A MAID OF THE SILVER SEA
With Frontispiece in Colour by Harold Copping
Hodder and Stoughton Warwick Square, London, E.C.
TO MY FRIEND EDWARD BAKER OF LA CHAUMIERE, SARK
ON WHOSE MOST HOSPITABLE AND SUPREMELY COMFORTABLE VERANDAH, LOOKING OUT TO THE FAIR COAST OF FRANCE, THIS STORY WAS PARTLY WRITTEN, I INSCRIBE THE SAME IN REMEMBRANCE OF MANY DELIGHTFUL DAYS TOGETHER
CHAPTER I HOW TWO LAY IN A CLEFT
CHAPTER II HOW NANCE CAME TO BE HERSELF
CHAPTER III HOW THE NEW MINE CAPTAIN CAME
CHAPTER IV HOW GARD MADE NEW ACQUAINTANCES
CHAPTER V HOW NANCE SHONE THROUGH HER MODEST VEILING
CHAPTER VI HOW GRANNIE SCHEMED SCHEMES
CHAPTER VII HOW GARD FOUGHT GALES AND TOM
CHAPTER VIII HOW TOM WANTED TO BUT DIDN'T DARE
CHAPTER IX HOW OLD TOM FOUND THE SILVER HEART
CHAPTER X HOW YOUNG TOM FOUND HIS MATCH
CHAPTER XI HOW GARD DREW NEARER TO HIS HEART'S DESIRE
CHAPTER XII HOW NANCE CAME UP THE MAIN SHAFT WITHOUT GOING DOWN IT
CHAPTER XIII HOW GARD REFUSED AN OFFER AND MADE AN ENEMY
CHAPTER XIV HOW THEY WENT THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF THE NARROW WAY
CHAPTER XV HOW TWO FELL OUT
CHAPTER XVI HOW ONE FELL OVER
CHAPTER XVII HOW TOM WENT TO SCHOOL FOR THE LAST TIME
CHAPTER XVIII HOW PETER'S DIPLOMACY CAME TO NOUGHT
CHAPTER XIX HOW THE SARK MEN FELT ABOUT IT
CHAPTER XX HOW SARK CRAVED BLOOD FOR BLOOD
CHAPTER XXI HOW LOVE TOOK LOVE TO SANCTUARY
CHAPTER XXII HOW THE STARS SANG OF HOPE
CHAPTER XXIII HOW NANCE SENT FOOD AND HOPE TO HIM
CHAPTER XXIV HOW HE SAW STRANGE SIGHTS
CHAPTER XXV HOW HE LIVED THROUGH THE GREAT STORM
CHAPTER XXVI HOW HE HELD THE ROCK
CHAPTER XXVII HOW ONE CAME TO HIM LIKE AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN
CHAPTER XXVIII HOW THE OTHERS CAME TO MAKE AN END
CHAPTER XXIX HOW HE CAME INTO AN UNKNOWN PLACE
CHAPTER XXX HOW NANCE WATCHED FROM AFAR
CHAPTER XXXI HOW TWO WENT IN AND THREE CAME OUT
CHAPTER XXXII HOW JULIE MEDITATED EVIL
CHAPTER XXXIII HOW HOPE CAME ONCE AGAIN
CHAPTER XXXIV HOW JULIE'S SCHEMES FELL FLAT
CHAPTER XXXV HOW AN ANGEL CAME BRINGING THE TRUTH
CHAPTER XXXVI HOW HE CAME HOME FROM L'ETAT
CHAPTER XXXVII HOW THEY LAID TRAPS FOR THE DEVIL
CHAPTER XXXVIII HOW THEY LAID THE DEVIL BY THE HEELS
CHAPTER XXXIX HOW THEY THANKED GOD FOR HIS MERCIES
HOW TWO LAY IN A CLEFT
A girl and a boy lay in a cubby-hole in the north side of the cliff overlooking Port Gorey, and watched the goings-on down below.
The sun was tending towards Guernsey and the gulf was filled witn golden light. A small brig, unkempt and dirty, was nosing towards the rough wooden landing-stage clamped to the opposite rocks, as though doubtful of the advisability of attempting its closer acquaintance.
"Mon Gyu, Bern, how I wish they were all at the bottom of the sea!" said the girl vehemently.
"Whe—e—e—w!" whistled the boy, and then with a twinkle in his eye,—"Who's got a new parasol now?"
"Everybody!—but it's not that. It's the bustle—and the dirt—and the noise—and oh—everything! You can't remember what it was like before these wretched mines came—no dust, no noise, no bustle, no dirty men, no silly women, no nothing as it is now. Just Sark as it used to be. And now—! Mon Gyu, yes I wish the sea would break in through their nasty tunnels and wash them all away—pumps and engines and houses—everything!"
And up on the hillside at the head of the gulf the great pumping-engine clacked monotonously "Never! Never! Never!"
"You've got it bad to-day, Nan," said the boy.
"I've always got it bad. It makes me sick. It has changed everything and everybody—everybody except mother and you," she added quickly. "Get—get—get! Why we hardly used to know what money was, and now no one thinks of anything but getting all they can. It is sickening."
"S—s—s—s—t!" signalled the boy suddenly, at the sound of steps and voices on the cliff outside and close at hand.
"Tom," muttered the boy.
"And Peter Mauger," murmured the girl, and they both shrank lower into their hiding-place.
It was a tiny natural chamber in the sharp slope of the hill. Ages ago the massive granite boulders of the headland, loosened and undercut by the ceaseless assaults of wind and weather and the deadly quiet fingers of the frost, had come rolling down the slope till they settled afresh on new foundations, forming holes and crannies and little angular chambers where the splintered shoulders met. In time, the soil silted down and covered their asperities, and—like a good colonist—carrying in itself the means of increase, it presently brought forth and blossomed, and the erstwhile shattered rocks were royally robed in russet and purple, and green and gold.
Among these fantastic little chambers Nance had played as a child, and had found refuge in them from the persecutions of her big half-brother, Tom Hamon. Tom was six when she was born—fourteen accordingly when she was at the teasable age of eight, and unusually tempting as a victim by reason of her passionate resentment of his unwelcome attentions.
She hated Tom, and Tom had always resented her and her mother's intrusion into the family, and Bernel's, when he came, four years after Nance.
What his father wanted to marry again for, Tom never could make out. His lack of training and limited powers of expression did not indeed permit him any distinct reasoning on the matter, but the feeling was there—a dull resentment which found its only vent and satisfaction in stolid rudeness to his stepmother and the persecution of Nance and Bernel whenever occasion offered.
The household was not therefore on too happy a footing.
It consisted, at the time when our story opens, of—Old Mrs. Hamon—Grannie—half of whose life had been lived in the nineteenth century and half in the eighteenth. She had seen all the wild doings of the privateering and free-trading days, and recalled as a comparatively recent event the raiding of the Island by the men of Herm, though that happened forty years before.
She was for the most part a very reserved and silent old lady, but her tongue could bite like a whip when the need arose.
She occupied her own dower-rooms in the house, and rarely went outside them. All day long she sat in her great arm-chair by the window in her sitting-room, with the door wide open, so that she could see all that went on in the house and outside it; and in the sombre depths of her great black silk sun-bonnet—long since turned by age and weather to dusky green—her watchful eyes had in them something of the inscrutable and menacing.
Her wants were very few, and as her income from her one-third of the farm had far exceeded her expenses for more than twenty years, she was reputed as rich in material matters as she undoubtedly was in common-sense and worldly wisdom. Even young Tom was sulkily silent before her on the rare occasions when they came into contact.
Next in the family came the nominal head of it, "Old Tom" Hamon, to distinguish him from young Tom, his son; a rough, not ill-natured man, until the money-getting fever seized him, since which time his home-folks had found in him changes that did not make for their comfort.
The discovery of silver in Sark, the opening of the mines, and the coming of the English miners—with all the very problematical benefits of a vastly increased currency of money, and the sudden introduction of new ideas and standards of life and living into a community which had hitherto been contented with the order of things known to its forefathers—these things had told upon many, but on none more than old Tom Hamon.
Suspicious at first of the meaning and doings of these strangers, he very soon found them advantageous. He got excellent prices for his farm produce, and when his horses and carts were not otherwise engaged he could always turn them to account hauling for the mines.
As the silver-fever grew in him he became closer in his dealings both abroad and at home. With every pound he could scrimp and save he bought shares in the mines and believed in them absolutely. And he went on scrimping and saving and buying shares so as to have as large a stake in the silver future as possible.
He got no return as yet from his investment, indeed. But that would come all right in time, and the more shares he could get hold of the larger the ultimate return would be. And so he stinted himself and his family, and mortgaged his future, in hopes of wealth which he would not have known how to enjoy if he had succeeded in getting it.
So possessed was he with the desire for gain that when young Tom came home from sea he left the farming to him, and took to the mining himself, and worked harder than he had ever worked in his life before.
He was a sturdy, middle-sized man, with a grizzled bullet head and rounded beard, of a dogged and pertinacious disposition, but capable, when stirred out of his usual phlegm, of fiery outbursts which overbore all argument and opposition. His wife died when his boy Tom was three, and after two years of lonely discomfort he married Nancy Poidestre of Petit Dixcart, whose people looked upon it as something of a mesalliance that she should marry out of her own country into Little Sark.
Nancy was eminently good-looking and a notable housewife, and she went into Tom Hamon's house of La Closerie with every hope and intention of making him happy.
But, from the very first, little Tom set his face against her.
It would be hard to say why. Nancy racked her brain for reasons, and could find none, and was miserable over it.
His father thrashed him for his rudeness and insolence, which only made matters worse.
His own mother had given way to him in everything, and spoiled him completely. After her death his father out of pity for his forlorn estate, had equally given way to him, and only realised, too late, when he tried to bring him to with a round turn, how thoroughly out of hand he had got.
When little Tom found, as one consequence of the new mother's arrival, that his father thrashed instead of humouring him, he put it all down to the new-comer's account, and set himself to her discomfiture in every way his barbarous little wits could devise.
