Part 1 out of 6
The Vanished Messenger
by E. Phillips Oppenheim
There were very few people upon Platform Number Twenty-one of
Liverpool Street Station at a quarter to nine on the evening
of April 2 - possibly because the platform in question is one of
the most remote and least used in the great terminus. The
station-master, however, was there himself, with an inspector in
attendance. A dark, thick-set man, wearing a long travelling
ulster and a Homburg hat, and carrying in his hand a brown leather
dressing-case, across which was painted in black letters the name
MR. JOHN P. DUNSTER, was standing a few yards away, smoking a
long cigar, and, to all appearance absorbed in studying the
advertisements which decorated the grimy wall on the other side of
the single track. A couple of porters were seated upon a barrow
which contained one solitary portmanteau. There were no signs of
other passengers, no other luggage. As a matter of fact, according
to the time-table, no train was due to leave the station or to
arrive at it, on this particular platform, for several hours.
Down at the other end of the platform the wooden barrier was thrust
back, and a porter with some luggage upon a barrow made his noisy
approach. He was followed by a tall young man in a grey tweed suit
and a straw hat on which were the colours of a famous cricket club.
The inspector watched them curiously. "Lost his way, I should
think," he observed.
The station-master nodded. "It looks like the young man who missed
the boat train," he remarked. "Perhaps he has come to beg a lift."
The young man in question made steady progress up the platform.
His hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his coat, and his
forehead was contracted in a frown. As he approached more closely,
he singled out Mr. John P. Dunster, and motioning his porter to wait,
crossed to the edge of the track and addressed him.
"Can I speak to you for a moment, sir?"
Mr. John P. Dunster turned at once and faced his questioner. He
did so without haste - with a certain deliberation, in fact - yet
his eyes were suddenly bright and keen. He was neatly dressed,
with the quiet precision which seems as a rule to characterise the
travelling American. He was apparently of a little less than
middle-age, clean-shaven, broad-shouldered, with every appearance
of physical strength. He seemed like a man on wires, a man on the
alert, likely to miss nothing.
"Are you Mr. John P. Dunster?" the youth asked.
"I carry my visiting-card in my hand, sir," the other replied,
swinging his dressing-case around. "My name is John P. Dunster."
The young man's expression was scarcely ingratiating. To a natural
sullenness was added now the nervous distaste of one who approaches
a disagreeable task.
"I want, if I may, to ask you a favour," he continued. "If you don't
feel like granting it, please say no and I'll be off at once. I am
on my way to The Hague. I was to have gone by the boat train which
left half an hour ago. I had taken a seat, and they assured me that
the train would not leave for at least ten minutes, as the mails
weren't in. I went down the platform to buy some papers and stood
talking for a moment or two with a man whom I know. I suppose I
must have been longer than I thought, or they must have been quicker
than they expected with the mailbags. Anyhow, when I came back the
train was moving. They would not let me jump in. I could have done
it easily, but that fool of an inspector over there held me."
"They are very strict in this country, I know."
Mr. Dunster agreed, without change of expression.
"Please go on."
"I saw you arrive - just too late for the train. While I was
swearing at the inspector, I heard you speak to the station-master.
Since then I have made inquiries. I understand that you have
ordered a special train to Harwich."
Mr. John P. Dunster said nothing, only his keen, clear eyes seemed
all the time to be questioning this gloomy-looking but apparently
harmless young man.
"I went to the station-master's office," the latter continued,
"and tried to persuade them to let me ride in the guard's van of
your special, but he made a stupid fuss about it, so I thought I'd
better come to you. Can I beg a seat in your compartment, or
anywhere in the train, as far as Harwich?"
Mr. Dunster avoided, for the moment, a direct reply. He had the
air of a man who, whether reasonably or unreasonably, disliked the
request which had been made to him.
"You are particularly anxious to cross to-night?" he asked.
"I am," the youth admitted emphatically. "I never ought to have
risked missing the train. I am due at The Hague to-morrow."
Mr. John P. Dunster moved his position a little. The light from a
rain-splashed gas lamp shone now full upon the face of his suppliant:
a boy's face, which would have been pleasant and even handsome but
for the discontented mouth, the lowering forehead, and a shadow in
the eyes, as though, boy though he certainly was in years, he had
already, at some time or another, looked upon the serious things of
life. His nervousness, too, was almost grotesque. He had the air
of disliking immensely this asking a favour from a stranger. Mr.
Dunster appreciated all these things, but there were reasons which
made him slow in granting the young man's request.
"What is the nature of your pressing business at The Hague?" he asked.
The youth hesitated.
"I am afraid," he said grimly, "that you will not think it of much
importance. I am on my way to play in a golf tournament there."
"A golf tournament at The Hague!" Mr. Dunster repeated, in a
slightly altered tone. "What is your name?"
Mr. Dunster stood quite still for a moment. He was possessed of a
wonderful memory, and he was conscious at that moment of a subtle
appeal to it. Fentolin! There was something in the name which
seemed to him somehow associated with the things against which he
was on guard. He stood with puzzled frown, reminiscent for several
minutes, unsuccessful. Then he suddenly smiled, and moving
underneath the gas lamp, shook open an evening paper which he had
been carrying. He turned over the pages until he arrived at the
sporting items. Here, in almost the first paragraph, he saw the
name which had happened to catch his eye a moment or two before:
GOLF AT THE HAGUE
Among the entrants for the tournament which commences
to-morrow, are several well-known English players,
including Mr. Barwin, Mr. Parrott, Mr. Hillard and
Mr. Gerald Fentolin.
Mr. Dunster folded up the newspaper and replaced it in his pocket.
He turned towards the young man.
"So you're a golfer, are you?"
"I play a bit," was the somewhat indifferent reply.
Mr. Dunster turned to another part of the paper and pointed to the
great black head-lines.
"Seems a queer thing for a young fellow like you to be worrying
about games," he remarked. "I haven't been in this country more
than a few hours, but I expected to find all the young men getting
"Getting ready for what?"
"Why, to fight, of course," Mr. Dunster replied. "Seems pretty
clear that there's an expeditionary force being fitted out,
according to this evening's paper, somewhere up in the North Sea.
The only Englishman I've spoken to on this side was willing to lay
me odds that war would be declared within a week."
The young man's lack of interest was curious.
"I am not in the army," he said. "It really doesn't affect me."
Mr. Dunster stared at him.
"You'll forgive my curiosity," he said, "but say, is there nothing
you could get into and fight if this thing came along?"
"Nothing at all, that I know of," the youth replied coolly. "War
is an affair which concerns only the military and naval part of two
countries. The civil population -"
"Plays golf, I suppose," Mr. Dunster interrupted. "Young man, I
haven't been in England for some years, and you rather take my
breath away. All the same, you can come along with me as far as
The young man showed signs of some satisfaction. "I am very much
obliged to you, sir," he declared. "I promise you I won't be in
The station-master, who had been looking through a little pile of
telegrams brought to him by a clerk from his office, now turned
towards them. His expression was a little grave.
"Your special will be backing down directly, sir," he announced,
"but I am sorry to say that we hear very bad accounts of the line.
They say that this is only the fag-end of the storm that we are
getting here, and that it's been raging for nearly twenty-four
hours on the east coast. I doubt whether the Harwich boat will be
able to put off."
"We must take our chance about that," Dunster remarked. "If the
mail boat doesn't run, I presume there will be something else we
The station-master looked the curiosity which he did not actually
express in words.
"Money will buy most things, nowadays, sir," he observed, "but if
it isn't fit for our mail boat, it certainly isn't fit for anything
else that can come into Harwich Harbour. However, you'll hear what
they say when you get there."
Mr. Dunster nodded and relapsed into a taciturnity which was
obviously one of his peculiarities. The young man strolled down
the platform, and catching up with the inspector, touched him on
"Do you know who the fellow is?" he asked curiously. "It's awfully
decent of him to let me go with him, but he didn't seem very keen
The inspector shook his head.
"No idea, sir," he replied. "He drove up just two minutes after
the train had gone, came straight into the office and ordered a
special. Paid for it, too, in Bank of England notes before he
went out. I fancy he's an American, and he gave his name as John
The young man paused to light a cigarette.
"If he's an American, I suppose that accounts for it," he observed.
"He must be in a precious hurry to get somewhere, though."
"A night like this, too!" the inspector remarked, with a shiver.
"I wouldn't leave London myself unless I had to. They say there's
a tremendous storm blowing on the east coast. Here comes the train,
sir - just one saloon and the guard's van."
The little train backed slowly along the platform side. The
engine was splashed with mud and soaking wet. The faces of the
engine-driver and his companion shone from the dripping rain. The
station-master held open the door of the saloon.
"You've a rough journey before you, sir," he said. "You'll catch
the boat all right, though - if it goes. The mail train was very
heavy to-night. You should catch her up this side of Colchester."
Mr. Dunster nodded.
"I am taking this young gentleman with me," he announced shortly.
"It seems that he, too, missed the train. I am much obliged to you,
station-master, for your attention. Good night!"
