The Story: A young Londoner,
Hector Court, answers an advertisement for a secretary “who must be physically fit." He goes down to Monk’s Mount, Hoddesdon, Herts, where he meets a Mr. Absalom who subjects him, to a series of physical tests and offers him the position.
Hector secures à few days for consideration. ,
The next day, dining at a Mrs.
Baxter’s, he meets Anthea Reichert who, he learns, lives at Monk’s Mount. She begs Hector not to accept the position offered him by Mr. Absalom. However he disregards her warning and takes up residence at the eerie house. Absalom shows him his laboratory. Initis a giant installation “tike a sentry box.” In this contrivance Absalom places a live guinea pig, turns a switch and the animal disappears.
Absalom is visited by a Bulgarian prince, Dimitri, a very old man over whom Absalom has some strange hold. The night of Dimitri’s arrival Absalom is hurt—superficially—but he is greatly perturbed.
The next morning Dimitri seems to have regained his youth. Mrs.
Baxter arrives from London and at dinner the same evening Absalom announces that he is one hundred years old. Dimitri reveals his great age and Mrs. Baxter has a similar story to tell.
■.. Hector reveals to Anthea his love for her. Absalom learns of the avowal and summons the lovers to his laboratory. He tells them that he is tired of working with middle-aged clients and desires to perpetuate a perfect union of. youth^without stain or physical flaw.
Hector urges Anthea to marry him but she points out that if Absalom’s experiment of perpetuation is carried out, they will be as the other clients—weary, incapable of love.
Also she tells her lover that if Absalom is balked in his plens his clients will die. Absalom and Mrs. Baxter have an interview in which the former explains that he is weary of selling life to his clients. He declares that Maktai, his cat, is weary of life, and destroys it as he did the guinea pig.
Absalom tells Hector that in the event of his marriage with Anthea he purposes leaving them his fortune oj several million pounds sterling. Hector is anxious to know if he and Anthea submit themselves to Absalom’s experiments, will their love remain unchanged? Absalom evades the question but demonstrates his power by an experiment with the ape, Siak.
WHEN Mrs. Baxter’s car rolled past the lodge of Monk’s Mount next morning, it was as though a nightmare had been lifted. Never did an engine run with half so comforting a note, and Hector’s spirits rose with a leap. The whole thing, he argued obstinately, was not true, and even if it had been, he proposed to forget it for such time as the gods allowed. How wonderful to be free and so near Anthea ! She and Mrs. Baxter had Dimitri between them, and she was able to watch him from her corner without defection. Her eyes were bright, and she, too, seemed to have put aside the weight of life.
Mrs. Baxter was in good form, but with something
about her that one perceived as new. She was perhaps less quick and brilliant, but gentler, more sympathetic.
She seemed less high-strung. Her face was thoughtful but not anxious. In a word, she was less of the hostess and more of the woman.
Dimitri, embarking on another six months lease of life, was in high spirits. He effervesced, joked constantly, and it was clear that he regarded the affair of the young people as being settled, and approved of the world in general.
They were well on their way to town when Mrs. Baxter, who had been rather silent, nodded with sudden decision.
“Paul, I have changed my plans and decided there
will be no dinner dance tonight.” “Mon dieu, Sarah, but what have we all done?”
“Nothing, old friend, but I have seen a great light. In those days— don’t be anxious, Paul, I’m not going to dwell on your past; but when you were in love, did the idea of a dinner dance—or whatever it was called then—appeal to you?” The old eyes twinkled brightly. “But no—certainly it did not—nor anything so public. On the contrary I had a little diner à deux with the adored one. I remember several of those small affairs, in particular, one on a terrace that overlooked the Mediterranean. We dined by moonlight, and the sea was like lace where it kissed the shore below us. When I had drunk to the one opposite, my glass shivered on the Rocher Rouges far, far down. It was,. I assure you, all quite perfect.”
“Of course it was, and I seem to recall that a glass or two has been broken in my honor. Now I’m going to be rather rude and very truthful. You and I, Paul, are too old for these youngsters. I shall turn them loose in London.” Anthea gave a little gasp of pleasure. “Really!”
“Certainly, and the head of the school needn’t know anything about it. Well, Hector?”
“Gad, you know, if it doesn’t sound frightfully rude, it would be most awfully decent of you.” “There, Paul, listen to that. At his age you’d have kissed my hand and paid a thousand compliments you didn’t mean, while he just says it’s frightfully decent.”
“But, yes, I heard it. In other words he says you are ‘top-hole’ or an egg which is good, in fact, anything so that he does not say you are charming and thoughtful and the most kind woman in the world. He means something like that— yes—but why not say what one means? Eh, Twenty-five, tell me? It will help my understanding.” “Well, sir, isn’t it rather one of the things one leaves to—er—not exactly the imagination, but—er— any woman of the right sort would get it.”
“ Nom dt dieu! but you English are a Chinese puzzle. To me it seems that your language is made up of the things you do not say.” He laughed and gave Anthea’s arm an affectionate little pinch. “Bucharest—you will come to Bucharest. So many difficulties young Twentyfive raised one after the other, but now they are at an end. I will not consider anything else.”
Anthea smiled at him, equal even to this. How little he knew of the truth. And what if he did know. She was conscious of Mrs. Baxter’s little gesture.
“It would be wonderful,” she said.
He talked on, needing no listeners, caught up in a spontaneous Latin gaiety. Mrs. Baxter, occupied with her own thoughts, interjected only an occasional word, while the other two maintained a speechless interchange, perfectly understood on both sides. Then London, old and unchangeable, with its drone of work, its hurrying crowds, and pulsations of millions of hearts.
They reached St. James’ Square. In the hall Mrs. Baxter handed Hector a latchkey.
“Breakfast is when you ring for it. I don’t suppose you’ll be here for lunch or dinner, either of you. I’ll be in for tea, and that’s all. Take one of the cars when you want it, with or without the chauffeur. And, Hector,” here she lowered her voice, “what about money? Now, don’t be the idiot and say the usual thing. It’s nothing to me, and you know it, and I want that girl to have a wonderful time.”
“You’re a trump,” he said, “but I’ve got enough, really.”
“Well, I’m putting you up at the Embassy in case you want it.”
“Thanks just the same—but not the Embassy.”
THE two escaped at once. Walking in a sort of dream, they turned into Piccadilly, their reflections in shop windows seeming more real than themselves.
“There’s one thing,” he said gravely, “that I want to put to you.”
“And Absalom. Neither he nor we can guard against accident.”
“But, Hector, we agreed not to talk about that.”
“We did, but it’s too much of a contract till I empty my mind.”
“Hector, this is the first walk I’ve ever had alone with a man in London.”