He never forgot one awful week he passed in his grandmother's care—a week that terminated in the arrival of still another new-comer, who, in course of time, developed into little Nance. It is not impossible that the remembrance of that black week tended to colour his after-treatment of his little half-sister. In spite of her winsomeness he hated her always, and did his very best to make life a burden to her.
When, on that memorable occasion, he was hastily flung by his father into his grandmother's room, as the result of some wickedness which had sorely upset his stepmother, and the door was, most unusually, closed behind him, his first natural impulse was to escape as quickly as possible.
But he became aware of something unusual and discomforting in the atmosphere, and when his grandmother said sternly, "Sit down!" and he turned on her to offer his own opinion on the matter, he found the keen dark eyes gazing out at him from under the shadowy penthouse of the great black sun-bonnet, with so intent and compelling a stare that his mouth closed without saying a word. He climbed up on to a chair and twisted his feet round the legs by way of anchorage.
Then he sat up and stared back at Grannie, and as an exhibition of nonchalance and high spirit, put out his tongue at her.
Grannie only looked at him.
And, bit by bit, the tongue withdrew, and only the gaping mouth was left, and above it a pair of frightened green eyes, transmitting to the perverse little soul within new impressions and vague terrors.
Before long his left arm went up over his face to shut out the sight of Grannie's dreadful staring eyes, and when, after a sufficient interval, he ventured a peep at her and found her eyes still fixed on him, he howled, "Take it off! Take it off!" and slipped his anchors and slid to the floor, hunching his back at this tormentor who could beat him on his own ground.
For that week he gave no trouble to any one. But after it he never went near Grannie's room, and for years he never spoke to her. When he passed her open door, or in front of her window, he hunched his shoulder protectively and averted his eyes.
Resenting control in any shape or form, Tom naturally objected to school.
His stepmother would have had him go—for his own sake as well as hers. But his father took a not unusual Sark view of the matter.
"What's the odds?" said he. "He'll have the farm. Book-learning will be no use to him," and in spite of Nancy's protests—which Tom regarded as simply the natural outcrop of her ill-will towards him—the boy grew up untaught and uncontrolled, and knowing none but the worst of all masters—himself.
On occasion, when the tale of provocation reached its limit, his father thrashed him, until there came a day when Tom upset the usual course of proceedings by snatching the stick out of his father's hands, and would have belaboured him in turn if he had not been promptly knocked down.
After that his father judged it best for all concerned that he should flight his troublesome wings outside for a while. So he sent him off in a trading-ship, in the somewhat forlorn hope that a knowledge of the world would knock some of the devil out of him—a hope which, like many another, fell short of accomplishment.
The world knocks a good deal out of a man, but it also knocks a good deal in. Tom came back from his voyaging knowing a good many things that he had not known when he started—a little English among others—and most of the others things which had been more profitably left unlearnt.
HOW NANCE CAME TO BE HERSELF
And little Nance?
The most persistent memories of Nance's childhood were her fear and hatred of Tom, and her passionate love for her mother,—and Bernel when he came.
"My own," she called these two, and regarded even her father as somewhat outside that special pale; esteemed Grannie as an Olympian, benevolently inclined, but dwelling on a remote and loftier plane; and feared and detested Tom as an open enemy.
And she had reasons.
She was a high-strung child, too strong and healthy to be actually nervous, but with every faculty always at its fullest—not only in active working order but always actively at work—an admirable subject therefore for the malevolence of an enemy whose constant proximity offered him endless opportunity.
Much of his boyish persecution never reached the ears of the higher powers. Nance very soon came to accept Tom's rough treatment as natural from a big fellow of fourteen to a small girl of eight, and she bore it stoically and hated him the harder.
Her mother taught her carefully to say her prayers, which included petitions for the welfare of Grannie and father and brother Tom, and for a time, with the perfunctoriness of childhood, which attaches more weight to the act than to the meaning of it, she allowed that to pass with a stickle and a slur. But very soon brother Tom was ruthlessly dropped out of the ritual, and neither threats nor persuasion could induce her to re-establish him.
Later on, and in private, she added to her acknowledged petitions an appendix, unmistakably brief and to the point—"And, O God, please kill brother Tom!"—and lived in hope.
She was an unusually pretty child, though her prettiness developed afterwards—as childish prettiness does not always—into something finer and more lasting.
She had, as a child, large dark blue eyes, which wore as a rule a look of watchful anxiety—put there by brother Tom. To the end of her life she carried the mark of a cut over her right eyebrow, which came within an ace of losing her the sight of that eye. It was brother Tom did that.
She had an abundance of flowing brown hair, by which Tom delighted to lift her clear off the ground, under threat of additional boxed ears if she opened her mouth. The wide, firm little mouth always remained closed, but the blue eyes burned fiercely, and the outraged little heart, thumping furiously at its impotence, did its best to salve its wounds with ceaseless repetition of its own private addition to the prescribed form of morning and evening prayer.
Once, even Tom's dull wit caught something of meaning in the blaze of the blue eyes.
"What are you saying, you little devil?" he growled, and released her so suddenly that she fell on her knees in the mud.
And she put her hands together, as she was in the habit of doing, and prayed, "O God, please kill brother Tom!"
"Little devil!" said brother Tom, with a startled red face, and made a dash at her; but she had foreseen that and was gone like a flash.
One might have expected her childish comeliness to exercise something of a mollifying effect on his brutality. On the contrary, it seemed but to increase it. She was so sweet; he was so coarse. She was so small and fragile; he was so big and strong. Her prettiness might work on others. He would let her see and feel that he was not the kind to be fooled by such things.
He had the elemental heartlessness of the savage, which recognises no sufferings but its own, and refuses to be affected even by them.
When Nance's kitten, presented to her by their neighbour, Mrs. Helier Baker, solved much speculation as to its sex by becoming a mother, Tom gladly undertook the task of drowning the superfluous offspring. He got so much amusement out of it that, for weeks, Nance's horrified inner vision saw little blind heads, half-drowned and mewing piteously, striving with feeble pink claws to climb out of the death-tub and being ruthlessly set swimming again till they sank.
She hurled herself at Tom as he gloated over his enjoyment, and would have asked nothing better than to treat him as he was treating the kittens—righteous retribution in her case, not enjoyment!—but he was too strong for her. He simply kicked out behind, and before she could get up had thrust one of his half-drowned victims into the neck of her frock, and the clammy-dead feel of it and its pitiful screaming set her shuddering for months whenever she thought of it.
But now and again her tormentor overpassed the bounds and got his reward—to Nance's immediate satisfaction but subsequent increased tribulation. For whenever he got a thrashing on her account he never failed to pay her out in the smaller change of persecution which never came to light.
On a pitch-dark, starless night, the high-hedged—and in places deep-sunk—lanes of Little Sark are as black as the inside of an ebony ruler.
When the moon bathes sea and land in a flood of shimmering silver, or on a clear night of stars—and the stars in Sark, you must know, shine infinitely larger and closer and brighter than in most other places—the darkness below is lifted somewhat by reason of the majestic width and height of the glittering dome above. But when moon and stars alike are wanting, then the darkness of a Sark lane is a thing to be felt, and—if you should happen to be a little girl of eight, with a large imagination and sharp ears that have picked up fearsome stories of witches and ghosts and evil spirits—to be mortally feared.
Tom had a wholesome dread of such things himself. But the fear of fourteen, in a great strong body and no heavenly spark of imagination, is not to be compared with the fear of eight and a mind that could quiver like a harp even at its own imaginings. And, to compass his ends, he would blunt his already dull feelings and turn the darkness to his account.
When he knew Nance was out on such a night—on some errand, or in at a neighbour's—to crouch in the hedge and leap silently out upon her was huge delight; and it was well worth braving the grim possibilities of the hedges in order to extort from her the anger in the bleat of terror which, as a rule, was all that her paralysed heart permitted, as she turned and fled.
Almost more amusing—as considerably extending the enjoyment—was it to follow her quietly on such occasions, yet not so quietly but that she was perfectly aware of footsteps behind, which stopped when she stopped and went on again when she went on, and so kept her nerves on the quiver the whole time.
Creeping fearfully along in the blackness, with eyes and ears on the strain, and both little shoulders humped against the expected apparition of Tom—or worse, she would become aware of the footsteps behind her.
Then she would stop suddenly to make sure, and stand listening painfully, and hear nothing but the low hoarse growl of the sea that rarely ceases, day or night, among the rocks of Little Sark.
Then she would take a tentative step or two and stop again, and then dash on. And always there behind her were the footsteps that followed in the dark.
Then she would fumble with her foot for a stone and stoop hastily—for you are at a disadvantage with ghosts and with Toms when you stoop—and pick it up and hurl it promiscuously in the direction of the footsteps, and quaver, in a voice that belied its message, "Go away, Tom Hamon! I can see you,"—which was a little white fib born of the black urgency of the situation;—"and I'm not the least bit afraid,"—which was most decidedly another.
And so the journey would progress fitfully and in spasms, and leave nightmare recollections for the disturbance of one's sleep.
But there were variations in the procedure at times.
As when, on one occasion, Nance's undiscriminating projectile elicited from the darkness a plaintive "Moo!" which came, she knew, from her favourite calf Jeanetton, who had broken her tether in the field and sought companionship in the road, and had followed her doubtfully, stopping whenever she stopped, and so received the punishment intended for another.
Nance kissed the bruise on Jeanetton's ample forehead next day very many times, and explained the whole matter to her at considerable length, and Jeanetton accepted it all very placidly and bore no ill-will.
Another time, when Nance had taken a very specially compounded cake over to her old friend, Mrs. Baker, as a present from her mother, and had been kept much longer than she wished—for the old lady's enjoyment of her pretty ways and entertaining prattle—she set out for home in fear and trembling.
It was one of the pitch-black nights, and she went along on tiptoes, hugging the empty plate to her breast, and glancing fearfully over first one shoulder, then the other, then over both and back and front all at once.