They were about to start when Mr. Dunster once more let down the
"By the way," he said, "as it is such a wild night, you will oblige
me very much if you will tell the engine-driver that there will be
a five pound note for himself and his companion if we catch the
The inspector touched his hat. The station-master had turned
discreetly away. He had been an inspector himself once, and
sovereigns had been useful to him, too. Then the train glided from
the platform side, plunged with a scream through a succession of
black tunnels, and with rapidly increasing speed faced the storm.
The young man sat on one side of the saloon and Mr. John P. Dunster
on the other. Although both of them were provided with a certain
amount of railway literature, neither of them made any pretence at
reading. The older man, with his feet upon the opposite seat and
his arms folded, was looking pensively through the rain-splashed
window-pane into the impenetrable darkness. The young man, although
he could not ignore his companion's unsociable instincts, was
"There will be some floods out to-morrow," he remarked.
Mr. Dunster turned his head and looked across the saloon. There
was something in the deliberate manner of his doing so, and his
hesitation before he spoke, which seemed intended to further impress
upon the young man the fact that he was not disposed for conversation.
"Very likely," was his sole reply.
Gerald Fentolin sighed as though he regretted his companion's
taciturnity and a few minutes later strolled to the farther end of
the saloon. He spent some time trying to peer through the streaming
window into the darkness. He chatted for a few minutes with the
guard, who was, however, in a bad temper at having had to turn out
and who found little to say. Then he took one of his golf clubs
from the bag and indulged in several half swings. Finally he
stretched himself out upon one of the seats and closed his eyes.
"May as well try to get a nap," he yawned. "There won't be much
chance on the steamer, if it blows like this."
Mr. Dunster said nothing. His face was set, his eyes were looking
somewhere beyond the confines of the saloon in which he was seated.
So they travelled for over an hour. The young man seemed to be
dozing in earnest when, with a succession of jerks, the train
rapidly slackened speed. Mr. Dunster let down the window. The
interior of the carriage was at once thrown into confusion. A
couple of newspapers were caught up and whirled around, a torrent
of rain beat in. Mr. Dunster rapidly closed the window and rang
the bell. The guard came in after a moment or two. His clothes
were shiny from the wet; raindrops hung from his beard.
"What is the matter?" Mr. Dunster demanded. "Why are we waiting
"There's a block on the line somewhere," the man replied. "Can't
tell where exactly. The signals are against us; that's all we
know at present."
They crawled on again in about ten minutes, stopped, and resumed
their progress at an even slower rate. Mr. Dunster once more
summoned the guard.
"Why are we travelling like this?" he asked impatiently. "We shall
never catch the boat."
"We shall catch the boat all right if it runs, sir," the man assured
him. "The mail is only a mile or two ahead of us; that's one reason
why we have to go so slowly. Then the water is right over the line
where we are now, and we can't get any news at all from the other
side of Ipswich. If it goes on like this, some of the bridges will
be down; that's what I'm afraid of."
Mr. Dunster frowned. For the first time he showed some signs of
"Perhaps," he muttered, half to himself, "a motor-car would have been
"Not on your life," his young companion intervened. "All the roads
to the coast here cross no end of small bridges - much weaker
affairs than the railway bridges. I bet there are some of those
down already. Besides, you wouldn't be able to see where you were
going, on a night like this."
"There appears to be a chance," Mr. Dunster remarked drily, "that
you will have to scratch for your competition to-morrow."
"Also," the young man observed, "that you will have taken this
special train for nothing. I can't fancy the Harwich boat going
out a night like this."
Mr. Dunster relapsed into stony but anxious silence. The train
continued its erratic progress, sometimes stopping altogether for
a time, with whistle blowing repeatedly; sometimes creeping along
the metals as though feeling its way to safety. At last, after a
somewhat prolonged wait, the guard, whose hoarse voice they had
heard on the platform of the small station in which they were
standing, entered the carriage. With him came a gust of wind, once
more sending the papers flying around the compartment. The rain
dripped from his clothes on to the carpet. He had lost his hat,
his hair was tossed with the wind, his face was bleeding from a
slight wound on the temple.
"The boat train's just ahead of us, sir," he announced. "She can't
get on any better than we can. We've just heard that there's a
bridge down on the line between Ipswich and Harwich."
"What are we going to do, then?" Mr. Dunster demanded.
"That's just what I've come to ask you, sir," the guard replied.
"The mail's going slowly on as far as Ipswich. I fancy they'll
lie by there until the morning. The best thing that I can see is,
if you're agreeable, to take you back to London. We can very
likely do that all right, if we start at once."
Mr. Dunster, ignoring the man's suggestion, drew from one of the
voluminous pockets of his ulster a small map. He spread it open
upon the table before him and studied it attentively.
"If I cannot get to Harwich," he asked, "is there any possibility
of keeping straight on and reaching Yarmouth?"
The guard hesitated.
"We haven't heard anything about the line from Ipswich to Norwich,
sir," he replied, "but we can't very well change our course without
"Your definite instructions," Mr. Dunster reminded him drily, "were
to take me to Harwich. You have been forced to depart from them.
I see no harm in your adopting any suggestions I may have to make
concerning our altered destination. I will pay the extra mileage,
"How far did you wish to go, sir?" the guard enquired.
"To Yarmouth," Mr. Dunster replied firmly. "If there are bridges
down, and communication with Harwich is blocked, Yarmouth would
suit me better than anywhere."
The guard shook his head.
"I couldn't go on that way, sir, without instructions."
"Is there a telegraph office at this station?" Mr. Dunster inquired.
"We can speak anywhere on the line," the guard replied.
"Then wire to the station-master at Liverpool Street," Mr. Dunster
instructed. "You can get a reply from him in the course of a few
minutes. Explain the situation and tell him what my wishes are."
The guard hesitated.
"It's a goodish way from here to Norwich," he observed, "and for
all we know -"
"When we left Liverpool Street Station," Mr. Dunster interrupted,
"I promised five pounds each to you, the engine-driver, and his mate.
That five pounds shall be made twenty-five if you succeed in
getting me to the coast. Do your best for me."
The guard raised his hat and departed without another word.
"It will probably suit you better," Mr. Dunster continued, turning
to his companion, "to leave me at Ipswich and join the mail."
The latter shook his head.
"I don't see that there's any chance, anyway, of my getting over in
time now," he remarked. "If you'll take me on with you as far as
Norwich, I can go quietly home from there!"
"You live in this part of the world, then?" Mr. Dunster asked.
The young man assented. Again there was a certain amount of
hesitation in his manner.
"I live some distance the other side of Norwich," he said. "I don't
want to sponge on you too much," he went on, "but if you're really
going to stick it out and try and get there, I'd like to go on, too.
I am afraid I can't offer to share the expense, but I'd work my
passage if there was anything to be done."
Mr. Dunster drummed for a moment upon the table with his fingers.
All the time the young man had been speaking, his eyes had been
studying his face. He turned now once more to his map.
"It was my idea," he said, "to hire a steam trawler from Yarmouth.
If I do so, you can, if you wish, accompany me so far as the port
at which we may land in Holland. On the other hand, to be perfectly
frank with you, I should prefer to go alone. There will be, no
doubt, a certain amount of risk in crossing to-night. My own business
is of importance. A golf tournament, however, is scarcely worth
risking your life for, is it?"
"Oh, I don't know about that!" the young man replied grimly. "I
fancy I should rather like it. Let's see whether we can get on to
Norwich, anyhow, shall we? We may find that there are bridges down
on that line."
They relapsed once more into silence. Presently the guard
"Instructions to take you on to Yarmouth, if possible, sir," he
announced, "and to collect the mileage at our destination."
"That will be quite satisfactory," Mr. Dunster agreed. "Let us be
off, then, as soon as possible." Presently they crawled on. They
passed the boat train in Ipswich Station, where they stayed for a
few moments. Mr. Dunster bought wine and sandwiches, and his
companion followed his example. Then they continued their journey.
An hour or more passed; the storm showed no signs of abatement.
Their speed now rarely exceeded ten or fifteen miles an hour. Mr.
Dunster smoked all the time, occasionally rubbing the window-pane
and trying to look out. Gerald Fentolin slept fitfully.
"Have you any idea where we are?" Mr. Dunster asked once.
The boy cautiously let down the window a little way. With the noise
of the storm came another sound, to which he listened for a moment
with puzzled face: a dull, rumbling sound like the falling of water.
He closed the window, breathless.
"I don't think we are far from Norwich. We passed Forncett, anyhow,
some time ago."
"In torrents! I can't see a yard ahead of me. I bet we get some
floods after this. I expect they are out now, if one could only see."
They crept on. Suddenly, above the storm, they heard what sounded
at first like the booming of a gun, and then a shrill whistle from
some distance ahead. They felt the jerk as their brakes were hastily
applied, the swaying of the little train, and then the crunching of
earth beneath them, the roar of escaping steam as their engine
ploughed its way on into the road bed.
"Off the rails!" the boy cried, springing to his feet. "Hold on
tightly, sir. I'd keep away from the window."
The carriage swayed and rocked. Suddenly a telegraph post seemed
to come crashing through the window and the polished mahogany panels.
The young man escaped it by leaping to one side. It caught Mr.