“You blessed darling. Been much with Mother B?” “Not often, and I’ve never heard her called that before. Isn’t she kind?”
“We all swear by her—that is my lot. That’s my club, with the big chairs in the windows. In one of them is the chap I wrote to about Palmer, that billiard champion. Look here, you dearest of girls, we’re just beating the air. I haven’t any small talk and never had. How long does Absalom give us in town?”
“It couldn’t be more than three days at the outside.” “Then for every waking moment of that three days I’m going to make love to you. While I’m asleep—and we won’t waste much time sleeping—I’ll dream about you.”
“Darling,” she whispered, “is it wise?”
“Wisdom,” he announced stubbornly, “has no attractions for me. I only know, see and feed one thing—which is you.”
"Hector, you mustn’t look at me like that in the street! People are smiling; and some of them have known you—I could see that.”
“Oh, my dearest, let ’em smile. 'T will do ’em good— and they need it. There ain’t enough smiles on Piccadilly, but too many sneers.”
“But, Hector, you’ll be asked about me, afterward. I’m only saying it for your sake.”
“Afterward! I thought we were cutting that out.”
“One can’t — quite,” she admitted.
“Whatever one says comes round to it.”
“Just what I feel. Anthea, there’s one solution.”
He put this with such a sudden hardening of tone and manner that she looked up at him startled.
“Solution—for us !”
He nodded gravely. “Absalom himself!
Suppose he passes over, or is made to pass over—what then !”
She caught at his arm, terrified. “Hector, what are you saying?”
“What I’ve had in mind all morning,” he answered grimly. “Does he mean anything to you—really?”
“He married my mother, and he loved her, and he’s always been kind to me.
Hector, please don’t. You frighten me.”
“And it’s quite possible that he married other women before that. There’s been every opportunity. Oh, my dear, forgive me, but when a man feels as I do, all sorts of things come into his head, and he can’t help it. It’s only since getting away from Monk’s Mount that I’ve been able to think at all, and every time I look at you I think harder.”
HE SPENT the next hour in a strange mood ; at one time very much the lover, at others plunged in a pit of silence out of which he emerged to talk with an odd restraint. They passed many he knew, but he spoke to none, though Anthea would have been glad to meet them. Finally, he became so distrait that she was genuinely anxious. His expression was new to her, but it would have been correctly interpreted at any ringside.
She turned to look at a shop window when Hector encountered a fresh-faced young man with very bright blue eyes, yellow hair, perfectly cut clothes, and an
air that was misleadingly ingenuous. He refused to be “Might do—been there lately?”
ignored. “I extricated myself at precisely four this morning.
“Greetings, 0 Hercules! What dost thou in this busy ’Twas a small gathering in memory of my great aunt, mart of mortals when we thought thou wert in seclusion Dear old thing, I wish she’d been triplets. Now, Anthea, in Hertford?” forget about this low down youth and devote yourself to
“Ass!” said Hector promptly. “Anthea, this is Mr. your host. Right about—trot!”
Marchant, erstwhile called Bunny, but better known as
—but no, it’s kinder not to.” 'T'HEY were at a small table in what seemed to Anthea
“Tender-hearted Titan, isn’t he?” smiled Bunny. a very luxurious establishment, when Mr. Marchant “Still strong on billiards, Hec? Look here, the next time turned to the man who stood at his elbow, will you kindly . . .” “Morning again, Theodore. Had a good sleep? You
“There won’t be any next time.” see,” he went on with a grin at his guests, “Theodore
Mr. Marchant swallowed audibly, shot a frankly and I have solved the problem of life in this wicked city admiring glance at Anthea, took off his hat to three by abolishing sleep.” ladies on the other side of Bond Street, stared at the sky, “You’re looking very well, sir.”
and hazarded the opinion that while a large depression “Some day Theodore is going to write his reminis-
was moving south over Iceland there was, fortunately, cences—‘What the Maître d’hôtel saw and didn’t tell— an area of high pressure travelling down the Baltic. till afterward.’ Got a nice melon about you?”
“Bunny,” said Hector, firmly, “stop thinking rot. Theodore crooked a finger, and there was produced a When there’s anything to tell, you’ll be told.” prodigious thing, yellow and pink, smelling of a thousand
“Ladies and gentlemen, we thank you! Meantime gardens. It had ripened under the sun of Africa, been would you both condescend to break a crust with me. packed lovingly in oiled paper and fibre, and come from My great aunt went aloft last week, rest her thoughtful Paris that day by air.
soul. The loot will not be divided till next month, just to “H’m—looks promising—and some of those birdlets
give the lawyers a chance, but meantime I’ve had a talk —you know—the ones with the Scotch accent.” with her banker—not mine, oh, certainly not mine— “Very good, sir. Twenty minutes.”
and found him unusually affable—for a banker. So you “Time is nothing to us today. Then, I think, a salad
may order what you like, and no questions raised.” with Theodore dressing, a spot of Camembert—and, oh,
“Shall we?” asked Hector. “His appearance is against cream cheese for the lady—there are reasons for that him, but he’s quite sane, and I read in a book that he’s —Turkish coffee by the party in the green pantaloons rather well connected. On which side, Bunny?” —and the wine list, especially the wine list. Anthea, help
“Before the Courts were, the Marchants are. Fact is, a chap out. I don’t know what you drink in HertfordAnthea, his ancestors used to wash for mine, but since shire.” he’s grown up I’ve hesitated to dwell on that. Well, do “Cider,” she laughed.
we or do we not eat?” “Too utterly bucolic, my dear. I had it once—at
“What did you call me?” she laughed. school. Hec, remember that Chateau Yquem?”
“You’re the only Anthea I know. Hector, you may Hector rolled his eyes,
unclasp your repulsive fists. Anthea, if you’ll have tea “Theodore, we go no farther—except the. usual pre-
with me somewhere, I’ll put you wise about this—this liminary. A shade more ice in one of them—reasons for
behemoth. Permit me to say that you look ignorant of that, too. Go to it, my son.”
the truth.” He glanced about the room, nodded to several people,
“Did you or did you not suggest lunch?” interrupted then fixed his eyes on the door.
Hector. “Did you or did you not brag about some “Who’s the interestin’ gent just coming in with deceased relative? If you were talking through your Mother B?”
hat you’d better come with us. I want a word with you Hector looked round. Mrs. Baxter stood at the anyway.” entrance with Dimitri, deliberating about a table. She
“She was quite an old dear, Hec, really she was. You saw them, smiled, hesitated, and touched the old
certainly grub with me, and we’ll devour something Bulgarian’s arm. He, too, looked, nodded, and also
suitable to the occasion. Where, Anthea?” hesitated. They exchanged a word,' then both laughed
“Anywhere,” she smiled, finding his gaiety very and went out, with Theodore gesticulating at their heels, infectious. “I don’t know London at all well.” Mr. Marchant gave a low whistle. “What’s up, Hec?
