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Title: The Western Way
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201721.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2012
Date most recently updated: March 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Western Way
Author: Fred M White


*


Published in the Daily News, Perth, W.A., Saturday 16 August, 1913.


*



Lorrimer caught sight of his man in a corner of the big reception room
and lounged over in his direction. The other appeared to be discussing
some abstruse semi-colon which might or might not add a significant
flavor to the last thing in the way of Shavian comedies. Evidently, Mr.
Ned Smith was a versatile person, for the last time that Lorrimer had
met him was in the Persian Gulf in the midst of a technical discussion
on gun-running and the best small arms weapon to place in the hands of
raw troops.

Who Mr. Ned Smith was or where he came from Lorrimer had not the
smallest idea. Nor was it an easy matter to place his nationality. He
did not look like a Chinaman nor yet a Jap, still the Tartar blood was
in his body somewhere. It was his rippling fair hair that added to
Lorrimer's mental confusion. There were other people interested in Ned
Smith besides Lorrimer, and amongst these was a no less distinguished
person than the Mongolese Ambassador. That same person came up to
Lorrimer now and entered easily into conversation with him. His
Excellency Sing Li was a polished man of the world, with a perfect
command of excellent English.

"You are a remarkable man, Lorrimer," he said. "And in your time appear
to have met some remarkable people. Now, do you happen to know the
picturesque-looking person who is at present discussing theatrical
matters with Lady Sheraton?"

Lorrimer shrugged his shoulders a little impatiently. As an old
diplomatist himself, he had very little sympathy with the supersubtlety
of the Oriental mind.

"Considering that you saw us together in Paris two years ago, the
question is rather superfluous," he said. "You want me to do something
for you. What is it?"

"Well, I want you to bring me in contact with Mr. Ned Smith. I have an
idea he may be useful to me just now. As you know, Mongolese affairs are
not too rosy; in fact,----"

"You are on the verge of a revolution."

"Well, let it go at that," the Ambassador admitted. "And I believe that
Mr. Ned Smith can give me some valuable information. Do you happen to.
know who he really is?"

"Mr. Ned Smith, I suppose," Lorrimer said drily.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Strangely enough this answer did not appear displeasing to Sing Li. Half
an hour later the three men were discussing matters generally, over
cigarettes. On the whole, it was an entertaining conversation between
three brilliantly intellectual men. Lorrimer said little--he was too
intently engaged in watching the other two. It reminded him of a game of
chess between two masters. Outwardly the two Orientals were friendly
enough, much as if they were fencing in the dark. The Ambassador rose
presently.

"I'm sorry to have to leave you," he said. "I shall be glad if you two
gentlemen will do me a favor. I should like to carry this discussion a
little further in another place. Will you both dine with me at the
Embassy on Thursday night at eight o'clock. That will be this day week?"

"I shall be delighted," Ned Smith said. "I am sure that we could
exchange valuable information. Only unfortunately I am engaged for days
ahead. If you could say Thursday fortnight, it would afford me great
pleasure to dine with you."

The Mongolese Ambassador said Thursday fortnight accordingly, and went
his way. Ned Smith watched him with a certain suggestion of malicious
mischief in his dark eyes.

"That will give another week," he said, speaking as if to himself. "I
beg your pardon, Lorrimer--I forgot you were here for a minute. Whatever
you do, don't forget to keep that appointment for this day fortnight. I
can promise you a certain interesting evening. His Excellency is perhaps
the most daring and audacious man in London at the present moment--with
the possible exception of myself. And, by the way, when I was here two
years ago, there were strange stories afloat in connection with the
kidnapping of the revolutionary leader, San Te. They said that he was
last seen alive in a cab outside the Embassy. Several questions were
asked about it, I remember. Did anything ever come of it?"

Lorrimer shook his head. He remembered the circumstances distinctly
enough. And he had little doubt in his mind that the rumors were true.
Still, nothing had been proved, and the story had been gradually
forgotten.

