Chapter VI. The Midsummer Moon
 

It was very late that night, just as the first long rays of a full moon streamed across a dreaming sea, that the door that led out of the conservatory at The Ship softly opened, and a slim figure, clad in a long, dark garment, flitted forth. Neither to right nor left did it glance, but, closing the door without sound, slipped out over the grass almost as if it moved on wings, and so down to the beach-path that wound steeply to the shore.

The tide was rising with the moon; the roar of it swelled and sank like the mighty breathing of a giant. The waters shone in the gathering light in a vast silver shimmer almost too dazzling for the eye to endure. In another hour it would be as light as day. A few dim clouds were floating over the stars, filmy wisps that had escaped from the ragged edges of a dark curtain that had veiled the sun before its time. The breeze that had blown them free wandered far overhead; below, especially on the shore, it was almost tropically warm, and no breath of air seemed to stir.

Swiftly went the flitting figure, like a brown moth drawn by the glitter of the moonlight. There was no other living thing in sight.

All the lights of Spear Point village had gone out long since. Rufus's cottage, with its slip of garden on the shelf of the cliff, was no more than a faint blur of white against the towering sandstone behind. No light had shone there all the evening, for the daylight had not died till ten, and he was often in bed at that hour. The fishing fleet would be out again with the dawn if the weather held, or even earlier; and the hours of sleep were precious.

Down on the rocks on the edge of the sleeping pool a grey shadow lurked amidst darker shadows. A faint scent of cigarette smoke hung about the silver beach--a drifting suggestion intangible as the magic of the night.

Could it have been this faint, floating fragrance that drew the flitting brown moth by way of the quicksand, swiftly, swiftly, along the moonlit shore travelling with mysterious certainty, irresistibly attracted? There was no pause in its rapid progress, though the course it followed was tortuous. It pursued, with absolute confidence, an invisible, winding path. And ever the roar of the sea grew louder and louder.

Across the pool, carved in the blackness of the outstretched curving scimitar of rock, there was a ledge, washed smooth by every tide, but a foot or more above the water when the tide was out. It was inaccessible save by way of the pool itself, and yet it had the look of a pathway cut in the face of the Spear Point Rock. The moonlight gleamed upon its wet surface. In the very centre of the great curving rock there was a deeper darkness that might have been a cave.

It must have been after midnight when the little brown figure that had flitted so securely through the quicksand came with its noiseless feet over the tumble of rocks that lay about the pool, and the shadow that lurked in the shadows rose up and became a man.

They met on the edge of the pool, but there was about the lesser form a hesitancy of movement, a shyness, almost a wildness, that seemed as if it would end in flight.

But the man remained quite motionless, and in a moment or two the impulse passed or was controlled. Two quivering hands came forth to him as if in supplication.

"So you are waiting!" a low voice said.

He took the hands, bending to her. The moonlight made his eyes gleam with a strange intensity.

"I have been waiting a long time," he said.

Even then she made a small, fluttering movement backward, as if she would evade him. And then with a sharp sob she conquered her reluctance again. She gave herself into his arms.

He held her closely, passionately. He kissed her face, her neck, her bosom, as if he would devour the sweetness of her in a few mad moments of utter abandonment.

But in a little he checked himself. "You are so late, sweetheart. The tide won't wait for us. There will be time for this--afterwards."

She lay burning and quivering against his heart. "There is tomorrow," she whispered, clinging to him.

He kissed her again. "Yes, there is tomorrow. But who can tell what may happen then? There will never be such a night as this again, sweet. See the light against that rock! It is a marvel of black and white, and I swear that the pool is green. There is magic abroad tonight. Let me catch it! Let me catch it! Afterwards!--when the tide comes up--we will drink our fill of love."

He spoke as if urged by strong excitement, and having spoken his arms relaxed. But she clung to him still.

"Oh, darling, I am frightened--I am frightened! I couldn't come sooner. I had a feeling--of being watched. I nearly--very nearly--didn't come at all. And now I am here--I feel--I feel--afraid."

He bent his face to hers again. His hand rested lightly, reassuringly upon her head. "No, no! There is nothing to frighten you, my passion-flower. If you had only come to me sooner it would have made it easier for you. But now there is no time." The soothing note in his voice sounded oddly strained, as though an undernote of fever throbbed below it. "You're not going to fail me," he urged softly. "Think how much it means to you--to me! And there is only half an hour left, dear. Give me that half-hour to catch the magic! Then--when the tide comes up"--his voice sank, he whispered deeply into her ear--"I will teach you the greatest magic this old world knows."

She thrilled at his words, thrilled through her trembling. She lifted her face to the moonlight. "I love you!" she said. "Oh, I love you!"

"And you will do this one thing for me?" he urged.

She threw her arms wide. "I would die for you," she told him passionately.

A moment she stood so, then with a swift movement that had in it something of fierce surrender she sprang away from him on to the flat rock above the pool where but two nights before the gates of love's wonderland had first opened to her.

Here for a second she stood, motionless it seemed. And then strangely, amazingly, she moved again. The brown garment slipped from her, and like a streak of light, she was gone, and the still pool received her with a rippling splash as of fairy laughter.

The man on the brink drew a short, hard breath, and put his hand to his eyes as if dazed. And from beyond the Spear Point there sounded the deep tolling of the bell-buoy as it rocked on the rising tide.