A hot, windless August day had settled down into a dull, brooding evening, presageful of a coming storm. It was nearly dark by the time Lionel Dering was ready to turn his face homeward. The tide was coming in with an ominous muffled roar; the wind, unfelt all day, was now blowing in fitful puffs from various points of the compass, so that the weathercock on the green, in front of the Silver Lion, was more undecided than usual, and did not know its own mind for two minutes at a time. The boatmen were busy with their tiny craft, making everything fast for the night; and the bathing men were dragging their machines high and dry beyond reach of the incoming tide. Many of the excursionists--those with families chiefly--were already making their way towards the railway station; but others there were who seemed bent on keeping up their merriment to the last moment. These latter could be seen through the wide-open windows of the Silver Lion, footing it merrily on the club-room floor, to the music of two wheezy fiddles. A few minutes later there comes a warning whistle from the engine. The music stops suddenly; the country-dance is left unfinished; pipes are laid aside; glasses are quickly emptied; and the lads and lasses, with many a shout and burst of laughter, rush helter-skelter across the green, to find their places in the train. "We shall have a rough night, Ben," said Mr. Dering to a man who was coming up from the beach. "Yes, sir, there's a storm brewin' fast," answered Ben, carrying a finger to his forehead. "If I was you, Mr. Dering," he added, "I wouldn't go over the cliffs to-night. It ain't safe after dark, and the storm'll break afore you get home." But Mr. Dering merely shook his head, laughed, bade Ben good-night, and kept on his way. The old boatman's words proved true. The first flash of lightning came just as the last houses of Melcham were lost to view behind a curve of the road, and when Lionel had two miles of solitary walking still before him. The thunder and the rain, however, were still far out at sea. By this time it was almost dark, but Mr. Dering pressed forward without hesitation or delay. The cliff road, dangerous as it would have been under such circumstances to any ordinary wayfarer, had for him no terrors. He knew every yard of it as well as he knew the walk under the apple-trees in his own garden. It was not the first time by any means that he had traversed it after nightfall. As for the lightning, it was rather an assistance than otherwise, serving every two or three minutes, as it did, to show him exactly where he was. It was a bad road enough, certainly. Unfenced in several places, with here and there a broad, yawning chasm in the direct path, where some huge bulk of the soft earthy cliff, undermined by fierce winter tides, had broken bodily away and had gone to feed the ever-hungry waves. But to Lionel every dangerous point was familiar, and he followed the little circuitous bends in the path, necessitated by the breaks in the frontage of the cliff, instinctively and without thought.