Michael's Crag by Grant Allen
Chapter VII. Peril by Land.
The Trevennacks dined in their lodgings at Gunwalloe at half-past seven. But in the rough open-air life of summer visitors on the Cornish coast, meals as a rule are very movable feasts; and Michael Trevennack wasn't particularly alarmed when he reached home that evening to find Cleer hadn't returned before him. They had missed one another, somehow, among the tangled paths that led down the gully; an easy enough thing to do between those big boulders and bramble-bushes; and it was a quarter to eight before Trevennack began to feel alarmed at Cleer's prolonged absence. By that time, however, he grew thoroughly frightened; and, reproaching himself bitterly for having let his daughter stray out of his sight in the first place, he hurried back, with his wife, at the top of his speed along the cliff path to the Penmorgan headland.
It's half an hour's walk from Gunwalloe to Michael's Crag; and by the time Trevennack reached the mouth of the gully the sands were almost covered; so for the first time in fifteen years he was forced to take the path right under the cliff to the now comparatively distant island, round whose base a whole waste of angry sea surged sullenly. On the way they met a few workmen who, in answer to their inquiries, could give them no news, but who turned back to aid in the search for the missing young lady. When they got opposite Michael's Crag, a wide belt of black water, all encumbered with broken masses of sharp rock, some above and some below the surface, now separated them by fifty yards or more from the island. It was growing dark fast, for these were the closing days of August twilight; and dense fog had drifted in, half obliterating everything. They could barely descry the dim outline of the pyramidal rock in its lower half; its upper part was wholly shrouded in thick mist and drizzle.
With a wild cry of despair, Trevennack raised his voice, and shouted aloud, "Cleer, Cleer! where are you?"
That clarion voice, as of his namesake angel, though raised against the wind, could be heard above even the thud of the fierce breakers that pounded the sand. On the highest peak above, where she sat, cold and shivering, Cleer heard it, and jumped up. "Here! here! father!" she cried out, with a terrible effort, descending at the same time down the sheer face of the cliff as far as the dashing spray and fierce wild waves would allow her.
No other ear caught the sound of that answering cry; but Trevennack's keen senses, preternaturally awakened by the gravity of the crisis, detected the faint ring of her girlish voice through the thunder of the surf. "She's there!" he cried, frantically, waving his hands above his head. "She's there! She's there! We must get across and save her."
For a second Mrs. Trevennack doubted whether he was really right, or whether this was only one of poor Michael's hallucinations. But the next moment, with another cry, Cleer waved her handkerchief in return, and let it fall from her hand. It came, carried on the light breeze, and dropped in the water before their very eyes, half way across the channel.
Frenzied at the sight, Trevennack tore off his coat, and would have plunged into the sea, then and there, to rescue her. But the workmen held him back. "No, no, sir; you mustn't," they said. "No harm can't come to the young lady if she stops there. She've only got to sit on them rocks there till morning, and the tide'll leave her high and dry right enough, as it always do. But nobody couldn't live in such a sea as that--not Tim o' Truro. The waves 'u'd dash him up afore he knowed where he was, and smash him all to pieces on the side o' the island."
Trevennack tried to break from them, but the men held him hard. Their resistance angered him. He chafed under their restraint. How dare these rough fellows lay hands like that on the Prince of the Archangels and a superior officer in Her Majesty's Civil Service? But with the self-restraint that was habitual to him, he managed to refrain, even so, from disclosing his identity. He only struggled ineffectually, instead of blasting them with his hot breath, or clutching his strong arms round their bare throats and choking them. As he stood there and hesitated, half undecided how to act, of a sudden a sharp cry arose from behind. Trevennack turned and looked. Through the dark and the fog he could just dimly descry two men hurrying up, with ropes and life buoys. As they neared him, he started in unspeakable horror. For one of them, indeed, was only Eustace Le Neve; but the other--the other was that devil Walter Tyrrel, who, he felt sure in his own heart, had killed their dear Michael. And it was his task in life to fight and conquer devils.
For a minute he longed to leap upon him and trample him under foot, as long ago he had trampled his old enemy, Satan. What was the fellow doing here now? What business had he with Cleer? Was he always to be in at the death of a Trevennack?
But true to her trust, the silver-haired lady clutched his arm with tender watchfulness. "For Cleer's sake, dear Michael!" she whispered low in his ear; "for Cleer's sake--say nothing; don't speak to him, don't notice him!"
The distracted father drew back a step, out of reach of the spray. "But Lucy," he cried low to her, "only think! only remember! If I cared to go on the cliff and just spread my wings, I could fly across and save her--so instantly, so easily!"
His wife held his hand hard. That touch always soothed him. "If you did, Michael," she said gently, with her feminine tact, "they'd all declare you were mad, and had no wings to fly with. And Cleer's in no immediate danger just now, I feel sure. Don't try, there's a dear man. That's right! Oh, thank you."
Reassured by her calm confidence, Trevennack fell back yet another step on the sands, and watched the men aloof. Walter Tyrrel turned to him. His heart was in his mouth. He spoke in short, sharp sentences. "The coastguard's wife told us," he said. "We've come down to get her off. I've sent word direct to the Lizard lifeboat. But I'm afraid it won't come. They daren't venture out. Sea runs too high, and these rocks are too dangerous."
As he spoke, he tore off his coat, tied a rope round his waist, flung his boots on the sand, and girded himself rapidly with an inflated life-buoy. Then, before the men could seize him or prevent the rash attempt, he had dashed into the great waves that curled and thundered on the beach, and was struggling hard with the sea in a life and death contest. Eustace Le Neve held the rope, and tried to aid him in his endeavors. He had meant to plunge in himself, but Walter Tyrrel was beforehand with him. He was no match in a race against time for the fiery and impetuous Cornish temperament. It wasn't long, however, before the breakers proved themselves more than equal foes for Walter Tyrrel. In another minute he was pounded and pummeled on the unseen rocks under water by the great curling billows. They seized him resistlessly on their crests, tumbled him over like a child, and dashed him, bruised and bleeding, one limp bundle of flesh, against the jagged and pointed summits of the submerged boulders.
With all his might, Eustace Le Neve held on to the rope; then, in coat and boots as he stood, he plunged into the waves and lifted Walter Tyrrel in his strong arms landward. He was a bigger built and more powerful man than his host, and his huge limbs battled harder with the gigantic waves. But even so, in that swirling flood, it was touch and go with him. The breakers lifted him off his feet, tossed him to and fro in their trough, flung him down again forcibly against the sharp- edged rocks, and tried to float off his half unconscious burden. But Le Neve persevered in spite of them, scrambling and tottering as he went, over wet and slippery reefs, with Tyrrel still clasped in his arms, and pressed tight to his breast, till he landed him safe at last on the firm sand beside him.
The squire was far too beaten and bruised by the rocks to make a second attempt against those resistless breakers. Indeed, Le Neve brought him ashore more dead than alive, bleeding from a dozen wounds on the face and hands, and with the breath almost failing in his battered body. They laid him down on the beach, while the fishermen crowded round him, admiring his pluck, though they deprecated his foolhardiness, for they "knowed the squire couldn't never live ag'in it." But Le Neve, still full of the reckless courage of youth, and health, and strength, and manhood, keenly alive now to the peril of Cleer's lonely situation, never heeded their forebodings. He dashed in once more, just as he stood, clothes and all, in the wild and desperate attempt to stem that fierce flood and swim across to the island.
In such a sea as then raged, indeed, and among such broken rocks, swimming, in the strict sense, was utterly impossible. By some mere miracle of dashing about, however--here, battered against the sharp rocks; there, flung over them by the breakers; and yonder, again, sucked down, like a straw in an eddy, by the fierce strength of the undertow--Eustace found himself at last, half unconscious and half choked, carried round by the swirling scour that set through the channel to the south front of the island. Next instant he felt he was cast against the dead wall of rock like an india rubber ball. He rebounded into the trough. The sea caught him a second time, and flung him once more, helpless, against the dripping precipice. With what life was left in him, he clutched with both hands the bare serpentine edge. Good luck befriended him. The great wave had lifted him up on its towering crest to the level of vegetation, beyond the debatable zone. He clung to the hard root of woody sea-aster in the clefts. The waves dashed back in tumultuous little cataracts, and left him there hanging.
Like a mountain goat, Eustace clambered up the side, on hands, knees, feet, elbows, glad to escape with his life from that irresistible turmoil. The treacherous herbs on the slope of the crag were kind to him. He scrambled ahead, like some mad, wild thing. He went onward, upward, cutting his hands at each stage, tearing the skin from his fingers. It was impossible; but he did it. Next minute he found himself high and dry on the island.
His clothes were clinging wet, of course, and his limbs bruised and battered. But he was safe on the firm plateau of the rock at last; and he had rescued Cleer Trevennack!
In the first joy and excitement of the moment he forgot altogether the cramping conventionalities of our every-day life; and, repeating the cry he had heard Michael Trevennack raise from the beach below, he shouted aloud, at the top of his voice, "Cleer! Cleer! Where are you?"
"Here!" came an answering voice from the depths of the gloom overhead. And following the direction whence the sound seemed to come, Eustace Le Neve clambered up to her.
As he seized her hand and wrung it, Cleer crying the while with delight and relief, it struck him all at once, for the very first time, he had done no good by coming, save to give her companionship. It would be hopeless to try carrying her through those intricate rock- channels and that implacable surf, whence he himself had emerged, alone and unburdened, only by a miracle. They two must stop alone there on the rock till morning.
As for Cleer, too innocent and too much of a mere woman in her deadly peril to think of anything but the delightful sense of confidence in a strong man at her side to guard and protect her, she sat and held his hand still, in a perfect transport of gratitude. "Oh, how good of you to come!" she cried again and again, bending over it in her relief, and half tempted to kiss it. "How good of you to come across like that to save me."