Part 4 out of 6
way there, walking on tiptoe, although his feet fell noiselessly
upon the thick carpet. A single light was burning from a bracket
in the wall, insufficient to illuminate the empty spaces, but enough
to keep him from stumbling. The corridor towards the south end
gradually widened, terminating in a splendid high window with
stained glass, a broad seat, and a table. On the right, the end
room was Mr. Dunster's apartment, and on the left a flight of
stairs led to the floor above. Hamel stood quite still, listening.
There was a light in the room, as he could see from under the door,
but there was no sound of any one moving. Hamel listened intently,
every sense strained. Then the sound of a stair creaking behind
diverted his attention. He looked quickly around. Gerald was
descending. The boy's face was white, and his eyes were filled
with fear. Hamel stepped softly back from the door and met him at
the foot of the stairs.
"Did you hear that cry?" he whispered.
"It woke me up. What do you suppose it was?" Hamel shook his head.
"Some one in pain," he replied. "I don't understand it. It came
from this room."
"You know who sleeps there?" Gerald asked hoarsely.
"A man with concussion of the brain doesn't cry out like that.
Besides, did you hear the end of it? It sounded as though some one
were choking him. Hush!"
They had spoken only in bated breath, but the door of the room
before which they were standing was suddenly opened. Meekins stood
there, fully dressed, his dark, heavy face full of somber warning.
He started a little as he saw the two whispering together. Gerald
addressed him almost apologetically.
"We both heard the same sound, Meekins. Is any one ill? It sounded
like some one in pain."
The man hesitated. Then from behind his shoulder came Mr.
Fentolin's still, soft voice. There was a little click, and Meekins,
as though obeying an unseen gesture, stepped back. Mr. Fentolin
glided on to the threshold. He was still dressed. He propelled his
chair a few yards down the corridor and beckoned them to approach.
"I am so sorry," he said softly, "that you should have been
disturbed, Mr. Hamel. We have been a little anxious about our
mysterious guest. Doctor Sarson fetched me an hour ago. He
discovered that it was necessary to perform a very slight operation,
merely the extraction of a splinter of wood. It is all over now,
and I think that he will do very well."
Notwithstanding this very plausible explanation, Hamel was conscious
of the remains of an uneasiness which he scarcely knew how to put
"It was a most distressing cry," he observed doubtfully, "a cry of
fear as well as of pain."
"Poor fellow!" Mr. Fentolin remarked compassionately. "I am afraid
that for a moment or two he must have suffered acutely. Doctor
Sarson is very clever, however, and there is no doubt that what
he did was for the best. His opinion is that by to-morrow morning
there will be a marvellous change. Good night, Mr. Hamel. I am
quite sure that you will not be disturbed again."
Hamel neither felt nor showed any disposition to depart.
"Mr. Fentolin," he said, "I hope that you will not think that I am
officious or in any way abusing your hospitality, but I cannot help
suggesting that as Dr. Sarson is purely your household physician,
the relatives of this man Dunster might be better satisfied if some
second opinion were called in. Might I suggest that you telephone
to Norwich for a surgeon?"
Mr. Fentolin showed no signs of displeasure. He was silent for a
moment, as though considering the matter.
"I am not at all sure, Mr. Hamel, that you are not right," he
admitted frankly. "I believe that the case is quite a simple one,
but on the other hand it would perhaps be more satisfactory to have
an outside opinion. If Mr. Dunster is not conscious in the morning,
we will telephone to the Norwich Infirmary."
"I think it would be advisable," Hamel agreed.
"Good night!" Mr. Fentolin said once more. "I am sorry that your
rest has been disturbed."
Hamel, however, still refused to take the hint. His eyes were fixed
upon that closed door.
"Mr. Fentolin," he asked, "have you any objection to my seeing Mr.
There was a moment's intense silence. A sudden light had burned in
Mr. Fentolin's eyes. His fingers gripped the side of his chair.
Yet when he spoke there were no signs of anger in his tone. It was
a marvellous effort of self-control.
"There is no reason, Mr. Hamel," he said, "why your curiosity should
not be gratified. Knock softly at the door, Gerald."
The boy obeyed. In a moment or two Doctor Sarson appeared on the
"Our guest, Mr. Hamel," Mr. Fentolin explained in a whisper, "has
been awakened by this poor fellow's cry. He would like to see him
for a moment."
Doctor Sarson opened the door. They all passed in on tiptoe. The
doctor led the way towards the bed upon which Mr. Dunster was lying,
quite still. His head was bandaged, and his eyes closed. His face
was ghastly. Gerald gave vent to a little muttered exclamation.
Mr. Fentolin turned to him quickly.
The boy stood still, trembling, speechless. Mr. Fentolin's eyes
were riveted upon him. The doctor was standing, still and dark, a
"Is he asleep?" Hamel asked.
"He is under the influence of a mild anaesthetic," Doctor Sarson
explained. "He is doing very well. His case is quite simple. By
to-morrow morning he will be able to sit up and walk about if he
Hamel looked steadily at the figure upon the bed. Mr. Dunster's
breathing was regular, and his eyes were closed, but his colour was
"He doesn't look like getting up for a good many days to come,"
The doctor led the way towards the door.
"The man has a fine constitution," he said. "I feel sure that if
you wish you will be able to talk to him to-morrow."
They separated outside in the passage. Mr. Fentolin bade his guest
a somewhat restrained good night, and Gerald mounted the staircase
to his room. Hamel, however, had scarcely reached his door before
Gerald reappeared. He had descended the stair-case at the other
end of the corridor. He stood for a moment looking down the passage.
The doors were all closed. Even the light had been extinguished.
"May I come in for a moment, please?" he whispered.
"With pleasure! Come in and have a cigarette if you will. I shan't
feel like sleep for some time."
They entered the room, and Gerald threw himself into an easy-chair
near the window. Hamel wheeled up another chair and produced a box
"Queer thing your dropping across that fellow in the way you did,"
he remarked. "Just shows how one may disappear from the world
altogether, and no one be a bit the wiser."
The boy was sitting with folded arms. His expression was one of
"I only wish I'd never brought him here," he muttered. "I ought
to have known better."
Hamel raised his eyebrows. "Isn't he as well off here as anywhere
"Do you think that he is?" Gerald demanded, looking across at Hamel.
There was a brief silence.
"We can scarcely do your uncle the injustice," Hamel remarked, "of
imagining that he can possibly have any reason or any desire to deal
with that man except as a guest."
"Do you really believe that?" Gerald asked.
Hamel rose to his feet.
"Look here, young man," he said, "this is getting serious. You and
I are at cross-purposes. If you like, you shall have the truth
"I was warned about your uncle before I came down into this part of
the world," Hamel continued quietly. "I was told that he is a
dangerous conspirator, a man who sticks at nothing to gain his ends,
a person altogether out of place in these days. It sounds
melodramatic, but I had it straight from a friend. Since I have
been here, I have had a telegram - you brought it to me yourself
- asking for information about this man Dunster. It was I who wired
to London that he was here. It was through me that Scotland Yard
communicated with the police station at Wells, through me that a
man is to be sent down from London. I didn't come here as a spy
- don't think that; I was coming here, anyhow. On the other hand,
I believe that your uncle is playing a dangerous game. I am going
to have Mr. John P. Dunster put in charge of a Norwich physician
"Thank God!" the boy murmured.
"Look here," Hamel continued, "what are you doing in this business,
anyway? You are old enough to know your own mind and to go your
"You say that because you don't know," Gerald declared bitterly.
"In a sense I don't," Hamel admitted, "and yet your sister hinted
to me only this afternoon that you and she -"
"Oh, I know what she told you!" the boy interrupted. "We've worn
the chains for the last eight years. They are breaking her.
They've broken my mother. Sometimes I think they are breaking me.
But, you know, there comes a time - there comes a time when one
can't go on. I've seen some strange things here, some that I've
half understood, some that I haven't understood at all. I've closed
my eyes. I've kept my promise. I've done his bidding, where ever
it has led me. But you know there is a time - there is a limit to
all things. I can't go on. I spied on this man Dunster. I brought
him here. It is I who am responsible for anything that may happen to
him. It's the last time!"
Gerald's face was white with pain. Hamel laid his hand upon his
"My boy," he said, "there are worse things in the world than
breaking a promise. When you gave it, the conditions which were
existing at the time made it, perhaps, a right and reasonable
undertaking, but sometimes the whole of the conditions under which
a promise was given, change. Then one must have courage enough to
be false even to one's word."
"Have you talked to my sister like that?" Gerald asked eagerly.
"I have and I will again," Hamel declared. "To-morrow morning I
leave this house, but before I go I mean to have the affair of this
man Dunster cleared up. Your uncle will be very angry with me,
without a doubt. I don't care. But I do want you to trust me, if
you will, and your sister. I should like to be your friend."
"God knows we need one!" the boy said simply. "Good night!"
