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X THE LEDGE
Between the morning and the dead hours of night I was awakened in the hut, feeling Evarra’s hands go over me lightly as squirrels’ as she gathered up her belongings.

“What are you doing, Evarra?”

“Making ready.”

“For what?”

“Child, the Ward is stolen and the Far-Folk have taken the King’s Desire, and you ask me that!”

“What is that sound I hear, Evarra, like a wounded creature?”

“It is the mother of the Ward.”

“It hurts to hear it; may I go to her?”

“You! What could you say to her? Besides, it is better for her to have her cry out before she comes where her man is.”

“Where is Prassade?”

198“Where we must be at mid-morning, at the Ledge.”

“And Mancha?”

“Where he should have been this month past, at River Ward. It was there the stealers came through.”

“Have you any word?”

“Before the Council parted a message came from the trackers who had found a sign. The stealers went through by Broken Head. Sleep now,” she said.

I heard the light scrape of her feet on the threshold, and I lay still at the bottom of a pit of blackness, from which at unutterable heights I could make out a point of light or two cut off at times by the indistinguishable stir of boughs.

Between the trees the lights of the Outliers illumined the space under the shut branches faintly as the lights in crypts that show where the bones of saints are laid. I lay revolving in my mind all the circumstance of my coming here and of my connection with the Ward and Ravenutzi. Suddenly there flashed forth, like a picture on a screen, the incident of that letter which I had helped Ravenutzi to make. The token he had worn so gaily and lost so 199unaccountably. It had been a true message dropped conveniently for one who waited for it, and I grew sick and hot in the dark thinking how he had used me. I must have dozed after that, for I thought the sound of crying increased outside, and it was no longer the Ward’s mother, but the tall woman of the woods who called me by my name to upbraid me. A moment later it changed to Evarra calling me awake.

As yet no beam shone or bird sang; I saw the shapes of the women blocked indistinguishably in the mouse-colored mist. I watched them, by that wild faculty of theirs for covering their traces as the fox covers its tracks, draw, as it were, the surface of the forest over all the signs of their occupancy. They strewed dry, rotting fern above the caches, leaf litter where the hearths had been. When I rose and went out to them, Evarra touched my bed with her foot once, twice, and it was no bed, but the summer drift about the roots of trees. As we went hillward silence spread behind us in the meadows and took the place with desolation.

By the ridge between Deep Fern and Deer Lake Hollow the women with young children 200turned off toward some safe, secret center, there to wait word from their men. Evarra and the more active women kept on to the Ledge. I went with them, not being wanted very much, but because in the hurry of Council no other provision had been made for me.

To understand all that went on in the next few weeks, it is necessary to be precise. Deep Fern is as far from Broken Tree as a strong man can walk in twelve or fourteen hours, walking steadily, and the Ledge is ten hours from Deep Fern. It runs, a great dyke of porphyry, with the contour of the hills, at the upper limit of tall trees and makes a boundary between Outland and the Far-Folk. Beginning and end of it I never saw, but from a place called Windy Cover to River Ward I knew it very well. In this place it passes over shallow, stony soil, in which nothing grows more than knee height, except on the lee side of one strong hill where a triangular space of lilac and toyon reaches quite up to the rocky wall. The chaparral is tall enough for a man or a deer to walk in it upright. Certain small winds forever straying and whirling here, ruffling the tops of the scrub and stirring the branches, make it possible for such a passage 201to take place unobserved. The stir of a man moving through it, indistinguishable from the running movements of the wind, gives the place its name of Windy Covers.

From here the Ledge goes East, high and impassable, following the hills until it reaches the gap where the river comes through. There it leaves off for a crow’s flight, and the river continues that boundary until it touches the Ledge again. The whole of this space being thickly wooded and the river running shallowly at seasons, it was here the Far-Folk trespassed most. Here past the end of the Dyke the filchers of the King’s Desire had come. The whole region was known as River Ward, and Mancha kept watch over it. Beyond its second point of contact with the dyke, called Broken Head, the Ledge went on south a very great distance. I never heard how far, though from something that I heard at Windy Covers I gathered that the Outliers possessed all the district south as far as the Sur. Just beyond Broken Head the river widens and makes a turn where there is easy passing, called from the sound of it going over the smooth stones, Singing Ford. All 202the other places I have named lay north of the river between it and the Ledge.

