Man and horse at full stretch of the gallop were launching down the dip of the hollow—the wind singing past on the top note of exhilaration— when the bay, too well trained to shy, faltered a moment and broke his stride, as a figure started up from the lee-side of the ridge.
The Collector sailing past and throwing a glance over his shoulder, saw the figure and lifted a hand. In another ten strides he reined up Bayard, turned, and came back at a walk.
He confronted a lean, narrow-chested young man, black-suited, pale of face, with watery eyes, straw-coloured eyelashes and an underbred smile that twitched between timidity and assurance.
“Ah?” queried the Collector, eyeing him and disliking him at sight. “Are you “—doubtfully—“by any chance Mr. Wapshott, the Surveyor?”
“No such luck,” answered the watery-eyed young man with an offhand attempt at familiarity. “I’m his Assistant—name of Banner—Wapshott’s unwell.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Mr.—Mr. Wapshott—sends word that he’s unwell.” Under the Collector’s eye the youth suddenly shifted his manner and became respectful.
“I beg your pardon?” the Collector repeated slowly. “He ‘sends word,’ do you say? I had not the honour at my Inn—from which I have ridden straight—to be notified of Mr. Wapshott’s indisposition.”
Mr. Banner attempted a weak grin and harked back again to familiarity.
“No, I guess not. The fact is—”
“Excuse me; but would you mind taking your hands out of your pockets?”
“Oh, come! Why?” But none the less Mr. Banner removed them.
“Thank you. You were saying?”
“Well, I guess, between you and me”—Mr. Banner’s hands were slipping to his pockets again but he checked the motion and rested a palm nonchalantly on either hip—“the old man was a bit too God-fearing to sign to it.”
“You mean,” the Collector asked slowly, “that he is not, in fact, unwell, but has asked you to convey an untruth?”
“You’ve a downright way of putting it—er—sir” Mr. Banner confessed; “but you get near enough, I shouldn’t wonder. You see, the old—the Surveyor is strict upon Lord’s Day Observance.”
The Collector bent his brows slightly while he smoothed Bayard’s mane. Of a sudden the small scene by the Church porch recurred to him. “Stay,” he said. “I have not the pleasure of knowing Mr. Wapshott, but may I attempt to describe him to you? He is, perhaps, a gentleman of somewhat stunted growth, but of full habit, and somewhat noticeably red between the ear and the neck-stock?”
“That hits him.”
“—with a wife inclining to portliness and six grown daughters, taller than their parents and not precisely in their first bloom. I speak,” added the Collector, still eyeing his victim, “as to a man of the world.”
“You’ve seen him anyhow,” Mr. Banner nodded. “That’s Wapshott.”