At the same instant a thick-lipped man with cruel eyes crushed through the people to where the girl stood, and, taking her roughly by the shoulder, pushed her away.
“Hand thy gab,” he said, between clinched teeth; “what’s thy business singing hymns in t’streets? Get along home to bed; that’s more in thy style, I reckon.”
The girl was stealing away covered with shame, when Ralph parted the people that divided him from the man, and, coming in front of him, laid one hand on his throat. Gasping for breath, the fellow would have struggled to free himself, but Ralph held him like a vise.
“This is not the first time we have met; take care it shall be the last.”
So saying, Ralph flung the man from him, and he fell like an infant at his feet.
Gathering himself up with a look compounded equally of surprise and hatred, the man said, “Nay, nay; do you think it’ll be the last? don’t you fear it!”
Then he slunk out of the crowd, and it was observed that when he had gained the opposite side of the street, the little, pale-faced elderly person who had been known as Ralph’s Shadow, had joined him.
* * * * *
“Is it our man?”
“The same, for sure.”
“Then it must be done the day. We’ve delayed too long already.”
AFTER WORD COMES WEIRD.
When Ralph lay down in his bed that night in a coffee-house in China Lane, there was no conviction more strongly impressed upon his mind than that it was his instant duty to leave Lancaster. It was obvious that he was watched, and that his presence in the old town had excited suspicion. The man who had pestered him for many days with his unwelcome society was clearly in league with the other man who had insulted the girl. The latter rascal he knew of old for a declared and bitter enemy. Probably the pair were only waiting for authority, perhaps merely for the verification of some surmise, before securing the aid of the constable to apprehend him. He must leave Lancaster, and at once.
Ralph rose from his bed and dressed himself afresh. He strapped his broad pack across his back, called his hostess, and paid his score. “Must the gentleman start away at midnight?” Yes; a sudden call compelled him. “Should she brew him a pot of hot ale?—the nights were chill in winter.” Not to-night; he must leave without delay.
When Ralph walked through the streets of Lancaster that cold midnight, it was with no certainty as to his destination. It was to be anywhere, anywhere in this race for life. Any haven that promised solitude was to be his city of refuge.
The streets were quiet now, and even the roystering tipplers had gone off to their homes. For Ralph there was no home—only this wild hunt from place to place, with no safety and rest.