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V THE LOVE-LEFT WARD

I was sitting under a toyon tree watching Evarra brew forgetfulness in a polished porphyry bowl, when Herman came by. It was the morning of the Meet. The Cup was wanted for her who was the Ward, and Evarra took a great deal of pains with the brew, heating the bowl slowly and, when the dry leaves began to smoke and give off an odor of young fir, dropping water gently and setting it to steep in the sun. I had hoped to discover what plant it might be, but there was little to be guessed except that it had a blue flower taken in the bud, and smelled like a wood path in the spring. Evarra sat and stirred under the toyon and answered my questions or not as she was inclined.

“Do you know any sort of an herb, Evarra, that will turn gray hair black again?”

“That I do; and black hair gray if you wish 95it.” But I had not caught the significance of her statement, when Herman came along, bursting full of news. He was looking almost handsome that morning, for he had put on the dress of the Outliers for the first time, and though he had managed it so as to cover more of his skin than was their fashion, it became him very well. Some satisfying quality streamed from him, according with the day. As if he had laid off something besides the dress which had come between him and the effect I had wished him to have on me.

“Come up the trail with me; I have some news for you,” he began. “May she?”

This last was to Evarra. With all the basin of Deep Fern and Leaping Water full of their own folk we had been allowed to move freely about among them, but there was still a form of keeping us under guard.

“Go up,” said Evarra, probably glad to get rid of me, “as far as Fallen Tree, where you can see the Leap between that and the clearing. I will join you presently. You can see the procession best from there, when it first comes out of the wood.”

The dew was not yet gone up from the shadows nor the virgin morning warmed a 96whit toward noon; the creek sang at the curve, I felt the axles of the earth sing as it swung eastward. I spread out my arms in the trail and touched the tips of the growing things, and felt the tide of abundant life rise through my fingers. Herman strode in the trail ahead and called over his shoulder:

“What are you laughing at back there, Mona?”

“News,” I answered, for I had remembered suddenly something Trastevera had said to me.

“What news?”

“How should I know, except that it is good news? The meadowsweet told it to me. What’s yours?”

“That Treasure you’re so keen about; they’ve really got it. I’ve talked with men who’ve seen it.”

“Noche?”

“He hasn’t come back yet, but Waddyn, one of the keepers—there were four of them—dug it up ten years ago and reburied it.”

“But why?”

“That’s my news. On account of Trastevera. She was the Ward ten years ago, and they were afraid to give her their wretched 97drug lest they should destroy her gift of Far-Seeing, as they call it. So they took counsel and decided to change the hiding-place. Prassade said it wasn’t an altogether popular movement. Some of the Wards haven’t taken kindly to the Cup when their turn came, and they feared the precedent. But anyway they did it. They made a cordon round the place where it was hid, three days’ journeys wide, and the four old men went in and dug up the Treasure and buried it again.”

“All those jewels and beaten gold?”

“Whatever it is they’ve got, colored pebbles most likely. It wouldn’t have been so bad, Prassade says, changing the place of the Treasure; that has happened several times in their history. But while they had it up they had a look at it, and Noche’s head has been turned ever since.”

“I should think it might. It’s all true, then?”

“Folk tales, likely; all tribes have them.” Though his face was turned from me on the trail, I could feel Herman’s professional manner coming on again. “It is extraordinary, though, how their social organization is so nearly like to what you would expect of a 98highly civilized people thrown suddenly back on the primal environment. Take their notions of property now——”

What he was going to say must have been very interesting, but just at this point we came to Fallen Tree, and saw the irised banner of the Leap floating before its resounding crash of waters. A little spit of grassy land ran here from the clearing into the dense growth, and the trail entered by it. Beyond it, pale late lilies censed the shadows of the redwoods, and below in the meadow there was nothing fairer than the bleached, wind-blown hair of the children, as they ran and shouted through the scrub. Evarra came hurrying with the Cup against her breast. Prassade and Persilope took up a station of some prominence on the point opposite us, with Mancha behind them, leaning on his long weapon. Presently the flutes began.

The sound of them stole upon us softly from far within the redwoods, keyed a little under the bell tones of the creek, and rising through it to the pitch at which the water note seems forever at the point of breaking into speech. As the procession skirted the meadow, the music emerged in a tune fetching and human. 99Now you heard the swing of blossoms by runnels in the sod, the beat of spray on the bent leaves by the water borders; then the melody curling and uncurling like the ringlets on a girl’s neck. With the music some sort of pageant passed, boys and girls wreathed and dancing, forming as they wound in the wood glooms, breaking and dissolving where the trail led through the bright, sunned space of the meadow. We could hear from the Outliers ranged about the clearing, light applause of laughter like the patter that follows the wind in the quaking asp.