Dunster, who had just risen to his feet, upon the forehead. There
was a crash all around of splitting glass, a further shock. They
were both thrown off their feet. The light was suddenly extinguished.
With the crashing of glass, the splitting of timber - a hideous,
tearing sound - the wrecked saloon, dragging the engine half-way
over with it, slipped down a low embankment and lay on its side,
what remained of it, in a field of turnips.
As the young man staggered to his feet, he had somehow a sense of
detachment, as though he were commencing a new life, or had suddenly
come into a new existence. Yet his immediate surroundings were
charged with ugly reminiscences. Through a great gap in the ruined
side of the saloon the rain was tearing in. As he stood up, his
head caught the fragments of the roof. He was able to push back
the wreckage with ease and step out. For a moment he reeled, as he
met the violence of the storm. Then, clutching hold of the side of
the wreck, he steadied himself. A light was moving back and forth,
close at hand. He cried out weakly: "Hullo!"
A man carrying a lantern, bent double as he made his way against the
wind, crawled up to them. He was a porter from the station close
"My God!" he exclaimed. "Any one alive here?"
"I'm all right," Gerald muttered, "at least, I suppose I am. What's
it all - what's it all about? We've had an accident."
The porter caught hold of a piece of the wreckage with which to
"Your train ran right into three feet of water," he answered. "The
rails had gone - torn up. The telegraph line's down."
"Why didn't you stop the train?"
"We were doing all we could," the man retorted gloomily. "We weren't
expecting anything else through to-night. We'd a man along the line
with a lantern, but he's just been found blown over the embankment,
with his head in a pool of water. Any one else in your carriage?"
"One gentleman travelling with me," Gerald answered. "We'd better
try to get him out. What about the guard and engine-driver?"
"The engine-driver and stoker are both alive," the porter told him.
"I came across them before I saw you. They're both knocked sort
of sillylike, but they aren't much hurt. The guard's stone dead."
"Where are we?"
"A few hundred yards from Wymondham. Let's have a look for the
Mr. John P. Dunster was lying quite still, his right leg doubled
up, and a huge block of telegraph post, which the saloon had carried
with it in its fall, still pressing against his forehead. He
groaned as they dragged him out and laid him down upon a cushion
in the shelter of the wreckage.
"He's alive all right," the porter remarked. "There's a doctor on
the way. Let's cover him up quick and wait."
"Can't we carry him to shelter of some sort?" Gerald proposed.
The man shook his head. Speech of any sort was difficult. Even
with his lips close to the other's ears, he had almost to shout.
"Couldn't be done," he replied. "It's all one can do to walk alone
when you get out in the middle of the field, away from the shelter
of the embankment here. There's bits of trees flying all down the
lane. Never was such a night! Folks is fair afraid of the morning
to see what's happened. There's a mill blown right over on its side
in the next field, and the man in charge of it lying dead. This
poor chap's bad enough."
Gerald, on all fours, had crept back into the compartment. The
bottle of wine was smashed into atoms. He came out, dragging the
small dressing-case which his companion had kept on the table before
him. One side of it was dented in, but the lock, which was of great
strength, still held.
"Perhaps there's a flask somewhere in this dressing-case," Gerald
said. "Lend me a knife."
Strong though it had been, the lock was already almost torn out
from its foundation. They forced the spring and opened it. The
porter turned his lantern on the widening space. Just as Gerald
was raising the lid very slowly to save the contents from being
scattered by the wind, the man turned his head to answer an
approaching hail. Gerald raised the lid a little higher and
suddenly closed it with a bang.
"There's folks coming at last!" the porter exclaimed, turning around
excitedly. "They've been a time and no mistake. The village isn't
a quarter of a mile away. Did you find a flask, sir?"
Gerald made no answer. The dressing-case once more was closed, and
his hand pressed upon the lid. The porter turned the light upon his
face and whistled softly.
"You're about done yourself, sir," he remarked. "Hold up."
He caught the young man in his arms. There was another roar in
Gerald's ears besides the roar of the wind. He had never fainted
in his life, but the feeling was upon him now - a deadly sickness,
a swaying of the earth. The porter suddenly gave a little cry.
"If I'm not a born idiot!" he exclaimed, drawing a bottle from the
pocket of his coat with his disengaged hand. "There's whisky here.
I was taking it home to the missis for her rheumatism. Now, then."
He drew the cork from the bottle with his teeth and forced some of
the liquid between the lips of the young man. The voices now were
coming nearer and nearer. Gerald made a desperate effort.
"I am all right," he declared. "Let's look after him."
They groped their way towards the unconscious man, Gerald still
gripping the dressing-case with both hands. There were no signs
of any change in his condition, but he was still breathing heavily.
Then they heard a shout behind, almost in their ears. The porter
staggered to his feet.
"It's all right now, sir!" he exclaimed. "They've brought blankets
and a stretcher and brandy. Here's a doctor, sir."
A powerful-looking man, hatless, and wrapped in a great ulster,
moved towards them.
"How many are there of you?" he asked, as he bent over Mr. Dunster.
"Only we two," Gerald replied. "Is my friend badly hurt?"
"Concussion," the doctor announced. "We'll take him to the village.
What about you, young man? Your face is bleeding, I see."
"Just a cut," Gerald faltered; "nothing else."
"Lucky chap," the doctor remarked. "Let's get him to shelter of
some sort. Come along. There's an inn at the corner of the lane
They all staggered along, Gerald still clutching the dressing-case,
and supported on the other side by an excited and somewhat
"Such a storm as never was," the latter volunteered. "The telegraph
wires are all down for miles and miles. There won't be no trains
running along this line come many a week, and as for trees - why,
it's as though some one had been playing ninepins in Squire
Fellowes's park. When the morning do come, for sure there will be
things to be seen. This way, sir. Be careful of the gate."
They staggered along down the lane, climbing once over a tree
which lay across the lane and far into the adjoining field. Soon
they were joined by more of the villagers, roused from their beds
by rumours of terrible happenings. The little, single-storey,
ivy-covered inn was all lit up and the door held firmly open. They
passed through the narrow entrance and into the stone-flagged
barroom, where the men laid down their stretcher. As many of the
villagers as could crowd in filled the passage. Gerald sank into
a chair. The sudden absence of wind was almost disconcerting. He
felt himself once more in danger of fainting. He was only vaguely
conscious of drinking hot milk, poured from a jug by a red-faced
and sympathetic woman. Its restorative effect, however, was
immediate and wonderful. The mist cleared from before his eyes,
his brain began to work. Always in the background the horror and
the shame were there, the shame which kept his hand pressed with
unnatural strength upon the broken lock of that dressing-case.
He sat a little apart from the others and listened. Above the
confused murmur of voices he could hear the doctor's comment and
brief orders, as he rose to his feet after examining the unconscious
"An ordinary concussion," he declared. "I must get round and see
the engine-driver now. They have got him in a shed by the embankment.
I'll call in again later on. Let's have one more look at you,
He glanced at the cut on Gerald's forehead, noted the access of
colour in his cheeks, and nodded.
"Born to be hanged, you were," he pronounced. "You've had a
marvellous escape. I'll be in again presently. No need to worry
about your friend. He looks as though he'd got a mighty constitution.
Light my lantern, Brown. Two of you had better come with me to the
shed. It's no night for a man to be wandering about alone."
He departed, and many of the villagers with him. The landlady sat
down and began to weep.
"Such a night! Such a night!" she exclaimed, wringing her hands.
"And there's the doctor talks about putting the poor gentleman to
bed! Why, the roof's off the back part of the house, and not a
bedroom in the place but mine and John's, and the rain coming in
there in torrents. Such a night! It's the judgment of the Lord
upon us! That's what it is - the judgment of the Lord!"
"Judgment of the fiddlesticks!" her husband growled. "Can't you
light the fire, woman? What's the good of sitting there whining?"
"Light the fire," she repeated bitterly, "and the chimney lying out
in the road! Do you want to suffocate us all, or is the beer still
in your head? It's your evil doings, Richard Budden, and others
like you, that have brought this upon us. If Mr. Wembley would
but come in and pray!"
Her husband scoffed. He was dressed only in his shirt and trousers,
his hair rough, his braces hanging down behind.
"Come in and pray!" he repeated. "Not he! Not Mr. Wembley! He's
safe tucked up in his bed, shivering with fear, I'll bet you. He's
not getting his feet wet to save a body or lend a hand here. Souls
are his job. You let the preacher alone, mother, and tell us what
we're going to do with this gentleman."
"The Lord only knows!" she cried, wringing her hands.
"Can I hire a motor-car from anywhere near?" Gerald asked.
"There's motor-cars, right enough," the innkeeper replied, "but not
many as would be fools enough to take one out. You couldn't see
the road, and I doubt if one of them plaguey things would stir in
"Such nonsense as you talk, Richard Budden!" his wife exclaimed
sharply. "It's twenty minutes past three of the clock, and there's
light coming on us fast. If so be as the young gentleman knows
folks round about here, or happens to live nigh, why shouldn't he
take one of them motor-cars and get away to some decent place?
It'll be better for the poor gentleman than lying here in a house
smitten by the Lord."
Gerald rose stiffly to his feet. An idea was forming in his brain.
