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IX HOW THE KING’S DESIRE WAS DUG UP, AND BY WHOM
How Herman injected into the hot plans of Mancha this cold doubt I do not know. If he accepted it as a check to his enterprise there was no visible abatement of its urgency. He was forever and fatiguingly busy; crossing over Singing Ford and returning between two days. Passing beyond Moon Crest he visited Alderhold and Bent Bow, fetching a circle almost to Broken Tree to make adherents. He was still and hungry as to his inner want, but outwardly as noisy as a bear, rapping the trunks of hollow trees or prodding the soft earth with his hammer. If in the wood at Deep Fern or Deer Lake Hollow he met with his young men, he passed them without greeting. It is doubtful if he saw them. Plainly the man was ravined with desire.

178All this time he gave no trouble to the Ward or her keepers. When she went among the young fern, between the budding willows, he did not seek her, never talked of himself in her company. It was as if the eye of his mind, so fixed upon the Mate, passed over the Maid she was. Otherwise I do not know how he could have withstood her, for she went flushed and glorious. Trastevera, I know, had expected tears and pining. Watching, she was relieved to find the girl still sustained by ecstasy, grew more at ease and trusted Ravenutzi.

For the rest of the Outliers the hesitation of Herman’s enterprise on the probable unworth of the jewels proved no disappointment. It was, in fact, a means of hurrying the movement for removing it from its present cache. They were curious to discover if the Treasure really had such an intrinsic value as Herman had taken for granted. Even though it proved of no value to the House-Folk, it was something the Far-Folk wanted very much. The keeping of it provided an occupation, and the promised unearthing an excitement for which their long truce with the Far-Folk gave them an appetite. In any case it must come up and 179be hidden again, or they must administer the Cup to Daria a second time. This involved a wrenching of their sympathies they were unwilling to endure, even if it lay in justice to twice enforce her. They were the readier for the enterprise since it appeared not necessarily to involve the acceptance of Herman’s idea.

Prassade and Persilope then, with Mancha and Herman, of course, two of the keepers—the same who had buried it—and several strong men beside, set out for the cache of the King’s Desire. They went north and seaward by a shorter route than the Ward had taken, since they had not the same need of doubling for concealment. They passed the upper limit of redwoods and came to a region of thin, spiked spruce and pines, knuckly promontories encrusted with lichen sticking out of a thin, whitish soil. By afternoon they struck into a gully where an opaque stream purled in shallow basins and spilled in thin cascades to gravely levels. Here they began to take note of landmarks and measure distances. First there was a sheer jut of country rock, stained black by the dribble of a spring. Below it a half moon of pond as green as malachite. Directly up from that, on the shoulder of a stony 180hill, five pines, slender and virginal, stood circlewise, bent somehow by weather stress to the postures of dancing. They balanced in the wind and touched the tips of their stretched, maiden boughs.

From here, ascending, the stream spindled to a thread, and led the eye under the combe of the ridge to a high round boulder, gripped mid-long of its fall by the curled roots of a pine. Under the boulder was the cache of the King’s Desire.

I asked Herman afterward how soon the intimation of what they were to find there began to reach them, and he said, to himself not at all. He remembered Prassade asking of Noche, if this was the trail they had taken with the Ward, and the old man’s quick, sidewise glance that questioned why he asked. He remembered as they came by the green water, one of the keepers stooping to examine something, and Noche beginning to twitch and bristle like a dog striking an unwelcome trail. They came to the boulder. Signs of the recent rains were all about, the half-uprooted pine that braced it showed a slight but fresh abrasion of the bark. The two keepers had their heads together, whispering apart.

181They would not believe it! Even when the first scraping of the wooden shovels showed the soil loose and yielding, and below the percolating dampness of the rains they found filling of fresh, dry gravel, they would not believe the cache had been rifled.

The jewels were in a great chest, red and rotten, corded up with skins, half a man’s length under ground. So said Noche, who had buried them. They dug; they were waist deep, they were up to their armpits; they dug steadily.

Suddenly there was a sound of the shovels striking solid. They exclaimed with relief. Noche was old, and in ten years had forgotten. Then the diggers cleared the ground and showed the solid country rock.

Whoever had lifted the Treasure had done it most cleverly. Every particle of the soil removed had been taken out on skins and put back again with filling brought ready for the purpose, so that no sinking of the surface should betray the theft. It had been done recently, between the rains. On the white, abraided bark of the pine there were splatterings of the rapid downpour of the last heavy shower.