She was almost home, and very grateful for it, when the dreaded black figure leaped silently out at her from its crouching place, and she tore down the lane to the house, Tom's hoarse guffaws chasing her mockingly.
The open door cleft a solid yellow wedge in the darkness. She was almost into it, when her foot caught, and she flung head foremost into the light with a scream, and lay there with the blood pouring down her face from the broken plate.
A finger's-breadth lower and she would have gone through life one-eyed, which would have been a grievous loss to humanity at large, for sweeter windows to a large sweet soul never shone than those out of which little Nance Hamon's looked.
Most houses may be judged by their windows, but these material windows are not always true gauge of what is within. They may be decked to deceive, but the clear windows of the soul admit of no disguise. That little life tenant is always looking out and showing himself in his true colours—whether he knows it or not.
Nance's terrified scream took old Tom out at a bound. He had heard the quick rush of her feet and Tom's mocking laughter in the distance. He carried Nance in to her mother, snatched up a stick, and went after the culprit who had promptly disappeared.
It was two days before Tom sneaked in again and took his thrashing dourly. Little Nance had shut her lips tight when her father questioned her, and refused to say a word. But he was satisfied as to where the blame lay and administered justice with a heavy hand.
Bernel—as soon as he grew to persecutable age—provided Tom with another victim. But time was on the victims' side, and when Nance got to be twelve—Bernel being then eight and Tom eighteen—their combined energies and furies of revolt against his oppressions put matters more on a level.
Many a pitched battle they had, and sometimes almost won. But, win or lose, the fact that they had no longer to suffer without lifting a hand was great gain to them, and the very fact that they had to go about together for mutual protection knitted still stronger the ties that bound them one to the other.
But, though little Nance's earlier years suffered much from the black shadow of brother Tom, they were very far from being years of darkness.
She was of an unusually bright and enquiring disposition, always wanting to see and know and understand, interested in everything about her, and never satisfied till she had got to the bottom of things, or at all events as far down as it was possible for a small girl to get.
Her lively chatter and ceaseless questions left her mother and Grannie small chance of stagnation. But, if she asked many questions—and some of them posers—it was not simply for the sake of asking, but because she truly wanted to know; and even Grannie, who was not naturally talkative, never resented her pertinent enquiries, but gave freely of her accumulated wisdom and enjoyed herself in the giving.
When she got beyond their depth at times, or outside their limits, she would boldly carry her queries—and strange ones they were at times—to old Mr. Cachemaille, the Vicar up in Sark, making nothing of the journey and the Coupee in order to solve some, to her, important problem. And he not only never refused her but delighted to open to her the stores of a well-stocked mind and of the kindest and gentlest of hearts.
Often and often the people of Vauroque and Plaisance would see them pass, hand in hand and full of talk, when the Vicar had wished to see with his own eyes one or other of Nance's wonderful discoveries, in the shape of cave or rock-pool, or deposit of sparkling crystal fingers—amethyst and topaz—or what not.
For she was ever lighting on odd and beautiful bits of Nature's craftsmanship. Books were hardly to be had in those days, and in place of them she climbed fearlessly about the rough cliff-sides and tumbled headlands, and looked close at Nature with eyes that missed nothing and craved everything.
To the neighbours the headlands were places where rabbits were to be shot for dinner, the lower rocks places where ormers and limpets and vraie might be found. But to little Nance the rabbits were playfellows whose sudden deaths she lamented and resented; the cliff-sides were glorious gardens thick with sweet-scented yellow gorse and honeysuckle and wild roses, carpeted with primroses and bluebells; and, in their season, rich and juicy with blackberries beyond the possibilities of picking.
She was on closest visiting terms with innumerable broods of newly-hatched birdlings—knew them, indeed, while they were still but eggs—delighted in them when they were as yet but skin and mouth—rejoiced in their featherings and flyings. Even baby cuckoos were a joy to her, though, on their foster-mothers' accounts she resented the thriftlessness of their parents, and grew tired each year of their monotonous call which ceased not day or night. But of the larks never, for their songs seemed to her of heaven, while the cuckoos were of earth. The gulls, too, were somewhat difficult from the friendly point of view, but she lay for hours overlooking their domestic arrangements and envying the wonders of their matchless flight.
And down below the cliffs what marvels she discovered!—marvels which in many cases the Vicar was fain to content himself with at second hand, since closer acquaintance seemed to him to involve undoubted risk to limb if not to life. Little Nance, indeed, hopped down the seamed cliffs like a rock pipit, with never a thought of the dangers of the passage, and he would stand and watch her with his heart in his mouth, and only shake his grey head at her encouraging assertions that it was truly truly as easy as easy. For he felt certain that even if he got down he would never get up again. And so, when the triumphant shout from below told him she was safely landed, he would wave a grateful hand and get back from the edge and seat himself securely on a rock, till the rosy face came laughing up between him and the shimmering sea, with trophy of weed or shell or crystal quartz, and he would tell her all he knew about them, and she would try to tell him of all he had missed by not coming down.
There were wonderful great basins down there, all lined with pink and green corallines, and full of the loveliest weeds and anemones and other sea-flowers, and the rivulets that flowed from them to the sea were lined pink and green, too. And this that she had brought him was the flaming sea-weed, though truly it did not look it now, but in the water it was, she assured him, of the loveliest, and there were great bunches there so that the dark holes under the rocks were all alight with it.
She coaxed him doubtfully to the descent of the rounded headland facing L'Etat, picking out an easy circuitous way for him, and so got him safely down to her own special pool, hollowed out of the solid granite by centuries of patient grinding on the part of the great boulders within.
It was there, peering down at the fishes below, that she expressed a wish to imitate them; and he agreeing, she ran up to the farm for a bit of rope and was back before he had half comprehended all the beauties of the pool. And he had no sooner explained the necessary movements to her and she had tried them, than she cast off the rope, shouting, "I can swim! I can swim!" and to his amazement swam across the pool and back—a good fifty feet each way—chirping with delight in this new-found faculty and the tonic kiss of the finest water in the world. But after all it was not so very amazing, for she was absolutely without fear, and in that water it is difficult to sink.
They were often down there together after that, for close alongside were wonderful channels and basins whorled out of the rock in the most fantastic ways, and to sit and watch the tide rush up them was a never-failing entertainment.
And not far away was a blow-hole of the most extraordinary which shot its spray a hundred feet into the air, and if you didn't mind getting wet you could sit quite alongside it, so close that you could put your hand into it as it came rocketing out of the hole, and then, if the sun was right, you sat in the midst of rainbows—a thing Nance had always longed to do since she clapped her baby hands at her first one. But the Vicar never did that.
And once, in quest of the how and the why, Nance swam into the blow-hole's cave at a very low tide, and its size and the dome of its roof, compared with the narrowness of its entrance, amazed her, but she did not stay long for it gave her the creeps.
These were some of the ways by which little Nance grew to a larger estate than most of her fellows, and all these things helped to make her what she came to be.
When she grew old enough to assist in the farm, new realms of delight opened to her. Chickens, calves, lambs, piglets—she foster-mothered them all and knew no weariness in all such duties which were rather pleasures.
It was a wounded rabbit, limping into cover under a tangle of gorse and blackberry bashes, that discovered to her the entrance to the series of little chambers and passages that led right through the headland to the side looking into Port Gorey. Which most satisfactory hiding-place she and Bernel turned to good account on many an occasion when brother Tom's oppression passed endurance.
It had taken time, and much screwing up of childish courage, to explore the whole of that extraordinary little burrow, and it was not the work of a day.
When Nance crept along the little run made by many generations of rabbits, she found that it led finally into a dark crack in the rock, and, squeezing through that, she was in a small dark chamber which smelt strongly of her friends.
As soon as her eyes recovered from the sudden change from blazing sunlight to almost pitch darkness, she perceived a small black opening at the far end, and looking through it she saw a lightening of the darkness still farther in which tempted her on.
It was a tough scramble even for her, and the closeness of the rocks and the loneliness weighed upon her somewhat. But there was that glimmer of light ahead and she must know what it was, and so she climbed and wriggled over and under the huge splintered rocks till she came to the light, like a tiny slit of a window far above her head, and still there were passages leading on.
Next day, with Bernel and a tiny crasset lamp for company, she explored the burrow to its utmost limits and adopted it at once as their refuge and stronghold. And thereafter they spent much time there, especially in the end chamber where a tiny slit gave on to Port Gorey, and they could lie and watch all that went on down below.
There they solemnly concocted plans for brother Tom's discomfiture, and thither they retreated after defeat or victory, while he hunted high and low for them and never could make out where they had got to.
Then Tom went off to sea, and life, for those at home, became a joy without a flaw—except the thought that he would sometime come back—unless he got drowned.
When he returned he was past the boyish bullying and teasing stage, and his stunts and twists developed themselves along other lines. Moreover, sailor-fashion, he wore a knife in a sheath at the back of his belt.
He found Nance a tall slim girl of sixteen, her childish prettiness just beginning to fashion itself into the strength and comeliness of form and feature which distinguished her later on.
He swore, with strange oaths, that she was the prettiest bit of goods he'd set eyes on since he left home, and he'd seen a many. And he wondered to himself if this could really be the Nance he used to hate and persecute.
But Nance detested him and all his ways as of old.
HOW THE NEW MINE CAPTAIN CAME
Tom Hamon and Peter Mauger seated themselves on a rock within a few feet of the narrow slit out of which Nance and Bernel had been looking.
"Ouaie," said Tom, taking up his parable—"wanted me to join him in getting a loan on farm, he did."
"Ouaie—a loan on farm, and me to join him, 'cause he couldn' do it without. 'And why?' I asked him."
"An' he told me he was goin' to make a fortune out them silver mines."
"Ouaie! He'd put in every pound he had and every shilling he earned. An' the more he could put in the more he would get out."
"'But,' I said, 'suppos'n it all goes into them big holes and never comes out—'"
"But he's just crazy 'bout them mines. Says there's silver an' lead, and guyabble-knows-what-all in 'em, and when they get it out he'll be a rich man."
