“What did he say?” asked Gard, stopping.
But Nance hurried on and he could not but follow.
“What was it?” he asked again, as he caught up with her.
“If you please, do not mind him. It was just one of his rudenesses.”
“They want knocking out of him.”
“He is very rude,” said Nance, and they passed the Vicarage and turned up the stony lane to the church.
Gard was surprised by the speedy verification of Bernel’s weather forecast. Before the service was over the wind was howling round the building with the sounds of unleashed furies, and when they got out it was almost dark.
They bent to the gale and pressed on, Gard with a discomforting remembrance that the Coupee lay ahead.
As they passed Vauroque there seemed a still larger crowd of loafers at the corner, and again Tom’s voice called rudely after them.
Gard turned promptly and strode back to where he was sitting on the wall, dangling his feet in devil-may-care fashion. Tom jumped down to meet him.
“Say that again in English, will you?” said Gard angrily.
“Go to—!” said Tom.
Then Gard’s left fist caught him on the hinge of the right jaw, and he reeled back among the others who had jumped down to back him up.
“Well—? Want any more?” asked Gard stormily.
“You wait,” growled Tom, nursing his jaw, “I’ll talk to you one of these days.”
“Whenever you like, you cur. What you need is a sound thrashing and a kick over the Coupee.”
To his surprise none of the others joined in. But he did not know them.
They might guffaw at Tom’s unseemly pleasantries, but they held him in no high esteem—either for himself or for his position, since word of the sale of La Closerie had got about.
Then they were a hardy crew and held personal courage and prowess in high respect. And in this matter there could be no possible doubt as to where the credit lay.
“Goin’ to fight him, Tom?” drawled one, in the patois.
“—— him!” growled Tom, but made no move that way.
And Gard turned and went over to Nance and Bernel, who were sheltering from the storm in lee of one of the cottages.
If he could have seen it, there was a warmer feeling in her heart for him than had ever been there before—a novel feeling, too, of respect and confidence such as she had never entertained towards any other man in all her life.
For that quick blow had been struck on her behalf, she knew; and it was vastly strange, and somehow good, to feel that a great strong man was ready to stand up for her and, if necessary, to fight for her.
She pressed silently on against the gale, with an odd little glow in her heart, and a feeling as though something new had suddenly come into her life.
The gale caught them at the Coupee, and the crossing seemed to Gard not without its risks.