“You are a foolish person,” she said calmly. “You are so foolish that you are not, in all probability, in the slightest degree dangerous. Believe me, ours is an unequal duel. There is a bell upon this table which has apparently escaped your notice. I sit with my finger upon the button—so. I have only to press it, and the servants will be here. I do not wish to press it. I do not desire that you should be, as you certainly would be, banished from this house.”
He was immensely puzzled. She had not resented his strange intrusion. She had accepted it, indeed, with curious equanimity. Her forefinger lingered still over the little ivory knob of the bell attached to her desk. He shrugged his shoulders.
“You have the advantage of me,” he admitted, a little curtly. “All the same, I think I could possess myself of those sheets of paper, you know, before the bell was answered.”
“Would it be wise, I wonder, then, to ensure their safety?” she asked coolly.
Her finger pressed the bell. He took a quick step forward. She held out her hand.
“Stop!” she ordered. “These sheets will tell you nothing which you do not know already unless you are a fool. Never mind the bell. That is my affair. I am sending you away.”
He leaned a little towards her.
“It wouldn’t be possible to bribe you, I suppose?”
She shook her head.
“I wonder you haven’t tried that before. No, it would not—not with money, that is to say.”
“You’ll tell Mr. Fentolin, I presume?” he asked quickly.
“I have nothing to tell him,” she replied. “Nothing has happened. Richards,” she went on, as a servant entered the room, “Mr. Hamel is looking for Miss Fentolin. Will you see if you can find her?”
The man’s expression was full of polite regret.
“Miss Fentolin went over to Legh Woods early this morning, sir,” he announced. “She is staying to lunch with Lady Saxthorpe.”
Hamel stood quite still for a moment. Then he turned to the window. In the far distance he could catch a glimpse of the Tower. Mr. Fentolin’s chair had disappeared from the walk.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I must have made a mistake. I will hurry back.”
There were more questions which he was longing to ask, but the cold negativeness of her manner chilled him. She sat with her fingers poised over the keys, waiting for his departure. He turned and left the room.
Mr. Fentolin, his carriage drawn up close to the beach, was painting steadily when Hamel stood once more by his side. His eyes moved only from the sea to the canvas. He never turned his head.
“So your wooing has not prospered, my young friend,” he remarked gently. “I am sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
“Your niece has gone out to lunch,” Hamel replied shortly.