The Vanished Messenger
Richard Hame1, although he certainly had not the appearance of a person afflicted with
nerves, gave a slight start. For the last half-hour, during which time the train had made no
stop, he had been alone in his compartment. Yet, to his surprise, he was suddenly aware
that the seat opposite to him had been noiselessly taken by a girl whose eyes, also, were
fixed with curious intentness upon the broad expanse of marshland and sands across
which the train was slowly making its way. Hamel had spent a great many years abroad,
and his first impulse was to speak with the unexpected stranger. He forgot for a moment
that he was in England, travelling in a first-class carriage, and pointed with his left hand
towards the sea.
"Queer country this, isn't it?" he remarked pleasantly. "Do you know, I never heard you
come in. It gave me quite a start when I found that I had a fellow-passenger."
She looked at him with a certain amount of still surprise, a look which he returned just as
steadfastly, because even in those few seconds he was conscious of that strange selective
interest, certainly unaccounted for by his own impressions of her appearance. She seemed
to him, at that first glance, very far indeed from being good-looking, according to any of
the standards by which he had measured good looks. She was thin, too thin for his taste,
and she carried herself with an aloofness to which he was unaccustomed. Her cheeks
were quite pale, her hair of a soft shade of brown, her eyes grey and sad. She gave him
altogether an impression of colourlessness, and he had been living in a land where colour
and vitality meant much. Her speech, too, in its very restraint, fell strangely upon his ears.
"I have been travelling in an uncomfortable compartment," she observed. "I happened to
notice, when passing along the corridor, that yours was empty. In any case, I am getting
out at the next station."
"So am I," he replied, still cheerfully. "I suppose the next station is St. David's?"
She made no answer, but so far as her expression counted for anything at all, she was a
little surprised. Her eyes considered him for a moment. Hamel was tall, well over six feet,
powerfully made, with good features, clear eyes, and complexion unusually sunburnt. He
wore a flannel collar of unfamiliar shape, and his clothes, although they were neat
enough, were of a pattern and cut obviously designed to afford the maximum of ease and
comfort with the minimum regard to appearance. He wore, too, very thick boots, and his
hands gave one the impression that they were seldom gloved. His voice was pleasant, and
he had the easy self-confidence of a person sure of himself in the world. She put him
down as a colonial - perhaps an American - but his rank in life mystified her.
"This seems the queerest stretch of country," he went on; "long spits of sand jutting right
out into the sea, dikes and creeks - miles and miles of them. Now, I wonder, is it low tide
or high? Low, I should think, because of the sea-shine on the sand there."
She glanced out of the window.
"The tide," she told him, "is almost at its lowest."
"You live in this neighbourhood, perhaps?" he enquired.
"I do," she assented.