The Vanished Messenger HTML version

Chapter 9
Mr. Fentolin, surrounded by his satellites, was seated in his chair before the writing-table.
There were present in the room most of the people important to him in his somewhat
singular life. A few feet away, in characteristic attitude, stood Meekins. Doctor Sarson,
with his hands behind him, was looking out of the window. At the further end of the table
stood a confidential telegraph clerk, who was just departing with a little sheaf of
messages. By his side, with a notebook in her hand, stood Mr. Fentolin's private secretary
- a white-haired woman, with a strangely transparent skin and light brown eyes, dressed
in somber black, a woman who might have been of any age from thirty to fifty. Behind
her was a middle-aged man whose position in the household no one was quite sure about
- a clean-shaven man whose name was Ryan, and who might very well have been once an
actor or a clergyman.. In the background stood Henderson, the perfect butler.
"It is perhaps opportune," Mr. Fentolin said quietly, "that you all whom I trust should be
present here together. I wish you to understand one thing. You have, I believe, in my
employ learned the gift of silence. It is to be exercised with regard to a certain visitor
brought here by my nephew, a visitor whom I regret to say is now lying seriously ill."
There was absolute silence. Doctor Sarson alone turned from the window as though about
to speak, but met Mr. Fentolin's eye and at once resumed his position.
"I rely upon you all," Mr. Fentolin continued softly. "Henderson, you, perhaps, have the
most difficult task, for you have the servants to control. Nevertheless, I rely upon you,
also. If one word of this visitor's presence here leaks out even so far as the village, out
they go, every one of them. I will not have a servant in the place who does not respect my
wishes. You can give any reason you like for my orders. It is a whim. I have whims, and I
choose to pay for them. You are all better paid than any man breathing could pay you. In
return I ask only for your implicit obedience."
He stretched out his hand and took a cigarette from a curiously carved ivory box which
stood by his side. He tapped it gently upon the table and looked up.
"I think, sir," Henderson said respectfully, "that I can answer for the servants. Being
mostly foreigners, they see little or nothing of the village people."
No one else made any remark. It was strange to see how dominated they all were by that
queer little fragment of humanity, whose head scarcely reached a foot above the table
before which he sat. They departed silently, almost abjectly, dismissed with a single wave
of the hand. Mr. Fentolin beckoned his secretary to remain. She came a little nearer.
"Sit down, Lucy," he ordered.
She seated herself a few feet away from him. Mr. Fentolin watched her for several
moments. He himself had his back to the light. The woman, on the other hand, was facing
it. The windows were high, and the curtains were drawn back to their fullest extent. A
cold stream of northern light fell upon her face. Mr. Fentolin gazed at her and nodded her
head slightly.
"My dear Lucy," he declared, "you are wonderful - a perfect cameo, a gem. To look at
you now, with your delightful white hair and your flawless skin, one would never believe
that you bad ever spoken a single angry word, that you had ever felt the blood flow
through your veins, or that your eyes had ever looked upon the gentle things of life."