“They went aside. I wasn’t looking at them. I was watching a chap on a bike tumble off in front of a motor bus, near as a toucher run over. Suddenly some one shoved past me and there was old Sabre getting into the cab with this chap who had come up to him. I said, ’Hullo! Hullo, are you off?’
“We’d arranged, d’you see, to part there. I had to get back to my chambers. He turned round on me a face grey as ashes, absolutely dead grey. I’d never seen such a colour in a man’s face. He said, ’Yes, I’m off,’ and sort of fell over his stick into the cab. The man, who was already in, righted him on to the seat and said, ‘Paddington’ to the driver who was at the door, shutting it. I said, through the window, ‘Sabre! Old man, are you ill? What’s up? Shall I come with you?’
“He put his head towards me and said in the most extraordinary voice, speaking between his clenched teeth as though he was keeping himself from yelling out, he said, ’If you love me, Hapgood, get right away out of it from me and let me alone. This man happens to live at Tidborough. I know him. We’re going down together.’
“I said, ‘Sabre—’
“He clenched his teeth so they were all bare with his lips contracting. He said, ‘Let me alone. Let me alone. Let me alone.’
“And they pushed off.
“I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going down there to-morrow. I’m frightened about him.”
Hapgood had said to his friend of the effect on Sabre of Mabel’s action against him: “He’s crashed. The roof’s fallen in on him.” And that had been Sabre’s own belief. But it was not so. There are degrees of calamity. Dumfounded, stunned, aghast, Sabre would not have believed that conspiracy against him of all the powers of darkness could conceivably worsen his plight. They had shot their bolt. He was stricken amain. He was in the crucible of disaster and in its heart where the furnace is white.
But they had not shot their bolt. The roof had not yet fallen on him. They had discharged but a petard, but a mine to effect a breach. The timbers of the superstructure had but bent and cracked and groaned.
Their bolt was shot, the roof crashed in, the four sides of his world tottered and collapsed upon him, with the words spoken to Sabre by that man who approached and took him aside while he stood to take leave of Hapgood.
The man said, “I daresay you know me by sight, Mr. Sabre. I’ve seen you about the town. I’m the coroner’s officer at Tidborough. You’re rather wanted down there. I’ve been to Brighton after you and followed here and just took a lucky chance on finding you about this part. You’re rather wanted down there. The fact is that young woman that’s been living with you’s been found dead.”
Sabre’s face took then the strange and awful hue that Hapgood had marked upon it.