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XIII HOW THEY FOUND THE RUBIES
HOW THEY FOUND THE RUBIES, AND THE SMITH’S ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF

News of the fight reached River Ward before midnight, but before that, about dusk, we heard Trastevera singing, walking up and down on a low hill scented and white with gilias, hymning of victory. And after I had lain down in my accustomed place I heard the women all about me, fevered with expectation, rising to intimations of approach too fine for me. From that part of the camp where the women of the Far-Folk slept, there arose now and then some sharp accent of dismay and grief, succeeded by the nearly mortal dejection of defeat. Unable at last to bear the night so full of noises and suspense, I rose and walked to the edge of the wide, bush-grown shallow where the Outliers were camped and met Herman coming to find me.

259“Do not go where the women are,” he said; “the wounded are there, and besides, they do not want us.”

Very softly we skirted the edge of the swale and climbed to the foot of a knoll overlooking it. Some oaks grew here, and the prostrate trunks were strong to lean against. The moon was gone on her last quarter, and the figures of men moving in the swale were large and vague against it. There was a wind stirring that kept up a whimpering whisper in the tops of the chaparral. It took the voices as they rose through it and rounded them to indistinctness; only by listening attentively could we distinguish between the acclamations of victory and cries of loss and pain.

“But tell me,” I insisted to Herman, “you have been among the men, have they brought back the King’s Desire?”

“Look,” he said, “at that man moving there as he turns against the moon; do you see the line of light that runs about his forehead? And there! what glitters on that outstretched arm? Hardly a man of them but has some gold about him, but they have not said a word.”

“And who has the Cup of the Four Quarters?”

260“Noche took it from Oca’s son; I saw him studying it by the reflected moon, but when I came up he hid it in his bosom.”

“And the great rubies?”

“They have not come in.”

“Herman,” I said, after a long pause, “what do you think they will do with it—and us?”

“The King’s Desire? Bury it, I hope. With us? Do you know, Mona, I am no longer anxious about what they will do to us.”

“No; they have been good friends of ours.”

“Nor afraid of the Cup,” finished Herman, “for I have come to feel that I have found something here in Outland that not even Forgetfulness can take away.... What I said to you the other night ... the door....”

“Oh, I thought it was Zirriloë....” He stopped and considered. “... And that she had shut it again on cheapness and affronting shame.... It left a mark on me.”

“Such experiences do, Herman.”

“But she is gone ... and the door swings wide. It is open to-night; and that is what I have found here in Outland that I shall never let go again.”

What he really had was my hand, which he seemed not to be aware of, beating it softly 261between his palms as he talked. I could hardly withdraw it without seeming to point an emphasis.

“And being so sure of that,” said Herman, “makes it difficult to believe that all this should be taken away from us.”

He made a gesture with the hand that held mine toward the swale of River Ward, the silvered line of the willows, the low moon, the fair light, the smell of the packed earth breaking up to bloom.

“Do you know, it is very strange, Mona, I have not the least idea where we are, but I think I could start out to-night direct for home and find it. Have you ever felt so?”

“Not since the Meet at Leaping Water.”

“But to-night?”

“To-night I feel it.”

“How far away the Outliers seem to-night. Look down there in the hollow, there is not one stirring. How could one say there is now any grief or captivity down there? Mona, do you really believe there are any Outliers?”

“Ah, I’m good at believing.”

The moon dropped down behind the hill till there was but one shining jewel point of it winking on the world. The chill that comes 262before the morning began to temper the air and I shivered under it.

“You are cold,” cried Herman; “wait.” He slipped away in the scrub and brought back skins in which he wrapped me. “Have you had any sleep at all to-night? Where is your hand, Mona?” He drew it through his arm. “Now, if you will lean back against the oak here, and against my shoulder, so: now you may get some rest.”

I leaned against the oak and touched his sleeve with my cheek. I had not meant to do more than that, nor yet to sleep, but the oak swayed a little comfortingly, so still and soft and dark the night was—suddenly there was the morning freshness and Trastevera calling me awake.

I saw the dark green of the earth shining wet, the faint, ineffable green of the dawn, and between them spread a veil of silvery mist. Down in the hollow the Outliers were all astir; rearward two lines of men moved toward the Gap. I saw them disappear in the willows and emerge again in the stream rounding the point of the Ledge. They walked mid-thigh in the turbid water and braced themselves against the force of its running. 263I saw the lines bend and right themselves like the young willows. These were the Far-Folk moving under guard toward Leaping Water. Below us as we came down the knoll were Mancha, Prassade, Noche and some others, with one in their midst whom, as they turned and looked toward us expectantly, I recognized as Ravenutzi. He looked dry, I thought, and stripped. His glance, which took me dully, when at last it was aware of me, appeared to turn inward for an instant as if to call that old excluding charm of personality. I felt it flicker and expire. But all that group continuing to look toward us curiously as we went down, I enquired of Trastevera what it meant.

“It is Herman,” she said. “They wait for him. Mancha has asked if he would like to go a day’s journey with them.”

