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VI IN WHICH I AM UNHAPPY AND MEET A TALL WOMAN IN THE WOOD
When the vines dropped back from Ravenutzi’s hand upon the wall of boughs through which the Ward and her Keepers passed, it was as if the step that carried them out of sight of the Outliers had also carried them out of knowledge. Not an eye that any other eye could discover, nor any inquiring word strayed upon their vanished trail. In the three days before they returned to the Meet, or it was proper to mention them, they would have visited the King’s Desire, and Zirriloë would be informed of everything pertinent to that connection.

During these three days no Outlier concerned himself with their whereabouts lest he should be thought to have some concern about the Treasure. With the exception of 115Noche, I believe no Outlier had even so much as curiosity about it. It had been so long since any man had seen it, that until Noche’s account of what the cache contained began to be current, I think they had not any clear idea what the Treasure might consist in. It was something that the Far-Folk wanted and the Outliers did not mean they should get. The struggle kept alive in them tribal integrity and the relish for supremacy.

The practice of not speaking of the Treasure during the three days’ absence of the Ward, had taken on a rigidity of custom which Herman and I did not feel ourselves bound to observe. We could talk of the Treasure and of Zirriloë, and we did that same morning.

When the shadows were gathered close under the forest border, and even to our accustomed eyes there was no sign of the Outliers, other than the subdued sense of gladsome life spread on the pleasant air, I found a place I knew. There the creek went close about the roots of the pine between shallow sandy shoals, and there Herman came to talk to me of the Love-Left Ward. As he sat there at my feet pitching stones into the shallows, that effulgence 116of personality which had streamed from him at the opening of that day, and now suffused his manner with an unaccustomed warmth, lay quite beyond my reach.

Some of the dread with which Daria had met the obliteration of memory and identity, moved me to draw from Herman an assurance that nothing could quite wipe out from him all recollection of the fellowship and the good times we had had together. It began to appear an alarming contingency that I should be turned out at any moment in a strange country to find my way back to life in company with a man I did not know and whose disposition toward me was still to be learned. It would have become Herman to be very nice to me at this juncture, and while I sat feeling blankly for the communicating thread, he began to talk of the Ward.

“Some of the women should have gone with her,” he said; “somebody interested in her. It’s all stiff chaparral from here to the ridge. The girl will never stand it.”

“You don’t really know where they have gone,” I hinted, “and Daria doesn’t seem to have suffered.”

“Oh, Daria! But this girl needs looking 117after. You can see that it means a lot to her, losing—everything. She would have appreciated—things. That string of red berries now—she would have done justice to rubies.”

“The great necklace of red stones? Well, she probably knows where they are by this time.”

“A lot better use for them than keeping them in a hole in the ground,” Herman insisted, “especially when it costs the youth of a girl like that to keep them there.”

“I know at least one Outlier who will agree with you.”

“Who, then?”

“Mancha.”

“Did he say that? What makes you think so?”

I have often wondered why having gone so far I did not go further and tell Herman frankly what I thought I had discovered of Mancha’s state of mind. I have wondered oftener, if I had spoken then, if anything would have come of it different or less grievous than what did come. Whatever prevented me, I answered only that he seemed to me a man less bound by custom and superstition 118than his fellows, and Herman agreed with me.

“But I can tell you,” he said, “that Zirriloë wouldn’t hear of it. You can just see how her whole soul is bound up in the keeping of her vows. She could be true as death to—anybody.” He went on to say how he derived this assurance from the way the sun-touched color of her cheek spread into the whiteness of her neck, and from the blueness of the vein that ran along her wrist, and her springy walk. He ran on in this fashion taking my agreement very much for granted. What I really had thought was that in spite of her beauty and wraptness, the girl had rather a shallow face and would be as likely to be as much engrossed and as sure of herself in any other circumstances. And I was so much disappointed at Herman’s extraordinary failure of perception that I could not allow myself to say anything about it. I felt that a personal note must unreasonably attach to any woman’s attempt to show that a more beautiful one is not necessarily a woman of more personal fineness. I was so irritated with myself for being irritated that I was glad to hear Evarra calling down by the willows, and to leave Herman pitching 119pebbles into the shallows. Though it turned out that Evarra was asleep under a madroño and nobody had called me.

During those three days while the Ward and the keepers were away, there was a great deal going on in the fenced meadows and by Deer Lake and at the bottom of deep wells of shade in the damp cañons. It was a broken, flying festival, no two events of which took place successively in the same quarter, for the Outliers wished not to occupy ground long enough to leave upon it any mark of use by which House-Folk might suspect their presence. The great events of the Meet went on in so many places that nobody ever saw the whole of them. That was why I had no more talk with Herman and saw him but once or twice until Zirriloë came back again. I heard of him, though, and that in a manner and matter that surprised me very much.