Once more the house was quiet. Hamel pushed his window wide open
and looked out into the night. The air was absolutely still, there
was no wind. The only sound was the falling of the low waves upon
the stony beach and the faint scrunching of the pebbles drawn back
by the ebb. He looked along the row of windows, all dark and silent
now. A rush of pleasant fancies suddenly chased away the grim
depression of the last few minutes. Out of all this sordidness and
mystery there remained at least something in life for him to do. A
certain aimlessness of purpose which had troubled him during the
last few months had disappeared. He had found an object in life.
"To-day," Hamel declared, as he stood at the sideboard the following
morning at breakfast-time and helped himself to bacon and eggs, "I
am positively going to begin reading. I have a case full of books
down at the Tower which I haven't unpacked yet."
Esther made a little grimace.
"Look at the sunshine," she said. "There isn't a breath of wind,
either. I think to-day that I could play from the men's tees."
Hamel sighed as he returned to his place.
"My good intentions are already half dissipated," he admitted.
"How can we attack the other half?" she asked.
Gerald, who was also on his way to the sideboard, suddenly stopped.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed, looking out of the window. "Who's going
away this morning, I wonder? There's the Rolls-Royce at the door."
Hamel, too, rose once more to his feet. The two exchanged swift
glances. Moved by a common thought, they both started for the door,
only to find it suddenly opened before them. Mr. Fentolin glided
into the room.
"Uncle!" Gerald exclaimed.
Mr. Fentolin glanced keenly around the room.
"Good morning, everybody," he said. "My appearance at this hour of
the morning naturally surprises you. As a matter of fact, I have
been up for quite a long time. Esther dear, give me some coffee,
will you, and be sure that it is hot. If any of you want to say
good-by to Mr. John P. Dunster, you'd better hurry out."
"You mean that he is going?" Hamel asked incredulously.
"He is going," Mr. Fentolin admitted. "I wash my hands of the man.
He has given us an infinite amount of trouble, has monopolised
Doctor Sarson when he ought to have been attending upon me - a
little more hot milk, if you please, Esther - and now, although he
really is not fit to leave his room, he insists upon hurrying off
to keep an appointment somewhere on the Continent. The little
operation we spoke of last night was successful, as Doctor Sarson
prophesied, and Mr. Dunster was quite conscious and able to sit up
early this morning. We telephoned at six o'clock to Norwich for a
surgeon, who is now on his way over here, but he will not wait even
to see him. What can you do with a man so obstinate!"
Neither Hamel nor Gerald had resumed their places. The former,
after a moment's hesitation, turned towards the door.
"I think," he said, "that I should like to see the last of Mr.
"Pray do," Mr. Fentolin begged. "I have said good-by to him myself,
and all that I hope is that next time you offer a wayfarer the
hospitality of St. David's Hall, Gerald, he may be a more tractable
person. This morning I shall give myself a treat. I shall eat an
old-fashioned English breakfast. Close the door after you, if you
Hamel, with Gerald by his side, hurried out into the hall. Just
as they crossed the threshold they saw Mr. Dunster, wrapped from
head to foot in his long ulster, a soft hat upon his head and one
of Mr. Fentolin's cigars in his mouth, step from the bottom
stair into the hall and make his way with somewhat uncertain
footsteps towards the front door. Doctor Sarson walked on one
side, and Meekins held him by the arm. He glanced towards Gerald
and his companion and waved the hand which held his cigar.
"So long, my young friend!" he exclaimed. You see, I've got them
to let me make a start. Next time we go about the country in a
saloon car together, I hope we'll have better luck. Say, but I'm
groggy about the knees!"
"You'd better save your breath," Doctor Sarson advised him grimly.
"You haven't any to spare now, and you'll want more than you have
before you get to the end of your journey. Carefully down the
They helped him into the car. Hamel and Gerald stood under the
great stone portico, watching.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" the boy exclaimed, under his breath.
Hamel was watching the proceedings with a puzzled frown. To his
surprise, neither Doctor Sarson nor Meekins were accompanying the
"He's off, right enough," Hamel declared, as the car glided away.
"Do you understand it? I don't."
Gerald did not speak for several moments. His eyes were still fixed
upon the back of the disappearing car. Then he turned towards Hamel.
"There isn't much," he said softly, "that Mr. Fentolin doesn't know.
If that detective was really on his way here, there wasn't any
chance of keeping Mr. Dunster to himself. You see, the whole story
is common property. And yet, there's something about the affair
that bothers me."
"And me," Hamel admitted, watching the car until it became a speck
in the distance.
"He was fairly well cornered," Gerald concluded, as they made their
way back to the dining-room, "but it isn't like him to let go of
anything so easily."
"So you've seen the last of our guest," Mr. Fentolin remarked, as
Hamel and Gerald re-entered the dining-room. "A queer fellow - almost
a new type to me. Dogged and industrious, I should think. He hadn't
the least right to travel, you know, and I think so long as we had
taken the trouble to telephone to Norwich, he might have waited to
see the physician. Sarson was very angry about it, but what can you
do with these fellows who are never ill? They scarcely know what
physical disability means. Well, Mr. Hamel, and how are you going
to amuse yourself to-day?"
"I had thought of commencing some reading I brought with me," Hamel
replied, "but Miss Esther has challenged me to another game of golf."
"Excellent!" Mr. Fentolin declared. "It is very kind of you indeed,
Mr. Hamel. It is always a matter of regret for me that society in
these parts is so restricted. My nephew and niece have little
opportunity for enjoying themselves. Play golf with Mr. Hamel, by
all means, my dear child," he continued, turning to his niece. "Make
the most of this glorious spring weather. And what about you, Gerald?
What are you doing to-day?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet, sir," the boy replied.
Mr. Fentolin sighed.
"Always that lack of initiative," he remarked. "A lack of initiative
is one of your worst faults, I am afraid, dear Gerald."
The boy looked up quickly. For a moment it seemed as though he were
about to make a fierce reply. He met Mr. Fentolin's steady gaze,
however, and the words died away upon his lips.
"I rather thought," he said, "of going into Norwich, if you could
spare me. Captain Holt has asked me to lunch at the Barracks."
Mr. Fentolin shook his head gently.
"It is most unfortunate," he declared. "I have a commission for
you later in the day."
Gerald continued his breakfast in silence. He bent over his plate
so that his face was almost invisible. Mr. Fentolin was peeling a
peach. A servant entered the room.
"Lieutenant Godfrey, sir," he announced.
They all looked up. A trim, clean-shaven, hard-featured young man
in naval uniform was standing upon the threshold. He bowed to
"Very sorry to intrude, sir, at this hour of the morning," he said
briskly. "Lieutenant Godfrey, my name. I am flag lieutenant of
the Britannia. You can't see her, but she's not fifty miles off at
this minute. I landed at Sheringham this morning, hired a car and
made the best of my way here. Message from the Admiral, sir."
Mr. Fentolin smiled genially.
"We are delighted to see you, Lieutenant Godfrey," he said. "Have
"You are very good, sir," the officer answered. "Business first.
I'll breakfast afterwards, with pleasure, if I may. The Admiral's
compliments, and he would take it as a favour if you would haul
down your wireless for a few days."
"Had down my wireless," Mr. Fentolin repeated slowly.
"We are doing a lot of manoeuvring within range of you, and likely
to do a bit more," the young man explained. "You are catching up
our messages all the time. Of course, we know they're quite safe
with you, but things get about. As yours is only a private
installation, we'd like you, if you don't mind, sir, to shut up
shop for a few days."
Mr. Fentolin seemed puzzled.
"But, my dear sir," he protested, "we are not at war, are we?"
"Not yet," the young officer replied, "but God knows when we shall
be! We are under sealed orders, anyway, and we don't want any
risk of our plans leaking out. That's why we want your wireless
"You need say no more," Mr. Fentolin assured him. "The matter is
already arranged. Esther, let me present Lieutenant Godfrey - my
niece, Miss Fentolin; Mr. Gerald Fentolin, my nephew; Mr. Hamel, a
guest. See that Lieutenant Godfrey has some breakfast, Gerald. I
will go myself and see my Marconi operator."
"Awfully good of you, sir," the young man declared, "and I am sure
we are very sorry to trouble you. In a week or two's time you can
go into business again as much as you like. It's only while we
are fiddling around here that the Admiral's jumpy about things.
May my man have a cup of coffee, sir? I'd like to be on the way
back in a quarter of an hour."
Mr. Fentolin halted his chair by the side of the bell, and rang it.
"Pray make use of my house as your own, sir," he said gravely.
"From what you leave unsaid, I gather that things are more serious
than the papers would have us believe. Under those circumstances,
I need not assure you that any help we can render is entirely yours."
Mr. Fentolin left the room. Lieutenant Godfrey was already
attacking his breakfast. Gerald leaned towards him eagerly.
"Is there really going to be war?" he demanded.
"Ask those chaps at The Hague," Lieutenant Godfrey answered.
"Doing their best to freeze us out, or something. All I know is,
if there's going to be fighting, we are ready for them. By-the-by,
what have you got wireless telegraphy for here, anyway?"
