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The Vanished Messenger (Chapter36)

2006-08-22 19:05

  Chapter XXXVI

  Mr. John P. Dunster removed the cigar from his teeth and gazed at the long white ash with the air of a connoisseur. He was stretched in a long chair, high up in the terraced gardens behind the Hall. At his feet were golden mats of yellow crocuses; long borders of hyacinths - pink and purple; beds of violets; a great lilac tree, with patches of blossom here and there forcing their way into a sunlit world. The sea was blue; the sheltered air where they sat was warm and perfumed. Mr. Dunster, who was occupying the position of a favoured guest, was feeling very much at home.

  “There is one thing,” he remarked meditatively, “which I can't help thinking about you Britishers. You may deserve it or you may not, but you do have the most almighty luck.”

  “Sheer envy,” Hamel murmured. “We escape from our tight corners by forethought.”

  “Not on your life, sir,” Mr. Dunster declared vigorously. “A year or less ago you got a North Sea scare, and on the strength of a merely honourable understanding with your neighbour, you risk your country's very existence for the sake of adding half a dozen battleships to your North Sea Squadron. The day the last of those battleships passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, this little Conference was plotted. I tell you they meant to make history there.

  There was enough for everybody - India for Russia, a time-honoured dream, but why not? Alsace-Lorraine and perhaps Egypt, for France; Australia for Japan; China and South Africa for Germany. Why not? You may laugh at it on paper but I say again - why not?“

  “It didn't quite come off, sir,” Gerald observed.

  “It didn't,” Mr. Dunster admitted, “partly owing to you. There were only two things needed: France to consider her own big interests and to ignore an entente from which she gains nothing that was not assured to her under the new agreement, and the money. Strange,” Mr. Dunster continued, “how people forget that factor, and yet the man who was responsible for The Hague Conference knew it. We in the States are right outside all these little jealousies and wrangles that bring Europe, every now and then, right up to the gates of war, but I'm hanged if there is one of you dare pass through those gates without a hand on our money markets. It's a new word in history, that little document, news of which Mr. Gerald here took to The Hague, the word of the money kings of the world. There is something that almost nips your breath in the idea that a dozen men, descended from the Lord knows whom, stopped a war which would have altered the whole face of history.”

  “There was never any proof,” Hamel remarked, “that France would not have remained staunch to us.”

  “Very likely not,” Mr. Dunster agreed, “but, on the other hand, your country had never the right to put such a burden upon her honour. Remember that side by side with those other considerations, a great statesman's first duty is to the people over whom he watches, not to study the interests of other lands. However, it's finished. The Hague Conference is broken up. The official organs of the world allude to it, if at all, as an unimportant gathering called together to discuss certain frontier questions with which England had nothing to do. But the memory of it will live. A good cold douche for you people, I should say, and I hope you'll take warning by it. Whatever the attitude of America as a nation may be to these matters, the American people don't want to see the old country in trouble. Gee whiz! What's that?”

  There was a little cry from all of them. Only Hamel stood without sign of surprise, gazing downward with grim, set face. A dull roar, like the booming of a gun, flashes of fire, and a column of smoke - and all that was left of St. David's Tower was one tottering wall and a scattered mass of masonry.

  “I had an idea,” Hamel said quietly, “that St. David's Tower was going to spoil the landscape for a good many years. My property, you know, and there's the end of it. I am sick of seeing people for the last few days come down and take photographs of it for every little rag that goes to press.”

  Mr. Dunster pointed out to the line of surf beyond. “If only some hand,” he remarked, “could plant dynamite below that streak of white, so that the sea could disgorge its dead! They tell me there's a Spanish galleon there, and a Dutch warship, besides a score or more of fishing-boats.”

  Mrs. Fentolin shivered a little. She drew her cloak around her. Gerald, who had been watching her, sprang to his feet.

  “Come,” he exclaimed, “we chose the gardens for our last afternoon here, to be out of the way of these places! We'll go round the hill.”

  Mrs. Fentolin shook her head once more. Her face had recovered its serenity. She looked downward gravely but with no sign of fear.

  “There is nothing to terrify us there, Gerald,” she declared. “The sea has gathered, and the sea will hold its own.”

  Hamel held out his hand to Esther.

  “I have destroyed the only house in the world which I possess,” he said. “Come and look for violets with me in the spinney, and let us talk of the houses we are going to build, and the dreams we shall dream in them.”

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