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VII HERMAN DEVELOPS HIS IDEA
On the third day, when the shadows were all out full length in the upper basin, the sun blinking palely from behind a film of evening gray, the Maiden Ward came back. Some children paddling for trout in the soddy runnels saw her come and ran crying the news among the evening fires. Hearing it the women all ran together distractedly, declaring that there could be no proper welcome with no men about. This, I thought, was very quickly noted by the girl, glancing this way and that, losing a little of the high carriage and manner as she saw how few observed it.

The girl was white, her eyes strained wide in dark circles of fatigue. Streakings of her fair body showed through the torn dress. I saw her check and stumble, putting out her hands blindly, overburdened by her hair. 138Remembering what importance Trastevera had attached to this returning, I looked about for her, ready to serve or see. Before I could reach her, up came Ravenutzi from his pot of coals and anvil of flint stone down where the rush of the cascade covered the tinkle of his hammers. I could not help noting the likeness between him and Trastevera as he came, putting off his smith’s apron ready to her use like a proffered tool. Some nods, I think, a gesture or two of Trastevera’s, were all that passed between them. Some essential maleness leapt up in him at the motions of those small talking hands, and took command of the situation. I found myself running with the women at his word to spread skins for the Ward to rest upon, and ordering the children in two lines to some show of ceremonial welcome. There were some young brothers of hers in that band, and as she kissed them heartily I saw tears stealing, and realized how young she was and how hard a thing she had undertaken. She stood with a palm behind her flat against a pine for support, overtired and wanting her mother, no doubt, who was not allowed to come to her. Finally the women took her away to rest.

139In all this I had never seen Ravenutzi show to so great advantage. When we were quite alone Trastevera put out her hand to him as she did not often in the presence of Outliers.

“Kinsman,” she said, and it was the first time I had heard her call him that, “I owe you thanks for this.”

She meant more than that he had contrived some warmth for what must otherwise have seemed to Zirriloë a cold returning. She was thankful that it had been his wrinkles and streaked grayness to meet the Ward rather than the hot eyes and shining curls of Mancha.

“I do not know how it is,” said she, “I never pitied myself for being the Ward, but somehow this pink girl seems to need to be pitied.”

“Any bond,” said Ravenutzi, “will wear at times,” and said it with a wistful back-stroke of self-commiseration that caused me to think swiftly of several things. I reflected that in his own place among the Far-Folk he must have been more of a man than the Outliers conceded to any smith. Next, that the condition of tame cat, which his hostageship incurred, pressed more heavily on him than they were in the habit of thinking. Also I thought of the tall woman, but I did not deliver the 140comforting reassurance about her which came readily to my tongue. There was so intimate and personal a quality in his brief surrender to our sympathy that it made the mention of another woman an intrusion. It began to seem likely that she could not be so much to him as he to her. That would account both for her anxiety not to have him know of her inquiry, and for his not having mentioned her to Trastevera.

We continued walking up and down under the linked pines, without many words, but with a community of understanding, which led later to Trastevera’s opening to him more of her anxieties than she realized. In the course of an hour or two the women brought the Ward back again, and made her a little entertainment of compliments and songs. There was a hard, bright moon in a pale ring, and the breath of the young year stealing through the forest.

Prassade sang, and Evarra’s man and old Noche. The women sang all together, rocking, as they sat, but Ravenutzi sang the most and most movingly. Mancha sang nothing; sat off fondling his weapon, and drank the girl’s looks. She was very lovely, had got back 141a little of her saint’s separateness which became her, and the conscious support of being admired. If she had looked at him, she might have seen his heart swimming under his gaze, but I could not see that she did. What favor she was disposed to show went to Ravenutzi, praising his songs and affecting to be affected. I thought she built too much on the mere incident of his having been the only one of the men to meet her. It was a mere accident growing out of the nature of his work, but it was natural, perhaps, to have rewarded him for it. The women took her away early, and nothing whatever had happened.

The next day, which ordinarily would have seen the parting of the Meet, occurred the Council, which broke up in some disorder, without having accomplished anything. Very early a blind fog came nosing up from the sea, cutting between the round-backed hills, shouldering them like a herd-dog among sheep. It threaded unsuspected cañons, and threw up great combs of tall, raking trees against its crawling flanks. It gripped the peaks, spreading skyward, whirling upon itself in a dry, ghostly torrent. The chill that came with the fog drove us down toward Deep 142Fern, to a sun-warmed hollow defended by jutty horns of the country rock. Shed leaves crackled under us, the wind and fog were stayed by the tall pines at our backs, the sun warmed whitely through the hurrying mist.

