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VIII IN WHICH HERMAN’S IDEA RECEIVES A CHECK

To the dry fog succeeded showers and intervals of super clearness. Vast blunt-headed clouds blundered under a high, receding heaven. Brown croisers of the fern uncurled from the odorous earth, some subtle instinct responded to the incessant stir of sap. The Outliers left off debating to run together flock-wise in the recrudescence of the year. The wet wood was full of whispering, all hours of the night feet went by bearing laughter, not loud but chuckling and daring.

Nevertheless, the clearing of the weather did not scatter them. Some there were whose affairs had called them at the end of the Meet. A few had gone in displeasure at the turn of the Council. Mancha’s supporters, and they were chiefly the young men, remained 158in the neighborhood of Leaping Water and Deep Fern, to which we had moved when the rain began. Fretted argument would go on where two or three of the men were met, disrupting suddenly. There was a sense of expectancy abroad. Men watched the Ward for more than her beauty as she went with the keepers, in a green gown like the sheath of a bud, her face a flower.

Ravenutzi got from Herman what silver coins he had, and smithied them into a brooch for her; it was rumored that you would find the twin of that pattern in the King’s Desire. Women grew curious, questioned me how the House-Folk lived and loved. They laughed and looked sidewise, but listened.

All this curious possibility of Herman’s idea, and the pricking sense of stir and change, drew off attention from Mancha’s passion, which burned up to the betraying point. Trastevera, who remained steadily aware of his state, credited to it mistakenly all her unease and intimations of disaster. Trouble ranged openly in the wood, but hid its face. It seemed to swell at times toward betrayal: I could see small hair bristling on the necks of the men when they had sat quietly 159together, or one would throw up his head like an uneasy hound. I think as the newness of Herman’s proposal began to wear down, some of them became aware of Mancha’s state, but said nothing lest, uncovered too much in speech, it would burst the quicker into scandal.

He had very little talk with the girl, as little communication was allowed, even in company, and Mancha made no special occasions. Anywhere in her trail you might come upon him mooning upon a flower she had dropped, the bough she had leaned upon, the crumpled fern. He would sit in the pleasant pauses of the noon, the joints of his face loosened, his gaze swimming as he looked at her, his hair above his face was like pale fire. He was all molten white with passion; if the girl breathed upon him he would have burst ravening into flame.

Trastevera was afraid that the Ward, quick, for all her simple seeming, to observe her effect upon men, would become aware of Mancha’s love for her and kindle her imagination at the vanity of this conquest. Any girl might well have been touched by the love of a man worth so much as men are accounted worth. 160Ravenutzi knew, and managed to make his knowledge seem to grow out of his wish to relieve the perturbation of Trastevera, of whom he was always considerately observant.

There was a quick sympathy of instinct between those two dark ones, and he served her with that fatal appeal to women, of sweetness struggling with some baser attribute, toward her good opinion. He had the air when in her presence, and under her approbation, of having climbed into it out of some native unworthiness.

It was an air calculated to make any woman generous in the bestowal of her company. By degrees Trastevera fell into the way of letting him serve her by interposing a screen between Zirriloë and the Hammerer’s too unguarded gaze. Often in the still noons when Mancha’s adoring mind burned through all the drowsy silences, he would make a diversion, singing or relating one of his long tales.

For my part, I was not so sure either of Mancha’s inarticulateness or of Zirriloë’s unconsciousness.

I have times now of believing that the girl had observed him, and contrived ways to keep our attention turned on the possible chance of 161his passion coming to a head. Though I cannot now name any single circumstance that points the suspicion, except as I came finally to believe her capable of any duplicity! I remember how Lianth attached himself to Mancha with what seemed then the natural devotion of youth to a hero. Now this appears as a subtle movement of jealousy, to bring himself more to attention by keeping in conspicuous company.

The girl herself had a trick lately of turning her head; little fluttering, nesting movements as she sat, pretty pursing of the lips, as of a woman knowing herself adored. She had a way, when left to herself, of letting her work fall in her lap, lips a little apart and dreaming eyes. There was a soft flutter of her young breast like a dove’s; a woman owned adorable.

