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Chapter 5

V.

I do not suppose it was with the notion of keeping her weight down that Mrs. Alderling rowed a good deal on the cove before the cottage; but she had a boat, which she managed very well, and which she was out in, pretty much the whole time when she was not cooking, or eating or sleeping, or roaming the berry-pastures with me, or sitting to Alderling for his Madonnas. He did not care for the water himself; he said he knew every inch of that cove, and was tired of it; but he rather liked his wife's going, and they may both have had an unconscious relief from each other in the absences which her excursions promoted. She swam as well as she rowed, and often we saw her going down water-proofed to the shore, where we presently perceived her pulling off in her bathing-dress. Well out in the cove she had the habit of plunging overboard, and after a good swim, she rowed back, and then, discreetly water-proofed again, she climbed the lawn back to the house. Now and then she took me out in her boat, but so far as I remember, Alderling never went with her. Once I ventured to ask him if he never felt anxious about her. He said no, he should not have been afraid to go with her, and she could take better care of herself than he could. Besides, by means of their telepathy they were in constant communion, and he could make her feel at any sort of chance, that he did not wish her to take it, and she would not. This was the only occasion when he treated their peculiar psychomancy boastfully, and the only occasion when I felt a distinct misgiving of his sincerity.

The day before I left, Mrs. Alderling went down about eleven in the morning to her boat, and rowed out into the cove. She rowed far toward the other shore, whither, following her with my eyes from Alderling's window, I saw its ridge blotted out by a long low cloud. It was straight and level as a wall, and looked almost as dense, and I called Alderling.

"Oh, that fog won't come in before afternoon," he said. "We usually get it about four o'clock. But even if it does," he added dreamily, "Marion can manage. I'd trust her anywhere in this cove in any kind of weather."

He went back to his work, and painted away for five or six minutes. Then he asked me, still at the window, "What's that fog doing now?"

"Well, I don't know," I answered. "I should say it was making in."

"Do you see Marion?"

"Yes, she seems to be taking her bath."

Again he painted a while before he asked, "Has she had her dip?"

"She's getting back into her boat."

"All right," said Alderling, in a tone of relief. "She's good to beat any fog in these parts ashore. I wish you would come and look at this a minute."

I went, and we lost ourselves for a time in our criticism of the picture. He was harder on it than I was. He allowed, "C'est un bon portrait, as the French used to say of a faithful landscape, though I believe now the portrait can't be too good for them. I can't say about landscape. But in a Madonna I feel that there can be too much Marion, not for me, of course, but for the ideal, which I suppose we are bound to respect. Marion is not spiritual, but I would not have her less of the earth earthy, for all the angels that ever spread themselves 'in strong level flight.'"

I recognized the words from "The Blessed Damozel," and I made bold to be so personal as to say, "If her hair were a little redder than 'the color of ripe corn' one might almost feel that the Blessed Damozel had been painted from Mrs. Alderling. It's the lingering earthiness in her that makes the Damozel so divine."

"Yes, that was a great conception. I wonder none of the fellows do that kind of thing now."

I laughed and said, "Well, so few of them have had the advantage of seeing Mrs. Alderling. And besides, Rosettis don't happen every day."

"It was the period, too. I always tell her that she belongs among the later eighteen sixties. But she insists that she wasn't even born then. Marion is tremendously single-minded."

"She has her mind all on you."

He looked askance at me. "You've noticed—"

"I've noticed that your mind is all on her."

"Not half as much!" he protested, fervidly. "I don't think it's good for her, though of course I like it. That is, in a way. Sometimes it's rather too—" He suddenly flung his brush from him, and started up, with a loudly shouted, "Yes, yes! I'm coming," and hurled himself out of the garret which he used for his studio, and cleared the stairs with two bounds.

By the time I reached the outer door of the cottage, he was a dark blur in the white blur of the fog which had swallowed up the cove, and was rising round the house-walls from the grass. I heard him shouting, "Marion!" and a faint mellow answer, far out in the cove, "Hello!" and then—

"Where are you?" and her answer "Here!" I heard him jump into a boat, and the thump of the oars in the row-locks, and then the rapid beat of the oars while he shouted, "Keep calling!" and she answered,—

"I will!" and called "Hello! Hello! Hello!"

I made my mental comment that this time their mystical means of communication was somehow not working. But after her last hello, no sound broke the white silence of the fog except the throb of Alderling's oars. She was evidently resting on hers, lest she should baffle his attempts to find her by trying to find him.

I suppose ten minutes or so had passed, when the dense air brought me the sound of low laughing that was also like the sound of low sobbing, and then I knew that they had met somewhere in the blind space. I began to hear rowing again, but only as of one boat, and suddenly out of the mist, almost at my feet, Alderling's boat shot up on the shelving beach, and his wife leaped ashore from it, and ran past me up the lawn, while he pulled her boat out on the gravel. She must have been trailing it from the stern of his.

William Dean Howells

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