For a time he did not speak; sitting before a cheerless fire, that feebly attempted to assert itself, he looked once or twice toward the door, as if mindful to go out and leave the place.
But for an inexplicable reason he did not do so; there was nothing to be gained here; yet he lingered. Perhaps one of those subtle, illusory influences we do not yet understand, and which sometimes shape the blundering finite will, mysteriously, without conscious volition, was at work. One about to stumble blindly forward, occasionally stops; why, he knows not.
John Steele continued to regard the dark coals; to divers and sundry sounds from the table where the other ate, he seemed oblivious. Once when the proprietor stepped in, he asked, without looking around, for a certain number of grains of quinine with a glass of water; they probably kept it at the bar. Yes, the man always had it on hand and brought it in.
A touch of fever, might he ask, as the visitor took it; nothing to speak of, was the indifferent answer.
Well, the gentleman should have a care; the gentleman did not reply except to ask for the reckoning; the proprietor figured a moment, then departed with the sovereign that had been tossed to the table.
By this time Dandy Joe had pushed back his chair; his dull eyes gleamed with satisfaction; also, perhaps, with a little calculation.
“Thanking you kindly, sir, it’s more than I had a right to expect. If ever I can do anything to show—”
“I don’t suppose so,” humbly. Joe looked down; he was thinking; a certain matter in which self-interest played no small part had come to mind. John Steele was known to be generous in his services and small in his charges. Joe regarded him covertly. “Asking your pardon for referring to it—but you’ve helped so many a poor chap—there’s an old pal of mine what is down on his luck, and, happenin’ across him the other day, he was asking of me for a good lawyer, who could give him straight talk. One moment, sir! He can pay, or soon would be able to, if—”
“I am not at present,” Steele experienced a sense of grim humor, “looking for new clients.”
“Well, I thought I’d be mentioning the matter, sir, although I hadn’t much hopes of him being able to interest the likes of you. You see he’s been out of old England for a long time, and was goin’ away again, when w’at should he suddenly hear but that his old woman that was, meaning his mother, died and left a tidy bit. A few hundred pounds or so; enough to start a nice, little pub. for him and me to run; only it’s in the hands of a trustee, who is waiting for him to appear and claim it.”
“You say he has been out of England?” John Steele stopped. “How long?”
“A good many years. There was one or two little matters agin him when he left ’ome; but he has heard that certain offenses may be ‘outlawed.’ Not that he has much ’ope his’n had, only he wanted to see a lawyer; and find out, in any case, how he could get his money without—”