Two hours later they saw, from their hiding place, Nicholson ride out from the lane. He turned his horse’s head in their direction.
“That is good,” Charlie said. “If he is bound for London, we shall be able to get into his company somehow; but if he had gone up to some quiet place north, we might have had a lot of difficulty in getting acquainted with him.”
As soon as the man had ridden past they leapt to their feet, and, at a run, kept along the hedge. He had started at a brisk trot, but when, a quarter of a mile on, they reached a gate, and looked up the road after him, they saw to their satisfaction that the horse had already fallen into a walk.
“He does not mean to go far from Barnet,” Charlie exclaimed. “If he had been bound farther, he would have kept on at a trot. We will keep on behind the hedges as long as we can. If he were to look back and see us always behind him, he might become suspicious.”
They had no difficulty in keeping up with the horseman. Sometimes, when they looked out, he was a considerable distance ahead, having quickened his pace; but he never kept that up long, and by brisk running, and dashing recklessly through the hedges running at right angles to that they were following, they soon came up to him again.
Once, he had gone so far ahead that they took to the road, and followed it until he again slackened his speed. They thus kept him in sight till they neared Barnet.
“We can take to the road now,” Harry said. “Even if he should look round, he will think nothing of seeing two men behind him. We might have turned into it from some by-lane. At any rate, we must chance it. We must find where he puts up for the night.”
Chapter 17: The North Coach.
Barnet was then, as now, a somewhat straggling place. Soon after entering it, the horseman turned off from the main road. His pursuers were but fifty yards behind him, and they kept him in sight until, after proceeding a quarter of a mile, he stopped at a small tavern, where he dismounted, and a boy took his horse and led it round by the side of the house.
“Run to earth!” Harry said exultantly. “He is not likely to move from there tonight.”
“At any rate, he is safe for a couple of hours,” Charlie said. “So we will go to our inn, and have a good meal. By that time it will be quite dark, and we will have a look at the place he has gone into; and if we can’t learn anything, we must watch it by turns till midnight. We will arrange, at the inn, to hire a horse. One will be enough. He only caught a glimpse of us at that inn, and certainly would not recognize one of us, if he saw him alone. The other can walk.”
“But which way, Charlie? He may go back again.” “It is hardly likely he came here merely for the pleasure of stopping the night at that little tavern. I have no doubt he is bound for London. You shall take the horse, Harry, and watch until he starts, and then follow him, just managing to come up close to him as he gets into town. I will start early, and wait at the beginning of the houses, and it is hard if one or other of us does not manage to find out where he hides.”