“I didn’t think of that, sir; but I suppose there is something in your way of looking at it, and as there isn’t much chance of getting them, anyhow, without any clue, or description—” his voice died away.
Walking quickly up the steps John Steele opened the door, murmured a perfunctory “Good night” and let himself in. But as he mounted to his chambers, some of the moment’s exultation that had seized him at sight of the man, revived.
“He has come back—he is here—in London. I surely can lay hands on him—I must! I will!”
* * * * *
A CHANGE OF FRONT
HE found the task no easy one, however, although he went at it with his characteristic vigor and energy. Few men knew the seamy side of London better than John Steele: its darksome streets and foul alleys, its hovels and various habitations. And this knowledge he utilized to the best advantage, always to find that his efforts came to naught. The snares he set before possible hiding-places proved abortive; the artifices he employed to uncover the quarry in maze or labyrinth were fruitless. The man had appeared like a vision from the past, and vanished. Whither? Out of the country, once more? Over the seas? Had he taken quick alarm at Steele’s words, and effected a hasty retreat from the scenes of his graceless and nefarious career?
Reluctantly John Steele found himself forced to entertain the possibility of this being so; otherwise the facilities at his command were such that he should most likely, ere this, have been able to attain his end, find what he sought. Soberly attired, he attracted no very marked attention in the slums,—breeding spots of the criminal classes; the denizens knew John Steele; he had been there oft before.
He had, on occasion, assisted some of them with stern good advice or more substantial services. He was acquainted with these men and women; had, perhaps, a larger charity for them than most people find it expedient to cherish. His glance had always seemed to read them through and through, with uncompromising realization of their infirmities, weaknesses of the flesh and inherited moral imperfections. His very fearlessness had ever commended him to that lower world; it did now, enabling him the better to cast about in divers directions.
To hear nothing, to learn nothing, at least, very little! One man had seen the object of Steele’s solicitude and to this person, a weazened little “undesirable,” the red-headed giant had confided that London was pretty hot and he thought of decamping from it.
“‘Arter all this time that’s gone by,’ he says to me, bitter-like, ’to think a man can’t come back to ’is native ’ome without being spied on for what ought long ago to be dead and forgot!’ But you’re not trying to lay hands on ’im, to put ’im in the pen, gov’ner?”