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Title: Outland
Author: Austin, Mary Hunter
Language: English
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                                OUTLAND

                                   BY
                              MARY AUSTIN

[Illustration]

                           BONI AND LIVERIGHT
                           NEW YORK      1919



                          COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY
                         BONI & LIVERIGHT, INC.


                       _Printed in the U. S. A._



                                CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE
    I. CONCERNING THE TRAIL AT BROKEN TREE                             9

   II. I MEET THE OUTLIERS IN THE WOOD AND HERMAN COMES TO FIND ME    24

  III. I HEAR OF THE TREASURE AND MEET A FRIEND OF RAVENUTZI          44

   IV. THE MEET AT LEAPING WATER                                      67

    V. THE LOVE-LEFT WARD                                             94

   VI. IN WHICH I AM UNHAPPY AND MEET A TALL WOMAN IN THE WOOD       114

  VII. HERMAN DEVELOPS HIS IDEA                                      137

 VIII. IN WHICH HERMAN’S IDEA RECEIVES A CHECK                       157

   IX. HOW THE KING’S DESIRE WAS DUG UP, AND BY WHOM                 177

    X. THE LEDGE                                                     197

   XI. HOW THE OUTLIERS CAME UP WITH THE FAR-FOLK AT A PLACE CALLED
         THE SMITHY, AND HERMAN CAME BACK TO RIVER WARD              217

  XII. HOW AN OUTLIER SAW A TALL WOMAN FOLLOWING A TRAIL AND MANCHA
         MET THE SMITH AGAIN                                         236

 XIII. HOW THEY FOUND THE RUBIES, AND THE SMITH’S ACCOUNT OF
         HIMSELF                                                     258

  XIV. THE KING’S DESIRE, AND WHAT BECAME OF IT                      276

   XV. HOW HERMAN AND I CAME BACK TO BROKEN TREE                     295



                                OUTLAND



                                   I
                  CONCERNING THE TRAIL AT BROKEN TREE


The trail begins at the Broken Tree with the hawk’s nest. As often as we
have talked of it since, Herman and I, and that is as often as the
ceanothus blooms untimely for a sign of rains delayed, or there is a low
moon and a following star, or a wind out of the south with the smell of
wild honey in it, we have agreed together that the trail begins at
Broken Tree.

There were some other landmarks I was quite as sure of at the time, but
the creek makes so many turns here I could never find them again, and
the second time of Herman’s going in, he had altogether other things to
think about. So as often as we have occasion to talk of it, we end by
saying that it begins at Broken Tree.

I remember very well how Fairshore looked that day as we stood gazing
back at it from the edge of the plowed lands; the pines sketched blackly
against the smudgy, fawn-colored slope, the sea as blue as lazuli, and
the leaning surf. I had another reason for remembering it, since it was
the last time of Herman’s asking and of my refusing to marry him. I
don’t know why Herman’s being a professor of sociology should have led
him to suppose that our liking the same sort of books and much the same
people, and having between us an income fairly adequate to the
exigencies of comfortable living, should have been reason enough for my
marrying him, but he had spent a great deal of time that summer trying
to convince me that it was. I recall being rather short with him that
afternoon. For, in the first place, if I had meant to marry Herman I
should not have put all I had into a house at Fairshore, and in the next
place, though I had not got to the point of admitting it, the house was
proving rather a failure.

For a long time I had believed that it needed but a little space of
collected quietness for the vague presages of my spirit to burst freely
into power. Somewhere within myself I was aware of a vast, undiscovered
country full of wandering lights and crying voices, from whence the
springs of great undertakings should issue. But now that the house was
accomplished and my position in the English Department definitely
resigned, all that I had got by it was an insuperable dryness of heart
and a great deal of time which hung rather heavily upon my hands. I had
done no work at Fairshore that I was willing to confess to in print. I
know I should not, until I could escape from this inward desertness into
that quarter from whence still, at times, I could feel a wind blowing
that trumpeted up all the lagging forces of my soul. And just when I was
wanting most to know passion and great freedom of feeling, Herman’s
offer of a reasonable marriage, of which the particular recommendation
was that no feeling went to it, took on the complexion of a personal
affront. The more so since there was no very definite way in which I
could make clear to Herman just what offended me.

He was going on that afternoon to explain to me how, in a marriage free
from the disturbances of passion incidental to temperamental matings, I
should be at ease to give myself wholly to the business of book-making.
With all his understanding, Herman was fully possessed of that Academic
notion that literature can be produced by taking pains instead of having
them. He was very patient with me through it all, crediting my
indifference to overwork and to nerves, as a man does with a woman when
he is at a loss to know what is the matter with her. The truth was, if I
was tired of anything, it was of being the very things Herman most
admired in me. I was growing every moment more exasperated. By the time
he had got to the point of wanting to know what more there was that he
could say, I had reached the pitch of replying that there could be
nothing more unless he wished to say the usual thing.

“And that?” He turned to me with a sincere and astonished inquiry in his
lifted brows.

“Would be merely that you love me and can’t live without me.”

“Oh, if you want me to say what the grocer’s man says to the cook in the
kitchen!”—he flushed—“but you know very well, Mona, that I am not going
to insult your intelligence and mine with the clap-trap of passion.
Certainly I’ve no such cheap sort of feeling for you, and I’m not such
an infernal cad as to suppose you have——Mona?”

It might have been the wind that blew from the country beyond Broken
Tree at that moment, or something in my face, that turned that last
repetition of my name upon the point of interrogation. Though it was my
crying objection to Herman that he could not produce in me those
raptures and alarms and whirlings to and fro, out of which I knew all
creative art to proceed, yet to have him so renounce for us both the
possibility of such a relation filled me with sudden wounding and
affront. And at that, or at some new shadow of wonder in his eyes with
the turning of his voice upon the word, I found myself so little able to
give back look for look, that it was a great relief to me to discover
the hawk’s nest in the Broken Tree. The creek makes a turn here, and the
stepping-stones were so far apart it was necessary for Herman to go
ahead and reach me back his hand. As I swung past him I heard him say my
name again with so new a touch of shamed credulity that I was glad to
put my hand up over my eyes, making believe I had not heard him, and
look very attentively at Broken Tree.

It stands on the upper bank of the creek, snapped off midway by the
wind. Below the break two great sweeping boughs spread either way like
the arms of a guide-post. The nest is in the splintered hollow of the
trunk.

“It is a nest,” I said, as though a doubt I had were the reason for my
not hearing him. Herman was so used to this sort of interruption when we
walked in the woods together that I hoped it had a natural sound. He
answered quite simply that if it was, it should be empty by this time of
the year. Suddenly the hawk, unfurling from the upper branches, pitched
a slow downward spiral above our heads, then beat back into upper air,
uttering sharp cries, and, settling slowly to the left, preened himself
and neglected us. As if being but a watchman, having cried our coming,
he had no other interest in the affair.

Just beyond the pine there was a thicket of wild lilac grown across the
way, and as I put up my hand to defend my face, I saw that a light spray
of it had burst untimely into bloom. Though this was the second week in
October the grass was brittle as new silk and the earth was hard with
drought. I remember holding the branch toward Herman for him to see.

“Look how it calls the rain,” I said, and perhaps something more, though
I do not remember what, about the effort of nature to rise to its own
expectancy. I said that first because it was exactly the sort of thing I
knew Herman, who thought he had entirely rationalized his attitude
toward out of doors, liked least to hear me say. But, perhaps, because
the shadow of the adventure which was to prove him wrong about that and
so many things was already over us, he had no answer but to reach out
across my shoulder and put up his hand over mine to bear back the heavy
branch. This was so little the sort of thing I had learned to expect of
Herman, and we were both so embarrassed by it, that we could never be
quite sure which of us saw it first. When we had pushed aside the
ceanothus there lay the beginning of the trail.

It began directly at the foot of the pine as though there was some
reason for it, and ran shallow and well-defined through the lilac
thicket and up the hill.

Herman said it was a deer trail. To the casual eye it did resemble one
of those woodland tracks made by wild creatures, beginning at no
particular point, and after continuing clear and direct for a little
distance, breaking off for no reason. But there was about this trail a
subtlety, a nuance, slight distinctions in the way the scrub was bent
back from it, in the way it took the slope of the hill, that made it
plainly a man trail. More than that, I felt the slight pricking of the
blood, the quick response of the intelligence to the stimulus of
variations so slight the observation of them lies almost below the plane
of consciousness. Herman, wanting such witness in himself, could not
believe, and was concerned over my mistake. So we went on walking in it,
Herman very well satisfied with his argument, and I saying nothing more
about it. As I frequently have to do when Herman gets talking of the
things which are my province.

It was very quiet in the wood that day, scarcely a bird abroad; now and
then a still, winged insect threaded the green and gold arcades of the
great fern, or a long sigh from the sea, passed up the hill along the
top of the pines.

The trail cleared the scrub and went between young trees, skirting a
hollow planted with lean, sombre boles. The ground beneath was white
with the droppings of shadow-haunting birds. Beyond that there was more
open going among splay-footed oaks, crusted thick with emerald moss, all
a-drip from their outer branches with the filmy lace of lichen. Then a
pleasant grassy space of pines before the close locked redwoods began.

I do not know how long we had been following before we heard the jays,
but we had come into a little open glade where lilies grew, through
which the trail seemed to lead to one of those places where you have
always wished to be. There we heard them crying our approach. Herman
said they were jays, and the first one might have been. I know the high,
strident call they have, which another hears and repeats, and another,
until all the wood is cautious and awake. But one jay calls exactly like
every other, and about this there was a modulation that assured while it
warned; that said: “I have heard; have no concern for me.” And even I
could not have fancied so much as that in the mere squawking of jays.

“Be still,” I said to Herman, who was protesting cheerfully behind me;
“you have waked the wood people and now we shan’t see any of them.”

“What people?”

“The people who walk in the woods and leave the meadows warm and tender,
whom you feel by the pricking between your shoulders when you come upon
the places where they have been. The people who made this trail, whom we
heard calling one to another just now. _The_ people——” And just then we
came upon the faggot.

