The Vanished Messenger HTML version
Accustomed though he was to the sight which he was about to face, Gerald shivered
slightly as he opened the door of Mr. Fentolin's room. A strange sort of fear seemed to
have crept into his bearing and expression, a fear of which there had been no traces
whatever during those terrible hours through which he had passed - not even during that
last reckless journey across the marshes. He walked with hesitating footsteps across the
spacious and lofty room. He had the air of some frightened creature approaching his
master. Yet all that was visible of the despot who ruled his whole household in deadly
fear was the kindly and beautiful face of an elderly man, whose stunted limbs and body
were mercifully concealed. He sat in a little carriage, with a rug drawn closely across his
chest and up to his armpits. His beautifully shaped hands were exposed, and his face;
nothing else. His hair was a silvery white; his complexion parchment-like, pallid, entirely
colourless. His eyes were a soft shade of blue. His features were so finely cut and
chiselled that they resembled some exquisite piece of statuary. He smiled as his nephew
came slowly towards him. One might almost have fancied that the young man's abject
state was a source of pleasure to him.
"So you are back again, my dear Gerald. A pleasant surprise, indeed, but what is the
meaning of it? And what of my little commission, eh?"
The young man's face was dark and sullen. He spoke quickly but without any sign of
eagerness or interest in the information he vouchsafed.
"The storm has stopped all the trains," he said. "The boat did not cross last night, and in
any ease I couldn't have reached Harwich. As for your commission, I travelled down
from London alone with the man you told me to spy upon. I could have stolen anything
he had if I had been used to the work. As it was - I brought the man himself."
Mr. Fentolin's delicate fingers played with the handle of his chair. The smile had passed
from his lips. He looked at his nephew in gentle bewilderment.
"My dear boy," he protested, "come, come, be careful what you are saying. You have
brought the man himself! So far as my information goes, Mr. John P. Dunster is charged
with a very important diplomatic commission. He is on his way to Cologne, and from
what I know about the man, I think that it would require more than your persuasions to
induce him to break off his journey. You do not really wish me to believe that you have
brought him here as a guest?"
"I was at Liverpool Street Station last night," Gerald declared. "I had no idea how to
accost him, and as to stealing any of his belongings, I couldn't have done it. You must
hear how fortune helped me, though. Mr. Dunster missed the train; so did I - purposely.
He ordered a special. I asked permission to travel with him. I told him a lie as to how I
had missed the train. I hated it, but it was necessary."
Mr. Fentolin nodded approvingly.
"My dear boy," he said, "to trifle with the truth is always unpleasant. Besides, you are a
Fentolin, and our love of truth is proverbial. But there are times, you know, when for the
good of others we must sacrifice our scruples. So you told Mr. Dunster a alsehood."
"He let me travel with him," Gerald continued. "We were all night getting about half-way
here. Then - you know about the storm, I suppose?"