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And yet ... I may have been a little premature, since
I have already written accepting the invitation." He indicated an addressed
envelope face up on the table. "But on second thoughts, it seemed perhaps
wiser to consult you first."

"But if it is your wish, I must go," Sofia replied, mindful of Karslake's
injunction not to oppose Victor. "What have I to say--?"

"Everything about whether we accept or do not--or if not everything, at
least the final word. I must abide by your decision."

"But I shall be only too glad--"

"Think a moment. It might be wiser not to go. You alone can say."

"I don't quite understand ..."

Victor sighed. "It is a painful subject," he said, slowly--"one I hesitate
to reopen. But we can never profit by closing our minds to facts; I mean,
to the reality of the danger which is always with us, since it is within
us."

"What danger?" Sofia enquired, sullenly, knowing the answer too well before
it was spoken.

"The danger of sudden temptation to indulge the lawless appetites with
which heredity has endued us--me from the nameless forebears whom I never
knew, you directly from parents both of whom boasted criminal records."

"I don't believe it!" Sofia declared, passionately--"I can't believe it, I
won't! Even if you are--"

She was going on to say "if you are my father," but caught herself in time.
Had not Karslake warned her in his note: "_Your only safety now lies in his
continuing to believe that you are unsuspicious._" She continued in a
tempest of expostulation whose fury covered her break:

"Even if you were once a thief and my mother--my mother!--everything vile,
as you persist in trying to make me believe--God knows why!--it is possible
I may still have failed to inherit your criminal tendencies; and not only
possible, but true, if I know myself at all. For I have never felt the
temptation to steal that you insist I must have inherited from you--nor any
other inclination toward things as mean, contemptible, and dishonourable as
they are dishonest!"

With only his slow, forbearing smile by way of comment, Victor heard her
out, but when she paused to reassort her thoughts, lifted a temporizing
hand.

"Not yet, perhaps," he said, gently. "There is always the first time with
every rebel against man-made laws. But, where the predisposition so
indubitably exists, it is inevitable, soon or late it must come to you, my
dear--the time when the will is too weak, temptation too strong. Against
it we must be forever on our guard."

"I am not afraid," Sofia contended.

"Naturally; you will not be before the hour of ordeal which shall prove
your strength or your weakness, your confidence in yourself, or my loving
fears for you."

Sofia gave a gesture of weariness and confusion. What did it matter? If he
would have it so, let him: it couldn't affect the issue in any way, what he
believed, or for his own purposes pretended to believe. Had not Karslake
promised ...

She tried to recall precisely what it was that Karslake had promised, but
found her memory of a sudden singularly sluggish. In fact, her mind seemed
to have lost its marvellous clarity of those first moments after tasting
the wine of China. Small wonder, when one remembered the emotional strain
she had experienced since early evening!

"Still," she argued, stubbornly, "I don't see what all this has to do with
Lady Randolph West's invitation."

"Only that to accept means to expose you to the greatest temptation one can
well imagine."

Sofia stared blankly. Her wits were working even more slowly and heavily
than before. And the glare in her eyes from the luminous sphere of crystal
was irritating. Almost without thinking, she lifted her glass again; when
she put it down it was empty.

"The jewels of Lady Randolph West," Victor went on to explain without her
prompting, "are considered the most wonderful in England; always excepting,
of course, the Crown jewels."

"What is that to me?"

Resentment sounded in her tone. She was thinking more readily once more,
thanks to that second magical draught, but was nevertheless conscious of a
general failing of powers drained by her great fatigue. She wished devoutly
that Victor would have done and let her go....

"Elaine is very careless, leaves her jewels scattered about, hardly
troubles to put them away securely at night. If you should be tempted to
appropriate anything, she might not discover her loss for days; and then,
again, she might. And if you were caught--consider what shame and
disgrace!"

"I think I see," the girl said, slowly, after some difficult thinking. "You
don't want me to go."

"To the contrary, I do--but I want more than anything else in the world
that my daughter should be sure of herself and fall into no irreparable
error."

"But I am sure of myself--I have told you that."

"Then let us fret no more about it, but accept, and go prepared to enjoy
ourselves. I will send the letter."

Victor rang, and Shaik Tsin presented himself so quickly that Sofia
wondered dully where he could have been waiting. In the room with them,
perhaps? It wasn't impossible. The Chinaman's thick soles of felt enabled
him to move about without making the least noise.

"Have this posted immediately."