It lay close beside the trail, little sticks all in order except a last
handful dropped hurriedly on top when the faggot-gatherer had started at
our approach.

“Look!” I said; “that is what they were doing when we came stumbling on
them.”

It _was_ a faggot, I shall always insist that it was a faggot, and I
should have said so if nothing had happened afterward to prove it.
Herman kicked it impatiently with his foot.

“There’s a literary temperament for you,” he protested. “You find a
trail made by wood-choppers, you hear jays squawking and see a heap of
brushwood. Straightway you create a race of people to account for them.”

“You _said_ it was a deer trail a while ago,” I hinted, and Herman
laughed.

It was still and warm in the glade; the needles lay thick and soft and
no grass grew. The scent of the yerba buena stole upon us
intermittently, delicate pungent gusts answering each to each like
speech. All around the sunlight lay, a thing palpable, as if, like the
needles, it had not been lifted for a thousand years, but mellowed there
like wine. Herman stretched himself on the brown thick litter beside me.

“Aha,” he said, “if this belongs to your wood people they know a good
thing. It’s very nice of them to lend it to us for a while. I don’t seem
to feel any pricks between my shoulders, but my heart beats remarkably;
so don’t give me up yet, Mona.”

That was exactly like Herman, to argue with your best beliefs until you
begin to think there is no other way than to subvert your whole scheme
of existence, or to break off all connection with him. And then he
abandons his position with a suddenness that leaves you toppling over
your own defenses.

For a moment I thought he might be going to revert to the matter of my
marrying him, but he lay tossing lightly at the dropped needles, and the
even breathing silence of the wood closed in again. We sat so long that
we were startled on discovering that if Herman got back to the Inn in
time for the stage that was to take him to his train, we would have to
run for it. And that, I suppose, was why we took so little notice of the
landmarks going out, that, though I tried the very next afternoon, I
could not find the trail again.

I wanted to find it too, for if I could once prove to Herman that there
was a reality behind that sense of presence in the woods he credited to
the whimseys of a literary imagination, I should somehow put myself in a
better case for proving—well, I did not know quite what, but I wanted to
find that trail.

I tried that day and the next. Twice I found the glade and the
sun-steeped yerba buena, for the day was warm and the scent of it
carried far, and once I got past Broken Tree, but I could never come
into the trail in any manner.

Then one day when I had almost given up finding it, and had been a long
time in the woods without thinking about it, I found myself walking in
the glade again, and the first thing I noticed was that the faggot was
gone. Although I had been so sure of its being a faggot in the first
place, I was a little startled at missing it, but not in the least
alarmed. The day was full of the warm dry fog that goes before a rain;
it cleared the ground and curled midway of the tall, fluted trees like
altar smoke. I followed along the track, which ran narrowly between the
redwood boles toward an open space, at the back of which was the pool of
a spring. It gleamed under a leaning bay tree, silver tipped with light.
And there beside it was a man who so matched with the color of the
dappled earth that, except for the motions of his singular employment, I
might have missed seeing him altogether. He was of a long clean shape,
dressed as to the upper part of his body in a close-fitting coat of gray
mole-skin. His feet were covered with sandals. Long bands of leather and
of a green cloth, coarse like linen, were laced about, midway of his
thighs. His coat had been loosened at the shoulders, baring his breast
and arms, and as he lay on the bank of the pool, he leaned above it and
studied the reflection of his face. He had leaves of some strange herb
in his hand which he squeezed together, and having dipped it in the
water rubbed upon his face and hair, watching the effect in the pool.

It was his hair that caught my attention most, for it was thick and
waving, and most singularly streaked with white. That was the more
strange because the body of him looked lithe and young. It occurred to
me that he might be remedying an offensive grayness as he dipped and
rubbed and stooped to mirror himself the better in the bright water. But
before I had made up my mind to anything further, he turned and saw me.

The first thing he did was to thrust the hand that held the herb
straight down into the water with a deliberate movement—all the while
holding my gaze with great fixity of purpose, as though he would not so
much as let it question what he did. Presently withdrawing the hand
empty, he stood up.

As he drew erect and clasped the upper part of his tunic, I saw that
around his body was a sort of sash of green cloth wrapped several times,
and stuck through the folds of it, various tools of the cruder sort of
silversmiths. Also, though his figure was young, the skin of his face
was drawn in fine wrinkles. He had a thin, high nose with a slightly
mobile tip that seemed to twitch a little with distrust as he looked at
me. The mouth below it was full and curved, his eyes bluish black,
opaque and velvet-looking; windows out of which came and looked
boldness, cunning and power, and the wistfulness of the wild creature
questioning its kinship with man. All this without so much as altering a
muscle of his face or removing his gaze from mine. Then he stepped back
a pace against the yielding boughs, which seemed to give like doors, and
received him without crackling or sensible displacement into the silence
of the wood.



                                   II
      I MEET THE OUTLIERS IN THE WOOD AND HERMAN COMES TO FIND ME


When Herman got my letter concerning the dark man under the bay tree, he
was wholly at loss what to make of it. He was quite habituated to my
method of making believe to be a story before writing it, and was always
willing to play up to his part as soon as he learned what that was, but
in this case I had neglected to tell him. While he was reading the
letter over, it occurred to him the whole thing might be merely a
childish pique because he had scoffed at my wood people in the first
place, and was rather annoyed at it.

But as often as he went back to the letter he found a note of conviction
in it—for I had written it immediately after the adventure—that overrode
both of these interpretations.

After that he was divided between the fear that I really had been
overworking and a period of mild hallucination had set in, or the
possibility that I could have met some sort of wild person in the forest
who might do me an injury. The most disturbing thing in the letter was
the declaration that I meant to go back as soon as I could and find out
all about the woodlander. The result of all this was that after having
written me a separate letter based on each one of these beliefs, and
having destroyed it, Herman left the University Friday morning and came
down to find out, if possible, what really had occurred.

He arrived on the stage that reaches Fairshore at half-past one, and as
he had come directly from his lecture room, he had first to have lunch
and change to his out-of-door clothes. This made it the middle of the
afternoon before he reached the cottage. As soon as he had a glimpse of
it, he experienced a sinking of the heart that warned him that I was not
there. However, he went through the formality of knocking at the front
door before going round to see if I had left the key, as I did for short
absences, or had taken it to the Inn as when I meant to be away several
days. He found the key in the accustomed place, and something more
alarming. Inside the screened porch at the back were the three little
bottles of milk which the milkman had left there each evening that I had
been away. So I had been gone three days!

The first thing was to make sure that I was not at Mira Monte or at
Idlewild, where I went sometimes as the mood demanded. He was very
cautious about making inquiries at the post-office and the Inn, for, of
course, I hadn’t given Herman any right to be interested in my
whereabouts. And, of course, if I really had gone off to hunt for
hypothetical people in the woods, I shouldn’t want it talked about. At
the end of an hour he had learned nothing more definite than that if I
had gone out of town it had not been by the regular stages, and nobody
knew when or where.

He decided then that the occasion justified his going into the house to
find out if I had taken my suit-case, or anything that would give a
clue. By the time he got back to the cottage it was past four o’clock,
and the milkman had been his round. There were now four little bottles
on the ledge. This somehow seemed to Herman so alarming a circumstance,
with its implication of unexpected detention, that with scarcely more
than a glance about the house, he put some crackers and my traveling
flask into his pocket and set out almost running for Broken Tree.

He said that he found the place with very little difficulty, and without
noticing particularly the way he came. I have thought since it might be
one of the conditions of going there, that you must be thinking
altogether of other matters and be concerned in the going for something
more than yourself.

Herman found the trail and followed it as far as the place of the
faggot, and on to the point where I had seen the tall man washing his
hair at the spring. Though he could have had no reasonable expectation
he had unconsciously counted on finding some trace of me in that
neighborhood, and, disappointed in that, was at loss what to do. The
trail, which ran out indistinguishably in the meadow, began again on the
other side. After losing half an hour in picking it up again, he came on
half fearfully, anticipating he knew not what dread evidence at every
turn.

The redwoods grew close here and the space between was filled with
bluish gloom shot with long arrows of the westering sun. The trail ran
crookedly among the clutching roots. Stumbling near-sightedly among
them, he lost it wholly and so came by accident upon what otherwise he
might have missed. Where the forest sheered away from a blank, stony
ledge sticking out of a hill, there was a clear space with some small
ferns and a seeping spring. In the soft earth about it he found prints
of feet he thought to be mine, and beside it, broad and strong, the
heavy feet of men. It was by now nearly dark, and Herman was so
genuinely alarmed and so poor a woodman that he knew no better than to
dash back among the redwoods hunting wildly for the trail and shouting,
“Mona! Mona!” for all the wood to hear.

What had really happened to me was alarming enough to think of, though
in truth I had not been very much alarmed by it at the time. The morning
after my writing to Herman had been one of those pricking days that come
in the turn of the seasons. Such a sparkle on the approaching water,
such a trumpeting from the hills, the high vault full of flying cloud,
that I struck with great confidence into the trail some distance beyond
Broken Tree.

I followed along where it ran in a space wide as a wagon track, and
opened into a meadow full of the airy whiteness of small bloom, floating
above the late yellow lilies and the glinting grass. I sat down at its
farther ledge, leaning against the curled roots of the redwood, and got
as much comfort from it as though I had been propped by a human
shoulder, so full was all the earth of friendly warmth and quietness.

There was neither sun nor shadow nor moving wind. I sat and browsed
along the edge of sleep, slipped in and out, dozed and woke to watch the
lilies: lost myself, and snapped alert to see the eyes of a man, ruddy
and well-looking, fixed upon me from between the shouldering trees. Not
a twig had snapped nor one bough clicked against another, but there he
stood like a stag gazing, uncurious and at ease. When he perceived that
I was aware of him he stepped toward me, throwing up his head, uttering
the high strident cry of jays, followed by one bird-call and another,
which seemed to be answered in kind from within the forest.

