Outwardly his manner had become unconcerned, collected; he listened to Sir Charles’ jokes, offered casual comments of his own. He even performed his wonted part in relieving the tedium of a long journey with voluntary contributions to conversations on divers topics in which he displayed wide and far-reaching knowledge. He answered the many questions of his companion on the different habits of criminals; how they lived; the possibilities for reforming the worst of the lot; the various methods toward this end advocated by the idealist. These and other subjects he touched on with poignant, illuminating comment.
Sir Charles regarded him once or twice in surprise. “You have seen a deal in your day,” he observed, “of the under world, I mean!” John Steele returned an evasive answer. The nobleman showed a tendency to doze in his seat, despite the jolts and jars of the way, and, thereafter, until they arrived at Strathorn the two fellow travelers rode on in silence.
This little hamlet lay in a sleepy-looking dell; as the driver swung down a hill he whipped up his horses and literally charged upon the town; swept through the main thoroughfare and drew up with a flourish before the principal tavern. Sir Charles started, stretched his legs; John Steele got down.
“Conveyance of any kind here, waiting to take us to Strathorn House?” called out the former as he stiffly descended the ladder at the side of the coach.
The landlord of the Golden Lion, who had emerged from his door, returned an affirmative reply and at the same time ushered the travelers into a tiny private sitting-room. As they crossed the hall, turning to the right to enter this apartment, some one in the room opposite, a more public place, who had been furtively peering through the half-opened door to observe the new-comers, at sight of John Steele drew quickly back. Not, however, before that gentleman had caught a glimpse of him. A strange face, indeed,—but the fellow’s manner—his expression—the act itself somehow struck the observer,—unduly, no doubt, and yet—A moment later this door closed, and from beyond came only a murmur of men’s voices over pots.
“Trap will be in front directly, Sir Charles,” said the landlord lingering. “Meanwhile if there is anything—”
“Nothing, thank you! Only a short distance to Strathorn House,” he explained to John Steele, “and I fancy we’ll do better by waiting for what we may require there. But what is the latest news at Strathorn? Anything happened? Business quiet?”
“It ’asn’t been so brisk, and it ’asn’t been so dull, your Lordship, what with now and then a gentleman from London!”
“From London? Isn’t that rather unusual?”
“Somewhat. But as for your lordship’s first question, I don’t know of any news, except Squire Thompson told me to inform your lordship he would have the three hunters he was telling your lordship about, down at his stud farm this afternoon, and if your lordship cared to have a look at them—”