Part 10 (1/2)
With Maggie out of the water and neither one of us speaking I noticed for the first time that there was no other sound. Now there is nothing so quiet as a cave; anywhere else at all there is noise, but the complete zero decibel which obtains underground if one holds still and says nothing is very different.
The point is that I should have been able to hear Zeb and Miriam swimming. Swimming need not be noisy but it can't be as quiet as a cave. I sat up suddenly and started forward-then stopped with equal suddenness as I did not want to invade Maggie's dressing room, which another dozen steps would have accomplished.
But I was really worried and did not know what to do. Throw a line? Where? Peel down and search for them? If necessary. I called out softly, 'Maggie!'
'What is it, John?'
'Maggie, I'm worried.'
She came at once from behind the rock. She had already pulled on her trousers, but held her towel so that it covered her from the waist up; I had the impression she had been drying her hair. 'Why, John?'
'Keep very quiet and listen.'
She did so. 'I don't hear anything.'
'That's just it. We should. I could hear you all swimming even when you were down at the far end, out of my sight. Now there isn't a sound, not a splash. Do you suppose they possibly could both have hit their heads on the bottom at the same time?'
'Oh. Stop worrying, John. They're all right.'
'But I am worried.'
'They're just resting, I'm sure. There is another little beach down there, about half as big as this. That's where they are. I climbed up on it with them, then I came back. I was cold.'
I made up my mind, realizing that I had let my modesty hold me back from my plain duty. 'Turn your back. No, go behind the boulder-I want to undress.'
'What? I tell you it's not necessary.' She did not budge.
I opened my mouth to shout. Before I got it out Maggie had a hand over my mouth, which caused her towel to be disarranged and fl.u.s.tered us both. 'Oh, heavens!' she said sharply. 'Keep your big mouth shut.' She turned suddenly and flipped the towel; when she turned back she had it about her like a stole, covering her front well enough, I suppose, without the need to hold it.
'John Lyle, come here and sit down. Sit down by me.' She sat on the sand and patted the place by her-and such was the firmness with which she spoke that I did as I was told.
'By me,' she insisted. 'Come closer. I don't want to shout.' I inched gingerly closer until my sleeve brushed her bare arm. 'That's better,' she agreed, keeping her voice low so that it did not resound around the cavern. 'Now listen to me. There are two people down there, of their own free will. They are entirely safe-I saw them. And they are both excellent swimmers. The thing for you to do, John Lyle, is to mind your own business and restrain that nasty itch to interfere.'
'I'm afraid I don't understand you.' Truthfully, I was afraid I did.
'Oh, goodness me! See here, does Miriam mean anything to you?'
'Why, no, not especially.'
'I should think not, since you haven't addressed six words to her since we started out. Very well, then-since you have no cause to be jealous, if two people choose to be alone, why should you stick your nose in? Understand me now?'
'Uh, I guess so.'
'Then just be quiet.'
I was quiet. She didn't move. I was actually aware of her nakedness-for now she was naked, though covered-and I hoped that she was not aware that I was aware. Besides that I was acutely aware of being almost a partic.i.p.ant in-well, I don't know what. I told myself angrily that I had no right to a.s.sume the worst, like a morals proctor.
Presently I said, 'Maggie. .
'I don't understand you.'
'Why not, John? Not that it is really needful.'
'Uh, you don't seem to give a hoot that Zeb is down there, with Miriam-alone.'
'Should I give a hoot?'
Confound the woman! She was deliberately misunderstanding me. 'Well . . . look, somehow I had gotten the impression that you and Zeb-I mean.. . well, I suppose I sort of expected that you two meant to get married, when you could.'
She laughed a low chuckle that had little mirth in it. 'I suppose you could have gotten that impression. But, believe me, the matter is all settled and for the best.'
'Don't misunderstand me. I am very fond of Zebadiah and I know he is equally fond of me. But we are both dominant types psychologically-you should see my profile chart; it looks like the Rocky Mountains! Two such people should not marry. Such marriages are not made in Heaven, believe me! Fortunately we found it out in time.'
Now I don't know just how the next thing happened. I was thinking that she seemed rather forlorn-and the next thing I knew I was kissing her. She lay back in my arms and returned the kiss with a fervor I would not have believed possible. As for me, my head was buzzing and my eyeb.a.l.l.s were knocking together and I couldn't have told you whether I was a thousand feet underground or on dress parade.
Then it was over. She looked up for a bare moment into my eyes and whispered, 'Dear John . . . ' Then she got suddenly to her feet, leaned over me, careless of the towel, and patted my cheek. 'Judith is a very lucky girl. I wonder if she knows it.'
'Maggie!' I said.
She turned away and said, without looking back. 'I really must finish dressing. I'm cold.'
She had not felt cold to me.
She came out shortly, fully dressed and toweling her hair vigorously. I got my dry towel and helped her. I don't believe I suggested it; the idea just took care of itself. Her hair was thick and lovely and I enjoyed doing it. It sent goose pimples over me.
Zeb and Miriam came back while I was doing so, not racing but swimming slowly; we could hear them laughing long before they were in sight. Miriam climbed out of the water as shamelessly as any harlot of Gomorrah, but I hardly noticed her. Zeb looked me in the eye and said aggressively, 'Ready for your swim, chum?'
I started to say that I did not believe that I would bother and was going to make some excuse about my towel already being wet-when I noticed Maggie watching me. . . not saying anything but watching. I answered, 'Why, surely! You two took long enough.' I called out, 'Miriam! Get out from behind that rock! I want to use it.'
She squealed and giggled and came out, still arranging her clothes. I went behind it with quiet dignity.
I hope I still had quiet dignity when I came out. In any case I set my teeth, walked out and straight into the water. It was bitingly cold at first, but only for a moment. I was never varsity but I swam on my cla.s.s team and I've even been in the Hudson on New Year's Day. I liked that black pool, once I was in.
I just had to swim down to the other end. Sure enough, there was a little beach there. I did not go up on it.
On the way back I tried to swim down to the bottom. I could not find it, but it must have been over twenty feet down. I liked it down there-black and utterly still. Had I the breath for it, or gills, it seemed to me that it would have been a good place to stay, away from Prophets, away from Cabals, and paperwork, and worries, and problems too subtle for me.