At the entrance of the town hall he hesitated an instant. An officer was standing in the doorway, it would be easy to call his attention to the packet he held and ask him to keep his eye on it. But this might involve him with the police, and this was something, as we know, which he was more than anxious to avoid. He reverted to his first idea.
Mixing with the crowd just now hurrying to and fro through the long corridors, he reached the room designated and found it, as he had been warned he should, empty.
Approaching the table, he laid down the packet just as he had been directed, in front of the big arm chair, and then, casting a hurried look towards the door and failing to find anyone watching him, he took up a pencil lying near-by and scrawled hastily across the top of the packet the word “Suspicious.” This he calculated would act as a warning to Mr. Gifford in case there was anything wrong about the package, and pass as a joke with him, and even the sender, if there was not. And satisfied that he had both earned his money and done justice to his own apprehensions, he turned to retrace his steps. As before, the corridors were alive with hurrying men of various ages and appearance, but only two attracted his notice. One of these was a large, intellectual-looking man, who turned into the room from which he had just emerged, and the other a short, fair man, with a countenance he had known from boyhood. Mr. Stone of Sutherlandtown was within ten paces of him, and he was as well known to the good postmaster as the postmaster was to him. Could anyone have foreseen such a chance!
Turning his back with a slow slouch, he made for a rear door he saw swinging in and out before him. As he passed through he cast a quick look behind him. He had not been recognised. In great relief he rushed on, knocking against a man standing against one of the outside pillars.
“Halloo!” shouted this man.
Sweetwater stopped. There was a tone of authority in the voice which he could not resist.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SCRAP OF PAPER AND THE THREE WORDS
“What are you trying to do? Why do you fall over a man like that? Are you drunk?”
Sweetwater drew himself up, made a sheepish bow, and muttered pantingly:
“Excuse me, sir. I’m in a hurry; I’m a messenger.”
The man who was not in a hurry seemed disposed to keep him for a moment. He had caught sight of Sweetwater’s eye, which was his one remarkable feature, and he had also been impressed by that word messenger, for he repeated it with some emphasis.
“A messenger, eh? Are you going on a message now?”
Sweetwater, who was anxious to get away from the vicinity of Mr. Stone, shrugged his shoulders in careless denial, and was pushing on when the gentleman again detained him.
“Do you know,” said he, “that I like your looks? You are not a beauty, but you look like a fellow who, if he promised to do a thing, would do it and do it mighty well too.”