The morning of the second day I went up with the girls to race in Leaping Water. We left the Middle Basin by a trail that took the side of the hill abruptly and brought us out at the foot of the second fall, above the long white torrent of the Reach. They meant to come down with the stream to the meadow 120again, and the game went to the one who was least out of water in that passage. I followed the windings of the creek as near as the undergrowth allowed and heard their laughter, now louder and now less than the water noises, and saw between the trees the flash of foam change to the glancing of white limbs, and the flicker of the sun on fair bodies as they drifted through the shallows. They took the falls feet foremost, curving to its flying arch, white arms wreathed backwards and wet hair blowing with the spray. The swimmers so mixed themselves with the movement of the water and the well-sunned, spacious day, that they seemed no more apart from it than the rush of the creek or the flicker of light on leaf surfaces displaced by the wind. They were no more obtrusive than that mysterious sense of presence out of which men derive gods and the innumerable fairy host.

I had walked thus in that awakened recognition of sentience in the wild, in which all Outland had become a dream which hunts along the drowsy edge of sleep. I had continued in it for perhaps half an hour, in such a state that though I had no idea where we were on the map, I believe I could have set 121out suddenly in the right quarter for home. I had not heard my name pronounced, but I began to be aware within myself that some one had called. I was so sure of it that, though I had no intimation yet of any presence, I began to look about. After a little trouble I made out Trastevera on the opposite bank, between the willows, making signs that she wished to speak to me, and yet enjoining silence. The creek widened here and the girls were coming down, following like trout. I saw her press back among the swinging boughs as they went by, and guessed that something more than the ordinary occasion of the day was astir. Presently, when we heard from below the splash of laughter as the swimmers struck the rapids, she came across to me.

“Where were you yesterday when Daria took the Cup?” she asked immediately.

“By Fallen Tree, not twenty steps from you—but you were so taken up with that affair that you did not see me.”

“You heard, then, what her young man said about”—she flushed sensitively—“his reasons for her not drinking. Have you heard anything of that in the Meet?”

“Nothing that need disquiet you.”

122This was not strictly true, for Evarra had told me that all those who had opposed Trastevera’s exemption ten years before were now justifying themselves in Daria’s rebellion.

“They are saying what I feared,” she said, “that it is a mistake to release the possessor of gifts from the common obligation.”

“They are wrong, then, for nothing has come of it but the momentary outburst of a sensitive spirit. After all, Daria fulfilled her vows.”

She looked at me curiously for a moment, as if she were not sure what to make of me. We were walking up and down behind the trees, her dress a-flutter, her small hands clasping and unclasping, her body rippling with the expressive accompaniment of excitement which was as natural to her as the unstrained stillness of repose.

“Do you not think it wrong,” she said, “when the findings of the Council are scorned, and I—even I—make secret occasion to talk of forbidden things?”

She wheeled upon me suddenly:

“And this plan which is hatched between your man and Mancha, perhaps you see no wrong in that?”

123She was too guileless herself to have taken that method on purpose, but I felt my spirit curling like a dried leaf out of all proportion to her news. I managed to answer steadily.

“He is not my man.” It did not occur to me until afterward that it would have been a surer form of denial not to acknowledge so readily what man. “And as for any plans he may have with Mancha or any other, I do not know what they are. Nor would I be interested except that I see it troubles you.”

All the time I was resenting unreasonably that Herman should have any plans with anybody and not broach them first to me.

“I do not know very well what it is myself,” she said more quietly, “except that it grows out of this unhappy episode of Daria’s. It must refer to the Wardship, because it is rumored about that the Meet, instead of breaking up on the evening when the keepers come back, will hold over another day for Council. That must be because they wish to talk of matters that may not be opened earlier. It is Mancha, I think, who wishes it. When some of the elders reproved Daria’s lover for having allowed himself to love a Ward, and for speaking so lightly of the Keeping, Mancha 124said that a man could not help where his heart went, and that there was too much truth in what the young man said. Myself, I cannot account for it.”

“I can,” I said, “and though you might not feel at liberty to question me, I at least may tell you that it has to do with the Ward. He is in love with her.” And I told her all that I had seen or surmised.

“And your friend?”

“Not knowing what his plan is, I cannot give his reasons.”

“Ah!” she said for all answer, and we walked on without saying anything further until I asked her what had become of Daria.

“Gone on her wedding month; they went away this morning as soon as she was fully recovered, having seen no one. They went out by Singing Ford. And even in that,” she added, “there is something to criticize, for it is not customary for any one to go away from the Meet while the Keepers are abroad. Oh,” she cried, striking suddenly upon her breast, “it is through me, through me, that all this breaking of custom comes.”

“Why do you care so much? All customs 125pass and in the end are replaced by better ones.”

“If that is not so,” she said, “if it is not so, Daria’s lover was right.”

