“There they are,” gasped Wilson, pretty blown.
“There’s only one,” said Rogers, “and it is that young owl Bourne, too. He’s shed Acton.”
“Perhaps he’s punctured,” suggested Grim; “anyhow, we hang on to Jack.”
Rather puzzled at the non-appearance of Acton, they kept the first-comer well in view as he pedalled hard for Westcote.
“That’s Jack right enough,” said Rogers; “and we’ll have to leg it or he’ll slip us. Jove! he’s captured a wheel with a vengeance. Hear it hum.”
The quartette strung down the hill full pelt, but when they got to the bottom the cyclist was a good hundred yards ahead. His pursuers came to a dead stop.
“May as well go home now,” said Grim, in great disgust. “We can’t dog him now, and anyhow it isn’t Pettigrew’s pheasants that Jack’s after: he’s gone past the woods. What a bone-shaker he’s captured. Hear the spokes rattlin’.”
“Not so quick, Grimmy. He’s wheeling into that little Westcote inn. We’ll run him down now.”
The rider had indeed dismounted nearly a quarter mile ahead, and instantly the Amorians were stringing down the road again. Before the door of the little inn they found a bicycle propped up drunkenly against the wall, and the Amorians, pumped though they were, had breath enough left to explode over Bourne’s machine. It was a “solid” of pre-diamond-frame days, guiltless of enamel or plating, and handle-bars of width generous enough for a Dutch herring-boat’s bow.
“There’s no false pride about Jack,” said Grim, gloating over the weird mount. “Whatever is he doing in here?”
“Liquid refreshment,” said Rogers between a gulp and a gasp. “Oh, Jack, was it for this and this that you gave us the go-by?”
“This place doesn’t seem Jack’s form somehow,” said Wilson, looking doubtfully up and down the little inn.
“Ring him out, Wilson,” said Grim. “His little game’s up now, and we can rag him for an age over this.”
“Let’s try his mount first, Grimmy.” Rogers wheeled out the machine and, after hopping twenty yards, “found” the saddle. To mount it was one thing, to ride it was evidently a matter of liberal education beyond the attainments of a junior Amorian, for, as Rogers attempted a modest sweep round, the machine collapsed, and he was sprawling on his back, the bicycle rattling about his ears. Then—it seemed automatically to the gasping Amorians—a sturdy youth rushed out of the inn flourishing a half-emptied glass of beer in one hand, and he seized the struggling Rogers by the scruff of the neck with the other. Rogers was unceremoniously jerked to his feet before he quite realized what it was all about. One or two men lounged out of the inn, and surveyed the scene dispassionately, and the landlord pushed his way forward.
“Wot’s the matter?”
“Matter!” gasped the youth, tightening his hold on Rogers’ collar and waving his glass dramatically.