It was not until the hastily-constructed litter with its gruesome burden had been sent off to the Boys’ School, in charge of the constables and the Doctor, that the Senechal caught sight of Nance’s eager white face and anxious eyes, in the crowd that lingered still in answer to another whisper that had flown round.
If they were at once pig-headed and hot-blooded and suspicious, they were also warm-hearted and willing to atone for a mistake—once they were sure of it.
No crowd followed Peter on his last journey but one, though the whole Island had swarmed after Tom Hamon.
They wanted to see the man who would have been killed for killing Tom, though he didn’t do it, but for—circumstances, and his own pluck and endurance.
And when the Senechal beckoned to one of the circumstances, and put his hand on her slim shoulder, and said—
“We are going for him. I thought you would like to come too,” her face went rosy with gratitude, and the brave little hands clasped up on to her breast, as she murmured—
“Oh, M. le Senechal!” and choked at anything more.
Those nearest gave her rough words of encouragement.
“Cheer up, Nance! You’ll soon have him back!”
“That’s a brave garche! Don’t cry about it now!”
“We’ll make it up to him, lass. We’ll all come and dance at the wedding”—and so on.
But the Senechal patted her on the shoulder and asked—
“And where is your brother? He should come, too. I hear you have both been in this matter.”
“Ah, monsieur!” she said, with brimming eyes and a pathetic little lift and fall of the hand, which expressed far more than she could put into words. “We fear ... we fear he is drowned. He swam out to the rock taking food, and ... and ... we have not seen him since;” and her hand was over her face and the tears streaming through.
“Mon Dieu! Another!” said the Senechal, aghast. “When, child? When was this?”
“The night after the storm, monsieur.”
“Perhaps he is there, on the rock.”
“No, monsieur. I was over there myself last night. He never got there, and we fear he must be drowned.”
“You were over there, child? Why, how did you get across?”
“I swam, monsieur;” and he stared at her in amazement.
“Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! You make up for some of the others,” he said bluntly. “Come then, and we will make sure of this one, anyhow;” and he led the way to John de Carteret’s boat, and all the people gave them a cheer as they pulled out of the harbour to catch the breeze off the Laches.
Then the crowd waited for their return, and talked by snatches of all these strange happenings, and discussed and discounted the chances of Bernel’s being still alive.
“For, see you, the Race! And that was the first night after the storm, and it would be running like the deuce, bidemme!” “It’s best not to know how to swim if it leads you to do things like that, oui-gia!” “When a man’s time comes, he cuts his cleft in the water, whether he can swim or not, crais b’en!” “And that slip of a Nance had been over there last night—par made, some folks have the courage!” “All the same, it was madness—”