“Refreshed, I hope, by your bath and change, my dear visitor?” the head of the house remarked, as he laid down his paper. “Draw a chair up here and join me in a glass of vermouth. You need not be afraid of it. It comes to me from the maker as a special favour.”
Hamel accepted a quaintly-cut wine-glass full of the amber liquid. Mr. Fentolin sipped his with the air of a connoisseur.
“This,” he continued, “is one of our informal days. There is no one in the house save my sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, and a poor invalid gentleman who, I am sorry to say, is confined to his bed. My sister-in-law is also, I regret to say, indisposed. She desired me to present her excuses to you and say how greatly she is looking forward to making your acquaintance during the next few days.”
“It is very kind of Mrs. Fentolin,” he murmured.
“On these occasions,” Mr. Fentolin continued, “we do not make use of a drawing-room. My niece will come in here presently. You are looking at my books, I see. Are you, by any chance, a bibliophile? I have a case of manuscripts here which might interest you.”
Hamel shook his head.
“Only in the abstract, I fear,” he answered. “I have scarcely opened a serious book since I was at Oxford.”
“What was your year?” Mr. Fentolin asked.
“Fourteen years ago I left Magdalen,” Hamel replied. “I had made up my mind to be an engineer, and I went over to the Boston Institute of Technology.”
Mr. Fentolin nodded appreciatively.
“A magnificent profession,” he murmured. “A healthy one, too, I should judge from your appearance. You are a strong man, Mr. Hamel.”
“I have had reason to be,” Hamel rejoined. “During nearly the whole of the time I have been abroad, I have been practically pioneering. Building railways in the far West, with gangs of Chinese and Italians and Hungarians and scarcely a foreman who isn’t terrified of his job, isn’t exactly drawing-room work.”
“You are going back there?” Mr. Fentolin asked, with interest.
Hamel shook his head.
“I have no plans,” he declared. “I have been fortunate enough, or shall I some day say unfortunate enough, I wonder, to have inherited a large legacy.”
Mr. Fentolin smiled.
“Don’t ever doubt your good fortune,” he said earnestly. “The longer I live—and in my limited way I do see a good deal of life —the more I appreciate the fact that there isn’t anything in this world that compares with the power of money. I distrust a poor man. He may mean to be honest, but he is at all times subject to temptation. Ah! here is my niece.”
Mr. Fentolin turned towards the door. Hamel rose at once to his feet. His surmise, then, had been correct. She was coming towards them very quietly. In her soft grey dinner-gown, her brown hair smoothly brushed back, a pearl necklace around her long, delicate neck, she seemed to him a very exquisite embodiment of those memories which he had been carrying about throughout the afternoon.