“I agree,” Mrs. Fentolin said firmly. “We have gone on from sacrifice to sacrifice, until it has become a habit with us to consider him the master of our bodies and our souls. To-day, Esther, we have reached the breaking point. Not even for the sake of that message from the other side of the grave, not even to preserve his honour and his memory, can we do more.”
Hamel held up his finger. He opened the French windows, and they followed him out on to the terrace. The grey dawn had broken now over the sea. There were gleams of fitful sunshine on the marshes. Some distance away a large motor-car was coming rapidly along the road.
Mr. John P. Dunster, lying flat upon his little bed, watched with dilated eyes the disappearance of the ladder. Then he laughed. It was a queer sound—broken, spasmodic, devoid of any of the ordinary elements of humor—and yet it was a laugh. Mr. Fentolin turned his head towards his prisoner and nodded thoughtfully.
“What a constitution, my friend!” he exclaimed, without any trace of disturbance in his voice. “And what a sense of humour! Strange that a trifling circumstance like this should affect it. Meekins, burn some more of the powder. The atmosphere down here may be salubrious, but I am unaccustomed to it.”
“Perhaps,” Mr. Dunster said in a hollow tone, “you will have some opportunity now of discovering with me what it is like.”
“That, too, is just possible,” Mr. Fentolin admitted, blowing out a little volume of smoke from a cigarette which he had just lit, “but one never knows. We have friends, and our position, although, I must admit, a little ridiculous, is easily remedied. But how that mischief-making Mr. Hamel could have found his way into the boat-house does, I must confess, perplex me.”
“He must have been hanging around and followed us in when we came,” Meekins muttered. “Somehow, I fancied I felt some one near.”
“Our young friend,” Mr. Fentolin continued, “has, without doubt, an obvious turn of mind. He will send for his acquaintance in the Foreign Office; they will haul out Mr. Dunster here, and he will have a belated opportunity of delivering his message at The Hague.”
“You aren’t going to murder me first, then?” Mr. Dunster grunted.
Mr. Fentolin smiled at him benignly.
“My dear and valued guest,” he protested, “why so forbidding an idea? Let me assure you from the bottom of my heart that any bodily harm to you is the most unlikely thing in the world. You see, though you might not think it,” he went on, “I love life. That is why I keep a doctor always by my side. That is why I insist upon his making a complete study of my constitution and treating me in every respect as though I were indeed an invalid. I am really only fifty-nine years old. It is my intention to live until I am eighty-nine. An offence against the law of the nature you indicate might interfere materially with my intentions.”