“I saw him entering his place of worship; and I note that he thinks what you call the Lord’s Day well worth keeping at the cost of a falsehood. May I ask, Mr.—” The Collector hesitated.
“Ah, yes—pardon me! May I ask, Mr. Banner, how it comes that you have a nicer sense than your superior of what is due to His Majesty’s Service?”
Mr. Banner laughed uneasily. “Well, you mightn’t guess it from my looks,” he answered with an attempt to ingratiate himself by way of self-deprecation, “but I am pretty good at working out levels. I really am.”
“That was not my point, though I shall test you on it presently. You are, it appears, a somewhat less rigid Sabbatarian than Mr. Wapshott?”
Hereupon Mr. Banner became cryptic. “You needn’t fear about that,” he answered. “I have what they call a dispensation; and until you startled me, I was up here keeping the Lord’s Day as well as the best of ’em. Better, perhaps.”
“We will get to business,” said the Collector. “Follow me, please.”
He wheeled his horse and, with Mr. Banner walking at his stirrup, rode slowly out to the end of the headland and as slowly back. The Collector asked a question now and then and to every question the young man responded pat. He was no fool. It soon appeared that he had studied the trajectory of guns, that he had views—and sound ones—on coast defences, and that by some study of the subject he had come, a while ago, to a conclusion the Collector took but a few minutes to endorse; that to build a fort on this headland would be waste of public money.
Professionally, Mr. Banner was tolerable. The Collector, consulting with him, forgot the pertness of his address, the distressing twang of his accent. He had dismounted, and the pair were busy with a tape, calling out and checking measurements, when from the southward there was borne to the Collector’s ears the distant crack of a shot-gun.
At the sound of it he glanced up, in time to see Mr. Banner drop the other end of the tape and run. Almost willy-nilly he followed, vaguely wondering if there had happened some accident that called for aid.
Mr. Banner, when the Collector overtook him, had come to a halt overlooking the long beach, and pointed to a figure—a speck almost—for it was distant more than a mile.
“That Josselin girl!” panted Mr. Banner. “I call you to witness!”
The Collector unstrapped his field-glass, which he carried in a bandolier, adjusted it, and through it scanned the beach. Yes, in the distant figure he recognised Ruth Josselin. She carried a gun—or rather, stood with the gun grounded and her hands folded, resting on its muzzle—and appeared to be watching the edge of the breakers, perhaps waiting for them to wash to her feet a dead bird fallen beyond reach.
“See her, do you? I call you to witness!” repeated the voice at his elbow.