She motioned him to go. He touched her fingers for a moment.
“Mrs. Fentolin,” he said, “I have been a good many years making up my mind. Now that I have done so, I do not think that any one will keep Esther from me.”
She looked at him a little pitifully, a little wistfully. Then, with a shrug of the shoulders, she turned round to the piano and recommenced to play. Hamel took his coat and hat from a servant who was waiting in the hail and passed out into the night.
He walked briskly until he reached the Tower. The wind had risen, but there was still enough light to help him on his way. The little building was in complete darkness. He opened the door and stepped into the sitting-room, lit the lamp, and, holding it over his head, went down the passage and into the kitchen. Then he gave a start. The lamp nearly slipped from his fingers. Kneeling on the stone floor, in very much the same attitude as he had found her earlier in the day, Hannah Cox was crouching patiently by the door which led into the boat-house, her face expressionless, her ear turned towards the crack. She was still listening.
Hamel set down the lamp upon the table. He glanced at the little clock upon the dresser; it was a quarter past ten. The woman had observed his entrance, although it seemed in no way to have discomposed her.
“Do you know the time, Mrs. Cox?” he asked. “You ought to have been home hours ago. What are you doing there?”
She rose to her feet. Her expression was one of dogged but patient humility.
“I started for home before nine o’clock, sir,” she told him, “but it was worse than ever to-night. All the way along by the sea I seemed to hear their voices, so I came back. I came back to listen. I have been listening for an hour.”
Hamel looked at her with a frown upon his forehead.
“Mrs. Cox,” he said, “I wish I could understand what it is that you have in your mind. Those are not real voices that you hear; you cannot believe that?”
“Not real voices,” she repeated, without the slightest expression in her tone.
“Of course not! And tell me what connection you find between these fancies of yours and that room? Why do you come and listen here?”
“I do not know,” she answered patiently.
“You must have some reason,” he persisted.
“I have no reason,” she assured him, “only some day I shall see behind these doors. Afterwards, I shall hear the voices no more.”
She was busy tying a shawl around her head. Hamel watched her, still puzzled. He could not get rid of the idea that there was some method behind her madness.
“Tell me—I have found you listening here before. Have you ever heard anything suspicious?”
“I have heard nothing yet,” she admitted, “nothing that counts.”