小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Outland » II I MEET THE OUTLIERS IN THE WOOD AND HERMAN COMES TO FIND ME
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
II I MEET THE OUTLIERS IN THE WOOD AND HERMAN COMES TO FIND ME
When Herman got my letter concerning the dark man under the bay tree, he was wholly at loss what to make of it. He was quite habituated to my method of making believe to be a story before writing it, and was always willing to play up to his part as soon as he learned what that was, but in this case I had neglected to tell him. While he was reading the letter over, it occurred to him the whole thing might be merely a childish pique because he had scoffed at my wood people in the first place, and was rather annoyed at it.

But as often as he went back to the letter he found a note of conviction in it—for I had written it immediately after the adventure—that overrode both of these interpretations.

25After that he was divided between the fear that I really had been overworking and a period of mild hallucination had set in, or the possibility that I could have met some sort of wild person in the forest who might do me an injury. The most disturbing thing in the letter was the declaration that I meant to go back as soon as I could and find out all about the woodlander. The result of all this was that after having written me a separate letter based on each one of these beliefs, and having destroyed it, Herman left the University Friday morning and came down to find out, if possible, what really had occurred.

He arrived on the stage that reaches Fairshore at half-past one, and as he had come directly from his lecture room, he had first to have lunch and change to his out-of-door clothes. This made it the middle of the afternoon before he reached the cottage. As soon as he had a glimpse of it, he experienced a sinking of the heart that warned him that I was not there. However, he went through the formality of knocking at the front door before going round to see if I had left the key, as I did for short absences, or had taken it to the Inn as when I meant to be away 26several days. He found the key in the accustomed place, and something more alarming. Inside the screened porch at the back were the three little bottles of milk which the milkman had left there each evening that I had been away. So I had been gone three days!

The first thing was to make sure that I was not at Mira Monte or at Idlewild, where I went sometimes as the mood demanded. He was very cautious about making inquiries at the post-office and the Inn, for, of course, I hadn’t given Herman any right to be interested in my whereabouts. And, of course, if I really had gone off to hunt for hypothetical people in the woods, I shouldn’t want it talked about. At the end of an hour he had learned nothing more definite than that if I had gone out of town it had not been by the regular stages, and nobody knew when or where.

He decided then that the occasion justified his going into the house to find out if I had taken my suit-case, or anything that would give a clue. By the time he got back to the cottage it was past four o’clock, and the milkman had been his round. There were now four little bottles on the ledge. This somehow 27seemed to Herman so alarming a circumstance, with its implication of unexpected detention, that with scarcely more than a glance about the house, he put some crackers and my traveling flask into his pocket and set out almost running for Broken Tree.

He said that he found the place with very little difficulty, and without noticing particularly the way he came. I have thought since it might be one of the conditions of going there, that you must be thinking altogether of other matters and be concerned in the going for something more than yourself.

Herman found the trail and followed it as far as the place of the faggot, and on to the point where I had seen the tall man washing his hair at the spring. Though he could have had no reasonable expectation he had unconsciously counted on finding some trace of me in that neighborhood, and, disappointed in that, was at loss what to do. The trail, which ran out indistinguishably in the meadow, began again on the other side. After losing half an hour in picking it up again, he came on half fearfully, anticipating he knew not what dread evidence at every turn.

28The redwoods grew close here and the space between was filled with bluish gloom shot with long arrows of the westering sun. The trail ran crookedly among the clutching roots. Stumbling near-sightedly among them, he lost it wholly and so came by accident upon what otherwise he might have missed. Where the forest sheered away from a blank, stony ledge sticking out of a hill, there was a clear space with some small ferns and a seeping spring. In the soft earth about it he found prints of feet he thought to be mine, and beside it, broad and strong, the heavy feet of men. It was by now nearly dark, and Herman was so genuinely alarmed and so poor a woodman that he knew no better than to dash back among the redwoods hunting wildly for the trail and shouting, “Mona! Mona!” for all the wood to hear.

What had really happened to me was alarming enough to think of, though in truth I had not been very much alarmed by it at the time. The morning after my writing to Herman had been one of those pricking days that come in the turn of the seasons. Such a sparkle on the approaching water, such a trumpeting from the hills, the high vault full of flying 29cloud, that I struck with great confidence into the trail some distance beyond Broken Tree.

