Fardell threw out his hands with a little gesture of despair.
“We must get him away from here,” he said. “If Polden gets hold of him you might as well resign at once. It is dangerous for you to stay. He was evidently expecting that fellow Ronaldson to-night.”
“What shall you do with him?” he asked.
“Hide him if I can,” Fardell answered, grimly. “If I can get him out of this place, it ought not to be impossible. The most important thing at present is for you to get away without being recognized.”
Mannering took up his hat.
“I will go,” he said. “I shall leave the cab for you. I can find my way back to the hotel.”
“It would be better,” he said. “Turn your coat-collar up and draw your hat down over your eyes. You mustn’t be recognized down here. It’s a pretty low part.”
Nevertheless, Mannering had not reached the corner of the street before he heard hasty footsteps behind him, and felt a light touch upon his shoulder. He turned sharply round.
“Well, sir!” he exclaimed, “what do you want with me?”
The newcomer was a tall, thin young man, wearing glasses, and although he was a complete stranger to Mannering, he knew at once who he was.
“Mr. Mannering, I believe?” he said, quickly.
“What has my name to do with you, sir?” Mannering answered, coldly.
“Mine is Ronaldson,” the young man answered. “I am a reporter.”
Mannering regarded him steadily for a moment.
“You are the young man, then,” he said, “who has discovered the mare’s nest of my iniquity.”
“If it is a mare’s nest,” the young man answered, briskly, “I shall be quite as much relieved as disappointed. But your being down here doesn’t look very much like that, does it?”
“No man,” Mannering answered, “hears that a bomb is going to be thrown at him without a certain amount of curiosity as to its nature. I have been down to examine the bomb. Frankly, I don’t think much of it.”
“You are prepared, then, to deny this man Parkins’s story?” the reporter asked.
“I am prepared to have a shot at your paper for libel, anyhow, if you use it,” Mannering answered.
“Do you know the substance of his communication?”
“I can make a pretty good guess at it,” Mannering answered.
“You really mean to deny it, then?” the reporter asked.
“Assuredly, for it is not true,” Mannering answered. “Pray don’t let me detain you any longer!”
He turned on his heel and walked away, but the reporter kept pace with him.
“You will pardon me, but this is a very serious affair, Mr. Mannering,” he said. “Serious for both of us. Do you mind discussing it with me?”
“Not in the least,” Mannering answered, “so long as you permit me to continue my way homewards.”
“I will walk with you, sir, if you don’t mind,” the reporter said. “It is a very serious matter indeed, this! My people are as keen as possible to make use of it. If they do, and it turns out a true story, you, of course, will never sit for Leeds. And if on the other hand it is false, I shall get the sack!”