From a mile away I turned to look back at the “cripple” where towered the tall white oak of the hawks. Both birds were wheeling about the castle nest, their noble flight full of the freedom of the marsh, their piercing cries voicing its wildness. And how free, how wild, how untouched by human hands the wide plain seemed! Sea-like it lay about me, circled southward from east to west with the rim of the sky.
I moved on toward the bay. The sun had dropped to the edge of the marsh, its level-lined shafts splintering into golden fire against the curtained windows of the lighthouse. It would soon be sunset. For some time there had been a quiet gurgling and lisping down in the grass, but it had meant nothing, until, of a sudden, I heard the rush of a wave along the beach: the tide was coming in. And with it came a breeze, a moving, briny, bay-cooled breeze that stirred the grass with a whisper of night.
Once more I had worked round to the road. It ran on ahead of me, up a bushy dune, and forked, one branch leading off to the lighthouse, the other straight out to the beach, out against the white of the breaking waves.
The evening purple was deepening on the bay when I mounted the dune. Bands of pink and crimson clouded the west, a thin cold wash of blue veiled the east; and overhead, bayward, landward, everywhere, the misting and the shadowing of the twilight.
Between me and the white wave-bars at the end of the road gleamed a patch of silvery water—the returning tide. As I watched, a silvery streamlet broke away and came running down the wheel track. Another streamlet, lagging a little, ran shining down the other track, stopped, rose, and creeping slowly to the middle of the road, spread into a second gleaming patch. They grew, met—and the road for a hundred feet was covered with the bay.
As the crimson paled into smoky pearl, the blue changed green and gold, and big at the edge of the marsh showed the rim of the moon.
Weird hour! Sunset, moonrise, flood-tide, and twilight together weaving the spell of the night over the wide waking marsh. Mysterious, sinister almost, seemed the swift, stealthy creeping of the tide. It was surrounding and crawling in upon me. Already it stood ankle-deep in the road, and was reaching toward my knees, a warm thing, quick and moving. It slipped among the grasses and into the holes of the crabs with a smothered bubbling; it disturbed the seaside sparrows sleeping down in the sedge and kept them springing up to find new beds. How high would it rise? Behind me on the road it had crawled to the foot of the dune. Would it let me through to the mainland if I waited for the flood?
It would be high tide at nine o’clock. Finding a mound of sand on the shore that the water could hardly cover, I sat down to watch the tide-miracle; for here, surely, I should see the wonder worked, so wide was the open, so full, so frank the moon.