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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XV. Across The Bay

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"Hope, what an imposter you are!" cried Kate instantly. "You declined all my proffers of aid in cutting that dress, and now see how it fits you! You never looked so beautifully in your life. There is not such another bathing-dress in Oldport, nor such a figure to wear it."

And she put both her arms round that supple, stately waist, that might have belonged to a Greek goddess, or to some queen in the Nibelungen Lied.

The party watched the swimmers as they struck out over the clear expanse. It was high noon; the fishing-boats were all off, but a few pleasure-boats swung different ways at their moorings, in the perfect calm. The white light-house stood reflected opposite, at the end of its long pier; a few vessels lay at anchor, with their sails up to dry, but with that deserted look which coasters in port are wont to wear. A few fishes dimpled the still surface, and as the three swam out farther and farther, their merry voices still sounded close at hand. Suddenly they all clapped their hands and called; then pointed forward to the light-house, across the narrow harbor.

"They are going to swim across," said Kate. "What creatures they are! Hope and little Jenny have always begged for it, and now Harry thinks it is so still a day they can safely venture. It is more than half a mile. See! he has called that boy in a boat, and he will keep near them. They have swum farther than that along the shore."

So the others went away with no fears.

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Hope said afterwards that she never swam with such delight as on that day. The water seemed to be peculiarly thin and clear, she said, as well as tranquil, and to retain its usual buoyancy without its density. It gave a delicious sense of freedom; she seemed to swim in air, and felt singularly secure. For the first time she felt what she had always wished to experience,--that swimming was as natural as walking, and might be indefinitely prolonged. Her strength seemed limitless, she struck out more and more strongly; she splashed and played with little Jenny, when the child began to grow weary of the long motion. A fisherman's boy in a boat rowed slowly along by their side.

Nine tenths of the distance had been accomplished, when the little girl grew quite impatient, and Hope bade Harry swim on before her, and land his charge. Light and buoyant as the child was, her tightened clasp had begun to tell on him.

"It tires you, Hal, to bear that weight so long, and you know I have nothing to carry. You must see that I am not in the least tired, only a little dazzled by the sun. Here, Charley, give me your hat, and then row on with Mr. Harry." She put on the boy's torn straw hat, and they yielded to her wish. People almost always yielded to Hope's wishes when she expressed them,--it was so very seldom.

Somehow the remaining distance seemed very great, as Hope saw them glide away, leaving her in the water alone, her feet unsupported by any firm element, the bright and pitiless sky arching far above her, and her head burning with more heat than she had liked to own. She was conscious of her full strength, and swam more vigorously than ever; but her head was hot and her ears rang, and she felt chilly vibrations passing up and down her sides, that were like, she fancied, the innumerable fringing oars of the little jelly-fishes she had so often watched. Her body felt almost unnaturally strong, and she took powerful strokes; but it seemed as if her heart went out into them and left a vacant cavity within. More and more her life seemed boiling up into her head; queer fancies came to her, as, for instance, that she was an inverted thermometer with the mercury all ascending into a bulb at the top. She shook her head and the fancy cleared away, and then others came.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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