He mounted therefore and rode up the street. The roadway was deserted; but along the side-walk, sober families, marching by twos and threes, turned their heads at the sound of Bayard’s hoofs on the cobbles. The Collector set his face and passed them with a grave look, as of one absorbed in affairs of moment. Nevertheless, coming to the whitewashed Church where the streams of worshippers converged and choking the porchway overflowed upon the street, he added the courtesy of doffing his hat as he rode by. He did this still with a set face, looking straight between Bayard’s ears; but with the tail of his eye caught one glimpse of a little comedy which puzzled and amused him.
A small rotund, red-gilled man, in bearing and aspect not unlike a turkey-cock, was mounting the steps of the portico. Behind this personage sailed an ample lady of middle age, with a bevy of younger damsels—his spouse and daughters doubtless. Suddenly—and as if, at sight of the Collector, a whisper passed among them—the middle-aged lady shot out a hand, arrested her husband by the coat-tail and drew him down a step, while the daughters ranged themselves in semicircle around him, spreading their skirts and together effacing him from view, much as a hen covers her offspring.
The Collector laughed inwardly as he replaced his hat, and rode on speculating what this bit of by-play might mean. But it had passed out of his thoughts before he came to the outskirts of the town.
The road—the same by which he had arrived last night—mounted all the way and led across the neck of the headland. His business, however, lay out upon the headland itself and almost at its extremest verge; and a mile above the town he struck off to the left where a bridle-path climbed by a long slant to the ridge. Half an hour’s easy riding brought him to the top of the ascent, whence he looked down on the long beach he had travelled yesterday. The sea lay spread on three sides of him. Its salt breeze played on his face; and the bay horse, feeling the tickle of it in his nostrils, threw up his head with a whinny. “Good, old boy—is it not?” asked the Collector, patting his neck. “Suppose we try a breather of it?”
The chine of the headland—of turf, short-cropped by the unceasing wind—stretched smooth as a racecourse for close upon a mile, with a gentle dip midway much like the hollow of a saddle. The Collector ran his eye along it in search of the two men he had come to meet, but could spy neither of them.
“Sheltering somewhere from the breeze, maybe,” he decided. “We don’t mind it, hey? Come along, lad—here’s wine for heroes!”
He touched Bayard with the spur, and the good horse started at a gallop—a rollicking gallop and in the very tune of his master’s mood; and if all Port Nassau had not been at its devotions, the chins of its burghers might have tilted themselves in wonder at the apparition—a Centaur, enlarged upon the skyline.