“There comes a time,” the latter continued, “when every one of us is confronted with what might be described as the crisis of our lives. Yours has come, my guest, at precisely this moment. It is, if my watch tells me the truth, five and twenty minutes to four. It is the last day of April. The year you know. You have exactly one minute to decide whether you will live a short time longer, or whether you will on this last day of April, and before—say, a quarter to four, make that little journey the nature of which you and I have discussed more than once.”
Still the man upon the bed made no movement nor any reply. Mr. Fentolin sighed and beckoned to Doctor Sarson.
“I am afraid,” he whispered, “that that wonderful drug of yours, Doctor, has been even a little too far-reaching in its results. It has kept our friend so quiet that he has lost even the power of speech, perhaps even the desire to speak. A little restorative, I think—just a few drops.”
Doctor Sarson nodded silently. He drew from his pocket a little phial and poured into a wine-glass which stood on a table by the side of the bed, half a dozen drops of some ruby-coloured liquid, to which he added a tablespoonful of water. Then he leaned once more over the bed and poured the contents of the glass between the lips of the semi-conscious man.
“Give him two minutes,” he said calmly. “He will be able to speak then.”
Mr. Fentolin nodded and leaned back in his chair. He glanced around the room a little critically. There was a thick carpet upon the floor, a sofa piled with cushions in one corner, and several other articles of furniture. The walls, however, were uncovered and were stained with damp. A great pink fungus stood out within a few inches of the bed, a grim mixture of exquisite colouring and loathsome imperfections. The atmosphere was fetid. Meekins suddenly struck a match and lit some grains of powder in a saucer. A curious odour of incense stole through the place. Mr. Fentolin nodded appreciatively.
“That is better,” he declared. “Really, the atmosphere here is positively unpleasant. I am ashamed to think that our guest has had to put up with it so long. And yet,” he went on, “I think we must call it his own fault. I trust that he will no longer be obstinate.”
The effect of the restorative began to show itself. The man on the bed moved restlessly. His eyes were no longer altogether expressionless. He was staring at Mr. Fentolin as one looks at some horrible vision. Mr. Fentolin smiled pleasantly.
“Now you are looking more like your old self, my dear Mr. Dunster,” he remarked. “I don’t think that I need repeat what I said when I first came, need I? You have just to utter that one word, and your little visit to us will be at an end.”
The man looked around at all of them. He raised himself a little on his elbow. For the first time, Hamel, crouching above, recognised any likeness to Mr. John P. Dunster.