“Leave my ears loose, anyway,” said Gard. “I’d like at all events to be able to hear it coming.”
The Senechal had a weapon, part pistol and the rest blunderbuss, which had belonged to his father, who had always referred to it affectionately as his “dunderbush.” It had seen strange doings in its time, but had been so long retired from the active list, that he undertook to load and fire it himself before he said any more about it.
And he did it next day, with a full charge, in his meadow, with the assistance of a gate-post and a long cord, and reported it at night as in excellent order, and calculated to blow into smithereens anything blowable that stood up before it within the short limit of its range.
At this stage in its proceedings the Vicar reluctantly retired from the Committee of Public Safety. He acknowledged the sore need of ending the suspicious and superstitious fears which were beginning to affect the life of the community in various ways. But he could not see his way to any participation in means so dangerous to the life of one of their number as those suggested.
He did his best to dissuade Gard from it. He even reminded him of the duty he owed to Nance. She had undoubtedly saved his life, and she had a premier claim upon his consideration—and so on.
To all of which Gard fully assented.
“But,” he said gravely, “we are at a deadlock in this other matter, and it is just barely possible that this plan may clear it all up. I can’t say I’m very sanguine that it will. On the other hand, I really don’t see that any great harm can come to me. The others probably suffered because they were taken unawares. I shall go in the hope of meeting it, and shall be ready for it. Unless, Vicar, you really think it is the devil or something of that sort?”
“I don’t know what to think,” said the Vicar solemnly. “I cannot bring myself to believe any of our Sark men would do such dreadful things. I look at each man I meet and say to myself, ’Now, can it be possible it is you?—or you?—or you?’—and it does not seem possible; and yet—”
“And yet some one did it, Vicar,” said the Doctor, brusquely, “and that’s just the trouble. Until we find out who did it, any man may have done it, and we all look at everybody else, just as you do, and say to ourselves, ‘Is it you?—or you?—or you?’ Though I’m bound to say I’ve not got the length yet of doubting either you or the Senechal, or Gard, and I don’t think it’s myself. It might quite conceivably be any one of us, however, prowling about in our sleep and utterly unconscious afterwards of evil-doing.”
“A most awful possibility,” said the Vicar. “God grant it may turn out differently from that.”
“You never know what this inexplicable machine may do,” said the Doctor, tapping his head. “However, we’ll hope for the best, and I think the Senechal and I ought to be able to see Gard through without any very disastrous results. If we succeed, he will deserve better of this Island than any man I know—and a sight more than this Island deserves of him. I quite understand,” he said, as Gard looked quickly up. “And it does you credit, my boy; but there are not very many men would do it.”