“I?” A singular glint shot from Steele’s gaze. “No, no, my man, I’m not seeking him for that. But he didn’t say where he expected to go?”
“Nor what had brought him to London?”
“I expect it was ’omesickness, sir. ’E’s been a bad lot, but ’e has a heart, arter all. It was to see ’is mother ’e came back; the old woman drew ’im ’ere. You see ’e had written ’er from foreign parts, but could never ’ear; ’cause she had moved; used to keep a place where a woman was found—”
“Murdered!” said the man; John Steele was silent. “And she, ’is mother ’ad gone, ’aving saved a bit, out into a peaceable-like little ’amlet, where there weren’t no bobbies, only instead, bits of flower gardens and bright bloomin’ daffy-down-dillies. But, blime me, when Tom come and found out where she ’ad changed to, if she ’adn’t gone and shuffled off, and all ’e ’ad for ’is pains was the sight of a mound in the churchyard.”
“Yes; she’s buried,” said John Steele thoughtfully, “and all she might have told about the woman who was—murdered, is buried with her.”
“But she did tell, sir; at the time,” quickly, “of the trial.”
“True.” The visitor’s tone changed. “If you can find Tom, give him this note; you’ll be well paid—”
“I ain’t askin’ for that; you got me off easy once and gave me a lift, arter I was let out—”
“Well, well!” Steele made a brusk gesture. “We all need a helping hand sometimes,” he said turning away.
And that was as near as he had come to attainment of his desires.
Summer passed; sometimes, the better to think, to plan, to keep himself girded by constant exercise, he repaired to the park, now neglected by fashion and given over to that nebulous quantity of diverse qualities called the people. Where fine gentlemen and beaux had idled, middle-class nurse-maids now trundled their charges or paused to converse with the stately guardians of the place. Almost deserted were roads and row; landau, victoria and brougham, with their varied coats-of-arms, no longer rolled pompously past; only the occasional democratic cab, of nimble possibilities, speeding by with a fare lent pretext of life to the scene. True, the nomad appeared in ever increasing numbers, holding his right to the sward for a couch as an inalienable privilege; John Steele encountered him on every hand. Once, beneath a great tree, where Jocelyn Wray and he had stopped their horses to talk for a moment, the bleared, bloated face of what had been a man looked up at him. The sight for an instant seemed to startle the beholder; a wave of anger at that face, set in a place where imagination had an instant before played with a picture altogether different, passed over him; then quickly went.