“Do you think,” Mr. Fentolin went on, “that I spend a great fortune buying the secrets of the world, that I live from day to day with the risk of ignominious detection always hovering about me—do you think that I do this and am yet unprepared to run the final risks of life and death? Have you ever talked with a murderer, Mr. Dunster? Has curiosity ever taken you within the walls of Sing Sing? Have you sat within the cell of a doomed man and felt the thrill of his touch, of his close presence? Well, I will not ask you those questions. I will simply tell you that you are talking to one now.”
Mr. Dunster had forgotten his extinct cigar. He found it difficult to remove his eyes from Mr. Fentolin’s face. He was half fascinated, half stirred with a vague, mysterious fear. Underneath these wild words ran always that hard note of truth.
“You seem to be in earnest,” he muttered.
“I am,” Mr. Fentolin assured him quietly. “I have more than once been instrumental in bringing about the death of those who have crossed my purposes. I plead guilty to the weakness of Nero. Suffering and death are things of joy to me. There!”
“I am not sure,” Mr. Dunster said slowly, “that I ought not to wring your neck.”
Mr. Fentolin smiled. His chair receded an inch or two. There was never a time when his expression had seemed more seraphic.
“There is no emergency of that sort,” he remarked, “for which I am not prepared.”
His little revolver gleamed for a minute beneath his cuff. He backed his chair slowly and with wonderful skill towards the door.
“We will fix the period of your probation, Mr. Dunster, at—say, twenty-four hours,” he decided. “Please make yourself until then entirely at home. My cook, my cellar, my cigar cabinets, are at your disposal. If some happy impulse,” he concluded, “should show you the only reasonable course by dinnertime, it would give me the utmost pleasure to have you join us at that meal. I can promise you a cheque beneath your plate which even you might think worth considering, wine in your glass which kings might sigh for, cigars by your side which even your Mr. Pierpont Morgan could not buy. Au revoir!”
The door opened and closed. Mr. Dunster sat staring into the open space like a man still a little dazed.
The beautiful but somewhat austere front of St. David’s Hall seemed, in a sense, transformed, as Hamel and his companion climbed the worn grey steps which led on to the broad sweep of terrace. Evidently visitors had recently arrived. A dark, rather good-looking woman, with pleasant round face and a ceaseless flow of conversation, was chattering away to Mr. Fentolin. By her side stood another woman who was a stranger to Hamel—thin, still elegant, with tired, worn face, and the shadow of something in her eyes which reminded him at once of Esther. She wore a large picture hat and carried a little Pomeranian dog under her arm. In the background, an insignificant-looking man with grey side-whiskers and spectacles was beaming upon everybody. Mr. Fentolin waved his hand and beckoned to Hamel and Esther as they somewhat hesitatingly approached.