“I am a strong supporter of Lord Roberts,” Lord Saxthorpe said, “and I believe in the vital necessity of some scheme for national service. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that a successful invasion of this country is within the bounds of possibility.”
“I quite agree with you, Lord Saxthorpe,” Mr. Fentolin declared smoothly. “All the same, this Hague Conference is a most mysterious affair. The papers this morning are ominously silent about the fleet. From the tangle of messages we have picked up, I should say, without a doubt, that some form of mobilisation is going on in the North Sea. If Lady Saxthorpe thinks it warm enough, shall we take our coffee upon the terrace?”
“The terrace, by all means,” her ladyship assented, rising from her place. “What a wonderful man you are, Mr. Fentolin, with your wireless telegraphy, and your telegraph office in the house, and telephones. Does it really amuse you to be so modern?”
“To a certain extent, yes,” Mr. Fentolin sighed, as he guided his chair along the hall. “When my misfortune first came, I used to speculate a good deal upon the Stock Exchange. That was really the reason I went in for all these modern appliances.”
“And now?” she asked. “What use do you make of them now?”
Mr. Fentolin smiled quietly. He looked out sea-ward, beyond the sky-line, from whence had come to him, through the clouds, that tangle of messages.
“I like to feel,” he said, “that the turning wheel of life is not altogether out of earshot. I like to dabble just a little in the knowledge of these things.”
Lord Saxthorpe came strolling up to them.
“You won’t forget to telephone about this guest of yours?” he asked fussily.
“It is already done,” Mr. Fentolin assured him. “My dear sister, why so silent?”
Mrs. Fentolin turned slowly towards him. She, too, had been standing with her eyes fixed upon the distant sea-line. Her face seemed suddenly to have aged, her forced vivacity to have departed. Her little Pomeranian rubbed against her feet in vain. Yet at the sound of Mr. Fentolin’s voice, she seemed to come back to herself as though by magic.
“I was looking where you were looking,” she declared lightly, “just trying to see a little way beyond. So silly, isn’t it? Chow-Chow, you bad little dog, come and you shall have your dinner.”
She strolled off, humming a tune to herself. Lord Saxthorpe watched her with a shadow upon his plain, good-humoured face.
“Somehow or other,” he remarked quietly, “Mrs. Fentolin never seems to have got over the loss of her husband, does she? How long is it since he died?”
“Eight years,” Mr. Fentolin replied. “It was just six months after my own accident.”
“I am losing a great deal of sympathy for you, Mr. Fentolin,” Lady Saxthorpe confessed, coming over to his side. “You have so many resources, there is so much in life which you can do. You paint, as we all know, exquisitely. They tell me that you play the violin like a master. You have unlimited time for reading, and they say that you are one of the greatest living authorities upon the politics of Europe. Your morning paper must bring you so much that is interesting.”