“Good luck in your business!” she found herself saying, half-gaily, half-ironically.
He answered, hoarsely, something—what?—rode off. With color flaming high, the girl looked after him until Lord Ronsdale’s horse, clattering near, caused her to turn quickly.
* * * * *
The book-worms’ row, hardly a street, more a short-cut passage between two important thoroughfares, had through the course of many years exercised a subtle fascination for pedant, pedagogue or itinerant litterateur. At one end of the way was rush and bustle; at the other, more rush and bustle; here might be found the comparative hush of the tiny stream that for a short interval has left the parent current. Dusty and musty shops looked out on either side, and within on shelves, or without on stands, unexpected bargains lay carelessly about, rare Horaces or Ovids, Greek tragedies, ponderous volumes of the golden age of the English poets and philosophers. Truth nestled in dark corners; knowledge lay hidden in frayed covers and beauty enshrined herself behind cobwebs.
Not that the thoroughfare, in its entirety, was devoted to books; nor that it housed no other people than bibliomaniacs or antiquarians! Higher, above the little shops, small rooms, reached by rickety stairways, offered quiet corners for divers and sundry gentlemen whose occupations called for discreet and retired nooks.
In one of these places, described on the door as “a private, confidential, inquiry office,” sat, on the morning following John Steele’s ride in the park, a little man with ferret-like eyes at a dusty desk near a dusty window. He did not seem to be very busy, was engaged at the moment in drawing meaningless cabalistic signs on a piece of paper, when a step in the hallway and a low tapping at the door caused him to throw down his pen and straighten expectantly. A client, perhaps!—a woman?—no, a man! With momentary surprise, he gazed on the delicately chiseled features of his caller; a gentleman faultlessly dressed and wearing a spring flower in his coat.
“Mr. Gillett?” The visitor’s glance veiled an expression of restlessness; his face, although mask-like, was tinted with a faint flush.
The police agent at once rose. “The same, sir, at your service; I—but I beg your pardon; unless I am mistaken—haven’t we—”
“Yes; a number of years ago on the Lord Nelson,” said the caller in a hard matter-of-fact tone. “We were fellow passengers on her, until—”
“We became fellow occupants of one of her small boats! An aging experience! But won’t you,” with that deference for rank and position those of his type are pleased to assume, “honor me by being seated, Lord Ronsdale?”
As he spoke, he dusted vigorously with his handkerchief a chair which his caller, after a moment’s hesitation, sank into; Mr. Gillett regarded the one he himself had been occupying; then, in an apologetic manner ventured to take it. “Your lordship is well? Your lordship looks it. Your lordship was, last I heard, in Australia, I believe. A genuine pleasure to see your lordship once more.”