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IV THE MEET AT LEAPING WATER
Within five days, during which it rained and cleared, a fine long growing rain that left the world new washed and shining, the Meet of the Outliers was moved to Leaping Water.

This was the amphitheater of the terraced basin lying next above Deep Fern, and took its name from the long leap of the creek that came flashing down arch by arch from the high, treeless ridges. Five leaps it took from Moon-Crest to the Basin, where it poured guttering, in so steep a channel that the spray of it made a veil that shook and billowed with the force of its descending waters. It trailed out on the wind that drove continually, even on the stillest days, between the high wings of the mountain, and took the light as it traveled from east to west and played it 68through all its seven colored changes. It was like a great pulse in the valley, the throb and tremble of it, flushing and paling. The Basin was clear meadow land, well-flowered, close set by the creek, but opening well under the redwoods, with here some sunny space of shrubs, and there stretching up into the middle region of white firs dozing on the steeps above the water.

It was here we began to learn about the Love-Left Ward which was the occasion of their coming together.

The very first I heard of it was from Evarra’s slim lad, Lianth, who, when he was sent to keep me company, would lie on the fern, propping his chin upon his hand, and sing to me in his reedy unsexed voice, of a maiden who had left loving for the sake of a great service to her tribe. Then plucking up the brown moss by the roots, examining it carefully, he would ask me if I thought it was really right for a girl to do that sort of thing.

“What sort?”

“Give up loving and all her friends, boys she’s always—liked, you know, and keep a Ward, like Zirriloë.”

“Did she do that?”

69“Well, they chose her to be the Ward this year, and her father let her. I don’t think he ought!”

“Why not?”

Lianth was not very clear on this point, except as it involved the masculine conception of beauty as the sign of a real inward preciousness. Zirriloë had a way of walking, like a wind in a blooming meadow, she had a cheek as soft, as richly colored, as the satin lining of unripened fir cones which he broke open to show me. Therefore Prassade shouldn’t have let her forswear all loving for ten years.

“She can’t even look at a boy,” said Lianth; “only at old men, Noche and Waddyn and Ravenutzi, and if there was—anybody—had thought of marrying her, he’d have to give up thinking about it for ten years. And anyway, what is the good of giving a girl secrets to keep if you have to watch her night and day to see that she keeps them?”

There was a great deal more to this which Herman learned from the men and the girl’s father. Prassade, whose eldest child she was, felt himself raised to immeasurable dignity by the choice of Zirriloë, who was in fact all that Lianth reported her, and more. To his pride 70it was a mere detail that during the ten years of her Wardship she was to live apart from all toward whom her heart moved her, kept by old, seasoned men, who never left her except with others older and less loverly than themselves. These six months past she had been with her watchers in a lonely place, learning by trial what it meant to have left all love to become the Ward of mysteries.

It was there Trastevera had been when I first saw her, to examine the girl and discover if her mind was still steadfast.

So she found it, and so reported it to Prassade, and all things being satisfactory, the feast of the Love-Left Ward was to take place on the fifth day from this. When her term was done the Ward took the Cup, and so forgetting all she had heard, returned to the normal use of women.

“But,” I said to Lianth, once when we were gathering elderberries by the creek, “what is it all about, this secret which Zirriloë must keep, and is not trusted in the keeping?”

“Ah!” he exclaimed impatiently, kicking at the mossy stones in the water-bed. “Ask Noche—he is one of the keepers.”

I should have taken that advice at once, but 71Noche was away at the Ledge, or River Ward, or wherever the girl was, and Evarra was much too busy to talk. Practically all the Outliers were expected at Leaping Water, and there was a great deal to do. As to how many there were of them, and what places they came from, I could never form any idea, since outside of Council Hollow they never came together in the open. At the fight at River Ward there were forty picked men, slingsmen and hammerers, but counting women and children there must have been quite four times that number at Leaping Water. They ran together like quail in the wood, and at a word melted like quail into its spacious silences.

