“This young shaver was going to nick my bike. I seen him.”
“I wasn’t, you fool——” began Rogers, who did not like the man’s knuckles in his neck.
“Fool am I, you little ugly thief? Worn’t you a-scorchin’ down the road w’it? I see you.”
The other Amorians curled up with laughter at the way things were mixing up, and at the last exquisite joke.
“Jove, Rogers, to think you meant to steal it!” burbled Poulett.
“Leave loose of my collar, you idiot,” said Rogers, squirming in the man’s grasp; “I tell you it’s all a mistake.”
“That’s all my h’eye. I see you sneak it, and it’ll be a month for you. Sneaking bikes is awful! Mistake be blowed.”
“Oh! explain, some of you,” said Rogers, frantically, “before I—Grim, tell the lunatic.”
The Amorians were beyond mere laughter now, but the landlord had wit enough to see that there was some mistake somewhere, and he finally persuaded the owner of the bicycle to moderate his attentions to the exasperated Rogers. Grim recovered sufficiently to lift some of the suspicions from that ill-used youth.
“We thought you were a friend of ours—back view only and at a distance, you know—but you’re not very like him, really, in the face. His name’s Bourne.”
“Mine’s ’Arris,” said the bicycle owner, angrily.
“A very nice name, too;” said Grim, soothingly. “You’d better see what’s the damage to the machine for we must be trotting back to St. Amory’s.”
Mr. Harris spun the pedals and tried the wheels.
“It’s shook up considerable, that’s wot it is.”
“All right,” said Grim, hastily. “Here’s a shilling. Give it a drink of beer.”
This was a wretched joke really, but it brightened the face of Mr. Harris considerably when he heard it, and the loafers departed from their dispassionate attitude, and became quite friendly. The landlord went in to draw beer.
A minute afterwards the quartette was heading back for St. Amory’s as hard as it could go, and whenever a halt was called for breath, three of the cronies collapsed on the earth, and howled at Rogers, who could not see the joke.
Over a quiet little tea, after call-over, at Hooper’s Rogers explained fully his views.
“No, I’m not going to do any more detective work. We missed Acton and Bourne beautifully; they don’t go to Westcote, and Grimmy’s idea about poachin’ ’s rotten. He may be Acton’s messenger-boy or the rider of a decent pneumatic, but I’m going to let him go his own way.”
When, afterwards, they rubbed embrocation into their wearied limbs, the rest agreed with Rogers.
“But, yet,” said Grim, “I’d like to know about that cartridge too.”
TODD “FINDS HIMSELF”