So now I reached out for the piece, which lay beside me on the floor, and scrambled to my feet; lifting the deckle in the darkness, and feeling with my fingers in the pan to see ’twas full of powder.
The lull in the storm still lasted, and I heard the footsteps advancing, though with uncertain slowness, and once after a heavy stumble I thought I caught a muttereth oath, as if someone had struck his foot against a stone.
Then I shouted out clear in the darkness a ‘Who goes there?’ that rang again through the stone roofs. The footsteps stopped, but there was no answer. ‘Who goes there?’ I repeated. ‘Answer, or I fire.’
‘Prosper the Bonaventure,’ came back out of the darkness, and I knew that I was safe. ’The devil take thee for a hot-blooded young bantam to shoot thy best friend with powder and ball, that he was fool enough to give thee’; and by this time I had guessed ’twas Master Ratsey, and recognized his voice. ’I would have let thee hear soon enough that ’twas I, if I had known I was so near thy lair; but ’tis more than a man’s life is worth to creep down moleholes in the dark, and on a night like this. And why I could not get out the gibberish about the Bonaventure sooner, was because I matched my shin to break a stone, and lost the wager and my breath together. And when my wind returned ’tis very like that I was trapped into an oath, which is sad enough for me, who am sexton, and so to say in small orders of the Church of England as by law established.’
By the time I had put down the gun and coaxed the candle again to light, Ratsey stepped into the cave. He wore a sou’wester, and was dripping with wet, but seemed glad to see me and shook me by the hand. He was welcome enough to me also, for he banished the dreadful loneliness, and his coming was a bit out of my old pleasant life that lay so far away, and seemed to bring me once more within reach of some that were dearest.