“Why, what is the matter?”
“Sabbath breakin’,” answered Mr. Banner with a curious leer.
“But you yourself don’t take much account of the Lord’s Day, seemingly. Bathin’, f’r instance.”
“Indeed!” The Collector eyed his companion reflectively. “You honoured me with your observation this morning?”
Mr. Banner grinned. “Better say the whole of Port Nassau was hon’rin’ you. Oh, there’d be no lack of evidence!—but I guess the magistrates were lookin’ the other way. They allowed, no doubt, that even a Sabbath-breaker might be havin’ friends at Court!”
The Collector could not forbear smiling at the youth’s impudence.
“May I ask what punishment I have probably escaped by that advantage?”
“Well,” said Mr. Banner, “for lighter cases it’s usually the stocks.”
Still the Collector smiled. “I am trying to picture it,” said he, after a pause. “But you don’t tell me they would put a young girl in the stocks, merely for firing a gun on the Lord’s Day, as you call it?”
“Wouldn’t they!” Mr. Banner chuckled. “That, or the pillory.”
“You are a strange folk in Port Nassau.” The Collector frowned, upon a sudden suspicion, and his eyes darkened in their scrutiny of Mr. Banner’s unpleasant face. “By the way, you told me just now that you were here upon some sort of a dispensation. Forgive me if I do you wrong, but was it by any chance that you might play the spy upon this girl?”
“Shadbolt asked me to keep an eye liftin’ for her.”
“Who is Shadbolt?”
“The Town Beadle. He’s watchin’
somewhere along the cliffs.”
Mr. Banner waved a hand towards the neck of the headland.
“It’s a scandal, and by all accounts has been goin’ on for weeks.”
“So that is why you called me to witness? Well, Mr. Banner, I have a horsewhip lying on the turf yonder, and I warn you to forget your suggestion. . . . Shall we resume our measurements?—and, if you please, in silence. Your presence is distasteful to me.”
They turned from the cliff and went back to their work, in which—for they both enjoyed it—they were soon immersed. It may have been, too, that the wind had shifted. At any rate they missed to hear, ten minutes later, a second shot fired on the beach, not more distant but fainter than the first.
Next morning, at ten o’clock, the Collector’s coach-and-six stood at the Inn gate, harnessed up and ready for the return journey. In the road-way beyond one of the grooms waited with a hand on Bayard’s bridle.
The Collector, booted and spurred, with riding-whip tucked under his arm, came up the pebbled pathway, drawing on his gauntleted gloves. Dicky trotted beside him. Manasseh followed in attendance. Behind them in the porchway the landlady bobbed unregarded, like a piece of clockwork gradually running down.