“Sure, sir, I don’t know whether it’s breakfast or supper that’s waiting for you.” Captain Forsythe’s man had reappeared and stood now at the top of the landing looking in at him. “It’s a sound sleep you’ve had.”
John Steele glanced at the clock; the afternoon was waning. Why did not his enemies force their way in, surround him at once? Unless—and this might prove a momentary saving clause!—these people without were but an advance guard, an outpost, awaiting orders. In this event Gillett would hastily be sent for; would soon be on his way—–
“’Tis a rasher of real Irish bacon that is awaiting your convenience, sir.”
The servant was now eying the visitor dubiously; John Steele wheeled, a perfunctory answer on his lips, and going to the dining-room swallowed hastily a few mouthfuls. From where he sat he could command a view of the front gate, and kept glancing toward it when alone. To go now,—or wait? The daylight did not favor the former course unless his pursuers should suddenly appear before the locked gate, demanding admission.
He made up his mind as to his course then, the last desperate shift. Amid a turmoil of thoughts a certain letter he had had in mind to send to Captain Forsythe occurred to him, and calling for paper and pen, he wrote there, facing the window, feverishly, hastily, several pages; then he gave the letter to the servant for the postman, whose special call at the iron knocker without had just sounded. The letter would have served John Steele ill had it fallen into his enemies’ hands, but once in the care of the royal mails it would be safe. If it were, indeed, that person at the gate, and not some one—
“One moment, Dennis!” The man paused. “Of course you will make sure it is the postman—?”
The servant stared at this guest whose demeanor was becoming more and more eccentric. “As if I didn’t know his knock!” he said, departing.
The afternoon waned; the shadows began to fall; John Steele’s pulses now throbbed expectantly. He called for a key to the gate and moved toward the front door; by this time the darkness had deepened, and, key in hand, he stepped out.
At first he walked toward the front on the gravel that the servant might hear him, but near the entrance he paused, hesitating, to look out. As he remained thus, some one, who had been standing not far off, drew near. This person steathily passed; in doing so he glanced around; but John Steele felt uncertain whether the fellow had or had not been able to distinguish him in the gloom. John Steele waited, however, until the other moved a short distance on; then he retraced his own way quietly, keeping to the grass, toward the house; near it he swerved and in the same rapid manner stole around the place until he reached the back wall.
There he examined his position, felt the top, then placed his fingers on the wall. It was about six feet high, but seizing hold, he was about to spring into the air, when behind him, from the direction of the Row, a low metallic sound caught his attention. The front gate to the Forsythe house had suddenly clicked; some one had entered,—not the servant; John Steele had seen him but a few moments before in the kitchen; some one, then, who had quietly picked the lock, as the surest way of getting in.