“I’ll see you in hell first!”
Mr. Fentolin’s face momentarily darkened. He moved a little nearer to the man upon the bed.
“Dunster,” he said, “I am in grim earnest. Never mind arguments. Never mind why I am on the other side. They are restless about you in America. Unless I can cable that word to-morrow morning, they’ll communicate direct with The Hague, and I shall have had my trouble for nothing. It is not my custom to put up with failure. Therefore, let me tell you that no single one of my threats has been exaggerated. My patience has reached its breaking point. Give me that word, or before four o’clock strikes, you will find yourself in a new chamber, among the corpses of those misguided fishermen, mariners of ancient days, and a few others. It’s only a matter of fifty yards out to the great sea pit below the Dagger Rocks—I’ve spoken to you about it before, haven’t I? So surely as I speak to you of it at this moment.”
Mr. Fentolin’s speech came to an abrupt termination. A convulsive movement of Meekins’, an expression of blank amazement on the part of Doctor Sarson, had suddenly checked the words upon his lips. He turned his head quickly in the direction towards which they had been gazing, towards which in fact, at that moment, Meekins, with a low cry, had made a fruitless spring. The ladder down which they had descended was slowly disappearing. Meekins, with a jump, missed the last rung by only a few inches. Some unseen hand was drawing it up. Already the last few feet were vanishing in mid-air. Mr. Fentolin sat quite quiet and still. He looked through the trap-door and saw Hamel.
“Most ingenious and, I must confess, most successful, my young friend!” he exclaimed pleasantly. “When you have made the ladder quite secure, perhaps you will be so good as to discuss this little matter with us?”
There was no immediate reply. The eyes of all four men were turned now upon that empty space through which the ladder had finally disappeared. Mr. Fentolin’s fingers disappeared within the pocket of his coat. Something very bright was glistening in his hand when he withdrew it.
“Come and parley with us, Mr. Hamel,” he begged. “You will not find us unreasonable.”
Hamel’s voice came back in reply, but Hamel himself kept well away from the opening.
“The conditions,” he said, “are unpropitious. A little time for reflection will do you no harm.”
The trap-doors were suddenly closed. Mr. Fentolin’s face, as he looked up, became diabolic.
“We are trapped!” he muttered; “caught like rats in a hole!”
A gleam of day was in the sky as Hamel, with Mrs. Fentolin by his side, passed along the path which led from the Tower to St. David’s Hall. Lights were still burning from its windows; the outline of the building itself was faintly defined against the sky. Behind him, across the sea, was that one straight line of grey merging into silver. The rain had ceased and the wind had dropped. On either side of them stretched the brimming creeks.