“’Private mem.—House in bad neighborhood, near the Adelphi catacombs. Son of landlady, red-headed giant, also one-time prize-fighter, used to live here; the Pet’s last fight in the ring was with him. Later Tom took to the road; was wanted by the police at the time of the crime for some brutal highway work—’ But,” breaking off, “I am wearying your lordship. Here is what I was especially looking for, the markings on the arm of the ’Frisco Pet. Perhaps, however, your lordship doesn’t care to listen further—”
“Go on!” The words broke sharply from the visitor’s lips; then he gave a metallic laugh. “I am interested in this wonderful system of yours.”
Mr. Gillett read slowly: “’On the right arm of the ’Frisco Pet, just below the elbow, appears the figure of a man, in sparring attitude, done in sailor’s tattooing; about the waist a flag, the stars and stripes in their accustomed colors; crudely drawn but not to be mistaken by noting following defects and details—’ which,” closing the book, “I won’t read.”
His lordship’s head had turned; at first he did not speak. “A good system,” he remarked after an interval. “And a very good description, and yet—” His voice died away; for a moment he sat motionless. “But my purpose—the purpose of my visit—I—we have wandered quite from that. Let us, I beg of you, talk business.”
Mr. Gillett started as if to venture a mild expostulation, but thought better of the impulse. “What is your lordship’s business with me?” he observed in his most professional tone.
“I believe”—the visitor moistened his lips—“I believe I mentioned—John Steele when I came in?”
“Your lordship did.”
“I am all attention, your Lordship.” Mr. Gillett’s manner was keen, energetic; if he felt surprise he suppressed it. “Good! your lordship’s business concerns John Steele.”
“For reasons that need not be mentioned, I want to find out all I can about him. That, I believe, is the sort of work you undertake. The terms for your services can be arranged later. It is unnecessary to say you will be well paid. I assume you can command competent and trustworthy help, that you have agents, perhaps, in other countries?”
Mr. Gillett nodded. “If your lordship would give me some idea of the scope of the inquiry—”
The long fingers opened, then closed tightly.
“In the first place, you are to ascertain where John Steele was before he came to England; how he got there; what he did. Naturally, if he has lived in a far-away port you would seek to know the ship that brought him there; the names of the captain and the crew.”
“Your lordship thinks, then, our investigation may lead us to distant lands?”
“Who can tell?” The nobleman’s voice was sharp, querulous. “That is what you are to find out.”
“It shall be done, your Lordship,” replied the other quickly. “I shall embark in the matter with great zest, and, I may add, interest.”