I stood with my lamp held out over the stair-rail, and he came slowly within its light. It was a shaded lamp, to shine upon a book, and its circle of light was very contracted; so that he was in it for a mere instant, and then out of it. In the instant, I had seen a face that was strange to me, looking up with an incomprehensible air of being touched and pleased by the sight of me.
Moving the lamp as the man moved, I made out that he was substantially dressed, but roughly; like a voyager by sea. That he had long iron-grey hair. That his age was about sixty. That he was a muscular man, strong on his legs, and that he was browned and hardened by exposure to weather. As he ascended the last stair or two, and the light of my lamp included us both, I saw, with a stupid kind of amazement, that he was holding out both his hands to me.
`Pray what is your business?' I asked him.
`My business?' he repeated, pausing. `Ah! Yes. I will explain my business, by your leave.'
`Do you wish to come in?'
`Yes,' he replied; `I wish to come in, Master.'
I had asked him the question inhospitably enough, for I resented the sort of bright and gratified recognition that still shone in his face. I resented it, because it seemed to imply that he expected me to respond to it. But, I took him into the room I had just left, and, having set the lamp on the table, asked him as civilly as I could, to explain himself.
He looked about him with the strangest air - an air of wondering pleasure, as if he had some part in the things he admired - and he pulled off a rough outer coat, and his hat. Then, I saw that his head was furrowed and bald, and that the long iron-grey hair grew only on its sides. But, I saw nothing that in the least explained him. On the contrary, I saw him next moment, once more holding out both his hands to me.
`What do you mean?' said I, half suspecting him to be mad.
He stopped in his looking at me, and slowly rubbed his right hand over his head. `It's disapinting to a man,' he said, in a coarse broken voice, `arter having looked for'ard so distant, and come so fur; but you're not to blame for that - neither on us is to blame for that. I'll speak in half a minute. Give me half a minute, please.'
He sat down on a chair that stood before the fire, and covered his forehead with his large brown veinous hands. I looked at him attentively then, and recoiled a little from him; but I did not know him.
`There's no one nigh,' said he, looking over his shoulder; `is there?'
`Why do you, a stranger coming into my rooms at this time of the night, ask that question?' said I.
`You're a game one,' he returned, shaking his head at me with a deliberate affection, at once most unintelligible and most exasperating; `I'm glad you've grow'd up, a game one! But don't catch hold of me. You'd be sorry arterwards to have done it.'
I relinquished the intention he had detected, for I knew him!Even yet, I could not recall a single feature, but I knew him! If the wind and the rain had driven away the intervening years, had scattered all the intervening objects, had swept us to the churchyard where we first stood face to face on such different levels, I could not have known my convict more distinctly than I knew him now as he sat in the chair before the fire. No need to take a file from his pocket and show it to me; no need to take the handkerchief from his neck and twist it round his head; no need to hug himself with both his arms, and take a shivering turn across the room, looking back at me for recognition. I knew him before he gave me one of those aids, though, a moment before, I had not been conscious of remotely suspecting his identity.
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