The two men left Soto’s together, very much in the fashion of two ordinary acquaintances sallying out to spend the evening together. Sir Timothy’s Rolls-Royce limousine was in attendance, and in a few minutes they were threading the purlieus of Covent Garden. It was here that an incident occurred which afforded Francis considerable food for thought during the next few days.
It was a Friday night, and one or two waggons laden with vegetable produce were already threading their way through the difficult thoroughfares. Suddenly Sir Timothy, who was looking out of the window, pressed the button of the car, which was at once brought to a standstill. Before the footman could reach the door Sir Timothy was out in the street. For the first time Francis saw him angry. His eyes were blazing. His voice —Francis had followed him at once into the street—shook with passion. His hand had fallen heavily upon the shoulder of a huge carter, who, with whip in hand, was belabouring a thin scarecrow of a horse.
“What the devil are you doing?” Sir Timothy demanded.
The man stared at his questioner, and the instinctive antagonism of race vibrated in his truculent reply. The carter was a beery-faced, untidy-looking brute, but powerfully built and with huge shoulders. Sir Timothy, straight as a dart, without overcoat or any covering to his thin evening clothes, looked like a stripling in front of him.
“I’m whippin’ ’er, if yer want to know,” was the carter’s reply. “I’ve got to get up the ’ill, ’aven’t I? Garn and mind yer own business!”
“This is my business,” Sir Timothy declared, laying his hand upon the neck of the horse. “I am an official of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You are laying yourself open to a fine for your treatment of this poor brute.”
“I’ll lay myself open for a fine for the treatment of something else, if you don’t quid ’old of my ’oss,” the carter retorted, throwing his whip back into the waggon and coming a step nearer. “D’yer ‘ear? I don’t want any swells interferin’ with my business. You ’op it. Is that strite enough? ’Op it, quick!”
Sir Timothy’s anger seemed to have abated. There was even the beginning of a smile upon his lips. All the time his hand caressed the neck of the horse. Francis noticed with amazement that the poor brute had raised his head and seemed to be making some faint effort at reciprocation.
“My good man,” Sir Timothy said, “you seem to be one of those brutal persons unfit to be trusted with an animal. However—”
The carter had heard quite enough. Sir Timothy’s tone seemed to madden him. He clenched his fist and rushed in.
“You take that for interferin’, you big toff!” he shouted.
The result of the man’s effort at pugilism was almost ridiculous. His arms appeared to go round like windmills beating the air. It really seemed as though he had rushed upon the point of Sir Timothy’s knuckles, which had suddenly shot out like the piston of an engine. The carter lay on his back for a moment. Then he staggered viciously to his feet.