And she did, unreasoningly, mechanically; one flight, two flights! The steps were well worn; how many people had walked up and down here carrying burdens with them. Poor people, crime-laden people! Before many doors, she saw other signs, “Barristers.” And of that multitude of clients, how many left these offices with heavy hearts! In that dim, vague light of stairway and landings she seemed to feel, to see, a ghostly procession, sad-eyed, weary. But Captain Forsythe had said that John Steele had helped many, many. Her own heart seemed strangely inert, without life; she stood suddenly still, as if asking herself why she was there.
Near his door! About to turn, to retrace her steps—an illogical sequence to the illogical action that had preceded it, she was held to the spot by the door suddenly opening; a man—a servant, broom in hand—who had evidently been engaged in cleaning one of the chambers within, was stepping out! In surprise he regarded her, this unusual type of visitor, simply yet perfectly gowned. A lady, or a girl—patrician, aristocratic to her finger-tips; very fair, striking to look upon! So different from most of the people who came hither to air their troubles, to seek assistance.
“You wished to see Mr. Steele?”
For an instant the servant’s words and his direct, almost challenging look held the girl. Usually self-contained as she was, she felt that perhaps he had caught some fleeting expression in her eyes, when at his abrupt appearance she had lifted them with a start from the brass letters. The proud head nodded affirmatively to the inquiry.
“Well, you can be stepping into the library, miss,” said the man. “Mr. Steele is engaged just now; but—”
“That is just it,” she said, straightening. “My uncle is with him, and I wished to see—”
“If you will walk in,” he said. “You can wait here.”
Jocelyn on the instant found no reason for refusing; the door closed behind her; she looked around. She stood in a library alone; beyond, in another chamber, she heard voices—her uncle’s, John Steele’s.
* * * * *
PAST AND PRESENT
And yet those tones were not exactly like John Steele’s; they sounded familiar, yet different. What made the difference? His recent illness? The character of what he was saying, the fact that he represented himself, not another, in this case? He was speaking quickly, clearly, tersely. Very tersely, thought the girl; not, however, to spare himself; a covert ring of self-scorn precluded that idea.
“Those boxes contained books; yours, Sir Charles!” were the first words the girl caught.
“Mine! Bless my soul!” Her uncle’s surprised voice broke in. “You don’t mean to tell me that all those volumes I had boxed for Australia and which I thought lost on the Lord Nelson came ashore on your little coral isle?”