He was a man of about forty, burned by the sun with thick, tawny locks
and a pointed, russet beard, wearing a single garment of untanned skin
that came midway of his arms and thighs. There were sandals on his feet
and strips of leather bound about protected him to the knees. He was
belted about the body with a curious implement that might have been a
sling, and from his hand swung a brace or two of quail.

The singular part of this adventure was that while he stood there
communicating in his strange wordless fashion with all the birds in the
woods, I was not afraid. He was standing over me in such a manner that I
could not have escaped him if I would. Really I had no thought of doing
so, but sat looking as he looked at me, and not in the least afraid.

So occupied were we both with this mutual inspection that I did not
quite know how nor from what quarter three men came out from among the
trees and stood beside him. One of them was red and sturdy like the
first, one was old, with a white beard curling back from his face like
the surf from a rock, but exceedingly well built and with great heaps of
gnarly muscles along his breast and arms. The third was the dark man I
had seen washing his hair at the pool of the Leaning Bay.

They all looked at me with amazement and some consternation. Words
passed between them in a strange tongue, though it was plain they
referred to the manner of their finding me, and what was to be done
about it. At length, the old man having said something to the effect
that whatever I might be I did not appear particularly dangerous, they
laughed, all of them, and made a sign that I was to come with them along
the trail.

We moved slowly; my captors, for so I was to regard them, so disposing
themselves as we went that I was scarcely aware of them. We moved
stealthily from bole to bole, mingling so with the tawny and amber
shadows, that time by time I hesitated, thinking myself abandoned. Then
I heard the old man’s throaty chuckle like the movement of slow water
among stones, or caught the bright, regardful eyes of Ravenutzi fixed
upon me from behind the interlacing boughs.

After an hour’s walking we came to a bramble-fenced hollow, ringed with
very tall trees, smelling of the sun. Here there might be a dozen of the
wood folks, with four women among them, lying up like deer through the
bright betraying noon.

Almost the first thing I noticed was that there was no curiosity among
them of a prying sort over my appearance, and no fear. As if they had
never imagined that one of my sort could do them harm. But there was
regretfulness, particularly among the women, that appeared to be
strangely for my sake, and a very grave concern. Moreover, when I
spoke,—for I was moved to speak at once and declare that whatever the
appearance of my coming among them, I meant no harm,—they turned all
toward me, as if merely by attending quietly on this strange tongue they
could make out what was said. I presently discovered that they had made
it out, and by keeping this same considered quietness, without straining
or trying to think what the words were, I was able to know what went on
about me. Although it was several days before I could communicate fully,
and I do not know yet, nor does Herman know, what language the Outliers
spoke among themselves, we were able to get along very well in it.

They drew around me in a circle, which was left open at one side to
admit a man whom I guessed at once by his bearing, as well as the
deference they paid him, to be some sort of chief to them.

He was of a singular and appealing beauty, so that his bodily excellence
was a garment to him, and adorned the simplicity of his dress. There was
that in his way of standing which moved one to go up and lay hand on him
as on the stem of a young cedar. But something stood within him that
protected him more than a weapon from such impersonality. As he waited
to hear the account of me which the red man gave, I felt I had never
such a wish to have a man think well of me, nor been so much at a loss
how to begin it. At the same time he seemed to be hearkening to
something within himself, something that, when he asked a question of
the women (which passed from one to another of them with something of
denial and disclaimer), seemed to speak more loudly. The question
appeared to refer to something which should have settled my business
then and there. The neglect of it devolved upon a woman, comely and
perplexed, as though given to too great a sense of responsibility, and
much overcome at being found at fault.

“No matter,” he said to her excuses, and bending a troubled look on me,
the doubt in him spoke out openly.

“It was of this, I think, _she_ spoke to me.”

At that slight emphasis the dark man who had the smith’s tools on him,
looked at me with so sharp and surprising an interest that it distracted
me from noticing who it was behind me asked with some eagerness:

“Of what did she speak?”

“That there was one walking toward us on the trail, bearing trouble. On
the morning of our leaving, she waked me early to say it. I am thinking
this is the one. If you have forgotten the cup, Evarra, it is an omen.”

The interest of all the wood folk reawakened. They began to regard me
with so much distrust that I was relieved when the chief made a sign to
Noche to take me a little to one side. Thus they talk more freely,
looking at me from time to time, sometimes seeming to blame the woman,
and sometimes to praise her.

Noche was that same old man who had brought me from the neighborhood of
Broken Tree, whose mild blue eyes, set rather shallowly in a broad face,
continued to reassure me.

He sat off a considerate distance, and busied himself with plaiting of
leather thongs. All his features were rugged, the mouth wide, the nose
broad and open at the nostrils, but blunted all as if by some yielding
humor in him which fitted oddly with the knotting of his muscles. Now
and then he turned toward me with chuckling, slow laughter which served
in place of comforting speech.

Whatever conclusion the woodlanders came to about me, it was not to take
immediate effect. They talked or lay quietly in the fern as deer lie.
They slept much, but always with some on guard, dropping off with even
breathing peace, and waking without start or stretching, as if
wakefulness were but a wind that stirred them by times, and sleep the
cessation of the stir.

Toward evening they rose and cooked a meal, of which I had my share—deer
meat, wild honey in the honey-comb, and some strange bread. Two or three
others came in from hunting; they were dressed much the same as the red
man who had found me, and carried slings in their belts or slung upon
their shoulders. The west was red and the pines black against it. There
rose a light ruffle of wind and sighed through the wood. With it passed
through the camp an audible breath of expectation. One of the women
stood up with water in a bowl of bark, holding it high above her head in
the manner of one celebrating a ritual, crooning some words to which the
others made a breathy, soft response. She turned the water out upon the
fire, the ashes of which Noche deftly covered, then, extending the bowl
toward the young leader, she smiled, saying:

“The word is with you, Persilope.”

He took the vessel from her, scattering its few remaining drops
westward.

“To the sea!” he said; “down to the sea!”

“To the sea!” cried the Outliers, and laughed and girt themselves.
Suddenly I found myself caught up into a kind of litter or swing made of
broad bands of skin, in a position of great uneasiness to myself,
between the shoulders of two men. The whole body of woodlanders set off
rapidly, but in their former noiseless fashion, going seaward.

The moon was up and the tide far out when we issued upon the promontory
called Cypress Point. There was little surf, and the glimmer of the tide
ran like silvered serpents all along the rocks. With a shout the
Outliers stripped and cut the molten water with their shining bodies;
laughed and plunged and rose again, laughing and blowing the spray as
long as the moon lasted. They were at it again with the earliest light,
and I should have known they were gathering sea food without what one of
the women told me, of a great occasion going forward at their home which
lay far from here, and a great feast of all the tribe. When the tide
allowed, they gathered fish and abalones, which the women carried to
some secret place among the pines to cure and dry.

When the tide was up the Outliers lay by in the dark rooms of cypress,
bedded on the thick, resistant boughs, or stretched along the ancient
trunks so wried and bent to purposes of concealment. Often in the heat,
when there was cessation of the low whispering tones and light easy
laughter, I would rise up suddenly seeming to myself quite alone only to
discover by the stir of the wind on hair or garment the watchers lying
close, untroubled and observant. While they worked I lay bound lightly
under the wind-depressed cypresses where no light reached, but strange
checkered gleams of it like phosphorescent eyes.

By night I could hear the Outliers shouting strongly in the surf, and
saw by day the Chinese fishing-boats from Pescadera crawl along the
rocks, and the smoke of coasting steamers trailing a shadow like a dark
snake on the sea’s surface, polished by the heat. The men worked with
good-will and laughter, always with watchers out. If one moment they
were hauling at the nets, at a mere squeak of warning there would not be
to the unpracticed eye so much as the glint of the sun on bare skin.
Once a great red car came careering around the point, all the occupants
absorbed in Bridge, just when the sea was at its best, a sapphire
sparkle moving under an enchanted mist and the land luminous with
reflected light.

We could see the casual turning of the owner’s head as some invisible
string from the guard’s stretched, pointed finger seemed to move it like
a mechanical toy. Almost before it rounded the curve, old Noche took
himself out of the seaweed and blew foam at them in derision.

The care and keeping of me fell to Evarra, by whose neglect a proper
dealing with me was kept in abeyance, and to old Noche, with whom I
began to be very well acquainted. Noche had the soul of a craftsman,
though with no very great gift. Whenever the smith was busy at a forge
improvised of two beach stones and a flint, mending fishhooks and
hammering spear-heads from bits of metal picked up along the sand, Noche
would choose to lie puffing his cheeks to blow the fire while Ravenutzi
fitted his movements to the rhythm of the wind as it rose to cover the
light clink of his hammers. Or the old man would sit with his lips a
little apart and in his eyes the bright fixity of a child’s, laying out
iridescent fragments of abalone in curious patterns in which Ravenutzi
took the greatest interest.

It was singular to me that the design the old man struggled with
oftenest, the smith let pass. I had observed this the more because I
became sure that there was no smallest hint of it escaped him, and the
suspicion was fixed in my mind by its revelation of a great singularity
in the character of Ravenutzi himself.

Time and again I had seen Noche laying out his abalone pearls in a
design which, however dearly it was borne within his mind, seemed
reluctant in expression. He would place the salient points of his
pattern, connecting them by tracings in the sand, and when he had taken
the greatest pains with it, startled, would sweep out the whole with his
hand. There were times when its preciousness so grew upon him that he
would not even commit it to the dust, but formed the delicate outline
with his finger in the air.

One of those occasions, when it was full noon, and the tide charged
thunderously along the coast, all the Outliers lying up in the windy
gloom of the cypresses, I knew by the absorbed and breathless look of
him that Noche had accomplished for once the whole of his design. He
bent above it crooning in his beard, so absorbed in the complete and
lonely joy of creation that he neither saw nor sensed the shifting of
the stooped, twisty trunks above him to the form of Ravenutzi.