The pageant circled the open space around which rippled the curved blade of the creek, and came to halt behind Persilope and the Council. Then a drum-beat arose and rolled steadily, the four keepers came out of the wood; Noche and Waddyn and two others I did not know or observe, except that they were not young and carried the occasion solemnly. The keepers took up their station on either side of the meadow, and the two foremost, saluting, passed on a little beyond the chief. Into the hollow square thus formed for her, came the maiden Ward.

First as she stood there, one realized in her 100figure the springing pose of immaturity, in her gaze the wraptness and fixity of the devotee. Altogether she was of so exquisite a finish and delicacy that one would wish to have plucked her like a flower. She was dressed in a smooth, seamless bodice of tawny skin, baring the throat and rounded upper arm; below that a skirt of thin green was shaped to her young curves by the vagrant wind. Her hair, which was all of burnt gold, powdered with ashes of gold, was drawn loosely back and confined close to her head, but fell free to her hips, blown forward, defining her like the sheath of a flower. Her brows also were touched with gold and the eyes under her brows were like agate at the bottom of a brook.

She wore no jewels but a thread of scarlet berries that, in its revealing femininity, in the way it took the curve of her slender throat and ran into the little hollow between her breasts, so seemed to me as if I had never seen a more endearing ornament. As she appeared among us,—for though she had walked very quietly out of the forest there was that appealing quality of her loveliness which gave to her coming the swiftness of a vision,—as she appeared 101thus, a ring of smiling ran sensibly about the hushed, observing circle.

She moved in the exultation of her shining mood, unconscious of the way her feet went or what eyes were upon her, to the sound of the shallow drums and the delicate high flutes. As the music dropped she stopped before Persilope, who stood forward a little with some formal words of ritual or salutation. I missed the exact words, all my attention taken up with what had happened to Mancha. He had been standing just behind the chief, and in the brief interval while Zirriloë had come ten steps or so out of the shadow, he had passed, as though her beauty had been some swift, vivifying shock, from being a grave beholder to an active participant of the occasion. Deep red surged up in his face and left it pale again, his eyes, which were blue, burned amber points and took her like a flame. He shook as though the joints of his spirit were loosed, and took the full red under-lip in his teeth to keep back the tide of strength that came on him as he looked at her. His breath came purringly. I saw the soul of the man lithe and rippling in him, the glint of his eyes, the mass and thickness of his body 102incredibly lifted and lightened by the consciousness of the Mate. He did not know what had happened to him, but he laughed to himself his joy in her, as she moved wrapped in her high errand down the still summer glade, and across the meadow.

“Herman! Herman! Do you see?” I whispered.

He was sitting on the fallen tree next to me, and as I moved my hand toward him in that vague pang following quick on the shock of inexpressible beauty, I felt his fingers cold. His lips were open and I saw his tongue move to wet them, like a man unconsciously athirst.

Beyond the clearing, thick purplish trunks of the redwood upbore the masses of foliage like a cloud. The space between the first twenty feet or so of their gigantic columns was choked with laurel and holly and ceanothus, pierced by long tunnels that the deer had made. Down one of these the two foremost of the keepers plunged and were lost behind the mask of loose, wild vines that festooned the front of the wood, lifting and falling in the wind that by mid-morning began to set seaward from the high ridges.

But the girl, some ten steps behind them, 103still in her half-seeing mood, missed the moment of the out-streaming of the vines, checked and faltered. The wind caught her dress and wrapped her in it, the drapery of vines swung out and caught her hair. Before the other keepers could come up with her, the long arm of Ravenutzi reached out from his point of vantage on a heavy, slanting trunk and gathered up the offending vines, holding them high and guardedly until the girl could pass. The detention was slight, but long enough for the annoyance of it to have pierced her abstraction before he let the curtain fall almost on the heads of the hurrying keepers, long enough for her to have looked up at Ravenutzi and accord to him the first conscious recognition of her solemn passage. Whatever flattery there might have been in that, it could not draw so much as a backward glance from him. With the swish of the long vines flung back upon the wall of boughs, he sprang forward from his perch, and as if that action had been the signal, drew with him a ring of staring faces toward the grassy spit by which the trail entered the meadow.