“What about Butchard’s?” Why all this evasion?”
“Dunno,” he said awkwardly. “Anthea and I are staying with her, and perhaps they thought . . . Well, look here, where’s that cocktail?”
Bunny felt intensely intrigued. Both staying with Mother B! Significant ! Hector given up his rooms! Again significant! He stole a glance at Anthea. Her cheeks were pink. His other guest was examining the ceiling decorations.
“If I’m not being offensive, do you mind telling me who the foreign party is? At a guess I’d say he knows his way about town.”
“Count Dimitri, of Sofia —friend of Mother B’s,” said Hector curtly.
“Also from Hertfordshire?” “He’s been staying with my stepfather,’’ put in Anthea quickly. “We all came up together this morning.”
Bunny fondled his smooth chin. A very quick instinct told him that there was more in this than met the eye, but Hector’s manner rather cramped one’s style. Yet there was between him and this girl something one could hardly mistake. The more notable this, it being the first time for Hector. Mr. Marchant, therefore, decided on another line.
“Funny thing happened about Mother B the other day,” he said casually. “I was sitting beside an old bird at the club. Didn’t know him, but found out afterward that he’d been in the diplomatic service. Must have been nearly ninety, and walked with two sticks. Well, we were looking out of the window at the sinful crowd, when who passes but Mother B.
“She stopped to talk to someone right opposite, and I heard the old boy give a gasp. His eyes were simply bulging. Then he gripped my arm and asked if I knew who that was. With my natural politeness I told him. He screwed up his face, squinted at her again, shook his head, and said it wasn’t possible. Now what do you suppose he meant by that?”
“Go on,” said Hector, aware that Anthea was sitting very still.
“It was the curiousest thing you ever heard of. He said he’d known her in Mexico City forty years ago— only her name wasn’t Baxter then, but—what was it —Wiltbank. I allowed that she would be about twenty then, and not married, p’r’aps, but he wasn’t having any of that. Said she was the same to a hair then as she is now—same way of lifting her head and using her hands when she talked. I gave a gentle guffaw, but, friends, he was perfectly sober, and hadn’t had a drink all day. What do you reckon happened next?”
“This ancient bird jumps up, grabs his sticks, and hobbles out with no hat on. He makes a little bow, and introduces himself. Mother B gives a bit of a start right enough, then freezes solid. She wasn’t having any either. He gets the glassy eye, and she walks on rather fast. He came back and fell into his chair, a bit pink and blown, with the queerest look in his eye, but more cocksure than ever. I asked him how such a thing could be. He didn’t know or care, but said he was ready to bet his socks on it, or words to that effect. He asked me for her address, and he being a pukka gent I referred him to the telephone book. I've got his card, Sir Joshua Anthony, with a lot of hieroglyphics after it. Now what do you make of that, Hec? Anthea, your melon is begging to be eaten and the birdlets are nearly ready. Mustn’t keep ’em waiting, my girl.”
“I don’t make much of it,” said Hector cheerfully. “The old boy was a bit gaga, that’s all.”
“He was no more gaga than I am this minute, and it’s started me thinking. Unusual, I admit, Anthea, but I’ve thunk and thunk, and what’s come to the top of the stew is rather interestin’.”
Hector caught Anthea’s glance and knew that her thoughts had moved in a new direction. Queer to watch someone, a stranger to the girl till today, feeling his way toward the extraordinary truth without dreaming what that truth was. Then he heard Bunny again, this time in a distinctly injured tone.
“I suppose—p’r’aps—young couples in Hertfordshire stop eatin’ every now and then to—ahem—devour each other, but it ain’t done in metropolitan circles. Or p’r’aps Anthea don’t like me guessin’ about Mother B. Tell me, and get it over. Theodore, the young lady doesn’t like the melon. Take it away.”
Anthea grasped her plate. “But I like it very much. Please go on—it’s delicious.”
“My little tale or the melon? However! What came to the top of the stew is this: no one knows anything about Mother B, or where she came from; or when the late departed did depart, or anything about him. I ain’t criticizing—she’s been too good to me for that—but it’s darned interestin’. Now I’ve a giddy idea that that old bird was right—can’t tell you why, but I feel it—an’ maybe she hasn’t changed a hair in forty years. That’s what got his goat. Well, you admit the possibility that she’s found out how to stay put, and is keeping it to herself as any she-male would, and you get something, don’t you? Specially if you throw in that Dimitri johnny. P’r’aps he’s in the know, too. And here come the birdlets minus their Scotch accent. Makes ’em more digestible. Your turn, Hec.”
Hector had listened with a sort of fascination. He knew that this young man had an unfailing instinct for social affairs, a never satisfied curiosity, and an uncanny memory.
Once on the trail of something he called interestin’, he stayed on it till completely satisfied. And it was prob able that he would stay on this one.
What if he did, and through him the truth came out? At once it was clear that nothing better could happen— the penetration of something very human, healthy
and normal, into a situation that from this London angle appeared more merciless and unnatural than ever. It gave positive relief to think of Absalom confronted by Bunny. But, thought Hector grimly, he himself was sworn to silence.
“Bit wild, old sport, all that—if you ask me. But supposing for the sake of argument it was true—what then?”
“What then! Great Scott, she’d have unearthed the biggest thing in the world—that’s all. Phew! Theodore, how long have these little winged visitors of ours been suspended?”
“Five days, sir.”
“H’m, I hope I won’t be like this after five days suspense. Come on, Hec, and contribute somethin’ to my theory.”
“It seems fantastic enough without me.”
Bunny shrugged his shoulders, and applied himself to his grouse. Like all properly educated people, he respected grouse and did not propose to slight this one. Also it gave him opportunity for some quick thinking. Something was up. He felt sure of that, and reasoned thus:
Hector went to be private secretary to a scientist in Herts—Hector who would make about as dud a secretary as one could imagine! Ergo—what kind of a scientist was it, and what could Hector do for him? Hector wrote up about a long dead billiard sharp called Palmer. Why? A week’s silence, and Hector reappears with a fetchinglooking maiden, which was a new line for him. Ergo they were in love. The mere thought of Hector in love was earthshaking. No explanation offered. Why? With Hector and the girl come Mother B and the Dimitri chap. What were they doing in Herts? Mother B knew this girl. How? The girl had a stepfather. Ergo, the stepfather was the scientist Mother B went to see—also Dimitri. Again why? On top of this he piled the event in the club window, and immediately it appeared that here was something worthy of the closest attention. And that brought him to the legs of his grouse.