There was more, though it never came to the point where I was justified in speaking of it. Once in the clear interval between the rains, I walked beside the tributary rill that watered the meadow of Deep Fern and saw the Ward sitting close against a bank clothed thick with laurel and azaleas, an impenetrable screen. She had been helping Noche and one of the women strip willows for fish-weirs. 162The two keepers were down by the streamside, steeping the white wands and turning them in the water in full sight of her and scarcely out of earshot. Whatever Noche and the woman might have been saying was cut off by the frothy gurgle of the creek. They said it to one another without so much as an over-shoulder glance at Zirriloë. Yet there she sat by the laurel bank, listening.

Plainly she listened; with her head turned a little aside, the lips curling and the lids half drawn on the luminous dark eyes. A woman beguiled if ever there was one! Behind her the laurel swayed slightly though there was no wind. It swayed and showed the light underside of leaves, and then was still as I came walking by the waterside and Noche called to me.

I had to walk some distance down the creek to the stepping-stones and across them toward the laurel bank. Before I had gone very far on that trail I met Ravenutzi returning by it. I had no sooner caught sight of him than there flashed up in him that suffusing spark of personality, so excluding of all other considerations that it gave to our casual meeting the appearance of a thing done for its own sake. 163That was why I did not go on to discern to what or whom Zirriloë had listened, but I found myself turning in the trail to walk back with him, quite as if, as his manner assumed, I had come out on it expressly to meet him. He began to tell me at once, as if that were the object of his excursion, that he had not found some herbs on the high bank that Evarra had sent him for, and that he thought they could hardly be out of the ground yet.

“And did you meet any one in the wood as you came through?” I remember asking, my thoughts returning to the Ward.

“Only Mancha.”

He gave me an odd, quick, sidelong look as he spoke, and began to talk of other things, as if he had seen more than that and did not mean to tell. Whether he had kept the same inviolacy with Trastevera, or she herself had seen something, the very next day she sought out the Hammerer, sitting on the burl of redwood, nursing his hammer between his knees, and taxed him with his passion for the Ward and its unworthiness.

He admitted the fact but not that it discredited him. He would not remind Trastevera 164that she had been excused from part of the obligation of her Wardship, but he said:

“Am I worth so little to the Outliers that they would not excuse this girl to be my wife? Ay, I want her,” he confessed; then as his stout-built body thrilled at the thought, threw out his arms, reddening, and laughed shamelessly.

“Do you know the rocking-stone on the top of the ledge by The Gap, that four men can barely stir on its pivot? I could rock it into the river to-day with the strength of my wanting.”

“And what would come in through the River Wall if you did?” said she; but Mancha would not talk of that.

“Do you know,” he said, “what the years of my life are to me, the years I have gone mateless? They are the stops in a pipe that plays a tune to my need of her. I hear them piping behind me and my blood runs to the music.”

“It shall play you a ten years’ measure yet,” she answered him, “before it pipes you your desire.”

“Not ten moons,” he insisted.

“Then,” said she, “it will pipe death to you and to your honor.”

165He hid his face in his hands at that, groaned and bit upon his fingers. At last:

“I thought I should have had sympathy from you who have loved so well,” he said.

She could not deny him the comfort he so sorely needed on that point, but neither could she let him go without advising him what confusion must come of his persistence in his unhappy passion. He heard her, sliding his great hammer from hand to hand as though it were the argument balancing this way and that in his mind.

“True, true,” he would admit; “it is all true that you say.” And more quietly, as she went on with an ingenuity of entreaty and explication: “You are right, Trastevera, you are always right;” and at last: “I thank you for this, Trastevera; now I see what I must do.”

He stood up, putting her aside, for she had got down on the ground attempting to stay the rocking of his hammer as she would have stopped the wavering of his mind. He stretched himself under the redwood and rapped so loudly with his weapon on the trunk that the squirrels and nuthatches in the upper stories came out to see, and wood bees droned discontentedly within.

166“It is true that she may not be loved during the time of her Wardship,” said he; “there must be an end to that, or worse will come of it.”

“And you will end it, Mancha, for your honor’s sake?”

“As soon as may be; I have dawdled too long. Where is Herman?”

“With Persilope at Lower Fern. What do you want of him?”

“What you wished: to put an end to this business of the Ward.”

“Mancha, Mancha! That is not what I meant. You must put an end to your loving!”

“Does loving end?”

