The Illustrious Prince HTML version

22. A Breath From The East
Inspector Jacks was a man who had succeeded in his profession chiefly on account of an
average amount of natural astuteness, and also because he was one of those favored
persons whose nervous system was a whole and perfect thing. Yet, curiously enough, as
he sat in this large, gloomy apartment into which he had been shown, a room filled with
art treasures whose appearance and significance were entirely strange to him, he felt a
certain uneasiness which he was absolutely unable to understand. He was somewhat
instinctive in his likes and dislikes, and from the first he most heartily disliked the room
itself,--its vague perfumes, its subdued violet coloring, the faces of the grinning idols,
which seemed to meet his gaze in every direction, the pictures of those fierce-looking
warriors who brandished two-edged swords at him from the walls. They belonged to the
period when Japanese art was perhaps in its crudest state, and yet in this uncertain
atmosphere they seemed to possess an extraordinary vitality, as though indeed they were
prepared at a moment's notice to leap from their frames and annihilate this mysterious
product of modern days, who in black clothes and silk hat, unarmed and without physical
strength, yet wielded the powers of life and death as surely as they in their time had done.
The detective rose from his seat and walked around the room. He made a show of
examining the arms against the walls, the brocaded hangings with their wonderful design
of faded gold, the ivory statuettes, the black god who sat on his haunches and into whose
face seemed carved some dumb but eternal power. Movement was in some respects a
solace, but the sound of a hansom bell tinkling outside was a much greater relief. He
crossed to the windows and looked out over the somewhat silent square. A hurdy-gurdy
was playing in the corner opposite the club, just visible from where he stood. The
members were passing in and out. The commissionaire stood stolidly in his place, raising
every now and then his cab whistle to his lips. A flickering sunlight fell upon the wind-
shaken lilac trees in the square enclosure. Inspector Jacks found himself wishing that the
perfume of those lilacs might reach even to where he stood, and help him to forget for a
moment that subtler and to him curiously unpleasant odor which all the time became
more and more apparent. So overpowering did he feel it that he tried even to open the
window, but found it an impossible task. The atmosphere seemed to him to be becoming
absolutely stifling.
He turned around and walked uneasily toward the door. He decided then that this was
some sort of gruesome nightmare with which he was afflicted. He was quite certain that
in a few minutes he would wake in his little iron bedstead with the sweat upon his
forehead and a reproachful consciousness of having eaten an indiscreet supper. It could
not possibly be a happening in real life! It could not be true that his knees were sinking
beneath the weight of his body, that the clanging of iron hammers was really smiting the
drums of his ears, that the purple of the room was growing red, and that his veins wee
strained to bursting! He threw out his arms in a momentary instinct of fiercely struggling
consciousness. The idols on the walls jeered at him. Those strangely clad warriors
seemed to him now to be looking down upon his discomfiture with a satanic smile,