The visitor offered no acknowledgment to this flattering effusion; his long fingers rubbed one another softly. He looked at the table, the window, anywhere save at the proprietor of the establishment, then said: “I saw by an advertisement in the morning papers that you had severed your connection with the force and had opened this—a private consultation bureau.”
“Quite so!” The other looked momentarily embarrassed. “A little friction—account of some case—unreliable witness that got tangled up—They undertook to criticize me, after all my faithful service—” He broke off. “Besides, the time comes when a man realizes he can do better for himself by himself. I am now devoting myself to a small, but strictly high-class,” with an accent, “clientele.”
Lord Ronsdale considered; when he spoke, his voice was low, but it did not caress the ear. “You know John Steele, of course?”
The ferret eyes snapped. “That I do, your Lordship. What of him?” quickly.
The caller made no reply but tapped the floor lightly with his cane, and—“What of him?” repeated Mr. Gillett.
Lord Ronsdale’s glance turned; it had a strange brightness. His next question was irrelevant. “Ever think much about the Lord Nelson, Gillett?”
“She isn’t a boat one’s apt to forget, after what happened, your Lordship,” was the answer. “And if I do say it, her passengers were of the kind to leave pleasant recollections,” the police agent diplomatically added.
“Her passengers?” The caller’s thin lips compressed; a spark seemed to leap from his gaze, but not before he had dropped it. “Among them, if memory serves me, were a number of convicts?”
“A job lot of precious jailbirds that I was acting as escort of, your Lordship!”
“But who never reached Australia!” quickly.
“Drowned!—every mother’s son of them!” observed Mr. Gillett, with a possible trace of complacency. “Not that I fancy the country they were going to mourned much about that. I understand a strong sentiment’s growing out there against that sort of immigration.”
The visitor’s white hand held closer the head of his cane; the stick bent to his weight. “Were they all drowned, by the way?” he observed as if seeking casual information on some subject that had partly passed from his mind.
“No doubt of it. They were not released until the second boat got off, and then there was no time to get overboard the life rafts!”
“True.” Lord Ronsdale gazed absently out of the window, through a film, as it were, at a venerable figure below; one of the species helluo librorum standing before a book-stall opposite. “Recall the day on that memorable voyage you were telling us about them—who they were, and so on?”