Behind him some one followed; some one who drew ever nearer, with soft, skulking steps which now he heard—
“Mr. Steele!” Even as he wheeled, his name was called out.
* * * * *
Before the sudden fierce passion gleaming on John Steele’s face, the bright flame of his look, the person who had accosted him shrank back; his pinched and pale face showed surprise, fear; almost incoherently he began to stammer. Steele’s arm had half raised; it now fell to his side; his eyes continued to study, with swift, piercing glance, the man who had called. He was not a fear-inspiring object; hunger and privation seemed so to have gripped him that now he presented but a pitiable shadow of himself.
Did John Steele notice that changed, abject aspect, that bearing, devoid totally of confidence? All pretense of a certain coster smartness that he remembered, had vanished; the hair, once curled with cheap jauntiness, hung now straight and straggling; a tawdry ornament which had stood out in the past, absurdly distinct on a bright cravat, with many other details that had served to build up a definite type of individual, seemed to have dropped off into oblivion.
Steele looked about; they two, as far as he could see, were alone. He regarded the man again; it was very strange, as if a circular stage, the buskined world’s tragic-comic wheel of fortune, had turned, and a person whom he had seen in one character had reappeared in another.
“I ask your pardon.” The fellow found his voice. “I’ll not be troubling you further, Mr. Steele.”
The other’s expression altered; he could have laughed; he had been prepared for almost anything, but not this. The man’s tones were hopeless; very deferential, however.
“You were about to beg—of me?” John Steele smiled, as if, despite his own danger, despite his physical pangs, he found the scene odd, unexampled, between this man and himself—this man, a sorry vagrant; himself, become now but a—“You were about to—?”
“I had, sir, so far forgotten myself as to venture to think of applying for temporary assistance; however—” Dandy Joe began to shuffle off in a spiritless way, when—
“You are hungry?” said John Steele.
“A little, sir.”
“A modest answer in view of the actual truth, I suspect,” observed the other. But although his words were brusk, he felt in his pocket; a sovereign—it was all he had left about him. When he had departed post-haste for Strathorn House, he had neglected to furnish himself with funds for an indefinite period; a contingency he should have foreseen had risen; for the present he could not appear at the bank to draw against the balance he always maintained there. His own future, how he should be able to subsist, even if he could evade those who sought him, had thus become problematical. John Steele fingered that last sovereign; started to turn, when he caught the look in the other’s eyes. Did it recall to him his own plight but a short twenty-four hours before?