Shaik Tsin bowed deeply, and backed away with the letter. Unless she turned
to watch him, Sofia could not say whether he left the room or not.

She offered to rise.

"If that is all ..."

"Not quite. There are certain details to be arranged; and I may not see you
again before we leave to-morrow afternoon. We will motor down to Frampton
Court--it's not far, little more than an hour by train--starting about half
after four, if you can be ready."

"Oh, yes."

"Sybil Waring will tell you what to take, and Chou Nu will see to your
packing. Both, by the way, will accompany us. Sybil's maid will follow by
train. For myself, I am taking Nogam--having found that English servants do
not take kindly to my Chinese valet."

"Yes ..." Sofia uttered, listlessly, wondering why this information should
be considered of interest to her.

"And one thing more: I am forgiven? You are not cross with me?"

"Why should I be?"

"Because of what happened this afternoon--when I scolded Karslake for
making love to you."

"Oh," said Sofia with a good show of indifference--she was so
tired--"that!"

"Believe me, little Sofia"--Victor put out a hand to hers, and held her
eyes with a compelling gaze--"boy-and-girl romance is all very well, but
there is a greater destiny reserved for you than marriage to a hired
secretary, however amiable, personable, and well-meaning. You must prepare
yourself to move in a world beyond and above the common hearthstone of
bourgeois domesticity."

The girl shook a bewildered head.

"It is a riddle?" she asked, wearily.

"A riddle?" Victor echoed. "Why, one may safely term it that. Is not the
Future always a riddle? Nature knows the Future as the Past, but Nature
holds it secret, lest man go mad with too much knowledge. Only to the few,
the favoured, does she grant rare glimpses through media which she has
provided for the use of the initiate--such as this crystal here, in which I
was studying your future, when you came in, the high future I plan for
you."

"And--you won't tell me?"

"I may not. It is forbidden. Nature deals unkindly with those who violate
her confidence. But--who knows?"

He checked himself as if struck by a new turn of thought, and studied the
girl's face intently.

"Who knows?" he repeated, as if to himself.

"What--?"

"It is quite within the bounds of possibility," Victor mused, "that you
should have inherited some of the psychic power which was born in me.
Perhaps--who knows?--to you as well Nature will be supple and disclose her
secrets.... If you care to seek her favour?"

"But--how?"

"By consulting the crystal."

Sofia's eyes sought that coldly burning stone. Her head was so heavy, she
hesitated, oppressed by misgivings without shape that she could name,
phases of formless timidity having rise in some source which she was too
tired to search out.

But she lingered and continued to stare at the crystal.

"Why not?" Victor's accents were gently persuasive. "At worst, you can only
fail. And if you do not fail, it will make me happy to think that you have
been given a little insight into my dreams for you."

"Yes," Sofia assented in a whisper--"why not?"

Victor drew her forward by the hand.

"Look," he said "look deep! Divest your mind as nearly as you can of all
thought--let the crystal give up its message to a mind devoid of prejudice,
its receptiveness unimpaired. Think of nothing, if you can manage
it--simply look and see."

Automatically to a degree the girl obeyed, already in a phase of
crepuscular hypnosis, her surface senses dulled by the potent "wine of
China." And watching her closely, Victor permitted himself a smile of
satisfaction as he noted the rapidity with which she yielded to the
hypnogenic spell of the translucent quartz; how her breathing quickened,
then took on a measured tempo like that of a sleeper; how a faint flush
warmed the unnatural pallor of her cheeks, how her dilate eyes grew fixed
in an unwinking stare, and slightly glassed....

Under her regard the goblin sphere took on with bewildering rapidity
changing guises. Its rotundity was first lost, it assumed the semblance of
a featureless disk of pallid light, which swiftly widened till it obscured
all else, then seemed to advance upon and envelope her bodily, so that she
became spiritually a part of it, an atom of identity engulfed in a limpid
world of glareless light, light that had had no rays and issued from no
source but was circumambient and universal. Then in its remote heart a
weird glow of rose began to burn and grow, pulsing through all the colours
of the spectrum and beyond. Toward this she felt herself being drawn
swiftly, attracted by an irresistible magnetism, riding the wings of a
great wind, whose voice boomed without ceasing, like a heavy surf
thunderously reiterating one syllable, "_Sleep!_" ... And in this flight
through illimitable space toward a goal unattainable, consciousness grew
faint and flickered out like a candle in the wind.

Behind her chair the placid yellow face of Shaik Tsin appeared, as if
materialized bodily out of the shadows.



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