I followed along where it ran in a space wide as a wagon track, and opened into a meadow full of the airy whiteness of small bloom, floating above the late yellow lilies and the glinting grass. I sat down at its farther ledge, leaning against the curled roots of the redwood, and got as much comfort from it as though I had been propped by a human shoulder, so full was all the earth of friendly warmth and quietness.

There was neither sun nor shadow nor moving wind. I sat and browsed along the edge of sleep, slipped in and out, dozed and woke to watch the lilies: lost myself, and snapped alert to see the eyes of a man, ruddy and well-looking, fixed upon me from between the shouldering trees. Not a twig had snapped nor one bough clicked against another, but there he stood like a stag gazing, uncurious and at ease. When he perceived that I was aware of him he stepped toward me, throwing up his head, uttering the high strident cry of jays, followed by one bird-call and another, which seemed to be answered in kind from within the forest.

30He was a man of about forty, burned by the sun with thick, tawny locks and a pointed, russet beard, wearing a single garment of untanned skin that came midway of his arms and thighs. There were sandals on his feet and strips of leather bound about protected him to the knees. He was belted about the body with a curious implement that might have been a sling, and from his hand swung a brace or two of quail.

The singular part of this adventure was that while he stood there communicating in his strange wordless fashion with all the birds in the woods, I was not afraid. He was standing over me in such a manner that I could not have escaped him if I would. Really I had no thought of doing so, but sat looking as he looked at me, and not in the least afraid.

So occupied were we both with this mutual inspection that I did not quite know how nor from what quarter three men came out from among the trees and stood beside him. One of them was red and sturdy like the first, one was old, with a white beard curling back from his face like the surf from a rock, but exceedingly well built and with great heaps of gnarly muscles along his breast and arms. The third 31was the dark man I had seen washing his hair at the pool of the Leaning Bay.

They all looked at me with amazement and some consternation. Words passed between them in a strange tongue, though it was plain they referred to the manner of their finding me, and what was to be done about it. At length, the old man having said something to the effect that whatever I might be I did not appear particularly dangerous, they laughed, all of them, and made a sign that I was to come with them along the trail.

We moved slowly; my captors, for so I was to regard them, so disposing themselves as we went that I was scarcely aware of them. We moved stealthily from bole to bole, mingling so with the tawny and amber shadows, that time by time I hesitated, thinking myself abandoned. Then I heard the old man’s throaty chuckle like the movement of slow water among stones, or caught the bright, regardful eyes of Ravenutzi fixed upon me from behind the interlacing boughs.

After an hour’s walking we came to a bramble-fenced hollow, ringed with very tall trees, smelling of the sun. Here there might be a dozen of the wood folks, with four women 32among them, lying up like deer through the bright betraying noon.

Almost the first thing I noticed was that there was no curiosity among them of a prying sort over my appearance, and no fear. As if they had never imagined that one of my sort could do them harm. But there was regretfulness, particularly among the women, that appeared to be strangely for my sake, and a very grave concern. Moreover, when I spoke,—for I was moved to speak at once and declare that whatever the appearance of my coming among them, I meant no harm,—they turned all toward me, as if merely by attending quietly on this strange tongue they could make out what was said. I presently discovered that they had made it out, and by keeping this same considered quietness, without straining or trying to think what the words were, I was able to know what went on about me. Although it was several days before I could communicate fully, and I do not know yet, nor does Herman know, what language the Outliers spoke among themselves, we were able to get along very well in it.

They drew around me in a circle, which was left open at one side to admit a man whom 33I guessed at once by his bearing, as well as the deference they paid him, to be some sort of chief to them.

He was of a singular and appealing beauty, so that his bodily excellence was a garment to him, and adorned the simplicity of his dress. There was that in his way of standing which moved one to go up and lay hand on him as on the stem of a young cedar. But something stood within him that protected him more than a weapon from such impersonality. As he waited to hear the account of me which the red man gave, I felt I had never such a wish to have a man think well of me, nor been so much at a loss how to begin it. At the same time he seemed to be hearkening to something within himself, something that, when he asked a question of the women (which passed from one to another of them with something of denial and disclaimer), seemed to speak more loudly. The question appeared to refer to something which should have settled my business then and there. The neglect of it devolved upon a woman, comely and perplexed, as though given to too great a sense of responsibility, and much overcome at being found at fault.