We came to Windy Covers a little after midday. I should have said, looking up its green steep, level grown as a mown field, that all the Outliers were there before us. The tops of the scrub were all ashake; the lilacs tossed, the buckthorn turned and whitened. Lines of wavering showed in it like the stir of a meadow when rabbits run in the grass. But it turned out to be only the wind walking for we were hours ahead of the men.

“Ah, I told you it was good cover,” said Evarra, as we came in by the green tunnels that the deer had made.

I had gathered from the talk of the women that we were to lie there, guarding the pass, and keeping out of River Ward. Mancha was occupying that section now, hoping not to excite the Far-Folk by too active pursuit. It was not known yet if the lifters of the Treasure had passed beyond River Ward or if Ravenutzi had joined them, if indeed he might not yet be on our side the Ledge with the Ward. There were some other points in this connection on which I wished to satisfy myself. So when I saw Lianth mousing along 203under the wall, I crept after him, unsuspected. We came into a little bay of bitten scrub and a well-trodden track that led up along the stony, broken back of the Ledge. This way the bucks had gone when at the end of the mating season they ranged afar and fed on the high ridges. This way they came down to seek the does, and along this trail I saw Lianth pawing breathlessly, nose to the thick mosses like a snuffling hound.

“They must have come this way,” he said.

“Yes,” I assented, thinking of the deer.

“If they have crossed, there should be some trace of them. They must have come in the night and could not have gone so carefully.” He scrutinized little heaps of leaf litter in the crevices, and squinted along the ground. “And the trackers have not been here either. They cannot have crossed at all.”

All at once I understood that he was talking about Ravenutzi and the Ward.

“There is no other way,” he said, “no other way possible for—a girl.”

“Lianth, where is Herman?”

He left off pawing over the trail and walked on toward the rim of the Ledge.

“Gone after her.”

204“Zirrilëe?”

He nodded.

“But why?”

“Mancha sent him.”

“Why should he take so much trouble? She went where she chose. You heard what the keeper said?”

“Ah!” he cried woundedly, “you women are all against her!”

We had reached the top of the Ledge overlooking the Far-Folk country. It was all rounded, grassy hills, stony, full of shallow hollows, with occasional depressed trees, lying in the thin, airy shadows that fall so singularly in high places. It was very still, two or three crows flying over, and far up under the blue a buzzard sailing.

“It’s no use looking out for them,” objected Lianth. “They’ll not show themselves while we are here.”

“Do you think they know?”

“Huh! Do rabbits know when coyotes hunt? If they know about the King’s Desire what wouldn’t they know?”

He was sitting on a heap of stones picking the moss out of the crannies and pitching it down below. His throat and chin were 205strained and tight as though no songs could come that way again.

“When I think of her hands,” he said, “and the parting of her hair, as white as a dove’s egg ... if she loved anybody she wouldn’t have thought of anything else.”

“Evidently she didn’t,” I insisted cruelly. “But why do you care so much? Even if she hadn’t run away with Ravenutzi it wouldn’t have been you she would have married, it would have been Mancha.”

To look at the boy you would have said his songs were not all dead, one of them rose and struggled to go the accustomed way, and it was a song of boy’s love and wounded trust. He bit it back at last.

“Mancha was the only one good enough for her,” he choked. He was done with the moss now, and was aiming small stones carefully at empty space. “I would have wanted her to have the best.”

“At any rate she took what she wanted.”

He stood up, flushed and tormented.

“You’re just down on her because Herman is in love with her,” he said.

“What makes you think so?”

“I don’t know.” He scuffed the moss with 206his foot and added, “You can always tell if you’re that way yourself. I don’t want to talk about it any more,” walking away from me.

Presently he came back stiffly.

“You must come with me,” he said; “you can’t stay here. I was told to look after you.”

“What time did Herman go?” I asked as we went down together.

“Just after Council. Mancha wanted to go, but they said his place was at River Ward. If he had been there all this time the Far-Folk mightn’t have got through. They let Herman do what he liked, because if it hadn’t been for him they wouldn’t have found out about the stealing so soon. And look here”—he showed me a spray of toyon berries—“I went and found this after the trackers had gone. I felt around in the dark and found it. It was the last thing she touched. It was only half broken off. She hadn’t expected to go away; she was surprised and she left it half broken off.” He put it up in his tunic again. “I don’t know why she went away with Ravenutzi, but I know she never told him where the Treasure was.”