“He will go,” I answered for him, for I knew at once whither that journey tended, and what they would find at the end of it. To this day I do not know what prompted Mancha to invite him. Whether he thought the opportunity due to him who had first gone on the trail of that unhappy girl. Whether he had some inkling of Herman’s state of mind, 264and divined in him an excusing understanding of his own hopeless infatuation, I do not know. At any rate he would not set out on that day’s business without Herman. That was how we learned what happened in the Place of Caves, half a day beyond Windy Covers, and as much as was ever known of what had occurred between Ravenutzi and the Maiden Ward, no maid by now, and in a more inviolable wardship.

They were afoot nearly all of that day, for besides having far to go, the men were stiff with battle. They traveled in this order—first Ravenutzi, limping a little, and Mancha stumbling close upon his heels. Neither of these spoke a word more than necessary the whole of that going. Then came Prassade, who groaned at times and made a gesture with his hands as though his heart were torn out of him and he saw it there in the trail and trampled on it with his feet. Next Noche, muttering in his beard and seeming at times to rehearse the incidents of battle, lifting and hugging somewhat in his arms and shaking his huge shoulders. After these came Herman and the men, among whom was that one who, following the tall woman, had found the 265smith and betrayed the Far-Folk to capture.

They came behind the others a little distance and whispered at times among themselves. They talked of Mancha’s fight with the smith and how Oca went mad with rage bestriding the dead body of his son, striking so furiously with his pike he could not fetch it back again, and how Prassade had taken him from behind.

They told also how the women of the Far-Folk had come in from some bleak hilltop where they hung like buzzards, and surrendered, asking no privilege but to tend their wounded. Once it occurred to Herman to ask if Ravenutzi’s wife was among them, and the men said no. At that Herman and Mancha looked at one another and the same thought was in the minds of both but they kept it to themselves. About an hour after midday it began to appear that they had done wisely in bringing with them this man who had followed Ravenutzi’s wife. The smith seemed determined to mislead them. He wished to turn out of his earlier trail very far to the right, and could not understand why this man protested so much nor why Mancha paid any attention to him.

266“This is the way,” he said; “who should know it if not I?”

“By the Friend, smith, it may be your way,” said the man, “but it was not the way your woman took following your trail, and I hard upon hers.”

“You saw that?” cried Ravenutzi. “A woman, my wife, following me to—to the place where we are going?” Herman said it was the first time he had seen Ravenutzi beside himself; he grew gray, a film came before his eyes through which the pupils opened, blank pits of horror.

“You saw that,” he cried, “and you let her go!”

“Ah,” said the man, “but I judged you the better game.”

Ravenutzi twisted like a man on a rope. He set off running.

“This is the way,” he said, “it is shorter so.” And the rest ran on to keep up with him. They came in this running fashion to the place of the boulders where the woman had lain face downward in the dust, and passed over the sag in the hills where she had been last seen disappearing. Beyond this was stony country; great boulders huge as houses lay all 267a-heap at the foot of a steep ridge. Smaller stones and rubble from the slope had drifted down and choked the upper crannies between the boulders, so that under them were windy galleries and spacious caves. There was no game nor foodful plant, only coarse tufts of grass between wide stones, nothing to draw men, only shelter and safe hiding.

When they came near this place, Ravenutzi began to go more slowly, forewarned perhaps and afraid of what he should find there. He raised a call, cautiously at first, got no answer, called loudly, grew anxious, set off running again, the men hard behind him. The place fronted westward; the shadows retreating inward gave to the caverns under the rocks a shallow look. The men could not have told from the outside which of them would have yielded passage, but Ravenutzi plunged into one, which proved an arched gallery. It opened into a sort of court, from which a water-worn gully led steeply up to a ledge on which opened a cave, overhung and guarded at the entrance by fire-blackened stones. They were slow enough going up this steep, to observe a woman who sat at the mouth of the cave with her knees drawn up under her hands, 268and her head bent upon them. They saw that she was tall and had long hair that coiled flatly about her throat and between her breasts.

She looked up from her knees as they climbed and clustered on the narrow platform before the cave. There was neither astonishment nor fear in her eyes, only weariness, as of one who has accomplished what she has long sought and found that after that nothing mattered. Some color sprang in her face as Ravenutzi stood before her, the faint tinge of expectancy. But he never looked at her.

“Where, where is she?”

It was Ravenutzi who asked, and got no answer except as by the turning of the long throat she indicated the cave behind her. Resting her head upon her knees, the tall woman went on looking quietly at nothing.

The floor of the cave sloped downward. It was low at the mouth, and the men stooped going through it. It was large and airy, and had been hung with tawny and dappled skins; some light broke through high crannies in the roof and showed them in the midst of these the Ward. She was very beautiful. The sparkling masses of her hair drifted out on either side the cameo face. Over the eyes, 269that were brown like agates at the bottom of a brook, the pale lids half drooped like the rims of snow that lie along brook borders in the cold. She was partly dressed, the bosom bare, and over its soft curves ran a line of blood-red stones, wickedly a-fire on that cold breast, tremblingly, shiftily alive in the light that sifted through the crannies of the rocks. Around the throat and in the hollow of the bosom they led the eye down where they melted, and ran in redness and spread dully on the floor, still wet and dripping.