How he had come there I could not imagine, but there he bent from the
flat-topped foliage, the mouth avid, the eyes burning and curious. As
the shifting of his position brought him into line with my gaze he
passed to a fixed intentness that held me arrested even in the process
of thought. It left me uncertain as to whether it were not I who had
been caught spying instead of Ravenutzi, and merely to meet that look in
me had been, after all, the object of his secret scrutiny.

And this was what separated him from the others more than his dark skin
and his clipped and nasal speech, making me sure, before I had heard a
word of the Far-Folk, of some alien blood in him. Whatever one of the
Outliers did, whether you agreed with him or not, there was at least no
doubt about it.

That was how the days were going with me all the time Herman was writing
me letters and tearing them up again, deciding that I was mad or foolish
or both.

On the evening of the last day, about the time he had entered on the
trail by Broken Tree, we were setting out for I knew not what far home
of the Outliers. I was carried still in my litter, but that was more
kindness than captivity, for though I count myself a good walker, I made
poor work of keeping even with their light, running stride. We were not
many hours out; it was after moonset, and I had lost all track of the
time or the way, being a little sick with the motion, and very tired of
it. I could guess this much, that we were rounding a steep and thick-set
hill by what might have been an abandoned wagon road, for our pace
increased here. Suddenly the company was arrested by sharp resounding
cries and the crackling of underbrush on the slope above us. So does the
night estrange familiar things, that I could get no clue at all to what
the cries might be, except that it was some creature blundering and
crying distressfully, making as if to cross our trail.

The Outliers were themselves alarmed by it, and considered a moment
whether they should halt to let it pass before us or hurry on to leave
it behind. But the check and the beginning of movement had caught the
attention of the lost creature, for it turned directly toward us, and
begun to come on more rapidly, redoubling its cries. Now I thought,
though it seemed so extraordinary, that it said “Mona!” in a wild and
urgent manner. Then it seemed to have slipped or bounded, for the slope
was steep, and fell with a great clatter of stones and snapping of stems
directly in our trail.

Several of the men precipitated themselves upon it. There was a short
struggle, muffled groans, and quiet. One of them struck a light from his
flint and showed a man, scratched and disheveled, lifted in the grip of
Noche, lying limp and faint back from the knotted arms. I turned faint
myself to see that it was Herman.



                                  III
         I HEAR OF THE TREASURE AND MEET A FRIEND OF RAVENUTZI


It was the very next day, and before I had learned as much of Herman’s
adventure as I have already set down, that I began to hear of the
Treasure. My hearing became the means of my knowing all that happened
afterwards in Outland on account of it.

It was the middle of the afternoon when I came out of Evarra’s hut and
found Herman, with his head bandaged, lying on a heap of skins with old
Noche on guard, plaiting slings. He had a loop of raw hide about one
foot stretched straight before him to keep it taut as he plaited. Now
and then he turned his face toward us with a wordless reassurance, but
chiefly his attention was taken by the children, who cooed and bobbed
their heads together within the shadow.

Back of them the redwoods stood up thick as organ pipes, and when the
wind stirred, the space above was filled with the click of dropping
needles and the flicker of light displaced. I was going on to inquire of
Herman how he happened to come stumbling on my trail when I thought him
safe at the University, but Noche making a noise of disapproval in his
throat, I left off at once, and began to attend to the talk of the
children. It grew clear as I fixed upon it or lapsed into unmeaning
murmurs as my mind wandered. There were four or five of them busy about
those curious structures that children build with pebbles and potsherds
and mounds of patted dust, set off by a feather or a flower. Noche, it
appeared, was very good at this sort of thing. To their great delight,
he was persuaded to undertake a more imposing mound than they could
manage for themselves; and presently I had made out idly that the
structure in the dust was the pattern of a story he was telling them. It
was all of a king’s treasure. Seventy bracelets of gold, he said, all of
fine work, chased and hammered, and belts of linked gold, and buckles
set with colored stones. He took pebbles from the creek and petals of
flowers to show them how that was, and every child was for making one
for himself, for Noche to approve. Also he said there were collars of
filigree, and necklets set with green stones of the color of the creek
where it turned over the falls at Leaping Water. There were cups of
gold, and one particular goblet of chased work which an old king held
between his knees, around the rim of which a matchless hunter forever
pursued exquisite deer. The stem of it was all of honey-colored agate,
and in the base there were four great stones for the colors of the four
Quarters: blue for the North, green for the South where the wind came
from that made the grass to spring, red for the Dawn side of earth, and
yellow for the West. And for the same king there was a circlet for his
brows, of fire-stones, by which I supposed he meant opals, half a finger
long, set in beaten gold. Also there were lamps, jeweled and chased, on
golden chains that hung a-light above the kings.

When then one of the children, who lay listening with his heels in the
air, wished to know if it were true what his father had said, that there
was evil in the Treasure which came out upon whoever so much as looked
at it, there came a rueful blankness upon the face of old Noche.

“Ay,” said he, “and upon whoever so much as talks of it.” And he shook
his neglected sling at them as though to have left it off for the sake
of a story were a very culpable matter.

But the children would not have it like that at all. They flung
themselves on him in a heap, and got upon his back and about his neck
and rumpled his hair, declaring that he was the best old man that ever
was, and he must tell them about the red necklace: till, growling a
little, but very glad to be beguiled, Noche went on to say there was a
necklace of red stones so splendid that every one of them was a little
more splendid than the next one. Almost before he had begun and before
Herman and I had heard anything louder than the unmeaning forest
murmurs, we saw the children rise to attention, and scatter suddenly,
with gay little splutters of laughter like the noise of water spilled
along the ground. They disappeared down the trails that ran darkling
among the rooted columns of the trees.

There was a certain dismay I thought on Noche’s face as he turned back
to his work, perceiving that I had listened, and not sure how much I had
understood. He began to talk to us at once about his work, as though
that might have been the object of our attention. With his hand he
reached out furtively behind him and destroyed all the patterns in the
dust.

Still I found my mind going back to the story with some insistence. Up
to that time I had seen no metal in the camp but some small pieces of
hammered silver and simple tools of hard iron, and no ornaments but
shells and berries. But there had been a relish in old Noche’s telling
that hinted at reality. I remembered the pattern which he had pondered
so secretly under the cypress trees, and it came into my mind in an
obscure way, without my taking any particular notice of it, that this
might be the pattern of the necklace of red stones. I had not time to
think further then, for the sound to which the children had answered was
the returning hunt and the Outliers coming toward us on the trail.

It was always so that they came together about the time that the blue
haze and the late light rayed out long level bars across the hills. They
would be awake and about at whatever hour pleased them, and take their
nooning in whatever place. Through the days there would scarcely be so
much seen of them as a woman beating fiber between two stones by a
brook, or a man cutting fern on a steep slope. So still they were by
use, and so habituated to the russet earth and the green fern and the
gray stone, that they could melt into it and disappear. Though you heard
close about you low-toned talk and cheerful laughter, you could
scarcely, unless they wished it, come bodily upon them.

On this evening all those in the neighborhood of Deep Fern had come
together, not only because of the news of House-Folk brought to camp,
but because this was the time set for the return of Trastevera from some
errand connected with the great occasion of which I had been told. It
was she who had seen trouble walking with us on the trail from Broken
Tree, and without whose advisement, so Evarra had already explained to
me, nothing would be determined concerning Herman and me.

This Trastevera was also the wife of Persilope, and whatever the
business that called her from Deep Fern that day, she was late
returning. All the Outliers had come in. The light had left the lower
reaches of the forest and began to shine level through the fan-spread
boughs before Persilope came out of the grass walk where he had been
pacing up and down restlessly. Advised by some sound or sense too fine
for me, he lifted up his hand toward that quarter of the thick-set grove
that fenced the far end of the meadow. In the quick attentiveness that
followed on the gesture, he stood in the flush of rising tenderness
until, with some others behind her, she came lightly through the wood.
One perceived first that she was smaller than the others, most
delicately shaped, and next, that the years upon her were like the
enrichment of time on some rare ornament.

I do not know why in our sort of society it should always seem
regrettable, when not a little ridiculous, for a woman to be ten years
older than her husband. Since I have known the exquisite maturity of
Trastevera’s spirit, tempering her husband’s passion to finer
appreciation of her ripened worth, I have not thought it so. As she came
lightly through the thick grass of the uncropped meadow there was, as
often, a glow upon her that might have come from the business she had
been abroad upon. It sustained her a little above the personal
consideration, so that almost before she had recovered from the flush of
her husband’s embrace, she turned toward Prassade—the red man who had
found me in the wood—to say that all was as he would have wished it, and
he had good reason for being pleased. This being apparently a word he
had waited for, he thanked her with a very honest satisfaction. Then,
with her hand still in Persilope’s, he looking down on her more rejoiced
with having her back from her errand than with anything she had to say
about it, she turned a puzzled, inquiring glance about the camp.

“Ravenutzi?” she questioned doubtfully; but the smith smiled and shook
his head, and with one consent, as if she had answered expectation, the
company parted and showed us to her where we stood. Without having any
previous intention about it, I found myself rising to my feet to meet
her, and heard Herman scramble lamely up behind.

She stood so, confronting us without a word for as long as it took
Prassade briefly to explain how they had taken us, and why they had not
done that to us which I already understood had threatened me on the
first day of my captivity. This was long enough for me to discern that
she was darker than the other Outliers, that her hair must have been
about the color of Ravenutzi’s before it turned. Her eyes were gray and
clouded with amber like the morning surf. She moved a step toward me,
nodding her head to what the young chief said, and shaking it slowly to
something in herself. Wonder and perplexity deepened in her. Delicately,
as seeking knowledge of me and not realizing that I could understand her
speech or answer in it, she drew the tips of her fingers across my
breast. There was no more offensiveness in the touch than in the
questioning fingers of the blind. Wonder and perplexity deepening still,
she turned back to Persilope.

“I grow an old woman,” she said, “I have failed you.”

