He was so full of Nance that he had almost forgotten Tom and his scurrilous insolences.
He crossed the Coupee without any difficulty, enjoyed over again the recollection of that last crossing, and stood in the cutting on the Sark side for a moment to marvel at the change an hour had made in his outlook on things in general.
Tom? Why, he could almost forgive Tom, for it was he who had helped to bring matters to a head—unconsciously, indeed, and probably quite against his wish. Still, he had been the instrument—the drop of acid in the solution which had crystallized their love into set form and made it visible, and fixed it for life.
Truly, he was half inclined to consider himself under obligation to Tom—if only his boorishness could be kept in check for the future. For, of a certainty, he was not going to allow Nance to be made miserable by his loutish insolences.
He had climbed the cutting and was on the level, when he heard heavy footsteps coming towards him, and the next moment he was face to face with the object of his thoughts.
Possibly Tom had expected to meet him and had been preparing for the fray, for he opened at once with a volley of patois which to Gard was so much blank cartridge.
“Oh—ho, le velas—corrupteur! Amuseur! Seducteur! Ou quais noutre fille? Quais qu’on avait fait d’elle d’on?”
“Quite finished?” asked Gard quietly, as the other came to a stop for want of breath. “Say it all over again in English, and I’ll know what you’re talking about.”
“English be——!” he broke out afresh, in a turgid mixture of tongues. “Seducteur, amuseur! Where’s our Nance? Gaderabotin, what have you done with the girl? I know you, corrupteur! Running after men’s wives—and our Nance, too! See then—you touch la garche and I’ll—”
“See here! We’ve had enough of this,” said Gard, gripping him by the shoulders and shaking him. “If you weren’t drunk I’d thrash you within an inch of your life, you brute. Come back when you’re sober, and I’ll give you a lesson in manners.”
Tom had been struggling to get his arms up. At last he wrenched himself free and came on like a bull. One of his flailing fists caught Gard across the face, flattening his nose and filling one eye with stars; the other hand, trying to grip his opponent, ripped open his coat, tearing away both button and cloth.
“You lout!” cried Gard, his blood up and dripping also from his nose. “If you must have it, you shall;” and he squared up to him to administer righteous punishment.
And then the futility of it came upon him. The man was three-parts drunk, in no condition for a fight, scarce able to attempt even to defend himself.
No punishment of Tom drunk would have the slightest moral effect on Tom sober. He would remember nothing about it in the morning, except that he had been knocked about.
When he received his next lesson in deportment it was Gard’s earnest desire and hope that it might prove a lasting and final one.