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Sheer chance may have decreed
selection of this chair for the purpose on Nogam's first night in the room;
whether or no, it was not in character that, having established this
precedent, Nogam should depart from it. And in any event, the coat-draped
chair effectually eclipsed a possible keyhole view of the room.

Notwithstanding, Nogam pursued his bedtime rites with precisely the same
deliberation and absence of perceptible self-consciousness as before. One
never knew: there might be other peepholes in the walls.

His trousers, neatly folded, he laid out on the seat of the chair. Then he
pulled off square-toed boots with elastic inserts in their uppers, put on a
pair of worn slippers, carried the boots to the door and set them outside,
closed the door, and turned the key in its lock.

If aware that, by so doing, he made his privacy just as secure as if he had
fastened the door with a bent hair-pin, he gave evidence of no uneasiness
in the knowledge. A clear conscience is the best of nerve tonics.

Throughout, his features preserved their mild, subdued, dull habit with
which the household was familiar. Nogam off duty was in no way different
from the unthinking creature of habit who performed belowstairs the
prescribed functions of his office.

Having donned a nightshirt of coarse cotton, he knelt for several minutes
in a devout attitude by the side of his bed, then rising opened the window,
took the turnip from the bureau, and snuggled it beneath his pillow,
inserted his bare shanks between the sheets, and opened at a marked place a
Bible bound in black cloth.

On the table by his shoulder a battered electric standard with a frayed
cord and a dingy shade remained alight long enough to permit Nogam to spell
out a short chapter. Then he put the Bible aside, yawned wearily, and
switched out the lamp.

Profound darkness now possessed the room, immaterially modified by the
light-struck sky beyond the windows. And in this grateful obscurity Nogam
permitted himself the luxury of ceasing to be Nogam. A light suddenly
flashed upon his face would have discovered a keen and alert intelligence
transfiguring the apathetic mask of every day. Also, it would have rendered
Nogam's probable duration of life an interesting speculation.

Under cover of the darkness, furthermore, he did a number of things which
Nogam, qua Nogam, would never have dreamed of doing.

His first act was to withdraw from under his pillow the turnip, his next to
re-open the back of its silver case and then the inner lid--something which
a deft thumbnail accomplished without a sound.

From the roomy interior of the case--whose bulky ancient works had been
replaced by a wafer-thin modern movement, leaving much useful space back
of the dial--sensitive fingers extracted a metal disk about the size and
thickness of a silver dollar. One face of this disk was generously
perforated, the other, solid, boasted a short blunt post round which
several feet of extremely fine wire had been coiled.

Unwinding the wire and bending the free end into the form of a rude hook,
the man attached this last to the cord of his bedside lamp at a point,
located by sense of touch, where a minute section of electric light wire
had been left naked by defective insulation.

Direct connection now being established with a microphone secreted in the
base of the brass lamp on the study table, three floors below, and the
perforated side of the microphone detector serving as an earpiece, one
could hear every word uttered by the conspirators.

The man in bed contributed a broad smile to the kind darkness--sheer luxury
to facial muscles cramped and constrained to the cast of Nogam for eighteen
hours a day. He was now at last to reap the reward of three months of
preparation and three weeks of ingenious, but necessarily spasmodic, and at
all times desperately dangerous, tampering with the house wiring system.

He lay very still for a long time, listening ...



XIV

CONFERENCE OF THE DAMNED


An Irish voice was making the hush of the study musical with mellow
cadences.

"This week-end sure, your Excellency--within the next three nights--the
little Welshman will be after summoning the Cabinet to sit in secret in
Downing Street, with His Most Gracious Majesty attending in person; the
emergency extraordinary being thoughtfully provided by this shindig me
amiable but spirited fellow-countrymen are kicking up across the
Channel--God bless the work!"

The speaker laughed lightly, flashing white teeth at Prince Victor across
the width of the paper-strewn table.

"In more Parliamentary language, by the Irish Question. But we'll hear no
more of that, I'm thinking, once we've proclaimed the Soviet Government of
England."

Victor bowed in grave assent.

"You have my word as to that," he said; and after a moment of thoughtful
consideration: "You speak, no doubt, from the facts?"

"I do that. It's straight I've come from the House of Commons to bring you
the news without an hour's delay. There's more than one advantage in being
an Irish Member these days."