He took the hand which she put out deprecatingly, and held it strongly
against his breast, laughing the full, fatuous man’s laugh of disbelief.

“When have you failed me?”

“I do not know,” she protested; “I cannot tell;” and I understood that
the doubt referred to her failure to get from me by that contact, the
clew she sought.

“Surely these are they whom I feared for you to meet when you set out
for the sea by the cypresses. Not for what they would do to you”—her
look was toward Persilope—“but for what they might bring to all
Outliers. But now I am not sure.”

She spoke as much to the company at large as to her husband. The number
of them had increased, until I could see the outer ring melting into the
twilight of the trees, eyes in formless faces of amazement and alarm.
Now at the admission of a difficulty, they all turned toward her with
that courtesy of inward attention by which, when one of them would
understand more of a matter than lay directly before him, each turned
his thought upon the subject gravely for a time, like so many lamps
lighted in a room, and turned it off again with no more concern when the
matter was resolved. But even as she smiled to acknowledge their help
she shook her head.

“No,” she repeated, “I cannot tell.” She turned and looked at me, and I
gave her the look back with so deep a wish to have her understand that
no trouble should come to them by me, that she must have sensed it, for
her look went on by me and stopped at Herman.

“You?” she questioned.

“Tell her,” said Herman, who had not caught all the words, but only the
general purport of her speech, “tell her that all we ask is to go to our
own homes, unharmed and harming no one.”

Now that was not exactly what I had in mind, for though I would not for
worlds have made trouble for the Outliers, I wished nothing so little as
being sent away before I had got to know more of them. But before I
could frame a speech to that end, Trastevera spoke again more lightly.

“Now that I have seen them, there seems nothing in them but kindness and
well-meaning. Indeed it is so unusual a thing that House-Folk should
discover us, that I am not sure we ought not to pay them some little
respect for it.”

She made me a little whimsical acknowledgment of this sentiment, but
before I could think of a reply, some slight shifting of the ringed
watchers thrust forward Ravenutzi. I recalled suddenly what I had
neglected to state in the midst of Prassade’s explanation, that his
finding me was not the first intimation I had had of the presence of
Outliers in the neighborhood of Broken Tree. Up to this time I had
observed that when the Outliers had their heads together on any matter
of immediate concern, it had been Ravenutzi’s habit to keep a little to
one side, as though not directly affected. Now as I saw him pushed into
the cleared space by the stream side, it stirred dimly in my mind that
the circumstance of my first meeting with him, which I had not before
mentioned, might mean something. I hardly understood what.

I must have made some motion, some slight betraying glance which the
smith detected. While the words were in my throat he looked at me,
subtly, somehow encompassingly, as if he had projected his personality
forward until it filled satisfyingly all my thought. I no longer thought
it worth while to mention where I had first seen Ravenutzi nor what I
had found him doing. I was taken with a sudden inexplicable warmth
toward him, and a vague wish to afford him a protection for which he had
not asked and did not apparently need. Swift as this passage was, I saw
that Trastevera had noted it. Something dimmed in her, as if her mind
had lain at the crossing of our two glances, Ravenutzi’s and mine, and
been taken in the shadow.

“For the disposing of the House-Folk,” she finished evenly, as though
this had been in her mind from the first to say, “you had better take
counsel to decide whether they shall be given the Cup at once, or be
kept to await a sign.”

I saw Persilope stooping to her, urging that she was tired, that she had
come too far that day, she would be clearer in the morning. She shook
her head still, looking once long at me, and once almost slyly at the
smith, and then at us no more, but only at her husband, as she walked
slowly along the meadow against the saffron-tinted sky. Then we were
taken away, Herman and I, to our respective huts.

The place called Deep Fern by the Outliers lay in the middle of three
half hollow basins looking seaward, and clearing all the intervening
hills. Barriers thick set with redwood, dividing the cupped space like
the ridges of a shell, ran into a hollow full of broad oaks and
brambles. Between the ridges brooks ran to join the creek that, dropping
in a white torrent to the basin called Lower Fern, made a pool there,
from which it was also called Deer Lake Hollow. The upper basin, long
and narrow, was named from the falls, Leaping Water.

The camp of the Outliers lay in one of the widest of the furrows between
the ridges where the redwoods marched soldierly down to the stream side.
Above it, between Deep Fern and a place called Bent Bow, lay Council
Hollow. It was there, when the moon was an hour high, a battered-looking
moon, yellow and low, went all the Outliers to consider what was to be
done about us. It was a windy hollow, oval shaped, with long white
knuckles of rock sticking out along the rim, where no trees grew,
nothing taller in it than the shadows of the penstemon which the moon
cast upon the rocks. Whenever the wind moved, there was a strong smell
of sweet grass and yerba buena. There would have been about thirty men
of the Outliers gathered when we came up the ridge from Deep Fern. We
halted with the women at a point where we could see, near to one end, a
little fire of crossed sticks low on the ground. The Outliers were at
all times sparing of fire and cautious in the use of it.

The Council had been sitting some time, I think, upon other matters,
when we took up our station on the rising ground. Trastevera went down,
winding between the rocks toward the ruddy point of fire. The moon was
moving in a shallow arc not high above the ranges, and some hurrying
clouds scattered the light. We could see little more than the stir of
her going, the pale discs of faces or the shining of an arm or shoulder
in the clear space between the shadows of the clouds.

She went on quietly, all talk falling off before her until she stood in
the small, lit circle between the leaders, who inquired formally of her
had she anything to say of importance on the business of the two
strangers.

“Only this,” she said, “that although I was greatly troubled before they
came, by a sense of danger impending, I am now free from it so far as
the House-Folk are concerned.”

“But do you,” questioned Prassade, “sense trouble still, apart from
these?” He motioned toward Herman and me, who had been brought behind
her almost to the circle of the flare.

“Trouble and shadow of change,” she said, and after a pause: “Shall I
speak?”

Without waiting for the click of encouragement that ran about the
Hollow, she began:

“You know all of you that I have, through no fault, the blood of the
Far-Folk, which has been for a long time the blood of traitors and
falsifiers. And yet never at any time have I played traitor to you nor
brought you uncertain word, except”—I thought her voice wavered
there—“in the matter of the hostage.”

If there had been any wavering it was not in the councillors, whose
attention seemed to stiffen to the point of expectation as she went on
steadily.

“When it was a question more than a year ago whether the Far-Folk should
send us their best man and cunningest as a hostage for accomplished
peace, you know that I was against it, though I had no reason to give,
beyond the unreasoning troubling of my spirit. Later when Ravenutzi was
brought into our borders, and I had met with him, there was something
which sang to him in my blood, and a sense of bond replaced the
presentiment. All of which I truly admitted to you.”

So still her audience was, so shadowed by the drift of cloud, that she
seemed, as she stood with her face whitened by the moon, and the low
fire glinting the folds of her dress, to be explaining herself to
herself alone, and to admit the need of explanation.

“And because,” she said, “I could not be sure if it was a foreseeing, or
merely my traitor blood making kinship to him, you took the matter to
council and accepted the hostage. Are you sorry for it?”

At this, which had been so little anticipated, there went a murmur
around the hollow as of doubt not quite resolved. Several cried out
uncertain words which a ruffle of wind broke and scattered. Prassade
wagged his red beard, shouting:

“No! By the Friend!”

“Then,” she went on, more at ease, I thought, “as it was with Ravenutzi,
so with these. I saw trouble, and now I do not see it; trouble that
comes of keeping them, or trouble of letting them go. That I cannot
determine for you. So I say now, if you do not regret what you have done
by Ravenutzi, do the same with these, accept and hold them, waiting for
a sign.”

She left off, and the moon came out of the cloud to discover how they
stood toward it, and went in again discovering nothing.

Then a man who had already pricked himself upon my attention, stood up
to argue the matter. He was short and exceedingly stout of build. Above
the thick bands of leather that protected his lower limbs, he wore no
dress but a cougar skin bound about the thick columnar body and held in
place by a cord passing over the shoulder. He was armed with a crotched
stick that had an oblong pointed stone bound in the crotch by thongs,
the handle of which was so long that, as he stood with his hands, which
were wide and burned but shapely, resting upon it, the head of the
weapon lay upon the ground. What was most singular in his appearance, as
he stood blocked solidly against the half-lit sky, was his hair. It was
pale yellow, crisp and curling, and rayed out erectly from his head as
though it were the emanation of some natural force or property of the
man, curiously and independently alive above the square and somewhat
meaningless regularity of his countenance.

“Why,” inquired he, “were these House-Folk brought here to Deep Fern?
Why not made to drink forgetfulness when first taken?”

“Evarra had forgotten the Cup,” Persilope explained; “she thought it
could be gathered at Broken Tree, but she had forgotten how much further
the season is advanced in that neighborhood.”

“But now,” said Evarra, “I have prepared it, and there is nothing more
to do.” She came forward, and I observed that she held a wooden bowl
against her breast from which steam arose, and an aromatic smell.

The moon had risen early on the track of the sun. The shallow lap of
hills in which we stood gave directly westward to the belated glow that
diffused through the moon shadows an amber bloom, in which, though the
faces of the Outliers shone indistinctly, every motion and purpose was
discernible. I could see then that Evarra’s purpose was to give Herman
and me to drink of some herb which should cause us to forget all that
had happened to us since we had crossed their borders at Broken Tree,
and so send us home again. It met with so much approval that I spoke
hurriedly to forestall it.

“No, no!” I cried. “We have done no harm to you that you should do so
great a harm to us. If you must send us away, why, send us, and we will
give you our word, and that is the best thing we have to give, that no
one shall know of what has happened these four days. But do not take
away the recollection from us.” I spoke so earnestly and meant so much
what I said, taking Herman’s hand so as to include him in the vehemence
of my request, though I do not think he had any particular feeling at
the time, that I made some way with them.

