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XV HOW HERMAN AND I CAME BACK TO BROKEN TREE
Before any bird awoke, and while the wood was morning gray, the Outliers began to move westward next day from Leaping Water. Morning did not break but there was a widening of the gray space, a warming of the slight wind, and then the chill that settled into weeping fog. Blunt crowns of hills peered at us through the parting mist, and seemed mysteriously to move behind it and at the next lifting peer upon us from another quarter. Dim files of trees marched down upon us from obscurity and marched away again. Far to the left we heard the rain charging the river cañon, and the stir of invisible cohorts enfilading behind the locked ranges.

I could not make out where we were, except that our general movement was toward 296lower ground, and from the position of a pale yellow blur that appeared in the sky about midday, I gathered that we had moved south and west. In this space of half obscurity, wet mist, sodden grass, pale shadow and pale sun, the Far-Folk moved with us. Neither they nor Herman nor I cared to ask what was meant toward us, nor speculated as to what we should do about it. I suppose no philosophy could have devised more justice in the end than the working of their own natures had brought to pass. Whoever had met death on this occasion had met it so much of his own act that the event left no sense of mal-adjustment, and with it died both remorse and recrimination.

We had reached by this time, Herman and I, a large faith in the reasonableness of nature. Whatever came to us, we felt the processes of life rising to heal it like the sap to a tree’s scar.

We kept close together, saying little, going all that day in intermitting fog and rain, until the sky cleared well toward sunset. We had come to a halt an hour past on a wild open headland, and saw huge uncouth shapes of cloud hurrying to caverns of the sun. Fog lay thick in the hollows, hills islanded above 297it; as it cleared and sunk and the dry land appeared we saw how large and good the country was; hills upon hills, and hills beyond, wooded and bare, broken and rolling land. Nowhere was there a man trace, no smoke going up from the cañons, nor window lights below the trees. To the west the fog lay unpierced, stretching seaward, level and roughed on the surface like waves, beginning to take a red tinge from the sun. It was not until then that we had some hint of why we had halted in this place. We saw the Outliers drawn up into some sort of order, with the Far-Folk opposing, and the two chiefs between.

We hurried and came up to that privileged place near Trastevera which her favor reserved for us, and I observed that the eyes of Oca burned red like a weasel’s, as he turned them this way and that on the emerging hills, fingering his great beard. The glitter of wet on his shoulders like bronze, touched with reflected color of the westering fires, the bearskins that clothed him below, and the blowing of long lip locks gave him an appearance most wild and befitting the hour. He looked, 298and Persilope looked, standing poised and at ease as a stag gazing.

“It is a good land,” said the King of the Outliers.

“Good enough.”

“And large.”

“As you say, large,” admitted the King of the Far-Folk, looking askance, his hands forever busy with his beard.

“Large enough for two peoples to live in it, each unmolested?”

Oca’s eyes roved over the whole circle of the outlook before he answered.

“Large enough.”

“Oca,” said the young man, not the least troubled by this curtness nor put out by it, “you have done us as much harm as you could, which is not so much as you wished. I leave you to count the good you have got by it. It was an old quarrel, but it occurs to me that since the chief cause of it has ceased to exist, there is little use in our quarreling. But there is no reason why we should be friends. Do you follow me?”

“You are plain enough.”

“I will be plainer. Not only do we Outliers wish no quarrel with you but we wish 299never to set eyes on you again, nor so much as to happen on the places where you have been. Therefore if you will choose you out a quarter of this land, which, as you say, is large enough, you and your people will have leave to go seven days in that direction, after which you shall see no more of us. But all this part where we have been, from the Ledge to Broken Tree, is forbidden ground. Neither you nor any generation of yours to set foot in it. We will see to that.”

He spoke with a controlled and quiet energy that fell on the old man’s fury of defeat like steady rain.

“As for us, we shall go south from here a great distance. So,” said Persilope, “if you choose, to-morrow my men will set you on your way, and you shall have no more to do with us except of your own seeking.”

Oca looked back over his people standing sullen and attentive, and read but one thought in them.

“We would go now,” he said.

“As you will. Only choose.”

It was a generous offer, but perhaps Persilope knew his man. Oca looked north and south: he must have had by his wild instinct 300the better knowledge of the country. He might have seen in that unstinted gaze some trace—pale smoke ascending or pointed roof—that advised him of the neighborhood of men, men to be plotted against, evaded, pilfered from, to give to his life the zest of cunning that it craved. He stretched his hand northward.

“I will go there,” he said.

“From those three far peaks, then, to this broken headland, and from thence as the crow flies to the sea. Do you accept the conditions?”

“O Persilope, what else is there to do?”

“Go, then.”

On the motion of Persilope stepping back all the Outliers fell back a little also to give them room. We saw the Far-Folk set in motion. Oca himself went a few paces, but he was, after all, a king; words of thanks stuck in his throat no doubt. He dragged them out, perhaps by the process of tugging at the locks of his beard.

“Your offer is just. We will keep faith with you. My thanks to you,” he said, and when Persilope had dismissed the subject with a 301gesture, he turned his back in departing and did not look our way again.