"Aw!" said Peter, nodding his head portentously, as one who had gauged the futility of earthly riches.
He was a young man of large possessions but very few words. When he did allow his thoughts out they came slowly and in jerks, with lapses at times which the hearer had to fill in as best he could.
His father had been an enterprising free-trader, and had made money before the family farm came to him on the death of his father. He had married another farm and the heiress attached to it, and Peter was the result. An only son, both parents dead, two farms and a good round sum in the Guernsey Bank, such were Peter's circumstances.
And himself—good-tempered; lazy, since he had no need to work; not naturally gifted mentally, and the little he had, barely stirred by the short course of schooling which had been deemed sufficient for so worldly-well-endowed a boy; tall, loose-limbed, easy going and easily led, Peter was the object of much speculation among marriageably inclined maiden hearts, and had set his own where it was not wanted.
"Ouaie," continued Tom, "an' if I'd join him in the loan the money'd all come to me when he'd done with it."
"Aw!... Money isn't everything.... Can't get all you want sometimes when you've got all money you want."
"G'zammin, Peter! You're as crazy 'bout that lass as th' old un is 'bout his mines. Why don't ye ask her and ha' done with it?"
"Aw—yes. Well.... You see.... I'm makin' up to her gradual like, and in time——"
And Bernel in the hole dug his elbow facetiously into Nance's side.
"Mon Gyu! To think of a slip of a thing like our Nance making a great big fellow like you as fool-soft as a bit of tallow!" and Tom stared at him in amazement. "Why, I've licked her scores of times, and I used to lift her up by the hair of her head."
"I'd ha' knocked your head right off, Tom Hamon, if I'd been there. Right off—yes, an' bumped it on the ground."
"No, you wouldn't. 'Cause, in the first place, you couldn't, and in the second place you wouldn't have looked at her then. She was no more to look at than a bit of a rabbit, slipping about, scared-like, with her big eyes all round her."
"Great rough bull of a chap you was, Tom. Ought to had more lickings when you was young."
"Aw!" said Tom.
"Join him?" asked Peter after a pause.
"No, I won't, an' he's no right to ask it, an' he knows it. Them dirty mines may pay an' they may not, but the farm's a safe thing an' I'll stick to it."
"Maybe new capt'n'll make things go better. That's him, I'm thinking, just got ashore from brig without breaking his legs," nodding towards the wooden landing-stage on the other side of the gulf. For landing at Port Gorey was at times a matter requiring both nerve and muscle.
A man, however, had just leaped ashore from the brig, and was now standing looking somewhat anxiously after the landing of his baggage, which consisted of a wooden chest and an old carpet-bag.
When at last it stood safely on the platform, he cast a comprehensive look at his surroundings and then turned to the group of men who had come down to watch the boat come in, and four pairs of eyes on the opposite side of the gulf watched him curiously, with little thought of the tremendous part he was to play in all their lives.
"Where's he stop?" asked Peter.
"Ouaie, I tell you. He's to stop at our house."
"Why doesn't he go to Barracks?"
"Old Captain's there and they might not agree. Oh ouaie, he'll have his hands full, I'm thinking. And if he's not careful it's a crack on the head and a drop over the Coupee he'll be getting."
"Ah!" said Peter Mauger.
"Come you along and see what kind of chap he is."
"Aw well, I don't mind," and they strolled away to inspect the new Mine Captain, who was to brace up the slackened ropes and bring the enterprise to a successful issue.
"Did you know he was going to stop with us, Nance?" asked Bernel, as they groped their way out after due interval.
"I heard father tell mother this morning."
"Where's he to sleep?"
"He's to have my room and I'm coming up into the loft. I shall take the dark end, and I've put up a curtain across."
"Shoo! We'll hear enough about the mines now," and they crept out behind a gorse bush, and went off across the common towards the clump of wind-whipped trees inside which the houses of Little Sark clustered for companionship and shelter from the south-west gales.
HOW GARD MADE NEW ACQUAINTANCES
Old Tom Hamon gave the new arrival warm greeting, and pointed out such matters as might interest him as they climbed the steep road which led up to the plateau and the houses.
"Assay Office, Mr. Gard.... Captain's Office.... Forge.... Sark's Hope shaft.... Le Pelley shaft—ninety fathoms below sea-level.... Pump shaft ... and yon to east'ard is Prince's shaft.... We go round here behind engine-house.... Yon's my house 'mong the trees."
"That's a fine animal," said Gard, stopping suddenly to look at a great white horse, which stood nibbling the gorse on the edge of the cliff right in the eye of the sun, as it drooped towards Guernsey in a holocaust of purple and amber and crimson clouds. The glow of the threatening sky threw the great white figure into unusual prominence.
"Yours, Mr. Hamon?" asked Gard—and the white horse flung up its head and pealed out a trumpet-like neigh as though resenting the imputation.
"No," said old Tom, staring at the white horse under his shading hand. "Seigneur's. What's he doing down here? He's generally kept up at Eperquerie, and that's the best place for him. He's an awkward beast at times. I must send and tell Mr. Le Pelley where he is."
The little cluster of white, thatched houses stood close together for company, but discreetly turned their faces away from one another so that no man overlooked or interfered with his neighbour.
Gard found himself in a large room which occupied the whole middle portion of the house and served as kitchen and common room for the family.
The floor was of trodden earth—hard and dry as cement, with a strip of boarding round the sides and in front of the fire-place. Heavy oaken beams ran across the roof from which depended a great hanging rack littered with all kinds of household odds and ends. Along the beams of the roof on hooks hung two long guns. One end of the room was occupied by a huge fire-place, in one corner of which stood a new iron cooking range, and alongside it a heap of white ashes and some smouldering sticks of gorse under a big black iron pot filled the room with the fragrance of wood smoke. In the opposite side of the fire-place was an iron door closing the great baking oven, and above it ran a wide mantel-shelf on which stood china dogs and glass rolling-pins and a couple of lamps.
A well-scrubbed white wooden table was set ready for supper. On a very ancient-looking black oak stand—cupboard below and shelves above—was ranged a vast assortment of crockery ware, and on the walls hung potbellied metal jugs and cans which shone like silver.
Two doors led to the other rooms of the house, one of them wide open.
One corner of the room was occupied by a great wooden bin eight feet square, filled with dried bracken. On the wide flat side, which looked like a form, a woman and a girl were sitting when the two men entered.
Hamon introduced them briefly as his wife and daughter, and, comely women as Gard had been accustomed to in his own country of Cornwall, there was something about these two, and especially about the younger of the two, which made him of a sudden more than satisfied with the somewhat doubtful venture to which he had bound himself—set a sudden homely warmth in his heart, and made him feel the richer for being there—made him, in fact, glad that he had come.
And yet there was nothing in their reception of him that justified the feeling.
They nodded, indeed, in answer to his bow, but neither their faces nor their manner showed any special joy at his coming.
But that made no difference to him. They were there, and the mere sight of the girl's fine mobile face and large dark blue eyes was a thing to be grateful for.
"You'll be wanting your supper," said Hamon.
"At your own time, please," said the young man, looking towards Mrs. Hamon. "I am really not very hungry"—though truth to tell he well might have been, for the food on the brig had left much to be desired even to one who had been a sailorman himself.
"It is our usual time," said Mrs. Hamon, "and it is all ready. Will you please to sit there."
At the sound of the chairs a boy of fourteen came quietly in and slipped into his seat.
His sister had gone off with a portion on a plate through the open door.
Gard was surprised to find himself hoping it was not her custom to take her meals in private, and was relieved when she came back presently without the plate and sat down by her brother.
"Ah, you, Bernel, as soon as you've done your supper run over and tell Mr. Le Pelley that his white stallion is on our common, and he'd better send for him."
"I'll ride him home," said the boy exultingly.
"No you won't, Bern," said his sister quickly. "He's not safe. You know what an awkward beast he is at times, and you could never get him across the Coupee."
"Pooh! I'd ride him across any day."
"Promise me you won't," she said, with a hand on his arm.
"Oh, well, if you say so," he grumbled. "I could manage him all right though."
Just then the doorway darkened and two young men entered, and threw their caps on the green bed, and sat down with an awkward nod of greeting to the company in general.
"My son Tom," said Mr. Hamon, and Tom jerked another awkward nod towards the stranger. "And Peter Mauger"—Peter repeated the performance, more shyly and awkwardly even than Tom, from a variety of reasons.
Tom was at home, and he had not even been invited—except by Tom. And strangers always made him shy. And then there was Nance, with her great eyes fixed on him, he knew, though he had not dared to look straight at her.
And then the stranger had an air about him—it was hard to say of what, but it made Peter Mauger and Tom conscious of personal uncouthness, and of a desire to get up and go out and wash their hands and have a shave.
Gard, they knew, was the new captain of the mine, chosen by the managers of the company for his experience with men, and he looked as if he had been accustomed to order them about.
His eyes were dark and keen, his face full of energy. Being clean-shaven his age was doubtful. He might be twenty-five or forty. Nance, in her first quick comprehensive glance, had wondered which.
He stood close upon six feet and was broad-chested and square-shouldered. A good figure of a man, clean and upstanding, and with no nonsense about him. A capable-looking man in every respect, and if his manner was quiet and retiring, there was that about him which suggested the possibility of explosion if occasion arose.
Not that the Hamon family as a whole, or any member of it, would have put the matter quite in that way to itself, or herself. But that, vaguely, was the impression produced upon them—an impression of uprightness, intelligence, and reserved strength—and the more strongly, perhaps, because of late these characteristics had been somewhat overshadowed in the Island by the greed of gain and love of display engendered by the opening of the mines.
To old Tom Hamon his coming was wholly welcome. It foreshadowed a strong and more energetic development of the mines and the speedier realization of his most earnest desires.
To Mrs. Hamon it meant some extra household work, which she would gladly undertake since it was her husband's wish to have the stranger live with them, though in his absorption by the mines she had no sympathy whatever.
