“And that,” she went on, directing his attention to the hill, “is Mr. Fentolin’s home, St. David’s Hall.”
For several moments he made no remark at all. There was something curiously impressive in that sudden sweep up from the sea-line; the strange, miniature mountain standing in the middle of the marshes, with its tree-crowned background; and the long, weather-beaten front of the house turned bravely to the sea.
“I never saw anything like it,” he declared. “Why, it’s barely a quarter of a mile from the sea, isn’t it?”
“A little more than that. It is a strangely situated abode, isn’t it?”
“Wonderful!” he agreed, with emphasis. “I must study the geological formation of that hill,” he continued, with interest. “Why, it looks almost like an island now.”
“That is because of the floods,” she told him. “Even at high tide the creeks never reach so far as the back there. All the water you see stretching away inland is flood water—the result of the storm, I suppose. This is where you get out,” she concluded, rising to her feet.
She turned away with the slightest nod. A maid was already awaiting her at the door of the compartment. Hamel was suddenly conscious of the fact that he disliked her going immensely.
“We shall, perhaps, meet again during the next few days,” he remarked.
She half turned her head. Her expression was scarcely encouraging.
“I hope,” she said, “that you will not be disappointed in your quarters.”
Hamel followed her slowly on to the platform, saw her escorted to a very handsome motor-car by an obsequious station-master, and watched the former disappear down the stretch of straight road which led to the hill. Then, with a stick in one hand, and the handbag which was his sole luggage in the other, he left the station and turned seaward.
Mr. Fentolin, surrounded by his satellites, was seated in his chair before the writing-table. There were present in the room most of the people important to him in his somewhat singular life. A few feet away, in characteristic attitude, stood Meekins. Doctor Sarson, with his hands behind him, was looking out of the window. At the further end of the table stood a confidential telegraph clerk, who was just departing with a little sheaf of messages. By his side, with a notebook in her hand, stood Mr. Fentolin’s private secretary —a white-haired woman, with a strangely transparent skin and light brown eyes, dressed in somber black, a woman who might have been of any age from thirty to fifty. Behind her was a middle-aged man whose position in the household no one was quite sure about—a clean-shaven man whose name was Ryan, and who might very well have been once an actor or a clergyman. In the background stood Henderson, the perfect butler.
“It is perhaps opportune,” Mr. Fentolin said quietly, “that you all whom I trust should be present here together. I wish you to understand one thing. You have, I believe, in my employ learned the gift of silence. It is to be exercised with regard to a certain visitor brought here by my nephew, a visitor whom I regret to say is now lying seriously ill.”