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III I HEAR OF THE TREASURE AND MEET A FRIEND OF RAVENUTZI
It was the very next day, and before I had learned as much of Herman’s adventure as I have already set down, that I began to hear of the Treasure. My hearing became the means of my knowing all that happened afterwards in Outland on account of it.

It was the middle of the afternoon when I came out of Evarra’s hut and found Herman, with his head bandaged, lying on a heap of skins with old Noche on guard, plaiting slings. He had a loop of raw hide about one foot stretched straight before him to keep it taut as he plaited. Now and then he turned his face toward us with a wordless reassurance, but chiefly his attention was taken by the children, who cooed and bobbed their heads together within the shadow.

45Back of them the redwoods stood up thick as organ pipes, and when the wind stirred, the space above was filled with the click of dropping needles and the flicker of light displaced. I was going on to inquire of Herman how he happened to come stumbling on my trail when I thought him safe at the University, but Noche making a noise of disapproval in his throat, I left off at once, and began to attend to the talk of the children. It grew clear as I fixed upon it or lapsed into unmeaning murmurs as my mind wandered. There were four or five of them busy about those curious structures that children build with pebbles and potsherds and mounds of patted dust, set off by a feather or a flower. Noche, it appeared, was very good at this sort of thing. To their great delight, he was persuaded to undertake a more imposing mound than they could manage for themselves; and presently I had made out idly that the structure in the dust was the pattern of a story he was telling them. It was all of a king’s treasure. Seventy bracelets of gold, he said, all of fine work, chased and hammered, and belts of linked gold, and buckles set with colored stones. He took pebbles from the creek and petals of flowers to 46show them how that was, and every child was for making one for himself, for Noche to approve. Also he said there were collars of filigree, and necklets set with green stones of the color of the creek where it turned over the falls at Leaping Water. There were cups of gold, and one particular goblet of chased work which an old king held between his knees, around the rim of which a matchless hunter forever pursued exquisite deer. The stem of it was all of honey-colored agate, and in the base there were four great stones for the colors of the four Quarters: blue for the North, green for the South where the wind came from that made the grass to spring, red for the Dawn side of earth, and yellow for the West. And for the same king there was a circlet for his brows, of fire-stones, by which I supposed he meant opals, half a finger long, set in beaten gold. Also there were lamps, jeweled and chased, on golden chains that hung a-light above the kings.

When then one of the children, who lay listening with his heels in the air, wished to know if it were true what his father had said, that there was evil in the Treasure which came out upon whoever so much as looked at it, 47there came a rueful blankness upon the face of old Noche.

“Ay,” said he, “and upon whoever so much as talks of it.” And he shook his neglected sling at them as though to have left it off for the sake of a story were a very culpable matter.

But the children would not have it like that at all. They flung themselves on him in a heap, and got upon his back and about his neck and rumpled his hair, declaring that he was the best old man that ever was, and he must tell them about the red necklace: till, growling a little, but very glad to be beguiled, Noche went on to say there was a necklace of red stones so splendid that every one of them was a little more splendid than the next one. Almost before he had begun and before Herman and I had heard anything louder than the unmeaning forest murmurs, we saw the children rise to attention, and scatter suddenly, with gay little splutters of laughter like the noise of water spilled along the ground. They disappeared down the trails that ran darkling among the rooted columns of the trees.

There was a certain dismay I thought on Noche’s face as he turned back to his work, 48perceiving that I had listened, and not sure how much I had understood. He began to talk to us at once about his work, as though that might have been the object of our attention. With his hand he reached out furtively behind him and destroyed all the patterns in the dust.

Still I found my mind going back to the story with some insistence. Up to that time I had seen no metal in the camp but some small pieces of hammered silver and simple tools of hard iron, and no ornaments but shells and berries. But there had been a relish in old Noche’s telling that hinted at reality. I remembered the pattern which he had pondered so secretly under the cypress trees, and it came into my mind in an obscure way, without my taking any particular notice of it, that this might be the pattern of the necklace of red stones. I had not time to think further then, for the sound to which the children had answered was the returning hunt and the Outliers coming toward us on the trail.