The music, which during the ritual had 104melted into the undertone of forest sounds, emerged again more pointedly human and appealing. It summoned from the bluish glooms an interest so personal and touching that it drew the Outliers from the shy wildness of their ways. The ring of watchers surged forward a step, the music rose like a sigh of expectation and ushered in a group of women who, without any order or solemnity, but with a great and serious kindness, supported a young woman in their midst. It was she who had been the Ward and was now to receive forgetfulness.

As soon as I saw Trastevera, upon whose arm she leaned, I understood that these were the former Wards, come to afford her such comfort as their experience justified. It was not until I saw her mother hurry forward crying: “Daria! Daria!” that I began to realize what need of comfort there must be. Evarra beside me stirred the Cup. Its faint aromatic odor was of a cold and sickly dread, reflected from Daria’s widened eyes on some secret surface of myself.

She was a pretty girl, warm-tinted, eyes of a wet gray, the broad brow and sensitive short lip of women whose happiness centers in approval. 105It was easy to read in her face that of all the restrictions of her Wardship the one against loving had been hardest borne; plain to be seen now in the way she clung to her mother, who took the face between her hands, that of all the forfeitures that lay in the blue flower of forgetfulness, that one of loving was most difficult to pay.

“O mother, mother,” she said, “I cannot bear it!”

She shuddered sick, looking on all she had lived among and knowing that she might never know them again with that one of herselves which stood hesitating between the meadow and the wood. There was not one of all those trails, if she set foot in it to-morrow, that she would know where it went or what she might meet in it. She was to die in effect, to leave life and memory, to wake mutilated in the midst of full-blooded womanhood, without childhood, girlhood, parents, intimates.

“O mother,” she said, “I cannot bear it!”

She clung crying to her mother’s hand, while the other women crowded comfort upon her.

“Indeed, Daria,” one assured her, “but I knew my mother. There were four others 106with me when I woke, but I knew her. I did not know what she was to me, nor any name to call her, but my heart chose her from among the rest, and I held out my arms.”

They said many more things to this purport, while the girl turned her face to her mother’s bosom as though she admitted all this, but it did not touch her case.

Then her father, coming forward, distressed for her, but somewhat more concerned for the situation, taking her by the shoulders, recalled her to herself.

“Daughter,” he said, “have you carried the honor of the Outliers so many years to fail us at the last? How do you make life worth remembering with broken faith? And who will respect you if you respect not your word?”

She cleared a little at that and recovered, so that she was able to go through with some dignity the farewells which the elders now came forward to bestow with fixed cheerfulness. Then came her young companions, saying, “We have nothing ill to remember of you, Daria,” and “Good-waking, Daria.” She broke out again, desperate rather than despairing.

107“Do not say so to me, I shall not drink it!”

“Shall not?” It was Persilope taking the Cup from Evarra, and moving forward as he spoke. “It is a word that has never been heard before from a Ward.”

Quick red leaped in Daria’s face, which she turned this way and that, searching the meadow for some prop to her determination. It seemed that she found it, though there was nothing I could read there but commiseration and disapproval.

“Shall not,” she breathed; and then quite low, sweeping his countenance once with her glance, and then fixing it steadily on the ground. “She did not drink it.”

The emphasis was slight, slighter than the flicker of her eyes toward Trastevera, but the impact of her meaning drove the chief’s wife from her. One scarcely saw Trastevera move, but there was now a rift between the two women, which widened with the shocked perception in the listening circle. Persilope’s recovery was instant, some sternness with it.

“What had been done,” he said, “was done by all the Council with good reason. But what reason is here beyond a girl’s protesting fancy?”

108Again Daria’s mutinous eyes searched the meadow, and her resistance rose visibly in advance of its support.

“Reason enough!” The group of young persons at the foot of the circle turned upon itself, and released the figure of a young man about thirty, tall and personable.

“I have reason”—his voice shook, as though the words had been too long repressed in him and escaped bubblingly—“the best of reasons, for I ... we love....”

He had hesitated an instant over the admission, wanting some quick assurance which flashed between the girl and him. Instantly it brought from the women, in whose care and keeping she had chiefly been, quick cries of protest and denial, falling almost on the stroke of his declaration.

“But you”—Persilope voiced the general knowledge—“you have been these three years at River Ward, you have not seen her.”