She walked a little from me and bit her hands, as though she would have eaten down the mortification of one who sees harm come through what is best in him. Having recovered herself a little came to ask me when I had last seen Ravenutzi, and if I had observed anything unusual in him. I had not, and naturally wished to know if she had.

“The shadow,” she said, “the long shadow.”

“Has it come again?”

“It lies at his feet, it stretches behind him and blots out the good day, it runs before him and covers the Outliers when they sit happy and at ease. Oh, I am weary because of it, and yet I can find no fault with him. During the last three days, which must have tried him, he has been most discreet. But did you think”—she turned to me—“when he broke in upon the singing to provoke debate, that he meant to turn the talk to some other meaning than it had?”

“I thought so.”

“Then I am sure of it. Listen,” she said; 126“if this is true what you tell me about Mancha, I shall have enough to watch, for the greatest danger will be when the Ward comes home again.”

“Why then?”

“She will have been six months away from her friends, she will be tired in body and the glow of the ceremonial will be gone, her heart will turn toward her family, and the secret will weigh upon her. Then, if ever, she will need counsel and support—when she comes back—when she first comes.” She said the words over to herself. “Mancha I can trust as far as I can trust any man in love; but the girl—I will say no more of her than that she is much like other girls. I shall be busy there. Ravenutzi I cannot watch, he disturbs me too much. Do you see as much of him as possible and bring me word.”

There being no reason why I should not, I promised readily, and so concluded the interview.

I was anxious though to see Herman as soon as possible, and sent Lianth that evening to ask him to come to the middle meadow when the stars came out in the blue above the dim, receding ranges. But he did not come, though 127I walked there a long time and saw the dark well out of the cañons. I felt the night scents begin to stir with the little winds, and the tall sequoias bend their tops and talk together, and my heart cracked with expectancy with every snapped twig and rustling of wild things going down to drink. I shouldn’t have minded his not coming if he had anything else to do, but I minded being kept waiting for him. I minded it still more the next morning when I met him at Fallen Tree and he said, quite as if he had not thought of it until that time:

“Oh, by the way—I was down at the Hollow last night with Mancha and some of the others. Was it anything particular you wanted to say to me?”

Well, of course, I had supposed it was rather particular when I had given him such an opportunity to tell me all about his plan and get forgiven for not telling it before. I had meant to warn him that Trastevera, and so, of course, Persilope, had reason to distrust his mixing himself too much in the affairs of Outland. But of course if he didn’t see it that way himself there was no occasion for me to be concerned about it. So I said:

128“No, nothing particular.”

“Well,” he said, “when this affair is all over”—just as if it were in any wise his affair—“we must get together and have a good talk somewhere.” And though it was mid-morning and there was nothing whatever to do if he wished to talk, he went off up the creek, and that was the last I saw of him until evening.

Directly after noon I took Lianth with me and went out toward the Leap and then up the bank of a tributary rill, and so into a part of the wood where the Outliers did not much frequent. Lianth, who was a great talker, grew more and more quiet as my replies were more absent, and the way grew steeper. We could see the ground rising in front of us through the trees, and hear the noise of the creek falling far behind.

The boy was walking very close to me, and there was a shy color coming in his cheek; he glanced right and left under his half long lashes and came very close.

“Well, isn’t she?” he said. “Isn’t she as beautiful as I said—you know who?”

“Zirriloë?”

“Well, isn’t she?”

129“Lianth,” said I, “if you think I have brought you out here to give you a chance to talk about forbidden things, you are mistaken. I came because I wished to be alone. I’m going a little farther among the trees, and don’t you come until I call you.”

He was helping me up over a broken ledge as I spoke, and stopped there looking at me irresolutely.

“You aren’t going to try and run away, are you? You look as though you were—from something.”

“Only from you. You can give the call, and if I don’t answer you can come to look for me.”

I had learned already many of the Outland methods of communicating by forest notes rather than trust to the betraying, high-pitched human voice. None of these was of more use to me than the call for refuge. If any Outlier wished to be private in his place, he raised that call, which all who were within hearing answered. Then whoever was on his way from that placed hurried, and whoever was coming toward it stayed where he was until he had permission to move on. Though Lianth was somewhat taken aback at my demand, 130I knew I should have some little space unmolested.

I climbed on between great roots of pines where the litter lay in hummocks between the tracks of winter torrents, and Lianth had called twice before I bethought myself to answer him and claim a longer time. I lay down at last in a place where the scrub was a screen to me, and before I understood what had happened, the laboring breath of my climbing had burst into thick, choking sobs. I lay face down on the pine litter and was most terribly shaken with the grief of some dumb, wounded thing in me that did not know its hurt, but wrenched and cried a long time unrelievingly. It was so new a thing for me to cry and so strange, that though I knew this was what I had come there for, I did not know why I was torn so almost to the dividing of soul and spirit. The crying lasted a long time, and I was so exhausted by it that it was only by faint degrees I became aware of eyes upon me. I roused up hastily, afraid lest in the violence of my grief I had failed to answer some inquiry of Lianth’s and he had come to find me.