There was that subtle essence of rejuvenation in the air that comes after rain. Buds of the incense shrub were swelling and odorous. All the forest was alive and astir with the sense of invisible friendly presences and low-toned happy talk that seemed forever at the point, under cover of a ruffling wind or screening rush of water, of breaking into laughter.

We came often upon lovers walking in the high arched aisles, children scuttling pink and unabashed in the dappled water, or at noons, men and women half sunk in the fern deep in 72gossip or dozing. Such times as these we began to hear hints by which we tracked a historic reality behind what I had already accepted heartily, and Herman with grudging, the existence of the King’s Desire.

They would be lying, a dozen of them in company on the brown redwood litter, the towered trunks leaning to the firs far above them. Then one would begin to sing softly to himself a kind of rhymeless tune, all of dead kings in a rock chamber canted in their thrones by the weight of jewels, and another would answer with a song about a lovely maid playing in sea caves full of hollow light.

By this we knew the thoughts of all of them ran on the story which held the songs together like a thread. We discovered at last that it was the history of the place from which they had come to Outland, bringing the Treasure with them, pursued by the Far-Folk. Or perhaps it was they who were the pursuers, but the Treasure had been the point of their contention, and it had cost the Outliers so much that they had come to abhor even the possession of it. So having buried it, they made their honor the keeping of the secret. Because the first disturbance over it that reft 73them from their country had been brought about by the treachery of a woman, they put a woman to the keeping, half in irony, I think, for then they had set a watch upon the woman.

It was about this time that Herman waked to an interest on the occasion that nothing else had been able to arouse in him. He thought that a community which had arrived at the pitch of understanding that the best thing to be done with wealth was to get rid of it, would repay study. I remember his wondering if the Outliers had had any more trouble with their Treasure, or what they imagined as such, for he never would credit its reality, than we had experienced with the Coal Oil Trust. I paid very little attention to him, for all my mind was occupied in watching Ravenutzi.

From the first I had noticed that whenever there was one of those old tales, or any talk of the King’s Desire, something would spring up in his face, as slight as the flick of an eyelid or the ripple of muscles at the corner of his mouth, but something at which caution snapped wide-awake in me. I recall how once we lay all together at the bottom of the wood in the clear obscure of twilight, in a circular, grassless space where the water went by with 74a trickling, absent sound. One of the young men began to sing, and Ravenutzi had stopped him with some remark to the effect that the Outliers could sing it so if it pleased them, but the story as it was sung was not true.

“Come,” said the youth, “I have always wanted to know how the Far-Folk told that part of the tale so as not to be ashamed of it.” Prassade sprang up protesting that there should be no communication between them and the Hostage on a forbidden matter. Some debate followed among the elders as to that. I could see the smith sitting in his accustomed attitude, knees doubled, hands clasped about them, his chin resting on his knees. The eyes were black in the twilight under the faun’s profile and the streaked, springy hair, yet always as if they had a separate furtive intelligence of their own. It occurred to me suddenly, that in this very debate precipitated by Ravenutzi, the Outliers were talking about the Treasure, and that he did not care in what fashion so long as they talked. Instinctively as I felt this, turning in my mind like a weed in the surf, I looked toward Trastevera as one turns in a dim room toward the light, holding out my mind to her as to one of better sight. 75I caught the eyes of Ravenutzi, the iris, opaque and velvety, disappearing under the widening pupil of his fixed gaze. I felt the rushing suggestion back away from the shore of my mind and leave it bare. There was something I had meant to speak to Trastevera about, and I had forgotten what it was.

It was brought back to me the next day, which was the one before the move to Leaping Water. We were sitting in Evarra’s hut, Herman and I, with Noche, for the wind and cloud of the Council had contrived to blow up a rain that drummed aloud on the bent fern but scarcely reached us through the thick tent of boughs. Above us we could hear the wind where it went hunting like a great cat, but down at the bottom of the pit of redwoods it could scarcely lift the flap of the door.

