Scarcely!—they did not know the man with whom they had to deal—the daring and the coolness that the languid surface of indolent fashion had covered. Even in the imminence of supreme peril, of breathless jeopardy, he measured with unerring eye the distance and the need; rose as lightly in the air as Forest King had risen with him over fence and hedge; and with a single, running leap cleared the width of the mules’ backs, and landing safely on the farther side, dashed on; scarcely pausing for breath. The yell that hissed in his wake, as the throng saw him escape, by what to their slow Teutonic instincts seemed a devil’s miracle, was on his ear like the bay of the slot-hounds to the deer. They might kill him, if they could; but they should never take him captive.
And the moon was so brightly, so pitilessly clear; shining down in the summer light, as though in love with the beauty of earth! He looked up once; the stars seemed reeling round him in disordered riot; the chill face of the moon looked unpitying as death. All this loveliness was round him; this glory of sailing cloud and shadowy forest and tranquil planet, and there was no help for him.
A gay burst of music broke on the stillness from the distance; he had left the brilliance of the town behind him, and was now in its by-streets and outskirts. The sound seemed to thrill him to the bone; it was like the echo of the lost life he was leaving forever.
He saw, he felt, he heard, he thought; feeling and sense were quickened in him as they had never been before, yet he never slackened his pace save once or twice, when he paused for breath; he ran as swiftly, he ran as keenly, as ever stag or fox had run before him; doubling with their skill, taking the shadow as they took the covert; noting with their rapid eye the safest track; outracing with their rapid speed the pursuit that thundered in his wake.
The by-lanes he took were deserted, and he was now well-nigh out of the town, with the open country and forest lying before him. The people whom he met rushed out of his path; happily for him they were few, and were terrified, because they thought him a madman broken loose from his keepers. He never looked back; but he could tell that the pursuit was falling farther and farther behind him, that the speed at which he went was breaking the powers of his hunters; fresh throngs added indeed to the first pursuers as they tore down through the starlight night, but none had the science with which he went, the trained, matchless skill of the university foot-race. He left them more and more behind him each second of the breathless chase, that, endless as it seemed, had lasted bare three minutes. If the night were but dark! He felt that pitiless luminance glistening bright about him everywhere; shining over all the summer world, and leaving scarce a shadow to fall athwart his way. The silver glory of the radiance was shed on every rood of ground; one hour of a winter night, one hour of the sweeping ink-black rain of an autumn storm, and he could have made for shelter as the stag makes for it across the broad, brown Highland water.