'So we supposed. But come, Rowley--out with the rest of it! You have more to tell us, or your face belies you !'
'Mr. Anne, I do,' he said. 'Mr. Romaine, sir, you're a friend of his, ain't you?'
'Yes, George, I am a friend of his,' said Romaine, and, to my great surprise, laid his hand upon my shoulder.
'Well, it's this way,' said Rowley--'Mr. Powl have been at me! It's to play the spy! I thought he was at it from the first! From the first I see what he was after--coming round and round, and hinting things! But to-night he outs with it plump! I'm to let him hear all what you're to do beforehand, he says; and he gave me this for an arnest'--holding up half a guinea; 'and I took it, so I did! Strike me sky-blue scarlet?' says he, adducing the words of the mock oath; and he looked askance at me as he did so.
I saw that he had forgotten himself, and that he knew it. The expression of his eye changed almost in the passing of the glance from the significant to the appealing--from the look of an accomplice to that of a culprit; and from that moment he became the model of a well-drilled valet.
'Sky-blue scarlet?' repeated the lawyer. 'Is the fool delirious?'
'No,' said I; 'he is only reminding me of something.'
'Well--and I believe the fellow will be faithful,' said Romaine. 'So you are a friend of Mr. Anne's' too?' he added to Rowley.
'If you please, sir,' said Rowley.
''Tis something sudden,' observed Romaine; 'but it may be genuine enough. I believe him to be honest. He comes of honest people. Well, George Rowley, you might embrace some early opportunity to earn that half-guinea, by telling Mr. Powl that your master will not leave here till noon to-morrow, if he go even then. Tell him there are a hundred things to be done here, and a hundred more that can only be done properly at my office in Holborn. Come to think of it--we had better see to that first of all,' he went on, unlocking the door. 'Get hold of Powl, and see. And be quick back, and clear me up this mess.'
Mr. Rowley was no sooner gone than the lawyer took a pinch of snuff, and regarded me with somewhat of a more genial expression.
'Sir,' said he, 'it is very fortunate for you that your face is so strong a letter of recommendation. Here am I, a tough old practitioner, mixing myself up with your very distressing business; and here is this farmer's lad, who has the wit to take a bribe and the loyalty to come and tell you of it--all, I take it, on the strength of your appearance. I wish I could imagine how it would impress a jury!' says he.
'And how it would affect the hangman, sir?' I asked
'Absit omen!' said Mr. Romaine devoutly.
We were just so far in our talk, when I heard a sound that brought my heart into my mouth: the sound of some one slyly trying the handle of the door. It had been preceded by no audible footstep. Since the departure of Rowley our wing of the house had been entirely silent. And we had every right to suppose ourselves alone, and to conclude that the new-comer, whoever he might be, was come on a clandestine, if not a hostile, errand.
'Who is there?' asked Romaine.
'It's only me, sir,' said the soft voice of Dawson. 'It's the Viscount, sir. He is very desirous to speak with you on business.'
'Tell him I shall come shortly, Dawson,' said the lawyer. 'I am at present engaged.'
'Thank you, sir!' said Dawson.
And we heard his feet draw off slowly along the corridor.
'Yes,' said Mr. Romaine, speaking low, and maintaining the attitude of one intently listening, 'there is another foot. I cannot be deceived!'
'I think there was indeed!' said I. 'And what troubles me--I am not sure that the other has gone entirely away. By the time it got the length of the head of the stair the tread was plainly single.'
'Ahem--blockaded?' asked the lawyer.
'A siege en regle!' I exclaimed.
'Let us come farther from the door,' said Romaine, 'and reconsider this damnable position. Without doubt, Alain was this moment at the door. He hoped to enter and get a view of you, as if by accident.