When the rumour at length reached Tom’s ears, he, not unnaturally perhaps, set down the whole matter as a plot to oust him from his heritage and put Nance and Bernel in his place.
So his anger grew, and he was powerless. And the impotence of an angry man may lead him into gruesome paths. Smouldering fires burst out at times into devastating flames, and maddened bulls put down their heads and charge regardless of consequences.
When Tom Hamon asked Peter Mauger to lend him his gun to go rabbit-shooting one night, Peter, if he had been a thoughtful man, would have declined.
But Peter was above all things easy-going, and anything but thoughtful of such matters as surged gloomily in Tom’s angry head, and he lent him his gun as a matter of course.
And Tom went off across the Coupee into Little Sark, nursing his black devil and thinking vaguely and gloomily of the things he would like to do. For to rob a man of his rights in this fashion was past a man’s bearing, and if he was to be ruined for the sake of that solemn-faced slip of a Nance and that young limb of a Bernel, he might as well take payment for it all, and cut their crowing, and give them something to remember him by.
He had no very definite intentions. His mind was a chaos of whirling black furies. He would like to pay somebody out for the wrongs under which he was suffering—who, or how, was of little moment. He had been wounded, he wanted to hit back.
He turned off the Coupee to the left and struck down through the gorse and bracken towards the Pot, and then crept along the cliffs and across the fields towards La Closerie—still for three days his, in the reversion; after that, gone from him irrevocably—a galling shame and not to be borne by any man that called himself a man.
Should he lie in the hedge and shoot down the old man as he came in from those cursed mines which had started all the trouble? Or should he walk right into the house and shoot and fell whatever he came across? If he must suffer it would at all events be some satisfaction to think that he had made them suffer too.
From where he stood he could look right in through the open door, and could hear their voices—Nance and Bernel and Mrs. Hamon—the interlopers, the schemers, the stealers of his rights.
The shaft of light was eclipsed suddenly as Nance came out and tripped across the yard on some household duty.
He remembered how he used to terrify her by springing out of the darkness at her. She had helped to bring all this trouble about.
Why should he not—? Why should he not—?
And while his gun still shook in his hands to the wild throbbing of his pulses, Nance passed out of his sight into the barn.
The deed a man may do on the spur of the moment, when his brain is on fire, is not so readily done when it has to be thought about.
Then Mrs. Hamon came to the door, and called to Nance to bring with her a piece or two of wood for the fire.