A hansom was passing down the street, and Ezra, with a few muttered words to the driver, sprang in. Fortunately another had just discharged its fare, and was still waiting by the curb. Tom ran up to it. “Keep that red cab in sight,” he said. “Whatever you do, don’t let it get away from you.” The driver, who was a man of few words, nodded and whipped up his horse.
It chanced that this same horse was either a faster or a fresher one than that which bore the young merchant. The red cab rattled down Fleet Street, then doubled on its tracks, and coming back by St. Paul’s plunged into a labyrinth of side streets, from which it eventually emerged upon the Thames Embankment. In spite of all its efforts, however, it was unable to shake off its pursuer. The red cab journeyed on down the Embankment and across one of the bridges, Tom’s able charioteer still keeping only a few yards behind it. Among the narrow streets on the Surrey side Ezra’s vehicle pulled up at a low beer-shop. Tom’s drove on a hundred yards or so, and then stopped where he could have a good view of whatever occurred. Ezra had jumped out and entered the public-house. Tom waited patiently outside until he should reappear. His movements hitherto had puzzled him completely. For a moment the wild hope came into his head that Kate might be concealed in this strange hiding-place, but a little reflection showed him the absurdity and impossibility of the idea.
He had not long to wait. In a very few minutes young Girdlestone came out again, accompanied by a tall, burly man, with a bushy red beard, who was miserably dressed, and appeared to be somewhat the worse for drink. He was helped into the cab by Ezra, and the pair drove off together. Tom was more bewildered than ever. Who was this fellow, and what connexion had he with the matter on hand? Like a sleuth-hound the pursuing hansom threaded its way through the torrent of vehicles which pour down the London streets, never for one moment losing sight of its quarry. Presently they wheeled into the Waterloo Road, close to the Waterloo Station. The red cab turned sharp round and rattled up the incline which leads to the main line. Tom sprang out, tossed a sovereign to the driver, and followed on foot at the top of his speed.
As he ran into the station Ezra Girdlestone and the red-bearded stranger were immediately in front of him. There was a great swarm of people all around, for, as it was Saturday, there were special trains to the country. Tom was afraid of losing sight of the two men in the crowd, so he elbowed his way through as quickly as he could, and got immediately behind them—so close that he could have touched them with his hand. They were approaching the booking-office, when Ezra glanced round and saw his rival standing behind him. He gave a bitter curse, and whispered something to his half-drunken companion. The latter turned, and with an inarticulate cry, like a wild beast, rushed at the young man and seized him by the throat with his brawny hands.
It is one thing, however, to catch a man by the throat, and another to retain that grip, especially when your antagonist happens to be an International football player. To Tom this red-bearded rough, who charged him so furiously, was nothing more than the thousands of bull-headed forwards who had come upon him like thunder-bolts in the days of old. With the ease begotten by practice he circled his assailant with his long muscular arms, and gave a quick convulsive jerk in which every sinew of his body participated. The red-bearded man’s stumpy legs described a half-circle in the air, and he came down on the stone pavement with a sounding crash which shook every particle of breath from his enormous body.
Tom’s fighting blood was all aflame now, and his grey eyes glittered with a Berserk joy as he made at Ezra. All the cautions of his father and the exhortations of his mother were cast to the winds as he saw his enemy standing before him. To do him justice, Ezra was nothing loth, but sprang forward to meet him, hitting with both hands. They were well matched, for both were trained boxers and exceptionally powerful men. Ezra was perhaps the stronger, but Tom was in better condition. There was a short eager rally—blow and guard and counter so quick and hard that the eye could hardly follow it. Then a rush of railway servants and bystanders tore them asunder. Tom had a red flush on his forehead where a blow had fallen, Ezra was spitting out the fragments of a broken tooth, and bleeding profusely. Each struggled furiously to get at the other, with the result that they were dragged farther apart. Eventually a burly policeman seized Tom by the collar, and held him as in a vice.
“Where is he?” Tom cried, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of his enemy. “He’ll get away after all.”
“Can’t ‘elp that,” said the guardian of the peace phlegmatically. “A gen’elman like you ought to be ashamed. Keep quiet now! Would yer, then!” This last at some specially energetic effort on the part of the prisoner to recover his freedom.