His eyes were bright. He looked at the body of John Dunster upon
the floor, and felt once more in his pocket.
"How far off is the garage?" he asked.
"It's right across the way," the innkeeper replied, "a speculation
of Neighbour Martin's, and a foolish one it do seem to me. He's two
cars there, and one he lets to the Government for delivering the
Gerald felt in his pocket and produced a sovereign.
"Give this," he said, "to any man you can find who will go across
there and bring me a car - the most powerful they've got, if there's
any difference. Tell them I'll pay well. This - my friend will be
much better at home with me than in a strange place when he comes
to his senses."
"It's sound common sense," the woman declared. "Be off with you,
The man was looking at the coin covetously, but his wife pushed him
"It's not a sovereign you'll be taking from the gentleman for a
little errand like that," she insisted sharply. "He shall pay us
for what he's had when he goes, and welcome, and if so be that he's
willing to make it a sovereign, to include the milk and the brandy
and the confusion we've been put to this night, well and good. It's
a heavy reckoning, maybe, but the night calls for it. We'll see
about that afterwards. Get along with you, I say, Richard."
"I'll be wet through," the man muttered.
"And serve you right!" the woman exclaimed. "If there's a man in
this village to-night whose clothes are dry, it's a thing for him
to be ashamed of."
The innkeeper reluctantly departed. They heard the roar of the
wind as the door was opened and closed. The woman poured out another
glass of milk and brought it to Gerald.
"A godless man, mine," she said grimly. "If so happen as Mr. Wembley
had come to these parts years ago, I'd have seen myself in my grave
before I'd have married a publican. But it's too late now. We're
mostly too late about the things that count in this world. So it's
your friend that's been stricken down, young man. A well-living man,
Gerald shivered ever so slightly. He drank the milk, however. He
felt that he might need his strength.
"What train might you have been on?" the woman continued. "There's
none due on this line that we knew of. David Bass, the
station-master, was here but two hours ago and said he'd finished
for the night, and praised the Lord for that. The goods trains
had all been stopped at Ipswich, and the first passenger train was
not due till six o'clock."
Gerald shook his head with an affectation of weariness.
"I don't know," he replied. "I don't remember anything about it.
We were hours late, I think."
The woman was looking down at the unconscious man. Gerald rose
slowly to his feet and stood by her side. The face of Mr. John P.
Dunster, even in unconsciousness, had something in it of strength
and purpose. The shape of his head, the squareness of his jaws,
the straightness of his thick lips, all seemed to speak of a hard
and inflexible disposition. His hair was coal black, coarse, and
without the slightest sprinkling of grey. He had the neck and
throat of a fighter. But for that single, livid, blue mark across
his forehead, he carried with him no signs of his accident. He was
a little inclined to be stout. There was a heavy gold chain
stretched across his waist-coat. From where he lay, the shining
handle of his revolver protruded from his hip, pocket.
"Sakes alive!" the woman muttered, as she looked down. "What does
he carry a thing like that for - in a peaceful country, too!"
"It was just an idea of his," Gerald answered. "We were going
abroad in a day or two. He was always nervous. If you like, I'll
take it away."
He stooped down and withdrew it from the unconscious man's pocket.
He started as he discovered that it was loaded in every chamber.
"I can't bear the sight of them things," the woman declared. "It's
the men of evil ways, who've no trust in the Lord, who need that
sort of protection."
They heard the door pushed open, the howl of wind down the passage,
and the beating of rain upon the stone flags. Then it was softly
closed again. The landlord staggered into the room, followed by a
"This 'ere is Mr. Martin's chaffer," he announced. "You can tell
him what you want yerself."
Gerald turned almost eagerly towards the newcomer.
"I want to go to the other side of Holt," he said, "and get my
friend - get this gentleman away from here - get him home, if
possible. Can you take me?"
The chauffeur looked doubtful.
"I'm afraid of the roads, sir," he replied. "There's talk about
many bridges down, and trees, and there's floods out everywhere.
There's half a foot of water, even, across the village street now.
I'm afraid we shouldn't get very far."
"Look here," Gerald begged eagerly, "let's make a shot at it. I'll
pay you double the hire of the car, and I'll be responsible for any
damage. I want to get out of this beastly place. Let's get
somewhere, at any rate, towards a civilised country. I'll see you
don't lose anything. I'll give you a five pound note for yourself
if we get as far as Holt."
"I'm on," the young man agreed shortly. "It's an open car, you know."
"It doesn't matter," Gerald replied. "I can stick it in front with
you, and we can cover - him up in the tonneau."
"You'll wait until the doctor comes back?" the landlord asked.
"And why should they?" his wife interposed sharply. "Them doctors
are all the same. He'll try and keep the poor gentleman here for
the sake of a few extra guineas, and a miserable place for him to
open his eyes upon, even if the rest of the roof holds, which for
my part I'm beginning to doubt. They'd have to move him from here
with the daylight, anyhow. He can't lie in the bar parlour all day,
"It don't seem right, somehow," the man com plained doggedly. "The
doctor didn't say anything about having him moved."
"You get the car," Gerald ordered the young man. "I'll take the
The chauffeur silently left the room. Gerald put a couple of
sovereigns upon the mantelpiece.
"My friend is a man of somewhat peculiar temperament," he said
quietly. "If he finds himself at home in a comfortable room when
he comes to his senses, I am quite sure that he will have a better
chance of recovery. He cannot possibly be made comfortable here,
and he will feel the shock of what has happened all the more if he
finds himself still in the neighbourhood when he opens his eyes.
If there is any change in his condition, we can easily stop somewhere
on the way."
The woman pocketed the two sovereigns.
"That's common sense, sir," she agreed heartily, "and I'm sure we
are very much obliged to you. If we had a decent room, and a roof
above it, you'd be heartily welcome, but as it is, this is no place
for a sick man, and those that say different don't know what they
are talking about. That's a real careful young man who's going to
take you along in the motor-car. He'll get you there safe, if any
"What I say is," her husband protested sullenly, "that we ought to
wait for the doctor's orders. I'm against seeing a poor body like
that jolted across the country in an open motor-car, in his state.
I'm not sure that it's for his good."
"And what business is it of yours, I should like to know?" the woman
demanded sharply. "You get up-stairs and begin moving the furniture
from where the rain s coming sopping in. And if so be you can
remember while you do it that this is a judgment that's come upon us,
why, so much the better. We are evil-doers, all of us, though them
as likes the easy ways generally manage to forget it."
The man retreated silently. The woman sat down upon a stool and
waited. Gerald sat opposite to her, the battered dressing-case
upon his knees. Between them was stretched the body of the
"Are you used to prayer, young sir?" the woman asked.
Gerald shook his head, and the woman did not pursue the subject.
Only once her eyes were half closed and her words drifted across
"The Lord have mercy on this man, a sinner!"
"My advice to you, sir, is to chuck it!"
Gerald turned towards the chauffeur by whose side he was seated a
little stiffly, for his limbs were numbed with the cold and
exhaustion. The morning had broken with a grey and uncertain light.
A vaporous veil of mist seemed to have taken the place of the
darkness. Even from the top of the hill where the car had come to
a standstill, there was little to be seen.
"We must have come forty miles already," the chauffeur continued,
"what with going out of our way all the time because of the broken
bridges. I'm pretty well frozen through, and as for him," he added,
jerking his thumb across his shoulder, "it seems to me you're taking
a bit of a risk."
"The doctor said he would remain in exactly the same condition for
twenty-four hours," Gerald declared.
"Yes, but he didn't say anything about shaking him up over forty
miles of rough road," the other protested. "You'll excuse me, sir,"
he continued, in a slightly changed tone; "it isn't my business, of
course, but I'm fairly done. It don't seem reasonable to stick at
it like this. There's Holt village not a mile away, and a comfortable
inn and a fire waiting. I thought that was as far as you wanted to
come. We might lie up there for a few hours, at any rate."
His passenger slipped down from his place, and, lifting the rug,
peered into the tonneau of the car, over which they had tied a hood.
To all appearance, the condition of the man who lay there was
unchanged. There was a slightly added blueness about the lips but
his breathing was still perceptible. It seemed even a little
stronger. Gerald resumed his seat.
"It isn't worth while to stay at Holt," he said quietly. "We are
scarcely seven miles from home now. Sit still for a few minutes
and get your wind."
"Only seven miles," the chauffeur repeated more cheerfully. "That's
"And all downhill."
"Towards the sea, then?"
"Straight to the sea," Gerald told him. "The place we are making
for is St. David's Hall, near Salthouse."
The chauffeur seemed a little startled.
"'Why, that's Squire Fentolin's house!"
"That is where we are going. You follow this road almost straight
The chauffeur slipped in the clutch.
"Oh, I know the way now, sir, right enough!" he exclaimed. "There's
Salthouse marsh to cross, though. I don't know about that."
"We shall manage that all right," Gerald declared. "'We've more
light now, too."
They both looked around. During the last few minutes the late
morning seemed to have forced its way through the clouds. They had
a dim, phantasmagoric view of the stricken country: a watery plain,
with here and there great patches of fields, submerged to the
hedges, and houses standing out amidst the waste of waters like
toy dwellings. There were whole plantations of uprooted trees.