Nance looked upon him merely as a part of the mines, and therefore to be detested along with the noisy engine-house, the pumps, the damp and dirty miners, and all the rest of it—the coming of which had so completely spoiled her much-loved Sark.
Tom disliked him because he made him feel small and boorish, and of a commoner make. And feelings such as that inevitably try to disprove themselves by noisy self-assertion.
Accordingly Tom—after various jocular remarks in patois to Peter, who would have laughed at them had he dared, but, knowing Nance's feelings towards her brother was not sure how she would take it—loudly and provocatively to Gard—
"Expect to make them mines pay, monsieur?"
"Well, I hope so. But it's too soon to express an opinion till I've seen them."
"They put a lot of money in, and they get a lot of dirt out, but one does not hear much of any silver."
"Sometimes the deepest mines prove the best in the end."
"And as long as there's anybody to pay for it I suppose you go on digging."
"If I thought the mines had petered out—"
"Eh?" said Peter, and then coughed to hide his confusion when they all looked at him.
"I should of course advise the owners to stop work and sink no more money."
"It'll be a bad day for Sark when that happens," said old Tom. "But it's not going to happen. The silver's there all right. It only wants getting out."
"If it's there we'll certainly get it out," said Gard, and although he said it quietly enough, old Tom felt much better about things in general.
"You're the man for us," he said heartily. "We'll all be rich before we die yet."
"Depends when we die," growled Tom—in which observation—obvious as it was—there was undoubtedly much truth. And then, his little suggestion of provocation having broken like ripples on Gard's imperturbability, he turned on Peter and tried to stir him up.
"You don't get on any too fast with your making up to la garche, mon gars," he said in the patois again.
"Aw—Tom!" remonstrated Peter, very red in the face at this ruthless laying bare of his approaches.
"Get ahead, man! Put your arm round her neck and give her a kiss. That's the way to fetch 'em."
At which Nance jumped up with fiery face and sparks in her eyes and left the room, and Gard, who understood no word of what had passed, yet understood without possibility of doubt that Tom's speech had been mortally offensive to his sister, and set him down in his own mind as of low esteem and boorish disposition.
As for Peter, to whom such advice was as useless as the act would have been impossible at that stage of the proceedings, he was almost as much upset as Nance herself. He got up with a shamefaced—
"Aw, Tom, boy, that was not good of you," and made for his hat, while Tom sat with a broad grin at the result of his delicate diplomacy, and Gard's great regret was that it was not possible for him to take the hulking fellow by the neck and bundle him out of doors.
Old Tom made some sharp remark to his son, who replied in kind; Mrs. Hamon sat quietly aloof, as she always did when Tom and his father got to words, and Bernel made play with his supper, as though such matters were of too common occurrence to call for any special attention on his part.
Then Nance's face framed in a black sun-bonnet gleamed in at the outer door.
"Come along, Bern, and we'll go and tell the Seigneur where his white horse is," and she disappeared, and Bernel, having polished off everything within reach, got up and followed her.
"Will you please to take a look at the mines to-night?" asked old Tom of his guest, anxious to interest him in the work as speedily as possible.
"We might take a bit of a walk, and you can tell me all you will about things. But I don't take hold till the first of the month, and I don't want to interfere until I have a right to. I suppose my baggage will be coming up?"
"Ach, yes! Tom, you take the cart and bring Mr. Gard's things up. They are lying on the quay down there. Then we will go along, if you please!"
Old Tom marched him through the wonderful amber twilight to the summit of the bluff behind the engine-house—whence Gard could just make out his box and carpet-bag still lying on the quay below. And all the way the old man was volubly explaining the many changes necessary, in his opinion, to bring the business to a paying basis. All which information Gard accepted for testing purposes, but gathered from the total the fact that through ill health on the part of the departing captain, the ropes all round had got slack and that the tightening of them would be a matter of no little delicacy and difficulty.
Sark men, Mr. Hamon explained, were very free and independent, and hated to be driven. They did piecework—so much per fathom, and were constitutionally, he admitted, a bit more particular as to the so much than as to the fathom. While the Cornish and Welsh men, receiving weekly wages, had also grown slack and did far less work than they did at first and than they might, could, and should do.
"But," said old Tom frankly, scratching his head, "I don't know's I'd like the job myself. Your men are quiet enough to look at, but they can boil over when they're put to it. And our men—well, they're Sark, and there's more'n a bit of the devil in them."
"I must get things round bit by bit," said Gard quietly. "It never pays to make a fuss and bustle men. Softly does it."
"I'm thinking you can do it if any man can."
"I'll have a good try any way."
"Whereabouts does the Seigneur live?" he asked presently, and inconsequently as it seemed, but following out a train of thought of his own which needed no guessing at.
"The Seigneur? Over there in Sark—across the Coupee."
"What's the Coupee?"
"The Coupee?—Mon Gyu!"—at such colossal ignorance—"Why, ...the Coupee's the Coupee.... Come along, then. Maybe you can get a look at it before it's too dark."
They had got quite out of sound of the clanking engine, and were travelling a well-made road, when their attention was drawn to a lively struggle proceeding on the common between the road and the cliff.
Tom, setting out after the troubled Peter, had caught sight of the Seigneur's white horse and had forthwith decided to take him home. Peter, agreeing that it was a piece of neighbourliness which the Seigneur would appreciate, had turned back to give his assistance.
By some cajolery they had managed to slip a halter with a special length of rope over the wary white head, and there for the moment matters hung. For the white horse, with his forelegs firmly planted, dragged at one end of the rope and the two men at the other, and the issue remained in doubt.
The doubt, however, was suddenly solved by the white horse deciding on more active measures. He swung his great head to one side, dragged the men off their feet and started off at a gallop, they hanging on as best they could.
Old Tom and Gard set off after them to see the end of the matter, and suddenly, as the roadway dipped between high banks and became a hollow way, the white beast gave a shrill squeal, flung up his heels, jerked himself free, and vanished like a streak of light into the darkness of the lofty bank in front.
"Mon Gyu!" cried old Tom, and sped up the bank to see the end.
But the white horse knew his way and had no fear. They were just in time to hear the rattle of his hoofs, as he disappeared with a final shrill defiance into the outer darkness on the further side of a mighty gulf, while a stone dislodged by his flying feet went clattering down into invisible depths.
"He's done it," panted old Tom, while Gard gazed with something like awe at the narrow pathway, wavering across from side to side of the great abyss, out of which rose the growl of the sea.
"What's this?" he asked.
"Coupee. It's a wonder he managed it. The path slipped in the winter and it's narrow in places."
"And do people cross it in the dark?" asked Gard, thinking of the girl and boy who had gone to see the Seigneur.
"Och yes! It is not bad when you're used to it. Come and see!" and he led the way back across the common to the road.
Gard walked cautiously behind him as he went across the crumbling white pathway with the carelessness of custom, and, sailor as he had been, he was not sorry when the other side was reached, and he could stand in the security of the cutting and look back, and down into the gulf where the white waves foamed and growled among the boulders three hundred feet below.
"I've seen a many as did not care to cross that, first time they saw it," said old Tom with a chuckle.
"Well, I'm not surprised at that. It's apt to make one's head spin."
"I brought captain of brig up here and he wouldn't put a foot on it. Not for five hundred pounds, he said."
"It would have taken more than five hundred pounds to piece him together if he'd tumbled down there."
A young moon, and a clear sky still rarely light and lofty in the amber after-glow, gave them a safe passage back.
When they reached the house among the trees, Gard bethought him of his belongings.
"And my things from the quay?" he suggested.
"G'zammin! That boy has forgotten all about them, I'll be bound. I'll take the cart down myself."
"I'll go with you."
When they got back with the box and bag, which no one had touched since they were dropped on to the platform four hours before, they found that Nance and Bernel had got home and gone off to bed, having taken advantage of being across in Sark to call on some of their friends there.
Gard wondered how they would have fared if they had happened to be on the Coupee when the white horse went thundering across.
He dreamed that night that he was cautiously treading an endless white path that swung up and down in the darkness like a piece of ribbon in a breeze. And a great white horse came plunging at him out of the darkness, and just as he gave himself up for lost, a sweet firm face in a black sun-bonnet appeared suddenly in front of him, and the white horse squealed and leaped over them and disappeared, while the stones he had displaced went rattling down into the depths below.
HOW NANCE SHONE THROUGH HER MODEST VEILING
As soon as the old captain's time was up, Gard took up his work in the mines with energetic hopefulness.
His hopefulness was unbounded. His energy he tempered with all the tact and discretion his knowledge of men, and his experience in handling them, had taught him.
His father had been lost at sea the year after his son was born. His mother, a good and God-fearing woman, had strained every nerve to give her boy an education. She died when Stephen was fourteen. He took to his father's calling and had followed it with a certain success for ten years, by which time he had attained the position of first mate.
Then the owner of the Botallack Mine, in Cornwall, having come across him in the way of business, and been struck by his intelligence and aptitude, induced him by a lucrative appointment to try his luck on land.
The managers of the Sark Mines, seeking a special man for somewhat special circumstances, had applied to Botallack for assistance, and Stephen Gard came to Sark as the representative of many hopes which, so far, had been somewhat lacking in results.
But, as old Tom Hamon had predicted, he very soon found that he had laid his hand to no easy plough.
The Sark men were characteristically difficult, and made the difficulty greater by not understanding him—or declining to understand, which came to the same thing—when he laid down his ideas and endeavoured to bring them to his ways.
Some, without doubt, had no English, and their patois was quite beyond him. Others could understand him an they would, but deliberately chose not to—partly from a conservative objection to any change whatever, and partly from an idea that he had been imported for the purpose of driving them, and driving is the last thing a Sark man will submit to.
Old Tom Hamon, and a few others who had a financial interest in the mines, assisted him all they could, in hopes of thereby assisting themselves, but they were few.
As for the Cornishmen and Welshmen, the success or failure of the Sark Mines mattered little to them. There was always mining going on somewhere and competent men were always in demand. They were paid so much a week, small output or large, and without a doubt the small output entailed less labour than the large. They naturally regarded with no great favour the man whose present aim in life it was to ensure the largest output possible.
