“You know how to write your name?” His voice was firm, unwavering; the revolver had disappeared from the table and lay now in his pocket.
“All right, gov’ner!” The other spoke with alacrity. “I’m game; a bargain is a bargain, and I’ll take your word for it,” leaning over and laboriously tracing a few letters on the paper. “You’ll do your part. You’ll find me square and above board, although you did use me a little rough. There, here’s your affadavy.”
John Steele moved back to a corner of the room and pulled a wire; in some far-away place a bell rang faintly. “Are——,” he spoke a woman’s name, obviously a sobriquet, “and her daughter still here?”
“Never mind; answer.”
“Yes, they’re here, gov’ner. You’ll want them for witnesses, I suppose. Well, I’ll not be gainsaying you.” His tones were loud; conveyed a sense of rough heartiness; the other made no reply.
Not long after, the paper, duly witnessed, lay on the table; the landlady and her daughter had gone; John Steele only waited for the ink to dry. He had no blotter, or sand; the fluid was old, thick; the principal signature in its big strokes, with here and there a splutter, would be unintelligible if the paper were folded now. So he lingered; both men were silent; a few tense minutes passed. John Steele leaned against the wall; his temples throbbed; the fog seemed creeping into the room and yet the door was closed. He moved toward the paper; still maintaining an aspect of outward vigilance, took it and held it before him as if to examine closer.
The other said nothing, made no movement. When the women had come in, his accents had been almost too frank; the gentleman had called on a little matter of business; he, Tom Rogers, had voluntarily signed this little paper, and they could bear witness to the fact. Now all that profanely free air had left him; he stood like a statue, his lips compressed; his eyes alone were alive, speaking, alert.
John Steele folded the paper and placed it in an inside pocket. The other suddenly breathed heavily; John Steele, looking at him, walked to the door leading to the street. He put his hand on the key and was about to turn it, but paused. Something without held his attention,—a crunching sound as of a foot on a pebble. It abruptly revived misgivings that had assailed him before entering the place, that he had felt as a vague weight while dealing with the fellow. The police agent! Time had passed, too great an interval, though he had hastened, hastened as best he might, struggling with his own growing weakness, the other’s reviving power.