A Rogue's Life HTML version
was really uppermost in my mind. If any unforeseen accident placed me within
the grip of the law, I should not now have the double trial to endure of leaving my
wife for a prison, and leaving her helpless.
Morning dawned and found us still awake. The sun rose, Mrs. Baggs left off
snoring, and we arrived at the last stage before the coach stopped.
I got out to see about some tea for my traveling companions, and looked up at
the outside passengers. One of them seated in the dickey looked down at me.
He was a countryman in a smock-frock, with a green patch over one of his eyes.
Something in the expression of his uncovered eye made me pause--reflect--turn
away uneasily--and then look again at him furtively. A sudden shudder ran
through me from top to toe; my heart sank; and my head began to feel giddy. The
countryman in the dickey was no other than the Bow Street runner in disguise.
I kept away from the coach till the fresh horses were on the point of starting, for I
was afraid to let Alicia see my face, after making that fatal discovery. She noticed
how pale I was when I got in. I made the best excuse I could; and gently insisted
on her trying to sleep a little after being awake all night. She lay back in her
corner; and Mrs. Baggs, comforted with a morning dram in her tea, fell asleep
again. I had thus an hour's leisure before me to think what I should do next.
Screw was not in company with the runner this time. He must have managed to
ident ify me somewhere, and the officer doubtless knew my personal appearance
well enough now to follow and make sure of me without help. That I was the man
whom he was tracking could not be doubted: his disguise and his position on the
top of the coach proved it only too plainly.
But why had he not seized me at once? Probably because he had some ulterior
purpose to serve, which would have been thwarted by my immediate
apprehension. What that purpose was I did my best to fathom, and, as I thought,
succeeded in the attempt. What I was to do when the coach stopped was a more
difficult point to settle. To give the runner the slip, with two women to take care
of, was simply impossible. To treat him, as I had treated Screw at the red-brick
house, was equally out of the question, for he was certain to give me no chance
of catching him alone. To keep him in ignorance of the real object of my journey,
and thereby to delay his discovering himself and attempting to make me a
prisoner, seemed the only plan on the safety of which I could place the smallest
reliance. If I had ever had any idea of following the example of other runaway
lovers, and going to Gretna Green, I should now have abandoned it. All roads in
that direction would betray what the purpose of my journey was if I took them.
Some large town in Scotland would be the safest destination that I could publicly
advertise myself as bound for. Why not boldly say that I was going with the two
ladies to Edinburgh?
Such was the plan of action which I now adopted.