“I will manage them,” and she slipped into the darkness with the big cloak about her.
Gard crept along the slope, and found a roost above the landing-place.
His brain was in a whirl. Bernel had tried to cross to him and was drowned. Nance had swum across. Brave girl! Wonderful girl! For him!—and for news of Bernel. It was terrible to think of Bernel, dead on his account—terrible! It would not be surprising if Nance hated him. Yet, what had he done?—what could he do? He had done nothing. He could do nothing; and his teeth ground savagely at the craziness of these wild Sark men who had brought it all about, and at his own utter impotence.
But Nance did not hate him. And she had swum that dreadful Race to warn him. Brave girl! Wonderful girl!
And then—surely the grinding of an oar, as it wrought upon the gunwale against an ill-fitted thole-pin—out there by the Quette d’Amont!
His eyes and ears strained into the darkness till they felt like cracking.
And the muffled growl of voices!
His heart thumped so, they might have heard it.
He must wait till he was sure they meant to come in. But they must not come too close.
It was an ill landing in the dark, and there were various opinions on it. But there was no doubt as to their intentions. They were coming in.
“Sheer off there!” cried Gard.
Dead silence below. They had come in some doubt, but their doubts were solved now, and there was no longer need for curbed tongues, though, indeed, his hollow voice made some of them wonder if it was not a spirit that spoke to them.
“It’s him!” “The man himself!” “We have him!” “In now and get him!”—was the burden of their growls, as they hung on their oars.
“See here, men!” said Gard, invisible even to Sark eyes, against the solid darkness of the slope. “There has been trouble and loss enough over this matter already, and none of it my making. Do you hear? I say again—none of it my making. If you attempt to come ashore there will be more trouble, and this time it will be of my making. Keep back!”—as an impulsive one gave a tug at his oar. “If you force me to fire, your blood be on your own heads. I give you fair warning.”
Growls from the boat carried up to him an impression of mixed doubt and discomfort—ultimate disbelief in his possession of arms, an energetic oath or two, and another creak of the oar.
“Very well! Here’s to show you I am armed.” The report of his gun made Nance jump, at the other side of the island, and set all the birds on L’Etat—except the puffins, deep in their holes—circling and screaming.
The small shot tore up the water within a couple of yards of the boat, which backed off hastily—much to his satisfaction, for he had feared they might rush him before he had time to reload.
He had dropped flat after firing and recharged his gun as he lay. He was sure they must have come armed, and feared a volley as soon as his own discharge indicated his whereabouts.