And so Gard found himself confronted by many difficulties, and, moreover, and greatly to the troubling of his mind, found himself looked upon as a dictator and an interloper by the men whom he had hoped to benefit.
Concerning the mines themselves he was not called upon for an opinion. The managers had satisfied themselves as to the presence of silver. If his opinion had been asked it would have confirmed them. But all he had to do was to follow the veins and win the ore in paying quantities, and he found himself handicapped on every hand by the obstinacy of his men.
Outside business matters he was very well satisfied with his surroundings.
In such spare time as he had, he wandered over the Island with eager, open eyes, marvelling at its wonders and enjoying its natural beauties with rare delight.
The great granite cliffs, with their deep indentations and stimulating caves and crannies; the shimmering blue and green sea, with its long slow heave which rushed in foam and tumult up the rock-pools and gullies; the softer beauties of rounded down and flower-and fern-clad slopes honeycombed with rabbit holes; the little sea-gardens teeming with novel life; in all these he found his resource and a certain consolation for his loneliness.
And in the Hamon household he found much to interest him and not a little ground for speculation.
Old Mrs. Hamon—Grannie—had promptly ordered him in for inspection, and, after prolonged and careful observation from the interior of the black sun-bonnet, had been understood to approve him, since she said nothing to the contrary.
It took him some time to arrive at the correct relationship between young Tom and Nance and Bernel, for it seemed quite incredible that fruit so diverse should spring from one parent stem.
For Tom was all that was rough and boorish—rude to Mrs. Hamon, coarse, and at times overbearing to Nance and Bernel, to such an extent, indeed, that more than once Gard had difficulty in remembering that he himself was only a visitor on sufferance and not entitled to interfere in such intimate family matters.
Tom was not slow to perceive this, and in consequence set himself deliberately to provoke it by behaviour even more outrageous than usual. Time and again Gard would have rejoiced to take him outside and express his feelings to their fullest satisfaction.
With Mrs. Hamon and Bernel he was on the most friendly footing, his undisguised sentiments in the matter of Tom commending him to them decisively.
But with Nance he made no headway whatever.
It was an absolutely new sensation to him, and a satisfaction the meaning of which he had not yet fully gauged, to be living under the same roof with a girl such as this. He found himself listening for her voice outside and the sound of her feet, and learned almost at once to distinguish between the clatter of her wooden pattens and any one else's when she was busy in the yard or barns.
Even though she held him at coolest arm's length, and repelled any slightest attempt at abridgment of the distance, he still rejoiced in the sight of her and found the world good because of her presence in it.
He did not understand her feeling about him in the least. He did not know that she had had to give up her room for him—that she detested the mines and everything tainted by them, and himself as head and forefront of the offence—that she regarded him as an outsider and a foreigner and therefore quite out of place in Sark. He only knew that he saw very little of her and would have liked to see a great deal more.
The very reserve of her treatment of himself—one might even say her passive endurance of him—served but to stimulate within him the wish to overcome it. The attraction of indifference is a distinct force in life.
There was something so trim and neat and altogether captivating to him in the slim energetic figure, in its short blue skirts and print jacket, as it whisked to and fro, inside and out, on its multifarious duties, and still more in the sweet, serious face, glimmering coyly in the shadow of the great sun-bonnet and always moulded to a fine, but, as it seemed to him, a somewhat unnatural gravity in his company.
And yet he was quite sure she could be very much otherwise when she would. For he had heard her singing over her work, and laughing merrily with Bernel; and her face, sweet as it was in its repression, seemed to him more fitted for smiles and laughter and joyousness.
He saw, of course, that brother Tom was a constant source of annoyance to them all, but especially to her, and his blood boiled impotently on her account.
He carried with him—as a delightful memory of her, though not without its cloud—the pretty picture she made when he came upon her one day in the orchard, milking—for, strictly as the Sabbath may be observed, cows must still be milked on a Sunday, not being endowed manna-like, with the gift of miraculous double production on a Saturday.
Her head was pressed into her favourite beast's side, and she was crooning soothingly to it as the white jets ping-panged into the frothing pail, and he stood for a moment watching her unseen.
Then the cow slowly turned her head towards him, considered him gravely for a moment, decided he was unnecessary and whisked her tail impatiently. Nance's lullaby stopped, she looked round with a reproving frown, and he went silently on his way.
It was another Sunday afternoon that, as he lay in the bracken on the slope of a headland, he saw two slim figures racing down a bare slope on the opposite side of a wide blue gulf, with joyous chatter, and recognized Nance and Bernel.
They disappeared and he felt lonely. Then they came picking their way round a black spur below, and stood for a minute or two looking down at something beneath them. Which something he presently discovered must be a pool of size among the rocks, for after a brief retiral, Nance behind a boulder and Bernel into a black hollow, they came out again, she lightly clad in fluttering white and Bernel in nothing at all, and with a shout of delight dived out of sight into the pool below.
He could hear their shouts and laughter echoed back by the huge overhanging rocks. He saw them climb out again and sit sunning themselves on the grey ledge like a pair of sea-birds, and Nance's exiguous white garment no longer fluttered in the breeze.
Then in they went again, and again, and again, till, tiring of the limits of the pool—huge as he afterwards found it to be—they crept over the barnacled rocks to the sea, and flung themselves fearlessly in, and came ploughing through it towards his headland. And he shrank still lower among the bracken, for though he had watched the distant little figure in white with a slight sense of sacrilege, and absolutely no sense of impropriety but only of enjoyment, he would not for all he was worth have had her know that he had watched at all, since he could imagine how she would resent it.
Nevertheless, these unconscious revelations of her real self were to him as jewels of price, and he treasured the memory of them accordingly.
He watched them swim back and disappear among the rocks, and presently go merrily up the bare slope again; and he lay long in the bracken, scarce daring to move, and when he did, he crept away warily, as one guilty of a trespass.
And glad he was that he had done so, for he had proof of her feeling that same night at supper.
Peter Mauger came sheepishly in again with Tom, and Tom, when he had satisfied the edge of his hunger, must wax facetious in his brotherly way.
"Peter and me was sitting among the rocks over against big pool s'afternoon and we saw things"—with a grin.
"Aw, Tom!" deprecated Peter in red confusion.
"An' Peter, he said he never seen anything so pretty in all his life as—"
"Aw now, Tom, you're a liar! I never said anything about it."
"You thought it, or your face was liar too, my boy. Like a dog after a rabbit it was."
"It was just like you both to lie watching," flamed Nance. "If you'd both go and jump into the sea every day you'd be a great deal nicer than you are; and if you'd stop there it would be a great deal nicer for us."
"Aw—Nance!" from Peter, and a great guffaw from Tom, while Gard devoted himself guiltily to his plate.
"You looked nice before you went in," chuckled Tom, who never knew when to stop, "but you looked a sight nicer when you came out and sat on rocks with it all stuck to you—"
"You're a—a—a disgusting thing, Tom Hamon, and you're just as bad, Peter Mauger!" and she looked as if she would have flown at them, but, instead, jumped up and flung out of the room.
Gard's innate honesty would not permit him to take up the cudgels this time. Inwardly he felt himself involved in her condemnation, though none but himself knew it.
But he had taken at times to glowering at Tom, when his rudeness passed bounds, in a way which made that young man at once uncomfortable and angry, and at times provoked him to clownish attempts at reprisal.
Mrs. Hamon bore with the black sheep quietly, since nothing else was possible to her, though her annoyance and distress were visible enough.
Old Tom was completely obsessed with his visions of wealth ever just beyond the point of his pick. He toiled long hours in the damp darknesses below seas, with the sounds of crashing waves and rolling boulders close above him, and at times threateningly audible through the stratum of rocks between; and when he did appear at meals he was too weary to trouble about anything beyond the immediate satisfaction of his needs. Besides, young Tom had long since proved his strength equal to his father's, and remonstrance or rebuke would have produced no effect.
As to Bernel, he was only a boy as yet, but he was Nance's boy and all she would have wished him.
In time he would grow up and be a match for Tom, and meanwhile she would see to it that he grew up as different from Tom in every respect as it was possible for a boy to be.
HOW GRANNIE SCHEMED SCHEMES
Stephen Gard's experience of women had been small.
His mother had been everything to him till she died, when he was fourteen, and he went to sea.
When she was gone, that which she had put into him remained, and kept him clear of many of the snares to which the life of the young sailorman is peculiarly liable.
When he attained a position of responsibility he had had no time for anything else. And so, of his own experience, he knew little of women and their ways.
Less, indeed, than Nance knew of men and their ways. And that was not very much and tended chiefly to scorn and dissatisfaction, seeing that her knowledge was gleaned almost entirely from her experiences of Tom and Peter Mauger. Her father was, of course, her father, and on somewhat of a different plane from other men.
And so, if Nance was a wonder and a revelation to Gard, Gard was no less of, at all events, a novelty in the way of mankind to Nance.
His quiet bearing and good manners, after a life-long course of Tom, had a distinct attraction for her.
That he could burst into flame if occasion required, she was convinced. For, more than once, out of the corner of her eye and round the edge of her sun-bonnet, she had caught his thunderous looks of disgust at some of Tom's carryings-on.
She would, perhaps, have been ashamed to confess it but, somewhere down in her heart, she rather hoped, sooner or later, to see his lightning as well. It would be worth seeing, and she was inclined to think it would be good for Tom—and the rest of the family.
For Gard looked as if he could give a good account of himself in case of need. His well-built, tight-knit figure gave one the impression that he was even stronger than he looked.
If only he had been a Sark man and had nothing to do with those horrid mines! But all her greatest dislikes met in him, and she could not bring herself to the point of relaxing one iota in these matters of which he was unfortunately and unconsciously guilty.
The state of affairs at the mines improved not one whit as the months dragged on. There was a smouldering core of discontent which might break into flame at any moment—or into disastrous explosion if the necessary element were added.