Close to the road, on their left, was a roofless house, and a
family of children crying underneath a tarpaulin shelter. As they
crept on, the wind came to them with a brackish flavour, salt with
the sea. The chauffeur was gazing ahead doubtfully.
"I don't like the look of the marsh," he grumbled. "Can't see the
road at all. However, here goes."
"Another half-hour," Gerald assured him encouragingly, "and we shall
be at St. David's Hall. You can have as much rest as you like then."
They were facing the wind now, and conversation became impossible.
Twice they had to pull up sharp and make a considerable detour, once
on account of a fallen tree which blocked the road, and another
time because of the yawning gap where a bridge had fallen away.
Gerald, however, knew every inch of the country they were in and
was able to give the necessary directions. They began to meet farm
wagons now, full of people who had been driven from their homes.
Warnings and information as to the state of the roads were shouted
to them continually. Presently they came to the last steep descent,
and emerged from the devastated fragment of a wood almost on to the
sea level. The chauffeur clapped on his brakes and stopped short.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "Here's more trouble!"
Gerald for a moment was speechless. They seemed to have come
suddenly upon a huge plain of waters, an immense lake reaching as
far as they could see on either side. The road before them stretched
like a ribbon for the next three miles. Here and there it
disappeared and reappeared again. In many places it was lapped by
little waves. Everywhere the hedges were either altogether or half
under water. In the distance was one farmhouse, only the roof of
which was visible, and from which the inhabitants were clambering
into a boat. And beyond, with scarcely a break save for the rising
of one strangely-shaped hill, was the sea. Gerald pointed with his
"There's St. David's Hall," he said, "on the other side of the
hill. The road seems all right."
"Does it!" the chauffeur grunted. "It's under water more than half
the way, and Heaven knows how deep it is at the sides! I'm not
going to risk my life along there. I am going to take the car back
His hand was already upon the reverse lever, but Gerald gripped it.
"Look here," he protested, "we haven't come all this way to turn back.
You don't look like a coward."
"I am not a coward, sir," was the quiet answer. "Neither am I a
fool. I don't see any use in risking our lives and my master's
motor-car, because you want to get home."
"Naturally," Gerald answered calmly, "but remember this. I am
responsible for your car - not you. Mr. Fentolin is my uncle."
The chauffeur nodded shortly.
"You're Mr. Gerald Fentolin, aren't you, sir?" he remarked. "I
thought I recognised you."
"I am," Gerald admitted. "We've had a rough journey, but it doesn't
seem sense to turn back now, does it, with the house in sight?"
"That's all very well, sir," the chauffeur objected doubtfully, "but
I don't believe the road's even passable, and the floods seem to me
to be rising."
"Try it," the young man begged. "Look here, I don't want to bribe
you, or anything of that sort. You know you're coming out of this
well. It's a serious matter for me, and I shan't be likely to forget
it. I want to take this gentleman to St. David's Hall and not to
a hospital. You've brought me here so far like a man. Let's go
through with it. If the worst comes to the worst, we can both swim,
I suppose, and we are not likely to get out of our depth."
The chauffeur moved his head backwards.
"How about him?"
"He must take his chance," Gerald replied. "He's all right where
he is. The car won't upset and there are plenty of people who'll
see if we get into trouble. Come, let's make a dash for it."
The chauffeur thrust in his clutch and settled himself down. They
glided off along that winding stretch of road. To its very edge,
on either side of them, so close that they could almost touch it,
came the water, water which stretched as far as they could see,
swaying, waveless, sinister-looking. Even Gerald, after his first
impulse of wonder, kept his eyes averted and fixed upon the road
ahead. Soon they reached a place where the water met in front.
There were only the rows of white palings on either side to guide
them. The chauffeur muttered to himself as he changed to his first
"If the engine gets stopped," he said, "I don't know how we shall
get out of this."
They emerged on the other side. For some time they had a clear run.
Then suddenly the driver clapped on his brakes.
"My God!" he cried. "We can't get through that!"
In front of them for more than a hundred yards the water seemed
suddenly to have flowed across the road. Still a mile distant,
perched on a ridge of that strangely-placed hill, was their
"It can't be done, sir!" the man groaned. "There isn't a car ever
built could get through that. See, it's nearly up to the top of
those posts. I must put her in the reverse and get back, even if
we have to wait on the higher part of the road for a boat."
He glanced behind, and a second cry broke from his lips. Gerald
stood up in his place. Already the road which had been clear a
few minutes before was hidden. The water was washing almost over
the tops of the white posts behind them. Little waves were breaking
against the summit of the raised bank.
"We're cut off!" the chauffeur exclaimed. "'What a fool I was to
try this! There's the tide coming in as well!"
Gerald sat down in his place.
"Look here," he said, "we can't go back, whether we want to or not.
It's much worse behind there than it is in front. There's only one
chance. Go for it straight ahead in your first speed. It may not
stop the engine. In any case, it will be worse presently. There's
no use funking it. If the worst happens, we can sit in the car.
The water won't be above our heads and there are some boats about.
Blow your horn well first, in case there's any one within hearing,
and then go for it."
The chauffeur obeyed. They hissed and spluttered into the water.
Soon all trace of the road was completely lost. They steered only
by the tops of the white posts.
"It's getting deeper," the man declared. "It's within an inch or
two of the bonnet now. Hold on."
A wave broke almost over them but the engine continued its beat.
"If we stop now," he gasped, "we're done!"
The engine began to knock.
"Stick at it," Gerald cried, rising in his place a little. "Look,
there's only one post lower than the last one that we passed. They
get higher all the time, ahead. You can almost see the road in
front there. Now, in with your gear again, and stick at it."
Another wave broke, this time completely over them. They listened
with strained ears - the engine continued to beat. They still moved
slowly. Then there was a shock. The wheel had struck something in
the road - a great stone or rock. The chauffeur thrust the car out
of gear. The engine still beat. Gerald leaped from the car. The
water was over his knees. He crossed in front of the bonnet and
"I've got it!" he exclaimed, tugging hard. "It's a stone."
He moved it, rolled it on one side, and pushed at the wheel of the
car as his companion put in the speed. They started again. He
jumped back his place.
"We've done it, all right!" he cried. "Don't you see? It's getting
lower all the time."
The chauffeur had lost his nerve. His cheeks were pale, his teeth
were chattering. The engine, however, was still beating. Gradually
the pressure of the water grew less. In front of them they caught
a glimpse of the road. They drew up at the top of a little bridge
over one of the dikes. Gerald uttered a brief exclamation of triumph.
"We're safe!" he almost sobbed. "There's the road, straight ahead
and round to the right. There's no more water anywhere near."
They had left the main part of the flood behind them. There were
still great pools in the side of the road, and huge masses of
seaweed had been carried up and were lying in their track. There
was no more water, however. At every moment they drew nearer to
the strangely-shaped hill with its crown of trees.
"The house is on the other side," Gerald pointed out. "We can go
through the lodge gates at the back here. The ascent isn't so
They turned sharply to the right, along another stretch of straight
road set with white posts, ending before a red brick lodge and a
closed gate. They blew the horn and a gardener came out. He gazed
at them in amazement.
"It's all right," Gerald cried. "Let us through quickly, Foulds.
We've a gentleman in behind who's ill."
The man swung open the gate with a respectful salute. They made
their way up a winding drive of considerable length, and at last
they came to a broad, open space almost like a platform. On their
left were the marshes, and beyond, the sea. Along their right
stretched the long front of an Elizabethan mansion. They drew up
in front of the hail door. Their coming had been observed, and
servants were already waiting. Gerald sprang to the ground.
"There's a gentleman in behind who's ill," he explained to the
butler. "He has met with an accident on the way. Three or four
of you had better carry him up to a bedroom - any one that is ready.
And you, George," he added, turning to a boy, "get into the car and
show this man the way round to the garage, and then take him to the
Several of the servants hastened to do his bidding, and Gerald did
his best to answer the eager but respectful stream of questions.
And then, just as they were in the act of lifting the still
unconscious man on to the floor of the hall, came a queer sound - a
shrill, reverberating whistle. They all looked up the stairs.
"The master is awake," Henderson, the butler, remarked, dropping
his voice a little.
"I will go to him at once," he said.
Accustomed though he was to the sight which he was about to face,
Gerald shivered slightly as he opened the door of Mr. Fentolin's
room. A strange sort of fear seemed to have crept into his bearing
and expression, a fear of which there had been no traces whatever
during those terrible hours through which he had passed - not even
during that last reckless journey across the marshes. He walked
with hesitating footsteps across the spacious and lofty room. He
had the air of some frightened creature approaching his master.
Yet all that was visible of the despot who ruled his whole
household in deadly fear was the kindly and beautiful face of an
elderly man, whose stunted limbs and body were mercifully concealed.
He sat in a little carriage, with a rug drawn closely across his
chest and up to his armpits. His beautifully shaped hands were
exposed, and his face; nothing else. His hair was a silvery white;
his complexion parchment-like, pallid, entirely colourless. His
eyes were a soft shade of blue. His features were so finely cut
and chiselled that they resembled some exquisite piece of statuary.
