The Vanished Messenger
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 6 out of 6
I must admit, a little ridiculous, is easily remedied. But how
that mischief-making Mr. Hamel could have found his way into the
boat-house does, I must confess, perplex me."
"He must have been hanging around and followed us in when we came,"
Meekins muttered. "Somehow, I fancied I felt some one near."
"Our young friend," Mr. Fentolin continued, has, without doubt, an
obvious turn of mind. He will send for his acquaintance in the
Foreign Office; they will haul out Mr. Dunster here, and he will
have a belated opportunity of delivering his message at The Hague."
"You aren't going to murder me first, then?" Mr. Dunster grunted.
Mr. Fentolin smiled at him benignly.
"My dear and valued guest," he protested, "why so forbidding an
idea? Let me assure you from the bottom of my heart that any bodily
harm to you is the most unlikely thing in the world. You see,
though you might not think it," he went on, "I love life. That is
why I keep a doctor always by my side. That is why I insist upon
his making a complete study of my constitution and treating me in
every respect as though I were indeed an invalid. I am really only
fifty-nine years old. It is my intention to live until I am
eighty-nine. An offence against the law of the nature you indicate
might interfere materially with my intentions."
Mr. Dunster struggled for a moment for breath.
"Look here," he said, "that's all right, but do you suppose you
won't be punished for what you've done to me? You laid a
deliberate plot to bring me to St. David's Hall; you've kept me
locked up, dosed me with drugs, brought me down here at the dead
of night, kept me a prisoner in a dungeon. Do you think you can do
that for nothing? Do you think you won't have to suffer for it?"
Mr. Fentolin smiled.
"My dear Mr. Dunster," he reminded him, "you were in a railway
accident, you know; there is no possible doubt about that. And the
wound in your head is still there, in a very dangerous place. Men
who have been in railway accidents, and who have a gaping wound
very close to their brain, are subject to delusions. I have simply
done my best to play the Good Samaritan. Your clothes and papers
are all untouched. If my eminent physician had pronounced you
ready to travel a week ago, you would certainly have been allowed
to depart a week ago. Any interference in your movements has been
entirely in the interests of your health."
Mr. Dunster tried to sit up but found himself unable.
"So you think they won't believe my story, eh?" he muttered. "Well,
we shall see."
Mr. Fentolin thoughtfully contemplated the burning end of his
cigarette for a moment.
"If I believed," he said, "that there was any chance of your
statements being accepted, I am afraid I should be compelled, in
all our interests, to ask Doctor Sarson to pursue just a step
further that experiment into the anatomy of your brain with which
he has already trifled."
Mr. Dunster's face was suddenly ghastly. His reserve of strength
seemed to ebb away. The memory of some horrible moment seemed to
hold him in its clutches.
"For God's sake, leave me alone!" he moaned. "Let me get away,
that's all; let me crawl away!"
"Ah!" Mr. Fentolin murmured. "That sounds much more reasonable.
When you talk like that, my friend. I feel indeed that there is
hope for you. Let us abandon this subject for the present. Have
you solved the puzzle yet?" he asked Meekins.
Meekins was standing below the closed trap-door. He had already
dragged up a wooden case underneath and was piling it with various
articles of furniture.
"Not yet, sir," he replied. "When I have made this steadier, I
am just going to see what pressure I can bring to bear on the
"I heard the bolts go," Doctor Sarson remarked uneasily.
"In that case," Mr. Fentolin declared, "it will indeed be an
interesting test of our friend Meekins' boasted strength. Meekins
holds his place - a very desirable place, too - chiefly for two
reasons: first his discretion and secondly his muscles. He has
never before had a real opportunity of testing the latter. We
Doctor Sarson came slowly and gravely to the bedside. He looked
down upon his patient. Mr. Dunster shivered.
"I am not sure, sir," he said very softly, "that Mr. Dunster, in
his present state of mind, is a very safe person to be allowed his
freedom. It is true that we have kept him here for his own sake,
because of his fits of mental wandering. Our statements, however,
may be doubted. An apparent return to sanity on his part may lend
colour to his accusations, especially if permanent. Perhaps it
would be as well to pursue that investigation a shade further. A
touch more to the left and I do not think that Mr. Dunster will
remember much in this world likely to affect us."
Mr. Dunster's face was like marble. There were beads of perspiration
upon his forehead, his eyes were filled with reminiscent horror. Mr.
Fentolin bent over him with genuine interest.
"What a picture he would make!" he murmured. "What a drama! Do you
know, I am half inclined to agree with you, Sarson. The only trouble
is that you have not your instruments here."