Old Tom did his best, and stood loyally by the new captain and the interests of the mine and himself. But he was in a minority and could so far do no more than oppose vehement talk to vehement talk, and that, as a rule, is much like pouring oil on roaring flames.
Not many of those who were shareholders in the mine were also workers in it, and the workers met constantly at the house of a neighbour, who had turned his kitchen to an undomestic but profitable purpose by supplying drink to the miners at what seemed to the English and Welshmen ridiculously low prices.
In that kitchen the new captain and his new methods were vehemently discussed and handled roughly enough—in words. And hot words and the thoughts they excite, and wild thoughts and the words they find vent in, are at times the breeders of deeds that were better left undone.
To all financially interested in the mines the need for strictest economy and fullest efficiency was patent enough. It was still a case of faith and hope—a case of continual putting in of work and money, and, so far, of getting little out—except the dross which intervened between them and their highest hopes.
There was silver there without a doubt, and the many thin veins they came across lured them on with constant hope of mighty pockets and deposits of which these were but the flying indications.
And all putting in and getting nothing out results in stressful times, in business ventures as in the case of individuals. The great shafts sank deeper and deeper, the galleries branched out far under the sea, and there was a constant call for more and more money, lest that already sunk should be lost.
Mr. Hamon, disappointed in his view of raising money on the farm by Tom's obstinacy, in the bitterness of his spirit and the urgent necessities of the mines, conceived a new idea which, if he was able to carry it out, would serve the double purpose of satisfying his own needs at the recalcitrant Tom's expense.
"I must have more money for the mines," he said to his wife one day in private. "I'm thinking of selling the farm."
"Selling the farm?" gasped Mrs. Hamon, doubtful of her own hearing. For selling the farm is the very last resource of the utterly unfortunate. "Aye, selling the farm. Why not? It'll all come back twenty times over when we strike the pockets, and then we can live where we will, or we can go across to Guernsey, or to England if you like."
But Mrs. Hamon was silent and full of thought. She had no desire for wealth, and still less to live in Guernsey or in England, or anywhere in the world but Sark.
He had been a good husband to her on the whole, until this silver craze absorbed him. She had never found it necessary to counter his wishes before. But this idea of selling the farm cut to the very roots of her life.
For Nance's sake and Bernel's she must oppose it with all that was in her. If the farm were sold the money would all go into those gaping black mouths and bottomless pits at Port Gorey. The home would be broken up—an end of all things. It must not be.
"I should think many times before selling the farm if I were you," she said quietly, and left it there for the moment.
But old Tom, having made up his mind, and the necessities of the case pressing, lost no time over the matter.
"I've been speaking to John Guille about that business," he said, next day, in a confidently casual way.
"About the farm. He'll give me six hundred pounds for it and take the stock at what it's worth, and he's willing we should stop on as tenants at fifty pounds a year rent."
His wife was ominously silent. He glanced at her doubtfully.
"I shall stop on as tenant for the present and Tom can go on working it. When we reach the silver, and the money begins to come back, we can decide what to do afterwards."
Still his wife said nothing, but her face was white and set. It was hard for her to put herself in opposition to him, but here she found it necessary. He was going too far.
It was only when the silence had grown ominous and painful, that she said, slowly and with difficulty—
"I'm sorry to look like going against you, Tom, but I can't see it right you should sell the farm."
"It'll make no difference to you and the young ones. I'll see to that."
"It's not right and you mustn't do it."
"Mustn't do it!—And it's as good as done!"
"It can't be done until your mother and I consent, and we can't see it's a right thing to do."
"Can't you see that you're only saving the farm for Tom?" he argued wrathfully, bottling his anger as well as he could. "It's nothing to you and the young ones in any case."
"I know, but all the same it's not right. If it was to buy another farm it would be different, for you could leave it as you choose. But to throw away the money on those mines—"
This was a lapse from diplomacy and old Tom resented it.
"Throw the money away!" he shouted, casting all restraint to the winds. "Who's going to throw the money away? It's like you women. You never can see beyond the ends of your noses. I'll tell you what I'll do—I'll pay you out your dower right in hard cash. Will that satisfy you?"
If he died she would have a life interest in one-third of the farm, but could not, of course, will it to Nance or Bernel. If he sold the farm and paid her her lawful third in cash, she could do what she chose with it. It was therefore distinctly to her own interest to fall in with his plan.
But, dearly as she would have liked to make some provision, however small, for Nance and Bernel, her whole Sark soul was up in arms against the idea of selling the farm.
It would feel like a break-up of life. Nothing, she was sure, would ever be the same again.
"It's not right," she said simply.
"You're a fool—" and then the look on her quiet face—such a look as she might have worn if he had struck her—penetrated the storm-cloud of his anger. He remembered her years of wifely patience and faithful service, "—a foolish woman. A Sark wife should know which side of her bread the butter is on. Can't you see—"
"I know all that, Tom, but I hope you'll give up this notion of selling the farm. Your mother feels just as I do about it. We've talked it over—"
"I'll talk to her," and he went in at once to the old lady's room.
But Grannie gave him no time for argument.
"It's you's the fool, Tom," she said decisively, as he crossed the threshold. "There's not enough silver in Sark to make a plate for your coffin."
"I brought out more'n enough to make your plate and mine, myself to-day," he said triumphantly.
"Ah, bah! You'd have done better for yourself and for Sark if you'd let it lie."
"I'd have done better still if I'd got twice as much."
"If the good God set silver inside Sark, it was because He thought it was the best place for it, and it's not for the likes of you to be trying to get it out."
"What's it there for if it's not to be got out?"
"You mark me, Tom Hamon, no good will come of all this upsetting and digging out the insides of the Island—nenni-gia!"
"Pergui, mother, where do you think all the silver and gold in the world came from?"
"It didn't come out of our Sark rocks any way, mon gars."
"Good thing for us if it had, ma fe! But, see you here, mother, if I sell the farm it's not you and Nance that need trouble. If I pay out your dowers in hard cash you're both of you better off than you are now, and I'm better off too. It's only Tom could complain, and—"
"It's hard on the lad."
"Bidemme, it's no more than he deserves for his goings-on! Maybe it'll do him good to have to work for his living."
"And you would do that to get your bit more money to throw into those big holes?"
"Never you mind me. I'll take care of myself, and we'll see who's wisest in the end. Now, will you agree to it?"
"I'll talk it over with Nancy again," and the big black sun-bonnet nodded with sapient significance. "Send her to me."
"It's from you I got my good sense," said old Tom approvingly, and went off in search of his wife, while the clever old lady pondered deep schemes.
"Here's the way of it, Nancy," she said, when Mrs. Hamon came in. "He's crazy on these silver mines, and he's willing to pay out our dowers, yours and mine, so that he may throw the rest into the big holes at Port Gorey. Ch'est b'en! Your money and mine take more than half of what he gets. If you'll put yours to mine I'll make up the difference from what I've saved, and we'll retraite the farm, and it shall go to Nance and Bernel when the time comes."
"I can't help thinking it's rather hard on Tom," suggested Mrs. Hamon, with less vigour than before.
The idea appealed strongly to her maternal feelings and she had suffered much from Tom; still her instinct for right was there and was not to be stifled with a word.
"If you feel so when the time comes we could divide it among them, and till then Tom would have to behave himself," said the wily old lady, with a chuckle.
That again appealed strongly to Mrs. Hamon.
"Yes, I think I would agree to that," she said, after thinking it all over.
All things considered, Grannie's scheme was an excellent one and worthy of her.
By a curious anomaly of Sark law, though a man may not mortgage his property without the consent of his next-in-succession, he can sell it outright and do what he chooses with the proceeds. His wife has a dower right of one-third of both real and personal estate, into which she enters upon his death. The right, however, is there while he still lives, and must be taken into consideration in any sale of the property.
All property is sold subject to the "retraite"; in plain English, no sale is completed for six weeks, and within that time every member of the seller's family, in due order of succession, even to the collateral branches, has the right to take over, or withdraw, the property at the same price as has been agreed upon, paying in addition to the Seigneur the trezieme or thirteenth part of the price, as by law provided.
If Grannie's scheme were carried out, therefore, she and Mrs. Hamon would become owners of the farm. Tom would be there on sufferance and might be kept within bounds or kicked out. Old Tom would have something more to throw into the holes at Port Gorey. And Nance and Bernel could be adequately provided for. An excellent scheme, therefore, for all concerned—except young Tom, who would have to behave himself better than he was in the habit of doing or suffer the consequences.
"Yes," said Nancy. "I don't see that I'd be doing right by Nance and Bernel not to agree to that. And if Tom behaves himself," at which Grannie grunted doubtfully, "he can have his share when the time comes."
HOW GARD FOUGHT GALES AND TOM
So far the discussion as to the sale of the farm had been confined to the elders.
Young Tom had viewed John Guille's visits to the place with the lowering suspicion of a bull at a stranger's invasion of his field. He wondered what was going on and surmised that it was nothing to his advantage.
Words had been rare between him and his father since his refusal to lend himself to a loan on the farm, but his suspicion got the better of his obstinacy at last.
"What's John Guille want coming about here so much?" he demanded bluntly.
"I suppose he can come if he wants to. He's going to buy the farm."
"Going—to—buy—the—farm!... You—going—to—sell—the—farm—away— from—me?" roared young Tom, like the bull wounded to the quick.
"Ouaie, pardi! And why not? You had the chance of saving it and you wouldn't."
"If you do it, I'll—"
"Unless you're a fool, mon gars, you'll be careful what you say or do. It'll all come back from the mines and you'll have your share if you behave yourself."
"—— you and your mines!" was Tom's valedictory, and he flung away in mortal anger; anger, too, which, from a Sark point of view, was by no means unjustified. Selling the estate away from the rightful heir was disinheritance, a blow below the belt which most testators reserve until they are safe from reach of bodily harm.
Tom left the house and cut all connection with his family. He drifted away like a threatening cloud, and the sun shone out, and Stephen Gard, with the rest, found greater comfort in his room than they had ever found in his company.