Trastevera gave up.

“What will you do?”

“I will find Herman first.” She heard him rapping his purpose to the fore on the deep-sounding trunks of trees as he went.

You may guess how much comfort Trastevera got out of this interview, of which she told me very little at this time, perhaps because she had failed, and perhaps because of an incident occurring about that time which put it wholly out of mind. One of the Outliers who had set out for home on the breaking 167up of the Council had found a suspicious circumstance, and came crying with it all the way up by River Ward to Deep Fern and Deer Lake Hollow.

He with his wife and young brood passing over Singing Ford into the district of broad-headed oaks, where there was low scrub of lupin and rhus, had met Daria setting snares in the rabbit runways. He had sung out a greeting to her, for the moment forgetting her state of forgetfulness, and she had stood up in the knee-high lupin with her hand across her eyes, taken unawares, and called him by his name. It had popped out, startling at sight of him like a rabbit from a burrow. Then as he stood still with astonishment she checked and stammered, recalled the word, protested that she had mistaken him for another, and at last broke and fled crying through the chaparral. The Outlier, a just man but a little slow, considered the circumstance, went on, in fact, a whole stage of his journey before he arrived at a conclusion. Whereupon he sent on his family toward home, and came back all the way to Deep Fern with his news, which had grown upon him momentously as he traveled. Daria remembered! How much?

168Had the drink been made too light for her. Had the tumult of her mind resisted sleep. Or had her soul been so upborne by love that it floated clear of the drug that drowned her sense?

No one of the women had been with her when she recovered. Those whose custom it was to watch the Ward into wakefulness delicately withdrawing for the lover’s sake.

“Remember, oh remember,” he had insisted to the last, and she had remembered the name and face of a man not in her own district. How then would her memory stand toward familiar things?

This was disconcerting news indeed. There were some who blamed Persilope, who had poured out a portion of the drink. Others blamed the women for not staying by her. Trastevera blamed herself, and was tormented afresh, seeing as a departure from good usage of which she herself was source and center. Mancha and Herman found it another reason for pushing their idea, which the Hammerer by this time openly avowed. As if his admission of his passion had in a measure defined him to himself, he had shaken off the outward evidence of it, and was occupied 169chiefly in bringing his purpose to completion. He had not spoken to Zirriloë since his talk with Trastevera, sat no more mooning in the woods, but went about everywhere among the young men with Herman at his shoulder, making adherents.

“But what is your objection to it?” Herman had asked of me, sitting under the drawn flaps of Evarra’s hut, upon which the rain drummed hollowly. I had a great many objections, based upon my conviction that no amount of Treasure would buy immunity for the Outliers once they were made known to men. But all my reasons would have lacked their proper cogency with Herman, who was like the Outliers in being too honorable to predict dishonor on the part of others. I knew too little of business to forecast the hindrances likely to fall in the way. All I was sure of was that it was a mistake, first and last it was bound to be a mistake, and very little progress of the affair would prove it.

“If you think so well of their way of life,” said I, “why do you wish to change it? They wouldn’t be happy in our way; it wouldn’t agree with them.”

“If you’re thinking about happiness, how 170about Daria? And Zirriloë; do you call it happiness to be cut off from all that belongs to youth and loveliness? Why, the girl was made for loving.”

“But I thought that was something you didn’t believe in.”

He had the grace to blush here and to be disconcerted, but he protested:

“They believe in it—and I—sometimes I think I am only learning what it is to be alive. All alive, not just the intellect of me, like mistletoe at the top of a tree. And it’s good”—he scuffed with his feet strongly on the ground as though he liked the sting of it—“so good that I want to make it sure.” Before I could ask him what that had to do with making a sociological experiment of the Outliers, he had turned the argument again.

“Besides, Mona,” with almost an injured air, “I’m thinking of you. We know too much ever to be allowed to leave here in possession of all our faculties. Unless we go in some such way as I suggest, as emissaries to arrange for the title to their lands——”

“Yes,” I assented; “I hadn’t thought of that. We could go out that way, and then we needn’t say any more about it.”

171“Well,” he admitted doubtfully, “that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. That doesn’t seem quite—right, does it?”

