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The rock he had been watching stood now at an angle to their course.
"Are you tired, Meg?" he asked.
"I'm all right."
"Turn on your back and float for a minute or two," and he set the example, and Punch saw and came slipping back to them.
"We're in a cross current," he said quietly. "And we're making no way--"
"I know. I was watching a rock on the sh.o.r.e. What's the best thing to do?"
"We'll rest for a few minutes and then go with the tide round Pointe la Joue. We can land in Vermandes. You're not cold, are you?"
"Not a bit."
When he lifted his head the Coupee was shortened to a span, and the southern headland folded over it as he looked. They were drifting as fast as a man could walk at his fastest. They were abreast the black rocks of La Joue.
"Now, dearest, a little spurt and we shall be in the slack. If you get tired, tell me," and they struck out vigorously on a sh.o.r.eward slant in the direction they were going.
There should have been a backwater round the corner of Vermandes. He had counted on it. And there was one, but so swift was the rush of the tide round the out-jutting rocks of La Joue, that for some minutes, as they battled with the rough edge of it, it was touch and go with them.
At a word from her his arm would be at her service. But she fought bravely on, and could admire Punch's graceful action even then. The waves smacked her rudely in the face. Great writhing coils came belching up from below and burst under her chin and almost swamped her. One, as strong as a snake, rose suddenly under her, flung her off her stroke, rolled her over, made her for a moment feel utterly helpless.
He had been watching her closely. His arm flashed out in front of her.
"Grip!" and she hung on to it and it felt like a bar of steel.
"Now!"--when she had recovered herself somewhat. "Grip the top of my suit."--She hooked her fingers into it and he struck out through the turmoil.
It was a tough little fight. She struck out vigorously behind to help him. And, though the losing of the fight might mean tragedy and two white bodies ragging forlornly along the black teeth of Little Sark, she still had time to notice the mighty play of muscles in his back and arms, and the swelling veins in his sunburnt neck, and the crisp rippled hair above, and she rejoiced mightily in him. And--while possible deaths lurked all about them--her soul grew large within her at thought of the brave heart in front, and the strenuous will, and the shapely body, and the powerful muscles--all battling for her--all hers--and she theirs. What matter if they were beaten, if they but went out together! What matter Death so long as he did not divide them! So uplifted was she with the joy of him.
And then, with a final wrestle, they were in slack water, and she loosed her hold and struck out alongside him.
And presently he was helping her carefully up a seamed black rock, and the hand she gripped was shaking now, and she knew it was not for himself.
"Thank G.o.d!" said Graeme fervently, as he sank down heavily beside her, and panted while the water ran out of them, and Punch scrambled up and lay quietly alongside. "Meg,--we were in peril."
"Jock," she said jerkily, for her heart was going now quicker than usual, "I do not believe I would have minded--if we'd gone together."
"Ay--together, but, G.o.d be thanked, it did not come to that!"
They sat in silence for a time, finding themselves, while the green seas swelled up to their feet, and sank out of sight below, and their rock was laced with cascades of creamy foam.
"How shall we get back?" asked Margaret at last. "Hennie will be in desperation. She will think we are drowned."
"We can climb the head and round into Grande Greve, but it would be pretty rough on the feet. Or we can wait till the tide turns and swim in again--"
"When will it turn?"
"It's full at noon," he said, studying the waters in front. "But how that affects matters here none but a Sarkman could say. Tides here are a law unto themselves, like the people."
"How would that do?" asked Margaret, as a black boat came slowly round the rocks from Les Fontaines, sculled by an elderly fisherman.
"It is old Billy Mollet after his lobster-pots," and he stood up and coo-eed to the new-comer, and waved his arms till Billy saw them and stared hard and then turned leisurely their way.
"Guyablle!" said the old man, as he drew in. "What you doin' there now?"
"Got carried out of Grande Greve by a current, Mr. Mollet. Will you take us back in your boat?"
"Ay, ay!" and he brought the boat as near to the rock as he dared, and his weather-stained old eyes settled hypnotically on the fairest burden his old tub had ever carried, as Graeme handed her carefully down and helped her to spring into the dancing craft, and then sprang in himself with bleeding feet and shins, while Punch leaped lightly after him and crawled under a thwart.
"Ye must ha' been well out for tide to catch ye," said Billy, with no eyes for anything but the vision in clinging pink.
"Yes, we were too far out and couldn't get back."
"Tide runs round them rocks."
He dropped his oar into the rowlock and Graeme took the other, and in five minutes they were speeding across the sands of Grande Greve--Margaret to cover, Graeme to his pocket for Billy's reward.
Miss Penny had a driftwood fire roaring among the rocks, and the kettle was boiling.
"Where on earth have you two been?" she cried, at sight of Margaret skipping over the stones to her dressing-room, and got only the wave of a white arm in reply.
And presently Graeme came along in easy piratical costume of shirt and trousers and red sash, and sat down and lit a pipe.
"We went a bit farther than we intended," he explained, but did not tell her how nearly they had gone out of bounds altogether.
"You'll enjoy a cup of tea. You look as if you'd been working hard."
"There is a bit of a current round that point."
"Ah, you should follow a good example and keep within touch of the bottom. Here you are, Meg--fresh made for every customer. Help yourself, Mr. Graeme. I've had mine, I couldn't wait. Tea never tastes so good as when you're half full of salt-water, and I got right out of my depth once and swallowed tons. I screamed to you two to come and save me, but you never paid the slightest attention, and for all you cared I might have been drowned five times over."
"One would have been quite once too many," said Graeme, holding out his cup. "For then you couldn't have lighted that fire and made this tea. And I'm half inclined to think we wouldn't be enjoying it a quarter so much if a little blue corpse lay out there on the shining sand, and we'd had to turn to and make it ourselves."
"Horrible!" said Miss Penny, with a little shiver. "With your little blue corpses! It's all very well to joke about it, but I a.s.sure you, for a minute or so, I thought I was done for. The bottom seemed to have sunk, and I was just going after it when my foot came on a rock and that helped me to kick ash.o.r.e."
"A narrow escape," said Graeme, with a sympathetic wag of the head.
"You've no right to risk your life that way. We still need you. What do you say to being bridesmaid at a Sark wedding?"
"It is the hope of my life," said Miss Penny, sparkling like Mars in a clear evening sky.
"I really don't see any reason why we should wait"--said Graeme, looking very earnestly at Margaret, and behind the look was the thought, born of what they had just come through together, that life spills many a full cup before the thirsty lips have tasted it. "What do you say, Margaret?"
And she, knowing well what was in him, and being of the same mind, said, "I am ready, Jock. When you will."