“You and the birdlet agree fairly well, Anthea?” he smiled.
“It’s awfully good—much nicer than pheasant.”
“They have different natures, that does it. Remember Mother B’s shoot in Perthshire two years ago, Hec.?
“Get any down your way?”
“Plenty of birds, but the place isn’t shot enough.’ They’re too tame—won’t get up.”
“Like killin’ the family hens, if you ask me. Does your stepfather shoot much, Anthea?”
“Not at all,” she said nervously. “It’s just for his friends. Dimitri is wonderful with a gun, isn’t he, Hector?”
“Beats anything I ever saw.”
“Stepfather do any writin’, Anthea? I’d like to get his books, being minus myself on science,” he said this in the most casual manner possible.
“N-no—probably he keeps notes but I’ve never seen them.”
Bunny had made his first score and did not flicker an eyelid. Glancing at Hector he observed that that young man’s jaw projected in a degree
unnecessary for mastication. Ergo, the ice was thin. Ergo, no more leading questions at the moment.”
“We miss you, Hec, in our quiet little circle,” he remarked thoughtfully. “It used to be quite nice, Anthea. In summer one could go to Lords and watch him punish the fast bowlers: in winter time we’d make a happy excursion to Whitechapel or Spitalfields to see him knock out some misguided thug weighing about a ton. Now it’s all changed. Isay?
“If I were to drift down to your shop some day and help Hector slaughter some of those tame pheasants, do you suppose the scientist step-papa would want to electrocute me?”
She gave a sharp exclamation, staring at him, eyes round, the most startled girl in the world. Hector made a queer noise, fork arrested midway to an open mouth. He seemed petrified.
“Who—who told you about . . .?” The rest hung unfinished in the air.
“Look here, Bunny,” cut in Hector a shade roughly, “I can’t very well explain, but would you mind focusing your intellect on something else. Sorry, old boy, but please drop it—that stepfather business.”
Mr. Marchant actually blushed, which was for him a very unusual thing.
“Anthea, I think I told you that I left this house of degustation at four this morning. My brain evidently has not cleared yet. I abase myself, and you may walk on me. Not you, Hec. Know what my father said when he saw me first?”
“What?” she smiled, mastering her confusion.
“Asked my mother what he had done to deserve it. She took it the wrong way, and was pleased, but I saw it—later on. Now I commend this salad—especially the dressing. Theodore dreamed how to make it, and hasn’t slept since. Going to be in town long, Hec?”
“A couple of days.”
“Do a theatre tomorrow, you two, and I’ll bring Cherry Cotton. She got disentangled from that blighter Fillimore last week, and feels better already. Then we might shake a foot in some low dive. I found three new ones in one night.”
“It’s awfully kind of you,” said Anthea, “but ...”
“Kind to myself,” he put in hastily. “Well, next time you’re up we’ll fix it. Here come the green pantaloons with the coffee.”
He chatted away about everything except what moved in his exceptionally busy brain. Several things he proposed to do. Dig up what he could about Mrs. Baxter. Wangle another talk with Sir Joseph. And, most important, take a run down to Herts and have a look round for himself. He ached for a glimpse of the stepfather scientist.
Hector, sipping his coffee, was of two minds. Aware that he did not think rapidly himself, he saw in Bunny an invaluable ally—if it were only possible. Bunny, despite his dégagé manner, was very sharp and alert, and would find a way out of this mess—if there was one. His nose was already to the ground; he had the scent and
was not likely to lose it.
“Well, wemust be off. Thanks for the lunch.” “Wasn’t so foul after all. Dropping into the club, Hec?”
‘ ‘Possibly — tomorrow afternoon—can’t tell just yet. Are you ready, Anthea?” Pulling on her gloves, she sent Bunny a special smile.
“Thanks so much, and it’s been delightful. I’m so glad to meet Hector’s best ...” she hesitated, blushing a little. “I wish I could ask you down to Monk’s Mount, but my stepfather is such a recluse. Perhaps later on.”
Bunny put his hand to his heart. “I live for later on. So long, Hec. Continued on page 32
Continued, from page 22
Theodore, have you a billet doux for me?” They left him talking to the maître d’hôtel and walked up by Berkeley Square, both rather silent. Presently, Anthea roused herself with an effort. “Where are we going now, dear?” “Wherever you like. Try a picture?” “If you like. Wasn’t it strange about Mr. Marchant—and how did he know?” “My dear, he didn’t, till you gave it away. Now he’ll ferret the rest of it out for himself. Exactly the sort of thing that appeals to him most.”
“And if he should!”
“I haven’t reached that far, yet, but anything might happen. The trouble is I can’t tell him a word—nor you. But he’s just the sort to call at Monk’s Mount out of sheer curiosity.”
She tried to picture that, and felt lost. “Supposing he did,” continued Hector seriously. “Absalom would see through it at once. Then what?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“Anything might happen. He might be shown the door, or if Absalom was really angry he’d suspect me, and Bunny might be let in for something.”
“Then won’t you tell him to keep away,” she said nervously.
“The very thing to make him come— you don’t know him. Matter of fact we can’t do anything but wait. Something’s going to happen—I feel that.”
“Hector, I don’t think I want to go to a cinema.”
“Then we’ll toddle back to St. James’ Square, and I’ll explain why I love you,” he grinned.
They retraced their steps, he giving her hand a series of little squeezes that filled the interval very expressively. They were forty yards from the big house when he pulled up short.
“I say, what do you make of that?”
A taxi had stopped opposite Mrs. Baxter’s, and there got out an old gentleman using two sticks. He reached the pavement with extreme care, paid the driver, and made a shaky progress to the door. Here he stood for a moment before pressing the bell. He wore formal morning dress, a top hat, and looked physically very feeble. The door opened, and he went in.
“Well,” said Hector with a long breath, “there’s the beginning of something new —and very very—old.”
Dear Sarah, I refuse to be forgotten, so for the sake of the years that were, see me for a little while.—J.A.
This in a fine, very tremulous script on the back of a visiting card, the corner of which was turned down.
Mrs. Baxter sat looking at it in a sort of daze, her eyes cloudy with thoughts—• so many, many thoughts. The years that were! That was more than forty years ago, before she left Mexico City. And Joseph still remembered!
It had been a sad little affair because he was married, and she, even then, considered herself too old to marry again. But they had loved each other in a voiceless fashion, and she longed that she might have discovered him sooner. Then she had moved on, choosing one city after another in which, under a changed name, she was least likely to meet her former friends. And till four days ago she had managed to evade them all.