And without some such stir or movement of life within, one might have passed a trail’s breadth from the house of Evarra and not suspected it, so skillfully was it contrived within one of those sapling circles that spring up around the decayed base of ancient redwoods, like close-set, fluted columns round a ruined altar. Every family had two or three such 76rooms, not connected, not close together, but chosen with that wild instinct for unobtrusiveness with which the Outliers cloaked the business of living. From the middle of one of these, smoke could go up through the deep well of green and mingle undetected with the blue haze of the forest. Deep within, tents of skin could be drawn against the rain which beat upon them with a slumberous sound and dripped all down the shouldering colonnade.

The tent was half drawn this morning, and no drops reached us, but seldom, light spatterings from high, wind-shaken boughs. Evarra was abroad looking after her family, and Noche had come over with Herman to sit housed with me. The Outliers had, from such indifferent observation as they had made, got the notion that House-Folk were of great fragility as regards weather. They were exceedingly careful of us, though I had seen Noche laugh as he shook the wet from his body, and take the great gusts of wind as a man might the moods of his mistress. He sat opposite us now on a heap of fern, busy at his sling-plaiting, with the placidity of a spinning Hercules, and in a frame to be entertaining. It occurred to me it might be an excellent time 77to beguile him into talk of the Treasure, much to Herman’s annoyance, for he was of the opinion that my having been a week among the Outliers and no harm having come of it, was no sign it wouldn’t come eventually.

“Don’t meddle with their tribal mysteries,” he protested; “if it hadn’t been for their confounded Treasure we would have been on the trail for home by now.”

“But consider,” I explained to Herman for Noche’s sake; “if we drink Forgetfulness at the last, what does it matter how much we know before? And besides, he is suffering to tell me. Go on, Noche.”

Once you had old Noche started, his talk ran on like the involute patterns he loved to trace upon the sand, looping to let in some shining circumstance or set off some jewel of an incident. It was a wonderful treasure by his account: lamps thick with garnets, crusted with amethysts, and the cup of the Four Quarters which a dead king held between his knees.

Outside we could hear the creaking of the boughs as the wind pounced and wallowed, stalking an invisible prey. Within the hut we saw in the old man’s story, the summer island from which the tale began, far southward, rising 78from the kissing seas. All at once he left off, breathing quick, his nostrils lifted a little, quivering, his head turning from side to side, like a questing dog’s. We had heard nothing but the trickle of rain down the corrugated trunks, but Noche, turning his attention toward the doorway, twitched his great eyebrows once, and presently broke into smiling.

“Trastevera,” he said; and then a very curious thing happened. Some patches of the red and brown that had caught my attention from time to time at the burl of the redwood opposite stirred and resolved into Ravenutzi. How long he had been there I had no notion. Though I was well acquainted with that wild faculty of the Outliers to make themselves seem, by very stillness, part of the rock and wood, I was startled by it quite as much on this occasion as on the first time of my meeting him. It was not as though Ravenutzi made himself known to us by a movement, but drew himself out of obscurity by the force of his own thinking. The fact of his being there seemed to shoulder out all question as to why he was there in the first place. He was looking, with that same curious fixity that held me when I caught him dyeing his hair at 79the spring, not at me, but at Trastevera approaching on the trail. She came up the trail in that lifting mood with which the well body meets weather stress, as if her spirit were a sail run up the mast to catch the wind. She came lightly, dressed as the women mostly were, in an under tunic of soft spun stuff, of wood green or brown color, but her outer garment was all of the breasts of water birds, close-fitted, defining the figure. She looked fairly back at Ravenutzi as she came, smiling from below her quiet eyes. He walked on past her so casually that only I could say that he had not merely been passing as she passed. But I was sure in my own mind he had been sitting close by Evarra’s hut for a long time.

She gave us Good Friending as she came in, but it was not until Noche, in response to a sign from her, had taken Herman out by the brook trail, that she spoke to me directly.

“If you made a promise to me in regard to your being here and what you shall see among us, would he, your friend, be bound by it?”

“Well, in most particulars; at any rate, he would give it consideration.”

“Does he love you?”

“No,” I said. I was sure of that much.

80“How do you know?”

