He was silent for a moment.
“No one has known the truth,” he murmured.
“No one has ever known,” she assented, “and our broken lives have been the price. It was Miles himself who made the bargain. We—we can’t go on, Mr. Hamel.”
“I begin to understand,” Hamel said softly. “You suffer everything from Miles Fentolin because he kept the secret. Very well, that belongs to the past. Something has happened, something to-night, which has brought you here. Tell me about it?”
Once more her voice began to shake.
“We’ve seen—terrible things—horrible things,” she faltered. “We’ve held our peace. Perhaps it’s been nearly as bad before, but we’ve closed our eyes; we haven’t wanted to know. Now—we can’t help it. Mr. Hamel, Esther isn’t at Lord Saxthorpe’s. She never went there. They didn’t ask her. And Dunster—the man Dunster—”
“Where is Esther?” Hamel interrupted suddenly.
“Locked up away from you, locked up because she rebelled!”
She shook her head. Her eyes were filled with horror.
“But he left the Hall—I saw him!”
She shook her head.
“It wasn’t Dunster. It was the man Miles makes use of—Ryan, the librarian. He was once an actor.”
“Where is Dunster, then?” Hamel asked quickly. “What has become of him?”
She opened her lips and closed them again, struggled to speak and failed. She sat there, breathing quickly, but silent. The power of speech had gone.
Hamel, for the next few minutes, forgot everything else in his efforts to restore to consciousness his unexpected visitor. He rebuilt the fire, heated some water upon his spirit lamp, and forced some hot drink between the lips of the woman who was now almost in a state of collapse. Then he wrapped her round in his own ulster and drew her closer to the fire. He tried during those few moments to put away the memory of all that she had told him. Gradually she began to recover. She opened her eyes and drew a little sigh. She made no effort at speech, however. She simply lay and looked at him like some wounded animal. He came over to her side and chafed one of her cold hands.
“Come,” he said at last, “you begin to look more like yourself now. You are quite safe in here, and, for Esther’s sake as well as your own, you know that I am your friend.”
She nodded, and her fingers gently pressed his.
“I am sure of it,” she murmured.
“Now let us see where we are,” he continued. “Tell me exactly why you risked so much by leaving St. David’s Hall to-night and coming down here. Isn’t there any chance that he might find out?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “It was Lucy Price who sent me. She came to my room just as I was undressing.”