It was always so that they came together about the time that the blue haze and the late light rayed out long level bars across the hills. They would be awake and about at whatever 49hour pleased them, and take their nooning in whatever place. Through the days there would scarcely be so much seen of them as a woman beating fiber between two stones by a brook, or a man cutting fern on a steep slope. So still they were by use, and so habituated to the russet earth and the green fern and the gray stone, that they could melt into it and disappear. Though you heard close about you low-toned talk and cheerful laughter, you could scarcely, unless they wished it, come bodily upon them.

On this evening all those in the neighborhood of Deep Fern had come together, not only because of the news of House-Folk brought to camp, but because this was the time set for the return of Trastevera from some errand connected with the great occasion of which I had been told. It was she who had seen trouble walking with us on the trail from Broken Tree, and without whose advisement, so Evarra had already explained to me, nothing would be determined concerning Herman and me.

This Trastevera was also the wife of Persilope, and whatever the business that called her from Deep Fern that day, she was late returning. 50All the Outliers had come in. The light had left the lower reaches of the forest and began to shine level through the fan-spread boughs before Persilope came out of the grass walk where he had been pacing up and down restlessly. Advised by some sound or sense too fine for me, he lifted up his hand toward that quarter of the thick-set grove that fenced the far end of the meadow. In the quick attentiveness that followed on the gesture, he stood in the flush of rising tenderness until, with some others behind her, she came lightly through the wood. One perceived first that she was smaller than the others, most delicately shaped, and next, that the years upon her were like the enrichment of time on some rare ornament.

I do not know why in our sort of society it should always seem regrettable, when not a little ridiculous, for a woman to be ten years older than her husband. Since I have known the exquisite maturity of Trastevera’s spirit, tempering her husband’s passion to finer appreciation of her ripened worth, I have not thought it so. As she came lightly through the thick grass of the uncropped meadow there was, as often, a glow upon her that 51might have come from the business she had been abroad upon. It sustained her a little above the personal consideration, so that almost before she had recovered from the flush of her husband’s embrace, she turned toward Prassade—the red man who had found me in the wood—to say that all was as he would have wished it, and he had good reason for being pleased. This being apparently a word he had waited for, he thanked her with a very honest satisfaction. Then, with her hand still in Persilope’s, he looking down on her more rejoiced with having her back from her errand than with anything she had to say about it, she turned a puzzled, inquiring glance about the camp.

“Ravenutzi?” she questioned doubtfully; but the smith smiled and shook his head, and with one consent, as if she had answered expectation, the company parted and showed us to her where we stood. Without having any previous intention about it, I found myself rising to my feet to meet her, and heard Herman scramble lamely up behind.

She stood so, confronting us without a word for as long as it took Prassade briefly to explain how they had taken us, and why they 52had not done that to us which I already understood had threatened me on the first day of my captivity. This was long enough for me to discern that she was darker than the other Outliers, that her hair must have been about the color of Ravenutzi’s before it turned. Her eyes were gray and clouded with amber like the morning surf. She moved a step toward me, nodding her head to what the young chief said, and shaking it slowly to something in herself. Wonder and perplexity deepened in her. Delicately, as seeking knowledge of me and not realizing that I could understand her speech or answer in it, she drew the tips of her fingers across my breast. There was no more offensiveness in the touch than in the questioning fingers of the blind. Wonder and perplexity deepening still, she turned back to Persilope.

“I grow an old woman,” she said, “I have failed you.”

He took the hand which she put out deprecatingly, and held it strongly against his breast, laughing the full, fatuous man’s laugh of disbelief.

“When have you failed me?”

“I do not know,” she protested; “I cannot 53tell;” and I understood that the doubt referred to her failure to get from me by that contact, the clew she sought.

“Surely these are they whom I feared for you to meet when you set out for the sea by the cypresses. Not for what they would do to you”—her look was toward Persilope—“but for what they might bring to all Outliers. But now I am not sure.”