"I could improvise something that would do the trick," the doctor
said thoughtfully. "It really isn't a complicated affair. It
seems to me that his story may gain credence from the very fact of
our being discovered in this extraordinary place. To have moved
him here was a mistake, sir."
"Perhaps so," Mr. Fentolin admitted, with a sigh. "It was our
young friend Mr. Hamel who was responsible for it. I fancied him
arriving with a search warrant at any moment. We will bear in mind
your suggestion for a few minutes. Let us watch Meekins. This
promises to be interesting."
By dint of piling together all the furniture in the place, the
man was now able to reach the trap-door. He pressed upon it
vigorously without even bending the wood. Mr. Fentolin smiled
"Meekins," he said, "look at me."
The man turned and faced his master. His aspect of dogged civility
had never been more apparent.
"Now listen," Mr. Fentolin went on. "I want to remind you of
certain things, Meekins. We are among friends here - no secrecy,
you understand, or anything of that sort. You need not be afraid!
You know how you came to me? You remember that little affair of
Anna Jayes in Hartlepool?"
The face of the man was filled with terror. He began to tremble
where he stood. Mr. Fentolin played for a moment with his collar,
as though he found it tight.
"Such a chance it was, my dear Meekins," Mr. Fentolin continued
cheerfully, "which brought me that little scrap of knowledge
concerning you. It has bought me through all these years a good
deal of faithful service. I am not ungrateful, believe me. I
intend to retain you for my body-servant and to keep my lips sealed,
for a great many years to come. Now remember what I have said.
When we leave this place, that little episode will steal back into
a far corner of my mind. I shall, in short, forget it. If we are
caught here and inconvenience follows, well, I cannot say. Do your
best, Meekins. Do a little better than your best. You have the
reputation of being a strong man. Let us see you justify it."
The man took a long breath and returned to his task. His shoulders
and arms were upon the door. He began to strain. He grew red in
the face; the veins across his forehead stood out, blue, like
tightly-drawn string. His complexion became purple. Through his
open mouth his breath came in short pants. With every muscle of
his body and neck he strained and strained. The woodwork gave a
little, but it never even cracked. With a sob he suddenly almost
collapsed. Mr. Fentolin looked at him, frowning.
"Very good - very good, Meekins," he said, "but not quite good
enough. You are a trifle out of practice, perhaps. Take your
breath, take time. Remember that you have another chance. I am
not angry with you, Meekins. I know there are many enterprises
upon which one does not succeed the first time. Get your breath;
there is no hurry. Next time you try, see that you succeed. It
is very important, Meekins, for you as well as for us, that you
The man turned doggedly back to his task. The eyes of the three
men watched him - Mr. Dunster on the bed; Doctor Sarson, pale and
gloomy, with something of fear in his dark eyes; and Mr. Fentolin
himself, whose expression seemed to be one of purely benevolent and
encouraging interest. Once more the face of the man became almost
unrecognisable. There was a great crack, the trap-door had shifted.
Meekins, with a little cry, reeled and sank backwards. Mr. Fentolin
clapped his hands lightly.
"Really, Meekins," he declared, "I do not know when I have enjoyed
any performance so much. I feel as if I were back in the days of
the Roman gladiators. I can see that you mean to succeed. You will
succeed. You do not mean to end your days amid objectionable
With the air of a man temporarily mad, Meekins went back to his task.
He was sobbing to himself now. His clothes had burst away from him.
Suddenly there was a crash, the hinges of the trap-door had parted.
With the blood streaming from a wound in his forehead, Meekins
staggered back to his feet. Mr. Fentolin nodded.
"Excellent!" he pronounced. "Really excellent. With a little
assistance from our friend Meekins, you, I am sure, Sarson, will
now be able to climb up and let down the steps."
Doctor Sarson stood by Mr. Fentolin's chair, and together they looked
up through the fragments of the trap-door. Meekins was still
breathing heavily. Suddenly they heard the sound of a sharp report,
as of a door above being slammed.
"Some one was in the boat-house when I broke the trap-door," Meekins
muttered. "I heard them moving about."
Mr. Fentolin frowned.
"Then let us hurry," he said. "Sarson, what about your patient?"
Mr. Dunster was lying upon his side, watching them. The doctor
went over to the bedside and felt his pulse and head.
"He will do for twelve hours," he pronounced. "If you think that
other little operation -"
He broke off and looked at Mr. Fentolin meaningly. The man on the
bed shrank back, his eyes lit with horror. Mr. Fentolin smiled
"I fear," he said, "that we must not stay for that just now. A
little later on, perhaps, if it becomes necessary. Let us first
attend to the business on hand."
