She made a movement; the little fingers crumpled the message; then one of them thrust it within her glove. She continued to sit motionless, how long? The small boat, with sail at the bow and plodding oar at stern, at length drew out of sight; the paper made itself felt in her warm palm. Why did not her uncle return? He had been gone some time now; what—what could detain him?
“Can you drop in at my chambers for a few minutes?” John Steele had written. “A few minutes;” the blue eyes shone with impatience. He was leaving London, Captain Forsythe had informed her; and, she concluded, he wanted to see her uncle before he left. But not her, no; she had driven there, however, with Sir Charles, on some light pretext—for want of something better to do—to be out in the air—
“I’ll wait here in the cab,” she had said to her uncle, when he had left it before John Steele’s dwelling. “At least,” meeting the puzzled gaze that had rested on her more than once lately, “I may, or may not wait. If I get tired—if when you come back, you don’t find me, just conclude,” capriciously, “I have gone on some little errand of my own. Shopping, perhaps.”
“Jocelyn!” he had said, momentarily held by her eyes, her feverish manner. “There is something wrong, isn’t there? Hasn’t the time come yet, to tell?”
“Something wrong? What nonsense!” she had laughed.
She recalled these words now, found it intolerable to sit still. Abruptly she rose and stepped from the cab.
“My uncle is gone a long while,” she said to the man, up behind.
“Oh, no, miss; not so werry!” consulting a watch. “A matter of ten minutes; no more.”
No more! She half started to move away; looked toward the house. Brass plates, variously disposed around the entrance and appearing nearly all alike as to form and size, stared at her. One metal sign a shock-headed lad was removing—“John Steele”—she read the plain, modest letters, the inscription, “Barrister” beneath; she caught her breath slightly.
“He certainly is very long,” she repeated mechanically.
“Why don’t you go in and see wot’s detaining of him?” vouchsafed the cabby in amicable fashion as he regarded the hesitating, slender figure. “That’s wot my missus allus does, when she thinks the occasion—which I’ll not be mentioning—the proper one.”
“Third floor to the right, miss!” said the boy, occupied in removing the sign and stepping aside as he spoke, to allow her to pass. “If it’s Mr. Steele’s office you’re looking for! You’ll see ‘Barrister’ in brass letters, as I said to the old gentleman; I haven’t got at them yet; to take them down, I mean.”
“Thank you,” she said irresolutely, and without intending to enter, found herself within the hall. There a narrow stairway lay before her; he pointed to it; with an excess of juvenile solicitude and politeness, boyhood’s involuntary tribute to youth and beauty in need of assistance, he told her to go on, “straight up.”