Then suddenly Ellice broke away, and a few minutes later was riding hard down the road to Starden.
It was always to Starden that she rode. Always she passed the great gates of Starden Hall, yet never even glanced at them. She rode into the little village, propped her bicycle against the railings that surrounded the old stocks that stood on the village green, and there sat on a seat and watched the ducks in the green village pond and the children playing cricket. Then, after waiting perhaps an hour, she would mount and ride slowly back to Buddesby again.
It was the programme that she carried out this morning. It was twelve o’clock when she came in sight of Buddesby village, a mile distant as yet.
“Missy! Missy!” Someone was calling. Ellice slowed down and looked about her. On the bank beside the road a man sat, and he was nursing an ugly yellow lurcher dog in his arms.
“Missy!” the man called, and his voice was broken and harsh with suffering.
It was Rundle, the poacher, and his dog, and there was blood on Rundle’s hand, blood trickling down from a wound in the dog’s side. The man was holding the dog as he might have held a child. The big ugly yellow head was against the man’s breast, and in its agony the dog was licking the man’s rough hand.
And watching, there came back to Ellice’s memory what she had said of this man and his dog.
“You’ll do something for me, missy, something as I—I can’t do myself!” He shuddered. “Will you ride on to Taylor’s and ask him to come here and bring—his gun?”
“I—I can’t do it myself!”
“He might be cured.”
“There’s only Mister Vinston, the Vet, and he wouldn’t look at this poor tyke of mine. He hates him too bad for that, because Snatcher killed one of them fancy poodle dogs of his two years ago; and Mr. Vinston ain’t never forgot it—and never will. He wouldn’t do nothing to save Snatcher, miss. Ask Taylor to come and bring his gun.”
Ellice nodded. She stretched out her hand and touched the shaggy yellow head, and in her eyes was infinite pity. Then she mounted the bicycle, and rode like the wind to Buddesby. What she said to Mr. Ralph Vinston, the smart young veterinary surgeon, only she and Mr. Ralph Vinston knew.
He had refused definitely and decidedly. “It’ll be a blessing to the place if the beast dies,” he said. “You’d better take his message to Taylor. The gun’s the best remedy for Rundle’s accursed dog, Miss Ellice.”
And then the girl had talked to him, had talked with flashing eyes and heaving breast, and the end of it was that Ralph Vinston made a collection of surgical instruments, bandages, and other necessaries, bundled them into his little car, and was away down the road with Ellice in company within ten minutes.
Hugh Alston had certainly not attempted anything in