And the white figure in the bows was truly Nance, and she was standing and waving and calling to him. And the grey-headed man aft was surely Philip Guille, the Senechal, and the faces of the rest were all friendly.
He stumbled hastily down to the lower ledges, but the rush and the roar there drowned their voices.
What were they trying to tell him? What could they want of him?
The Senechal was standing, hands to mouth, waiting his chance. The restless waters below drew back for a moment to gather for a leap, and the big voice came booming across the tumult—
“Jump! We’ll pick you up! All is well!”
And Gard, without a moment’s hesitation, sprang out into the marbled foam, and struck out for the boat.
They were all friendly hands that gripped him and hauled him over the side, and patted him on the back to get the water out of him—all friendly faces that were turned to him; and the dearest face of all, lighted with a heavenly gladness, was to him as the face of an angel.
“Tell me!” he gasped, still all astream, wits and clothes alike. And it was the Senechal who told him.
“Peter Mauger was killed last night, at the same place as Tom Hamon, and in the same way. So these hot-blooded thickheads are convinced at last that it wasn’t your work.”
“Peter Mauger!” he said, gazing vaguely at them all. “But who—”
“We haven’t found out yet. But even the thickest of the thickheads can’t put it down to you”—and the thickheads present grinned in friendly fashion, and they ran up the sail with a will, and turned her nose, and went racing back to the Creux quicker than they had come.
And Gard sat still with his hand in Nance’s two, feeling very weak and shaky, and looked vaguely back at L’Etat as it faded and dwindled into a dim black triangle of rock.
HOW HE CAME HOME FROM L’ETAT
This is what had happened.
Since Tom Hamon’s death, his friend Peter and his widow Julie had, as we know, found themselves drawn together by a common detestation of Stephen Gard and a common desire for his extinction.
For Peter considered he had been supplanted in Nance’s regards, though Nance had never regarded him as anything but a nuisance and a boor. And Julie considered herself scorned and slighted, though Gard had never considered her save as Tom Hamon’s wife.
It was they who had stirred up the Sark men against Gard, and they missed no opportunity of keeping their ill brew on the boil.
Their offensive alliance brought them much together. Peter was often at La Closerie. He was like wax in the hands of the fiery Frenchwoman, and she moulded him to her will. The neighbours might have begun to talk, but that it was obvious to all that the only bond between them at present was their ill-will towards Gard, and in that feeling many shared and found nothing strange in Tom’s wife and Tom’s chief friend joining hands to make some one pay for his death.