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 again.
“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 recognise.
“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 not changed.
“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.”