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"She splashed, and she dashed, and she turned herself round,
And heartily wished herself safe on the ground."
- JANE TAYLOR.
And where were the missing pair?
Vera had lingered about, fancying she was helping to pack the photographic apparatus, while the others dispersed. Presently, seeing no one near, Hubert Delrio said, in a gentle diffident voice, "It would be a great pleasure to me if I might ask you to listen to the verses on St. Cyriac and his mother that the design brought with it."
"I should love it better than anything," said Vera, highly flattered.
"If you would come down this way, there is a charming secluded cove, where we should be free from interruption."
"How deliciously romantic! Quite stunning!" cried Vera, as her cavalier conducted her down a steep path along the side of the cliff to the stony beach, where a few red rocks had been manipulated into a tiny harbour, with a boathouse for the little skiff in which Captain Henderson was wont to go round to the marble works on the other side of the headland. The boat looked very inviting as it lay swinging gently in the sluggish waves in the advancing shade of the tall cliff; and Vera exclaimed with delight as she was assisted into it, and placed herself comfortably on the cushion, with one hand dabbling in the cool translucent wave. Hubert Delrio opened his manuscript and began to read his ballad, if so it was to be called, being the history of the little boy of four years old, who, being taken with his mother before the tribunal at Tarsus, was lifted on the propraetor's knee, but struggled, crying out, "I am a Christian!" till the propraetor, in a rage, hurled him down. His skull was fractured on the marble pavement, and his mother gave thanks for his soul's safety, when she too was sentenced to be beheaded. Great pains had been taken with the noble-minded tale; and the verses had considerable merit, more, perhaps, than Vera could appreciate. But to read such a production of his own, in such surroundings, to the auditor whom youthful fancy most preferred, was such luxury to both that it was no wonder that under the broad shady hat with the lily wreath she was nodding in the gentle breeze, the lapping of the waves, and the soft cadence of the poetry, till at an effective passage on the mother's death, the poet looked up, expecting to receive a responsive glance from those blue eyes.
Not only were they hidden, but the cliff was farther off. The mooring rope and the stake were dragging behind in the water. The tide had turned, and the boat was already out of reach of the rock where it had been drawn up. His exclamation of dismay awoke Vera, who would have started up with a little shriek, but for his, "Don't! Don't! I'll row back."
But he was a landsman, whose only knowledge of the water was in an occasional bathe, or in a river steamer; and his first attempt at placing the oars in the rowlocks resulted in one falling overboard, while he helplessly grasped the other; and Vera screamed again.
"Don't be frightened, my dear! Dearest, don't! We must be seen. Some one will come out and help us."
"Can't you get on with one oar? They do in pictures."
"Punting? Yes, but there must be a bottom. No, don't move, whatever you do. There can't be any danger. Fishermen must be about. Or we shall be seen from the cliffs."
"They are getting farther off! Can't you shout?"
Hubert shouted, and Vera added her shriller cries; but all in vain, and the outgoing tide was carrying them, not towards the quay and marble rocks, but farther to sea. The waves grew rougher and had crests of foam, and discomfort began. Once the feather of a steamer was seen on the horizon. They waved handkerchiefs and redoubled their shouts, and Hubert had to hold his companion to prevent her from leaping up; but they never were within the vessel's ken, and she went on her way, while the sea bore them farther and farther.
The shore was growing dim and indistinct, the sun was sinking, and the cloud, that had at first shown only a golden border, was lifting tall perpendicular masses, while the tossing of the little boat became more and more distressing. Anxiety and sense of responsibility kept Hubert from feeling physical discomfort; but Vera began to cry, and to declare that it would be the death of her if she were not landed immediately.
"If it were only possible!" sighed Delrio.
"There must be some way! You are so stupid! Oh! There was a flash of lightning."
"No such thing! There will be a storm, and we shall be drowned. Oh, I wish I had never listened to your nonsense, and got into this horrible boat." She was in a state for scolding, and scold she did, as the clouds rose higher, and sheets of lightning more decided. "How could you? You, who know nothing about boats, and going on, on, with those horrid tiresome verses--not minding anything--I wish I had never come near you!"
Vainly the poor young fellow tried to get in a word of consolation; it only made her scold the more, till there was no question that the storm was raging overhead; the hail rattled and splashed, the waves raised them to a height, then subsided into endless depths; the thunder pealed, and she clung to Hubert, too frightened for screaming. His fear was that the cockleshell of a boat should fill and founder; he tried to bale out the water with his hat, and to make her assist, but she seemed incapable, and he could only devise laying her down in the bottom of the boat with his coat over her, hiding her face in terror. Her hat had long ago been blown away, and her hair was flapping about. Ejaculations were in his heart, if not on his lips, and once or twice she cried out something like, "Save me!" but in general it was, "We are sinking! Hold me! We are going! Paula! Nag!" clutching at his legs, so as to hamper him in the baling out the water.
The hail passed, but there was a solid sheet of rain descending on them, undistinguishable from the foam that rushed over them as they went down, down, down. Vera was silenced; and Hubert, drenched and nearly beaten out of life, almost welcomed every downward plunge as the last, tried to commend his spirit, and was amazed to find his little boat lifted up again, and the black darkness not so absolute.
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