She could not repress a start, but her eyes flashed bravely on him. “You may kill me if you dare,” she said slowly.
“I do nothing by halves,” he said, and his voice sounded choked and hoarse. “There is room for us both in the sea. I cannot help thee, child”—he spoke the last words dreamily, almost pitifully—“but we must both go down together—both at once—and now!” he shouted, and snatched her in his arms. But at the same moment he drew back his right hand; the blood gushed out; she had bitten him fiercely.
“Ha! can I be made to do your bidding?” she cried, and thrust him from her, with one sudden movement. “Am I here in your power?” and she leaped into the sea, and sank.
She rose again directly; her scanty skirts clung close; her long hair, loosened by the waves, hung heavy about her neck. She struck out valiantly, and, without uttering a sound, she began to swim steadily from the boat toward the shore.
With senses benumbed by sudden terror, he stood, with outstretched neck, looking after her, his eyes fixed as though they had just been witness to a miracle. Then, giving himself a shake, he seized his oars, and began rowing after her with all the strength he had, while all the time the bottom of the boat was reddening fast with the blood that kept streaming from his hand.
Rapidly as she swam, he was at her side in a moment. “For the love of our most Holy Virgin,” he cried, “get into the boat! I have been a madman! God alone can tell what so suddenly darkened my brain. It came upon me like a flash of lightning and set me all on fire. I knew not what I did or said. I do not even ask you to forgive me, Laurella, only to come into the boat again and not to risk your life!”
She swam on as though she had not heard him.
“You can never swim to land. I tell you it is two miles off. Think of your mother! If you should come to grief, I should die of horror.”
She treasured the distance with her eye, and then, without answering him one word, she swam up to the boat, and laid her hands upon the edge; he rose to help her in. As the boat tilted over to one side with the girl`s weight, his jacket that was lying on the bench slipped into the water. Agile as she was, she swung herself on board without assistance, and gained her former seat.
As soon as he saw that she was safe, he took to his oars again, while she began quietly wringing out her dripping clothes, and shaking the water from her hair. As her eyes fell upon the bottom of the boat, and saw the blood, she gave a quick look at the hand, which held the oar as if it had been unhurt.
“Take this,” she said, and held out her handkerchief. He shook his head, and went on rowing. After a time she rose, and, stepping up to him, bound the handkerchief firmly round the wound, which was very deep. Then, heedless of his endeavors to prevent her, she took an oar, and, seating herself opposite him, began to row with steady strokes, keeping her eyes from looking toward him—fixed upon the oar that was Carlet with his blood. Both were pale and silent. As they drew near land, such fishermen as they met began shouting after Antonio and gibing lit Laurella; but neither of them moved an eyelid, or spoke one word.
The sun stood yet high over Procida when they landed at the marina.
Laurella shook out her petticoat, now nearly dry, and jumped on shore. The old spinning woman, who in the morning had seen them start, was still upon her terrace. She called down, “What is that upon your hand, Tonino? Jesus Christ! the boat is full of blood!”
“It is nothing, compare,” the young fellow replied. “I tore my hand agilest a nail that was sticking out too far; it will be well tomorrow.
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