“Nothing is farther from our thoughts,” I said, seeing Evarra hesitate,
“than to bring harm upon you. Not for the world would we betray your
ways nor your homes nor your treasure——”

I do not know why I should have mentioned treasure, except that seeing
old Noche’s flowing head outlined against the pale luminosity of the sky
that instant, brought it to my mind. The word popped out on my tongue as
suddenly as it had popped in. Instantly there was a sharp crackling of
exclamations and a stir as of people rushing together when a brand has
snapped out of the fire, followed by a portentous stillness. Into this
bay of sound the red-pointed beard of Prassade projected itself.

“Who,” he cried, “has been telling of treasure in the hearing of
House-Folk?”

“No one, no one,” I protested, anxious not to provoke blame; “it is only
that I overheard the children——”

“It was I,” admitted Noche regretfully, “old fool that I am. I was
telling the children, and I did not think she understood so much.”

“Fool!” said Prassade; “and twice fool for being an old one!”

But Persilope corrected him.

“At the time of the Wardship it is permitted to tell the children of the
King’s Desire and the keeping of it.”

“But not in the presence of House-Folk,” Prassade insisted, “nor by one
who thinks there is no harm in a jewel if only it shines well and has a
story to it.”

There was more to this which the wind broke and carried away, arms
lifted and heads cast up within the shadow, turbulence and murmurs of
denial. I heard Trastevera say, half to herself:

“Trouble come indeed, when one Outlier calls another a fool in open
council.”

“It is nothing,” whispered Evarra at my shoulder, “all this talk. Though
you had the King’s Desire in your hand, yet you would stay if Persilope
thought she wished it.”

Then the yellow head of Mancha crinkled in the circle of the fire, his
face under it grotesquely blocked with light, like some ancient mask,
crying:

“Signs—do we wait for Signs? Here is a Sign: first the woman comes, and
then the man seeking her. Now, if they are not returned speedily to
their own place who may not come looking for the two of them? And if,
being kept, they escape by chance and go back talking of treasure——”

“But a Sign!” cried Persilope, interrupting him. “Outliers, here is a
Sign. These House-Folk have found us in a place where none of their kind
so much as mark our trails. Within a day after being in our camp they
have heard of the King’s Desire, and talked openly of it. This is a Sign
that they are more favored by the Friends of the Soul of Man than any of
their kind. Is it not a Sign?”

We could see men rising to their feet here and there, and some cried
out: “A Sign! A Sign!” And then other broken phrases, torn and trumpeted
by the wind. Persilope took the bowl from Evarra, holding it out over
the fire with a motion to extinguish the dying flame.

“One has seen strangers coming, and strange things have come; shall we
not wait upon her word?” he cried. I could make nothing of the confused
murmur which ringed the hollow. Persilope must have read acquiescence in
it, for he partially emptied the contents of the bowl upon the fire and
then passed it to Mancha, Ward of the Outer Borders, to see what he
would do. Mancha, smiling, handed the cup to Trastevera as a sign of
unbroken confidence; she, as I guessed, so accepting it. That was the
last I saw of her before Evarra hurried me away, holding high the bowl,
slowly pouring the ceremonial water, silvered by the moon.



                                   IV
                       THE MEET AT LEAPING WATER


Within five days, during which it rained and cleared, a fine long
growing rain that left the world new washed and shining, the Meet of the
Outliers was moved to Leaping Water.

This was the amphitheater of the terraced basin lying next above Deep
Fern, and took its name from the long leap of the creek that came
flashing down arch by arch from the high, treeless ridges. Five leaps it
took from Moon-Crest to the Basin, where it poured guttering, in so
steep a channel that the spray of it made a veil that shook and billowed
with the force of its descending waters. It trailed out on the wind that
drove continually, even on the stillest days, between the high wings of
the mountain, and took the light as it traveled from east to west and
played it through all its seven colored changes. It was like a great
pulse in the valley, the throb and tremble of it, flushing and paling.
The Basin was clear meadow land, well-flowered, close set by the creek,
but opening well under the redwoods, with here some sunny space of
shrubs, and there stretching up into the middle region of white firs
dozing on the steeps above the water.

It was here we began to learn about the Love-Left Ward which was the
occasion of their coming together.

The very first I heard of it was from Evarra’s slim lad, Lianth, who,
when he was sent to keep me company, would lie on the fern, propping his
chin upon his hand, and sing to me in his reedy unsexed voice, of a
maiden who had left loving for the sake of a great service to her tribe.
Then plucking up the brown moss by the roots, examining it carefully, he
would ask me if I thought it was really right for a girl to do that sort
of thing.

“What sort?”

“Give up loving and all her friends, boys she’s always—liked, you know,
and keep a Ward, like Zirriloë.”

“Did she do that?”

“Well, they chose her to be the Ward this year, and her father let her.
I don’t think he ought!”

“Why not?”

Lianth was not very clear on this point, except as it involved the
masculine conception of beauty as the sign of a real inward
preciousness. Zirriloë had a way of walking, like a wind in a blooming
meadow, she had a cheek as soft, as richly colored, as the satin lining
of unripened fir cones which he broke open to show me. _Therefore_
Prassade shouldn’t have let her forswear all loving for ten years.

“She can’t even look at a boy,” said Lianth; “only at old men, Noche and
Waddyn and Ravenutzi, and if there was—anybody—had thought of marrying
her, he’d have to give up thinking about it for ten years. And anyway,
what is the good of giving a girl secrets to keep if you have to watch
her night and day to see that she keeps them?”

There was a great deal more to this which Herman learned from the men
and the girl’s father. Prassade, whose eldest child she was, felt
himself raised to immeasurable dignity by the choice of Zirriloë, who
was in fact all that Lianth reported her, and more. To his pride it was
a mere detail that during the ten years of her Wardship she was to live
apart from all toward whom her heart moved her, kept by old, seasoned
men, who never left her except with others older and less loverly than
themselves. These six months past she had been with her watchers in a
lonely place, learning by trial what it meant to have left all love to
become the Ward of mysteries.

It was there Trastevera had been when I first saw her, to examine the
girl and discover if her mind was still steadfast.

So she found it, and so reported it to Prassade, and all things being
satisfactory, the feast of the Love-Left Ward was to take place on the
fifth day from this. When her term was done the Ward took the Cup, and
so forgetting all she had heard, returned to the normal use of women.

“But,” I said to Lianth, once when we were gathering elderberries by the
creek, “what is it all about, this secret which Zirriloë must keep, and
is not trusted in the keeping?”

“Ah!” he exclaimed impatiently, kicking at the mossy stones in the
water-bed. “Ask Noche—he is one of the keepers.”

I should have taken that advice at once, but Noche was away at the
Ledge, or River Ward, or wherever the girl was, and Evarra was much too
busy to talk. Practically all the Outliers were expected at Leaping
Water, and there was a great deal to do. As to how many there were of
them, and what places they came from, I could never form any idea, since
outside of Council Hollow they never came together in the open. At the
fight at River Ward there were forty picked men, slingsmen and
hammerers, but counting women and children there must have been quite
four times that number at Leaping Water. They ran together like quail in
the wood, and at a word melted like quail into its spacious silences.

There was that subtle essence of rejuvenation in the air that comes
after rain. Buds of the incense shrub were swelling and odorous. All the
forest was alive and astir with the sense of invisible friendly
presences and low-toned happy talk that seemed forever at the point,
under cover of a ruffling wind or screening rush of water, of breaking
into laughter.

We came often upon lovers walking in the high arched aisles, children
scuttling pink and unabashed in the dappled water, or at noons, men and
women half sunk in the fern deep in gossip or dozing. Such times as
these we began to hear hints by which we tracked a historic reality
behind what I had already accepted heartily, and Herman with grudging,
the existence of the King’s Desire.

They would be lying, a dozen of them in company on the brown redwood
litter, the towered trunks leaning to the firs far above them. Then one
would begin to sing softly to himself a kind of rhymeless tune, all of
dead kings in a rock chamber canted in their thrones by the weight of
jewels, and another would answer with a song about a lovely maid playing
in sea caves full of hollow light.

By this we knew the thoughts of all of them ran on the story which held
the songs together like a thread. We discovered at last that it was the
history of the place from which they had come to Outland, bringing the
Treasure with them, pursued by the Far-Folk. Or perhaps it was they who
were the pursuers, but the Treasure had been the point of their
contention, and it had cost the Outliers so much that they had come to
abhor even the possession of it. So having buried it, they made their
honor the keeping of the secret. Because the first disturbance over it
that reft them from their country had been brought about by the
treachery of a woman, they put a woman to the keeping, half in irony, I
think, for then they had set a watch upon the woman.

It was about this time that Herman waked to an interest on the occasion
that nothing else had been able to arouse in him. He thought that a
community which had arrived at the pitch of understanding that the best
thing to be done with wealth was to get rid of it, would repay study. I
remember his wondering if the Outliers had had any more trouble with
their Treasure, or what they imagined as such, for he never would credit
its reality, than we had experienced with the Coal Oil Trust. I paid
very little attention to him, for all my mind was occupied in watching
Ravenutzi.

From the first I had noticed that whenever there was one of those old
tales, or any talk of the King’s Desire, something would spring up in
his face, as slight as the flick of an eyelid or the ripple of muscles
at the corner of his mouth, but something at which caution snapped
wide-awake in me. I recall how once we lay all together at the bottom of
the wood in the clear obscure of twilight, in a circular, grassless
space where the water went by with a trickling, absent sound. One of the
young men began to sing, and Ravenutzi had stopped him with some remark
to the effect that the Outliers could sing it so if it pleased them, but
the story as it was sung was not true.