Now, knowing what she did, and having accepted the inevitable, she was a different woman and not the one who had been terrified at meeting the old diplomat on Piccadilly. So she gave a little sigh, sent word that she would be down in a few moments, and made herself as attractive looking as possible. But she felt like a whited sepulchre.
When she reached the door of the great drawing-room, she stood for an
instant, smiling, and came forward, both hands outstretched.
“Ah, Joshua, I hoped that you might come; but what must you think of me?” He bent very low, and she felt the touch of his dry lips.
“My dear Sarah, the day of miracles is not past. Let me be frank and say that you are the greatest of all. Four days ago I was amazed: today I am dumfounded. May I go back a little?”
“Forty-three years ago we said goodby in Mexico City. Have you slept since then?”
“Not more than one usually sleeps— perhaps not as much.”
“Then how do you do it?”
“My little secret. Have you forgiven me for disowning you in public?”
“A natural thing, considering how aged I look myself. You feared I would claim you as a contemporary. Your reception today obliterates that.”
“You were always gallant, Joshua. You won’t ask me to explain, will you?”
“My dear,” he said gently, “have I ever asked for anything—except remembrance?”
That moved her very much. Her eyes became moist, and he took her hand, patting it lightly, affectionately.
“Forgive my part of what happened. I saw you, suddenly, from the club window, and was—well—stupefied. It seemed
incredible, yet it was you—your manner —your lift of the head —your smile. I was told by the man next me—a Mr. Marchant, I learned later—that ...”
“Yes, I know him, he often comes here.” “Then, of course, he knew—that you were Mrs. Baxter That I denied, but he persisted, so I rushed—no, I cannot exactly rush—I hurried out. You were with a friend, and I interrupted. Again forgive me. Y ou were quite right in what you did, since you are not Mrs. Wiltbank any longer. Of course you remarried.” “No,” she murmured, “I did not marry again.”
He seemed lost for a moment, then smiled apologetically.
“Really, Sarah, this morning I cannot speak without committing a faux pas. I heard that you left Mexico City the year after I did. Have you been back there since?”
“No, Joshua, not once. It was rather wonderful in those days, was it not, with Porfirio Diaz taking the reins? He understood the people, and they understood a dictator.”
“It was picturesque, to say the least. You remember how the Alameda looked after sunset when the lamps were lighted and ...”
“And the chinampas, those floating gardens on Lake Chaleo, and the fountains in the Plaza, and, Joshua, those wonderful evenings when we used to dine at the old Palacio and watch the mountain reflections in Texcoco. They were miles and miles away, those mountains.” “They seem very far off now,” he said quietly. “The years reveal things in their true perspective, eh, Sarah? And what have you done with yourself ever since? Is one permitted to ask that?”
“My dear, I’ve travelled till I’m done with travelling.”
“One does tire—alone.”
She nodded, very conscious of the lingering expression in his eyes. How beautifully he had grown old!
“One year after we left Mexico City my wife died. I waited another year, then began to look for you. I could not find you anywhere, and indeed found but few who had the name of Wiltbank. You see, my dear, I thought that perhaps if you still cared you might ...”
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 32
>Her lips trembled. Suddenly she took his hand, pressing it hard.
“You looked for me!”
“Yes, Sarah, I looked for some years, till I myself had—well—I could no longer be considered the least eligible. But that was long ago. We had much in common, you and I, and always between us was a bond. You understand?”
The truth enveloped and almost choked her. Her heart nearly stopped. In that arduous campaign to defeat destiny when she changed her name and abode every few years, she had been running away from the one man she had really loved in all her life. And the man was free, and loved her, too!
“I wish you had found me,” she whispered unsteadily.
“My dear, I did all I could, then assumed that the worst must have happened. I heard once or twice of a woman who from description was very like you, but the name was different. And so . . .”
They looked at each other, these two, and the tears ran unchecked down Mrs. Baxter’s cheeks, dropping on their clasped hands. He frowned a little, brushed them away, then smiled.
“There—again another faux pas. I should not have said anything of this, but seeing you so exactly as you used to be brought it all back. Ah, my dear, who can tell? The years make no impression on you, while I, if I can compass another ten months—and my heart, which is the danger point, holds out—shall be ninetyone. So I see things in, perhaps, rather a tender haze. I am far too old for love, Sarah, but can lay my devotion at your feet—for the very first time. Strange that one should have to wait so long before saying that.”
“It’s very sweet of you to say it at all.”
1 He looked about the big drawing-room, then at her.
“You entertain much here, I assume?” “There’s nothing else left to do, is there?”
“And you live alone here?”
“I’m hardly ever alone. Count Dimitri is here for a few days. You know him?” “I know of a Prince Dimitri: Sofia, isn’t it?”
“Yes; he’s incognito in England. And I have two young friends up from the country.”
“You maintain your old hospitality. Will you be in London long?”
“Always—now—at least always in England. I’m not going to travel any more. Where are you living?”
“At Aix, the climate there is equable and easy for me. I had to come to London to see my solicitors; otherwise I should never have found you.”
“And looking back at life as—as one does, you are content—you don’t want any more of it? Tell me what you feel about that. You’re wise, you’re experienced, you know the world as few men do.”
“My dear, do you ask me for a valedictory?”
“Not at all, but I always respected your opinion.”
I He nodded affectionately. “May one who feels so old offer it to one who looks so young?”
“I’m as old as you are, Joshua, within a year or two.”
“That is true—but how amazing! You have stood still while I moved on. Do not be anxious, your secret is not asked, but on the whole I think it well that it is not shared by us all.”
“Why?” she said very earnestly. “Tell me why.”
“Because, my dear, it would be unfair to youth—for one thing. Youth has its own inalienable rights and expectations. It has its visions, its consciousness of growing powers, and the natural impatience that springs from youth.”
“Go on,” she begged.
“I can speak freely because neither you nor I have children, but I have talked with many who feel hurt about theirs. Let us suppose that I prolong my life unnaturally.”
He glanced at her with unconcealed surprise. “Such a thing is not possible —is it?”
“Let us suppose it is—I want to hear what is in your mind.”
“Then if I had children, I would be robbing them of their heritage; I do not mean money, but their place in the world —in society. This world is not arranged to accommodate living antiques, and weak hands should not cling to that which ought to be in strong ones. No, Sarah, I ask for no more than my share of years. A little work—a little love—a little dreaming —you know how it goes et puis, bonsoir—” “Then you are content?” she whispered. “The more for having found you again. If I—if I ...” he hesitated, leaning back in his chair with a sudden flush in his thin cheeks. He put his hand to his side. “Joshua! What’s the matter? Quick!” “Could I have a mouthful of brandy?” he murmured. “It’s only a reminder that I’ve received a bit more than my share.” She ran to a bell, and in a moment was putting a glass to his lips.
