But when the innkeeper had taken his departure no further word was said by the nobleman of securities or values; Lord Ronsdale gazed keenly at his companion. Without, the wind swept drearily down the little winding street, and sighed about the broad overhanging eaves.
“Well,” he spoke quickly, “I fancy you have a little something to tell me, Mr. Gillett?”
“‘A little something?’” The latter rubbed his hands. “More than a little! Your lordship little dreamed, when—”
“Spare me your observations,” broke in the nobleman. “Come at once to the business on hand.” His voice, though low, had a strident pitch; behind it might be fancied strained nerves.
“As your lordship knows, good fortune or chance favored me at the start; that is, along one line, the line of general investigation. The special inquiry which your lordship mentioned, just as he was leaving my office, proved for a time most illusive.”
“You mean the object of John Steele’s visit to the continent?”
“Exactly. And the object of that visit solved, I have now a matter of greatest importance to communicate, so important it could only be imparted by word of mouth!” The police agent spoke hastily and moved nearer.
“Indeed?” Lord Ronsdale’s thin, cold lips raised slightly, but not to suggest a smile; his eyes met the police agent’s. “You have reached a conclusion? One that you sought to reject, perhaps, but that wouldn’t be discarded?”
Mr. Gillett looked at him earnestly. “You don’t mean—it isn’t possible that you knew all the while—?”
The white, aristocratic hand of Lord Ronsdale waved. “Let us start at the beginning.”
“True, your Lordship,” Mr. Gillett swallowed. “As your lordship is aware, we were fortunate enough in the beginning to find out through our agent in Tasmania that John Steele came to that place in a little trading schooner, the Laura Deane, of Portsmouth; that he had been rescued from a tiny uncharted reef, or isle, on December twenty-first, some three years before. The spot, by longitude and latitude, marks, through an odd coincidence, the place where the Lord Nelson met her fate.”
“A coincidence truly,” murmured the nobleman. “But at this stage in your reasoning you recalled that all on board were embarked in the ships’ boats and reached civilization, except possibly—”
“A few of my charges between decks? True; I remembered that. A bad lot of ugly brutes!” Mr. Gillett paused; Lord Ronsdale raised his head. “The story of John Steele’s rescue,” went on Mr. Gillett, “as told by himself,” significantly, “was well known in Tasmania and not hard to learn. A man of splendid intellect, a lawyer by profession, he had been passenger on a merchant vessel, the Mary Vernon, of Baltimore, United States. This vessel, like the Lord Nelson, had come to grief; after being tossed about, a helpless, water-logged wreck, it had finally been abandoned. All of those in John Steele’s boat had perished except him; some had gone mad through thirst and suffering; others had killed their fellows in a frenzy. Being of superb physique, having been through much physical training—” the listener stirred in his chair—“he managed to survive, to reach the little isle, where, according to his story, he remained almost a year.”