"I shall be there," Lorrimer said. "Good night."

For the next few days Lorrimer saw nothing of Ned Smith. He saw little
or nothing of the Mongolese Ambassador either, for that shining light of
diplomacy had his hands full just now. There was no doubt of the fact
that the reigning dynasty was trembling to its fall. The great rebellion
roared over the face of the land like a yellow flood. On every hand the
revolutionaries were progressing. The good work done by that famous
refugee, Hi See, was bearing abundant fruits now, and it only needed his
presence to carry the new flag to victory.

Of Hi See the most extraordinary stories were told. He seemed to bear a
charmed life, he had had many a hairs-breadth escape, and the mere rumor
of his being seen in one province was certain proof that he was
somewhere else fanning the flame of revolution. For the last twelve
months he seemed to have disappeared altogether. He had been heard of in
Paris and Berlin, and wherever he had been seen there came arms and
money and abundant assistance for the progressive party. The mere fact
that his personality was so shadowy only tended to render him more
God-like and heroic in the eyes of his followers. He was known to be a
man of education, too, a gifted linguist, and it only needed his
presence in the Mongolese Empire now to complete the victory. Like most
men of his class, he had his enemies, and there were scores of his
countrymen in every capital in Europe who would have murdered him
cheerfully out of pure patriotism, to say nothing of the desire to
hypothecate the price of ten thousand pounds which had been placed upon
his head.

Now, Hi See had recently issued a manifesto to his followers, in which
he announced his intention of placing himself in command of the
revolutionary movement within the next month. And this would have to be
prevented at all costs, because, once it was accomplished, it would
merely be a question of how long it was before the progressive party
occupied the capital. And thus it was that every Chinese Embassy in
Europe was straining its nervous system to lay hands on Hi See. Whether
or not his premature taking off would have effectually stemmed the
flowing tide was somewhat dubious. But it was held in high Mongolese
diplomatic circles that the pleasing spectacle of Hi See's head on a
pole might induce a reaction in favor of the reigning dynasty. In this
year of grace the capital towns of Europe have reached a state of high
refinement. But that proud boast would not have saved Hi See's skin once
he had ventured across the threshold of the Mongolese Embassy.

Still, with all the cares of state upon his shoulders, his Excellency
welcomed his guests with a charming smile and a manner which appeared to
be free from trouble. He had put away his own gorgeous national dress
for the nonce, and appeared in the conventional evening garb of an
English gentleman. The dinner, too, was quite Occidental; in fact, but
for the presence of three or four Mongolese servants, the Oriental
atmosphere was entirely lacking.

The conversation was general enough for the time being, but as the meal
drew to a close the inevitable politics came up for review. Here were
three men of the world who had surveyed mankind from China to Peru, and
to whom high diplomacy in most countries of the world was an open
letter. They sat there over coffee and liqueur and cigarettes, for the
conversation was growing interesting, and no one seemed disposed to
move.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Shall we adjourn," the Ambassador suggested; "or would you prefer to
continue the discussion here?"

"This is very delightful," Ned Smith murmured. "I always prefer to sip
my coffee and smoke my cigarette when I am at the table. Moreover, we
have not the charming sex to consider. It is sometimes an advantage for
one's host to be a bachelor."

"The bachelor has no cares," Lorrimer said.

The Ambassador laughed none too pleasantly.

"Has he not?" he asked. "There are few men in London to-night who have
more than I. But it is a great consolation to feel that I am going to
get rid of one of them before daybreak."

"This sounds interesting," Lorrimer smiled. "Won't your Excellency be a
little more explicit?"

The Ambassador smiled a curious smile as he reached for a fresh
cigarette and poured out another liqueur.

"Why not?" he said. "Now, what would you consider to be my greatest
anxiety for the moment?"

"I think I can guess the riddle," Ned Smith said quietly. "You are
talking about the infamous rebel, Hi See."

"That is correct," the Ambassador laughed. "If we could get rid of him,
most of my country's trouble would be over."

