John Steele did not wait; replacing the weapon in his pocket he started quickly around the corner; his cabman could not lead them far; they would soon return. As fast as possible, without attracting undue attention, he retraced his way; passed in and out of tortuous thoroughfares; by shops from whence came the smell of frying fish; down alleys where squalor lurked. Although he had by this time, perhaps, eluded the occupants of the cab, he knew there were others keenly alert for his capture whom he might at any moment encounter. To his fancy every corner teemed with peril; he did not underestimate the resources of those who sought him or the cunning of him who was the chief among his enemies.
Which way should he move? At that moment the city’s multitudinous blocks seemed like the many squares of an oriental checker-board; the problem he put to himself was how to cross the city and reach the vicinity of the river; there to make a final effort to look for—What? A hopeless quest!
His face burned with fever; he did not heed it. A long, broad thoroughfare, as he walked on, had suddenly unfolded itself to his gaze; one side of this highway shone resplendent with the flaring lights of numerous stands and stalls displaying vegetables and miscellaneous articles. A hubbub assailed the ear, the voices of hucksters and hawkers, vying with one another to dispose of their wares; like ants, people thronged the sidewalk and pavement near these temporary booths.
About to turn back from this animated scene, John Steele hesitated; the road ran straight and sure toward the destination he wished to reach, while on either hand lay a network of devious ways. Amid these labyrinths, even one familiar with the city’s maze might go astray, and again he glanced down the single main road, cutting squarely through all intricacies; noted that although, on one side, the lamps and the torches flared high, revealing every detail of merchandise, and, incidentally, the faces of all who passed, the other side of the thoroughfare seemed the more murky and shadowy by comparison.
He decided, crossed the street; lights gleamed in his face. He pushed his way through the people unmolested and strode on, followed only by the noise of passing vehicles and carts; then found himself walking on the other side, apart from the headlong busy stream. A suspicion of mist hung over the city; through it, people afar assumed shapes unreal; above the jagged sky-line of housetops the heavens had taken on that sickly hue, the high dome’s jaundiced aspect for London in autumn.
On!—on! John Steele moved; on!—on!—the traffic pounded, for the most part in the opposite direction; a vast, never-ending source of sound, it seemed to soothe momentarily his sense of insecurity. Time passed; he had, apparently, evaded his pursuers; he told himself he might, after all, meet the problem confronting him; meet and conquer. It would be a hard battle; but once in that part of the city he was striving to reach, he might find those willing to offer him shelter—low-born, miserable wretches he had helped. He would not disdain their succor; the end justified the way. In their midst, if anywhere in London, was the one man in the world who could throw a true light on the events of the past; enable him to—–