So he bathed his bruises with much water, and reduced their excesses to some extent, but not enough to escape the eye of his hostess when he appeared at breakfast.
“Bin fighting?” she queried dispassionately.
“A one-sided fight. Tom Hamon was drunk last night and hit me in the face, but he was not in a condition to fight or I’d have taught him better manners.”
“He’s a rough piece,” with a disparaging shake of the head. “It’d take a lot to knock him into shape. Try this,” and she delved among her stores, and found him an ointment of her own compounding which took some of the soreness out of his bruises.
But black eyes and swollen noses are impertinently obtrusive and disdainful of disguise, and the captain’s battle-flags provoked no little jocosity among his men that morning.
“Run up against su’then, cap’n?” asked John Hamon the engineer, who was one of the few who sided with him.
“Yes, against a drunken fist in the dark. When it’s sober I’m going to give it a lesson in manners.”
“Drunken fisses is hard to teach. You’ll have your hands full, cap’n.”
It seemed an unusually long morning, but dinner-time came at last and he hastened across to the farm, eager for the first sight of the sweet shy face hiding in the big sun-bonnet.
Quite contrary to his expectations Nance came hurrying to meet him. She had evidently been on the watch for him. Still more to his surprise, her face, instead of that look of shy reserve which he had been prepared for, was full of anxious questioning. The large dark eyes were full of something he had never seen in them before.
“Why—Nance—dear! What is the matter?” he asked quickly.
“Did you meet Tom again last night? Oh,” at nearer sight of his bruised face, “you did, you did!”
“Yes, dear, I did. Or rather he met me—as you see.”
“Did you fight with him?” she panted.
“He was too drunk to fight. He ran at me and gave me this, and my first inclination was to give him a sound thrashing. Then I saw it would be no good, in the condition he was in, so I just kept him at arm’s length till he tired of it. He went off at last, and I was so afraid he might tumble off the Coupee that I followed him, and he hurled rocks at me whenever he came to a stand. But he got across all right, and I went back and went to bed. Now, what’s all the trouble about?”
“He never came home,” she jerked, with a catch in her voice which thought only of Tom had never put there.
“Never came home?”
“And they’re all out looking for him.”
“I wonder if he went back to Peter Mauger’s.... If he tried to cross that Coupee again—in the condition he was in—”
“He didn’t go back to Peter’s. Julie went there first of all to ask.”
“Good Lord, what can have become of him?”
The answer came unexpectedly round the corner of the house—Julie Hamon, in a state of utmost dishevelment and agitation, which turned instantly to venomous fury at the sight of Gard and Nance.