Half an hour later, John Steele, clad in his dressing-gown, sat alone near the fire in his room; every sound had ceased save at intervals a low creaking of old timber. Now it came from overhead, then from the hall or near the window, as if spirit feet or fingers were busy in that venerable, quaint domicile. But these faint noises, inseparable from houses with a history, John Steele did not hear; the food and the bath had awakened in him a momentary alertness; he seemed waiting—for what? Something that did not happen; heaviness, depression again weighed on him; to keep awake he stirred himself and again glanced about. Here were evidences of odd taste on the part of the tenant in the matter of household decoration; a chain and ball that had once been worn by a certain famous convict reposed on an etagere, instead of the customary vase or jug of pottery; other souvenirs of prisons and the people that had been in them adorned a few shelves and brackets.
John Steele smiled grimly; but soon his thoughts seemed floating off beyond control, and rising suddenly, he threw himself on the bed. For a moment he strove to consider one or two tasks that should have been accomplished this night but which he must defer; was vaguely conscious of the slamming of a blind next door; then over-strained nature yielded.
Hours passed; the sun rose high in the heavens, began to sink; still the heavy sleep of utter exhaustion claimed him. Once or twice the servant came to the door, listened, and stole away again. The afternoon was well advanced when, as half through a dream, John Steele heard the rude jingling of a bell,—the catmeat man, or the milkman, drowsily he told himself. In fancy he seemed to see the broad, flowing river from a window of his own chambers, the dawn stealing over, marshaling its tints,—crimson until—
Slowly through the torpor of his brain realization began also to dawn; this room?—it was not his. The gleaming lances of sunlight that darted through the half-closed shutters played on the strange wall-paper of a strange apartment; no, he remembered it now—last night!
The loud and emphatic closing of the front gate served yet more speedily to arouse him; hastily he sat up; his head buzzed from a long-needed sleep that had been over sound; his limbs still ached, but every sense on an instant became unnaturally keen. Footsteps resounded on the gravel; he heard voices; those of two men, who were coming toward the house.
“So it’s the meter man you are?” John Steele recognized the inquiring voice as that of the caretaker. “Sure, you’re a new one from the last that was here.”
“Yes; we change beats occasionally,” was the careless answer, as the men passed around the side of the house and entered a rear door. For a time there was silence; John Steele sprang from his bed and crept very softly toward the hall. “A new man—” He heard them talking again after a few minutes; he remained listening at his door, now slightly ajar.