It was a moot point whether Lady Pat Rourke merited condemnation or pity. She possessed that type of blonde beauty which seems to be a lodestone for mankind in general. Her husband was wealthy, twelve years her senior, and, far from watching over her with jealous care--an attitude which often characterizes such unions-- he, on the contrary, permitted her a dangerous freedom, believing that she would appreciate without abusing it.
Her friendship with Lou Chada had first opened his eyes to the perils which beset the road of least resistance. Sir Noel Rourke was an Anglo-Indian, and his prejudice against the Eurasian was one not lightly to be surmounted. Not all the polish which English culture had given to this child of a mixed union could blind Sir Noel to the yellow streak. Courted though Chada was by some of the best people, Sir Noel remained cold.
The long, magnetic eyes, the handsome, clear-cut features, above all, that slow and alluring smile, appealed to the husband of the wilful Pat rather as evidences of Oriental, half-effeminate devilry than as passports to decent society. Oxford had veneered him, but scratch the veneer and one found the sandal-wood of the East, perfumed, seductive, appealing, but something to be shunned as brittle and untrustworthy.
Yet he hesitated, seeking to be true to his convictions. Knowing what he knew already, and what he suspected, it is certain that, could he have viewed Lou Chada through the eyes of Chief Inspector Kerry, the affair must have terminated otherwise. But Sir Noel did not know what Kerry knew. And the pleasure-seeking Lady Rourke, with her hair of spun gold and her provoking smile, found Lou Chada dangerously fascinating; almost she was infatuated--she who had known so much admiration.
Of those joys for which thousands of her plainer sisters yearn and starve to the end of their days she had experienced a surfeit. Always she sought for novelty, for new adventures. She was confident of herself, but yet--and here lay the delicious thrill--not wholly confident. Many times she had promised to visit the house of Lou Chada's father--a mystery palace cunningly painted, a perfumed page from the Arabian poets dropped amid the interesting squalour of Limehouse.
Perhaps she had never intended to go. Who knows? But on the night when she came within the ken of Chief Inspector Kerry, Lou Chada had urged her to do so in his poetically passionate fashion, and, wanting to go, she had asked herself: "Am I strong enough? Dare I?"
They had dined, danced, and she had smoked one of the scented cigarettes which he alone seemed to be able to procure, and which, on their arrival from the East, were contained in queer little polished wooden boxes.
Then had come an unfamiliar nausea and dizziness, an uncomfortable recognition of the fact that she was making a fool of herself, and finally a semi-darkness through which familiar faces loomed up and were quickly lost again. There was the soft, musical voice of Lou Chada reassuring her, a sense of chill, of helplessness, and then for a while an interval which afterward she found herself unable to bridge.
Knowledge of verity came at last, and Lady Pat raised herself from the divan upon which she had been lying, and, her slender hands clutching the cushions, stared about her with eyes which ever grew wider.
She was in a long, rather lofty room, which was lighted by three silver lanterns swung from the ceiling. The place, without containing much furniture, was a riot of garish, barbaric colour. There were deep divans cushioned in amber and blood-red. Upon the floor lay Persian carpets and skins of beasts. Cunning niches there were, half concealing and half revealing long-necked Chinese jars; and odd little carven tables bore strangely fashioned vessels of silver. There was a cabinet of ebony inlaid with jade, there were black tapestries figured with dragons of green and gold. Curtains she saw of peacock-blue; and in a tall, narrow recess, dominating the room, squatted a great golden Buddha.
The atmosphere was laden with a strange perfume.
But, above all, this room was silent, most oppressively silent.
Lady Pat started to her feet. The whole perfumed place seemed to be swimming around her. Reclosing her eyes, she fought down her weakness. The truth, the truth respecting Lou Chada and herself, had uprisen starkly before her. By her own folly--and she could find no tiny excuse--she had placed herself in the power of a man whom, instinctively, deep within her soul, she had always known to be utterly unscrupulous.
How cleverly he had concealed the wild animal which dwelt beneath that suave, polished exterior! Yet how ill he had concealed it! For intuitively she had always recognized its presence, but had deliberately closed her eyes, finding a joy in the secret knowledge of danger. Now at last he had discarded pretense.
