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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Aminta Takes a Morning Sea-Swim: A Marine Duet
By George Meredith (1828–1909)
 
From ‘Lord Ormont and his Aminta’

A GLORIOUS morning of flushed open sky and sun on a sea chased all small thoughts out of it. The breeze was from the west; and the Susan, lightly laden, took the heave of smooth rollers with a flowing current-curtsy in the motion of her speed. Foresail and aft were at their gentle strain; her shadow rippled fragmentarily along to the silver rivulet and boat of her wake. Straight she flew to the ball of fire now at spring above the waters, and raining red gold on the line of her bows. By comparison she was an ugly yawl, and as the creature of wind and wave beautiful.  1
  They passed an English defensive fort, and spared its walls, in obedience to Matthew Shale’s good counsel that they should forbear from sneezing. Little Collett pointed to the roof of his mother’s house twenty paces rearward of a belt of tamarisks, green amid the hollowed yellows of shore banks yet in shade, crumbling to the sands. Weyburn was attracted by a diminutive white tent of sentry-box shape; evidently a bather’s, quite as evidently a fair bather’s. He would have to walk on some way for his dip. He remarked to little Collett that ladies going into the water half-dressed never have more than half a bath. His arms and legs flung out contempt of that style of bathing, exactly in old Matey’s well-remembered way.  2
  Half a mile off shore, the Susan was put about to flap her sails, and her boat rocked with the passengers. Turning from a final cheer to friendly Matthew, Weyburn at the rudder espied one of those unenfranchised ladies in marine uniform issuing through the tent-slit. She stepped firmly, as into her element. A plain look at her, and a curious look, and an intent look, fixed her fast, and ran the shock on his heart before he knew of a guess. She waded, she dipped; a head across the breast of the waters was observed: this one of them could swim. She was making for sea, a stone’s-throw off the direction of the boat.  3
  Before his wits had grasped the certainty possessing them, fiery envy and desire to be alongside her set his fingers fretting at buttons. A grand smooth swell of the waters lifted her, and her head rose to see her world. She sank down the valley, where another wave was mounding for its onward roll: a gentle scene of the [Greek] of Weyburn’s favorite Sophoclean chorus. Now she was given to him—it was she. How could it ever have been any other! He handed his watch to little Collett, and gave him the ropes, pitched coat and waistcoat on his knees, stood free of boots and socks, and singing out truly enough the words of a popular cry, “White ducks want washing,” went over and in.  4
 
  Aminta soon had to know she was chased. She had seen the dive from the boat, and received an 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.  5
  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.  6
  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.  7
  A thought brushed by her: How if he were absent?  8
  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!”  9
  Her bravado deserved a swifter humiliation than he was able to bring down on her; she swam bravely: and she was divine to see as well as overtake.  10
  Darting to the close parallel, he said, “What sea-nymph sang me my name?”  11
  She smote a pang of her ecstasy into him: “Ask mine!”  12
  “Browny!”  13
  They swam; neither of them panted; their heads were water-flowers that spoke at ease.  14
  “We’ve run from school; we won’t go back.”  15
  “We’ve a kingdom.”  16
  “Here’s a big wave going to be a wall.”  17
  “Off he rolls.”  18
  “He’s like the High Brent broad meadow under Elling Wood.”  19
  “Don’t let Miss Vincent hear you.”  20
  “They’re not waves: they’re sighs of the deep.”  21
  “A poet I swim with! He fell into the deep in his first of May-morning ducks. We used to expect him.”  22
  “I never expected to owe them so much.”  23
  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.  24
  “Who’d have thought of a morning like this? You were looked for last night.”  25
  “A lucky accident to our coach. I made friends with the skipper of the yawl.”  26
  “I saw the boat. Who could have dreamed—? Anything may happen now.”  27
  For nothing further would astonish her, as he rightly understood her; but he said, “You’re prepared for the rites? Old Triton is ready.”  28
  “Float, and tell me.”  29
  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.  30
  “Old Triton waits.”  31
  “Why?”  32
  “We’re going to him.”  33
  “Yes?”  34
  “Customs of the sea.”  35
  “Tell me.”  36
  “He joins hands. We say, ‘Browny—Matey,’ and it’s done.”  37
  She splashed, crying “Swim,” and after two strokes, “You want to beat me, Matey Weyburn.”  38
  “How?”  39
  “Not fair!”  40
  “Say what.”  41
  “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?”  42
  “Always.”  43
  “This is going to last?”  44
  “Ever so long.”  45
  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.  46
  “I’m bound for France.”  47
  “Slue a point to the right: southeast by south. We shall hit Dunquerque.”  48
  “I don’t mean to be picked up by boats.”  49
  “We’ll decline.”  50
  “You see I can swim.”  51
  “I was sure of it.”  52
  They stopped their talk—for the pleasure of the body to be savored in the mind, they thought; and so took Nature’s counsel to rest their voices awhile.  53
  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.  54
  “France next time,” he said: “we’ll face to the rear.”  55
  “Now?” said she, big with blissful conceit of her powers, and incredulous of such a command from him.  56
  “You may be feeling tired presently.”  57
  The musical sincerity of her “Oh no, not I!” sped through his limbs: he had a willingness to go onward still some way.  58
  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.  59
  They swam silently, high, low, creatures of the smooth green roller.  60
  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.  61
  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 a 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.  62
  “You’re satisfied I swim well?” she said.  63
  “It would go hard with me if we raced a long race.”  64
  “I really was out for France.”  65
  “I was ordered to keep you for England.”  66
  She gave him Browny’s eyes.  67
  “We’ve turned our backs on Triton.”  68
  “The ceremony was performed.”  69
  “When?”  70
  “The minute I spoke of it and you splashed.”  71
  “Matey! Matey Weyburn!”  72
  “Browny Farrell!”  73
  “O Matey! she’s gone!”  74
  “She’s here.”  75
  “Try to beguile me, then, that our holiday’s not over. You won’t forget this hour?”  76
  “No time of mine on earth will live so brightly for me.”  77
  “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.’”  78
  “Aminta!”  79
  “O 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?”  80
  “Under a quarter of a mile.”  81
  “Don’t imagine me tired.”  82
  “If you are, hold on to me.”  83
  “Matey, I’m for a dive.”  84
  He went after the ball of silver and bubbles, and they came up together. There is no history of events below the surface.  85
  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.  86
  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.  87
 
  They touched the sand at the first draw of the ebb; and this being earth, Matey addressed himself to the guardian and absolving genii of matter-of-fact by saying, “Did you inquire about the tides?”  88
  Her head shook, stunned with what had passed. She waded to shore, after motioning for him to swim on.  89
  Men, in the comparison beside their fair fellows, are so little sensationally complex, that his one feeling now as to what had passed, was relief at the idea of his presence having been a warrantable protectorship. Aminta’s return from sea-nymph to the state of woman crossed annihilation on the way back to sentience, and picked-up meaningless pebbles and shells of life, between the sea’s verge and her tent’s shelter: hardly her own life to her understanding yet, except for the hammer Memory became to strike her insensible, at here and there a recollected word or nakedness of her soul. What had she done, what revealed, to shiver at for the remainder of her days!  90
  He swam along the shore to where the boat was paddled, spying at her bare feet on the sand, her woman’s form. He waved, and the figure in the striped tunic and trousers waved her response, apparently the same person he had quitted.  91
  Dry and clad, and decently formal under the transformation, they met at Mrs. Collett’s breakfast table; and in each hung the doubt whether land was the dream, or sea.  92
 
 
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