’The Seven Hunters. August 9, 7.47 p.m.
’Do not be anxious about Miss Macrae. She is in perfect health, and accompanied by three chaperons accustomed to move in the first circles. The one question is How Much? Sorry to be abrupt, but the sooner the affair is satisfactorily concluded the better. A reply through your Gianesi machine will reach us, and will meet with prompt attention.’
‘A practical joke,’ said Merton. ’The melancholy news has reached town through Bude’s telegrams, and somebody at the depot is playing tricks with the instrument.’
’I have used the instrument to communicate that opinion to the manufacturers,’ said Mr. Macrae, ‘but I have had no reply.’
’What does the jester mean by heading his communication “The Seven Hunters"?’ asked Merton.
‘The name of a real or imaginary public-house, I suppose,’ said Mr. Macrae.
At this moment the electric bell gave its signal, and the tape began to exude. Mr. Macrae read the message aloud; it ran thus:
’No good wiring to Gianesi and Giambresi at headquarters. You are hitched on to us, and to nobody else. Better climb down. What are your terms?’
‘This is infuriating,’ said Mr. Macrae. ’It must be a practical joke, but how to reach the operators?’
‘Let me wire to-morrow by the old-fashioned way,’ said Merton; ’I hear that one need not go to Lairg to wire. One can do that from Inchnadampf, much nearer. That is quicker than steaming to Loch Inver.’
’Thank you very much, Mr. Merton; I must be here myself. You had better take the motor—trouble dazes a man—I forgot the motor when I ordered the tandem this morning.’
‘Very good,’ said Merton. ‘At what hour shall I start?’
‘We all need rest; let us say at ten o’clock.’
‘All right,’ replied Merton. ’Now do, pray, try to get a good night of sleep.’
Mr. Macrae smiled wanly: ’I mean to force
myself to read Emma, by Miss
Austen, till the desired effect is produced.’
Merton went to bed, marvelling at the self-command of the millionaire. He himself slept ill, absorbed in regret and darkling conjecture.
After writing out several telegrams for Merton to carry, the smitten victim of enormous opulence sought repose. But how vainly! Between him and the pages which report the prosings of Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse intruded visions of his daughter, a captive, perhaps crossing the Atlantic, perhaps hidden, who knew, in a shieling or a cavern in the untrodden wastes of Assynt or of Lord Reay’s country. At last these appearances were merged in sleep.