Meekins once more clambered on to the little heap of furniture.
The doctor stood by his side for a moment. Then, with an effort,
he was hoisted up until he could catch hold of the floor of the
outhouse. Meekins gave one push, and he disappeared.
"Any one up there?" Mr. Fentolin enquired, a shade of anxiety in
"No one," the doctor reported.
"Has anything been disturbed?"
Doctor Sarson was some little time before he replied.
"Yes," he said, "some one seems to have been rummaging about."
"Send down the steps quickly," Mr. Fentolin ordered. "I am beginning
to find the atmosphere here unpleasant."
There was a brief silence. Then they heard the sound of the ladder
being dragged across the floor, and a moment or two later it was
carefully lowered and placed in position. Mr. Fentolin passed the
rope through the front of his carriage and was drawn up. From his
bed Mr. Dunster watched them go. It was hard to tell whether he
was relieved or disappointed.
"Who has been in here?" Mr. Fentolin demanded, as he looked around
There was no reply. A grey twilight was struggling now through the
high, dust-covered windows. Meekins, who had gone on towards the
door, suddenly called out:
"Some one has taken away the key! The door is locked on the other
Mr. Fentolin's frown was malign even for him.
"Our dear friend, Mr. Hamel, I suppose," he muttered. "Another
little debt we shall owe him! Try the other door."
Meekins moved towards the partition. Suddenly he paused. Mr.
Fentolin's hand was outstretched; he, too, was listening. Above
the low thunder of the sea came another sound, a sound which at
that moment they none of them probably understood. There was the
steady crashing of feet upon the pebbles, a low murmur of voices.
Mr. Fentolin for the first time showed symptoms of fear.
"Try the other door quickly," he directed.
Meekins came back, shaking his head. Outside, the noise seemed to
be increasing. The door was suddenly thrown open. Hannah Cox stood
outside in her plain black dress, her hair wind-tossed, her eyes
aflame. She held the key in her fingers, and she looked in upon
them. Her lips seemed to move, but she said nothing.
"My good woman," Mr. Fentolin exclaimed, frowning, "are you the
person who removed that key?"
She laid her hand upon his chair. She took no notice of the other
"Come," she said, "there is something here I want you to listen to.
Mr. Fentolin, arrived outside on the stone front of the boat-house,
pointed the wheel of his chair towards the Hall. Hannah Cox, who
kept by his side, however, drew it gently towards the beach.
"Down here," she directed softly. "Bring your chair down the
plank-way, close to the water's edge."
"My good woman," Mr. Fentolin exclaimed furiously, "I am not in the
humour for this sort of thing! Lock up, Sarson, at once; I am in
a hurry to get back."
"But you will come just this little way," she continued, speaking
without any change of tone. "You see, the others are waiting, too.
I have been down to the village and fetched them up."
Mr. Fentolin followed her outstretched finger and gave a sudden
start. Standing at the edge of the sea were a dozen or twenty
fishermen. They were all muttering together and looking at the top
of the boat-house. As he realised the direction of their gaze, Mr.
Fentolin's face underwent a strange transformation. He seemed to
shrink in his chair. He was ghastly pale even to the lips. Slowly
he turned his head. From a place in the roof of the boat-house
a tall support had appeared. On the top was a swinging globe.
"What have you to do with that?" he asked in a low tone.
"I found it," she answered. "I felt that it was there. I have
brought them up with me to see it. I think that they want to ask
you some questions. But first, come and listen."
Mr. Fentolin shook her off. He looked around for Meekins.
"Meekins, stand by my chair," he ordered sharply. "Turn round; I
wish to go to the Hall. Drive this woman away."
Meekins came hurrying up, but almost at the same moment half a dozen
of the brown jerseyed fishermen detached themselves from the others.
They formed a little bodyguard around the bath-chair.
"What is the meaning of this?" Mr. Fentolin demanded, his voice
shrill with anger. "Didn't you hear what I said? This woman annoys
me. Send her away."
Not one of the fishermen answered a word or made the slightest
movement to obey him. One of them, a grey-bearded veteran, drew
the chair a little further down the planked way across the pebbles.
Hannah Cox kept close to its side. They came to a standstill only
a few yards from where the waves were breaking. She lifted her hand.
"Listen!" she cried. "Listen!"
Mr. Fentolin turned helplessly around. The little group of
fishermen had closed in upon Sarson and Meekins. The woman's hand
was upon his shoulder; she pointed seaward to where a hissing line
of white foam marked the spot where the topmost of the rocks were
"You wondered why I have spent so much of my time out here," she
said quietly. "Now you will know. If you listen as I am listening,
as I have listened for so many weary hours, so many weary years,
you will hear them calling to me, David and John and Stephen.
