looked up from his seat at the library table on Kingley’s entrance. He nodded, but waited until the door was closed behind the retreating servant before he spoke.

“Good of you to come, Nigel,” he said. “Bring your chair up here.”

“Bad news?” the newcomer enquired.

“Damnable!”

There was a brief silence, during which Nigel, knowing his uncle’s humours, leaned back in his chair and waited. Upon the table was a little pile of closely written manuscript, and by their side several black-bound code books, upon which the “F.O.Private” still remained, though almost obliterated with time. Lord Dorminster’s occupation was apparent. He was decoding a message of unusual length. Presently he turned away from the table, however, and faced his nephew. His hands travelled to his waistcoat pocket. He drew out a cigarette from a thin gold case, lit it and began to smoke. Then he crossed his legs and leaned a little farther back in his chair.

“Nigel,” he said, “we are living in strange times.”

“No one denies that, sir,” was the grave assent.

Lord Dorminster glanced at the calendar which stood upon the desk.

“To-day,” he continued, “is the twenty-third day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-four. Fifteen years ago that terrible Peace Treaty was signed. Since then you know what the history of our country has been. I am not blowing my own trumpet when I say that nearly every man with true political insight has been cast adrift. At the present moment the country is in the hands of a body of highly respectable and well-meaning men who, as a parish council, might conduct the affairs of Dorminster Town with unqualified success. As statesmen they do not exist. It seems to me, Nigel, that you and I are going to see in reality that spectre which terrified the world twenty years ago. We are going to see the breaking up of a mighty empire.”

“Tell me what has happened or is going to happen,” Nigel begged.

“Well, for one thing,” his uncle replied, “the Emperor of the East is preparing for a visit to Europe. He will be here probably next month. You know whom I mean, of course?”

“Prince Shan!” Nigel exclaimed.

“Prince Shan of China,” Lord Dorminster assented. “His coming links up many things which had been puzzling me. I tell you, Nigel, what happens during Prince Shan’s visit will probably decide the destinies of this country, and yet I wouldn’t mind betting you a thousand to one that there isn’t a single official of the Government who has the slightest idea as to why he is coming, or that he is coming at all.”

“Do you know?” Nigel asked.

“I can only surmise. Let us leave Prince Shan for the moment, Nigel. Now listen. You go about a great deal. What do people say about me–honestly, I mean? Speak with your face to the light.”

“They call you a faddist and a scaremonger,” Nigel confessed, “yet there are one or two, especially at the St. Philip’s Club, diplomatists and ambassadors whose place in the world has passed away, who think and believe differently. You know, sir, that I am amongst them.”

Lord Dorminster nodded kindly.

“Well,” he said, “I fancy I am about to prove myself. Seven years ago, it was,” he went on reminiscently, “when the new National Party came into supreme power. You know one of their first battle cries–‘Down with all secret treaties! Down with all secret diplomacy! Let nothing exist but an honest commercial understanding between the different countries of the world!’ How Germany and Russia howled with joy! In place of an English statesman with his country’s broad interests at heart, we have in Berlin and Petrograd half a dozen representatives of the great industries, whose object, in their own words, is, I believe, to develop friendly commercialism and a feeling of brotherhood between the nations. Not only our ambassadors but our secret service were swept clean out of existence. I remember going to Broadley, the day he was appointed Foreign Minister, and I asked him a simple question. I asked him whether he did not consider it his duty to keep his finger upon the pulses of the other great nations, however friendly they might seem, to keep himself assured that all these expressions of good will were honourable, and that in the heart of the German nation that great craving for revenge which is the natural heritage of the present generation had really become dissipated. Broadley smiled at me. ‘Lord Dorminster,’ he said, ‘the chief cause of wars in the past has been suspicion. We look upon espionage as a disgraceful practice. It is the people of Germany with whom we are in touch now, not a military oligarchy, and the people of Germany no more desire war than we do. Besides, there is the League of Nations.’ Those were Broadley’s views then, and they are his views to-day. You know what I did?”

Nigel assented cautiously.

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