“What—?” The new-comer, now fairly within the garden, could not suppress a start of surprise, which however the other, engaged in relocking the gate, did not appear to notice. “Expecting—?”
“Although I’d given up thinking you’d be here to-night,” the latter went on. “But won’t you be stepping in, sir?”
The other silently followed, walking in the manner of one tired and worn; he did not, however, at that moment seem concerned with fatigue or physical discomfort; the uncertain light of the candle before him showed his brows drawn, his eyes questioning, as if something had happened to cause him to think deeply, doubtfully. At the door the servant stood aside to allow him to enter; then ushered him into a fairly commodious and comfortable sitting-room.
“My master did not come back with you, sir, from Strathorn House?”
“No; Captain Forsythe’s gone on to Germany.”
“To attend some court, I suppose. Sure, ’tis a dale he has done of that, Mr. Steele, after the both of us were wounded by those black devils in India and retired from active service.” The servant’s voice had an inquiring accent; his glance rested now in some surprise on the new-comer’s garments,—a gamekeeper’s well-worn coat and cap,—and on the dusty, almost shabby-looking shoes.
“A wager,” said John Steele, noting the old orderly’s expression. “From Strathorn House to London by foot, within a given time, don’t you know; fell in with some rough customers last night who thought my coat and hat better than these.”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but—” The man’s apprehensive look fastened itself on a dark stain on the coat, near the shoulder.
“Just winged me—a scratch,” replied John Steele with an indifferent shrug, sinking into a chair near the fire which burned low.
“It’s lucky you came off no worse, sir, and you’ll be finding a change of garments up-stairs; I put them out for you myself—”
“I’m afraid, Dennis, I’m rather large for your master’s clothes,” was the visitor’s reply in a voice that he strove vainly to make light.
“Sure, they’re your own, sir.” The other looked up quickly. “I’ll get everything ready for a bath, and if you’ve a mind for anything to eat afterward—”
“I think I’ll have a little of the last, first,” said the visitor slowly.
“Right you are, sir. You do look a bit done up, sir,” sympathetically, “but there’s a veal and ’ammer in the cupboard that will soon make you fit.”
“One moment, Dennis.” John Steele leaned back; the dying embers revealed a haggard face; his eyes half closed as if from lack of sleep but immediately opened again. “You spoke of expecting me; how,” he stretched out his legs, “did you know—?”
“Sure, sir, by your luggage; it arrived with my master’s heavier boxes that he didn’t take along with him over the wather.” The listener did not stir; was he too weary to experience surprise or even deeper emotion?