Her black hair seemed all a-bristle. Her black eyes flamed. Her dark face worked like a quicksand. Her skirts were wet to the waist. Her jacket was open at the top, as though she had wrenched at it in a fit of choking. Her strong bare throat throbbed convulsively. Her hands, half closed at her side, looked as though they wanted something to claw.
“Did you do it?” she cried hoarsely, stalking up to Gard.
“Tom?... You don’t mean to say—”
“You ought to know. He’s there in the school-house, broken to a jelly and his head staved in. And they say it’s you he fought with last night. The marks of it are on your face”—her voice rose to a scream—“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”
“You wicked—thing!” cried Nance, pale to the lips.
“You—you—you!” foamed Julie. “You’re as bad as he is. Because my man tried to save you from that—murderer—”
“Oh, you—wicked!—You’re crazy,” cried Nance, rushing at her as though to make an end of her.
And Julie, mad with the strain of the night’s anxieties and their abrupt and terrible ending, uncurled her claws and struck at her with a snarl—tore off her sun-bonnet, and would have ripped up her face, if Gard had not flung his arms round her from the back and dragged her screaming and kicking towards her own door.
Mrs. Hamon had come running out at sound of the fray. Gard whirled the mad woman into her own house and Mrs. Hamon followed her and closed the door.
Gard turned to look for Nance.
She was nervously trying to tie on her sun-bonnet by one string.
“Nance, dear,” he said, “you don’t believe I had anything to do with this?”
“Oh no, no! I’m sure you hadn’t. But—”
“But?” he asked, looking down into the pale face and bright anxious eyes.
“Oh, they may say you did it. They will think it. They are sure to think it, and they are so—”
“Don’t trouble about it, dear. I know no more about it than you do, and they cannot get beyond that. Promise me you won’t let it trouble you.”
“Oh, I will try. But—”
“Have no fears on my account, Nance. I will go at once and tell them all I know about it.”
He pressed her hands reassuringly, and she went into the house with downcast head and a face full of forebodings, and he set off at once for Sark.
HOW TOM WENT TO SCHOOL FOR THE LAST TIME
Mrs. Tom had had a troubled night. Anxiety at her husband’s continued absence had in due time given way to anger, and anger in its turn to anxiety again.
In a state of mind compounded of these wearing emotions, she had set out in the early morning to find out what had become of him; if he was sleeping off a drunken debauch at Peter Mauger’s, to give them both a vigorous piece of her mind; if he was not there, to find out where he was; in any case to vent on some one the pent-up feelings of the night.