"On the other hand, Eleven"--Victor stressed the numeral as if to remind
the Irishman that even a Member of Parliament for Ireland held no higher
standing in his esteem than any other underling in his association of
anonymous conspirators--"even so, it appears you are uncertain as to the
night."

"I'm after telling you it'll be to-morrow night or more likely
Saturday--Sunday at the latest." A mildly impatient accent alone betrayed
resentment of the snub. "I'll know in good time, long before the hour
appointed; and that ought to do, providing you on your part are prepared."

"An hour's notice will be ample," Victor agreed. "We have been ready for
days, needing only the knowledge you bring us--or will, when you have it
definitely."

The Irishman chuckled.

"It's hard to believe. Not that I'd dream of doubting your statement,
sir--but yourself won't be denying you must have worked fast to organize
England for revolution in less than three weeks."

"I have been busy," Victor admitted. "But the work was not so difficult ...
Seeds of revolution are easily sown in land thoroughly tilled by forces of
discontent. And what land has been better tilled? To vary the figure:
England is all seething beneath a thin crust of custom and established
habit whose integrity a conservative and reactionary government has ever
since the war been struggling desperately to preserve. The blow we shall
strike within three days will shatter that crust in a hundred places."

"And let Hell loose!" the Irishman added with a nervous laugh.

In a dry voice Victor commented: "Precisely."

"Omelettes," Sturm interjected, assertively, "are not made without breaking
eggs."

"And all rivers, no doubt, flow to the sea? What a lot you know, Herr
Sturm! Is it the Portfolio of the Minister of Education you've picked out
for your very own, after the explosion comes off--if it's a fair question?"

"You Irish are all mad," the German complained, sourly--"mad about
laughing. Even me you will laugh at, while you trust your very life to me,
while you trust to my genius to make Soviet England possible and Ireland
free."

"Faith! you're away off there, me friend. If it was you and your genius I
had to trust, it's meself would turn violent reactionary and advise Ireland
to be a good dog and come to England's heel and lick England's hand and
live off England's leavings. I'll trust nobody in this black business but
himself--Number One."

"You have changed your tune since that night at the Red Moon," Sturm
reminded him, angrily.

"I had me lesson then and there," Eleven agreed, cheerfully. "And I don't
mind telling you, the next time I'm taken with a fancy to call me soul me
own, I'll be after asking himself first for a license."

Victor put a period to the passage with a dispassionate "By your leave,
gentlemen--that will do." To the Irishman he added: "You understand the
danger, I believe, of remaining within the condemned area--that is to say,
except in the open air?"

"Can't say I do, altogether."

"It is simple: no person in any house supplied by the mains of the
Westminster gas works will be safe for hours after the formula of Thirteen
has begun its work. My advice to you is to keep out of the district
entirely."

"Faith, and I'll do that! But how about yourself in this house?"

"I shall spend the week-end outside of London," Victor replied, "not too
far away, of course, and"--the shadow of his satiric smile was briefly
visible--"prepared at any moment to answer the call of my stricken
country.... The few who remain here will be provided with the essentials
for their protection. Furthermore, a general warning will be sent out to
all who can be trusted."

"And the others--?"

"With them it must be as Fate wills."

"Women and children, potential sympathizers and supporters of all classes?"
the Irishman persisted in incredulous horror--"all?"

"All," Victor affirmed, coldly. "We who deal in the elemental passions
that make revolutions, that is to say, in Life and Death, cannot afford
qualms and scruples. What are a few lives more or less in London? These
British breed like rabbits."

"I see," said Eleven, indistinctly. He stared a moment and swallowed hard,
then glanced hastily at his watch. "I'll be after bidding you good-night,"
he said, "and pleasant dreams. For meself, I'm a fool if I go to bed this
night sober enough to dream at all, at all!"

Victor rang for Shaik Tsin to show him out.

"One question more, if you won't take it amiss," Eleven suggested,
lingering. And Victor inclined a gracious head. "Have you thought of
failure?"

"I have thought of everything."

"Well, and if we do fail--?"

"How, for example?"

"How do I know what hellish accident may kick our plans into a cocked hat?
Anything might happen. There's your friend, the Lone Wolf, for
instance ..."

"Have you not forgotten him yet?" Victor enquired in simulated surprise.
"Have you neglected to remark that since the blunderer failed to find the
Council Chamber that night, when his raid at the Red Moon netted him only a
handful of coolie gamblers and drug-addicts, he has left us to our own
devices?"

"That's what makes me wonder what the divvle's up to.



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