He was so certain of that, I had no heart to trouble him with doubts. As we came 207down the trail we saw the top of Windy Covers all alive, rippled and streaked with motion.

“Some one is coming,” Lianth volunteered.

“It looked just like that this morning. How can you tell?”

“Oh, I can’t tell that. I knew how just before you asked me. The way I know Zirriloë didn’t tell Ravenutzi about the King’s Desire; I just know.”

It was, in fact, some of the Outliers who had not been at Deep Fern, drawn from their own places by that mysterious capacity of evil news to spread. They came hurrying all that day and the next. The Covers were peopled thick as a rabbit warren. Coveys of quail whirred up from it with a sharp explosive sound and broke toward the wooded land. Except for that, and the fact that the quail did not come back again, there was no sign. Men sat close in the tunnels, and it was dreadful to see the working in them of their resentment of betrayal. So much the worse because they knew it had been half invited. They had accepted a hostage of the Far-Folk, who never spoke straight nor did truly. What wonder, then, if he had done after his kind? They 208knew—at this point resentment rose to its burningest—they had always known, and knowing, could not have done otherwise. Ravenutzi came under honorable conditions, and they had served him honorably, being so much the debtor to their own natures. They were not only sick to be dishonored, they sickened of dishonor. As they sat in the green glooms of Windy Covers their bodies heaved and flushed, eyes reddened, hands wrenching at invisible things. Now and then, at the mention of a name or a circumstance, some quick, explosive breath would struggle with a curse; the gorge of the spirit rose.

Never among the Outliers had I found myself so unfriended. I felt myself burned upon by their rages, but they cared nothing for my burning. To have harped upon my own resentment was to advertise myself a witness of their betrayal. I judged best to be as little in evidence as was compatible without making myself a target for the Far-Folk. I found myself as lonely as could well be expected.

Late of the second day I went down to the edge of the chaparral where the trees began to invade it, standing apart and singly, and the chaparral had made itself small to run under 209the trees. I found an island of dry litter under a pine, and drew myself up in it, out of the pervading bitterness and betrayal, flooding so fiercely under Windy Covers.

It was incredibly still here; neither bird hopped nor insect hummed. The shadows shook in the wind. I sat with my head against the pine and my eyes closed. By degrees I thought the wind increased and drew into a long whisper which was my name. This fancy comforted me with the notion that whoever abandoned me, the wood was still my own. I heard it several times before a crackling in the bushes aroused me. I turned to observe another woman struggling anear through the thick stems of manzanita. As she crept and wormed toward me she drew on to her knees in the open space under the tent of the pine. Then I saw that she was the tall woman who had loved Ravenutzi. I saw more than that; she had come to me through great difficulty and by hard ways, her dress was torn, her hands scratched and bleeding, her hair, which was bound under a leathern snood, disheveled. But whatever her difficulties, they had not marred her so much as the passions that wasted her from within. She was more beautiful; 210the long, flushed throat, the red, scorning lip, the eyes darkened and hollow. But she was so plainly gnawed upon by grief that as we knelt there, I half risen on my knees and she on hers confronting me, I could feel nothing but pity.

“You!” I whispered dryly.

“Speak low,” she said, though indeed we had done nothing else, so did the stillness of the place weigh upon us. We were completely isolated in a ring of shadow, the chaparral coming up to the outer boughs of the pine, and the fan-spread branches meeting it a foot above our heads.

“I have waited for you all day,” she whispered. “Tell me, have you found him? Where has he taken her?”

“I do not know. We have no trace of them.”

“But which way did they go? From what point did they leave the Meet? Something—surely you know something?” She clasped her cut palms together, and I saw a slight flinching at the pain they gave her. She cast it off impatiently as though it were an interruption to her understanding.

211“Tell me first what you are to him, that you should ask?”

“His wife!”

“You—so young——”

I had an instant vision of Ravenutzi’s white hair, and then as I had first seen him washing his hair at the pool of the Leaning Bay. At the recollection, and perhaps a slight flicker of amusement in her face, the two things leaped together in my mind.

“Was that also a pretence?”

“There are herbs which will bleach the color from the hair and draw the skin in wrinkles,” she said. “He had more years than I, but we were young.”

“And the hostage, too, was it all a pretence from the beginning?”

“What else?” impatiently. “The King’s Desire was ours, and we schemed to get it back as we had first won it. I was as willing as the rest when we began. If I was not to see him again for three years, that was my part of the service, and I was proud to pay it. But I never thought of this. Oh no, never this!”

