Dour Dolan stopped me on the Pilgrim’s Path. “Let me tell you about Mr. Rummins, son,” he said. “He’s a rotten one, and I finally caught him, right back there, beyond that gate, by the Old Tinkler beyond Hubert’s Span.”
“Red-handed?” I said.
Dolan nodded. “Damned I’ll be if any other way I did catch him and now witnessed such to you, here on the Pilgrim’s Path just come from the Old Tinkler beyond Hubert’s Span past that gate to the blackened wood.”
“Beyond Hubert’s Span? You mean, I’m assuming, the distance twice the number of fence lengths from Hob’s Pond and round the Blighter’s Bende?”
“I affirm as much. Twice the number and ten beyond, tangentially northwest.”
I calculated the tract in my head. “And are you satisfied, Mister Dolan, that stock still I am and stock still I will remain now that you have piqued my interest?”
His stony eyes did not waver. “I am.” Dolan removed his hand from my shoulder.
“Speak then,” I said. “At least until the sun drops another tick toward the sink.”
“A sufficient allotment,” said Dolan. “I found him prostrate, face hoverin’ o’er the Old Tinkler, his ugly snoot not a fingernail’s length from the glassy surface.”
“Fair to call the proximity ‘by’ as you have, I suppose, but I confess a distance from the initial image in my mind to the current depiction.”
Dolan grunted. “Then I have bridged that gap. At any rate, Rummins heard not a step as my shoes are soft and old and tread the wet mosses of which you know; the kind that make fine beds for layabouts and aristocrats on a weekday. The wind blew my scent behind. I snuck close. I raised my rifle. Still he moved not.”
Dolan let his last words linger. His eyes fixated on mine. He moved not. I matched his stare.
Down the road, a horse neighed.
Up a tree, a cardinal cheered.
At Dolan’s feet, Mr. Rummins dragged his rear along Pilgrim’s Path.
I blinked and Dolan continued.
“With the greatest care, I lay my weapon in the moss and sat beside Old Rummins. He started at my sudden appearance – he’s quite as deaf as his master now – but returned to his watch. The bluegills, as is their nature, flit about in the deeper eddies. Rummins lay enrapt.” Dolan stroked the dog’s head. “We sat a while and I deemed it harmless that he found his way on a dead man’s property. For Mr. Rummins, to obtain permission to tread through Hubert’s Span would require speech with the dead in second order and speech itself in first, a scale of impossibility to the best of my reasoning.
“A sensible solution,” I said.
“I deemed it so,” he said. Dolan’s eyes wandered to the sky above. “Our time is spent. On my way.”
“He’s a good dog, Mister Dolan.”
“Aye. For an old man.”