“You look awfully gone. Oh why didn’t you send a message? I’d have come to you.”
“I thought it would be more convenient for you if I called. One could not do less.” She caught her breath at that. Would she have come had he sent for her before today? It was only last night that her eyes were opened by the vision of youth and love at Monk’s Mount. And here was extreme and gallant old age giving her the same lesson! What a selfish fool she had been for the last fifty years!
“Joshua, that was too dear of you, but it must never happen again. Where are you staying in London?”
“I have rooms in Clarges Street.” “With no one to look after you?” “Everyone is most kind, Sarah. The rooms are warm, the servants have rather adopted me, and it is but a few steps from my club.”
“Perhaps—but you’re not going back. You’ll stay here, and I’ll send for your things. Oh, my dear, don’t fight—it’s all settled. ’T will be as kind a thing as you ever did in your life, and I know what I’m saying.”
He turned a little pink, and looked
“The convenances—but no—how absurd ! Sarah, you are very kind, and I would love to come.”
“Good! And, Joshua, you can do a lot
“I welcome the privilege. Suggest something.”
“Teach me to grow old like you,” she said under her breath.
ANTHEA did not see her hostess again that day, and, casting away all thought of the future, the two had a wonderful evening. She loved dancing with Hector, loved his arms being round her. It was in the small hours that they got back to St. James’ Square, and standing in the dimly lighted hall he held her for a long time.
“It’s been quite perfect, Hector. I shall always remember it.”
“We’ve got two whole days yet, darling.”
“I know, but don’t let us think of that. Did you like dancing with me?”
He answered with lips and eyes. Then, after a little silence: “Things are changing, dearest of girls.”
“You feel that?”
He nodded. “I don’t feel so hopeless.”
“Can’t explain, unless it’s that we seem
in touch with other influences—wider— bigger ones. I suppose it’s London. Absalom doesn’t seem so omnipotent from here.”
“Things haven’t changed there, Hector.”
“I’m not so sure of that. You said once that what was unnatural couldn’t go on indefinitely.”
“Did I? What is there to prevent him from going on?”
He had no answer to that, but seemed nevertheless oddly comforted. After a long clinging good night she went to her room. On her dressing table was a note.
“Come and see me when you get in, if it’s before three o’clock. I never sleep till then. S.B.”
She slipped on something loose, tapped at Mrs. Baxter’s door, and found her sitting up in bed, a book at her side. “Well, child; had a good time?”
“It was just perfect.”
“So glad. Tired? You don’t look it.” “Not a bit. I didn’t want to stop, but Hector made me.”
“A sensible youth, that.”
“You see I never had an evening like that before. The music was just right, and I loved every minute of it.”
“It seems to agree with you. If you’re not careful you’ll be considered a beauty. About Butchard’s today—you understood didn’t you? You three young things looked so cheerful that we didn’t want to be reminders of anything else, so moved on. By the way, another friend has come to stay with me. I’d be glad if you’d dine here tonight and meet him. Why not do that, then go and dance afterward?1’ “Of course we will. Who is it?”
For the next few moments she sat very still, while Mrs. Baxter talked, her eyes very soft, stopping now and then with a reminiscent sigh. The manner in which she told the story, the lingering affection in her voice, and above all the profound calm she displayed, moved the girl deeply. There was no complaint—only regret for those wasted years and à complete acceptance of what so soon must come to her.
“You see how futile it all has been on my part,” she concluded, and no doubt the same with all the others of Absalom’s circle—only they won’t admit it. Dear old Paul is bluffing most of the time. As for me, there was this delightful, courtly, high-minded man, not much past middle age—you’ll see for yourself what an old dear he is now—looking for .me year after year. I thought I was winning, but was only defeating myself. I had hidden so well that the thing I wanted most could not find me.”
“How terribly sad.”
“My dear, it was all my own fault. When I saw him four days ago I was dreadfully frightened. It was like someone rising from the dead to say that I should have joined them before now. He would not be diverted, because, you see, he loved me once—and does yet— only he doesn’t call it love now. So he came here this afternoon and is going to stay, though he doesn’t know that yet. He can’t live long either, Anthea, and we’re both lonely. So it will just be a matter of us two old things keeping each other company by the fire as long as we can. We’ll poke the ashes of other days.” “I think that’s too beautiful for words,” said Anthea softly. “What a darling he must be!”
“He is—with the manners of a courtier —and not a bit like Paul.”
“The Count doesn’t know anything about it, does he?”
“No, my dear, and he never will.” “But won’t it be awkward when'they meet?”
“I’ve considered all that, and there’s a great deal that Paul does not know about me. He will only see a very fine, gallant old man who has nothing in the world to conceal, and doesn’t ask more than his fair share of years. I hope that perhaps that will help Paul when he realizes what’s
coming. And, oh, there’s another man for dinner.
“Really?” Anthea looked very puzzled. “You needn’t be nervous. Doesn’t he know that you and Hector are with me?” “Yes, I told him.”
“Then as matters stand today, it’s much better that he should come.”
“Mrs. Baxter, he’s awfully inquisitive about us and Monk’s Mount.”
“What made him so?”
Anthea told her, and she was distinctly impressed.
“Well, my dear, that young man is nobody’s fool, and about as sharp as they make them. He simply worships Hector. Of course you let nothing out?”
“Nothing whatever, though, somehow, I don’t know yet how he did it; he got very near the truth—or part of it. Then Hector diverted him rather sharply. He took that awfully well, but I could see that he was thinking hard all the time.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Bunny Marchant does something quite unexpected,” said the old lady shrewdly. “But we needn’t worry about that yet. Now go to bed and dream about Hector. I’m rather afraid I’ll be having visions of Sir Joshua. Try and keep happy, child—will you?”
“I am happy,” said the girl. “Isn’t it queer, but I feel as though something were being healed.”
“How long have you felt that?”
“It began when we started to London— that’s only sixteen hours ago. It seems that so much has happened since.”
Mrs. Baxter nodded. “My dear, it’s something the same with me. I shouldn’t be surprised if the affairs of our little lives were getting into stronger and wiser hands. Perhaps they’re invisible hands.”
AT TEN o’clock that morning, Mr.
Marchant, attired not with his customary perfection, but in a rusty blue suit and linen not exactly spotless, descended from his rooms in South Audley Street, and cast a critical eye on a car at the curb.
This was not any ordinary conveyance, being very long, very low, higher in front than behind, with a dark-green body, bright yellow wire wheels, and a general aspect of indecent speed. The dash was festooned with every conceivable gadget, the radiator cap surmounted by a bronze maiden in scantier raiment than is countenanced even on the Lido.