'The light!' Do you hear what they are crying? 'The light!
Fentolin's light!' Look!"
She forced him to look once more at the top of the boat-house.
"They were right!" she proclaimed, her voice gaining in strength
and intensity. "They were neither drunk nor reckless. They
steered as straight as human hand could guide a tiller, for
Fentolin's light! And there they are, calling and calling at the
bottom of the sea - my three boys and my man. Do you know for whom
Mr. Fentolin shrank back in his chair.
"Take this woman away!" he ordered the fishermen. "Do you hear?
Take her away; she is mad!"
They looked towards him, but not one of them moved. Mr. Fentolin
raised his whistle to his lips, and blew it.
"Meekins!" he cried. "Where are you, Meekins?"
He turned his head and saw at once that Meekins was powerless.
Five or six of the fishermen had gathered around him. There were
at least thirty of them about, sinewy, powerful men. The only
person who moved towards Mr. Fentolin's carriage was Jacob, the
"Mr. Fentolin, sir," he said, "the lads have got your bully safe.
It's a year and more that Hannah Cox has been about the village with
some story about two lights on a stormy night. It's true what she
says - that her man and boys lie drowned. There's William Green,
besides, and a nephew of my own - John Kallender. And Philip Green
- he was saved. He swore by all that was holy that he steered
straight for the light when his boat struck, and that as he swam
for shore, five minutes later, he saw the light reappear in another
place. It's a strange story. What have you to say, sir, about
He pointed straight to the wire-encircled globe which towered on
its slender support above the boat-house. Mr. Fentolin looked at
it and looked back at the coast guardsman. The brain of a
Machiavelli could scarcely have invented a plausible reply.
"The light was never lit there," he said. "It was simply to help
me in some electrical experiments."
Then, for the first time in their lives, those who were looking on
saw Mr. Fentolin apart from his carriage. Without any haste but
with amazing strength, Hannah Cox leaned over, and, with her arms
around his middle, lifted him sheer up into the air. She carried
him, clasped in her arms, a weird, struggling object, to the clumsy
boat that lay always at the top of the beach. She dropped him into
the bottom, took her seat, and unshipped the oars. For one moment
the coast guardsman hesitated; then he obeyed her look. He gave
the boat a push which sent it grinding down the pebbles into the
sea. The woman began to work at the oars. Every now and then she
looked over her shoulder at that thin line of white surf which they
were all the time approaching.
"What are you doing, woman?" Mr. Fentolin demanded hoarsely.
"Listen! It was an accident that your people were drowned. I'll
give you an annuity. I'll make you rich for life - rich! Do you
understand what that means?"
"Aye!" she answered, looking down upon him as he lay doubled up at
the bottom of the boat. "I know what it means to be rich - better
than you, maybe. Not to let the gold and silver pieces fall through
your fingers, or to live in a great house and be waited upon by
servants who desert you in the hour of need. That isn't being rich.
It's rich to feel the touch of the one you love, to see the faces
around of those you've given birth to, to move on through the days
and nights towards the end, with them around; not to know the chill
loneliness of an empty life. I am a poor woman, Mr. Fentolin, and
it's your hand that made me so, and not all the miracles that the
Bible ever told of can make me rich again."
"You are a fool!" he shrieked. "You can buy forgetfulness! The
memory of everything passes."
"I may be a fool," she retorted grimly, "and you the wise man; but
this day we'll both know the truth."
There was a little murmur from the shore, where the fishermen stood
in a long line.
"Bring him back, missus," Jacob called out. "You've scared him
enough. Bring him back. We'll leave him to the law."
They were close to the line of surf now; they had passed it, indeed,
a little on the left, and the boat was drifting. She stood up,
straight and stern, and her face, as she looked towards the land,
was lit with the fire of the prophetess.
"Aye," she cried, "we'll leave him to the law - to the law of God!"
Then they saw her stoop down, and once more with that almost
superhuman strength which seemed to belong to her for those few
moments, she lifted the strange object who lay cowering there,
high above her head. From the shore they realised what was going
to happen, and a great shout arose. She stood on the side of the
boat and jumped, holding her burden tightly in her arms. So they
went down and disappeared.
Half a dozen of the younger fishermen were in the water even before
the grim spectacle was ended; another ran for a boat that was moored
a little way down the beach. But from the first the search was
useless. Only Jacob, who was a person afflicted with many
superstitions, wiped the sweat from his forehead as he leaned over
the bow of his boat and looked down into that fathomless space.
"I heard her singing, her or her wraith," he swore afterwards.
