CHAPTER IX ~ OF BIRDALONE'S SWIMMING
Full fair was the morrow morn, and Birdalone arose betimes before the sun was up, and she thought she would make of this a holiday before the swink afield began again, since the witch was grown good toward her. So she did on her fair shoes, and her new raiment, though the green gown was not fully done, and said to herself that she would consider what she would do with her holiday when she was amidst of her bathing.
So she went down to the water-side, and when she was standing knee-deep in the little sandy bight aforesaid, she looked over to Green Eyot, and was minded to swim over thither, as oft she did. And it was a windless dawn after a hot night, and a light mist lay upon the face of the water, and above it rose the greenery of the eyot.
She pushed off into the deep and swam strongly through the still water, and the sun rose while she was on the way, and by then she had laid a hand on the willow-twigs of the eyot, was sending a long beam across the waters; and her wet shoulders rose up into the path of it and were turned into ruddy gold. She hoisted herself up, and climbing the low bank, was standing amongst the meadow-sweet, and dripping on to its fragrance. Then she turned about to the green plain and the house and the hedge of woodland beyond, and sighed, and said softly: A pity of it, to leave it! If it were no better otherwhere, and not so fair?
Then she turned inward to the eyot, which had done her nought but good, and which she loved; and she unbound her hair, and let it fall till the ends of the tresses mingled with the heads of the meadow-sweet, and thereafter walked quietly up into the grassy middle of the isle.
She was wont to go to a knoll there where the grass was fine, and flowery at this time with white clover and dog violet, and lie down under the shade of a big thorn with a much-twisted bole: but today some thought came across her, and she turned before she came to the thorn, and went straight over the eyot (which was but a furlong over at that place) and down to the southward-looking shore thereof. There she let herself softly down into the water and thrust off without more ado, and swam on and on till she had gone a long way. Then she communed with herself, and found that she was thinking: If I might only swim all the water and be free.
And still she swam on: and now a light wind had been drawn up from the west, and was driving a little ripple athwart the lake, and she swam the swiftlier for it awhile, but then turned over on her back and floated southward still. Till on a sudden, as she lay looking up toward the far-away blue sky, and she so little and low on the face of the waters, and the lake so deep beneath her, and the wind coming ever fresher from the west, and the ripple rising higher against her, a terror fell upon her, and she longed for the green earth and its well-wrought little blossoms and leaves and grass; then she turned over again and swam straight for the eyot, which now was but a little green heap far away before her.
Long she was ere she made land there, and the sun was high in the heavens when she came, all spent and weary, to the shadow of the hawthorn-tree; and she cast herself down there and fell asleep straightway. Forsooth her swim was about as much as she had might for.
When she awoke it lacked but an hour of noon-tide, and she felt the life in her and was happy, but had no will to rise up for a while; for it was ajoy to her to turn her head this way and that to the dear and dainty flowers, that made the wide, grey, empty lake seem so far away, and no more to be dealt with than the very sky itself.
At last she arose, and when she had plucked and eaten some handfuls of the strawberries which grew plenteously on the sweet ground of the eyot, she went down to the landward-looking shore, and took the water, and swam slowly across the warm ripple till she came once more to the strand and her raiment. She clad herself, and set her hand to her pouch and drew forth bread, and sat eating it on the bank above the smooth sand. Then she looked around, and stood up with her face toward the house, to see if the dame would call to her. But she saw the witch come out of the porch and stand there looking under the sharp of her hand toward her, and thereafter she went back again into the house without giving any sign. Wherefore Birdalone deemed that she had leave that day, and that she might take yet more holiday; so she stepped lightly down from her place of vantage, turned her face toward the east, and went quietly along the very lip of the water.