“They’ll get away! I know they will!” Tom cried in despair, for both Ezra and his companion, who was none other than Burt, of African notoriety, had disappeared from his sight. His fears proved to be only too well founded, for when at last he succeeded in wresting himself from the constable’s clutches he could find no trace of his enemies. A dozen bystanders gave a dozen different accounts of their movements. He rushed from one platform to another over all the great station. He could have torn his hair at the thought of the way in which he had allowed them to slip through his fingers. It was fully an hour before he finally abandoned the search, and acknowledged to himself that he had been hoodwinked for the third time, and that a long week would elapse before he could have another chance of solving the mystery.
He turned at last sadly and reluctantly away from the station, and walked across to Waterloo Bridge, brooding over all that had occurred, and cursing himself for his stupidity in allowing himself to be drawn into a vulgar brawl, when he might have attained his end so much better by quiet observation. It was some consolation, however, that he had had one fair crack at Ezra Girdlestone. He glanced down at his knuckles, which were raw and bleeding, with a mixture of satisfaction and disgust. With half a smile he put his injured hand in his pocket, and looking up once more became aware that a red-faced gentleman was approaching him in a highly excited manner.
It could not be said that the red-faced gentleman walked, neither could it be said that the red-faced gentleman ran. His mode of progression might best be described as a succession of short and unwieldy jumps, which, as he was a rather stout gentleman, appeared to indicate some very urgent and pressing need for hurry. His face was bathed in perspiration, and his collar had become flaccid and shapeless from the same cause. It appeared to Tom, as he gazed at those rubicund, though anxious, features, that they should be well known to him. That glossy hat, those speckless gaiters, and the long frock-coat, surely they could belong to none other than the gallant Major Tobias Clutterbuck, late of her Majesty’s 119th of the Line?
As the old soldier approached Tom, he quickened his pace, so that when he eventually came up with him he could only puff and pant and hold out a soiled letter.
“Read!” he managed to ejaculate.
Tom opened the letter and glanced his eye over the contents, with a face which had turned as pale as the major’s was red. When he finished it he turned without a word, and began to run in the direction from which he had come, the major following as quickly as his breath would permit.