And Rake, who assuredly had been an out-and-out scamp, made good Bertie’s creed; he “stuck to him” devoutly, and no terrier was ever more alive to an otter than he was to the Guardsman’s interests. It was that very vigilance which made him, as he rode back from the Zu-Zu’s in the twilight, notice what would have escaped any save one who had been practiced as a trapper in the red Canadian woods; namely, the head of a man, almost hidden among the heavy, though leafless, brushwood and the yellow gorse of a spinney which lay on his left in Royallieu Park. Rake’s eyes were telescopic and microscopic; moreover, they had been trained to know such little signs as a marsh from a hen harrier in full flight, by the length of wing and tail, and a widgeon or a coot from a mallard or a teal, by the depth each swam out of the water. Gray and foggy as it was, and high as was the gorse, Rake recognized his born-foe Willon.
“What’s he up to there?” thought Rake, surveying the place, which was wild, solitary, and an unlikely place enough for a head groom to be found in. “If he ain’t a rascal, I never seen one; it’s my belief he cheats the stable thick and thin, and gets on Mr. Cecil’s mounts to a good tune—aye, and would nobble ’em as soon as not, if it just suited his book. That blessed King hates the man; how he lashes his heels at him!”
It was certainly possible that Willon might be passing an idle hour in potting rabbits, or be otherwise innocently engaged enough; but the sight of him, there among the gorse, was a sight of suspicion to Rake. Instantaneous thoughts darted through his mind of tethering his horse, and making a reconnaissance, safely and unseen, with the science of stalking brute or man that he had learned of his friends the Sioux. But second thoughts showed him that was impossible. The horse he was on was a mere colt, just breaking in, who had barely had so much as a “dumb jockey” on his back; and stand for a second, the colt would not.
“At any rate, I’ll unearth him,” thought Rake, with his latent animosity to the head groom and his vigilant loyalty to Cecil overruling any scruple as to his right to overlook his foe’s movements; and with a gallop that was muffled on the heathered turf he dashed straight at the covert, unperceived till he was within ten paces. Willon started and looked up hastily; he was talking to a square-built man very quietly dressed in shepherd’s plaid, chiefly remarkable by a red-hued beard and whiskers.
The groom turned pale, and laughed nervously as Rake pulled up with a jerk.
“You on that young ‘un again? Take care you don’t get bucked out o’ saddle in the shape of a cocked-hat.”
“I ain’t afraid of going to grass, if you are!” retorted Rake scornfully; boldness was not his enemy’s strong point. “Who’s your pal, old fellow?”
“A cousin o’ mine, out o’ Yorkshire,” vouchsafed Mr. Willon, looking anything but easy, while the cousin aforesaid nodded sulkily on the introduction.