A little farther on, upon one side of the way, was a small wood or coppice, and now I made towards this, keeping well in the shadow of the hedge. The trees were somewhat scattered, but the underbrush was very dense, and amongst this I hid myself where I could watch the road, and waited. Minute after minute elapsed, and, losing patience, I was about to give up all hope of thus discovering my unknown pursuer, when a stick snapped sharply near by, and, glancing round, I thought I saw a head vanish behind the bole of an adjacent tree; wherefore I made quickly towards that tree, but ere I reached it, a man stepped out. A tall, loose-limbed fellow he was, clad in rough clothes (that somehow had about them a vague suggestion of ships and the sea), and with a moth-eaten, fur cap crushed down upon his head. His face gleamed pale, and his eyes were deep-sunken, and very bright; also, I noticed that one hand was hidden in the pocket of his coat. But most of all, I was struck by the extreme pallor of his face, and the burning brilliancy of his eyes.
And, with the glance that showed me all this, I recognized the Outside Passenger.
HOW I TALKED WITH A MADMAN IN A WOOD BY MOONLIGHT
“Good evening, sir!” he said, in a strange, hurried sort of way, “the moon, you will perceive, is very nearly at the full to-night.” And his voice, immediately, struck me as being at odds with his clothes.
“Why do you stand and peer at me?” said I sharply.
“Peer at you, sir?”
“Yes, from behind the tree, yonder.” As I spoke, he craned his head towards me, and I saw his pale lips twitch suddenly. “And why have you dogged me; why have you followed me all the way from Tonbridge?”
“Why, sir, surely there is nothing so strange in that. I am a shadow.”
“What do you mean by ’a shadow’?”
“Sir, I am a shadow cast by neither sun, nor moon, nor star, that moves on unceasingly in dark as in light. Sir, it is my fate (in common with my kind), to be ever upon the move—a stranger everywhere without friends or kindred. I have been, during the past year, all over England, east, and west, and north, and south; within the past week, for instance, I have travelled from London to Epsom, from Epsom to Brighton, from Brighton back again to London, and from London here. And I peer at you, sir, because I wished to make certain what manner of man you were before I spoke, and though the moon is bright, yet your hat-brim left your face in shade.”
“Well, are you satisfied?”
“So much so, sir, so very much so, that I should like to talk with you, to—to ask you a question,” he answered, passing his hand—a thin, white hand—across his brow, and up over the fur cap that was so out of keeping with the pale face below.
“If you will be so obliging as to listen, sir; let us sit awhile, for I am very weary.” And with the words he sank down upon the grass. After a momentary hesitation, I followed his example, for my curiosity was piqued by the fellow’s strange manner; yet, when we were sitting opposite each other, I saw that his hand was still hidden in the pocket of his coat.