"It's a fad of my uncle's," Gerald replied. "Since his accident he
amuses himself in all sorts of queer ways."
Lieutenant Godfrey nodded.
"Poor fellow!" he said. "I heard he was a cripple, or something
of the sort. Forgive my asking, but - you people are English,
"Rather!" Gerald answered. "The Fentolins have lived here for
hundreds of years. Why do you ask that?"
Lieutenant Godfrey hesitated. He looked, for the moment, scarcely
at his ease.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied. "The old man was very anxious I
should find out. You see, a lot of information seems to have got
over on the other side, and we couldn't think where it had leaked
out, except through your wireless. However, that isn't likely, of
course, unless you've got one of these beastly Germans in your
receiving-room. Now if I can borrow a cigarette, a cigar, or a
pipe of tobacco - any mortal thing to smoke - I'll be off, if I may.
The old man turned me out at an unearthly hour this morning, and in
Sheringham all the shops were closed. Steady on, young fellow," he
laughed, as Gerald filled his pockets with cigarettes. "Well, here's
good morning to you, Miss Fentolin. Good morning, sir. How long
ought it to take me to get to Sheringham?"
"About forty minutes," Gerald told him, "if your car's any good at
"It isn't much," was the somewhat dubious reply. "However, we'll
shove along. You in the Service?" he enquired, as they walked down
the hall together.
"Hope I shall be before long," Gerald answered. I'm going into the
"Have to hurry up, won't you?"
"It's a little difficult for me. Here's your car. Good luck to you!"
"My excuses to Mr. Fentolin," Lieutenant Godfrey shouted, "and many
He jumped into the automobile and was soon on his way back. Gerald
watched him until he was nearly out of sight. On the knoll, two of
the wireless operators were already at work. Mr. Fentolin sat in
his chair below, watching. The blue sparks were flashing. A message
was just being delivered. Presently Mr. Fentolin turned his chair,
and with Meekins by his side, made his way back to the house. He
passed along the hall and into his study. Gerald, who was on his
way to the dining-room, heard the ring of the telephone bell and the
call for the trunk special line. He hesitated for a moment. Then
he made his way slowly down towards the study and stood outside the
door, listening. In a moment he heard Mr. Fentolin's clear voice,
very low yet very penetrating.
"The Mediterranean Fleet will be forty-seven hours before it comes
together," was the message he heard. "The Channel Fleet will
manoeuvre off Sheerness, waiting for it. The North Sea Fleet is
seventeen units under nominal strength."
Gerald turned the handle of the door slowly and entered. Mr.
Fentolin was just replacing the receiver on its stand. He looked
up at his nephew, and his eyebrows came together.
"What do you mean by this?" he demanded. "Don't you know that I
allow no one in here when I am telephoning on the private wire?"
Gerald closed the door behind him and summoned up all his courage.
"It is because I have heard what you were saying over the telephone
that I am here," he declared. "I want to know to whom you were
sending that message which you have intercepted outside."
Mr. Fentolin sat for a moment in his chair with immovable face.
Then he pointed to the door, which Gerald had left open behind him.
"Close that door, Gerald."
The boy obeyed. Mr. Fentolin waited until he had turned around
"Come and stand over here by the side of the table," he directed.
Gerald came without hesitation. He stood before his uncle with
folded arms. There was something else besides sullenness in his
face this morning, something which Mr. Fentolin was quick to
"I do not quite understand the nature of your question, Gerald,"
Mr. Fentolin began. "It is unlike you. You do not seem yourself.
Is there anything in particular the matter?"
"Only this," Gerald answered firmly. "I don't understand why this
naval fellow should come here and ask you to close up your wireless
because secrets have been leaking out, and a few moments afterwards
you should be picking up a message and telephoning to London
information which was surely meant to be private. That's all.
I've come to ask you about it."
"You heard the message, then?"
"You listened - at the keyhole?"
"I listened outside," Gerald assented doggedly. "I am glad I
listened. Do you mind answering my question?
"Do I mind!" Mr. Fentolin repeated softly. "Really, Gerald, your
politeness, your consideration, your good manners, astound me. I
am positively deprived of the power of speech."
"I'll wait here till it comes to you again, then," the boy declared
bluntly. "I've waited on you hand and foot, done dirty work for
you, put up with your ill-humours and your tyranny, and never
grumbled. But there is a limit! You've made a poor sort of
creature of me, but even the worm turns, you know. When it comes
to giving away secrets about the movements of our navy at a time
when we are almost at war, I strike."
"Melodramatic, almost dramatic, but, alas! so inaccurate," Mr.
Fentolin sighed. "Is this a fit of the heroics, boy, or what has
come over you? Have you by any chance - forgotten?"
Mr. Fentolin's voice seemed suddenly to have grown in volume. His
eyes dilated, he himself seemed to have grown in size. Gerald
stepped a little back. He was trembling, but his expression had
"No, I haven't forgotten. There's a great debt we are doing our
best to pay, but there's such a thing as asking top much, there's
such a thing as drawing the cords to snapping point. I'm speaking
for Esther and mother as well as myself. We have been your slaves;
in a way I suppose we are willing to go on being your slaves. It's
the burden that Fate has placed around our necks, and we'll go
through with it. All I want to point out is that there are limits,
and it seems to me that we are up against them now."
Mr. Fentolin nodded. He had the air of a man who wishes to be
"You are very young, my boy," he said, "very young indeed. Perhaps
that is my fault for not having let you see more of the world. You
have got some very queer ideas into your head. A little too much
novel reading lately, eh? I might treat you differently. I might
laugh at you and send you out of the room. I won't. I'll tell you
what you ask. I'll explain what you find so mysterious. The person
to whom I have been speaking is my stockbroker."
"Your stockbroker!" Gerald exclaimed.
Mr. Fentolin nodded.
"Mr. Bayliss," he continued, "of the firm of Bayliss, Hundercombe
& Dunn, Throgmorton Court. Mr. Bayliss is a man of keen
perceptions. He understands exactly the effect of certain classes
of news upon the market. The message which I have just sent to him
is practically common property. It will be in the Daily Mail
to-morrow morning. The only thing is that I have sent it to him
just a few minutes sooner than any one else can get it. There is a
good deal of value in that, Gerald. I do not mind telling you that
I have made a large fortune through studying the political situation
and securing advance information upon matters of this sort. That
fortune some day will probably be yours. It will be you who will
benefit. Meanwhile, I am enriching myself and doing no one any harm."
"But how do you know," Gerald persisted, "that this message would
ever have found its way to the Press? It was simply a message from
one battleship to another. It was not intended to be picked up on
land. There is no other installation but ours that could have picked
it up. Besides, it was in code. I know that you have the code, but
the others haven't."
Mr. Fentolin yawned slightly.
"Ingenious, my dear Gerald, but inaccurate. You do not know that
the message was in code, and in any case it was liable to be picked
up by any steamer within the circle. You really do treat me, my boy,
rather as though I were a weird, mischief-making person with a
talent for intrigue and crime of every sort. Look at your suspicions
last night. I believe that you and Mr. Hamel had quite made up your
minds that I meant evil things for Mr. John P. Dunster. Well, I had
my chance. You saw him depart."
"What about his papers?"
"I will admit," Mr. Fentolin replied, "that I read his papers. They
were of no great consequence, however, and he has taken them away
with him. Mr. Dunster. as a matter of fact, turned out to be
rather a mare's-nest. Now, come, since you are here, finish
everything you have to say to me. I am not angry. I am willing to
listen quite reasonably."
Gerald shook his head.
"Oh, I can't!" he declared bitterly. "You always get the best of it.
I'll only ask you one more question. Are you having the wireless
Mr. Fentolin pointed out of the window. Gerald followed his finger.
Three men were at work upon the towering spars.
"You see," Mr. Fentolin continued tolerantly, "that I am keeping my
word to Lieutenant Godfrey. You are suffering from a little too
much imagination, I am afraid. It is really quite a good fault.
By-the-by, how do you get on with our friend Mr. Hamel?"
"Very well," the boy replied. "I haven't seen much of him."
"He and Esther are together a great deal, eh?" Mr. Fentolin asked
"They seem to be quite friendly."
"It isn't Mr. Hamel, by any chance, who has been putting these
ideas into your head?"
"No one has been putting any ideas into my head," Gerald answered
hotly. "It's simply what I've seen and overheard. It's simply
what I feel around, the whole atmosphere of the place, the whole
atmosphere you seem to create around you with these brutes Sarson
and Meekins; and those white-faced, smooth-tongued Marconi men of
yours, who can't talk decent English; and the post-office man, who
can't look you in the face; and Miss Price, who looks as though
she were one of the creatures, too, of your torture chamber.
Mr. Fentolin waited until he had finished. Then he waved him away.
"Go and take a long walk, Gerald," he advised. "Fresh air is what
you need, fresh air and a little vigorous exercise. Run along now
and send Miss Price to me."
Gerald overtook Hamel upon the stairs.
"By this time," the latter remarked, "I suppose that our friend
Mr. Dunster is upon the sea."