She spoke as much to the company at large as to her husband. The number of them had increased, until I could see the outer ring melting into the twilight of the trees, eyes in formless faces of amazement and alarm. Now at the admission of a difficulty, they all turned toward her with that courtesy of inward attention by which, when one of them would understand more of a matter than lay directly before him, each turned his thought upon the subject gravely for a time, like so many lamps lighted in a room, and turned it off again with no more concern when the matter was resolved. But even as she smiled to acknowledge their help she shook her head.

“No,” she repeated, “I cannot tell.” She turned and looked at me, and I gave her the look back with so deep a wish to have her understand 54that no trouble should come to them by me, that she must have sensed it, for her look went on by me and stopped at Herman.

“You?” she questioned.

“Tell her,” said Herman, who had not caught all the words, but only the general purport of her speech, “tell her that all we ask is to go to our own homes, unharmed and harming no one.”

Now that was not exactly what I had in mind, for though I would not for worlds have made trouble for the Outliers, I wished nothing so little as being sent away before I had got to know more of them. But before I could frame a speech to that end, Trastevera spoke again more lightly.

“Now that I have seen them, there seems nothing in them but kindness and well-meaning. Indeed it is so unusual a thing that House-Folk should discover us, that I am not sure we ought not to pay them some little respect for it.”

She made me a little whimsical acknowledgment of this sentiment, but before I could think of a reply, some slight shifting of the ringed watchers thrust forward Ravenutzi. I recalled suddenly what I had neglected to 55state in the midst of Prassade’s explanation, that his finding me was not the first intimation I had had of the presence of Outliers in the neighborhood of Broken Tree. Up to this time I had observed that when the Outliers had their heads together on any matter of immediate concern, it had been Ravenutzi’s habit to keep a little to one side, as though not directly affected. Now as I saw him pushed into the cleared space by the stream side, it stirred dimly in my mind that the circumstance of my first meeting with him, which I had not before mentioned, might mean something. I hardly understood what.

I must have made some motion, some slight betraying glance which the smith detected. While the words were in my throat he looked at me, subtly, somehow encompassingly, as if he had projected his personality forward until it filled satisfyingly all my thought. I no longer thought it worth while to mention where I had first seen Ravenutzi nor what I had found him doing. I was taken with a sudden inexplicable warmth toward him, and a vague wish to afford him a protection for which he had not asked and did not apparently need. Swift as this passage was, I saw that 56Trastevera had noted it. Something dimmed in her, as if her mind had lain at the crossing of our two glances, Ravenutzi’s and mine, and been taken in the shadow.

“For the disposing of the House-Folk,” she finished evenly, as though this had been in her mind from the first to say, “you had better take counsel to decide whether they shall be given the Cup at once, or be kept to await a sign.”

I saw Persilope stooping to her, urging that she was tired, that she had come too far that day, she would be clearer in the morning. She shook her head still, looking once long at me, and once almost slyly at the smith, and then at us no more, but only at her husband, as she walked slowly along the meadow against the saffron-tinted sky. Then we were taken away, Herman and I, to our respective huts.

The place called Deep Fern by the Outliers lay in the middle of three half hollow basins looking seaward, and clearing all the intervening hills. Barriers thick set with redwood, dividing the cupped space like the ridges of a shell, ran into a hollow full of broad oaks and brambles. Between the ridges brooks ran to join the creek that, dropping in 57a white torrent to the basin called Lower Fern, made a pool there, from which it was also called Deer Lake Hollow. The upper basin, long and narrow, was named from the falls, Leaping Water.

The camp of the Outliers lay in one of the widest of the furrows between the ridges where the redwoods marched soldierly down to the stream side. Above it, between Deep Fern and a place called Bent Bow, lay Council Hollow. It was there, when the moon was an hour high, a battered-looking moon, yellow and low, went all the Outliers to consider what was to be done about us. It was a windy hollow, oval shaped, with long white knuckles of rock sticking out along the rim, where no trees grew, nothing taller in it than the shadows of the penstemon which the moon cast upon the rocks. Whenever the wind moved, there was a strong smell of sweet grass and yerba buena. There would have been about thirty men of the Outliers gathered when we came up the ridge from Deep Fern. We halted with the women at a point where we could see, near to one end, a little fire of crossed sticks low on the ground. The Outliers 58were at all times sparing of fire and cautious in the use of it.

