Thus far had Bob heard before he recovered sufficiently from the shock to move a limb. The officers were urging their prisoner forward, grinning and nodding to each other, whilst several voices from the crowd shouted abusively at the poltroon whose first instinct was to betray his associate. Bob turned his face away and walked on. He did not dare to run, yet the noises behind him kept his heart leaping with dread. A few paces and he was out of the alley. Even yet he durst not run. He had turned in the unlucky direction; the crowd was still following. For five minutes he had to keep advancing, then at last he was able to move off at right angles. The crowd passed the end of the street.
Only then did complete panic get possession of him. With a bound forward like that of a stricken animal he started in blind flight. He came to a crossing, and rushed upon it regardless of the traffic, Before he could gain the farther pavement the shaft of a cart struck him on the breast and threw him down. The vehicle was going at a slow pace, and could be stopped almost immediately; he was not touched by the wheel. A man helped him to his feet and inquired if he were hurt.
‘Hurt? No, no; it’s all right.’
To the surprise of those who had witnessed the accident, he walked quickly on, scarcely feeling any pain. But in a few minutes there came a sense of nausea and a warm rush in his throat; he staggered against the wall and vomited a quantity of blood. Again he was surrounded by sympathising people; again he made himself free of them and hastened on. But by now he suffered acutely; he could not run, so great was the pain it cost him when he began to breathe quickly. His mouth was full of blood again.
Where could he find a hiding-place? The hunters were after him, and, however great his suffering, he must go through it in secrecy. But in what house could he take refuge? He had not money enough to pay for a lodging.
He looked about him; tried to collect his thoughts. By this time the police would have visited Merlin Place; they would be waiting there to trap him. He was tempted towards Farringdon Road Buildings; surely his father would not betray him, and he was in such dire need of kindly help. But it would not be safe; the police would search there.
Shooter’s Gardens? There was the room where lived Pennyloaf’s drunken mother and her brother. They would not give him up. He could think of no other refuge, at all events, and must go there if he would not drop in the street.
MAD JACK’S DREAM