"Our friend would be flattered if he could only hear you," Ned Smith
said. "I perceive that this would make an ideal prison-house for the
moment. I notice that the shutters of this room are made of steel, and
so, if I mistake not, is also the front door, judging by the way in
which it closed behind us to-night. One would hardly dare in an
atmosphere like this to say anything unflattering about the reigning
Mongolese dynasty. Hi See would be equally impotent here once he was
your prisoner. Not that you can ever hope for that."

"I'm not so sure," the Ambassador said softly. "I'm naturally of a
sanguine temperament, and if the opportunity came, I should not
hesitate. I should----"

A soft-footed servant came in at that moment with a telegram, which he
handed to Lorrimer. As the latter took the orange-colored envelope from
the salver, Ned Smith put a detaining hand and pitched the telegram
carelessly into the centre of the table. His face had suddenly grown
grim and set; there was a look of angry displeasure on the Ambassador's
features.

"May I be permitted to be rude just for one moment?" Ned Smith said.
"May I ask you to ignore that telegram for a time? I have reason to
believe that the message is of no importance. At any rate, I know it was
sent under a misapprehension. Now as to this Hi See. Suppose he were
here at the present moment. You couldn't do anything with him so long as
Mr. Lorrimer knew the circumstances in which he came. Now I happen to
know a good deal about Hi See. He is the last man in the world to put
his head in the net. And yet he would have not the slightest hesitation
in coming here if he thought that it would serve his purpose to do so. I
suppose you've never met him, Lorrimer?"

"I never had the good fortune," Lorrimer said.

"Oh, you will before long," Ned Smith went on. "No, please don't touch
that telegram just yet. Let me tell you a little more about Hi See
first. I won't go into a biographical sketch, because the papers have
done all that more or less untruly. I do happen to know that every
Mongolese Embassy in Europe has had a try for him. If only he had fallen
into the trap he would have been a dead man long ago. He would have been
murdered in London or Berlin or Paris, and not a soul been any the
wiser. As a rule, the servants of the Embassy are to be trusted to keep
silent. But, after all, there is even a better plan than a crude, vulgar
murder. The man might be kidnapped here under the very eyes or the
authorities, and taken back home without anybody being in the least the
wiser. I know what I am talking about."

"Are you speaking from a brief?" the Ambassador sneered.

"No, from personal experience," Ned Smith said quietly. "As a matter of
fact, I am Hi See."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Lorrimer started to his feet, then as suddenly sat down again. Here was
drama red-hot to his hand. The face of the Ambassador paled a little,
though his face was hard and resolute.

"I suppose I had better go on," Hi See said quietly. "Our host here has
known for quite a month that I was in London. I don't know how he
recognised me, neither does it in the least matter. And I knew that he
knew me when you made us personally acquainted the other night. And I
was quite aware, too, of the risk I was running in accepting the
invitation to dinner this evening. The prison house is secure enough--I
am here behind steel bars, and the servants for the most part are
prepared to commit anything from arson to murder at the bidding of their
master."

Lorrimer looked up, white, but determined.

"You seem to forget that I am here," he said quietly. "I am a British
subject in my own capital----"

"Oh, quite so, quite so," Hi See went on. "But perhaps our host would
like to take a hand. It seems to me that I am vulgarly monopolising the
conversation."

His Excellency shook his head sulkily.

"My turn will come--presently," he said sullenly.

"Then I am to proceed," Hi See smiled. "You were not to be here at all,
Lorrimer. The ingenious idea was that you should leave before me and
proof would have been given you to-morrow that I did not remain many
minutes after you left. You would never have troubled if you had never
seen me again. I am a wanderer who comes and goes; nobody knows anything
about me, and no questions would have been asked. And now, if you
please, you can open that telegram. You will find in it an urgent
message asking you to return to your chambers at once. If you don't find
the message as I say it is I am greatly mistaken."

