So, out past the Laches, with the tide boiling round the point; past Derrible, with its yawning black mouths; past Dixcart with its patch of sand; under the grim bastions of the Cagnon; the clean grey cliffs and green downs above, all smiling in the morning sun; the clear green water creaming among the black boulders, hissing among their girdles of tawny sea-weeds, cascading merrily down their rifted sides; round the Convanche corner, so deftly close that the beauty of the water cave is bared to them, if they had eye or thought for anything but that which lies under the cliff in Coupee Bay. And not a word said all the way—not one word. Jokes and laughter go with the boat as a rule, and high-pitched nasal patois talk; but here—not a word.
The prow runs grating up the shingle, the heavy feet grind through it all in a line, for none of them has any desire to be first. Together they bend over that which had been Tom Hamon, and their faces are grim and hard as the rocks about them. Not that they are indifferent, but that any show of feeling would be looked upon as a sign of weakness.
Under such circumstances men at times give vent to jocularities which sound coarse and shocking. But they are not meant so—simply the protest of the rough spirit at being thought capable of such unmanly weakness as feeling.
But these men were elementally silent. One look had shown them there was nothing to be done but that which they had come to do—to carry what they had found back to the waiting crowd at the Creux.
They had none of them cared much for this man. He was not a man to make close friends. But death had given him a new dignity among them, and the rough hands lifted him, and bore him to the boat as tenderly as though a jar or a stumble might add to his pains.
And so, but with slower strokes now, as though that slight additional burden, that single passenger, weighed them to the water’s edge, they crawl slowly back the way they came, logged, not with water, but with the presence of death.
The narrow beach between the tawny headlands is black with people. Up above, on the edge of the cliff, another crowd peers curiously down.
The Senechal is there at the water’s edge, Philip Guille of La Ville, and the Greffier, William Robert, who is also the schoolmaster, and Thomas Le Masurier the Prevot, and Elie Guille the Constable, and Dr. Stradling from Dixcart, and the dark-faced, fierce-eyed woman who cannot keep still, but ranges to and fro in the lip of the tide, and whom they all know now as the wife—the Frenchwoman, though some of them have never seen her before.
A buzz runs round as the boat comes slowly past the point of the Laches. The woman stops her caged-beast walk and stands gazing fiercely at it, as if she would tear its secret out of it before it touched the shore.
The watchers on the cliff have the advantage. Something like a thrill runs through them, something between a sigh and a groan breaks from them.