He smiled as his nephew came slowly towards him. One might almost
have fancied that the young man's abject state was a source of
pleasure to him.
"So you are back again, my dear Gerald. A pleasant surprise,
indeed, but what is the meaning of it? And what of my little
The young man's face was dark and sullen. He spoke quickly but
without any sign of eagerness or interest in the information he
"The storm has stopped all the trains," he said. "The boat did not
cross last night, and in any case I couldn't have reached Harwich.
As for your commission, I travelled down from London alone with the
man you told me to spy upon. I could have stolen anything he had
if I had been used to the work. As it was - I brought the man
Mr. Fentolin's delicate fingers played with the handle of his chair.
The smile had passed from his lips. He looked at his nephew in
"My dear boy," he protested, "come, come, be careful what you are
saying. You have brought the man himself! So far as my information
goes, Mr. John P. Dunster is charged with a very important diplomatic
commission. He is on his way to Cologne, and from what I know about
the man, I think that it would require more than your persuasions to
induce him to break off his journey. You do not really wish me to
believe that you have brought him here as a guest?"
"I was at Liverpool Street Station last night," Gerald declared.
"I had no idea how to accost him, and as to stealing any of his
belongings, I couldn't have done it. You must hear how fortune
helped me, though. Mr. Dunster missed the train; so did I
- purposely. He ordered a special. I asked permission to travel
with him. I told him a lie as to how I had missed the train. I
hated it, but it was necessary."
Mr. Fentolin nodded approvingly.
"My dear boy," he said, "to trifle with the truth is always
unpleasant. Besides, you are a Fentolin, and our love of truth is
proverbial. But there are times, you know, when for the good of
others we must sacrifice our scruples. So you told Mr. Dunster a
"He let me travel with him," Gerald continued. "We were all night
getting about half-way here. Then - you know about the storm, I
Mr. Fentolin spread out his hands.
"Could one avoid the knowledge of it?" he asked. "Such a sight has
never been seen."
"We found we couldn't get to Harwich," Gerald went on. "They
telegraphed to London and got permission to bring us to Yarmouth.
We were on our way to Norwich, and the train ran off the line."
"An accident?" Mr. Fentolin exclaimed.
"Our train ran off the line and pitched down an embankment. Mr.
Dunster has concussion of the brain. He and I were taken to a
miserable little inn near Wymondham. From there I hired a motor-car
and brought him here."
"You hired a motor-car and brought him here," Mr. Fentolin repeated
softly. "My dear boy - forgive me if I find this a little hard to
understand. You say that you have brought him here. Had he nothing
to say about it?"
"He was unconscious when we picked him up," Gerald explained. "He
is unconscious now. The doctor said he would remain so for at least
twenty-four hours, and it didn't seem to me that the journey would
do him any particular harm. The roof had been stripped off the inn
where we were, and the place was quite uninhabitable, so we should
have had to have moved him somewhere. We put him in the tonneau of
the car and covered him up. They have carried him now into a
bedroom, and Sarson is looking after him."
Mr. Fentolin sat quite silent. His eyes blinked once or twice, and
there was a curious curve about his lips.
"You have done well, my boy," he pronounced slowly. "Your scheme
of bringing him here sounds a little primitive, but success
Mr. Fentolin raised to his lips and blew softly a little gold
whistle which hung from a chain attached to his waistcoat. Almost
immediately the door opened. A man entered, dressed somberly in
black, whose bearing and demeanour alike denoted the servant, but
whose physique was the physique of a prize-fighter. He was scarcely
more than five feet six in height, but his shoulders were
extraordinarily broad. He had a short, bull neck and long, mighty
arms. His face, with the heavy jaw and small eyes, was the face
of the typical fighting man, yet his features seemed to have become
disposed by habit into an expression of gentle, almost servile
"Meekins," Mr. Fentolin said, "a visitor has arrived. Do you happen
to have noticed what luggage he brought?"
"There is one small dressing-case, sir," the man replied; "nothing
else that I have seen."
"That is all we brought," Gerald interposed.
"You will bring the dressing-case here at once," Mr. Fentolin
directed, "and also my compliments to Doctor Sarson, and any
pocket-book or papers which may help us to send a message to the
Meekins closed the door and departed. Mr. Fentolin turned back
towards his nephew.
"My dear boy," he said, "tell me why you look as though there were
ghosts flitting about the room? You are not ill, I trust?"
"Tired, perhaps," Gerald answered shortly. "We were many hours in
the car. I have had no sleep."
Mr. Fentolin's face was full of kindly sympathy.
"My dear fellow," he exclaimed, "I am selfish, indeed! I should not
have kept you here for a moment. You had better go and lie down."
"I'll go directly," Gerald promised. "Can I speak to you for one
"Speak to me," Mr. Fentolin repeated, a little wonderingly. "My
dear Gerald, is there ever a moment when I am not wholly at your
"That fellow Dunster, on the platform, the first moment I spoke to
him, made me feel like a cur," the boy said, with a sudden access
of vigour in his tone. "I told him I was on my way to a golf
tournament, and he pointed to the news about the war. Is it true,
uncle, that we may be at war at any moment?"
Mr. Fentolin sighed.
"A terrible reflection, my dear boy," he admitted softly, "but, alas!
the finger of probability points that way."
"Then what about me?" Gerald exclaimed. "I don't want to complain,
but listen. You dragged me home from a public school before I could
even join my cadet corps. You've kept me banging around here with
a tutor. You wouldn't let me go to the university. You've stopped
my entering either of the services. I am nineteen years old and
useless. Do you know what I should do to-morrow if war broke out?
Enlist! It's the only thing left for me."
Mr. Fentolin was shocked.
"My dear boy !" he exclaimed. "You must not talk like that! I am
quite sure that it would break your mother's heart. Enlist, indeed!
Nothing of the sort. You are part of the civilian population of
"Civilian population be d-d!" the boy suddenly cried, white with
rage. "Uncle, forgive me, I have stood all I can bear. If you
won't let me go in for the army - I could pass my exams to-morrow
- I'm off. I'll enlist without waiting for the war. I can't bear
this idle life any longer."
Mr. Fentolin leaned a little forward in his chair.
"Gerald!" he said softly.
The boy turned his head, turned it unwillingly. He had the air of
a caged animal obeying the word of his keeper. A certain savage
uncouthness seemed to have fallen upon him during the last few
minutes. There was something almost like a snarl in his expression.
"Gerald!" Mr. Fentolin repeated.
Then it was obvious that there was something between those two, some
memory or some living thing, seldom, if ever, to be spoken of, and
yet always present. The boy began to tremble.
"You're a little overwrought, Gerald," Mr. Fentolin declared.
"Sit quietly in my easy-chair for a few moments. Walt until I have
examined Mr. Dunster's belongings. Ah! Meekins has been prompt,
There was a stealthy tap at the door. Meekins entered with the
small dressing-case in his hand. He brought it over to his master's
chair. Mr. Fentolin pointed to the floor.
"Open it there, Meekins," he directed. "I fancy that the pocket-book
you are carrying will prove more interesting. We will just glance
through the dressing-case first. Thank you. Yes, you can lay the
things upon the floor. A man of Spartan-like life, I should imagine
Mr. Dunster. A spare toothbrush, though, I am glad to see. Pyjamas
of most unattractive pattern. And what a taste in shirts! Nothing
but wearing apparel and singularly little of that, I fancy."
The dressing-case was empty, its contents upon the floor. Mr.
Fentolin held out his hand and took the pocket-book which Meekins
had been carrying. It was an ordinary morocco affair, similar to
those issued by American banking houses to enclose letters of credit.
One side of it was filled with notes. Mr. Fentolin withdrew them
and glanced them through.
"Dear me!" he murmured. "No wonder our friend engages special
trains! He travels like a prince, indeed. Two thousand pounds, or
near it, in this little compartment. And here, I see, a letter, a
sealed letter with no address."
He held it out in front of him. It was a long commercial envelope
of ordinary type, and although the flap was secured with a blob of
sealing wax, there was no particular impression upon it.
"We can match this envelope, I think," Mr. Fentolin said softly.
"The seal we can copy. I think that, for the sake of others, we
must discover the cause for this hurried journey on the part of Mr.
John P. Dunster."
With his long, delicate forefinger Mr. Fentolin slit the envelope
and withdrew the single sheet of paper which it contained. There
were a dozen lines of written matter, and what appeared to be a
dozen signatures appended. Mr. Fentolin read it, at first with
ordinary interest. Then a change came. The look of a man drawn
out of himself, drawn out of all knowledge of his surroundings or
his present state, stole into his face. Literally he became
transfixed. The delicate fingers of his, left hand gripped the
sides of his little carriage. His eyes shone as though those few
written lines upon which they were riveted were indeed some message
from an unknown, an unimagined world. Yet no word ever passed his
lips. There came a time when the tension seemed a little relaxed.
With fingers which still trembled, he folded up the sheet and
replaced it in the envelope. He guarded it with both his hands and
sat quite still. Neither Gerald nor his servant moved. Somehow,
the sense of Mr. Fentolin's suppressed excitement seemed to have
become communicated to them. It was a little tableau, broken at
last by Mr. Fentolin himself.