Bunny put his sleek head on one side and addressed a neatly clad young man who stood at attention close by.
“Mornin’, Perks. Did you change those carburetors?”
“I did, sir.”
“I got another mile and a half out of her at Brooklands yesterday.”
“H’m—everything full up?”
“It is, sir.”
“I’m going—really—up to Hertford. Anybody asks for me, and you tell ’em I’ve gone to Brighton. Understand?” “Perfectly, sir.”
Bunny surveyed him with a critical eye. Had there been the faintest possible smile, the man would have been fired on the spot. Perhaps he knew that. He did not smile.
“I expect to be back from Brighton in three hours and will lunch at the club. Meet me there.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And, I say, Perks?”
“What do you make of these clothes?” Perks looked a shade nonplussed. “If I may say so, sir, I didn’t think they were your clothes.”
“Good for you — put that in your pockets. Ha ! darned good.”
He inserted his comfortable length, lying so nearly horizontal that his blue eyes were just above the steering-wheel. The car gave a series of raucous explosions that might have been heard at Hyde Park Corner.
“Valves sound rather good,” he grinned. “I reground ’em yesterday, sir, before going to Brooklands.”
“Bully ! So long, Perks.”
“Good journey, sir.”
The car slid forward and was immediately lost to sight.
Mr. Marchant thereupon gave himself up to the dual occupation of driving and thinking. He did both equally well, and one process seemed to help the other. He shot past other cars, wedged himself silkily into openings in the traffic, vas first away when the white armlet waved forward, and last to pass ere the signal came against him.
Manoeuvring thus rapidly into the Great North Road, he planned his tactics at Monk’s Mount. There were a lot of half-formed ideas in his capable young head, but nothing crystallized. All turned on what he found when he got there. The main point was that Hector, the good old sportsman, had become snarled up in some queer affair, and, seemingly, could not do much to help himself. Neither was he free to talk. That was enough for Bunny.
Getting clear of the thick of the traffic, he opened out, and the green racer roared northward. At Barnet his number was taken. At Hatfield he grazed by an inch a dogcart containing two elderly and speechless maiden ladies. In Hertford he made a skidding right angle turn on two wheels and had a slight altercation with a bus driver. Then, remembering the postmark on Hector’s letter, he headed southeast toward Hoddesdon.
He was whizzing parallel to a long brick wall when he pulled up to interview a boy in a butcher’s cart.
“Monk’s Mount—where is it?”
The boy jerked a thumb at the wall. “Mr. Absalom’s place—t’other side of yon.”
“Absalom! Ah—yes.” He had never heard that name before. Absalom—the scientist stepfather! Was it Absalom something, or something Absalom? He tossed the boy a coin and drove on to the lodge. The gates were closed and he blew an insolent blast. The gnome toddled out.
“Mr. Court in?” asked Bunny, regarding him with startled attention.
The bowed head twisted round, and the suspicious old eyes peered up at him.
“Be you come to see Mr. Court?” “Certainly—here’s my card.”
It was taken by the clawlike hand. Bunny waited, staring at the curved misshapen back and crooked legs of this caricature.
“Mr. Court ain’t here. He went up to Lunnon yestiddy—all of ’em went except Mr. Absalom hisself.”
“Jove—then I’ve missed him. Mr. Absalom in now?”
“He’s alius in.” This with a cackling laugh.
“Well, I’ve a message for Mr. Court—■ it’s important. Got his address?”
“He didn’t leave none with me. Ask Hervey—he’s the butler.”
“Then I’ll go up.”
The iron gates swung back with a strident squeak and the car passed in without a sound. Once out of sight of the lodge, Bunny took out another card, nodding approvingly. He put it back in his pocket, stopped the car, got out and walked on, kicking up fat pheasants every few yards, till Monk’s Mount with its unadorned, unsuggestive front came in sight.
Staring hard at the house, he proceeded very deliberately, and seeing that the front windows were unoccupied, photographed the place in a retentive brain. He noted the new wing, the height of windows from the ground, slope of roof, number of chimneys, width of front lawn and distance of nearest cover. By thé time this was finished he had reached the door.
Just as he did so, there came faintly but quite clearly a sound at which he stiffened. It was a snarling cough, quite different from any country sound, and certainly not made by any country animal. Nor by any man. Listening acutely, he heard it again.
In that moment he remembered where and when he had heard it last. Then he rang.
Hervey opened the door.
“Is Mr. Absalom in?”
“He is, sir, but not at liberty. Hervey observed the young man’s attire and his voice was a shade casual.
“Could he give me a few moments?” “I think not, but I could take any message. He is very busy today.”
Bunny took out his cardcase. “Give him that, will you, with my compliments.” Hervey took the pasteboard. “Mr. Hughes, of the Evening Tribune.”
“That’s what it says, isn’t it. Haven’t given you someone else’s?”
“No, sir, but Mr. Absalom doesn’t see gentlemen from newspapers.”
Bunny measured the man with an experienced eye, missing nothing of his subservient manner and the oblique look in his eyes. He reopened his case.
“Put this in your pocket—it’s for—er— local charities—and fix matters. You might tell Mr. Absalom that I’ve called in the interests of science. If you manage it, I’ll do as much more. See?”
Hervey felt the unmistakeable crispness of a fiver, and nodded hastily.
“One minute, if you please, sir. I’ll do what I can.”
He disappeared, leaving Bunny occupied as before, eyes and brain very busy. Hall, mainstairs, passage along which the man had gone, an Indian servant visible at the other end of the hall, the bare waiting-room. This was where Hector was supposed to work—this was where Hector’s girl lived—where Mrs. Baxter and the old Bulgarian visited. Why? A thousand times why? And what was Absalom doing with an anthropoid ape?
Hervey came back in a few moments, his expression brighter.
“This way, sir, if you please.”
The further transaction took place, and he opened a heavy baize-covered door.
“Mr. Hughes of the Evening Tribune, sir.”
Bunny summoned all his nerve, and glanced at the strangest looking man he had ever seen.
“Sit down, Mr. Hughes; I have but a moment to give you.”
"Thank you, Mr. Absalom.”
“May I ask the object of the visit?” The vertical brows went up a little.
“Well, sir, you are a scientist, and the Evening ...”
“How do you know that—it interests me.”
“Well, sir, every live paper knows a lot more than most people imagine. I don’t know where my chief gets his dope, but I’d like to interview you if . . .”
“I do not give interviews.”
Bunny smiled engagingly into the dry gray eyes. “Not on a matter of science, Mr. Absalom?”
“There are many branches of science; to which do you refer?”
