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   Chapter 4 A MARINE DUET

Lord Ormont and His Aminta -- V By George Meredith Characters: 8063

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


She soon had to know she was chased. She had seen the dive from the boat, and received all illumination. With a chuckle of delighted surprise, like a blackbird startled, she pushed seaward for joy of the effort, thinking she could exult in imagination of an escape up to the moment of capture, yielding then only to his greater will; and she meant to try it.

The swim was a holiday; all was new-nothing came to her as the same old thing since she took her plunge; she had a sea-mind-had left her earth- mind ashore. The swim, and Matey Weyburn pursuing her passed up, out of happiness, through the spheres of delirium, into the region where our life is as we would have it be a home holding the quiet of the heavens, if but midway thither, and a home of delicious animation of the whole frame, equal to wings.

He drew on her, but he was distant, and she waved an arm. The shout of her glee sprang from her: 'Matey!' He waved; she heard his voice. Was it her name? He was not so drunken of the sea as she: he had not leapt out of bondage into buoyant waters, into a youth without a blot, without an aim, satisfied in tasting; the dream of the long felicity.

A thought brushed by her: How if he were absent? It relaxed her stroke of arms and legs. He had doubled the salt sea's rapture, and he had shackled its gift of freedom. She turned to float, gathering her knees for the funny sullen kick, until she heard him near. At once her stroke was renewed vigorously; she had the foot of her pursuer, and she called, 'Adieu, Matey Weyburn!'

Her bravado deserved a swifter humiliation than he was able to bring down on her: she swam bravely, and she was divine to see ahead as well as overtake.

Darting to the close parallel, he said: 'What sea nymph sang me my name?'

She smote a pang of her ecstasy into him: 'Ask mine!'

'Browny!'

They swam; neither of them panted; their heads were water-flowers that spoke at ease.

'We 've run from school; we won't go back.'

'We 've a kingdom.'

'Here's a big wave going to be a wall.'

'Off he rolls.'

'He's like the High Brent broad meadow under Elling Wood.'

'Don't let Miss Vincent hear you.'

'They 're not waves; they 're sighs of the deep.'

'A poet I swim with! He fell into the deep in his first of May morning ducks. We used to expect him.'

'I never expected to owe them so much.'

Pride of the swimmer and the energy of her joy embraced Aminta, that she might nerve all her powers to gain the half-minute for speaking at her ease.

'Who 'd have thought of a morning like this? You were looked for last night.'

'A lucky accident to our coach. I made friends with the skipper of the yawl.'

'I saw the boat. Who could have dreamed--? Anything may happen now.'

For nothing further would astonish her, as he rightly understood her; but he said: 'You 're prepared for the rites? Old Triton is ready.'

'Float, and tell me.'

They spun about to lie on their backs. Her right hand, at piano-work of the octave-shake, was touched and taken, and she did not pull it away. Her eyelids fell.

'Old Triton waits.'

'Why?'

'We 're going to him.'

'Yes?'

'Customs of the sea.'

'Tell me.'

'He joins hands. We say, "Browny-Matey," and it 's done.'

She splashed, crying 'Swim,' and after two strokes, 'You want to beat me,

Matey Weyburn.'

'How?'

'Not fair!'

'Say what.'

'Take my breath. But, yes! we'll be happy in our own way. We 're sea- birds. We 've said adieu to land. Not to one another. We shall be friends?'

'Always.'

'This is going to last?'

'Ever so long.'

They had a spell of steady swimming, companionship to inspirit it. Browny was allowed place a little foremost, and she guessed not wherefore, in her flattered emulation.

'I 'm bound for France.'

'Slew a point to the right: South-east by South. We shall hit

Dunkerque.'

'I don't mean to be picked up by boats.'

'We'll decline.'

'You see I can swim.'

'I was sure of it.'

They stopped their talk-for the ple

asure of the body to be savoured in the mind, they thought; and so took Nature's counsel to rest their voices awhile.

Considering that she had not been used of late to long immersions, and had not broken her fast, and had talked much, for a sea-nymph, Weyburn spied behind him on a shore seeming flat down, far removed.

'France next time,' he said: 'we'll face to the rear.'

'Now?' said she, big with blissful conceit of her powers and incredulous of such a command from him.

'You may be feeling tired presently.'

The musical sincerity of her 'Oh no, not I!' sped through his limbs; he had a willingness to go onward still some way.

But his words fastened the heavy land on her spirit, knocked at the habit of obedience. Her stroke of the arms paused. She inclined to his example, and he set it shoreward.

They swam silently, high, low, creatures of the smooth green roller. He heard the water-song of her swimming. She, though breathing equably at the nostrils, lay deep. The water shocked at her chin, and curled round the under lip. He had a faint anxiety; and, not so sensible of a weight in the sight of land as she was, he chattered, by snatches, rallied her, encouraged her to continue sportive for this once, letting her feel it was but a once and had its respected limit with him. So it was not out of the world.

Ah, friend Matey! And that was right and good on land; but rightness and goodness flung earth's shadow across her brilliancy here, and any stress on 'this once' withdrew her liberty to revel in it, putting an end to perfect holiday; and silence, too, might hint at fatigue. She began to think her muteness lost her the bloom of the enchantment, robbing her of her heavenly frolic lead, since friend Matey resolved to be as eminently good in salt water as on land. Was he unaware that they were boy and girl again?-she washed pure of the intervening years, new born, by blessing of the sea; worthy of him here!-that is, a swimmer worthy of him, his comrade in salt water.

'You're satisfied I swim well?' she said.

'It would go hard with me if we raced a long race.'

'I really was out for France.'

'I was ordered to keep you for England.' She gave him Browny's eyes.

'We've turned our backs on Triton.'

'The ceremony was performed.'

'When?'

'The minute I spoke of it and you splashed.'

'Matey! Matey Weyburn!'

'Browny Farrell!'

'Oh, Matey! she's gone!'

'She's here.'

'Try to beguile me, then, that our holiday's not over. You won't forget this hour?'

'No time of mine on earth will live so brightly for me.'

'I have never had one like it. I could go under and be happy; go to old

Triton, and wait for you; teach him to speak your proper Christian name.

He hasn't heard it yet,-heard "Matey,"-never yet has been taught

"Matthew."'

'Aminta!'

'Oh, my friend! my dear!' she cried, in the voice of the wounded, like a welling of her blood: 'my strength will leave me. I may play-not you: you play with a weak vessel. Swim, and be quiet. How far do you count it?'

'Under a quarter of a mile.'

'Don't imagine me tired.'

'If you are, hold on to me.'

'Matey, I'm for a dive.'

He went after the ball of silver and bubbles, and they came up together.

There is no history of events below the surface.

She shook off her briny blindness, and settled to the full sweep of the arms, quite silent now. Some emotion, or exhaustion from the strain of the swimmer's breath in speech, stopped her playfulness. The pleasure she still knew was a recollection of the outward swim, when she had been privileged to cast away sex with the push from earth, as few men will believe that women, beautiful women, ever wish to do; and often and ardently during the run ahead they yearn for Nature to grant them their one short holiday truce.

But Aminta forgave him for bringing earth so close to her when there was yet a space of salt water between her and shore; and she smiled at times, that he might not think she was looking grave.

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