182Let but a few weeks of stormy weather go over and it would have been impossible to say that the place had been visited.

The Outliers might have gone on guarding an empty cache for generations. They shuddered back from such a possibility like men suddenly upon a brink. They were, in fact, so shocked and astounded by the theft that their faculties were all abroad. They dug wide and furiously, Noche pawing over every crumbling clod with a whimpering sound like a hound at a fox’s earth.

High up as the place was, higher ridges made a pit of it which now, as the light receded, they flung full of blackness. On the combe above, the young pines were black against pale twilight, dancing and deriding.

Night-eyed as the Outliers were, they dared not risk the loss of the faintest clue by trampling heedlessly. The theft and the cunning manner of it pointed to one thing—the Far-Folk. On that point they were sure; and on one other.

The King’s Desire was gone, it should come back again. They swore it. One of them lifted up his hand to take the oath, as the custom 183was, by the honor of the Maiden Ward.

“Stop!” said Prassade.

I do not know what things leaped together in the man’s mind, what circumstance but half observed, what weakness of his blood yet unconfessed, what scrupulosity of honor. “Stop!” he said, and the swearer’s hand slacked limply. Mancha propped it up fiercely with his own.

“By the honor of the Maiden Ward,” he swore, “it comes back again.”

Prassade gurgled in his throat. In the gray light as they looked at each other, it grew upon them that the loss of the Treasure meant betrayal. Daria, Zirriloë, the four keepers, to whom should they apportion dishonor? From that time, said Herman, no man looked full at his neighbor or spoke freely what he thought until they came to Deep Fern.

In the meantime it had occurred to me that I was not seeing as much of Ravenutzi as was implied in my promise to Trastevera. Besides, I thought it might be interesting to know what he thought of the redisposal of the King’s Treasure. I had followed the use of the Outliers up to this time in not speaking of it to him.

184I was sitting between the roots of a redwood steeped in the warm fragrance and languor of a pine forest in the spring, when this notion occurred to me. The force with which this idea caught me might have arisen from Trastevera’s wishing it at that moment, or Ravenutzi’s being engaged on some business that made my presence advisable. Accordingly I looked for the smith in the accustomed places, where, in the fulfillment of his hostage, he made a point of being unobtrusively and contentedly about. He could be found oftenest with Noche, the only one of the men who afforded him an unaffronting companionship. But this morning I could not find him in the Fern, nor at his smithy under the fall, nor with the fishers at the creek. It was quite by accident that I came upon him some hours later sitting on a stump in an artificial clearing not much frequented by the Outliers, since it had been a hunters’ camp and had the man taint about it. As he sat turning over some small matters in his hand, his brow knitting and unknitting, the whole man seemed to bristle with some evil, anxious intent. If there had been flames jutting from him, green spitting flames from eye and brow, they could not 185have given to him an aspect more sinister and burning. The mobile tip of his nose twitched slightly, the full, gracile lips were drawn back, bracketed by deep, unmirthful lines. The whole personality of the man pulsed and wavered with the fury of his cogitations, which, when he looked up and saw me, he gathered up with a gesture and disposed of like a snake swallowing its skin.

From the moment that his eyes lighted on mine his look neither flinched nor faltered, but all the evil preoccupation of him seemed to retreat and withdraw under their velvet. His mood yielded, as it seemed to me he always did yield, gracefully to my understanding and the security of sympathy. He had been busy as I came up, with some bits of leaves and blossoms and sticks, all of special significance, by which the Outliers could communicate as well as by letter. He was tying them in a bundle, which, as soon as he saw me, he began to untie and scatter as though there had been no object in it but mere employment.

Seeing him set his foot on some shredded petals of a sentimental significance, I thought he might have been composing a message to 186some woman of his own, to her who had come to me at Leaping Water perhaps, and destroyed it as one tears verses written in secret. I was quite willing to help him from the embarrassment of being caught at such an occupation by falling in with his first suggestion.

“Come,” he said, making room on the stump beside him, “it is a good day for teaching you to be completely the Outlier that I believe you are at heart.”

He lifted a heap of twigs and flowers, chose a spray of laurel and berries of toyon, with two small sticks, one of which was carefully measured three-fourths of the length of the other.

“Now what does this say?”

“The toyon means courage, but taken with the laurel probably means a place where they grow together,” I answered, proud of knowing so much; “two things of the same kind mean time—two days—no, one day and three-quarters.”

