“I am his son.”
“But his son was killed in the San Francisco earthquake. I saw his name in all the lists. It was copied into the local papers here.”
Hamel knocked the ashes from his pipe.
“I take a lot of killing,” he observed. “I was in that earthquake, right enough, and in the hospital afterwards, but it was a man named Hamel of Philadelphia who died.”
Mr. Fentolin sat quite motionless for several moments. He seemed, if possible, to have shrunken into something smaller still. A few yards behind, Meekins had alighted from his bicycle and was standing waiting.
“So you are Richard Hamel,” Mr. Fentolin said at last very softly. “Welcome back to England, Richard Hamel! I knew your father slightly, although we were never very friendly.”
He stretched out his hand from underneath the coverlet of his little vehicle—a hand with long, white fingers, slim and white and shapely as a woman’s. A single ring with a dull green stone was on his fourth finger. Hamel shook hands with him as he would have shaken hands with a woman. Afterwards he rubbed his fingers slowly together. There was something about the touch which worried him.
“You have been making use of this little shanty, haven’t you?” he asked bluntly.
Mr. Fentolin nodded. He was apparently beginning to recover himself.
“You must remember,” he explained suavely, “that it was built by my grandfather, and that we have had rights over the whole of the foreshore here from time immemorial. I know quite well that my brother gave it to your father—or rather he sold it to him for a nominal sum. I must tell you that it was a most complicated transaction. He had the greatest difficulty in getting any lawyer to draft the deed of sale. There were so many ancient rights and privileges which it was impossible to deal with. Even now there are grave doubts as to the validity of the transaction. When nothing was heard of you, and we all concluded that you were dead, I ventured to take back what I honestly believed to be my own. Owing,” he continued slowly, “to my unfortunate affliction, I am obliged to depend for interest in my life upon various hobbies. This little place, queerly enough, has become one of them. I have furnished it, in a way; installed the telephone to the house, connected it with my electric plant, and I come down here when I want to be quite alone, and paint. I watch the sea—such a sea sometimes, such storms, such colour! You notice that ridge of sand out yonder? It forms a sort of natural breakwater. Even on the calmest day you can trace that white line of foam.”
“It is a strange coast,” Hamel admitted.
Mr. Fentolin pointed with his forefinger northwards.
“Somewhere about there,” he indicated, “is the entrance to the tidal river which flows up to the village of St. David’s yonder. You see?”
His finger traced its course until it came to a certain point near the beach, where a tall black pillar stood, surmounted by a globe.