Evarra and some others of the women were there, Zirriloë and the two keepers beginning their daily turns, and Ravenutzi, sitting with his long knees drawn up under his clasped hands. Somewhere out of sight the men were holding council on a matter they had not seen fit to speak to us about. We had scarcely settled ourselves on the warm leaf-drift when one of them came to the head of the Hollow and shouted for Noche. There were so many of us about, the old man could have safely left the Ward but it seemed to him scarcely courtesy to do so with her Wardship yet so new. He glanced around through the smother of the fog and found not another man who could be spared to that duty. Ravenutzi, with his chin upon his knees, and his velvety opaque eyes looked idly at nothing, but was aware of the old man’s difficulty. Noche clapped him heavily on the shoulder.

“Hey, smith,” he said, “will you take a watch for me? I am wanted.”

143At this the man who leaned to us dimly from the rim of the Hollow gave a grunt.

“What,” he said, “will you set the Far-Folk to watch a Ward? These are gentle times.”

“Why, he is as gray as I am, and twice as wrinkled,” answered Noche, mightily disconcerted. “Would you have him come to the Council instead?”

The other laughed shortly.

“No, not to the Council, though I daresay it will come to that yet.”

He released the young tree upon which he leaned, which sprang back with a crackling sound. From his silence Noche drew consent to his half-jesting proposal and, smiling embarrassedly, like a chidden child, swung his great body up by the trunk of a leaning oak and disappeared behind the smoky fog. By such intimations we knew there was something going forward among the men, but we did not know how much of this the Ward, who was most involved by it, surmised. She might have guessed from our not referring to these mysterious comings and goings that it concerned the keeping of the Treasure. She grew uneasy, started at sounds, would have 144Trastevera hold her hand, was in need of stroking and reassuring.

The fog increased, hurrying and turning upon itself. Runnels of cooler air began to pour through it, curling back the parted films against the trees. Now and then one of these air-streams, deflected by the rim of the Hollow, would rush up its outer slope, blowing leaves and dust like a fountain, and, subsiding, leave us more sensible of warmth and ease, in the thick leaf litter below the oaks.

Ravenutzi came over to Trastevera, who sat holding the Ward’s hand, and stretched himself at her feet, smiling up at her his fawn’s smile. He held up his hand between him and the pale smear of sunlight with one of those slight, meaningful gestures so natural to him that it served as a more delicate sort of speech: “Surely it seemed to say, to-day not even I can cast a shadow?”

Trastevera, like one too deep in thought to rise to the surface of words, smiled back. Not finding himself in disfavor, Ravenutzi ventured a little more to lure her from disturbing meditation. He turned upon his side, leaning on his elbow, and began to sing. His voice was mellow and of a carrying quality, with a 145tang in it like the taste of the honey-comb in wild honey. Some half-governed energy of passion kept it under his breath as the warm earth was held under the smother of the fog. It was a song of the Far-Folk, I know, for there were some words in it not common to the Outliers, but it had their method of carrying the mood in the movement and the mind of the singer, rather than in the words.
“‘Oh, a long time.’

it said,
‘Have I been gathering lilies in the dawn-dim woodland.
‘Oh, long—long!’”

and ran on into a sound like the indrawing of breath before tears, and began again:
“Scented and sweet is the house
And the door swings outward,
It is made fair with lilies:
But there are no feet on the trail to the house
And the door swings outward.
Long, O long, have I been gathering lilies.”

146Just that, three times over; and the first time of the singing it was a girl wreathing herself with flowers and looking down the trail, sure of her lover but sighing for his delay. Then it was the tall woman I had met in the wood, keeping her empty house with fierce loyalty through the years of his hostage.
“Long, oh long, have I been gathering lilies!”

Finally it was a heart made fair with unrequited tendernesses, singing to itself through all the unimpassioned years. Strangely it was I singing that song and walking through it in a bewildered mist of pain.

