“I think that it’s Acton that wants him,” said Rogers. “Come to think of it, Grimmy, you’re Acton’s man. Why doesn’t he lag you?”
“Grimmy’s not to be trusted. He’d read the billet-doux”
“I don’t believe that there’s any notes, Wilson,” said Grim, impressively, “in this business. It’s something deeper than that.”
“What’s the mystery, Mr. Grimmy Sherlock Combs?”
“Poachin’,” said Grim, solemnly.
“What!” exclaimed the other, with breathless interest.
“Dunno, quite,” said Grim; “but that young ass dropped a cartridge from his pocket the other day.”
“There’s nothing to poach here, Grimmy.”
“There’s Pettigrew’s pheasants,” said Grim, mysteriously.
“But you don’t shoot them in March.”
“We don’t, Poulett, but poachers do.”
“Tisn’t likely that Acton——”
“Well, don’t know,” said Rogers, reflectively. “He’s lived so long in France, where they shoot robins and nightingales, that he’ll not know.”
“But Bourne would.”
“That’s why he looks so blue. He does know, and it preys on his mind.”
W.E. Grim’s pathetic picture of young Bourne turned out-of-season poacher against his will by an inexorable Acton didn’t seem quite to fill the bill.
“Grimmy, you’re an absolute idiot. That poachin’ dodge won’t do. Perhaps, after all, they only bike round generally.”
“What about that cartridge?” said Grim.
The little knot of cronies discussed the matter for a good half-hour, Grim holding tenaciously to a poaching theory—pheasants or rabbits—the others scouting the idea as next door to the absurd.
“Look here,” said Wilson, brilliantly, “we’ll track the pair to their earth to-morrow. If they’re after birds or bunnies I’ll stand tea all round at Hooper’s.”
“All right,” said Grim. “I’d like to know about that cartridge.”
On the morrow the suspicious band quietly trotted out after dinner from St. Amory’s, dressed ostensibly for a run down Westcote way. Once down the hill they lay well out in the fields, keeping a sharp watch through the hedges for their quarry. When they saw two well-known figures, feet on the rest, coasting merrily down and head for Westcote, they all drew a long breath and girded up their loins for the race.
“With luck and the short cuts,” said Grim, stepping out, “we may just see ’em sneak into Pettigrew’s woods.”
“And we’ve got a mile in hand too,” said Wilson.
The cronies ran tightly together, nursing their wind and keeping well screened from eyeshot from the road, not that either Acton, or Bourne dreamed that their afternoon’s run was being dogged by anyone. From their numerous short cuts the scouts were necessarily out of view from the road, but they marked the two cyclists from point to point and themselves headed up hill and down dale straight for Westcote. They felt pretty well winded by now, as they stood panting in a breezy spinney, watching for the appearance of their quarry on the brown road beneath them.