Gerald nodded silently. They passed along the corridor. The door
of the room which Mr. Dunster had occupied was ajar. As though by
common consent, they both stopped and looked in. The windows were
all wide open, the bed freshly made. The nurse was busy collecting
some medicine bottles and fragments of lint. She looked at them in
"Mr. Dunster has left, sir," she told them.
"We saw him go," Gerald replied.
"Rather a quick recovery, wasn't it, nurse?" Hamel asked.
"It wasn't a recovery at all, sir," the woman declared sharply.
"He'd no right to have been taken away. It's my opinion Doctor
Sarson ought to be ashamed of himself to have permitted it."
"They couldn't exactly make a prison of the place, could they?"
Hamel pointed out. "The man, after all, was only a guest."
"That's as it may be, sir," the nurse replied. "All the same, those
that won't obey their doctors aren't fit to be allowed about alone.
That's the way I look at it."
Mrs. Fentolin was passing along the corridor as they issued from
the room. She started a little as she saw them.
"What have you two been doing in there?" she asked quickly.
"We were just passing," Hamel explained. "We stopped for a moment
to speak to the nurse."
"Mr. Dunster has gone," she said. "You saw him go, Gerald. You
saw him, too, didn't you, Mr. Hamel?"
"I certainly did," Hamel admitted.
Mrs. Fentolin pointed to the great north window near which they
were standing, through which the clear sunlight streamed a little
pitilessly upon her worn face and mass of dyed hair.
"You ought neither of you to be indoors for a minute on a morning
like this," she declared. "Esther is waiting for you in the car,
I think, Mr. Hamel."
Gerald passed on up the stairs to his room, but Hamel lingered.
A curious impulse of pity towards his hostess stirred him. The
morning sunlight seemed to have suddenly revealed the tragedy of
her life. She stood there, a tired, worn woman, with the burden
heavy upon her shoulders.
"Why not come out with Miss Fentolin and me?" he suggested. "We
could lunch at the Golf Club, out on the balcony. I wish you
would. Can't you manage it?"
She shook her head.
"Thank you very much," she said. "Mr. Fentolin does not like
to be left."
Something in the finality of her words seemed to him curiously
eloquent of her state of mind. She did not move on. She seemed,
indeed, to have the air of one anxious to say more. In that
ruthless light, the advantages of her elegant clothes and
graceful carriage were suddenly stripped away from her. She was
the abject wreck of a beautiful woman, wizened, prematurely aged.
Nothing remained but the eyes, which seemed somehow to have their
message for him.
"Mr. Fentolin is a little peculiar, you know," she went on, her
voice shaking slightly with the effort she was making to keep it
low. "He allows Esther so little liberty, she sees so few young
people of her own age. I do not know why he allows you to be with
her so much. Be careful, Mr. Hamel."
Her voice seemed suddenly to vibrate with a curious note of
suppressed fear. Almost as she finished her speech, she passed on.
Her little gesture bade him remain silent. As she went up the
stairs, she began to hum scraps of a little French air.
Hamel sliced his ball at the ninth, and after waiting for a few
minutes patiently, Esther came to help him look for it. He was
standing down on the sands, a little apart from the two caddies
who were beating out various tufts of long grass.
"Where did it go?" she asked.
"I have no idea," he admitted.
"Why don't you help look for it?"
"Searching for balls," he insisted, "is a caddy's occupation. Both
the caddies are now busy. Let us sit down here. These sand hummocks
are delightful. It is perfectly sheltered, and the sun is in our
faces. Golf is an overrated pastime. Let us sit and watch that
little streak of blue find its way up between the white posts."
She hesitated for a moment.
"We shall lose our place."
"There is no one behind."
She sank on to the little knoll of sand to which he had pointed,
with a resigned sigh.
"You really are a queer person," she declared. "You have been
playing golf this morning as though your very life depended upon it.
You have scarcely missed a shot or spoken a word. And now, all of
a sudden, you want to sit on a sand hummock and watch the tide."
"I have been silent," he told her, "because I have been thinking."
"That may be truthful," she remarked, "but you wouldn't call it
polite, would you?"
"The subject of my thoughts is my excuse. I have been thinking of
For a single moment her eyes seemed to have caught something of that
sympathetic light with which he was regarding her. Then she looked
"Was it my mashie shots you were worrying about?" she asked.
"It was not," he replied simply. "It was you - you yourself."
She laughed, not altogether naturally.
"How flattering!" she murmured. "By-the-by, you are rather a
downright person, aren't you, Mr. Hamel?"
"So much so," he admitted, "that I am going to tell you one or two
things now. I am going to be very frank indeed."
She sat suddenly quite still. Her face was turned from him, but
for the first time since he had known her there was a slight
undertone of colour in her cheeks.
"A week ago," he said, "I hadn't the faintest idea of coming into
Norfolk. I knew about this little shanty of my father's, but I
had forgotten all about it. I came as the result of a conversation
I had with a friend who is in the Foreign Office."
She looked at him with startled eyes.
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "You are Mr. Hamel, aren't
"Certainly," he replied. "Not only am I Richard Hamel, mining
engineer, but I really have all that reading to do I have spoken
about, and I really was looking for a quiet spot to do it in. It
is true that I had this part of the world in my mind, but I do not
think that I should ever have really decided to come here if it
had not been for my friend in London. He was very interested
indeed directly I mentioned St. David's Tower. Would you like to
know what he told me?"
"Yes! Go on, please."
"He told me a little of the history of your uncle, Mr. Fentolin,
and what he did not tell me at the time, he has since supplemented.
I suppose," he added, hesitatingly, "that you yourself -"
"Please go on. Please speak as though I knew nothing."
"Well, then," Hamel continued, "he told me that your uncle was at
one time in the Foreign Office himself. He seemed to have a most
brilliant career before him when suddenly there was a terrible
scandal. A political secret - I don't know what it was - had leaked
out. There were rumours that it had been acquired for a large sum
of money by a foreign Power. Mr. Fentolin retired to Norfolk,
pending an investigation. It was just as that time that he met with
his terrible accident, and the matter was dropped."
"Go on, please," she murmured.
"My friend went on to say that during the last few years Mr. Fentolin
has once again become an object of some suspicion to the head of our
Secret Service Department. For a long time they have known that he
was employing agents abroad, and that he was showing the liveliest
interest in underground politics. They believed that it was a mere
hobby, born of his useless condition, a taste ministered to, without
doubt, by the occupation of his earlier life. Once or twice lately
they have had reason to change their minds. You know, I dare say,
in what a terribly disturbed state European affairs are just now.
Well, my friend had an idea that Mr. Fentolin was showing an
extraordinary amount of interest in a certain conference which we
understand is to take place at The Hague. He begged me to come down,
and to watch your uncle while I was down here, and report to him
anything that seemed to me noteworthy. Since then I have had a
message from him concerning the American whom you entertained - Mr.
John P. Dunster. It appears that he was the bearer of very important
dispatches for the Continent."
"But he has gone," she said quickly. "Nothing happened to him,
after all. He went away without a word of complaint. We all saw
"That is quite true," Hamel admitted. "Mr. Dunster has certainly
gone. It is rather a coincidence, however, that he should have
taken his departure just as the enquiries concerning his whereabouts
had reached such a stage that it had become quite impossible to keep
him concealed any longer."
She turned a little in her place and looked at him steadfastly.
"Mr. Hamel," she said, "tell me - what of your mission? You have
had an opportunity of studying my uncle. You have even lived under
his roof. Tell me what you think."
His face was troubled.
"Miss Fentolin," he said, "I will tell you frankly that up to now
I have not succeeded in solving the problem of your uncle's
character. To me personally he has been most courteous. He lives
apparently a studious and an unselfish life. I have heard him even
spoken of as a philanthropist. And yet you three - you, your mother,
and your brother, who are nearest to him, who live in his house and
under his protection, have the air of passing your days in mortal
fear of him."
"Mr. Hamel," she exclaimed nervously, "you don't believe that! He
is always very kind."
"Apparently," Hamel observed drily. "And yet you must remember that
you, too, are afraid of him. I need not remind you of our
conversations, but there the truth is. You praise his virtues and
his charities, you pity him, and yet you go about with a load of
fear, and - forgive me - of secret terror in your heart, you and
Gerald, too. As for your mother -"
"Don't!" she interrupted suddenly. "Why do you bring me here to
talk like this? You cannot alter things. Nothing can be altered."
"Can't it!" he replied. "Well, I will tell you the real reason of
my having brought you here and of my having made this confession.
I brought you here because I could not bear to go on living, if not
under your roof, at any rate in the neighbourhood, without telling
you the truth. Now you know it. I am here to watch Mr. Fentolin.
I am going on watching him. You can put him on his guard, if you
like; I shan't complain. Or you can -"
He paused so long that she looked at him. He moved a little closer
to her, his fingers suddenly gripped her hand.
"Or you can marry me and come away from it all," he concluded
quietly. "Forgive me, please - I mean it."