“Say to-morrow at mid-afternoon.” Then he considered, and added a small feather. “And this?”

I was doubtful.

“Speed,” I hazarded.

187He gave the two low, warning notes of the quail, and I clapped my hands, recognizing it as a quail’s feather.

“Be quick and cautious!”

He laughed encouragement, and then shyly, after some consideration, he bound them all together with a sprig of a vine that spells devotion, and stuck it in his girdle.

“See,” he declared, “you have sent me a message appointing a secret meeting, and I shall wear it openly to show that, old as I am, I am not too old to appreciate ladies’ favors.”

He roughed his streaked gray hair as he laughed again with a delicate whimsicality that took off the edge of offence.

“Sometimes, Ravenutzi, I think you are not so old as you look.”

“Ah, when?”

“Just now when I came upon you. And when they talk of the King’s Desire. From the way you look when they talk of selling it to secure the title to their land, I gather the Far-Folk won’t be very well pleased with that disposition.”

“Would you expect it, seeing that it belongs to us?”

“But does it?”

188“Who but our fathers brought it from the Door of Death? It makes no difference with belonging that the Outliers have kept us out of our own so many years.”

“If it comes to that,” I said, “it doesn’t seem to me to belong to either of you.”

“It was ours in the beginning. Be sure it will come in the end to our hand again.”

“Was that what you were thinking about when I came up?”

“I suppose so. I often think about it. An ill subject for a good day.” He rose up to dismiss it. “Let us go and see if the spring is full.”

We went up through the tall timber through a chain of grassy meadows, little meadows planted fair with incense shrub and hound’s tongue and trillium. We nibbled sprigs of young fir, surprised birds at their mating and a buck pawing in the soft earth. I do not remember if the spring was full or not, but I recall very well that as we came back skirting the edge of under-grown forest, stiff with stems like a wall, Ravenutzi made a great to-do because he had lost my token. That was singular to me, because a little time before when he helped me over a bog I had 189seen it sticking quite firmly in the crossing of his girdle. He would not go back to look for it, insisted rather that we should go around by the Laurel Bank where toyon grew, and gather its belated berries to make another. So being very gay about it, and laughing a great deal, we got back to camp with Ravenutzi’s belt stuck full of laurel and toyon, the last hour of the morning. This was about the time the treasure diggers, setting three of their party on the faint trail they had found, turned back toward Deep Fern.

They arrived about two hours before sunset, went straight to Persilope, talked with him apart, remained otherwise separate and uncommunicable. Already some invisible warning of their approach ran about the basin and drew the Outliers in from whatever business they were abroad upon. They came hurrying and crowding into the long narrow meadow between the creek and the wood, fluttered and full of questioning. The unexpected return of the party, empty handed, the lessening of their number, their grave silences, Noche’s distracted appearance, Mancha’s head held high, Prassade’s hung down; all these kept enquiry and supposition rife.

190The wood began to resound with calls, which were answered from far and near as the belated ones came hurrying from fishing and hunting and isolated huts. In the middle meadow the treasure hunters sat together on the ground. Persilope walked up and down. Around the edge of the wood ran the whisper and jostle of fresh arrivals. Now and then Persilope took note of them, awaiting the last impatiently for the time to speak. The sun traveled seaward, and the fan-spread, vaporous rays of blueness ranged through the redwoods and melted into twilight. The noise of coming fell off by degrees, and every man began to count and question to know for whom they waited. It appeared the Maiden Ward was still abroad. She had gone that afternoon with the one keeper and two women to the ridge behind Deep Fern to dig certain roots for dyeing. She was late returning. Two or three stars had come out in the twilit space when far back under the redwoods there was the sound of a man running. The pad, pad of his feet on the thick needles drew near, burst upon us, cleared the ring of listeners and carried the man full into the open, gasping and panting.

191“Gone! Gone!” he shouted. “Lost! Seized and stolen!”

The words, sharp and startling, brought all the sitters to their feet like the cracking of a whip.

“Who? Who, and where?” cried Prassade, taking the man, who was the fourth keeper, by the shoulders and wheeling him round face to face. “Is it my daughter? What have you done with her?”

“Gone!” he declared again in the midst of panting.

“Of her own will? When? In what direction?” With every question Prassade shook him as if he would have jolted the answer out of him in default of words.

“Let me breathe. Just now. I came as fast as I could. Not of her own will, I think. There were others—one other.”