“Come,” said the youth, “I have always wanted to know how the Far-Folk
told that part of the tale so as not to be ashamed of it.” Prassade
sprang up protesting that there should be no communication between them
and the Hostage on a forbidden matter. Some debate followed among the
elders as to that. I could see the smith sitting in his accustomed
attitude, knees doubled, hands clasped about them, his chin resting on
his knees. The eyes were black in the twilight under the faun’s profile
and the streaked, springy hair, yet always as if they had a separate
furtive intelligence of their own. It occurred to me suddenly, that in
this very debate precipitated by Ravenutzi, the Outliers were talking
about the Treasure, and that he did not care in what fashion so long as
they talked. Instinctively as I felt this, turning in my mind like a
weed in the surf, I looked toward Trastevera as one turns in a dim room
toward the light, holding out my mind to her as to one of better sight.
I caught the eyes of Ravenutzi, the iris, opaque and velvety,
disappearing under the widening pupil of his fixed gaze. I felt the
rushing suggestion back away from the shore of my mind and leave it
bare. There was something I had meant to speak to Trastevera about, and
I had forgotten what it was.

It was brought back to me the next day, which was the one before the
move to Leaping Water. We were sitting in Evarra’s hut, Herman and I,
with Noche, for the wind and cloud of the Council had contrived to blow
up a rain that drummed aloud on the bent fern but scarcely reached us
through the thick tent of boughs. Above us we could hear the wind where
it went hunting like a great cat, but down at the bottom of the pit of
redwoods it could scarcely lift the flap of the door.

And without some such stir or movement of life within, one might have
passed a trail’s breadth from the house of Evarra and not suspected it,
so skillfully was it contrived within one of those sapling circles that
spring up around the decayed base of ancient redwoods, like close-set,
fluted columns round a ruined altar. Every family had two or three such
rooms, not connected, not close together, but chosen with that wild
instinct for unobtrusiveness with which the Outliers cloaked the
business of living. From the middle of one of these, smoke could go up
through the deep well of green and mingle undetected with the blue haze
of the forest. Deep within, tents of skin could be drawn against the
rain which beat upon them with a slumberous sound and dripped all down
the shouldering colonnade.

The tent was half drawn this morning, and no drops reached us, but
seldom, light spatterings from high, wind-shaken boughs. Evarra was
abroad looking after her family, and Noche had come over with Herman to
sit housed with me. The Outliers had, from such indifferent observation
as they had made, got the notion that House-Folk were of great fragility
as regards weather. They were exceedingly careful of us, though I had
seen Noche laugh as he shook the wet from his body, and take the great
gusts of wind as a man might the moods of his mistress. He sat opposite
us now on a heap of fern, busy at his sling-plaiting, with the placidity
of a spinning Hercules, and in a frame to be entertaining. It occurred
to me it might be an excellent time to beguile him into talk of the
Treasure, much to Herman’s annoyance, for he was of the opinion that my
having been a week among the Outliers and no harm having come of it, was
no sign it wouldn’t come eventually.

“Don’t meddle with their tribal mysteries,” he protested; “if it hadn’t
been for their confounded Treasure we would have been on the trail for
home by now.”

“But consider,” I explained to Herman for Noche’s sake; “if we drink
Forgetfulness at the last, what does it matter how much we know before?
And besides, he is suffering to tell me. Go on, Noche.”

Once you had old Noche started, his talk ran on like the involute
patterns he loved to trace upon the sand, looping to let in some shining
circumstance or set off some jewel of an incident. It was a wonderful
treasure by his account: lamps thick with garnets, crusted with
amethysts, and the cup of the Four Quarters which a dead king held
between his knees.

Outside we could hear the creaking of the boughs as the wind pounced and
wallowed, stalking an invisible prey. Within the hut we saw in the old
man’s story, the summer island from which the tale began, far southward,
rising from the kissing seas. All at once he left off, breathing quick,
his nostrils lifted a little, quivering, his head turning from side to
side, like a questing dog’s. We had heard nothing but the trickle of
rain down the corrugated trunks, but Noche, turning his attention toward
the doorway, twitched his great eyebrows once, and presently broke into
smiling.

“Trastevera,” he said; and then a very curious thing happened. Some
patches of the red and brown that had caught my attention from time to
time at the burl of the redwood opposite stirred and resolved into
Ravenutzi. How long he had been there I had no notion. Though I was well
acquainted with that wild faculty of the Outliers to make themselves
seem, by very stillness, part of the rock and wood, I was startled by it
quite as much on this occasion as on the first time of my meeting him.
It was not as though Ravenutzi made himself known to us by a movement,
but drew himself out of obscurity by the force of his own thinking. The
fact of his being there seemed to shoulder out all question as to why he
was there in the first place. He was looking, with that same curious
fixity that held me when I caught him dyeing his hair at the spring, not
at me, but at Trastevera approaching on the trail. She came up the trail
in that lifting mood with which the well body meets weather stress, as
if her spirit were a sail run up the mast to catch the wind. She came
lightly, dressed as the women mostly were, in an under tunic of soft
spun stuff, of wood green or brown color, but her outer garment was all
of the breasts of water birds, close-fitted, defining the figure. She
looked fairly back at Ravenutzi as she came, smiling from below her
quiet eyes. He walked on past her so casually that only I could say that
he had not merely been passing as she passed. But I was sure in my own
mind he had been sitting close by Evarra’s hut for a long time.

She gave us Good Friending as she came in, but it was not until Noche,
in response to a sign from her, had taken Herman out by the brook trail,
that she spoke to me directly.

“If you made a promise to me in regard to your being here and what you
shall see among us, would he, your friend, be bound by it?”

“Well, in most particulars; at any rate, he would give it
consideration.”

“Does he love you?”

“No,” I said. I was sure of that much.

“How do you know?”

“By the best token in the world. He has told me so.”

“Ah!” She looked at me attentively a moment, as if by that means she
might discover the reason.

“Then in that case he will probably do as you say. If he loved you,” she
smiled, “he would expect you to do as he said.”

She loosened her feather coat, shaking out the wet, and took from
Evarra’s wall an oblong piece of cloth, brown and yellow barred like the
streakings of sunlight on the bark of pines, and disposed it so that,
with the folds lying close and across the slender body and the two loose
ends falling over the shoulders, she looked like some brooding moth that
bides the rain under a sheltering tree.

“You are so much more like us,” said she, “than I would have expected;
so much more understanding. Have you Far-Seeing?”

“How Far-Seeing?”

“There are some among us,” she said, considering, “who can lie in their
beds at night and hear the deer crossing at Lower Fern; some who can
stand in their doors and see the face of a man moving on the cliffs at
Leaping Water. But I am one who can see trouble coming before the bearer
of it has reached Broken Tree. Have you such?”

“I have heard of them.”

“Do you know then if they see better or worse, for loving?”

I could not tell her that, though I wished to, since she made such a
point of it. I had to content myself with asking her how it was with
herself.

“Very much better,” she laughed, and colored; “or worse.” She frowned,
sighing. “I will tell you how that is.”

“When I was just grown,” said Trastevera, “I was chosen to be—to fulfill
a certain duty which falls every ten years to some young woman of the
tribe. It was a duty which kept my heart occupied so that there was no
time for loving or being loved. I was much apart and alone, and it was
then that my Gift came to me, the gift of Far-Seeing. It served the
tribe on many occasions, particularly on one when we were at war with
the Far-Folk. I saw them breaking through at River Ward, and again I saw
them when they tried to get at us from the direction of the sea——But it
was not of that I meant to tell you. After I was released from my duty I
had planned because, because——” She seemed to have the greatest
difficulty getting past this point, which for so direct a personality as
hers was unusual. I gathered that the matter was involved in the tribal
mysteries which Herman had warned me to avoid, so I could not help her
much with questioning.

“Because of a certain distinction which they paid me, I had planned,”
she went on at last, “to have no love and no interest but theirs. It
came as a shock to me when Persilope was made Warden of the Council, to
find that it was agreed on every side that I should marry him.”

“Didn’t you love him then?” I was curious to know.

“I scarcely knew him, but I knew what he was, and if it was thought best
for me to love him, I wished, of course, to do what was best. And
Persilope wished it also.”

“You could do that? Love, I mean where you were told to love.” Somehow
the idea filled me with a strange trepidation.

“If the man was love worthy, why not?” She was surprised in her turn.
“So long as my heart was not yet given, it was mine to give where the
Outliers would be best served by it. Do you mean to say,” she asked,
sensing my incredulity, “that it is not so with the House-Folk? Do you
not also serve the tribe most?”

“With our lives and our goods,” I admitted.

“But not with your loving? But if you love only to yourselves, is not
the common good often in peril from it?”

“Often and often,” I agreed. Suddenly it began to seem a childish and
ineffectual thing that we should be in the most important issues of life
so at the mercy of place and incident, obscuring coquetries and tricks
of dress.

“Sometimes it is so with us,” she agreed, “but not with people like
myself and Persilope. When it was brought to our notice how all the
Outliers would be benefited by our uniting his practical sense with my
far-seeing, we held our hearts out like a torch and lighted each from
each.” They could do that it seemed, these Outliers, apt full natures,
they could rise in the full chord of being and love without other
inducement than the acknowledgment of worth. That was why the Outliers
took no notice of what I was secretly ashamed of having noticed, that
she was years older than her husband.

Leaving the habits of the House-Folk, Trastevera went on with her
narrative.

“We have a custom when we are married,” she said, “of choosing where it
shall be. We set forth, each from his own home, all our friends being
apprised of what we are about to do and wishing us well. Then we come to
the place, each by his own trail, meeting there under no eyes. When a
month is done we go home to our friends, who make a great to-do for us.
There is a hill I know, looking seaward, a full day from here. There are
pines at the top and oaks about the foot, but the whole of it is
treeless, grassy, with flowers that sleep by day among the grasses. It
is neither windy nor quiet, but small waves of air run this way and that
along the grass, and make a changing pattern. Here I chose to meet
Persilope. All day I went down by Deer Leap and River Ward to meet my
man, and he came up by Toyon and the hiving rocks to meet me. All day I
felt him come, and the earth felt him: news of him came up through the
grasses and touched my finger-tips.” She flushed a little, and finished
simply: “When we came back,” she said, “I had reason to believe I had
lost the gift of Far-Seeing. It was while we were away that the Far-Folk
had opened the matter of the hostage, and the Council waited for
Persilope to come back from his wedding to decide what was best to be
done. The people were for the most part glad to put an end to
quarreling.”