For a moment the startled light in her eyes was followed by a
delicious softness. Her lips were parted, she leaned a little
towards him. Then suddenly she seemed to remember. She rose with
swift alertness to her feet.
"I think," she said, "that we had better play golf."
"But I have asked you to marry me," he protested, as he scrambled up.
"Your caddy has found your ball a long time ago," she pointed out,
walking swiftly on ahead.
He played his shot and caught her up.
"Miss Fentolin - Esther," he pleaded eagerly, "do you think that I
am not in earnest? Because I am. I mean it. Even if I have only
known you for a few days, it has been enough. I think that I knew
it was coming from the moment that you stepped into my railway
"You knew that what was coming?" she asked, raising her eyes
"That I should care for you."
"It's the first time you've told me," she reminded him, with a queer
little smile. "Oh, forgive me, please! I didn't mean to say that.
I don't want to have you tell me so. It's all too ridiculous and
"Is it? And why?"
"I have only known you for three days."
"We can make up for that."
"But I don't - care about you. I have never thought of any one in
that way. It is absurd," she went on.
"You'll have to, sometime or other," he declared. "I'll take you
travelling with me, show you the world, new worlds, unnamed rivers,
untrodden mountains. Or do you want to go and see where the little
brown people live among the mimosa and the cherry blossoms? I'll
take you so far away that this place and this life will seem like
Her breath caught a little.
"Don't, please," she begged. "You know very well - or rather you
don't know, perhaps, but I must tell you - that I couldn't. I am
here, tied and bound, and I can't escape."
"Ah! dear, don't believe it," he went on earnestly. "There isn't
any bond so strong that I won't break it for you, no knot I won't
untie, if you give me the right."
They were climbing slowly on to the tee. He stepped forward and
pulled her up. Her hand was cold. Her eyes were raised to his,
very softly yet almost pleadingly.
"Please don't say anything more," she begged. "I can't - quite bear
it just now. You know, you must remember - there is my mother. Do
you think that I could leave her to struggle alone?"
His caddy, who had teed the ball, and who had regarded the
proceedings with a moderately tolerant air, felt called upon at last
"We'd best get on," he remarked, pointing to two figures in the
distance, "or they'll say we've cut in."
Hamel smote his ball far and true. On a more moderate scale she
followed his example. They descended the steps together.
"Love-making isn't going to spoil our golf," he whispered, smiling,
as he touched her fingers once more.
She looked at him almost shyly.
"Is this love-making?" she asked.
They walked together from the eighteenth green towards the
club-house. A curious silence seemed suddenly to have enveloped
them. Hamel was conscious of a strange exhilaration, a queer
upheaval of ideas, an excitement which nothing in his previous
life had yet been able to yield him. The wonder of it amazed him,
kept him silent. It was not until they reached the steps, indeed,
that he spoke.
"On our way home -" he began.
She seemed suddenly to have stiffened. He looked at her, surprised.
She was standing quite still, her hand gripping the post, her eyes
fixed upon the waiting motor-car. The delicate softness had gone
from her face. Once more that look of partly veiled suffering was
there, suffering mingled with fear.
"Look!" she whispered, under her breath. "Look! It is Mr. Fentolin!
He has come for us himself; he is there in the car."
Mr. Fentolin, a strange little figure lying back among the cushions
of the great Daimler, raised his hat and waved it to them.
"Come along, children," he cried. "You see, I am here to fetch you
myself. The sunshine has tempted me. What a heavenly morning!
Come and sit by my side, Esther, and fight your battle all over
again. That is one of the joys of golf, isn't it?" he asked,
turning to Hamel. "You need not be afraid of boring me. To-day
is one of my bright days. I suppose that it is the sunshine and
the warm wind. On the way here we passed some fields. I could
swear that I smelt violets. Where are you going, Esther?
"To take my clubs to my locker and pay my caddy," she replied.
"Mr. Hamel will do that for you," Mr. Fentolin declared. "Come and
take your seat by my side, and let us wait for him. I am tired of
She gave up her clubs reluctantly. All the life seemed to have gone
from her face.
"Why didn't mother come with you?" she asked simply.
"To tell you the truth, dear Esther," he answered, "when I started,
I had a fancy to be alone. I think - in fact I am sure - that your
mother wanted to come. The sunshine, too, was tempting her. Perhaps
it was selfish of me not to bring her, but then, there is a great
deal to be forgiven me, isn't there, Esther?"
"A great deal," she echoed, looking steadily ahead of her.
"I came," he went on, "because it occurred to me that, after all,
I had my duties as your guardian, dear Esther. I am not sure that
we can permit flirtations, you know. Let me see, how old are you?"
"Twenty-one," she replied.
"In a magazine I was reading the other day," he continued, "I was
interested to observe that the modern idea as regards marriage is
a changed one. A woman, they say, should not marry until she
is twenty-seven or twenty-eight - a very excellent idea. I think
we agree, do we not, on that, Esther?"
"I don't know," she replied. "I have never thought about the
"Then," he went on, "we will make up our minds to agree.
Twenty-seven or twenty-eight, let us say. A very excellent age!
A girl should know her own mind by then. And meanwhile, dear Esther,
would it be wise, I wonder, to see a little less of our friend Mr.
Hamel? He leaves us to-day, I think. He is very obstinate about
that. If he were staying still in the house, well, it might be
different. But if he persists in leaving us, you will not forget,
dear, that association with a guest is one thing; association with
a young man living out of the house is another. A great deal less
of Mr. Hamel I think that we must see."
She made no reply whatever. Hamel was coming now towards them.
"Really a very personable young man," Mr. Fentolin remarked,
studying him through his eyeglass. "Is it my fancy, I wonder, as
an observant person, or is he just a little - just a little taken
with you, Esther? A pity if it is so - a great pity."
She said nothing, but her hand which rested upon the rug was
trembling a little.
"If you have an opportunity," Mr. Fentolin suggested, dropping his
voice, "you might very delicately, you know - girls are so clever
at that sort of thing-convey my views to Mr. Hamel as regards his
leaving us and its effect upon your companionship. You understand
me, I am sure?"
For the first time she turned her head towards him.
"I understand," she said, "that you have some particular reason for
not wishing Mr. Hamel to leave St. David's Hall."
He smiled benignly.
"You do my hospitable impulses full justice, dear Esther," he
declared. "Sometimes I think that you understand me almost as well
as your dear mother. If, by any chance, Mr. Hamel should change
his mind as to taking up his residence at the Tower, I think you
would not find me in any sense of the word an obdurate or exacting
guardian. Come along, Mr. Hamel. That seat opposite to us is quite
comfortable. You see, I resign myself to the inevitable. I have
come to fetch golfers home to luncheon, and I compose myself to
listen. Which of you will begin the epic of missed putts and
brassey shots which failed by a foot to carry?"
Hamel sat alone upon the terrace, his afternoon coffee on a small
table in front of him. His eyes were fixed upon a black speck at
the end of the level roadway which led to the Tower. Only a few
minutes before, Mr. Fentolin, in his little carriage, had shot out
from the passage beneath the terrace, on his way to the Tower.
Behind him came Meekins, bending over his bicycle. Hamel watched
them both with thoughtful eyes. There were several little incidents
in connection with their expedition which he scarcely understood.
Then there came at last the sound for which he had been listening,
the rustle of a skirt along the terraced way. Hamel turned quickly
around, half rising to his feet, and concealing his disappointment
with difficulty. It was Mrs. Seymour Fentolin who stood there, a
little dog under each arm; a large hat, gay with flowers, upon her
head. She wore patent shoes with high heels, and white silk
stockings. She had, indeed, the air of being dressed for luncheon
at a fashionable restaurant. As she stooped to set the dogs down,
a strong waft of perfume was shaken from her clothes.
"Are you entirely deserted, Mr. Hamel?" she asked.
"I am," he replied. "Miss Esther went, I think, to look for you.
My host," he added, pointing to the black speck in the distance,
"begged me to defer my occupation of the Tower for an hour or so,
and has gone down there to collect some of his trifles."
Her eyes followed his outstretched hand. She seemed to him to
shiver for a moment.
"You really mean, then, that you are going to leave us?" she asked,
accepting the chair which he had drawn up close to his.
"Well, I scarcely came on a visit to St. David's Hall, did I?" he
reminded her. "It has been delightfully hospitable of Mr. Fentolin
to have insisted upon my staying on here for these few days, but I
could not possibly inflict myself upon you all for an unlimited
Mrs. Fentolin sat quite still for a time. In absolute repose, if
one could forget her mass of unnaturally golden hair, the forced
and constant smile, the too liberal use of rouge and powder, the
nervous motions of her head, it was easily to be realised that
there were still neglected attractions about her face and figure.
Only, in these moments of repose, an intense and ageing weariness
seemed to have crept into her eyes and face. It was as though she
had dropped the mask of incessant gaiety and permitted a glimpse of
her real self to steal to the surface.
"Mr. Hamel," she said quietly, "I dare say that even during these
few days you have realised that Mr. Fentolin is a very peculiar man."