“By the best token in the world. He has told me so.”

“Ah!” She looked at me attentively a moment, as if by that means she might discover the reason.

“Then in that case he will probably do as you say. If he loved you,” she smiled, “he would expect you to do as he said.”

She loosened her feather coat, shaking out the wet, and took from Evarra’s wall an oblong piece of cloth, brown and yellow barred like the streakings of sunlight on the bark of pines, and disposed it so that, with the folds lying close and across the slender body and the two loose ends falling over the shoulders, she looked like some brooding moth that bides the rain under a sheltering tree.

“You are so much more like us,” said she, “than I would have expected; so much more understanding. Have you Far-Seeing?”

“How Far-Seeing?”

“There are some among us,” she said, considering, “who can lie in their beds at night and hear the deer crossing at Lower Fern; some who can stand in their doors and see the face of a man moving on the cliffs at Leaping 81Water. But I am one who can see trouble coming before the bearer of it has reached Broken Tree. Have you such?”

“I have heard of them.”

“Do you know then if they see better or worse, for loving?”

I could not tell her that, though I wished to, since she made such a point of it. I had to content myself with asking her how it was with herself.

“Very much better,” she laughed, and colored; “or worse.” She frowned, sighing. “I will tell you how that is.”

“When I was just grown,” said Trastevera, “I was chosen to be—to fulfill a certain duty which falls every ten years to some young woman of the tribe. It was a duty which kept my heart occupied so that there was no time for loving or being loved. I was much apart and alone, and it was then that my Gift came to me, the gift of Far-Seeing. It served the tribe on many occasions, particularly on one when we were at war with the Far-Folk. I saw them breaking through at River Ward, and again I saw them when they tried to get at us from the direction of the sea——But it was not of that I meant to tell you. After I 82was released from my duty I had planned because, because——” She seemed to have the greatest difficulty getting past this point, which for so direct a personality as hers was unusual. I gathered that the matter was involved in the tribal mysteries which Herman had warned me to avoid, so I could not help her much with questioning.

“Because of a certain distinction which they paid me, I had planned,” she went on at last, “to have no love and no interest but theirs. It came as a shock to me when Persilope was made Warden of the Council, to find that it was agreed on every side that I should marry him.”

“Didn’t you love him then?” I was curious to know.

“I scarcely knew him, but I knew what he was, and if it was thought best for me to love him, I wished, of course, to do what was best. And Persilope wished it also.”

“You could do that? Love, I mean where you were told to love.” Somehow the idea filled me with a strange trepidation.

“If the man was love worthy, why not?” She was surprised in her turn. “So long as my heart was not yet given, it was mine to give 83where the Outliers would be best served by it. Do you mean to say,” she asked, sensing my incredulity, “that it is not so with the House-Folk? Do you not also serve the tribe most?”

“With our lives and our goods,” I admitted.

“But not with your loving? But if you love only to yourselves, is not the common good often in peril from it?”

“Often and often,” I agreed. Suddenly it began to seem a childish and ineffectual thing that we should be in the most important issues of life so at the mercy of place and incident, obscuring coquetries and tricks of dress.

“Sometimes it is so with us,” she agreed, “but not with people like myself and Persilope. When it was brought to our notice how all the Outliers would be benefited by our uniting his practical sense with my far-seeing, we held our hearts out like a torch and lighted each from each.” They could do that it seemed, these Outliers, apt full natures, they could rise in the full chord of being and love without other inducement than the acknowledgment of worth. That was why the Outliers took no notice of what I was secretly 84ashamed of having noticed, that she was years older than her husband.

Leaving the habits of the House-Folk, Trastevera went on with her narrative.

