Truly, Il Passero, the cosmopolitan of many names and half a dozen nationalities, had brought criminality to a fine art.
Hugh, standing there breathless, listened to every word. Who was this man Howell?
“Hush!” cried The Sparrow suddenly. “What a fool I am! I quite forgot to close the ventilator in the room to which the young fellow has been shown! I hope he hasn’t overheard! I had Evans and Janson in there an hour ago, and they were discussing me, as I expected they would! It was a good job that I took the precaution of opening the ventilator, because I learned a good deal that I had never suspected. It has placed me on my guard. I’ll go and get young Henfrey. But,” he added, “be extremely careful. Disclose nothing you know concerning the affair.”
“I shall be discreet, never fear,” replied his visitor.
A moment later The Sparrow entered the room where Henfrey was, and greeted him warmly. Then he ushered him down the passage to the room wherein stood his mysterious visitor.
The room was such a distance away that Hugh was surprised that he could have heard so distinctly. But, after all, it was an uncanny experience to be associated with that man of mystery, whose very name was uttered by his accomplices with bated breath.
“My friend, Mr. George Howell,” said The Sparrow, introducing the slim, wiry-looking, middle-aged man, who was alert and clean-shaven, and plainly but well dressed—a man whom the casual acquaintance would take to be a solicitor of a fair practice. He bore the stamp of suburbia all over him, and his accent was peculiarly that of London.
His bearing was that of high respectability. The diamond scarf-pin was his only ornament—a fine one, which sparkled even in that dull London light. He was a square-shouldered man, with peculiarly shrewd, rather narrow eyes, and dark, bushy eyebrows.
“Glad to meet you, Mr. Henfrey,” he replied, with a gay, rather nonchalant air. “My friend Mr. Peters has been speaking about you. Had a rather anxious time, I hear.”
Henfrey looked at the stranger inquisitively, and then glanced at The Sparrow.
“Mr. Howell is quite safe,” declared the man with the gloved hand. “He is one of Us. So you may speak without fear.”
“Well,” replied the young man, “the fact is, I’ve had a very apprehensive time. I’m here to seek Mr. Peters’ kind advice, for without him I’m sure I’d have been arrested and perhaps convicted long ago.”
“Oh! A bit of bad luck—eh? Nearly found out, have you been? Ah! All of us have our narrow escapes. I’ve had many in my time,” and he grinned.
“So have all of us,” laughed the bristly-haired man. “But tell me, Henfrey, why have you come to see me so quickly?”
“Because they know where I’m in hiding!”
“They know? Who knows?”
“Miss Ranscomb knows my whereabouts and has written to me in my real name and addressed the letter to Shapley.”