"I have certainly observed - eccentricities," Hamel assented.
"My life, and the lives of my two children," she went on, "is devoted
to the task of ministering to his happiness."
"Isn't that rather a heavy sacrifice?" he asked. Mrs. Seymour
Fentolin looked down the long, narrow way along which Mr. Fentolin
had passed. He was out of sight now, inside the Tower. Somehow
or other, the thought seemed to give her courage and dignity. She
spoke differently, without nervousness or hurry.
"To you, Mr. Hamel," she said, "it may seem so. We who make it know
of its necessity."
He bowed his head. It was not a subject for him to discuss with her.
"Mr. Fentolin has whims," she went on, "violent whims. We all try
to humour him. He has his own ideas about Gerald's bringing up.
I do not agree with them, but we submit. Esther, too, suffers,
perhaps to a less extent. As for me," - her voice broke a little -"
Mr. Fentolin likes people around him who are always cheerful. He
prefers even a certain style - of dress. I, too, have to do my
Hamel's face grew darker.
"Has it ever occurred to you," he demanded, "that Mr. Fentolin is a
She closed her eyes for a moment.
"There are reasons," she declared, "why I cannot discuss that with
you. He has these strong fancies, and it is our task in life to
humour them. He has one now with regard to the Tower, with regard
to you. You are, of course, your own master. You can do as you
choose, and you will do as you choose. Neither I nor my children
have any claim upon your consideration. But, Mr. Hamel, you have
been so kind that I feel moved to tell you this. It would make it
very much easier for all of us if you would give up this scheme of
yours, if you would stay on here instead of going to reside at the
Hamel threw away his cigarette. He was deeply interested.
"Mrs. Fentolin," he said, "I am glad to have you speak so plainly.
Let me answer you in the same spirit. I am leaving this house
mainly because I have conceived certain suspicions with regard to
Mr. Fentolin. I do not like him, I do not trust him, I do not
believe in him. Therefore, I mean to remove myself from the burden
of his hospitality. There are reasons," he went on, "why I do not
wish to leave the neighbourhood altogether. There are certain
investigations which I wish to make. That is why I have decided to
go to the Tower."
"Miles was right, then!" she cried suddenly. "You are here to spy
He turned towards her swiftly.
"To spy upon him, Mrs. Fentolin? For what reason? Why? Is he a
She opened her lips and closed them again. There was a slight frown
upon her forehead. It was obvious that the word had unintentionally
"I only know what it is that he called you, what he suspects you of
being," she explained. "Mr. Fentolin is very clever, and he is
generally at work upon something. We do not enquire into the
purpose of his labours. The only thing I know is that he suspects
you of wanting to steal one of his secrets."
"Secrets? But what secrets has he?" Hamel demanded. "Is he an
"You ask me idle questions," she sighed. "We have gone, perhaps,
a little further than I intended. I came to plead with you for all
our sakes, if I could, to make things more comfortable by remaining
here instead of insisting upon your claim to the Tower."
"Mrs. Fentolin," Hamel said firmly. "I like to do what I can to
please and benefit my friends, especially those who have been kind
to me. I will be quite frank with you. There is nothing you could
ask me which I would not do for your daughter's sake - if I were
convinced that it was for her good."
Mrs. Seymour Fentolin seemed to be trembling a little. Her hands
were crossed upon her bosom.
"You have known her for so short a time," she murmured.
Hamel smiled confidently.
"I will not weary you," he said, "with the usual trite remarks. I
will simply tell you that the time has been long enough. I love
Mrs. Fentolin sat quite still. Only in her eyes, fixed steadily
seawards, there was the light of something new, as though some new
thought was stirring in her brain. Her lips moved, although the
sound which came was almost inaudible.
"Why not?" she murmured, as though arguing with some unseen critic
of her thoughts. "Why not?"
"I am not a rich man," Hamel went on, "but I am fairly well off.
I could afford to be married at once, and I should like -"
She turned suddenly upon him and gripped his wrist.
"Listen," she interrupted, "you are a traveller, are you not? You
have been to distant countries, where white people go seldom;
inaccessible countries, where even the arm of the law seldom reaches.
Couldn't you take her away there, take her right away, travel so fast
that nothing could catch you, and hide - hide for a little time?"
Hamel stared at his companion, for a moment, blankly. Her attitude
was so unexpected, her questioning so fierce.
"My dear Mrs. Fentolin," he began -.
She suddenly relaxed her grip of his arm. Something of the old
hopelessness was settling down upon her face. Her hands fell into
"No," she interrupted, "I forgot! I mustn't talk like that. She,
too, is part of the sacrifice."
"Part of the sacrifice," Hamel repeated, frowning. "Is she, indeed!
I don't know what sacrifice you mean, but Esther is the girl whom
sooner or later, somehow or other, I am going to make my wife, and
when she is my wife, I shall see to it that she isn't afraid of
Miles Fentolin or of any other man breathing."
A gleam of hopefulness shone through the stony misery of the woman's
"Does Esther care?" she asked softly.
"How can I tell? I can only hope so. If she doesn't yet, she shall
some day. I suppose," he added, with a sigh, "it is rather too soon
yet to expect that she should. If it is necessary, I can Wait."
Mrs. Fentolin's eyes were once more fixed upon the Tower. The sun
had caught the top of the telephone wire and played around it till
it seemed like a long, thin shaft of silver.
"If you go down there," she said, "Esther will not be allowed to
see you at all. Mr. Fentolin has decided to take it as a personal
affront. You will be ostracised from here."
"Shall I?" he answered. "Well, it won't be for long, at any rate.
And as to not seeing Esther, you must remember that I come from
outside this little domain, and I see nothing more in Mr. Fentolin
than a bad-tempered, mischievous, tyrannical old invalid, who is
fortunately prevented by his infirmities from doing as much mischief
as he might. I am not afraid of your brother-in-law, or of the
bully he takes about with him, and I am going to see your daughter
somehow or other, and I am going to marry her before very long."
She thrust out her hand suddenly and grasped his. The fingers were
very thin, almost bony, and covered with rings. Their grip was
feverish and he felt them tremble.
"You are a brave man, Mr. Hamel," she declared speaking in a low,
quick undertone. "Perhaps you are right. The shadow isn't over
your head. You haven't lived in the terror of it. You may find a
way. God grant it!"
She wrung his fingers and rose to her feet. Her voice suddenly
changed into another key. Hamel knew instinctively that she wished
him to understand that their conversation was over.
"Chow-Chow," she cried, "come along, dear, we must have our walk.
Come along, Koto; come along, little dogs."
Hamel strolled down the terrace steps and wandered for a time in
the gardens behind the house. Here, in the shelter of the great
building, he found himself suddenly in an atmosphere of springtime.
There were beds of crocuses and hyacinths, fragrant clumps of
violets, borders of snowdrops, masses of primroses and early
anemones. He slowly climbed one or two steep paths until he reached
a sort of plateau, level with the top of the house. The flowers
here grew more sparsely, the track of the salt wind lay like a
withering band across the flower-beds. The garden below was like a
little oasis of colour and perfume. Arrived at the bordering red
brick wall, he turned around and looked along the narrow road which
led to the sea. There was no sign of Mr. Fentolin's return. Then
to his left he saw a gate open and heard the clamour of dogs.
Esther appeared, walking swiftly towards the little stretch of road
which led to the village. He hurried after her.
"Unsociable person!" he exclaimed, as he caught her up. "Didn't
you know that I was longing for a walk?"
"How should I read your thoughts?" she answered. "Besides, a few
minutes ago I saw you on the terrace, talking to mother. I am only
going as far as the village."
"May I come?" he asked. "I have business there myself."
"There are nine cottages, three farmhouses, and a general shop in
St. David's," she remarked. "Also about fifteen fishermen's
cottages dotted about the marsh. Your business, I presume, is with
the general shop?"
He shook his head, falling into step with her.
"What I want," he explained, "is to find a woman to come in and
look after me at the Tower. Your servant who valets me has given
me two names."
Something of the lightness faded from her face.
"So you have quite made up your mind to leave us?" she asked slowly.
"Mother wasn't able to persuade you to stay?"
He shook his head.
"She was very kind," he said, "but there are really grave reasons
why I feel that I must not accept Mr. Fentolin's hospitality any
longer. I had," he went on, "a very interesting talk with your
She turned quickly towards him. The slightest possible tinge of
additional colour was in her cheeks. She was walking on the top
of a green bank, with the wind blowing her skirts around her. The
turn of her head was a little diffident, almost shy. Her eyes were
asking him questions. At that moment she seemed to him, with her
slim body, her gently parted lips and soft, tremulous eyes, almost
like a child. He drew a little nearer to her.
"I told your mother," he continued, "all that I have told you, and
more. I told her, dear, that I cared for you, that I wanted you to
be my wife."
She was caught in a little gust of wind. Both her hands went up to
her hat; her face was hidden. She stepped down from the bank.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said quietly.
"Why not?" he demanded. "It was the truth."