"I'll never forget the moment I looked down and down, and the water
seemed to grow clearer, and I saw her walking there at the bottom
among the rocks, with him over her back, singing as she went,
looking everywhere for George and the boys!"
But if indeed his eyes were touched with fire at that moment, no
one else in the world saw anything more of Miles Fentolin.
Mr. John P. Dunster removed the cigar from his teeth and gazed at
the long white ash with the air of a connoisseur. He was stretched
in a long chair, high up in the terraced gardens behind the Hall.
At his feet were golden mats of yellow crocuses; long borders of
hyacinths - pink and purple; beds of violets; a great lilac tree,
with patches of blossom here and there forcing their way into a
sunlit world. The sea was blue; the sheltered air where they sat
was warm and perfumed. Mr. Dunster, who was occupying the position
of a favoured guest, was feeling very much at home.
"There is one thing," he remarked meditatively, "which I can't help
thinking about you Britishers. You may deserve it or you may not,
but you do have the most almighty luck."
"Sheer envy," Hamel murmured. "We escape from our tight corners by
"Not on your life, sir," Mr. Dunster declared vigorously. "A year
or less ago you got a North Sea scare, and on the strength of a
merely honourable understanding with your neighbour, you risk your
country's very existence for the sake of adding half a dozen
battleships to your North Sea Squadron. The day the last of those
battleships passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, this little
Conference was plotted. I tell you they meant to make history there.
"There was enough for everybody - India for Russia, a time-honoured
dream, but why not? Alsace-Lorraine and perhaps Egypt, for France;
Australia for Japan; China and South Africa for Germany. Why not?
You may laugh at it on paper but I say again - why not?"
"It didn't quite come off, sir," Gerald observed.
"It didn't," Mr. Dunster admitted, "partly owing to you. There
were only two things needed: France to consider her own big interests
and to ignore an entente from which she gains nothing that was not
assured to her under the new agreement, and the money. Strange,"
Mr. Dunster continued, "how people forget that factor, and yet the
man who was responsible for The Hague Conference knew it. We in
the States are right outside all these little jealousies and wrangles
that bring Europe, every now and then, right up to the gates of war,
but I'm hanged if there is one of you dare pass through those gates
without a hand on our money markets. It's a new word in history,
that little document, news of which Mr. Gerald here took to The
Hague, the word of the money kings of the world. There is something
that almost nips your breath in the idea that a dozen men, descended
from the Lord knows whom, stopped a war which would have altered the
whole face of history."
"There was never any proof," Hamel remarked, "that France would not
have remained staunch to us."
"Very likely not," Mr. Dunster agreed, "but, on the other hand, your
country had never the right to put such a burden upon her honour.
Remember that side by side with those other considerations, a great
statesman's first duty is to the people over whom he watches, not to
study the interests of other lands. However, it's finished. The
Hague Conference is broken up. The official organs of the world
allude to it, if at all, as an unimportant gathering called together
to discuss certain frontier questions with which England had nothing
to do. But the memory of it will live. A good cold douche for you
people, I should say, and I hope you'll take warning by it. Whatever
the attitude of America as a nation may be to these matters, the
American people don't want to see the old country in trouble. Gee
whiz! What's that?"
There was a little cry from all of them. Only Hamel stood without
sign of surprise, gazing downward with grim, set face. A dull roar,
like the booming of a gun, flashes of fire, and a column of smoke
- and all that was left of St. David's Tower was one tottering wall
and a scattered mass of masonry.
"I had an idea," Hamel said quietly, "that St. David's Tower was
going to spoil the landscape for a good many years. My property,
you know, and there's the end of it. I am sick of seeing people
for the last few days come down and take photographs of it for
every little rag that goes to press."
Mr. Dunster pointed out to the line of surf beyond. "If only some
hand," he remarked, "could plant dynamite below that streak of white,
so that the sea could disgorge its dead! They tell me there's a
Spanish galleon there, and a Dutch warship, besides a score or more
Mrs. Fentolin shivered a little. She drew her cloak around her.
Gerald, who had been watching her, sprang to his feet.
"Come," he exclaimed, "we chose the gardens for our last afternoon
here, to be out of the way of these places! We'll go round the hill."
Mrs. Fentolin shook her head once more. Her face had recovered its
serenity. She looked downward gravely but with no sign of fear.
"There is nothing to terrify us there, Gerald," she declared. "The
sea has gathered, and the sea will hold its own."
Hamel held out his hand to Esther.
"I have destroyed the only house in the world which I possess," he
said. "Come and look for violets with me in the spinney, and let
us talk of the houses we are going to build, and the dreams we
shall dream in them."
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