As he spoke, a woman’s shrill scream–a scream which vibrated with a frenzy of horror–burst from the thick, green clump of bushes in front of us. It ended suddenly on its highest note with a choke and a gurgle.
“This way! This way! They are in the bowling-alley,” cried the stranger, darting through the bushes. “Ah, the cowardly dogs! Follow me, gentlemen! Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!”
We had broken suddenly into a lovely glade of greensward surrounded by ancient trees. On the farther side of it, under the shadow of a mighty oak, there stood a singular group of three people. One was a woman, our client, drooping and faint, a handkerchief round her mouth. Opposite her stood a brutal, heavy-faced, red-moustached young man, his gaitered legs parted wide, one arm akimbo, the other waving a riding crop, his whole attitude suggestive of triumphant bravado. Between them an elderly, gray-bearded man, wearing a short surplice over a light tweed suit, had evidently just completed the wedding service, for he pocketed his prayer-book as we appeared, and slapped the sinister bridegroom upon the back in jovial congratulation.
“They’re married?” I gasped.
“Come on!” cried our guide; “come on!” He rushed across the glade, Holmes and I at his heels. As we approached, the lady staggered against the trunk of the tree for support. Williamson, the ex-clergyman, bowed to us with mock politeness, and the bully, Woodley, advanced with a shout of brutal and exultant laughter.
“You can take your beard off, Bob,” said he. “I know you, right enough. Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to be able to introduce you to Mrs. Woodley.”
Our guide’s answer was a singular one. He snatched off the dark beard which had disguised him and threw it on the ground, disclosing a long, sallow, clean-shaven face below it. Then he raised his revolver and covered the young ruffian, who was advancing upon him with his dangerous riding crop swinging in his hand.
“Yes,” said our ally, “I am Bob Carruthers, and I’ll see this woman righted, if I have to swing for it. I told you what I’d do if you molested her, and, by the Lord! I’ll be as good as my word.”
“You’re too late. She’s my wife.”
“No, she’s your widow.”