So gracious, indeed, did the atmosphere of the house become, purged of Tom, that Gard, to his great joy, found even Nance not impossible of approach.
He had always treated her with extremest deference and courtesy, respecting, as far as he was able, her evident wish for nothing but the most distant intercourse.
But he was such a very great change from Tom!
She caught his dark eyes fixed on her at times with a look that reminded her of Helier Baker's black spaniel's, who was a very close friend of hers. They had neither dog nor cat at present at La Closerie, both having been scrimped by the silver mines, when old Tom's first bad attack of economy came on.
Then, at table, Gard was always quietly on the look-out to anticipate her wants. That was a refreshing novelty. Even Bernel, her special crony, thought only of his own requirements when food stood before him.
Now and again Gard began to venture on a question direct to her, generally concerning some bit of the coast he had been scrambling about, and she found it rather pleasant to be able to give information about things he did not know to this undoubtedly clever mine captain.
So, little by little, he grew into her barest toleration but apparently nothing more, and was puzzled at her aloofness and reserve, not understanding at all her bitter feeling against the mines and everything connected with them.
The first time he went to church with her and Bernel was a great white-stone day to him.
He had gone by himself once every Sunday, and done his best to follow the service in French, which he was endeavouring to pick up as best he could. And, if he could only now and again come across a word he understood, still the being in church and worshipping with others—even though it was in an unknown tongue—the sound of the chants and hymns and responses, and the mild austerity and reverent intonation of the good old Vicar, all induced a Sabbath feeling in him, and made a welcome change from the rougher routine of the week, which he would have missed most sorely.
On that special afternoon, he had been lying on the green wall of the old French fort, enjoying that most wonderful view over the shimmering blue sea, with Herm and Jethou resting on it like great green velvet cushions, and Guernsey gleaming softly in the distance, and Brecqhou and the Gouliot Head, and all the black outlying rocks fringed with creamy foam, till it should be time to go along to church.
When he heard voices in the road below and saw Nance and Bernel, he jumped up on the spur of the moment, and pushed through the gorse and bracken, and stood waiting for them.
"Will you let me join you?" he asked, as they came up, fallen shyly silent.
"We don't mind," said Bernel, and they went along together.
"This always strikes me afresh, each time I see it, as one of the most extraordinary places I've come across," said Gard, as they dipped down towards the Coupee.
"Wait till we're coming home," said Bernel hopefully.
"You see those clouds over there? That's wind—sou'-west—you'll see what it's like after church."
"Your gales are as extraordinary as all the rest—and your tides and currents and sea-mists. I suppose one must be born here to understand them. We have a fine coast in Cornwall, but I think you beat us."
"Of course. This is Sark."
"And does no one ever tumble over the Coupee in the dark?"
"N—o, not often, any way. Nance once saw a man blown over."
"That was a bad thing to see," said Gard, turning towards her. "How was it?"
"I was coming from school—"
"Yes, all alone. The others had gone on; I'd been kept in, and it was nearly dark. It was blowing hard, and when I got to the first rock here I thought it was going to blow me over. So I went down on my hands and knees and was just going to crawl, when old Hirzel Mollet came down the other side with a great sheaf of wheat on his back. He was taking it to the Seigneur for his tithes. And then in a moment he gave a shout and I saw he was gone."
"That was terrible. What did you do?"
"I screamed and crawled back across the narrow bit to the cutting, and ran screaming up to the cottages at Plaisance, and Thomas Carre and his men came running down. But they could do nothing. They went round in a boat from the Creux, but he was dead."
"And how did you get home?"
"Thomas Carre took me across and I ran on alone, but it was months before I could forget poor old Hirzel Mollet."
"I should think so, indeed. That was a terrible thing to see."
The opening of the mines, and the influx of the Welsh and Cornishmen and their wives and children, with their new and up-to-date ideas of living and dressing, had wrought a great and not altogether wholesome change upon the original inhabitants.
All the week they were hard at work in their fields or their boats, but on Sunday the lonely lanes leading to Little Sark were thronged with sightseers, curious to inspect the mines and the latest odd fashions among the miners' wives and daughters.
Odd, and extremely useless little parasols, were then the vogue in England. The miners' women-folk flaunted these before the dazzled eyes of the Sark girls, and Sark forthwith burst into flower of many-coloured parasols.
The mine ladies dressed in printed cottons of strange and wonderful patterns. The Sark girls must do the same.
"Tiens!" ejaculated Nance more than once, as they walked. "Here is Judi Le Masurier with a new pink parasol!—and a straw bonnet with green strings!—and every day you'll see her about the fields without so much as a sun-bonnet on! And Rachel Guille has got a new print dress all red roses and lilac! Mon Gyu, what are we coming to!"
She had many such comments and still more unspoken ones. But Stephen Gard, glancing, whenever he could do so unperceived, at the trim but plainly-dressed little sun-bonneted figure by his side, vowed in his heart that the whole of these others rolled into one were not to be compared with her, and that he would give all the silver in the mines of Sark to win her appreciation and regard.
As they turned the corner at Vauroque, they came suddenly on a number of men lounging on the low wall, and among them Tom Hamon, pipe in mouth and hands in pockets.
As they passed he made some jocular remark in the patois which provoked a guffaw from the rest, and reddened Nance's face, and caused Bernel to glance up at Gard and jerk round angrily towards Tom.
"What did he say?" asked Gard, stopping.
But Nance hurried on and he could not but follow.
"What was it?" he asked again, as he caught up with her.
"If you please, do not mind him. It was just one of his rudenesses."
"They want knocking out of him."
"He is very rude," said Nance, and they passed the Vicarage and turned up the stony lane to the church.
Gard was surprised by the speedy verification of Bernel's weather forecast. Before the service was over the wind was howling round the building with the sounds of unleashed furies, and when they got out it was almost dark.
They bent to the gale and pressed on, Gard with a discomforting remembrance that the Coupee lay ahead.
As they passed Vauroque there seemed a still larger crowd of loafers at the corner, and again Tom's voice called rudely after them.
Gard turned promptly and strode back to where he was sitting on the wall, dangling his feet in devil-may-care fashion. Tom jumped down to meet him.
"Say that again in English, will you?" said Gard angrily.
"Go to—!" said Tom.
Then Gard's left fist caught him on the hinge of the right jaw, and he reeled back among the others who had jumped down to back him up.
"Well—? Want any more?" asked Gard stormily.
"You wait," growled Tom, nursing his jaw, "I'll talk to you one of these days."
"Whenever you like, you cur. What you need is a sound thrashing and a kick over the Coupee."
To his surprise none of the others joined in. But he did not know them.
They might guffaw at Tom's unseemly pleasantries, but they held him in no high esteem—either for himself or for his position, since word of the sale of La Closerie had got about.
Then they were a hardy crew and held personal courage and prowess in high respect. And in this matter there could be no possible doubt as to where the credit lay.
"Goin' to fight him, Tom?" drawled one, in the patois.
"—— him!" growled Tom, but made no move that way.
And Gard turned and went over to Nance and Bernel, who were sheltering from the storm in lee of one of the cottages.
If he could have seen it, there was a warmer feeling in her heart for him than had ever been there before—a novel feeling, too, of respect and confidence such as she had never entertained towards any other man in all her life.
For that quick blow had been struck on her behalf, she knew; and it was vastly strange, and somehow good, to feel that a great strong man was ready to stand up for her and, if necessary, to fight for her.
She pressed silently on against the gale, with an odd little glow in her heart, and a feeling as though something new had suddenly come into her life.
The gale caught them at the Coupee, and the crossing seemed to Gard not without its risks.
Bernel bent and ran on through the darkness without a thought of danger.
Gard hesitated one moment and Nance stretched a hand to him, and he took it and went steadily across.
And, oh, the thrill of that first living touch of her! The feel of the warm nervous little hand sent a tingling glow through him such as he had never in his life experienced before. Verily, a white-stone day this, in spite of winds and darkness!
The gale howled like ten thousand demons, and the noise of the waves in Grande Greve came up to them in a ceaseless savage roar. Gard confessed to himself that, alone, he would never have dared to face that perilous storm-swept bridge. But the small hand of a girl made all the difference and he stepped alongside her without a tremor.
"B'en, Monsieur Gard, was I right?" shouted Bernel in his ear, as they stepped within the shelter of the cutting on the farther side.
"You were right. It's a terrible place in a gale."
"You wait," shouted Bernel. "We're not home yet."
"No more Coupees, any way," and they bent again into the storm.
They had not gone more than a hundred yards when, through some freakish funnelling of the tumbled headlands, the gale gripped them like a giant playing with pigmies, caught them up, flung them bodily across the road and held Gard and Bernel pinned and panting against the green bank, while Nance disappeared over it into the shrieking darkness.
"Good heavens!" gasped Gard, fearful lest she should have been blown over the cliffs, and wriggled himself up under the ceaseless thrashing of the gale and was whirled off the top into the field beyond.
There the pressure was less, and, getting on to his hands and knees to crawl in search of Nance, he found her close beside him crouching in the lee of the grassy dyke.
He crept into shelter beside her, and presently, in the lull after a fiercer blast than usual, she set off, bent almost double, and in a moment they were in comparative quiet. Nance crawled through a gap into the road and they found Bernel waiting for them.
"Knew you'd come through there. That's what that gap's made for," he shouted.
"I've been in many a storm but I never felt wind like that before," said Gard, as soon as his breath came back.
"If you'd stopped with me you'd have been all right," said Bernel. "There was no need for you to go after Nance. We've been through that lots of times, haven't we, Nance?"
"I shall know next time," said Gard, and to Nance it was a fresh experience to think of some one going out of his way to be of possible service to her.
HOW TOM WANTED TO BUT DIDN'T DARE
Before the six weeks allowed by Sark law for the retraiting of the property had expired, Grannie and Mrs. Hamon put in their claims, and it became generally known that they would become the new owners of La Closerie, in place of John Guille.