“We have a custom when we are married,” she said, “of choosing where it shall be. We set forth, each from his own home, all our friends being apprised of what we are about to do and wishing us well. Then we come to the place, each by his own trail, meeting there under no eyes. When a month is done we go home to our friends, who make a great to-do for us. There is a hill I know, looking seaward, a full day from here. There are pines at the top and oaks about the foot, but the whole of it is treeless, grassy, with flowers that sleep by day among the grasses. It is neither windy nor quiet, but small waves of air run this way and that along the grass, and make a changing pattern. Here I chose to meet Persilope. All day I went down by Deer Leap and River Ward to meet my man, and he came up by Toyon and the hiving rocks to meet me. All day I felt him come, and the earth felt him: news of him came up through the grasses and touched my finger-tips.” She 85flushed a little, and finished simply: “When we came back,” she said, “I had reason to believe I had lost the gift of Far-Seeing. It was while we were away that the Far-Folk had opened the matter of the hostage, and the Council waited for Persilope to come back from his wedding to decide what was best to be done. The people were for the most part glad to put an end to quarreling.”

This was the first time that I realized that there was another sort of woodlanders beside the Outliers. Up till this time, when I had heard mention of Far-Folk, I thought it perhaps another sort of name for us, House Livers, as they called us indifferently, or Diggers, or They of the Ploughed Lands, as people will speak of a wild species, very common but of too little interest to be named or known.

“So soon as I had heard of the Far-Folk’s plan to send us their smith as a perpetual hostage,” she went on, “I was chilled with prescience of disaster, and said so freely. But when Ravenutzi came to council, and I had looked him through, I was warm again. You heard how I said last night that I could not tell if it was the blood of the Far-Folk playing traitor in me, or if there was, in fact, no 86shadow coming. So I was obliged to say to the Council, and they on their own motion, without any help from me, accepted him. No one has blamed me”—she mused a little, with her chin upon her hand—“but ever since I have been afraid. There might really have been some intimation of coming evil which my happiness, going from me to everything I looked upon, dispelled as a bubbling spring breaks up a shadow.”

She rose and walked from me a little space, returned, and stood before me so intent upon getting some answer more than my words, that I thought it best to let no words trouble her. Presently she went on:

“Since then I have had no serious forecasting that concerned the Outliers at large. But some days before Prassade first found you, I had a vision of Broken Tree and a bird rising from it crying trouble. There was shadow lying on my world, and dread of loss and change. But this is the strangest thing of all. When I had seen you I saw more than that. Between you and Ravenutzi there was some bond and understanding.”

“No, no!” I protested; “on his part, yes, some intention toward me, some power to 87draw me unaware to meet some end of his. And yet....”

“And yet you like him?”

I admitted it. Though I had no special confidence in his purpose, I felt my soul invite his use.

“And that,” said Trastevera, “is why I have kept you here and advised that you be told anything it is lawful for an Outlier to know. Ordinarily when we find House-Folk among us we give them the Cup and let them go. But since you are to drink forgetfulness at last, before that happens you may be of use to me.”

“But how?”

Though I had more curiosity than concern, I could see doubt pulsing in her like the light breathing of a moth. She resolved at last.

“Even if you betray me, there is still the Cup,” she said. “You have already been of use to me, for as I came into camp last night I felt the shadow; it was not on you when I looked, but when Ravenutzi looked at you I saw it fall, and it fell from him.”

She considered me attentively to see what I would make of this, but not willing to say until I had considered it myself, I spoke of 88the Cup; beginning to take it seriously for the first time.

“Of what,” said I, “will it make me forgetful?”

“Everything at first, but by degrees the past will clear. Only around all that happens here, and around the circumstance of your drinking it, there will be the blank of perfect sleep.”

“But why are you so sure in sparing me, that I shall be able to serve you?”

“How could you help it?” She looked at me in quick surprise. “You are not like your friend is who says this is good or not good, and that is the end of it. You are one in whom the vision clouds and colors. By the color of your mind when it falls under Ravenutzi’s I shall learn perhaps whether to trust my old distrust of him or my present friendliness.

“Oh!” she cried, perceiving so readily at that instant the half conviction, half credulity, of my mind toward her that she was embarrassed by it. “Is it so among House-Folk that they must always explain and account for themselves? If I said to an Outlier that he could help me he would not have questioned it.”

“But what am I to do?”