The Council had been sitting some time, I think, upon other matters, when we took up our station on the rising ground. Trastevera went down, winding between the rocks toward the ruddy point of fire. The moon was moving in a shallow arc not high above the ranges, and some hurrying clouds scattered the light. We could see little more than the stir of her going, the pale discs of faces or the shining of an arm or shoulder in the clear space between the shadows of the clouds.

She went on quietly, all talk falling off before her until she stood in the small, lit circle between the leaders, who inquired formally of her had she anything to say of importance on the business of the two strangers.

“Only this,” she said, “that although I was greatly troubled before they came, by a sense of danger impending, I am now free from it so far as the House-Folk are concerned.”

“But do you,” questioned Prassade, “sense trouble still, apart from these?” He motioned toward Herman and me, who had been brought behind her almost to the circle of the flare.

59“Trouble and shadow of change,” she said, and after a pause: “Shall I speak?”

Without waiting for the click of encouragement that ran about the Hollow, she began:

“You know all of you that I have, through no fault, the blood of the Far-Folk, which has been for a long time the blood of traitors and falsifiers. And yet never at any time have I played traitor to you nor brought you uncertain word, except”—I thought her voice wavered there—“in the matter of the hostage.”

If there had been any wavering it was not in the councillors, whose attention seemed to stiffen to the point of expectation as she went on steadily.

“When it was a question more than a year ago whether the Far-Folk should send us their best man and cunningest as a hostage for accomplished peace, you know that I was against it, though I had no reason to give, beyond the unreasoning troubling of my spirit. Later when Ravenutzi was brought into our borders, and I had met with him, there was something which sang to him in my blood, and a sense of bond replaced the presentiment. All of which I truly admitted to you.”

So still her audience was, so shadowed by 60the drift of cloud, that she seemed, as she stood with her face whitened by the moon, and the low fire glinting the folds of her dress, to be explaining herself to herself alone, and to admit the need of explanation.

“And because,” she said, “I could not be sure if it was a foreseeing, or merely my traitor blood making kinship to him, you took the matter to council and accepted the hostage. Are you sorry for it?”

At this, which had been so little anticipated, there went a murmur around the hollow as of doubt not quite resolved. Several cried out uncertain words which a ruffle of wind broke and scattered. Prassade wagged his red beard, shouting:

“No! By the Friend!”

“Then,” she went on, more at ease, I thought, “as it was with Ravenutzi, so with these. I saw trouble, and now I do not see it; trouble that comes of keeping them, or trouble of letting them go. That I cannot determine for you. So I say now, if you do not regret what you have done by Ravenutzi, do the same with these, accept and hold them, waiting for a sign.”

She left off, and the moon came out of the 61cloud to discover how they stood toward it, and went in again discovering nothing.

Then a man who had already pricked himself upon my attention, stood up to argue the matter. He was short and exceedingly stout of build. Above the thick bands of leather that protected his lower limbs, he wore no dress but a cougar skin bound about the thick columnar body and held in place by a cord passing over the shoulder. He was armed with a crotched stick that had an oblong pointed stone bound in the crotch by thongs, the handle of which was so long that, as he stood with his hands, which were wide and burned but shapely, resting upon it, the head of the weapon lay upon the ground. What was most singular in his appearance, as he stood blocked solidly against the half-lit sky, was his hair. It was pale yellow, crisp and curling, and rayed out erectly from his head as though it were the emanation of some natural force or property of the man, curiously and independently alive above the square and somewhat meaningless regularity of his countenance.

“Why,” inquired he, “were these House-Folk brought here to Deep Fern? Why not 62made to drink forgetfulness when first taken?”

“Evarra had forgotten the Cup,” Persilope explained; “she thought it could be gathered at Broken Tree, but she had forgotten how much further the season is advanced in that neighborhood.”