The young man, anticipating this question, had been far busier than his appearance would lead anyone to assume. He had absorbed the general character of the room, the terrestrial globe, and the fact that there were several ponderous volumes at Absalom’s elbow. On the back of one of these he could just see the title.
“The most important of all, siranthropology.”
Absalom gave a slight but noticeable start, and drummed his white fingers. He, too, was thinking hard. Safety— seclusion—-he must preserve these at all costs. This reporter was undoubtedly alert, and the Tribune might have caught a whisper of something—somewhere. Court? No; he had appraised Court too well to fear a leak there.
He weighed the point coolly, critically. To deny everything, to bluff, and send this man away empty and unsatisfied— that was one thing. But not knowing what information the Tribune had, it might be dangerous. Another was to talk Continued on page 48
Continued from page 46 to the man—judging by his appearance there was no science there—humor him— give him generalities—and if possible start him along some misleading trail.
That would be the most satisfactory and—yes—scientific way, and he looked faintly amused at the thought of it. Then another thought—why not be very bold indeed. The name of Voronoff was on the book beside him. That was the line. Voronoff!
“It is a big subject,” he conceded calmly, “but to treat of it in a newspaper article is out of the question.”
“A few remarks would be very welcome, sir. Fact is I’m trying to arrange for a series of articles from various men of science. Anything you care to say about any experiments, for instance? That always gets the public, successful or not. Dr. Voronoff may give me something,” he added hopefully.
“Voronoff is all wrong,” snapped Absalom.
“Splendid! That’s the stuff to hand ’em. Please go on.”
Absalom hesitated a moment. The thing had slipped out and could not be unsaid. He had meant to talk broadly about Voronoff and leave the matter wide open. Now he could only make the best of it.
“That gentleman holds that by transplanting a certain gland from the higher type of ape into man, he can reinvigorate the man. It may be possible—most things are—but is not yet proved to the scientific world. I hold that in doing this, one would probably transplant also the apish instinct.”
“Phew!” exclaimed Bunny. “Bit thick that, isn’t it?”
“You might call it so. My investigations, however, take a different direction. I think that Voronoff has begun at the wrong end. I have met some of his patients and they seem to me not normal.” “Getting a shade apelike themselves, sir?”
“I would not go so far as that. I said not normal.”
Bunny leaned forward and spoke very earnestly.
“Might I see your ape, sir?”
The man with the chemical face felt a little chill. His heart slowed. How much did this reporter know; where had he got it? Hervey? Impossible ! The Indian servants? No! }It behooved one to be exceedingly careful.
“My ape,” he repeated; “what an extraordinary question!”
Bunny exhibited every sign of embarrassment. “Well, sir, I—er—assumed that you might have one about somewhere.” Now the case containing Siak had arrived by night direct from Liverpool in a lorry, and Absalom was assured that no individuals in England other than the household servants and a few of his clients knew of the brute’s existence. The cage had been built beforehand by workmen from London, and every possible secrecy observed in the whole affair.
“Your assumptions are wrong,” he said coldly. “My work lies in my laboratory. Would you care to see that?”
“Lie number one,” reflected Bunny, and nodded briskly.
Absalom rose with deliberation and opened a door. It was not, Observed the young man, the one so massively bolted.
“Are you anything of a chemist or physiologist, Mr. Hughes?”
“If I were, sir, I wouldn’t be what I am,” replied Bunny with complete truthfulness. “What I don’t know about it would fill a book.”
“Then it would be pointless for me to try and explain this apparatus; but ask any questions you like.”
The blue eyes examined this chamber with an astonishment concealed with difficulty. The expression was that of puzzled admiration, but Bunny, in his turn, felt the presence of something forbidding and dangerous. He followed the rows of glittering cylinders with their
multi-colored fluids and gases, then rivetted his attention on the great glass dome.
“Gad, sir, do you mind telling me what that is?”
“An experimental chamber for mixing various gases in various proportions. These are for the purpose of making respiration tests.”
“Lie number two,” thought the visitor, who seemed more stupid than ever. “Tricky sort of job, isn’t it, for the subject?”
“There is no danger whatever. Would you like to sit there for a minute. I am not likely to take risks with The Evening Tribune,” he added satirically.
“Some other time, if I may,” said Bunny hastily.
“I thought you newspapermen were ready for anything. Would it not add to the interest of your article?”
“The article will be all right, sir.”
“To allay any ridiculous suspicions on your part, I may say that my Indian servants undergo the tests constantly. This helmet is for the same purpose. You might care to try that?”
He took an oblique look at the glass dome and shivered inwardly. And the air in this laboratory! Had it or had it not an odd taste. He thought he heard the muffled stroke of machinery in motion. What was that for? What gave Absalom that dead-and-alive look. Had he no blood? Was his hair real? How old was he?
A multitude of formless questions leaped at the young man, so that he began to feel confused and a little nervous. Everything here was queer. Queer sort of butler, but, he reflected, purchasable. Queer servants—especially if this man made experiments on them in that glass cage. Queer stepfather for Anthea Reichert. Queer employer for Hector, and did he propose to experiment on his secretary?
“A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Hughes,” said the toneless voice. “Will you try the helmet—it’s about your size?” Bunny came to himself with a jerk. “Awfully kind of you, but—er—not this morning. ’Fraid I’ve taken up too much of your time already, sir.”
“Not at all. I’m sorry not to have been more use to you. Shall we go back to the study?”
“Most interestin’, I assure you, but rather beyond me,” said Bunny, following with alacrity. “You see,” he went on, “every now and then we reporters get up against something that beats us.”
“I can quite believe that.” Absalom seated himself at the big table, glanced at a sheet of paper in front of him, crumpled and dropped it into the basket. “I fear that you have not found at Monk’s Mount what you expected.” He smiled a shade contemptuously. “Is that it?”
This, possibly, was not irony. On the other hand it might be Absalom’s way of intimating that he was perfectly aware that this visit was a bluff. Impossible to judge by that face exactly what he meant, and Bunny felt an increasing desire for open air.
“No, sir, it isn’t that, because I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to put the matter of the article to you. From what I’ve seen, I’d certainly make a mess if I tried to write it myself.”
“That is quite possible.”
The visitor grinned at him. “You got me cold there. Well, shall we leave it this way—you put something together, and the fee will be twenty-five guineas for about a thousand words of anything you care to say?”
“The Tribune is too generous, but I’ll think the matter over, Mr.—Mr. Hughes —isn’t it?”
“Hughes—yes—J. M. Hughes.”
“Well, Mr. Marchant, the next time you are kind enough to call, don’t hesitate to drive up to the front door. Good morning.”
To be continued