The man struggled with his agitation. Persilope counseled patience; the hearers closed round him in a ring, as he grew more coherent.

They were out, he said, on sodden ground along the foot of the Laurel Bank, he and the two women digging roses. Zirriloë strayed along the lower edge of the Bank. There was 192a toyon bush, full berried, grown up among the laurels, and she gathered the scarlet clusters for her hair.

She had been a long time pushing close among the branches, reaching for the handsomest berries, some thirty paces from them, but never out of sight. They could see her dress among the leaves. Yes, they were all sure of that. He could not say how long it was before it occurred to them as strange that she should stand there so long in the toyon. Nor how long after that it dawned upon them that it was not she but her dress which they looked at hanging there in the chaparral, stirred by the wind. One of the women went to look, and found the Ward’s outer garment stuck shoulder high among the branches. They thought it a prank at first, bent back the boughs, peering and calling. Beyond the close outer wall of foliage the thicket was open enough for careful passage. They pushed into the thickest stems, suspecting her in ambush. One of the women some paces ahead, beginning to be annoyed, searching rapidly, spied something slipping from hollow shade to shade. She made an exclamation of discovery which changed to fright as a man 193shot out from the laurels in front of her and disappeared. They had all seen him crouching and running under the low branches up the slope.

They had spent little time after that looking about them. It was already dusk in the chaparral. The speaker had left the women behind, and come on rapidly to send some one younger on the darkling trail. He turned toward the girl’s father as he spoke, as being naturally the most interested. I could see Prassade’s face set and harden with the narrative, the line of his mouth thinning. Now it widened to let out two sharp questions.

“Did you see any sign of struggle or capture?”

“Not a leaf disturbed, not a twig broken, but indeed we went only a little way——”

“What sort of a man was it?”

“He was dressed as an Outlier.”

“Ah!” The trap of Prassade’s lips went shut again, he had got what he waited for.

“But you did not think him one?” It was Persilope took up the question.

“It was very dark under the laurels; he ran fast.”

“Was he Far-Folk?”

194“So the woman thought.”

I could see in the dusk the lift of Prassade’s shoulders, and the slight inclination of his palms outward. He had had all that day and the night for wondering what his daughter’s part in the theft of the treasure might have been. Perhaps—who knew?—some unadmitted fact had gone to the shaping of his conclusion. He turned to Persilope, and his voice cracked with hardness.

“It seems to me,” he said, “we have affairs more important than the flight of a dishonored girl.”

“No, by the Friend!” cried a man, one of those who had gone with the Treasure party. “It seems to me that it is all one affair, and we shall find the girl when we find the King’s Desire. They have gone together.”

At this, which was the first announcement of the loss so plainly intimated by the demeanor of the party, there ran a sound of unbelief and bewilderment around the camp.

“Gone!” they cried, and “Gone! The King’s Treasure!” in every accent of incredulity and surprise.

“Ay, gone,” said Prassade, “seized, stolen away,” unconsciously repeating the words of 195the keeper, “gone with my honor and the faith of the Outliers.”

While the keeper told his story the listeners, in the manner of crowds, surged forward, closing between him and the dispirited Treasure party. At Prassade’s admission of his dishonor, they were disrupted suddenly by sharp, explosive sounds which I knew for the rapping of Mancha’s hammer. At the instant of the keeper’s announcement I had seen him rise and gird himself, beginning to look about like a man missing some necessary thing, too perturbed to recall just what he wanted. One of his young men slipped his hammer into his hand, and at the feel of its familiar handle a little of the strained look left his face. Then the crowd swallowed him in its eagerness to hear what Prassade and the keeper said.

Now as the circle broke back from him and the sound of his whirling hammer, I saw the pale blotch of his face and hair distinct in the twilight.

“Oh, Persilope,” he said, “take what measures you will for the recovery of the King’s Desire, but this is my business. Here should be no talk of honor or dishonor, but simple outrage. A man of the Far-Folk has crossed 196into our country and stolen the Maiden Ward. Let no man put any other name to it until I have brought her back again. But first bring me the smith. Before I go I would ask of him how it is, while the hostage stands, men of his breed have trespassed on my borders. Where is Ravenutzi?”

The crowd turned upon itself. They had a system, though I could never understand it, by which they could locate and account for the tribesmen when called upon. Now on Mancha’s asking, the rustle and movement began, hesitated, and grew rapidly into a deep excited hum of resentment as the word passed from group to group that Ravenutzi was not among them.


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