I do not know how long it was after Ravenutzi ceased before I could separate myself from the throbbing of the song. I was recalled sharply by the wish to comfort Zirriloë, whose young egotism, suffering perhaps in the withdrawal of attention from herself, had startled us all by turning her face on Trastevera’s shoulder and bursting into tears. It was pure hysteria, I thought, but she was so very pretty in it. There was such appeal of childishness in the red, curling lip, the trembling of her delicate bosom, that I was drawn 147in spite of myself into the general conspiracy to restore her to the balance of cheerfulness. Ravenutzi, realizing that his song was in a manner to blame, was so embarrassed in his dismay and so wistful of our good opinion, that the girl was obliged to come out of her tears to reassure him. He, to requite the forgiveness, began to be at once so gay and charming in his talk that in a very little time we had returned to that even breathing lightness of mood which was the habit of the Outliers. Content welled out of the earth and overflowed us like some quiet tide, disturbed only as some sharp jet of human emotion sprang up fountain-wise momentarily beyond the level, and dropped back again to vital, pulsing peace.

We had no more disturbances that day, and I felt that Trastevera, much as she was concerned about the Council, could only have been thankful for so commonplace an occasion. We were both glad that the quick-blooded Mancha had business, which kept him out of the way until the Ward had recovered a little from the self-consciousness of her situation. When about three hours had gone over us, Persilope came stooping under the hanging 148boughs, gave us Good Friending somewhat briefly, and took his wife away with him. From time to time after that, one or another woman slipped away, answering some call of her mate out of the mist. When we heard the fluttering shriek of a hawk given rapidly twice, and again impatiently, without space for replying we all laughed.

“That is your man, Evarra! One would think the woods were a-fire!”

Evarra blushed.

“Assuredly, he would set them a-fire when he is in that state if he did not find me.” She made a sign to me. “Come,” she said; “now we shall hear what it is all about.”

The Council, so Evarra’s husband told us, was not the immediate outcome of the incidents of the Meet. Matter for it had been growing these ten years past, ever since the unearthing and reburial of the Treasure had been undertaken on Trastevera’s account. It had been so long since they had any feeling of its reality, except as the point on which their honor hung! But after Noche had seen the Treasure, the craftsman’s soul of him was forever busy with the wonders of it, brooding on the fire of its jewels as a young man on the 149beam of a maiden eye. All the children who had come to maturity these ten years past had been nourished on the Treasure tale, livened and pointed by Noche’s account. With the advent of the hostage, interest in the King’s Desire as a possession had rather increased through the awakened appreciation of smith’s work among them. Ravenutzi had made curious ornaments for the women of bits of metal found in deserted summer camps, the patterns of which reproduced, so far as the Far-Folk remembered them, the wrought gold of the King’s jewels.

Both the items which were responsible for this liveliness of curiosity—the exemption of Trastevera and consequent reburial of the Treasure, and the acceptance of the hostage—had been strongly opposed by part of the Council. Now they thought themselves justified by the turn of events. They thought further that the incident of Daria and her lover called loudly for measures which should stem this current of departure from old usage. A Ward had been released from her obligation of forgetfulness; another had ventured to plead for it. A young man had loved a Ward and dared to avow it during the term of her 150Wardship. Here was one of the Far-Folk teaching smitheying to the Outliers. Here were House-Folk going about among them talking of forbidden things. Matter enough for Council if ever Council was. More disconcerting, here was Mancha, Ward of the Outer Borders, Mancha of the Hammerers, who had opposed the hostage and stood for the inviolateness of obligation, come out suddenly as the leader, the precipitator, of revolt. Evarra’s man fumed over this and the probable reason for it. Upon which point, though I was at no loss myself, I did not see fit to enlighten him.

The Council had begun soberly in the consideration as to whether some formal penalty should be visited on the Ward who had dared to love, and the man who had ventured to love her. It had been disrupted widely by the question, which seemed to spring up simultaneously among the younger men, as to why there should be a Ward at all.

It was the nature and the exquisite charm of the life of Outland that it could not carry superfluous baggage either of custom or equipment. Question as to the continuance could not have arisen had there not run before it 151some warning of dead weight, like the creaking of a blasted bough about to fall. Such warning they had in the incidents about which the Council was met. The mere question was not so disquieting as the speech Mancha made upon it, a speech which, proceeding from an impulse perhaps not very well defined in his own mind, and not guessed by his audience. His private determination to get Zirriloë free so that he might make love to her, was neither very direct in its process nor clear in its conclusion.

Why, said Mancha, waste the youth of a girl, always the chiefest and loveliest, keeping a Treasure for which the Far-Folk had ceased to struggle. Did they not prefer pilferings of House-Folk? Had they not sold their best man for a free passage to the Ploughed Lands? Honor, said he, had been kept alive by the custom of the Maiden Ward. But was honor so little among the Outliers that they had to buy it at the price of a girl’s love-time?