The cigarette which he had offered her at the club had been drugged. She was in Limehouse, at the mercy of a man in whose veins ran the blood of ancestors to whom women had been chattels. Too well she recognized that his passion must have driven him insane, as he must know at what cost he took such liberties with one who could not lightly be so treated. But these reflections afforded poor consolation. It was not of the penalties that Lou Chada must suffer for this infringement of Western codes, but of the price that she must pay for her folly, of which Pat was thinking.
There was a nauseating taste upon her palate. She remembered having noticed it faintly while she was smoking the cigarette; indeed, she had commented upon it at the time.
"The dirty yellow blackguard!" she said aloud, and clenched her hands.
She merely echoed what many a man had said before her. She wondered at herself, and in doing so but wondered at the mystery of womanhood.
Clarity was returning. The room no longer swam around her. She crossed in the direction of a garish curtain, which instinctively she divined to mask a door. Dragging it aside, she tried the handle, but the door was locked. A second door she found, and this also proved to be locked.
There was one tall window, also covered by ornate draperies, but it was shuttered, and the shutters had locks. Another small window she discovered, glazed with amber glass, but set so high in the wall as to be inaccessible.
Dread assailed her, and dropping on to one of the divans, she hid her face in her hands.
"My God!" she whispered. "My God! Give me strength--give me courage."
For a long time she remained there, listening for any sound which should disperse the silence. She thought of her husband, of the sweet security of her home, of the things which she had forfeited because of this mad quest of adventure. And presently a key grated in a lock.
Lady Pat started to her feet with a wild, swift action which must have reminded a beholder of a startled gazelle. The drapery masking the door which she had first investigated was drawn aside. A man entered and dropped the curtain behind him.
Exactly what she had expected she could not have defined, but the presence of this perfect stranger was a complete surprise. The man, who wore embroidered slippers and a sort of long blue robe, stood there regarding her with an expression which, even in her frantic condition, she found to be puzzling. He had long, untidy gray hair brushed back from his low brow; eyes strangely like the eyes of Lou Chada, except that they were more heavy-lidded; but his skin was as yellow as a guinea, and his gaunt, cleanshaven face was the face of an Oriental.
The slender hands, too, which he held clasped before him, were yellow, and possessed a curiously arresting quality. Pat imagined them clasped about her white throat, and her very soul seemed to shrink from the man who stood there looking at her with those long, magnetic, inscrutable eyes.
She wondered why she was surprised, and suddenly realized that it was because of the expression in his eyes, for it was an expression of cold anger. Then the intruder spoke.
"Who are you?" he demanded, speaking with an accent which was unfamiliar to her, but in a voice which was not unlike the voice of Lou Chada. "Who brought you here?"
This was so wholly unexpected that for a moment she found herself unable to reply, but finally:
"How dare you!" she cried, her native courage reasserting itself. "I have been drugged and brought to this place. You shall pay for it. How dare you!"
"Ah!" The long, dark eyes regarded her unmovingly. "But who are you?"
"I am Lady Rourke. Open the door. You shall bitterly regret this outrage."
"You are Lady Rourke?" the man repeated. "Before you speak of regrets, answer the question which I have asked: Who brought you here?"
"Ah!" There was no alteration of pose, no change of expression, but slightly the intonation had varied.
"I don't know who you are, but I demand to be released from this place instantly."
The man standing before the curtained door slightly inclined his head.
"You shall be released," he replied, "but not instantly. I will see the one who brought you here. He may not be entirely to blame. Before you leave we shall understand one another."
Tone and glance were coldly angry. Then, before the frightened woman could say another word, the man in the blue robe robe withdrew, the curtain was dropped again, and she heard the grating of a key in the lock. She ran to the door, beating upon it with her clenched hands.
"Let me go!" she cried, half hysterically. "Let me go! You shall pay for this! Oh, you shall pay for this!"
No one answered, and, turning, she leaned back against the curtain, breathing heavily and fighting for composure, for strength.