“Very well!” he said, and was about to give the coin to the man and walk away, when another thought held him.
This fellow had been a link in a certain chain of events; the temptation grew to linger with him, the single, tangible, though paltry and useless, figure in the drama he could lay hands on. John Steele looked around; in a byway he saw the lighted window of a cheap oyster buffet. It appeared a place where they were not likely to be interrupted, and motioning to the man, he wheeled abruptly and started for it.
A few minutes later found them seated in the shabby back room; a number of faded sporting pictures adorned the wall; one—how John Steele started!—showed the ’Frisco Pet in a favorite attitude. Absorbed in studying it, he hardly heard the proprietor of the place, and it was Joe who first answered him; he had the honor of being asked there by this gentleman, and—he regarded John Steele expectantly.
Steele spoke now; his dark eyes shone strangely; a sardonic expression lurked there. The proprietor could bring his companion a steak, if he had one. Large or small?—large—with an enigmatical smile.
The “hexibition styke” in the window; would that do, queried the proprietor, displaying it.
Would it? the eyes of the erstwhile dandy of the east side asked of John Steele; that gentleman only answered with a nod, and the supplemental information that he would take “half a dozen natives himself.” The proprietor bustled out; from an opposite corner of the room, the only other occupant regarded with casual curiosity the two ill-assorted figures. Tall, florid, Amazonian, this third person represented a fair example of the London grisette, the petite dame who is not very petite, of its thoroughfares. Setting down a pewter pot fit for a guardsman, she rose and sauntered toward the door; stopping there, with one hand on her hip, she looked back.
“Ever see ’im?” she observed, nodding her bonnet at the portrait. “Noticed you appeared hinterested, as if you ’ad!”
“Perhaps!” Steele laughed, not pleasantly. “In my mind’s eye, as the poet says.”
“Wot the—!” she retorted elegantly. “’Ere’s a swell toff to chawf a lidy! ’Owever,” reflectively, “I’ave ’eard ’e could ’it ’ard!”
“But that,” said the gentleman, indicating the tankard, “could hit harder.”
“My hyes; wot’s the name of yer missionary friend, ragbags?” to Joe.
“The gentleman’s a lawyer, and when I tell you his name is—”
John Steele reached over and stopped the speaker; the woman laughed.
“Perhaps it ayn’t syfe to give it!”
Her voice floated back now from the threshold; predominated for a moment later in one of the corners of the bar leading to the street: “Oi soi, you cawn’t go in for a ‘arf of bitters without a bloomin’ graveyard mist comin’ up be’ind yer back!” Then the door slammed; the modern prototype of the “roaring girl” vanished, and another voice—hoarse, that of a man—was heard: