“I’m afraid it’s no go,” was the Doctor’s grudging verdict at last, on the fourteenth blank night.
“Let’s keep on,” said Gard. “Things generally happen just when you don’t expect them.”
“That’s so,” grunted the Senechal. And they decided to keep on.
Fortunately, the nights were warm and mostly fine. When neither moon nor stars afforded him light enough for a safe crossing, he took a lantern, so that no one who desired to knock him on the head need miss the chance for lack of seeing him.
And when, after their lonely waiting, the watchers in the heather saw the lantern come joggling down the steep cutting from Sark, they braced themselves for eventualities, and hefted their guns, and pricked up their ears and made ready.
And when it had wavered slowly along the path between the great pits of darkness on either hand, and had gone joggling on into Little Sark, they sank back into their formes with each his own particular exclamation, and lay waiting till the light came back.
Times of tension and endurance which told upon them all, but bore most heavily on Gard, since the onslaught, when it came, must fall upon him, and the absolute ignorance as to how and when and whence it might come, kept every nerve within him strung like a fiddle-string.
It was the eeriest experience he had ever had, that nightly trip across the Coupee;—bad enough when moon or stars afforded him vague and distorted glimpses of his ghostly surroundings:—ten times worse when the flicker of his lantern barely kept him to the path, and the broken gleams ran over the rugged edges and tumbled into the black gulfs at the sides;—when every starting shadow might be a murderer leaping out upon him, every foot of the walling darkness the murderer’s cover, and every step he took a step towards death.
A trip, I assure you, that not many men would have been capable of. For it did not by any means end with the Coupee. When he got to bed of a night, and fell asleep at last, he was still crossing the Coupee with his joggling lantern all night long, and suffered things in dreams compared with which even his actual experiences were but holiday jaunts.
And at times these grisly imaginings came back upon him as he actually walked the narrow path next night, and it was all he could do to keep his head and not fling the lantern into the depths of the pit and follow it.
They were all getting exceedingly weary of the whole business; indeed, it was getting on all their nerves in a way which threatened consequences, when, mercifully, the end came—suddenly, not at all as they had looked for it, quite outside all their expectation.
It was one of the shrouded nights. The Doctor and the Senechal, flat in the heather, saw the lantern issue from the Sark cutting and come joggling towards them. They heard a snort of surprise behind them, but gave it no special heed. The Senechal grinned briefly at remembrance of his fright when the beast snuffled down his neck that other night.