“But now,” said Evarra, “I have prepared it, and there is nothing more to do.” She came forward, and I observed that she held a wooden bowl against her breast from which steam arose, and an aromatic smell.

The moon had risen early on the track of the sun. The shallow lap of hills in which we stood gave directly westward to the belated glow that diffused through the moon shadows an amber bloom, in which, though the faces of the Outliers shone indistinctly, every motion and purpose was discernible. I could see then that Evarra’s purpose was to give Herman and me to drink of some herb which should cause us to forget all that had happened to us since we had crossed their borders at Broken Tree, and so send us home again. It met with so much approval that I spoke hurriedly to forestall it.

“No, no!” I cried. “We have done no harm to you that you should do so great a harm to 63us. If you must send us away, why, send us, and we will give you our word, and that is the best thing we have to give, that no one shall know of what has happened these four days. But do not take away the recollection from us.” I spoke so earnestly and meant so much what I said, taking Herman’s hand so as to include him in the vehemence of my request, though I do not think he had any particular feeling at the time, that I made some way with them.

“Nothing is farther from our thoughts,” I said, seeing Evarra hesitate, “than to bring harm upon you. Not for the world would we betray your ways nor your homes nor your treasure——”

I do not know why I should have mentioned treasure, except that seeing old Noche’s flowing head outlined against the pale luminosity of the sky that instant, brought it to my mind. The word popped out on my tongue as suddenly as it had popped in. Instantly there was a sharp crackling of exclamations and a stir as of people rushing together when a brand has snapped out of the fire, followed by a portentous stillness. Into this bay of sound the red-pointed beard of Prassade projected itself.

64“Who,” he cried, “has been telling of treasure in the hearing of House-Folk?”

“No one, no one,” I protested, anxious not to provoke blame; “it is only that I overheard the children——”

“It was I,” admitted Noche regretfully, “old fool that I am. I was telling the children, and I did not think she understood so much.”

“Fool!” said Prassade; “and twice fool for being an old one!”

But Persilope corrected him.

“At the time of the Wardship it is permitted to tell the children of the King’s Desire and the keeping of it.”

“But not in the presence of House-Folk,” Prassade insisted, “nor by one who thinks there is no harm in a jewel if only it shines well and has a story to it.”

There was more to this which the wind broke and carried away, arms lifted and heads cast up within the shadow, turbulence and murmurs of denial. I heard Trastevera say, half to herself:

“Trouble come indeed, when one Outlier calls another a fool in open council.”

“It is nothing,” whispered Evarra at my 65shoulder, “all this talk. Though you had the King’s Desire in your hand, yet you would stay if Persilope thought she wished it.”

Then the yellow head of Mancha crinkled in the circle of the fire, his face under it grotesquely blocked with light, like some ancient mask, crying:

“Signs—do we wait for Signs? Here is a Sign: first the woman comes, and then the man seeking her. Now, if they are not returned speedily to their own place who may not come looking for the two of them? And if, being kept, they escape by chance and go back talking of treasure——”

“But a Sign!” cried Persilope, interrupting him. “Outliers, here is a Sign. These House-Folk have found us in a place where none of their kind so much as mark our trails. Within a day after being in our camp they have heard of the King’s Desire, and talked openly of it. This is a Sign that they are more favored by the Friends of the Soul of Man than any of their kind. Is it not a Sign?”

We could see men rising to their feet here and there, and some cried out: “A Sign! A Sign!” And then other broken phrases, torn and trumpeted by the wind. Persilope took 66the bowl from Evarra, holding it out over the fire with a motion to extinguish the dying flame.

“One has seen strangers coming, and strange things have come; shall we not wait upon her word?” he cried. I could make nothing of the confused murmur which ringed the hollow. Persilope must have read acquiescence in it, for he partially emptied the contents of the bowl upon the fire and then passed it to Mancha, Ward of the Outer Borders, to see what he would do. Mancha, smiling, handed the cup to Trastevera as a sign of unbroken confidence; she, as I guessed, so accepting it. That was the last I saw of her before Evarra hurried me away, holding high the bowl, slowly pouring the ceremonial water, silvered by the moon.


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