"I should like," he said, turning to Gerald, "to be alone. It may
interest you to know that this docu which Mr. Dunster has brought
across the seas, and which I hold in my hands, is the most amazing
message of modern times."
Gerald rose to his feet.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked abruptly. "Do you
want any one in from the telegraph room?"
Mr. Fentolin shook his head slowly.
"At present," he announced, "I am going to reflect. Meekins, my
chair to the north window - so. I am going to sit here," he went
on, "and I am going to look across the sea and reflect. A very
fortunate storm, after all, I think, which kept Mr. John P. Dunster
from the Harwich boat last night. Leave me, Gerald, for a time.
Stand behind my chair, Meekins, and see that no one enters."
Mr. Fentolin sat in his chair, his hands still gripping the wonderful
document, his eyes travelling over the ocean now flecked with
sunlight. His eyes were fixed upon the horizon. He looked steadily
Mr. John P. Dunster opened his eyes upon strange surroundings. He
found himself lying upon a bed deliciously soft, with lace-edged
sheets and lavender-perfumed bed hangings. Through the discreetly
opened upper window came a pleasant and ozone-laden breeze. The
furniture in the room was mostly of an old-fashioned type, some of
it of oak, curiously carved, and most of it surmounted with a coat
of arms. The apartment was lofty and of almost palatial proportions.
The whole atmosphere of the place breathed comfort and refinement.
The only thing of which he did not wholly approve was the face of
the nurse who rose silently to her feet at his murmured question:
"Where am I?"
She felt his forehead, altered a bandage for a moment, and took his
wrist between her fingers.
"You have been ill," she said. "There was a railway accident. You
are to lie quite still and not say a word. I am going to fetch the
doctor now. He wished to see you directly you spoke."
Mr. Dunster dozed again for several moments. When he reopened his
eyes, a man was standing by his bedside, a short man with a black
beard and gold-rimmed glasses. Mr. Dunster, in this first stage of
his convalescence, was perhaps difficult to please, for he did not
like the look of the doctor, either.
"Please tell me where I am?" he begged.
"You have been in a railway accident," the doctor told him, "and
you were brought here afterwards."
"In a railway accident," Mr. Dunster repeated. "Ah, yes, I remember!
I took a special to Harwich - I remember now. Where is my
"It is here by the side of your bed."
"And my pocket-book?"
"It is on your dressing-table."
"Have any of my things been looked at?"
"Only so far as was necessary to discover your identity," the doctor
assured him. "Don't talk too much. The nurse is bringing you some
"When," Mr. Dunster enquired, "shall I be able to continue my
"That depends upon many things," the doctor replied.
Mr. Dunster drank his beef tea and felt considerably stronger. His
head still ached, but his memory was returning.
"There was a young man in the carriage with me," he asked presently.
"Mr. Gerald something or other I think he said his name was?"
"Fentolin," the doctor said. "He is unhurt. This is his relative's
house to which you have been brought."
Mr. Dunster lay for a time with knitted brows. Once more the name
of Fentolin seemed somehow familiar to him, seemed somehow to bring
with it to his memory a note of warning. He looked around the room
fretfully. He looked into the nurse's face, which he disliked
exceedingly, and he looked at the doctor, whom he was beginning to
"Whose house exactly is this?" he demanded.
"This is St. David's Hall - the home of Mr. Miles Fentolin," the
doctor told him. "The young gentleman with whom you were travelling
is his nephew."
"Can I send a telegram?" Mr. Dunster asked, a little abruptly.
"Without a doubt," the doctor replied. "Mr. Fentolin desired me to
ask you if there was any one whom you would like to apprise of your
Again the man upon the bed lay quite still, with knitted brows.
There was surely something familiar about that name. Was it his
fevered fancy or was there also something a little sinister?
The nurse, who had glided from the room, came back presently with
some telegraph forms. Mr. Dunster held out his hand for them and
"Can you tell me any date, Doctor, upon which I can rely upon
"You will probably be well enough to travel on the third day from
now," the doctor assured him.
"The third day," Mr. Dunster muttered. "Very well."
He wrote out three telegrams and passed them over.
"One," he said, "is to New York, one to The Hague, and one to London.
There was plenty of money in my pocket. Perhaps you will find it
and pay for these."
"Is there anything more," the doctor asked, "that can be done for
"Nothing at present," Mr. Dunster replied. "My head aches now, but
I think that I shall want to leave before three days are up. Are
you the doctor in the neighbourhood?"
Sarson shook his head.
"I am physician to Mr. Fentolin's household," he answered quietly.
"I live here. Mr. Fentolin is himself somewhat of an invalid and
requires constant medical attention."
Mr. Dunster contemplated the speaker steadfastly.
"You will forgive me," he said. "I am an American and I am used to
plain speech. I am quite unused to being attended by strange
doctors. I understand that you are not in general practice now.
Might I ask if you are fully qualified?"
"I am an M.D. of London," the doctor replied. "You can make
yourself quite easy as to my qualifications. It would not suit
Mr. Fentolin's purpose to entrust himself to the care of any one
without a reputation."
He left the room, and Mr. Dunster closed his eyes. His slumbers,
however, were not altogether peaceful ones. All the time there
seemed to be a hammering inside his head, and from somewhere back
in his obscured memory the name of Fentolin seemed to be continually
asserting itself. From somewhere or other, the amazing sense which
sometimes gives warning of danger to men of adventure, seemed to
have opened its feelers. He rested because he was exhausted, but
even in his sleep he was ill at ease.
The doctor, with the telegrams in his hand, made his way down a
splendid staircase, past the long picture gallery where masterpieces
of Van Dyck and Rubens frowned and leered down upon him; descended
the final stretch of broad oak stairs, crossed the hail, and entered
his master's rooms. Mr. Fentolin was sitting before the open window,
an easel in front of him, a palette in his left hand, painting with
deft, swift touches.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, without looking around, "it is my friend the
doctor, my friend Sarson, M.D. of London, L.R.C.P. and all the
rest of it. He brings with him the odour of the sick room. For a
moment or two, just for a moment, dear friend, do not disturb me.
Do not bring any alien thoughts into my brain. I am absorbed, you
see - absorbed. It is a strange problem of colour, this."
He was silent for several moments, glancing repeatedly out of the
window and back to his canvas, painting all the time with swift and
"Meekins, who stands behind my chair," Mr. Fentolin continued, "even
Meekins is entranced. He has a soul, my friend Sarson, although you
might not think it. He, too, sees sometimes the colour in the skies,
the glitter upon the sands, the clear, sweet purity of those long
stretches of virgin water. Meekins, I believe, has a soul, only he
likes better to see these things grow under his master's touch than
to wander about and solve their riddles for himself."
The man remained perfectly immovable. Not a feature twitched. Yet
it was a fact that, although he stood where Mr. Fentolin could not
possibly observe him, he never removed his gaze from the canvas.
"You see, my medical friend, that there has been a great tide in the
night, following upon the flood? Even our small landmarks are
shifted. Soon, in my little carriage, I shall ride down to the
Tower. I shall sit there, and I shall watch the sea. I think that
this evening, with the turn of the tide, the spray may reach even
to my windows there. I shall paint again. There is always
something fresh in the sea, you know - always something fresh in
the sea. Like a human face - angry or pleased, sullen or joyful.
Some people like to paint the sea at its calmest and most beautiful.
Some people like to see happy faces around them. It is not every
one who appreciates the other things. It is not quite like that
with me, eh, Sarson?"
His hand fell to his side. Momentarily he had finished his work.
He turned around and eyed the doctor, who stood in taciturn silence.
"Answer. Answer me," he insisted.
The doctor's gloomy face seemed darker still.
"You have spoken the truth, Mr. Fentolin," he admitted. "You are
not one of the vulgar herd who love to consort with pleasure and
happiness. You are one of those who understand the beauty of
unhappiness - in others," he added, with faint emphasis.
Mr. Fentolin smiled. His face became almost like the face of one
of those angels of the great Italian master.
"How well you know me!" he murmured. "My humble effort, Doctor
- how do you like it?"
The doctor bent over the canvas.
"I know nothing about art," he said, a little roughly. "Your work
seems to me clever - a little grotesque, perhaps; a little straining
after the hard, plain things which threaten. Nothing of the
idealist in your work, Mr. Fentolin."
Mr. Fentolin studied the canvas himself for a moment.
"A clever man, Sarson," he remarked coolly, "but no courtier. Never
mind, my work pleases me. It gives me a passing sensation of
happiness. Now, what about our patient?"
"He recovers," the doctor pronounced. "From my short examination,
I should say that he had the constitution of an ox. I have told
him that he will be up in three days. As a matter of fact, he will
be able, if he wants to, to walk out of the house to-morrow."
Mr. Fentolin shook his head.
"We cannot spare him quite so soon," he declared. "We must avail
ourselves of this wonderful chance afforded us by my brilliant young
nephew. We must keep him with us for a little time. What is it
that you have in your hands, Doctor? Telegrams, I think. Let me
look at them."
The doctor held them out. Mr. Fentolin took them eagerly between
his thin, delicate fingers. Suddenly his face darkened, and became
like the face of a spoilt and angry child.