Lorrimer tore open the envelope and ran his eye rapidly over the
contents. He smiled grimly.

"The tricks are all yours up to now," he said.

"If you call up your flat on the telephone," Hi See went on, "you will
find that no such message was sent. The simple scheme was merely to get
you out of the way and leave me here alone. It was an excellent idea to
invite you to dine here as well as me to-night, and was calculated to
allay any suspicions as to my welcome. But that is not the whole of the
plot. A day or two ago a Chinaman of low caste was brought here
practically on his death bed. He died in the course of time, and a
medical certificate was given by the doctor who was called in. The dead
Chinaman was smuggled away somehow, but this coffin still remains in the
house. It may interest you to know that I was destined to occupy that
coffin. I should have been drugged directly you had gone, and to-morrow
I should have been taken down to Southampton and placed on board a steam
yacht there already, waiting to convey me to my native land. What would
have happened afterwards I leave you to guess. And now, seeing that I
have said so much, I will leave it to his Excellency to continue. My
story is finished."

But his Excellency sat there, saying nothing. An awkward silence
followed for a minute or two. Lorrimer would have spoken, but Hi See
raised a hand as a signal for him to stop.

"Come, I am waiting," Hi See commanded in a grating voice. "It is for me
to command, you understand."

"There is nothing to be said," the Ambassador muttered. "My hands are
tied. The presence of Mr. Lorrimer here renders me powerless. But if you
are waiting for any apology I have none to make. I can only regret my
failure. You, Hi See, are a fellow-countryman of mine, and you
understand. If the circumstances were reversed you would take my life
with as little compunction as I would take yours. The time may come yet.
Gentlemen, you are free to go."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Ambassador rose from the table and bowed in the direction of the
door. Lorrimer half rose to his feet, but Hi See never moved. He looked
up grimly.

"Sit down," he commanded. "Don't dare to move till I tell you. It is
your belief that you are the master in this house. For the moment you
are mistaken. Mine is the voice of authority. Your Excellency will give
me your watch-chain. I desire to borrow from it the key which opens the
safe in your study."

Something, like an oath came from the Ambassador's lips. As he rose to
his feet again two silent forms came apparently from nowhere and stood
on either side of him. Two chill blue circles pressed on his temple, and
from under his scowling lids he recognised a pair of the servants who
had been waiting on the party during dinner. At a curt command from Hi
See he snatched the chain angrily from his pocket and threw it angrily
upon the table.

"I thought you would appreciate the argument," Hi See said. "These
servants are not yours, but mine. There are four of them here who have
been in our pay for years. Two of them are guarding you, and the other
two are looking after the rest of the household. By this time I suppose
the rest of the servants are peacefully sleeping under the influence of
the same drug that would have been administered to me. You will remain
here while I spend a few minutes in searching your safe. There I shall
find papers and documents of the utmost importance to us. I am sorry to
detain you, Mr. Lorrimer; but all is fair in love and war, and it will
be necessary, if only for your sake, that I should make good my retreat.
Circumstances will prevent me meeting you again in London, but if in the
course of time you should ever visit Aria again, I shall be glad to make
you the honored guest of the Mongolese Republic. And I should not be
surprised to find his Excellency holding office under the Progressive
party."

It was a quaint, queer silence that followed. The Ambassador sat there
downcast and ill at ease, with the two sentries standing on either side
of him. Then Hi See returned, carrying a mass of papers in his hands. He
waved the servants aside, and stood there grim and smiling in the
doorway.

"I am going now," he said. "The steel shutters are made fast, and I
propose to lock this door from the outside. You may find it a little
monotonous, but the servants will release you in the morning. And, my
dear Lorrimer, I am not behaving so badly to you as you imagine. I know
what your Western civilisation calls for, and it would be a great regret
to me if I left anybody a chance of saying that you were my confederate
in this matter. I wish you good night, gentlemen, and, oh, yes--what was
I going to say? I have it--there is something in the Western Method
after all!"



THE END



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