“Dear me,” he exclaimed, “I find that I have left the keys! We will come down a little later, if you do not mind, Mr. Hamel. Or to-morrow, perhaps. You will not mind? It is very careless of me, but seeing you about the place and imagining that you were an intruder, made me angry, and I started off in a hurry. Now walk by my side up to the house, please, and talk to me. It is so interesting for me to meet men,” he went on, as they started along the straight path, “who do things in life; who go to foreign countries, meet strange people, and have new experiences. I have been a good many years like this, you know.”
“It is a great affliction,” Hamel murmured sympathetically.
“In my youth I was an athlete,” Mr. Fentolin continued. “I played cricket for the Varsity and for my county. I hunted, too, and shot. I did all the things a man loves to do. I might still shoot, they tell me, but my strength has ebbed away. I am too weak to lift a gun, too weak even to handle a fishing-rod. I have just a few hobbies in life which keep me alive. Are you a politician, Mr. Hamel?”
“Not in the least,” Hamel replied. “I have been out of England too long to keep in touch with politics.”
“Naturally,” Mr. Fentolin agreed. “It amuses me to follow the course of events. I have a good many friends in London and abroad who are kind to me, who keep me informed, send me odd bits of information not available for every one, and it amuses me to put these things together in my mind and to try and play the prophet. I was in the Foreign Office once, you know. I take up my paper every morning, and it is one of my chief interests to see how near my own speculations come to the truth. Just now for example, there are strange things doing on the Continent.”
“In America,” Hamel remarked, “they affect to look upon England as a doomed Power.”
“Not altogether supine yet,” Mr. Fentolin observed, “yet even this last generation has seen weakening. We have lost so much self-reliance. Perhaps it is having these grown-up children who we think can take care of us—Canada and Australia, and the others. However, we will not talk of politics. It bores you, I can see. We will try and find some other subject. Now tell me, don’t you think this is ingenious?”
They had reached the foot of the hill upon which the Hall was situated. In front of them, underneath the terrace, was a little iron gate, held open now by Meekins, who had gone on ahead and dismounted from his bicycle.
“I have a subterranean way from here into the Hall,” Mr. Fentolin explained. “Come with me. You will only have to stoop a little, and it may amuse you. You need not be afraid. There are electric lights every ten yards. I turn them on with this switch—see.”