“There must be a leak somewhere from the quantity you’ve burned. I’ll have a look around; might save your master a few shillings.”
The man moved from room to room and started, at length, up the stairs. John Steele closed and noiselessly locked his door; the “meter man” crossed the upper hall and stepped, one after the other, into the several rooms. Having apparently made there the necessary examination, he walked over and tried the door of John Steele’s room.
“This room’s occupied by a visitor,” interposed the servant quickly in a hushed voice. “And he’s asleep now; he wouldn’t thank you for the disturbing of his repose.”
“All right.” Did the listener detect an accent of covert satisfaction in the caller’s low tones? “I’ll not wake him. Don’t find the leak I was looking for; will drop in again, though, when I have more time.”
Their footsteps receded and shortly afterward, the man left the house; as he did so, John Steele, pushing back the blinds a little, looked out of his room; the man who had reached the front of the place glanced back. His gaze at that instant, meeting the other’s, seemed to betray a momentary eagerness; quickly Steele turned away; no doubt now lingered in his mind as to the purpose of the visit.
* * * * *
The half-expected had happened; bag and baggage had led his pursuers hither; the fellow could now go back and report. After his bath, before lying down, John Steele had partly dressed in the garments laid out for him; now he threw the dressing-gown from his shoulders and hastily put on the rest of his clothes. He felt now only the need for action—to do what? Impatience was capped by the realization of his own impotence; Rosemary Villa was, no doubt, at that very moment, subjected to a close espionage. He heard the man-servant in the garden, and unable to restrain a growing restlessness to know the worst, Steele mounted the stairs to the attic.
From the high window there he could see, around a curve in the Row, a loitering figure; in the other direction a neighboring house concealed the byway, but he could reasonably conclude that some one also sauntered there, sentinel at that end of the street. Quickly coming down to the second story, he began cautiously to examine from the windows the situation of the house, in relation to adjoining grounds and neighboring dwellings.
To the right, the top of the high wall shone with the customary broken bits of glass; the rear defenses glistened also in formidable fashion. He noted, however, several places where this safeguard against unwonted invasion showed signs of deterioration; in one or two spots the jagged fragments had been broken, or had fallen off. These slight breaks in the continuity of irregular, menacing glass bits, he fixed in mind by a certain shrub or tree. Against the rear wall, which was of considerable height, leaned his neighbor’s low conservatory, almost spanning it from side to side.