He stooped forward, intent upon looking into her face. The mystic
softness was still in her eyes, but her general expression was
inscrutable. It seemed to him that there was fear there.
"What did mother say?" she whispered.
"Nothing discouraging," he replied. "I don't think she minded at
all. I have decided, if you give me permission, to go and talk to
Mr. Fentolin this evening."
She shook her head very emphatically.
"Don't!" she implored. "Don't! Don't give him another whip to
lash us with. Keep silent. Let me just have the memory for a few
days all to myself."
Her words came to him like numb things. There was little expression
in them, and yet he felt that somehow they meant so much.
"Esther dear," he said, "I shall do just as you ask me. At the
same time, please listen. I think that you are all absurdly
frightened of Mr. Fentolin. Living here alone with him, you have
all grown under his dominance to an unreasonable extent. Because
of his horrible infirmity, you have let yourselves become his
slaves. There are limits to this sort of thing, Esther. I come
here as a stranger, and I see nothing more in Mr. Fentolin than
a very selfish, irritable, domineering, and capricious old man.
Humour him, by all means. I am willing to do the same myself.
But when it comes to the great things in life, neither he nor any
living person is going to keep from me the woman I love."
She walked by his side in silence. Her breath was coming a little
quicker, her fingers lay passive in his. Then for a moment he felt
the grip of them almost burn into his flesh. Still she said nothing.
"I want your permission, dear," he went on, "to go to him. I
suppose he calls himself your guardian. If he says no, you are of
age. I just want you to believe that I am strong enough to put my
arms, around you and to carry you away to my own world and keep you
there, although an army of Mr. Fentolin's creatures followed us."
She turned, and he saw the great transformation. Her face was
brilliant, her eyes shone with wonderful things.
"Please," she begged, "will you say or do nothing at all for a
little time, until I tell you when? I want just a few days peace.
You have said such beautiful things to me that I want them to lie
there in my thoughts, in my heart, undisturbed, for just a little
time. You see, we are at the village now. I am going to call at
this third cottage. While I am inside, you can go and make what
enquiries you like. Come and knock at the door for me when you are
"And we will walk back together?"
"We will walk back together," she promised him.
"I will take you home another way. I will take you over what they
call the Common, and come down behind the Hall into the gardens."
She dismissed him with a little smile. He strolled along the
village street and plunged into the mysterious recesses of the
one tiny shop.
Hamel met Kinsley shortly before one o'clock the following afternoon,
in the lounge of the Royal Hotel at Norwich.
"You got my wire, then?" the latter asked, as he held out his hand.
"I had it sent by special messenger from Wells."
"It arrived directly after breakfast," Hamel replied. "It wasn't
the easiest matter to get here, even then, for there are only about
two trains a day, and I didn't want to borrow a car from Mr.
"Quite right," Kinsley agreed. "I wanted you to come absolutely on
your own. Let's get into the coffee-room and have some lunch now.
I want to catch the afternoon train hack to town."
"Do you mean to say that you've come all the way down here to talk
to me for half an hour or so?" Hamel demanded, as they took their
places at a table.
"All the way from town," Kinsley assented, "and up to the eyes in
work we are, too. Dick, what do you think of Miles Fentolin?"
"Hanged if I know!" Hamel answered, with a sigh.
"Nothing definite to tell us, then?" Nothing!"
"What about Mr. John P. Dunster?"
"He left yesterday morning," Hamel said. "I saw him go. He looked
very shaky. I understood that Mr. Fentolin sent him to Yarmouth."
"Did Mr. Fentolin know that there was an enquiry on foot about this
man's disappearance?" Kinsley asked.
"Certainly. I heard Lord Saxthorpe tell him that the police had
received orders to scour the country for him, and that they were
coming to St. David's Hall."
Kinsley, for a moment, was singularly and eloquently profane.
"That's why Mr. Fentolin let him go, then. If Saxthorpe had only
held his tongue, or if those infernal police hadn't got chattering
with the magistrates, we might have made a coup. As it is, the
game's up. Mr. Dunster left for Yarmouth, you say, yesterday
"I saw him go myself. He looked very shaky and ill, but he was
able to smoke a big cigar and walk down-stairs leaning on the
"I don't doubt," Kinsley remarked, "but that you saw what you say
you saw. At the same time, you may be surprised to hear that Mr.
Dunster has disappeared again."
"Disappeared again?" Hamel muttered.
"It looks very much," Kinsley continued, "as though your friend
Miles Fentolin has been playing with him like a cat with a mouse.
He has been obliged to turn him out of one hiding-place, and he has
simply transferred him to another."
Hamel looked doubtful.
"Mr. Dunster left quite alone in the car," he said. "He was on his
guard too, for Mr. Fentolin and he had had words. I really can't
see how it was possible for him to have got into any more trouble."
"Where is he, then?" Kinsley demanded. "Come, I will let you a
little further into our confidence. We have reason to believe that
he carries with him a written message which is practically the only
chance we have of avoiding disaster during the next few days. That
written message is addressed to the delegates at The Hague, who are
now sitting. Nothing had been heard of Dunster or the document he
carries. No word has come from him of any sort since he left St.
"Have you tried to trace him from there?" Hamel asked.
"Trace him?" Kinsley repeated. "By heavens, you don't seem to
understand, Dick, the immense, the extraordinary importance of this
man to us! The cleverest detective in England spent yesterday
under your nose at St. David's Hall. There are a dozen others
working upon the job as hard as they can. All the reports confirm
what you say - that Dunster left St. David's Hall at half-past nine
yesterday morning, and he certainly arrived in Yarmouth at a little
before twelve. From there he seems, however, to have completely
disappeared. The car went back to St. David's Hall empty; the man
only stayed long enough in Yarmouth, in fact, to have his dinner.
We cannot find a single smack owner who was approached in any way
for the hire of a boat. Yarmouth has been ransacked in vain. He
certainly has not arrived at The Hague or we should have heard news
at once. As a last resource, I ran down here to see you on the
chance of your having picked up any information."
Hamel shook his head.
"You seem to know a good deal more than I do, already," he said.
"What do you think of Mr. Fentolin? You have stayed in his house.
You have had an opportunity of studying him."
"So far as my impressions go," Hamel replied, "everything which you
have suggested might very well be true. I think that either out of
sheer love of mischief, or from some subtler motive, he is capable
of anything. Every one in the place, except one poor woman, seems
to look upon him as a sort of supernatural being. He gives money
away to worthless people with both hands. Yet I share your opinion
of him. I believe that he is a creature without conscience or morals.
I have sat at his table and shivered when he has smiled."
"Are you staying at St. David's Hall now?"
"I left yesterday."
"Where are you now, then?"
"I am at St. David's Tower - the little place I told you of that
belonged to my father - but I don't know whether I shall be able to
stop there. Mr. Fentolin, for some reason or other, very much
resented my leaving the Hall and was very annoyed at my insisting
upon claiming the Tower. When I went down to the village to get
some one to come up and look after me, there wasn't a woman there
who would come. It didn't matter what I offered, they were all the
same. They all muttered some excuse or other, and seemed only
anxious to show me out. At the village shop they seemed to hate
to serve me with anything. It was all I could do to get a packet
of tobacco yesterday afternoon. You would really think that I was
the most unpopular person who ever lived, and it can only be because
of Mr. Fentolin's influence."
"Mr. Fentolin evidently doesn't like to have you in the locality,"
Kinsley remarked thoughtfully.
"He was all right so long as I was at St. David's Hall," Hamel
"What's this little place like - St. David's Tower, you call it?"
"Just a little stone building actually on the beach," Hamel
explained. "There is a large shed which Mr. Fentolin keeps locked
up, and the habitable portion consists just of a bedroom and
sitting-room. From what I can see, Mr. Fentolin has been making
a sort of hobby of the place. There is telephonic communication
with the house, and he seems to have used the sitting-room as a
sort of studio. He paints sea pictures and really paints them
A man came into the coffee-room, made some enquiry of the waiter
and went out again. Hamel stared at him in a puzzled manner. For
the moment he could only remember that the face was familiar. Then
he suddenly gave vent to a little exclamation.
"Any one would think that I had been followed," he remarked. "The
man who has just looked into the room is one of Mr. Fentolin's
parasites or bodyguards, or whatever you call them."
"You probably have," Kinsley agreed. "What post does he hold in
"I have no idea," Hamel replied. "I saw him the first day I arrived
and not since. Sort of secretary, I should think."
"He is a queer-looking fellow, anyway," Kinsley muttered. "Look
out, Dick. Here he comes back again."
Mr. Ryan approached the table a little diffidently.
"I hope you will forgive the liberty, sir," he said to Hamel. "You
remember me, I trust - Mr. Ryan. I am the librarian at St. David's
"I thought I'd seen you there."
"I was wondering," the man continued, "whether you had a car of Mr.
Fentolin's in Norwich to-day, and if so, whether I might beg a seat
back in case you were returning before the five o'clock train? I
came in early this morning to go through some manuscripts at a
second-hand bookseller's here, and I have unfortunately missed the
Hamel shook his head.
