“Had you met last night before you met near the Coupee?”
“We passed Tom by La Vauroque as we came from the Doctor’s. He shouted something after us, but I did not understand it.”
“You don’t know what it was that he said?” an unfortunate question on the part of the Senechal, and quite unintentionally so on his part. It necessitated the introduction of matters Gard would fain have kept out of the enquiry.
“Well,” he said, with visible reluctance, “I learned afterwards, and by accident, something of what he said or meant.”
“How was that, and what was it?”
“Is it necessary to go into that? Won’t it do if I say it was a very gross insult?”
The three at the table conferred for a moment. Then the Senechal said very kindly, “I perceive we are getting on to somewhat delicate ground, Mr. Gard, but, for your own sake. I would suggest that no occasion should be given to any to say that you are hiding anything from the court.”
“Very well, sir, I have nothing whatever to hide, and I have still less to be ashamed of. I found Miss Hamon was weeping bitterly at what her brother had said, and I tried to get her to tell me what it was, but she would not. I said I knew it was something against me, but I hoped by this time she had learned to know and trust me. I told her her sobs cut me to the heart and that I would give my life to save her from trouble. In a word, I told her I loved her, and in the excitement of the moment she dropped a word or two that gave me an inkling of what Tom had said. It was casting dirt at both her and myself. Then, as I came home, I met Tom as I have told you.”
The Senechal considered the matter for a moment. He did not for one moment believe that Gard had had any hand in the killing of Tom Hamon. But he could not but perceive the hostile feeling that was abroad, and his desire was, if possible, to allay it.
“It is, I should think,” he said gravely, “past any man’s believing that, after asking Tom’s sister to marry you, you should go straight away and kill Tom, even in the hottest of hot blood, though men at such times do not always know what they are doing. But you, from what I have seen and heard of you, are not such a man. I am going to ask you one question in the hope that your answer may have the effect of setting you right with all who hear it. Before God—had you any hand in the death of this man?—have you any further knowledge of the matter whatever?”
“Before God,” said Gard solemnly, his uplifted right hand as steady as a rock, “I had no hand in his death. I know nothing more whatever about the matter.”
“I believe you,” said the Senechal.
“And I,” said the Doctor.
“And I,” said the Vicar gravely, and with much emotion.
But from the spectators there rose a dissentient murmur which caused the Vicar to survey his unruly flock with mild amazement and disapproval—much as the shepherd might if his sheep had suddenly shed their fleeces and become wolves.