“Is that a boat from Hellebergene?” shouted Rafael. His voice shook.
“Yes,” came a voice out of the darkness, and he recognised the bailiff’s voice. “Is it Rafael?”
“Yes. Why did you not come before?”
“The telegram has only just arrived.”
He sat down. He did not speak. He became suddenly incapable of uttering a word.
The other boat turned and followed them. Rafael nearly ran his boat on shore; he forgot that he was steering. Very soon they cleared the narrow passage which led into the inner bay, and rounded the last headland, and there!—there lay Hellebergene before them in a blaze of light! From cellar to attic, in every single window, it glowed, it streamed with light, and at that moment another light blazed out from the cairn on the hill-top.
It was thus that his mother greeted him. He sobbed; and the boatmen heard him, and at the same time noticed that it had grown suddenly light. They turned round, and were so engrossed in the spectacle that they forgot to row.
“Come! you must let me get on,” was all that he could manage to say.
His sufferings were forgotten as he leapt from the boat. Nor did it disturb him that he did not meet his mother at the landing-place, or near the house, nor see her on the terrace. He simply rushed up the stairs and opened the door.
The candles in the windows gave but little light within. Indeed, something had been put in the windows for them to stand on, so that the interior was half in shadow. But he had come in from the semi-darkness. He looked round for her, but he heard some one crying at the other end of the room. There she sat, crouched in the farthest corner of the sofa, with her feet drawn up under her, as in old days when she was frightened. She did not stretch out her arms; she remained huddled together. But he bent over her, knelt down, laid his face on hers, wept with her. She had grown fragile, thin, haggard, ah! as though she could be blown away. She let him take her in his arms like a child and clasp her to his breast; let him caress and kiss her. Ah, how ethereal she had become! And those eyes, which at last he saw, now looked tearfully out from their large orbits, but more innocently than a bird from its nest. Over her broad forehead she had wound a large silk handkerchief in turban fashion. It hung down behind. She wished to conceal the thinness of her hair. He smiled to recognise her again in this. More spiritualised, more ethereal in her beauty, her innermost aspirations shone forth without effort. Her thin hands caressed his hair, and now she gazed into his eyes.
“Rafael, my Rafael!” She twined her arms round him and murmured welcome. But soon she raised her head and resumed a sitting posture. She wished to speak. He was beforehand with her.
“Forgive the letter,” he whispered with beseeching eyes and voice, and hands upraised.