I thought it would be as right as turning loose on the Outliers all the ills of our social disorder. But I didn’t feel like saying anything further just then. I sat and watched the sheeted rain that veiled the world a rod beyond our door, saw the sun break and silver it, and heard the wind calling from the high ridges.

“It is either to go back that way,” Herman insisted, “or stripped and unremembering.”

“If you were to forget all you know and had to begin over again,” I suggested, “there would be a sociological experiment for you.”

“Mona, you don’t really want to forget all this?”

“I don’t know,” I said; “a little forgetting is good medicine.” And singularly I thought of the tall woman in the woods, and wondered when I should see her again, and what she would have thought of Herman’s idea.

This was the last of the rains, and the very morning of the day when the Outlier from beyond the Singing Ford came back with the word about Daria. Messengers were sent to 172fetch her and her husband, and all we of Deep Fern went down half a day to meet them. The messengers had found the former Ward and her young husband on their way, drawn by our wish and their own willingness. Love had made them subservient, emptied them of self.

The examination took place in a half hollow full of trees. What sunlight there was lay in white patches like a stain. All up the green and golden slope the women sat listening, now discovered by the stirring of the wind on their loose garments, now disappearing in stillness. Daria stood up among the men and answered faithfully. It was true, she admitted, that she remembered things. Some things. She did not know how much. She had just begun to connect facts with the vague sense of familiarity. Questioned, the memories revealed themselves but sticks and straws, wreckage of experience, a name here, there a trivial circumstance, and there a blank. All of them such images as might have been floating in her mind at the time, or a little before she drank forgetfulness.

Did she remember the place of the Treasure?

173The question, when it came, took her fairly. She spun about, rocking her arms, burst into dry sobbing. Give her the Cup, she said, she would take the Cup again if they wished it, but let her not be questioned any more. In a broad splash of sunlight I could see her shiver, but not her judges; their faculty for quiescence served them better than speech.

Did she remember?

How could she say? She had not remembered that there was a treasure until her husband explained her situation to her. And then suddenly while he talked there had come into her mind a place in the hills, rocks, pine trees, she did not know quite where, all the rest of the country cut off in a mist like a landscape in a dream. But there was the picture, young pines posturing for the dance, and all her attention centered on a certain spot. If she happened upon that district she thought she could have gone straight to that spot. She broke off: begged them to deliver judgment. But there were other considerations. Members already scattered to their homes must be summoned—there were formalities. The meeting broke up quietly. Daria moved over and placed herself beside Zirriloë, between 174the keepers. Her husband did not come to her, nor she look toward him. She was in Ward again.

There was a sense of urgency now on all the Outliers that led quickly to a final adjustment. Everybody talked openly of the King’s Desire and of Herman’s plan, of which they had no very clear idea, I think, beyond its being a more effectual way of hiding the Treasure. It had also the merit of keeping their district clear of House-Folk who fouled the meadows and made them unlivable.

I sought out Trastevera and said what I could, with no success except to augment her uneasiness.

“This is no doubt what I saw entering by Broken Tree with you,” she said, “but now it is so close upon us my opinion is no better than another woman’s, nor so good, I think. I see trouble coming from afar and declare it, but if I forget what I have declared, I fall into it myself.”

I looked for Herman then and found him at Lower Fern.

“So,” I said, “you are determined to go on with this?”

“What else?” He looked surprised, and 175then reproachful. “If you would stop to think, Mona, what it might mean to me, to all of us, to take back to our world, where as yet we have only theorized about it, news of a social order already accomplished where every man’s greatest benefit is the common good——”

“No,” I said, “I haven’t. What I’m thinking about is what we would bring to the Outliers.”

“Of course, if you look at it that way——”

“And there is something you ought to think of, and that is if you promise to buy land and protection for them, whether you have the price. You haven’t really seen the Treasure, you know.”

“But—but—Mona,” he expostulated, “it’s all been so real. I never thought—that ceremony—the Ward and all—of course I haven’t seen it——”

“It may be pebbles,” I said, “or colored glass.”

“But I thought you believed in it? You were the very first to believe it.”

That was just like Herman. Of course I believed in it.

I can believe six impossible things before 176breakfast if it suits me, but Herman never could be got to understand the difference between a literary belief and a working certainty.

“At any rate,” I said, “before you guarantee the price of the King’s Desire, you would best have a look at it.”


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