“How long would it take you to file off these shackles?” I inquired, holding out my hands.
“To—to file ’em off?”
“Why, that—that depends—”
“Then do it—as soon as you can.” Upon this, the man turned his back to me and began rummaging among his tools, with his head very near that of the shock-headed boy, until, having found a file suitable to the purpose, he set to work upon my handcuffs. But he progressed so slowly, for one reason and another, that I began to grow impatient; moreover, noticing that the shock-headed boy had disappeared, I bade him desist.
“A cold chisel and hammer will be quickest,” said I; “come, cut me off this chain—here, close up to the rivets.” And, when he had done this, I took his file, and thrusting it beneath my coat, set off, running my hardest, leaving him to stare after me, with his eyes and mouth wider than ever.
The sun was down when I reached the woods, and here, in the kind shadows, I stayed awhile to rest, and rid myself of my handcuffs; but, when I felt for the file to do so—it was gone.
HOW I CAME TO LONDON
Justly to narrate all that befell me during my flight and journey to London, would fill many pages, and therefore, as this book of mine is already of a magnitude far beyond my first expectations, I shall hurry on to the end of my story.
Acting upon the advice of the saturnine Jeremy, I lay hidden by day, and traveled by night, avoiding the highway. But in so doing I became so often involved in the maze of cross-roads, bylanes, cow-paths, and cart-tracks, that twice the dawn found me as completely lost as though I had been set down in the midst of the Sahara. I thus wasted much time, and wandered many miles out of my way; wherefore, to put an end to these futile ramblings, I set my face westward, hoping to strike the highroad somewhere between Tonbridge and Sevenoaks; determined rather to run the extra chance of capture than follow haphazard these tortuous and interminable byways.
It was, then, upon the third night since my escape that, faint and spent with hunger, I saw before me the welcome sight of a finger-post, and hurrying forward, eager to learn my whereabouts, came full upon a man who sat beneath the finger-post, with a hunch of bread and meat upon his knee, which he was eating by means of a clasp-knife.
Now I had tasted nothing save two apples all day, and but little the day before—thus, at sight of this appetizing food, my hunger grew, and increased to a violent desire before which prudence vanished and caution flew away. Therefore I approached the man, with my eyes upon his bread and meat.
But, as I drew nearer, my attention was attracted by something white that was nailed up against the finger-post, and I stopped dead, with my eyes riveted by a word printed in great black capitals, and stood oblivious alike of the man who had stopped eating to stare at me, and the bread and meat that he had set down upon the grass; for what I saw was this: