Chapter VIII. Safe at Last.
 

The night was long. The night was dark. Slowly the fog closed them in. It grew rainier and more dismal. But on the summit of the crag Eustace Le Neve stood aloft, and waved his arms, and shouted. He lit a match and shaded it. The dull glare of it through the mist just faintly reached the eyes of the anxious watchers on the beach below. From a dozen lips there rose an answering shout. The pair on the crag half heard its last echoes. Eustace put his hands to his mouth and cried aloud once more, in stentorian tones, "All right. Cleer's here. We can hold out till morning."

Trevennack alone heard the words. But he repeated them so instantly that his wife felt sure it was true hearing, not insane hallucination. The sea was gaining on them now. It had risen almost up to the face of the cliffs. Reluctantly they turned along the path by the gully, and mounting the precipice waited and watched till morning on the tor that overlooks Michael's Crag from the Penmorgan headland.

Every now and again, through that livelong night, Trevennack whispered in his wife's ear, "If only I chose to spread my wings, and launch myself, I could fly across and carry her." And each time that brave woman, holding his hand in her own and smoothing it gently, answered in her soft voice, "But then the secret would be out, and Cleer's life would be spoiled, and they'd call you a madman. Wait till morning, dear Michael; do, do, wait till morning."

And Trevennack, struggling hard with the mad impulse in his heart, replied with all his soul, "I will; I will; for Cleer's sake and yours, I'll try to keep it down. I'll not be mad. I'll be strong and restrain it."

For he knew he was insane, in his inmost soul, almost as well as he knew his name was Michael the Archangel.

On the island, meanwhile, Eustace Le Neve and Cleer Trevennack sat watching out the weary night, and longing for the dawn to make the way back possible. At least, Cleer did, for as to Eustace, in spite of rain and fog and cold and darkness, he was by no means insensible to the unwonted pleasure of so long a tete-a-tete, in such romantic circumstances, with the beautiful Cornish girl. To be sure the waves roared, and the drizzle dripped, and the seabirds flapped all round them. But many waters will not quench love. Cleer was by his side, holding his hand in hers in the dark for pure company's sake, because she was so frightened; and as the night wore on they talked at last of many things. They were prisoners there for five mortal hours or so, alone, together; and they might as well make the best of it by being sociable with one another.

There could be no denying, however, that it was cold and damp and dark and uncomfortable. The rain came beating down upon them, as they sat there side by side on that exposed rock. The spray from the breakers blew in with the night wind; the light breeze struck chill on their wet clothes and faces. After awhile Eustace began a slow tour of inspection over the crag, seeking some cave or rock shelter, some projecting ledge of stone on the leeward side that might screen their backs at least from the driving showers. Cleer couldn't be left alone; she clung to his hand as he felt his way about the islet, with uncertain steps, through the gloom and fog. Once he steadied himself on a jutting piece of the rock as he supposed, when to his immense surprise--wh'r'r'r--it rose from under his hand, with a shrill cry of alarm, and fluttered wildly seaward. It was some sleeping gull, no doubt, disturbed unexpectedly in its accustomed resting-place. Eustace staggered and almost fell. Cleer supported him with her arm. He accepted her aid gratefully. They stumbled on in the dark once more, lighting now and again for a minute or two one of his six precious matches--he had no more in his case--and exploring as well as they might the whole broken surface of that fissured pinnacle. "I'm so glad you smoke, Mr. Le Neve," Cleer said, simply, as he lit one. "For if you didn't, you know, we'd have been left here all night in utter darkness."

At last, in a nook formed by the weathered joints, Eustace found a rugged niche, somewhat dryer than the rest, and laid Cleer gently down in it, on a natural spring seat of tufted rock-plants. Then he settled down beside her, with what cheerfulness he could muster up, and taking off his wet coat, spread it on top across the cleft, like a tent roof, to shelter them. It was no time, indeed, to stand upon ceremony. Cleer recognized as much, and nestled close to his side, like a sensible girl as she was, so as to keep warm by mere company; while Eustace, still holding her hand, just to assure her of his presence, placed himself in such an attitude, leaning before her and above her, as to protect her as far as possible from the drizzling rainfall through the gap in front of them. There they sat till morning, talking gradually of many things, and growing more and more confidential, in spite of cold and wet, as they learnt more and more, with each passing hour, of each other's standpoint. There are some situations where you get to know people better in a few half-hours together than you could get to know them in months upon months of mere drawing-room acquaintance. And this was one of them. Before morning dawned, Eustace Le Neve and Cleer Trevennack felt just as if they had known one another quite well for years. They were old and trusted friends already. Old friends--and even something more than that. Though no word of love was spoken between them, each knew of what the other was thinking. Eustace felt Cleer loved him; Cleer felt Eustace loved her. And in spite of rain and cold and fog and darkness they were almost happy--before dawn came to interrupt their strange tete-a-tete on the islet.