We saw them go down the hill and drown in the lake of mist, and after an interval come out on the other side rounding a hill front, after which we saw them no more. It was a visible relief to the Outliers to be rid of them. We moved a space down the headland, made cover from the rain and slept quietly.

In the night all the tide of mist and fog drained out to sea and left the heavens tender.

By the sun we saw that we had come much nearer the coast than I had realized; we saw the sapphire spangled belt of the sea lying low under the hills, and suspected a faint odor of drying weed mixed with the breath of the budding forest. Gladness came up with the sun and sang the love of life awake.

Spread abroad seeking food, we heard the Outliers laughing in the well sunned spaces. It was still very early and the shadows airy when they called to us. They came about us in a ring of friendly faces, and it was so good a day to be alive in, we had forgotten to be afraid what they might do with us.

“You heard us say last night,” began Persilope, when we had been brought before him in 302a grass walk between the madroños, “how we should go south from here where the forest comes down to the sea and there are no House-Livers. The places where you knew us we shall not know again.” He saddened at that, and a shadow of sadness fell on all their faces. “But I doubt”—here he smiled—“if we were still there, whether you could find us again.”

“Not without your consent.”

“You came to us strangely,” he went on, “in a strange time, and trouble entered with you.”

“Not of our making,” Herman reminded him, “nor our wishing.”

“We are sensible of that, and also that we had good from you. Therefore”—he looked about on the Outliers and the nudging and whisper of agreement ran from group to group of them—“we wish to give you good in return. We have nothing to give you such as House-Folk value, nothing but your memory of us, which we hope you may hold as lovingly as we do yours.”

“We do so,” said Herman.

“Will you take that memory then, as our gift of parting, so to keep it as the best we have to offer?”

“So to keep it as the best we have to keep,” 303consented Herman solemnly, and I after him.

“Why then,” said Persilope, “there is nothing more for it but to set you on your way to Broken Tree again, and to wish you Good Friending.”

The good-bys were said very quickly; they came about us with light laughter and good wishes and broke and parted into the wood again. The sun and the spring and the wind out of the south called them. I sent messages to Evarra, who stayed in the wood beyond River Ward to bury Lianth. Trastevera and some others came down the hill with us. When we had traveled rapidly for an hour they showed us the moon-shaped bay and the moon-white curve of the beach around it, and the point of cypress running far into the blue water. Later we could see the white specks of the houses, and then the close shouldering hills and the moss-hung pines, the oaks leaning all one way of the wind, and the sea-blue slopes of ceanothus. As we went our companions slipped from us, melted between sunny space and woody shadow, and mixed with the brown and green of the wood side. Now we saw bright regardful eyes and fingers laid on lips—who knew what men folk might 304be stirring? And now we felt to right or left the friendly presences. Finally, when we had been walking I do not know how long, suddenly there was only Herman and I in the wood, and no other.

“Herman, Herman!” I said, “they are gone, we shall never see them again.”

He looked and listened; nothing moved but the flicker of sun on a wind-stirred leaf or a winged insect in the green arcades of fern. Far back we heard the call of jays ending in a light high note of mocking laughter.

“Herman, shall we never find them?”

“Perhaps. Who knows? The trail is very plain here. If we take pains to notice it, we might come this way again.”

“Yes, let us keep the trail at least. We must find the place again. They have not forbidden us.”

We followed it close where it left the trees and ran in the grass between the blossoming lilacs. Wet folded poppies bent above it.

“It was a good time we had with them. I cannot bear to think it will never come again.”

“Yes, it was a good time. How long was it, Mona?”

“How should I know? Do you remember, 305the first day we went in by Broken Tree there was the first spray of lilac blossoming?”

“I remember.”

“And now all the slopes are blue and the air too sweet with them. How long is that?”

“A long time, I think. I was a professor of Sociology then.”

“And what are you now?”

“Something more, I hope. And—Mona, I think we are taking the best part of Outland away with us.”

I agreed to that too, as we walked between the blue sprayed fountains of ceanothus, and felt the swing of the earth under us.

“Are you happy, Mona?”

“Yes. Though we have lost them, and I shall never walk alone in the wood again without hoping to find them. I am happy, but I do not know why.”

“And have you quite forgiven me?”

“For what, Herman? I have nothing to forgive you.”

“For not being more, seeing more in the first place—for such a number of things. Have you—quite?”

“Yes, quite.”

We walked on and saw the curdled line of 306the surf, and heard the long sigh that passes up from the sea along the pines, and smelled the beaches. All at once I was aware of the soft springing of the grass under foot.

“Herman! Herman! Where is the trail? Look! We have lost it.”

We looked, and there was the locked wood behind, and the soft, untrodden turf before.

“It was here by the buckthorn, I think.”

“By the ceanothus; it came out between two pines.” But though we looked and ran, it was not in either of these places.

“Herman, we shall never find the trail to that country again.”

“Yes, Mona.”

“Ah, look for it, Herman, come and look!”

Herman stood by the ceanothus and looked at me instead. “Mona,” he said, “the trail is here.”

“Where, Herman?” But I could not look at him where he stood because of the shining of his eyes.

“Here, Mona,” he answered with a gesture, “here!”

And I turned and found it on his breast.

THE END


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