St. George, who had been listening to the old woman with mingled feelings of wonder and curiosity, raised his hand to silence her. Whether she had gone daft or was more than usually excited he could not for the moment decide.
“Get your breath, Jemima, and tell me what you’re talking about. Who’s downstairs?”
“Ain’t I jes’ don’ tol’ yer? Got a look on him make ye shiver all over; says he’s gwineter s’arch de house. He’s got a constable wid him—dat is, he’s got a man dat looks like a constable, an’—”
St. George laid his hands on the old woman’s shoulders, and turned her about.
“Hush your racket this instant, and tell me who is downstairs?”
“Marse Talbot Rutter,” she wheezed; “come f’om de country—got mud all ober his boots.”
“Mr. Harry’s father?”
Aunt Jemima choked and nodded: there was no breath left for more.
“Who did he ask for?” St. George was calm enough now.
“Didn’t ask fer nobody; he say, ‘I’m lookin’ fer a man dat come in yere las’ night.’ I see he didn’t know me an’ I neber let on. Den he say, ‘Hab you got any boa’ders yere?’ an’ I say, ‘I got one,’ an’ den he ‘tempted ter pass me an’ I say, ’Wait a minute ’til I see ef he’s outen de bed.’ Now, what’s I gwineter do? He doan’ mean no good to Marse Harry an’ he’ll dribe him ‘way ag’in, an’ he jes’ come back an’ you gittin’ well a-lovin’ of him—an’—”
An uncertain step was heard in the hall.
“Dat’s him,” Jemima whispered hoarsely, behind her hand, “what’ll I do? Doan’ let him come in. I’ll—”
St. George moved past her and pushed back the door.
Colonel Rutter stood outside.
The two men looked into each other’s faces.
“I am in search, sir,” the colonel began, shading his eyes with his fingers, the brighter light of the room weakening his sight, “for a young sailor whom I am informed stopped here last night, and who ... St. George! What in the name of God are you doing in a place like this?”
“Come inside, Talbot,” Temple replied calmly, his eyes fixed on Rutter’s drawn face and faltering gaze. “Aunt Jemima, hand Colonel Rutter a chair. You will excuse me if I sit down—I am just out of bed after a long illness, and am a little weak,” and he settled slowly into his seat. “My servant tells me that you are looking for a—”
St. George paused. Rutter was paying no more attention to what he said than if he had been in the next room. He was straining his eyes about the apartment; taking in the empty bed from which St. George had just arisen, the cheap chairs and small pine table and the kitchen plates and cup which still held the remains of St. George’s breakfast. He waited until Jemima had backed out of the door, her scared face still a tangle of emotions—fear for her master’s safety uppermost. His eyes again veered to St. George.
“What does it all mean, Temple?” he asked in a dazed way.