He was so moved by that sight, Herman said, and for the moment so little believing in it, that he had no realization of how the others looked at it nor what they might have felt. He was first roused to take note of his companions by seeing the smith turn from the body with a movement of deprecation, and the sudden swinging of Mancha’s hammer into position. He heard it click as it rose against the roof of the cave. He heard an exclamation but could not tell for the life of him whether he himself had not uttered it; and then he saw the hammer caught from behind by the girl’s father.

“Mine,” he said; “mine, not yours.”

270Prassade was as fierce upon the point as if some one had denied it: his the greater offense, to him the punishment. Then as quietly as Mancha’s hammer dropped, the wrath of Prassade fell off before the unimpassioned quietness of the Ward. Stillness seemed to rise from her and crowd them out of the narrow chamber into the overhung and guarded entrance where the woman sat winding and unwinding the long coils of her hair. They did not look at the Ward again nor back at what Prassade did; it was a relief to watch the woman. She stood up and her head was high, her lip was bitten red, two spots of color glowed upon her cheeks. She looked at Ravenutzi as a child might who has broken a delicate thing and refuses to be chidden for it.

“The place was too small for us both,” she said, and then after a little: “I thought you would never come,” with a gesture of weary, ineffable tenderness. “Oh, I thought you would never come.”

She was all alive to him and very beautiful, so flushed and so alive you could not understand that death could be so close behind her. All the rushing of her blood and the 271swaying of her slender figure demanded of him what, even with death behind, he could not deny. He took her in his arms. He put up his hand to turn her face on his shoulder away from the hard eyes of the men. But he could not conceal as he did so the flush upon his own and the tremor of renewal.

Whatever the girl had been to him, she was now the evidence of how much his wife had loved him; as much as that! It was a declaration which shamed him by its publicity but purchased him anew to passion and protecting tenderness. They stood so, she superbly conscious of her right to a place she had cleared for herself, and he still shielding her. Nobody spoke a word. Behind in the cavern Prassade put back the dead girl’s hair from her soiling blood and covered up her breast. Presently he called Mancha, and the others by one consent moved down the water-worn way, out of the sound of their sorrow. Ravenutzi’s arm was still about his wife. At the foot of the ascent he put her from him quietly.

“Go wait by the outer caves,” he said. “They will not wish to see you when they come out.” And she, lifting up her head from 272his breast, went quietly, all gentleness and submission, never seeing how the others looked at her, never taking her eyes from him till the boulders closed on her and hid her from their view.

“I should say to you,” said Ravenutzi, “what, perhaps, I may not have time to say again”—for he thought then and the others thought, that Prassade would kill him when he came out of the cave. It was to spare her that sight that he sent his wife away. “You may say to the others when they are able to hear it,” he went on, “that much you may have been thinking of that fair child is wrong. She never told me where the King’s Desire was hid.

“She never told,” he insisted, “not of her own consciousness”—looking about for some point of interest or attention to fix upon, and settling upon some small stones which he pushed together with his foot—“something I had from her without her knowing it ... but there were others”—here, his gaze rested an instant on Noche, and dropped to the stones again—“... several others ... in whose minds the facts lay like trout in a lake for him to make rise who was able.... Among my 273people there is great skill in this.... You yourselves gave me the opportunity ... all your minds ran full of it as a creek after the rain.”

He looked up from his stones, which he had pushed into line as though they were a class who could nowise hear him until they had been so ordered. He must have found some hint of belief in Herman’s face, for he addressed himself to that more confidently.

“It is true I wooed her ... so as to have an open road to her mind. She had no chance against me ... but she never knowingly told.... I do not think I could have persuaded her.”

I believe the man spoke truth. For a certainty he felt death close upon him. Whether the men believed him or not they honored his intention to clear the girl. Some slight easement of their manner toward him made it possible to say more openly:

“I meant no harm to her. She had none at first.... I brought her away because I thought you would not believe ... you would have killed her ... she came....”

He stopped full at that, there was no need to say how she came nor what believing. They 274were all still together, thinking what he had done and despising him too much to question at all. He essayed to speak once or twice after that, and Herman observed that look to come upon his face which he had often remarked there. The faun’s look, half wishful, half defiant. A wild creature that abates none of its creature ways, but is desirous to have touch with man.

“How fine a piece of work she was,” he said. “... The way her chin was fitted into her throat ... the gold fret of her hair.... I was the smith....”

He stopped; there was nothing in the faces of the men that gave him leave to say his craftsman’s delight in her who was to them the injured daughter of their friend.

Prassade came out presently and Mancha with him. They looked nor spoke to no one as they came down the gully, but each took up a stone, walking with it laboriously, and laid it at the cave’s mouth. Then one of the men went and did the same, and the others, and Herman. At last Ravenutzi, seeing no one hindered him, took up a stone and went up and down with them, carrying, until the mouth of the cave was quite full. Presently Ravenutzi’s 275wife, grown tired of waiting, crept back through the stone arch and stood watching them with red bitten lip, coiling and uncoiling the long strands of her hair.


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