“What in God’s name was that?” he asked.
It came to them faintly down the long passage, but it was nevertheless alarming enough. The hoarse clanging of a bell, pulled by impetuous fingers. Cecil and Forrest stared at one another for a moment with dilated eyes.
“Can’t you speak, you d——d young fool?” Forrest asked. “What bell is that?”
“It is the front-door bell of the Red Hall,” Cecil answered, in a voice which he scarcely recognized as his own. “There it goes again.”
They stood perfectly silent and listened to it, listened until its echoes died away.
For the fourth time the bell rang. The two men had now retraced their steps. Cecil, who had been standing in the hall within a few feet of the closed door, started away as though he had received some sort of shock. Forrest, who was lurking back in the shadows, cursed him for a timid fool.
“Open the door, man,” he whispered. “Don’t stand fumbling there. Remember you are angry at being disturbed. Send them away, whoever they are. Look sharp! They are going to ring again. Can’t you hear that beastly bell-wire quivering?”
Cecil set his teeth, turned the huge key, and pulled back the heavy door. He gave a little gasp of astonishment. It was a woman who stood there. He held out his electric torch and stepped back with a sharp exclamation.
“Kate!” he cried. “What on earth are you doing here at this hour? What do you mean by ringing the bell like that?”
The girl stepped into the hall.
“Close the door,” she said. “The wind will blow the pictures off the walls, and I can scarcely hear you speak.”
Cecil obeyed at once.
“Light a lamp,” she said. “It is not fair that you should have all the light. I want to see your face too.”
“But Kate,” Cecil interrupted, “why did you come like this? Why did you not—”
“Never mind,” she answered sternly. “Perhaps I did not come to see you at all. Light the lamp. There is something I have to say to you.”
Forrest stepped forward from the obscurity and struck a match. The girl showed no signs of fear at his coming. As the lamp grew brighter she looked at him steadfastly.
“So this is the reason we are waked up in the middle of the night,” Forrest remarked, with a smile which somehow or other seemed to lose its suggestiveness. “A little affair of this sort, eh, Mr. Cecil? Why don’t you teach the young lady a simpler way of summoning you than by that infernal bell?”
Still Kate did not reply. She was standing with her back to the oak table in the centre of the hall, and the men, who were both watching her covertly, were conscious of a certain significance in her attitude. Her black hair was tossed all over her face; from its tangled web her eyes seemed to gleam with a steady inimical gaze. Her dress of dark red stuff was splashed in places with the salt water, and her feet were soaking. With her left hand she clasped the table; her right seemed hidden in the folds of her skirt.