The Vanished Messenger
The little station at which Hamel alighted was like an oasis in the middle of a flat stretch
of sand and marsh. It consisted only of a few raised planks and a rude shelter - built,
indeed, for the convenience of St. David's Hall alone, for the nearest village was two
miles away. The station-master, on his return from escorting the young lady to her car,
stared at this other passenger in some surprise.
"Which way to the sea?" Hamel asked.
The man pointed to the white gates of the crossing.
"You can take any of those paths you like, sir," he said. "If you want to get to Salthouse,
though, you should have got out at the next station."
"This will do for me," Hamel replied cheerfully.
"Be careful of the dikes," the station-master advised him. "Some of them are pretty deep."
Hamel nodded, and passing through the white gates, made his way by a raised cattle track
towards the sea. On either side of him flowed a narrow dike filled with salt-water.
Beyond stretched the flat marshland, its mossy turf leavened with cracks and creeks of all
widths, filled also with sea-slime and sea-water. A slight grey mist rested upon the more
distant parts of the wilderness which he was crossing, a mist which seemed to be blown
in from the sea in little puffs, resting for a time upon the earth, and then drifting up and
fading away like soap bubbles.
More than once where the dikes had overflown he was compelled to change his course,
but he arrived at last at the little ridge of pebbled beach bordering the sea. Straight ahead
of him now was that strange-looking building towards which he had all the time been
directing his footsteps. As he approached it, his forehead slightly contracted. There was
ample confirmation before him of the truth of his fellow-passenger's words. The place,
left to itself for so many years, without any attention from its actual owner, was neither
deserted nor in ruins. Its solid grey stone walls were sea-stained and a trifle worn, but the
arched wooden doors leading into the lifeboat shelter, which occupied one side of the
building, had been newly painted, and in the front the window was hung with a curtain,
now closely drawn, of some dark red material. The lock from the door had been removed
altogether, and in its place was the aperture for a Yale latch-key. The last note of
modernity was supplied by the telephone wire attached to the roof of the lifeboat shelter.
He walked all round the building, seeking in vain for some other means of ingress. Then
he stood for a few moments in front of the curtained window. He was a man of somewhat
determined disposition, and he found himself vaguely irritated by the liberties which had
been taken with his property. He hammered gently upon the framework with his fist, and
the windows opened readily inwards, pushing back the curtain with them. He drew
himself up on to the sill, and, squeezing himself through the opening, landed on his feet
and looked around him, a little breathless.
He found himself in a simply furnished man's sitting-room. An easel was standing close
to the window. There were reams of drawing paper and several unfinished sketches
leaning against the wall. There was a small oak table in the middle of the room; against
the wall stood an exquisite chiffonier, on which were resting some cut-glass decanters
and goblets. There was a Turkey carpet upon the floor which matched the curtains, but to
his surprise there was not a single chair of any sort to be seen. The walls had been