Moreover, declared Mancha of the Hammerers, it was a form of honor which they did not trust her to keep. Besides, keeping was the business of men. Further, said the Ward of the Outer Borders, not having made it very 152clear where his speech tended up to this point, there was a better way of keeping the Treasure effectively out of reach of the Far-Folk. There was a way costing them nothing of which, since it was new to him, and he no speech-maker—this much was sufficiently clear at any rate—he begged leave to let Herman of the House-Folk put for him. This was what broke and scattered the Council like a blast of wind on burning leaves. They blew out this way and that, sparking and flaring, saying it was an incredible thing and impossible that the House-Folk should come to Council, or, coming, should have anything to say worth hearing. Some blamed Mancha and some the occasion. Some there were who laughed, unbound their slings and went hunting. Said they:

“This is mere child’s talk, when you have business afoot call us.”

Others, deeply angered at the flouting of old customs, went out suddenly, picked up their women with a sign and set out without farewells for their own places. Of these we heard nothing again until a greater occasion grown out of that same slighted Council called them.

There were many, however, and these chiefly 153of the younger men, who stayed to hear Herman’s idea, which was as he explained to me a little later at the pine tree by the shallows, perfectly feasible. It was nothing less than that the Outliers should become, as he said, civilized.

“It is quite impossible, you know, that they should go on living like this indefinitely. They are practically cut off from the sea already, and every summer there are more and more campers. Think how these hills would be overrun, and with what sort of people, if we went back to Fairshore and told what we know of the Treasure?”

“Well, we aren’t going to be allowed to. Do you remember last summer how one of a hunting party in these same hills wandered away from his companions and was found afterwards, dazed and witless? He was thought to have had a fall or something. But now I know that like us, he stumbled on the Outliers and they gave him the Cup.”

“That may work very well when they get us singly,” Herman agreed, “but a whole party of campers now—the wonder is they have been exempt so long. Their trails go everywhere.”

154I could have reminded Herman then of one who walked in their trails and believed them trodden out by deer, who caught them nearly at their faggot gathering and thought only of wood-choppers. Or I might have asked him if even now he could find any Outlier in the woods who did not wish to be found. But I waited to hear the whole of his idea.

“They are getting no good out of their Treasure as it is, and paying too dear for its keep. A girl like Zirriloë ought to be married, you know ... with all that capacity for loving ... what a wife she would make ... for ... anybody.” I had not said anything to the contrary, but Herman took on an insisting tone. “She would pick up things,” he said, “and her beauty would carry her anywhere——” He broke off, staring into the brown shallows as if he were watching of that beauty carrying her somewhere out of the bounds of her present life, and the sight pleased him.

“But your idea?”

“Well, it’s only that they should take up their Treasure, abolish all this business of the Ward, and with the proceeds of the jewels buy themselves a tract of land in which the law could protect them from the encroachments 155of House-Folk and Far-Folk alike. I know a man in the forestry bureau who would be able to tell me how it could be managed.”

He said that with so great an implied indifference to any objection I might entertain, that I began to feel a very quick resentment. I began to wonder if that old inclusive sympathy had ever been at all, if indeed it had not grown, as I felt this whole Outland experience to have done, out of my expectant wish for it.

“It would mean so much to us ... to those of us who care about such things,” he corrected himself, as if already a little less sure of me, “to have their social system working in plain sight. Their notions of the common good ... I’ve talked with the men a bit ... what they’ve worked out without any of our encumbrances, if they could take it up now with all our practical advantages—the University might establish a sort of protectorate——But you don’t seem to care for the idea, Mona.”

I don’t know what I thought of the idea as a solution of the troubles of the Outliers. I thought of a great many practical objections 156afterward, but just then I knew what I thought of Herman for proposing it.

They were our Outliers—or I might have said my Outliers, for I had imagined them, believed in them and discovered them. It was only Herman’s interest in me which had brought him within their borders. It was a unique and beautiful experience, and it was ours. We had said that and had felicitated ourselves so many times on its being an experience we were having together. If we forgot it we must have even our forgetfulness in common as we had so many things—and here was Herman willing to throw it open to the world as an experiment in sociology. If Herman felt that way about it, how was I to claim that exquisite excluding community of interest in which the adventure had begun!

“I daresay,” I answered quickly, for I had thought all this while he talked to me, “that it is as good as most ideas of yours, but it doesn’t interest me.” And I walked away and left him staring into the water.


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