"I came in by train myself, or I would have given you a lift back,
with pleasure," he said.
Mr. Ryan expressed his thanks briefly and left the room. Kinsley
watched him from over the top of a newspaper.
"So that is one of Mr. Fentolin's creatures, too," he remarked.
"Keeping his eye on you in Norwich, eh? Tell me, Dick, by-the-by,
how do you get on with the rest of Mr. Fentolin's household, and
exactly of whom does it consist?"
"There is his sister-in-law," Hamel replied, "Mrs. Seymour Fentolin.
She is a strange, tired-looking woman who seems to stand in mortal
fear of Mr. Fentolin. She is always overdressed and never natural,
but it seems to me that nearly everything she does is done to suit
his whims, or at his instigation."
Kinsley nodded thoughtfully.
"I remember Seymour Fentolin," he said; "a really fine fellow he was.
Well, who else?"
"Just the nephew and niece. The boy is half sullen, half
discontented, yet he, too, seems to obey his uncle blindly. The
three of them seem to be his slaves. It's a thing you can't live
in the house without noticing."
"It seems to be a cheerful sort of household," Kinsley observed.
"You read the papers, I suppose, Dick?" he asked, after a moment's
"On and off, the last few days. I seem to have been busy doing all
sorts of things."
"Well, I'll tell you something," Kinsley continued. "The whole of
our available fleet is engaged in carrying out what they call a
demonstration in the North Sea. They have patrol boats out in every
direction, and only the short distance wireless signals are being
used. Everything, of course, is in code, yet we know this for a
fact: a good deal of private information passing between the Admiral
and his commanders was known in Germany three hours after the signals
themselves had been given. It is suspected - more than suspected,
in fact - that these messages were picked up by Mr. Fentolin's
"I don't suppose he could help receiving them," Hamel remarked.
"He could help decoding them and sending them through to Germany,
though," Kinsley retorted grimly. "The worst of it is, he has a
private telephone wire in his house to London. If he isn't up
to mischief, what does he need all these things for - private
telegraph line, private telephone, private wireless? We have given
the postmaster a hint to have the telegraph office moved down into
the village, but I don't know that that will help us much."
"So far as regards the wireless," Hamel said, "I rather believe
that it is temporarily dismantled. We had a sailor-man over, the
morning before yesterday, to complain of his messages having been
picked up. Mr. Fentolin promised at once to put his installation
out of work for a time."
"He has done plenty of mischief with it already," Kinsley groaned.
"However, it was Dunster I came down to make enquiries about. I
couldn't help hoping that you might have been able to put us on the
"I know nothing beyond what I have told you."
"How did he look when he went away?"
"Very ill indeed," Hamel declared. "I afterwards saw the nurse who
had been attending him, and she admitted that he was not fit to
travel. I should say the probabilities are that he is laid up again
"Did you actually speak to him?"
"Just a word or two."
"And you saw him go off in the car?"
"Gerald Fentolin and I both saw him and wished him good-by."
Kinsley glanced at the clock and rose to his feet. "Walk down to
the station with me," he suggested. "I needn't tell you, I am sure,"
he went on, as they left the hotel a few minutes later, "that if
anything does turn up, or if you get the glimmering of an idea,
you'll let me know? We've a small army looking for the fellow, but
it does seem as though he had disappeared off the face of the earth.
If he doesn't turn up before the end of the Conference, we are done."
"Tell me," Hamel asked, after they had walked for some distance in
silence, "exactly why is our fleet demonstrating to such an extent?"
"That Conference I have spoken of," Kinsley replied, "which is being
held at The Hague, is being held, we know, purposely to discuss
certain matters in which we are interested. It is meeting for their
discussion without any invitation having been sent to this country.
There is only one reply possible to such a course. It is there in
the North Sea. But unfortunately -"
Kinsley paused. His tone and his expression had alike become
"Go on," Hamel begged.
"Our reply, after all, is a miserable affair," Kinsley concluded.
"You remember the outcry over the withdrawal of our Mediterranean
Fleet? Now you see its sequel. We haven't a ship worth a snap of
the fingers from Gibraltar to Suez. If France deserts us, it's
good-by to Malta, good-by to Egypt, good-by to India. It's the
disruption of the British Empire. And all this," he wound up, as
he paused before taking his seat in the railway carriage, "all this
might even now be avoided if only we could lay our hands upon the
message which that man Dunster was bringing from New York!"
Once more Hamel descended from the little train, and, turning away
from St. David's Hall, made his way across the marshes, seawards.
The sunshine of the last few days had departed. The twilight was
made gloomy by a floating veil of white mist, which hung about in
wet patches. Hamel turned up his coat collar as he walked and
shivered a little. The thought of his solitary night and
uncomfortable surroundings, after all the luxury of St. David's
Hall, was scarcely inspiring. Yet, on the whole, he was splendidly
cheerful. The glamour of a host of new sensations was upon him.
There was a new love of living in his heart. He forgot the cold
east wind which blew in his face, bringing with it little puffs
of damp grey mist. He forgot the cheerlessness which he was about
to face, the lonely night before him. For the first time in his
life a woman reigned in his thoughts.
It was not until he actually reached the very side of the Tower
that he came back to earth. As he opened the door, he found a
surprise in store for him. A fire was burning in the sitting-room,
smoke was ascending from the kitchen chimney. The little round
table was laid with a white cloth. There was a faint odour of
cooking from the back premises. His lamp was lit, there were logs
hissing and crackling upon the fire. As he stood there looking
wonderingly about him, the door from the back was opened. Hannah
Cox came quietly into the room.
"What time would you like your dinner, sir ?" she enquired.
Hamel stared at her.
"Why, are you going to keep house for me, Mrs. Cox?" he asked.
"If you please, sir. I heard that you had been in the village,
looking for some one. I am sorry that I was away. There is no one
else who would come to you."
"So I discovered," he remarked, a little grimly.
"No one else," she went on, "would come to you because of Mr.
Fentolin. He does not wish to have you here. They love him so
much in the village that he had only to breathe the word. It was
"Yet you are here," he reminded her.
"I do not count," she answered. "I am outside all these things."
Hamel gave a little sigh of satisfaction.
"Well, I am glad you could come, anyhow. If you have something for
dinner, I should like it in about half an hour."
He climbed the narrow stairs which led to his bedroom. To his
surprise, there were many things there for his comfort which he had
forgotten to order - clean bed-linen, towels, even a curtain upon
"Where did you get all the linen up-stairs from, Mrs. Cox?" he
asked her, when he descended. "The room was almost empty yesterday,
and I forgot nearly all the things I meant to bring home from
"Mrs. Seymore Fentolin sent down a hamper for you," the woman
replied, "with a message from Mr. Fentolin. He said that nothing
among the oddments left by your father had been preserved, but
that you were welcome to anything you desired, if you would let
them know at the Hall."
"It is very kind of both of them," Hamel said thoughtfully.
The woman stood still for a moment, looking at him. Then she drew
a step nearer.
"Has Mr. Fentolin given you the key of the shed?" she asked, very
Hamel shook his head.
"We don't need the place, do we?"
"He did not give you the key?" she persisted.
"Mr. Fentolin said that he had some things in there which he wished
to keep locked up," he explained.
She remained thoughtful for several moments. Then she turned away.
"No," she said, "it was not likely he would not give you that key!"
Hamel dined simply but comfortably. Mrs. Cox cleared away the
things, brought him his coffee, and appeared a few minutes later,
her shawl wrapped around her, ready for departure.
"I shall be here at seven o'clock in the morning, sir," she
Hamel was a little startled. He withdrew the pip from his mouth
and looked at her.
"Why, of course," he remarked. "I'd forgotten. There is no place
for you to stay here."
"I shall go back to my brother's." she said.
Hamel put some money upon the table.
"Please get anything that is necessary," he directed. "I shall
leave you to do the housekeeping for a few days."
"Shall you be staying here long, sir?" she asked.
"I am not sure," he replied.
"I do not suppose," she said, "that you will stay for very long.
I shall get only the things that you require from day to day. Good
She left the room. Hamel looked after her for a moment with a frown.
In some indescribable way, the woman half impressed, half irritated
him. She had always the air of keeping something in the background.
He followed her out on to the little ridge of beach, a few minutes
after she had left. The mist was still drifting about. Only a few
yards away the sea rolled in, filling the air with dull thunder.
The marshland was half obscured. St. David's Hall was invisible,
but like strangely-hung lanterns in an empty space he saw the line
of lights from the great house gleam through the obscurity. There
was no sound save the sound of the sea. He shivered slightly. It
was like an empty land, this.
Then, moved by some instinct of curiosity, he made his way round to
the closed door of the boat-house, only to find it, as he had
expected, locked. He shook Lt slightly, without result. Then he
strolled round to the back, entered his own little abode by the
kitchen, and tried the other door which led into the boat-house.
It was not only locked, but a staple had been put in, and it was
fastened with a padlock of curious design which he did not remember