89“Hold the will to help me. Be friends with the smith if he is friendly, and say nothing of this to any one but me. When your time comes to take the Cup I will see that it is made light for you.”

It did not sound very difficult, and perhaps I did not take it very seriously; at any rate I gave the promise. Trastevera unwinding herself from the striped cloth like a moth coming out of a chrysalis, resumed her feather coat and left me with that suddenness I had learned to expect of the Outliers, like a bird flitting or a weasel slipping in the chaparral.

On the very first occasion of our being alone together after that I demanded of Evarra what Trastevera had meant by saying that she was of the blood of Ravenutzi, and that the blood was traitorous. I could ask that safely, because I had learned that, except in the one important matter of the Treasure, the Outliers had no skill in concealments and no knowledge whatever of indirection. It was as if somewhere in their history they had so sickened of the stuff of treachery that their teeth were set on edge at the mere attitudes of it, tricks, pretensions and evasions.

So I knew that if I opened a forbidden matter, 90Evarra would tell me so flatly, and that would be the end of it. And if it was permissible to speak at all, she would do me no such discourtesy as not to speak freely.

It was a very old affair, she said, but one well known among the Outliers. In one of their quarrels with the Far-Folk one of their own women was taken and kept. Afterward she had been returned to her home by purchase, and had had a child shortly after, begotten upon her unwillingly by one of the Far-Folk. From that child Trastevera was descended. The blood of the Far-Folk, said Evarra, was a foul strain, but they had mixed it with the best of theirs, and there was no more treason left in it than there was soiling of last season’s rains in the spring that watered Deep Fern. None of the Outliers had even remembered it until Ravenutzi came. As for these Far-Folk, they were to the Outliers all that cat was to dog, hill-dwellers, seeking treeless spaces, holes in the rock and huts of brush; wiry folk, mocking and untruthful. But they were such inveterate craftsmen that a man of them could sooner smudge himself at a forge making a knife to trade you for a haunch of venison, than go a-hunting for his meat himself. 91It was so most of the iron implements I had noticed had been circulated among the Outliers. For their part they preferred casting themselves joyously forth on the day to come back well furnished by their own hands.

But a man of the Far-Folk would sit all day with his nose to a bit of hammered metal, graving on it strange patterns of beasts and whorls and lacing circles. When it was done, said Evarra, there was no great pleasure in it, for it would not glitter as a bit of shell, nor brown nor brighten as a string of berries, nor be cast every hour in a new pattern like a chaplet of flowers, but remained set forever, as the Far-Folk in their unkempt ways.

They were piliferous too, and lived in such relation as weasels might to the people of the Ploughed Lands; by which term she always spoke of the few farmers whose homesteads I could occasionally see from Outland. The Far-Folk would go down by night across the borders of the Outliers to the farmyards for their scraps of metal, and ate fruit from the orchards. It was to purchase free passage for such expeditions through disputed territory that they had given hostage to their foes at Deep Fern; free leave to go and come from 92Deer Leap to the River Ward, and between Toyon and Broken Head. Up to this time the compact had been scrupulously kept, though it was evident from Evarra’s manner of admitting it, she begrudged any good opinion I might have of the Far-Folk on that account.

“And what harm have you had from Ravenutzi?”

Ah, that was as might be, if you counted the failure of Trastevera’s visions and his making a fool of old Noche with his smith’s tricks. The old man had thought of little this year past but forge work and designs—and prating to the children of the King’s Desire. “If it had been my child listening to him,” finished Evarra, “I should have smacked him.”

All of which I told to Herman at the first opportunity. And also that I should never be happy one moment until I had found out what fact, if any, lay behind the story of the King’s Desire.

“What’s the good of finding out,” said Herman gloomily, “if we have to take their everlasting dope on top of it?”

“And within three days of the most sophisticated society on earth,” I reminded him. “They are having the golf tournament at 93Mira Monte this week. Could you believe it?”

“Oh, I don’t believe a word of it,” he insisted. “This is just one of the tales you’ve made up, and you’ve hypnotized me into going through with it, but I don’t believe it at all.”


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