She crept up to me and eased the strained position of her limbs.

212“I will tell you everything,” she moaned, “if you will only answer me. Ravenutzi was to make friends with the Ward, and seduce the secret from her. We were to lift the King’s Desire as soon as known, and nothing was to be said or hinted until the hostage was over. Then if they discovered the loss, who could be blamed for it? He was to stay the full time of the hostage, for if he came away violently, they would suspect, and go and look to see if their Treasure had been moved. I knew, or thought I knew, that if he got anything from the Ward she would have to love him. I thought he could manage it. He is very wise in women. Even you——”

I checked her there; it was evident the Far-Folk were acquainted with everything that went on at Deep Fern, but I was not going to discuss my part of it with Ravenutzi’s wife.

“You had never heard, then,” I broke in upon her, “that the Outliers chose their most beautiful young woman to be the Ward?”

“Oh, I had heard.”

She put up her hands to her face in some quick, indefinable shame. I suppose Ravenutzi had contrived to keep her convinced of the supremacy of her own loveliness.

213“When the Treasure was safe in our hands,” she said, “then we heard that the House-Folk had persuaded them to show the King’s Desire and it was certain that the lifting of the Treasure would be discovered. We did not think it would be so soon, but we sent to bring Ravenutzi away. We were sure he would be killed when the Treasure party returned. While the Far-Folk waited, word came that Ravenutzi had gone to make the Ward safe in some secret place and would join us shortly. That was all. No word to me——” Anger swallowed up her speech.

I tried to soothe her.

“It was the least he could do if she had told him. The Outliers would have killed her had they found her out.”

“What matter to him if they had? We have killed Outliers before now when it was a question of the King’s Desire. Why should he be so careful of her, unless—unless he loves her?”

In the anguish of that conviction she struck with her wounded palm against the tree, and sinking her head upon the arm that Ravenutzi had rested on, with what bliss it gave her the keener anguish to remember, set her teeth in the bared, tender flesh. I let her be, writhing 214like a wounded snake, for a time. Then, as the best cure, I began to tell her with particularity all I could recall of the flight of the smith and the Ward from Deep Fern.

She questioned as she listened; would have me be precise.

She had never been any nearer to Deep Fern than the place where I had found her the second day of the Meet. Could she reach it easiest from here by way of Leaping Water or otherwise? Just how far was the Laurel Bank from the long meadow, and how could one get at it? I could see the purpose grow in her to strike that trail and follow it to whatever end. She listened and hardened.

“Tell me well how she looks,” she said, “so that if I find this flagrant girl I may not mistake her,” and I saw her blench as I named the points of the Ward’s beauty. She jerked and quivered. Little sentences escaped from her like phrases of a delirium, of the utterance of which I think she was unconscious.

“Little fair hands,” she said, “a trivial heart ... hair of two colors ... a snare, a snare ... a crumpled lip goes with a false tongue ...” Her jealousy kept pace. “Kill her, would they?... Let them ... does he think 215to keep her who could not keep her word? Does he lie safely with this false Ward while his people wait for him at——”

“Stop!” I said. “I have told you all that concerns you personally, as one woman to another. But I advise you, I am on the side of the Outliers, if you say anything of value to them I shall not keep it.”

She bit her lip.

“What do I know of what the people do in my absence, or where they foregather? It is of him I think; does he imagine me waiting in my house like a faithful wife——”

She threw out her arms, rocking on her knees.
... “Long, oh long, have I been gathering lilies!...”

I do not know whether she uttered these words in the delirium of her jealousy, or if something in the anguished gesture sent the refrain of Ravenutzi’s song sounding through and through me. I heard it shaken like an organ somewhere above the sound of tears.
... “Long, oh long, have I been gathering lilies!...”

She stood up as well as she could under the 216bent pine, to draw her dress into order, and asked me who had gone on the trail of Ravenutzi. I named all the men, and then Herman.

“He too!” She looked at me with curious mocking. “All the men are mad, I think. Now I have a mind to go and see what this girl is like who sets all people by the ears, and when I have found her I shall come to tell you.”

She smiled sidewise whimsically as she stooped to the chaparral again. Though there was inordinate hate in her look and insuperable hardness, there was that in her fierce, tormented spirit so laid hold on me that I neither put out my hand nor raised my voice to stay her as she went.


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