“Not for three years,” admitted the lover, “for as soon as I knew that I loved her I went away, that I might keep her honor and mine.” His thought worked uneasily, but he went on. “I have always loved her, but I had not told her so when it came my turn to serve with 109Mancha, and while I was away you chose her to be the Ward. I went back and served my time. When I returned to Deep Fern I saw her walking with the women in the cool of the morning and knew that I loved her. That was the year the water came down from Water Gate and tore up the valley. In the flood I carried her——”

He smiled; the inexpressible joyousness of the woodlander broke upward in the remembrance.

“The next day,” he said, “she sent me word to go back to River Ward, and I knew by that that she loved me. So I went, and by the evidence of the work I have done you know how I have loved her.”

“By the evidence of the faith I have kept,” said Daria, “you know how I have loved him.”

All this time I could see the faces of the men, especially of the girl’s father and of Prassade, growing sterner. Trastevera looked down, studying the pattern of the meadow grass. Persilope bit his lip in the midst, with the Cup in his hand, and the lover grew bolder.

“Is love so cheap a thing to you, Persilope, that you take it from us before we have tasted 110it? It is Daria I love as she is, as I have seen her grow from a child into a woman, not a stranger, looking at me with unremembering eyes. Let the men take up the Treasure and bury it again, as they did for Trastevera.”

“There was a reason,” the chief began, and stopped, as if he knew that to argue was to lose.

“Oh, a reason——” I do not know by what imperceptible degrees and mutual consentings the lovers had got across the open space to each other, but there they were, handfast, confronting him. “Reason you thought you had, but what good came of all your reasons seeing that Trastevera has lost the Far-Seeing for the sake of which she was excused from the Cup. Let them bury the Treasure again—or give it to the Far-Folk, for all I care, since nothing comes of it but wars and forgettings.”

He caught the girl to him fiercely as he spoke, irritated by the hardening of the elders’ minds against that very touch of wildness and rebellion by which he urged the disregard of custom. Whatever advantage he had with Persilope because of the precedent, he had lost by the hint of its insufficiency.

111“If,” said the chief, holding the bowl before him, “there had arisen any occasion, which I do not allow: if there had arisen such an occasion for doubting the wisdom of our former breach, it would be greater cause for our not admitting it now. Do you propose”—forestalling the rising thought—“to bring it to Council? Look around you and see that we who make the Council are already agreed.” The eyes of the young couple traveled about the group, they saw regret, but no relenting.

“If she forgets you,” said the chief more kindly, “she forgets also the pain of her forgetting, and you shall teach her to love again.”

“Girl,” said her father, “if you shame me there is no forgetfulness deep enough for that.”

I suppose that the mere acknowledgment of their love had eased the tension of dread, had waked, perhaps, that foolish human certainty of passion to survive the loss even of its own identity. Perhaps they had never had any real hope of avoiding the issue; insensibly, too, as the matter had increased in gravity, the young listeners had melted from the circle, leaving a ring of older, sterner faces, before 112which they felt their resolution fail. We saw the girl turn piteously in her lover’s arms.

“You,” she said, “at least will not forget me.”

“I will not forget.”

“See,” Persilope smiled faintly, and shaking a little of the pale green liquid from the bowl, “I have made it light for you.”

The girl kept her eyes on the young man. “And I am yours,” she urged; “whether or not I remember, I am yours.”

“Knowing or unknowing,” the young lover assured, “I call these to witness that you are mine.”

Daria put out her hand and took the bowl from Persilope, but her lover put his hand upon it over hers, holding it back until he charged her soul again.

She lifted the Cup and shuddered as she drank; once she faltered, but he pressed it firmly to her lips. No one moved in the listening circle. The wind was busy with the forest boughs; we saw the redwoods bend and the curdling of the water at the falls. We saw Daria’s head bowing on its slender stalk, like the wild white columbine which the wind shook behind her.

113“You will remember,” still her lover warned her.

“I will remember.”

She drooped, all her body lax with sleep, but still he propped her on his bosom. Her mother took up the girl’s flaccid hand in hers and fondled it softly; she did not urge her claim.

“Daria, Daria,” pleaded the lover, “say you will remember.”

She could not answer now except by the turning of her head upon his bosom; color, drained away by the drug, forsook her, the lips were open and a little drawn. He would have gathered her up then, but a motion from the elders stayed him.

“Remember, oh remember,” he called upon her soul, and the soul struggled to reassure him, but it lay too deep under Forgetfulness. With a shudder she seemed almost to cease to breathe. Evarra, stepping softly, lifted the relaxed lids and showed the eyes rolled upward, the pupils widened. She made a sign at which the circle parted and made way for the youth down the green aisles through which he bore her to his house.


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