In time, if it had gone on, the neighbours would doubtless have had plenty to say on the subject, for old wives’ tongues rattled fast of a winter’s evening, when they all gathered in this house or that, and sat on the sides of the green bed with their feet in the dry fern inside, and the oil crasset hanging down in the midst, and plied their needles and their tongues and wits all at once, and wrought scandalously good guernseys and stockings in spite of it all.
But these were summer evenings yet, and the veilles had not begun, and reputations were out at grass till the time came round for their inspection and judgment.
And so, when Peter Mauger never reached home the night before this day of which we are telling, his old housekeeper, whatever she thought about it at the time, only said afterwards that she supposed he had stopped somewhere and would turn up all right in the morning, though she admitted that he was not in the habit of staying out of a night. Anyway, she was an old woman and all alone, and she was not going out to look for him at that time of night.
The morning surprised her by his continued absence. Never in his life, so far as she knew, had he behaved like this before. Vituperation of him gave place to anxiety about him.
She questioned the neighbours. All they knew was that he had been seen going down to Little Sark soon after sunset.
“That black Frenchwoman of Tom Hamon’s twists him round her finger,” said one.
“You tie him up, Mrs. Guille,” chuckled another, “or sure as beans she’ll steal him from you and leave you in the cold.”
And then, who should they see coming striding along the road but Madame Julie herself, and evidently in a hurry;—in a state of red-hot excitement, too, as she drew near. And they waited, hands on hips, to hear what she was up to now.
“Where’s Peter?” she demanded, a long way in advance. “Tell him I want him. That man Gard is still on L’Etat, though those fools who went across for him couldn’t find him. Cre nom! What are you all staring at, then?”
“Where’s our Peter?” demanded Mrs. Guille shrilly, with the strident note of fear in her voice, as she becked and bobbed towards the Frenchwoman like an aged cormorant.
“Peter? I’m asking you. I want him. Where is he?”
“He went to Little Sark last night, and he’s never come home.”
“Never come home? Why, what’s taken him? If he’d been with me last night he’d have seen something! That Nance Hamon swam across to the rock with nothing on but her shift to take food to Gard, and I caught her at it—the shameless hussy!”
“Maybe Peter’s heard of it an’ gone across with ’em again,” suggested one. “He was terrible hot against Gard.”
“And reason he had to be hot against him,” cried Julie. “Who’ll find out for me where he’s got to, and when they’re going out after Gard? I would go too and see the end of him.”