"Cipher!" he exclaimed furiously. "A cipher which he knows so well
as to remember it, too! Never mind, it will be easy to decode. It
will amuse me during the afternoon. Very good, Sarson. I will take
charge of these."
"You do not wish anything dispatched?"
"Nothing at present," Mr. Fentolin sighed. "It will be well, I
think, for the poor man to remain undisturbed by any communications
from his friends. Is he restless at all?"
"He wants to get on with his journey."
"We shall see," Mr. Fentolin remarked. "Now feel my pulse, Sarson.
How am I this morning?"
The doctor held the thin wrist for a moment between his fingers,
and let it go.
"In perfect health, as usual," he announced grimly.
"Ah, but you cannot be sure!" Mr. Fentolin protested. "My tongue,
if you please."
He put it out.
"We must make quite certain," Mr. Fentolin continued. "There are
so many people who would miss me. My place in the world would not
be easily filed. Undo my waistcoat, Sarson. Feel my heart, please.
Feel carefully. I can see the end of your stethoscope in your
pocket. Don't scamp it. I fancied this morning, when I was lying
here alone, that there was something almost like a palpitation - a
quicker beat. Be very careful, Sarson. Now."
The doctor made his examination with impassive face. Then he
"There is no change in your condition, Mr. Fentolin," he announced.
"The palpitation you spoke of is a mistake. You are in perfect
Mr. Fentolin sighed gently.
"Then," he said, "I will now amuse myself by a gentle ride down to
the Tower. You are entirely satisfied, Sarson? You are keeping
nothing back from me?"
The doctor looked at him with grim, impassive face. "There is
nothing to keep back," he declared. "You have the constitution of
a cowboy. There is no reason why you should not live for another
Mr. Fentolin sighed, as though a weight had been removed from his
"I will now," he decided, reaching forward for the handle of his
carriage, "go down to the Tower. It is just possible that a few
days' seclusion might be good for our guest."
The doctor turned silently away. There was no one there to see his
expression as he walked towards the door.
The two men who were supping together in the grillroom at the Cafe
Milan were talking with a seriousness which seemed a little out of
keeping with the rose-shaded lamps and the swaying music of the
band from the distant restaurant. Their conversation had started
some hours before in the club smoking-room and had continued
intermittently throughout the evening. It had received a further
stimulus when Richard Hamel, who had bought an Evening Standard on
their way from the theatre a few minutes ago, came across a certain
paragraph in it which he read aloud.
"Hanged if I understand things over here, nowadays, Reggie!" he
declared, laying the paper down. "Here's another Englishman
imprisoned in Germany - this time at a place no one ever heard of
before. I won't try to pronounce it. What does it all mean? It's
all very well to shrug your shoulders, but when there are eighteen
arrests within one week on a charge of espionage, there must be
For the first time Reginald Kinsley seemed inclined to discuss the
subject seriously. He drew the paper towards him and read the
little paragraph, word by word. Then he gave some further order to
an attentive maitre d'hotel and glanced around to be sure that they
were not overheard.
"Look here, Dick, old chap," he said, "you are just back from abroad
and you are not quite in the hang of things yet. Let me ask you a
plain question. What do you think of us all?"
"Think of you?" Hamel repeated, a little doubtfully. "Do you mean
"Take it any way you like," Kinsley replied. "Look at me. Nine
years ago we played cricket in the same eleven. I don't look much
like cricket now, do I?"
Hamel looked at his companion thoughtfully. For a man who was
doubtless still young, Kinsley had certainly an aged appearance.
The hair about his temples was grey; there were lines about his
mouth and forehead. He had the air of one who lived in an
atmosphere of anxiety.
"To me," Hamel declared frankly, "you look worried. If I hadn't
heard so much of the success of your political career and all the
rest of it, I should have thought that things were going badly
"They've gone well enough with me personally," Kinsley admitted,
"but I'm only one of many. Politics isn't the game it was. The
Foreign Office especially is ageing its men fast these few years.
We've been going through hell, Hamel, and we are up against it now,
hard up against it."
The slight smile passed from the lips of Hamel's sunburnt,
good-natured face. He himself seemed to become infected with
something of his companion's anxiety.
"There's nothing seriously wrong, is there, Reggie?" he asked.
"Dick," said Kinsley, with a sigh, "I am afraid there is. It's
very seldom I talk as plainly as this to any, one but you are just
the person one can unburden oneself to a little; and to tell you
the truth, it's rather a relief. As you say, these eighteen arrests
in one week do mean something. Half of the Englishmen who have been
arrested are, to my certain knowledge, connected with our Secret
Service, and they have been arrested, in many cases, where there are
no fortifications worth speaking of within fifty miles, on one
pretext or another. The fact of the matter is that things are going
on in Germany, just at the present moment, the knowledge of which is
of vital interest to us."
"Then these arrests," Hamel remarked, "are really bona fide?"
"Without a doubt," his companion agreed. "I only wonder there have
not been more. I am telling you what is a pretty open secret when
I tell you that there is a conference due to be held this week at
some place or another on the continent - I don't know where, myself
- which will have a very important bearing upon our future. We know
just as much as that and not much more."
"A conference between whom?" Hamel asked.
Kinsley dropped his voice almost to a whisper.
"We know," he replied, "that a very great man from Russia, a greater
still from France, a minister from Austria, a statesman from Italy,
and an envoy from Japan, have been invited to meet a German minister
whose name I will not mention, even to you. The subject of their
proposed discussion has never been breathed. One can only suspect.
When I tell you that no one from this country was invited to the
conference, I think you will be able, broadly speaking, to divine
its purpose. The clouds have been gathering for a good many years,
and we have only buried our heads a little deeper in the sands. We
have had our chances and wilfully chucked them away. National
Service or three more army corps four years ago would have brought
us an alliance which would have meant absolute safety for twenty-one
years. You know what happened. We have lived through many rumours
and escaped, more narrowly than most people realise, a great many
dangers, but there is every indication this time that the end is
"And what will the end be?" Hamel enquired eagerly.
Kinsley shrugged his shoulders and paused while their glasses were
filled with wine.
"It will be in the nature of a diplomatic coup," he said presently.
"Of that much I feel sure. England will be forced into such a
position that she will have no alternative left but to declare war.
That, of course, will be the end of us. With our ridiculously
small army and absolutely no sane scheme for home defence, we shall
lose all that we have worth fighting for - our colonies - without
being able to strike a blow. The thing is so ridiculously obvious.
It has been admitted time after time by every sea lord and every
commander-in-chief. We have listened to it, and that's all. Our
fleet is needed under present conditions to protect our own shores.
There isn't a single battleship which could be safely spared. Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, India, must take care of themselves.
I wonder when a nation of the world ever played fast and loose with
great possessions as we have done!"
"This is a nice sort of thing to hear almost one's first night in
England," Hamel remarked a little gloomily. "Tell me some more
about this conference. Are you sure that your information is
"Our information is miserably scanty," Kinsley admitted. "Curiously
enough, the man who must know most about the whole thing is an
Englishman, one of the most curious mortals in the British Empire.
A spy of his succeeded in learning more than any of our people, and
without being arrested, too."
"And who is this singular person?" Hamel asked.
"A man of whom you, I suppose, never heard," Kinsley replied. "His
name is Fentolin - Miles Fentolin - and he lives somewhere down in
Norfolk. He is one of the strangest characters that ever lived,
stranger than any effort of fiction I ever met with. He was in the
Foreign Office once, and every one was predicting for him a brilliant
career. Then there was an accident - let me see, it must have been
some six or seven years ago - and he had to have both his legs
amputated. No one knows exactly how the accident happened, and there
was always a certain amount of mystery connected with it. Since then
he has buried himself in the country. I don't think, in fact, that he
ever moves outside his place; but somehow or other he has managed to
keep in touch with all the political movements of the day."
"Fentolin," Hamel repeated softly to himself. "Tell me, whereabouts
does he live?"
"Quite a wonderful place in Norfolk, I believe, somewhere near the
sea. I've forgotten the name, for the moment. He has had wireless
telegraphy installed; he has a telegraph office in the house,
half-a-dozen private wires, and they say that he spends an immense
amount of money keeping in touch with foreign politics. His excuse
is that he speculates largely, as I dare say he does; but just
lately," Kinsley went on more slowly, "he has been an object of
anxiety to all of us. It was he who sent the first agent out to
Germany, to try and discover at least where this conference was to
be held. His man returned in safety, and he has one over there now
who has not been arrested. We seem to have lost nearly all of ours."
"Do you mean to say that this man Fentolin actually possesses
information which the Government hasn't as to the intentions of
foreign Powers?" Hamel asked.
Kinsley nodded. There was a slight flush upon his pallid cheeks.
"He not only has it, but he doesn't mean to part with it. A few
hundred years ago, when the rulers of this country were men with
blood in their veins, he'd have been given just one chance to tell
all he knew, and hung as a traitor if he hesitated. We don't do
that sort of thing nowadays. We rather go in for preserving
traitors. We permit them even in our own House of Commons. However,
I don't want to depress you and play the alarmist so soon after your