Instead, I met the curious, commiserating 131eyes of a woman fixed on me through the leafage of the scrub. As soon as she perceived that I saw her she parted the brush and came through, holding it still in her hands behind her, as though it were a door of exit to be kept open. I saw at once by her figure, which was slight and tall, by her dark hair and by her dress, that she was not one of the Outliers. Over her tunic she had wound a long cloak of dark stuff, concealing her limbs, and over that bound vines and wreathed the leaves in her hair, for adornment or concealment. As she stood in the shadow there was little to be discerned of her but the thin oval of her face and the long throat clasped by linked silver ornaments finely wrought.

“You are not of the Outliers?” she questioned, though I felt she was already sure of the fact.

“I am their prisoner.”

I thought she seemed pleased at that, more pleased if, with a swift searching of my swollen eyes, I could have answered yes to her next question.

“They do not treat you well? But no”—answering herself—“it is not so that captives cry. What is your name?”

132“Mona.”

She said it over two or three times to fix it in her memory; and then, caution and curiosity struggling in her:

“You have just come from them? You know them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you”—I could see the pulse of her long throat and the bushes shake behind with her agitation—“do you know Ravenutzi?”

“I know him.”

“Is he well? How does he look? Is he happy?” Impossible to conceal now what the question meant to her.

“He is well. As to his looks—sometimes he looks younger, sometimes older. His hair, I think, is not so gray.”

“Not so gray?”

“I think he dyes it.” I do not know why I should have said this, except as I saw that no detail of him was too small to seem trivial to her.

“Oh!” she said, startled, looking at me queerly. “Oh!” she gave a short laugh, “you think he dyes it. Is he happy?”

I considered.

“You are one of the Far-Folk, I believe, 133and though I am prisoner, the Outliers have been friends to me. I am not sure I ought to answer you.”

She let go of the bushes and came a step nearer in her anxiety.

“As you are a woman who has wept in secret, and by the hurt which brought your tears,” she said, “only tell me if he is well and happy. Surely that cannot touch your honor.”

“I have already said he is well. He has the vigor of a young man. As for happiness—he says very little, and that not of himself. At least he is not openly unhappy.”

“Tell me,” she urged, “if you could imagine that in his own land he is well loved, that there is one there who lives in him, dreams of him, counts the hours; could you say that he found the time of his hostage heavy because of her?”

“He is thoughtful at times, and walks by himself. Otherwise I could not judge. I have not loved myself.”

For answer she let her eyes wander pointedly over my disfigured face and fallen hair.

“Tell me again,” she said after an interval. “This girl who is the Ward, is she very beautiful?”

134“Very;” but not so beautiful as you, I thought, for there was in the vivid red of her fine lips, in the purple of her eyes and the delicate tragic arch of her brows, in the long throat and bosom, all that fire and motion of passion which the Ward’s face hinted at elusively. I was casting about for a way of saying this to her not too boldly when I was advised by the tapping of her foot on the needles that she would not be turned from her inquiry.

“And Ravenutzi, is he interested in her? Is he much about her? Does she care for him?”

“She is the Ward,” I said, “she may not think of men; and besides, she is only a girl, her thought would hardly turn to a white head.”

“True, true”—she pinched her lip with thumb and forefinger—“I had forgotten; as you say, he is a very old man. No doubt he might be judged old enough to have speech with her.”

I, not seeing fit to reply to that, rose and stood looking at her, very curious on my own account, but knowing very well that I should get nothing from her except what pleased her.

135“Shall I tell him you inquired for him?” I wished politely to know, and was startled at her whiteness.

“Ah, no, no! Do not tell him—tell no one lest he hear of it; he would be very angry, he would——” She recovered herself. “Ravenutzi is very honorable. He would not wish to break the terms of his hostage, which are that he should not communicate with the Far-Folk for three years. It is a long time,” she said piteously.

“A long time.”

“Then,” she said, “if you could understand how I—how his friends would wish to assure themselves that he is well, you can see that we would not wish him disturbed by knowing how much he is missed.”

“I understand very well.”

“Then”—relieved—“you will perhaps tell no one that you have seen me. And if I could come so near again—I could not have managed it except that they are all busy at their Meet—if I could let you know, you would not deny me?”

I suppose the exhaustion of long sobbing had left me in a yielding mood. I saw no harm in satisfying her anxiety, and said so, 136though I added that I might not be long myself among the Outliers.

“If you are there I will find a way to let you know,” she assured me, and with that she threw herself into the arms of the waiting wood, which received and seemed to snatch her from my view.


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