He was almost afraid to try another. However, he could get more to-morrow. So he broke the fourth, and found it also good, so whipped it up with more cognac, and felt happier than he had done since he nibbled his rabbit-bones.
As he lay that night, and the gale howled about him more furiously than ever, his thoughts ran constantly on the dead man lying in the silent darkness down below.
It was very quiet down there, and dry; but this roaring turmoil, with its thunderous crashings and hurtling spray, was infinitely more to his taste, wet though he was to the bone, and almost deafened with the ceaseless uproar. For this, terrible though it was in its majestic fury, was life, and that black stillness below was death.
To the tune of the tumult without, he worked out the dead man’s story in his mind.
It was long ago in the old smuggling days. Some bold free-trader of Sark or Guernsey had lighted on that cave and used it as a storehouse. Some too energetic revenue officer had disappeared one day and never been heard of again. He had been surprised—by the free-traders—perhaps in the very act of surprising them—brought over to L’Etat in a boat, been dragged through the tunnel, or made to crawl through, perhaps, with vicious knife-digs in the rear, and had been left bound in the darkness till he should be otherwise disposed of. His captors had been captured in turn, or maybe killed, and he had lain there alone and in the dark, waiting, waiting for them to return, shouting now and again into the muffling darkness, struggling with his bonds, growing weaker and weaker, faint with hunger, mad with thirst, until at last he died.
It was horrible to think of, and desperate as his own state was, he thanked God heartily that he was not as that other.
Morning brought no slackening of the gale. It seemed to him, if anything, to be waxing still more furious.
He had only two eggs left, and they might both be bad ones, but he would not have ventured round the headland that day for all the eggs in existence.
He broke one presently, in answer to a clamour inside him that would brook no denial, and found it good, and lived on it that day, and mused between times on the strange fact that a man could feel so mightily grateful for the difference between a bad egg and a good one.
His sixth egg turned out a good one also, and the next day there came another hopeful lull, which permitted him to harry the puffins once more, and gave him a dozen chances against contingencies.
On the eighth day the storm blew itself out, and he looked hopefully across at the lonely and weather-beaten cliffs of Sark for the relief which he was certain they had been aching to send him.
The waves, however, still ran high, and, though he did not know it till later, there was not a boat left afloat round the whole Island. The forethoughtful and weather-wise had run them round to the Creux and carried them through the tunnel into the roadway behind. All the rest had been smashed and sunk and swallowed by the storm.