34“No matter,” he said to her excuses, and bending a troubled look on me, the doubt in him spoke out openly.

“It was of this, I think, she spoke to me.”

At that slight emphasis the dark man who had the smith’s tools on him, looked at me with so sharp and surprising an interest that it distracted me from noticing who it was behind me asked with some eagerness:

“Of what did she speak?”

“That there was one walking toward us on the trail, bearing trouble. On the morning of our leaving, she waked me early to say it. I am thinking this is the one. If you have forgotten the cup, Evarra, it is an omen.”

The interest of all the wood folk reawakened. They began to regard me with so much distrust that I was relieved when the chief made a sign to Noche to take me a little to one side. Thus they talk more freely, looking at me from time to time, sometimes seeming to blame the woman, and sometimes to praise her.

Noche was that same old man who had brought me from the neighborhood of Broken Tree, whose mild blue eyes, set rather shallowly 35in a broad face, continued to reassure me.

He sat off a considerate distance, and busied himself with plaiting of leather thongs. All his features were rugged, the mouth wide, the nose broad and open at the nostrils, but blunted all as if by some yielding humor in him which fitted oddly with the knotting of his muscles. Now and then he turned toward me with chuckling, slow laughter which served in place of comforting speech.

Whatever conclusion the woodlanders came to about me, it was not to take immediate effect. They talked or lay quietly in the fern as deer lie. They slept much, but always with some on guard, dropping off with even breathing peace, and waking without start or stretching, as if wakefulness were but a wind that stirred them by times, and sleep the cessation of the stir.

Toward evening they rose and cooked a meal, of which I had my share—deer meat, wild honey in the honey-comb, and some strange bread. Two or three others came in from hunting; they were dressed much the same as the red man who had found me, and carried slings in their belts or slung upon their 36shoulders. The west was red and the pines black against it. There rose a light ruffle of wind and sighed through the wood. With it passed through the camp an audible breath of expectation. One of the women stood up with water in a bowl of bark, holding it high above her head in the manner of one celebrating a ritual, crooning some words to which the others made a breathy, soft response. She turned the water out upon the fire, the ashes of which Noche deftly covered, then, extending the bowl toward the young leader, she smiled, saying:

“The word is with you, Persilope.”

He took the vessel from her, scattering its few remaining drops westward.

“To the sea!” he said; “down to the sea!”

“To the sea!” cried the Outliers, and laughed and girt themselves. Suddenly I found myself caught up into a kind of litter or swing made of broad bands of skin, in a position of great uneasiness to myself, between the shoulders of two men. The whole body of woodlanders set off rapidly, but in their former noiseless fashion, going seaward.

The moon was up and the tide far out when we issued upon the promontory called Cypress 37Point. There was little surf, and the glimmer of the tide ran like silvered serpents all along the rocks. With a shout the Outliers stripped and cut the molten water with their shining bodies; laughed and plunged and rose again, laughing and blowing the spray as long as the moon lasted. They were at it again with the earliest light, and I should have known they were gathering sea food without what one of the women told me, of a great occasion going forward at their home which lay far from here, and a great feast of all the tribe. When the tide allowed, they gathered fish and abalones, which the women carried to some secret place among the pines to cure and dry.

When the tide was up the Outliers lay by in the dark rooms of cypress, bedded on the thick, resistant boughs, or stretched along the ancient trunks so wried and bent to purposes of concealment. Often in the heat, when there was cessation of the low whispering tones and light easy laughter, I would rise up suddenly seeming to myself quite alone only to discover by the stir of the wind on hair or garment the watchers lying close, untroubled and observant. While they worked I lay bound lightly under the wind-depressed cypresses where 38no light reached, but strange checkered gleams of it like phosphorescent eyes.

By night I could hear the Outliers shouting strongly in the surf, and saw by day the Chinese fishing-boats from Pescadera crawl along the rocks, and the smoke of coasting steamers trailing a shadow like a dark snake on the sea’s surface, polished by the heat. The men worked with good-will and laughter, always with watchers out. If one moment they were hauling at the nets, at a mere squeak of warning there would not be to the unpracticed eye so much as the glint of the sun on bare skin. Once a great red car came careering around the point, all the occupants absorbed in Bridge, just when the sea was at its best, a sapphire sparkle moving under an enchanted mist and the land luminous with reflected light.