As soon as day broke Eustace looked out from their eyrie on the fissured peak, and down upon the troubled belt of water below. The sea was now ebbing, and the passage between the rock and the mainland though still full (for it was never dry even at spring-tide low water) was fairly passable by this time over the natural bridge of stepping- stones. He clambered down the side, giving his hand to Cleer from ledge to ledge as he went. The fog had lifted a little, and on the opposite headland they could just dimly descry the weary watchers looking eagerly out for them. Eustace put his hands to his mouth, and gave a loud halloo. The sound of the breakers was less deafening now; his voice carried to the mainland. Trevennack, who had sat under a tarpaulin through the livelong night, watching and waiting with anxious heart for the morning, raised an answering shout, and waved his hat in his hand frantically. St. Michael's Crag had not betrayed its trust. That was the motto of the Trevennacks--"Stand fast, St. Michael's!"--under the crest of the rocky islet, castled and mured, flamboyant. Eustace reached the bottom of the rock, and, wading in the water himself, or jumping into the deepest parts, helped Cleer across the stepping-stones. Meanwhile, the party on the cliff had hurried down by the gully path; and a minute later Cleer was in her mother's arms, while Trevennack held her hand, inarticulate with joy, and bent over her eagerly.

"Oh, mother," Cleer cried, in her simple girlish naivete, "Mr. Le Neve's been so kind to me! I don't know how I should ever have got through the night without him. It was so good of him to come. He's been such a help to me."

The father and mother both looked into her eyes--a single searching glance--and understood perfectly. They grasped Le Neve's hand. Tears rolled down their cheeks. Not a word was spoken, but in a certain silent way all four understood one another.

"Where's Tyrrel?" Eustace asked.

And Mrs. Trevennack answered, "Carried home, severely hurt. He was bruised on the rocks. But we hope not dangerously. The doctor's been to see him, we hear, and finds no bones broken. Still, he's terribly battered about, in those fearful waves, and it must be weeks, they tell us, before he can quite recover."

But Cleer, as was natural, thought more of the man who had struggled through and reached her than of the man who had failed in the attempt, though he suffered all the more for it. This is a world of the successful. In it, as in most other planets I have visited, people make a deal more fuss over the smallest success than over the noblest failure.

It was no moment for delay. Eustace turned on his way at once, and ran up to Penmorgan. And the Trevennacks returned, very wet and cold, in the dim gray dawn to their rooms at Gunwalloe.

As soon as they were alone--Cleer put safely to bed--Trevennack looked at his wife. "Lucy," he said, slowly, in a disappointed tone, "after this, of course, come what may, they must marry."

"They must," his wife answered. "There's no other way left. And fortunately, dear, I could see from the very first, Cleer likes him, and he likes her."

The father paused a moment. It wasn't quite the match he had hoped for a Trevennack of Trevennack. Then he added, very fervently, "Thank God it was him--not that other man, Tyrrel! Thank God, the first one fell in the water and was hurt. What should we ever have done--oh, what should we have done, Lucy, if she'd been cut off all night long on that lonely crag face to face with the man who murdered our dear boy Michael?"

Mrs. Trevennack drew a long breath. Then she spoke earnestly once more. "Dear heart," she said, looking deep into his clear brown eyes, "now remember, more than ever, Cleer's future is at stake. For Cleer's sake, more than ever, keep a guard on yourself, Michael; watch word and deed, do nothing foolish."

"You can trust me!" Trevennack answered, drawing himself up to his full height, and looking proudly before him. "Cleer's future is at stake. Cleer has a lover now. Till Cleer is married, I'll give you my sacred promise no living soul shall ever know in any way she's an archangel's daughter."