“But I’ve found another hiding-place, Nance, where they could never find me.”
“Yes—inside. I’ll show you some time, perhaps, if—”
“Is this where you came ashore?” he asked, as she came to a stand on a rough black shelf up which the waves hissed white and venomous.
“We—we always landed here when we swam across,” she said, with a little break in her voice, as it came home to her again that Bernel would swim the Race no more.
“Nance dear, don’t give up hope. He may come back yet.”
“I have only you left, and they want to kill you,” she said sadly.
“I wish I could come with you,” as the dark waters swirled below them. “It feels terrible to let you go into that all alone.”
“It is nothing. The tide is dead slack, and I have these”—swinging the bladders in her hand—“if I get tired. Oh, if Bern had only taken them—”
“I will kneel on the ridge and pray for your safety till I see your light. Dear, God keep you, and bless you for all your goodness and courage!”
He strained her to him again, as if he could not let her go to that colder embrace that awaited her below.
“I could kiss the very rocks you have stood on,” he said passionately.
She kissed him back and dropped the cloak, waited a second till a wave had swirled by, then launched into the slack of it, and was gone.
He stood long, peering and listening into the darkness, but heard only the welter of the water under the black ledges below, and its scornful hiss as it seethed through the fringing sea-weeds.
Then at last he turned and climbed, slowly and heavily, up to the ridge; for now he felt the strain of these last full hours, coming on top of the longer strain of the storm; and this, and the lack of proper feeding, made him feel weak and empty and weary. He knelt down there in the darkness, with his face towards the Race where Nance was battling with the hungry black waters, and he prayed for her safety as he had never prayed for anything in his life before.
“God keep her! God keep her! God keep her—and bring her safe to land! O God, keep her, keep her, keep her, and bring her safe to land!”
It was a monotonous little prayer, but all his heart was in it, and that is all that makes a prayer avail. And when at last, from sheer weariness, he sank down on to his heels in science, gazing earnestly out into the blackness of the night, his heart prayed on though his lips no longer moved.
Could anything have happened to her? Could the black waters have swallowed her?
Anything might have happened to her. The waters might have swallowed her, as they had Bernel.
The thoughts would surge up behind his prayer, but he prayed them down—again and again—and clung to his prayer and his hope.
It seemed hours since they parted, since his last glimpse of her as the black waters swallowed the slim white figure, and seemed to laugh scornfully at its smallness and weakness.