We could see the casual turning of the owner’s head as some invisible string from the guard’s stretched, pointed finger seemed to move it like a mechanical toy. Almost before it rounded the curve, old Noche took himself out of the seaweed and blew foam at them in derision.

The care and keeping of me fell to Evarra, by whose neglect a proper dealing with me 39was kept in abeyance, and to old Noche, with whom I began to be very well acquainted. Noche had the soul of a craftsman, though with no very great gift. Whenever the smith was busy at a forge improvised of two beach stones and a flint, mending fishhooks and hammering spear-heads from bits of metal picked up along the sand, Noche would choose to lie puffing his cheeks to blow the fire while Ravenutzi fitted his movements to the rhythm of the wind as it rose to cover the light clink of his hammers. Or the old man would sit with his lips a little apart and in his eyes the bright fixity of a child’s, laying out iridescent fragments of abalone in curious patterns in which Ravenutzi took the greatest interest.

It was singular to me that the design the old man struggled with oftenest, the smith let pass. I had observed this the more because I became sure that there was no smallest hint of it escaped him, and the suspicion was fixed in my mind by its revelation of a great singularity in the character of Ravenutzi himself.

Time and again I had seen Noche laying out his abalone pearls in a design which, however dearly it was borne within his mind, 40seemed reluctant in expression. He would place the salient points of his pattern, connecting them by tracings in the sand, and when he had taken the greatest pains with it, startled, would sweep out the whole with his hand. There were times when its preciousness so grew upon him that he would not even commit it to the dust, but formed the delicate outline with his finger in the air.

One of those occasions, when it was full noon, and the tide charged thunderously along the coast, all the Outliers lying up in the windy gloom of the cypresses, I knew by the absorbed and breathless look of him that Noche had accomplished for once the whole of his design. He bent above it crooning in his beard, so absorbed in the complete and lonely joy of creation that he neither saw nor sensed the shifting of the stooped, twisty trunks above him to the form of Ravenutzi.

How he had come there I could not imagine, but there he bent from the flat-topped foliage, the mouth avid, the eyes burning and curious. As the shifting of his position brought him into line with my gaze he passed to a fixed intentness that held me arrested even in the process of thought. It left me 41uncertain as to whether it were not I who had been caught spying instead of Ravenutzi, and merely to meet that look in me had been, after all, the object of his secret scrutiny.

And this was what separated him from the others more than his dark skin and his clipped and nasal speech, making me sure, before I had heard a word of the Far-Folk, of some alien blood in him. Whatever one of the Outliers did, whether you agreed with him or not, there was at least no doubt about it.

That was how the days were going with me all the time Herman was writing me letters and tearing them up again, deciding that I was mad or foolish or both.

On the evening of the last day, about the time he had entered on the trail by Broken Tree, we were setting out for I knew not what far home of the Outliers. I was carried still in my litter, but that was more kindness than captivity, for though I count myself a good walker, I made poor work of keeping even with their light, running stride. We were not many hours out; it was after moonset, and I had lost all track of the time or the way, being a little sick with the motion, and very tired of it. I could guess this much, that we were 42rounding a steep and thick-set hill by what might have been an abandoned wagon road, for our pace increased here. Suddenly the company was arrested by sharp resounding cries and the crackling of underbrush on the slope above us. So does the night estrange familiar things, that I could get no clue at all to what the cries might be, except that it was some creature blundering and crying distressfully, making as if to cross our trail.

The Outliers were themselves alarmed by it, and considered a moment whether they should halt to let it pass before us or hurry on to leave it behind. But the check and the beginning of movement had caught the attention of the lost creature, for it turned directly toward us, and begun to come on more rapidly, redoubling its cries. Now I thought, though it seemed so extraordinary, that it said “Mona!” in a wild and urgent manner. Then it seemed to have slipped or bounded, for the slope was steep, and fell with a great clatter of stones and snapping of stems directly in our trail.

Several of the men precipitated themselves upon it. There was a short struggle, muffled groans, and quiet. One of them struck a light 43from his flint and showed a man, scratched and disheveled, lifted in the grip of Noche, lying limp and faint back from the knotted arms. I turned faint myself to see that it was Herman.


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533