“It is a quiet-looking little place,” Charlie said, “and does but a small trade, I should say. However, no doubt they can give us some bread and cheese, and a mug of ale, which will last us well enough till we get back to Barnet.”
The landlord placed what they demanded before them, and then left the room again, replying by a short word or two to their remarks on the weather.
“A surly ill-conditioned sort of fellow,” Harry said.
“It may be, Harry, that badness of trade has spoiled his temper. However, so long as his beer is good, it matters little about his mood.”
They had finished their bread and cheese, and were sitting idly, being in no hurry to start on their way back, when a man on horseback turned off from the road and came up the narrow lane in which the house stood. As Charlie, who was facing that way, looked at him he started, and grasped Harry’s arm.
“It is our man,” he said. “It is Nicholson himself! To think of our searching all London, these weeks past, and stumbling upon him here.”
The man stopped at the door, which was at once opened by the landlord.
“All right, I suppose, landlord?” the man said, as he swung himself from his horse.
“There is no one here except two young fellows, who look to me as if they had spent their last penny in London, and were travelling down home again.”
He spoke in a lowered voice, but the words came plainly enough to the ears of the listeners within. Another word or two was spoken, and then the landlord took the horse and led it round to a stable behind, while its rider entered the room. He stopped for a moment at the open door of the taproom, and stared at the two young men, who had just put on their hats again. They looked up carelessly, and Harry said:
“Fine weather for this time of year.”
The man replied by a grunt, and then passed on into the landlord’s private room.
“That is the fellow, sure enough, Charlie,” Harry said, in a low tone. “I thought your eyes might have deceived you, but I remember his face well. Now what is to be done?”
“We won’t lose sight of him again,” Charlie said. “Though, if we do, we shall know where to pick up his traces, for he evidently frequents this place. I should say he has taken to the road. There were a brace of pistols in the holsters. That is how it is that we have not found him before. Well, at any rate, there is no use trying to make his acquaintance here. The first question is, will he stay here for the night or not—and if he does not, which way will he go?”
“He came from the north,” Harry said. “So if he goes, it will be towards town.”
“That is so. Our best plan will be to pay our reckoning and start. We will go a hundred yards or so down the road, and then lie down behind a hedge, so as to see if he passes. If he does not leave before nightfall, we will come up to the house and reconnoitre. If he does not leave by ten, he is here for the night, and we must make ourselves as snug as we can under a stack. The nights are getting cold, but we have slept out in a deal colder weather than this. However, I fancy he will go on. It is early for a man to finish a journey. If he does, we must follow him, and keep him in sight, if possible.”