This was the first time that I realized that there was another sort of
woodlanders beside the Outliers. Up till this time, when I had heard
mention of Far-Folk, I thought it perhaps another sort of name for us,
House Livers, as they called us indifferently, or Diggers, or They of
the Ploughed Lands, as people will speak of a wild species, very common
but of too little interest to be named or known.

“So soon as I had heard of the Far-Folk’s plan to send us their smith as
a perpetual hostage,” she went on, “I was chilled with prescience of
disaster, and said so freely. But when Ravenutzi came to council, and I
had looked him through, I was warm again. You heard how I said last
night that I could not tell if it was the blood of the Far-Folk playing
traitor in me, or if there was, in fact, no shadow coming. So I was
obliged to say to the Council, and they on their own motion, without any
help from me, accepted him. No one has blamed me”—she mused a little,
with her chin upon her hand—“but ever since I have been afraid. There
might really have been some intimation of coming evil which my
happiness, going from me to everything I looked upon, dispelled as a
bubbling spring breaks up a shadow.”

She rose and walked from me a little space, returned, and stood before
me so intent upon getting some answer more than my words, that I thought
it best to let no words trouble her. Presently she went on:

“Since then I have had no serious forecasting that concerned the
Outliers at large. But some days before Prassade first found you, I had
a vision of Broken Tree and a bird rising from it crying trouble. There
was shadow lying on my world, and dread of loss and change. But this is
the strangest thing of all. When I had seen you I saw more than that.
Between you and Ravenutzi there was some bond and understanding.”

“No, no!” I protested; “on his part, yes, some intention toward me, some
power to draw me unaware to meet some end of his. And yet....”

“And yet you like him?”

I admitted it. Though I had no special confidence in his purpose, I felt
my soul invite his use.

“And that,” said Trastevera, “is why I have kept you here and advised
that you be told anything it is lawful for an Outlier to know.
Ordinarily when we find House-Folk among us we give them the Cup and let
them go. But since you are to drink forgetfulness at last, before that
happens you may be of use to me.”

“But how?”

Though I had more curiosity than concern, I could see doubt pulsing in
her like the light breathing of a moth. She resolved at last.

“Even if you betray me, there is still the Cup,” she said. “You have
already been of use to me, for as I came into camp last night I felt the
shadow; it was not on you when I looked, but when Ravenutzi looked at
you I saw it fall, and it fell from him.”

She considered me attentively to see what I would make of this, but not
willing to say until I had considered it myself, I spoke of the Cup;
beginning to take it seriously for the first time.

“Of what,” said I, “will it make me forgetful?”

“Everything at first, but by degrees the past will clear. Only around
all that happens here, and around the circumstance of your drinking it,
there will be the blank of perfect sleep.”

“But why are you so sure in sparing me, that I shall be able to serve
you?”

“How could you help it?” She looked at me in quick surprise. “You are
not like your friend is who says this is good or not good, and that is
the end of it. You are one in whom the vision clouds and colors. By the
color of your mind when it falls under Ravenutzi’s I shall learn perhaps
whether to trust my old distrust of him or my present friendliness.

“Oh!” she cried, perceiving so readily at that instant the half
conviction, half credulity, of my mind toward her that she was
embarrassed by it. “Is it so among House-Folk that they must always
explain and account for themselves? If I said to an Outlier that he
could help me he would not have questioned it.”

“But what am I to do?”

“Hold the will to help me. Be friends with the smith if he is friendly,
and say nothing of this to any one but me. When your time comes to take
the Cup I will see that it is made light for you.”

It did not sound very difficult, and perhaps I did not take it very
seriously; at any rate I gave the promise. Trastevera unwinding herself
from the striped cloth like a moth coming out of a chrysalis, resumed
her feather coat and left me with that suddenness I had learned to
expect of the Outliers, like a bird flitting or a weasel slipping in the
chaparral.

On the very first occasion of our being alone together after that I
demanded of Evarra what Trastevera had meant by saying that she was of
the blood of Ravenutzi, and that the blood was traitorous. I could ask
that safely, because I had learned that, except in the one important
matter of the Treasure, the Outliers had no skill in concealments and no
knowledge whatever of indirection. It was as if somewhere in their
history they had so sickened of the stuff of treachery that their teeth
were set on edge at the mere attitudes of it, tricks, pretensions and
evasions.

So I knew that if I opened a forbidden matter, Evarra would tell me so
flatly, and that would be the end of it. And if it was permissible to
speak at all, she would do me no such discourtesy as not to speak
freely.

It was a very old affair, she said, but one well known among the
Outliers. In one of their quarrels with the Far-Folk one of their own
women was taken and kept. Afterward she had been returned to her home by
purchase, and had had a child shortly after, begotten upon her
unwillingly by one of the Far-Folk. From that child Trastevera was
descended. The blood of the Far-Folk, said Evarra, was a foul strain,
but they had mixed it with the best of theirs, and there was no more
treason left in it than there was soiling of last season’s rains in the
spring that watered Deep Fern. None of the Outliers had even remembered
it until Ravenutzi came. As for these Far-Folk, they were to the
Outliers all that cat was to dog, hill-dwellers, seeking treeless
spaces, holes in the rock and huts of brush; wiry folk, mocking and
untruthful. But they were such inveterate craftsmen that a man of them
could sooner smudge himself at a forge making a knife to trade you for a
haunch of venison, than go a-hunting for his meat himself. It was so
most of the iron implements I had noticed had been circulated among the
Outliers. For their part they preferred casting themselves joyously
forth on the day to come back well furnished by their own hands.

But a man of the Far-Folk would sit all day with his nose to a bit of
hammered metal, graving on it strange patterns of beasts and whorls and
lacing circles. When it was done, said Evarra, there was no great
pleasure in it, for it would not glitter as a bit of shell, nor brown
nor brighten as a string of berries, nor be cast every hour in a new
pattern like a chaplet of flowers, but remained set forever, as the
Far-Folk in their unkempt ways.

They were piliferous too, and lived in such relation as weasels might to
the people of the Ploughed Lands; by which term she always spoke of the
few farmers whose homesteads I could occasionally see from Outland. The
Far-Folk would go down by night across the borders of the Outliers to
the farmyards for their scraps of metal, and ate fruit from the
orchards. It was to purchase free passage for such expeditions through
disputed territory that they had given hostage to their foes at Deep
Fern; free leave to go and come from Deer Leap to the River Ward, and
between Toyon and Broken Head. Up to this time the compact had been
scrupulously kept, though it was evident from Evarra’s manner of
admitting it, she begrudged any good opinion I might have of the
Far-Folk on that account.

“And what harm have you had from Ravenutzi?”

Ah, that was as might be, if you counted the failure of Trastevera’s
visions and his making a fool of old Noche with his smith’s tricks. The
old man had thought of little this year past but forge work and
designs—and prating to the children of the King’s Desire. “If it had
been my child listening to him,” finished Evarra, “I should have smacked
him.”

All of which I told to Herman at the first opportunity. And also that I
should never be happy one moment until I had found out what fact, if
any, lay behind the story of the King’s Desire.

“What’s the good of finding out,” said Herman gloomily, “if we have to
take their everlasting dope on top of it?”

“And within three days of the most sophisticated society on earth,” I
reminded him. “They are having the golf tournament at Mira Monte this
week. Could you believe it?”

“Oh, I don’t believe a word of it,” he insisted. “This is just one of
the tales you’ve made up, and you’ve hypnotized me into going through
with it, but I don’t believe it at all.”



                                   V
                           THE LOVE-LEFT WARD


I was sitting under a toyon tree watching Evarra brew forgetfulness in a
polished porphyry bowl, when Herman came by. It was the morning of the
Meet. The Cup was wanted for her who was the Ward, and Evarra took a
great deal of pains with the brew, heating the bowl slowly and, when the
dry leaves began to smoke and give off an odor of young fir, dropping
water gently and setting it to steep in the sun. I had hoped to discover
what plant it might be, but there was little to be guessed except that
it had a blue flower taken in the bud, and smelled like a wood path in
the spring. Evarra sat and stirred under the toyon and answered my
questions or not as she was inclined.

“Do you know any sort of an herb, Evarra, that will turn gray hair black
again?”

“That I do; and black hair gray if you wish it.” But I had not caught
the significance of her statement, when Herman came along, bursting full
of news. He was looking almost handsome that morning, for he had put on
the dress of the Outliers for the first time, and though he had managed
it so as to cover more of his skin than was their fashion, it became him
very well. Some satisfying quality streamed from him, according with the
day. As if he had laid off something besides the dress which had come
between him and the effect I had wished him to have on me.

“Come up the trail with me; I have some news for you,” he began. “May
she?”

This last was to Evarra. With all the basin of Deep Fern and Leaping
Water full of their own folk we had been allowed to move freely about
among them, but there was still a form of keeping us under guard.

“Go up,” said Evarra, probably glad to get rid of me, “as far as Fallen
Tree, where you can see the Leap between that and the clearing. I will
join you presently. You can see the procession best from there, when it
first comes out of the wood.”

The dew was not yet gone up from the shadows nor the virgin morning
warmed a whit toward noon; the creek sang at the curve, I felt the axles
of the earth sing as it swung eastward. I spread out my arms in the
trail and touched the tips of the growing things, and felt the tide of
abundant life rise through my fingers. Herman strode in the trail ahead
and called over his shoulder:

“What are you laughing at back there, Mona?”

“News,” I answered, for I had remembered suddenly something Trastevera
had said to me.

“What news?”

“How should I know, except that it is good news? The meadowsweet told it
to me. What’s yours?”

“That Treasure you’re so keen about; they’ve really got it. I’ve talked
with men who’ve seen it.”

“Noche?”

“He hasn’t come back yet, but Waddyn, one of the keepers—there were four
of them—dug it up ten years ago and reburied it.”

“But why?”

“That’s my news. On account of Trastevera. She was the Ward ten years
ago, and they were afraid to give her their wretched drug lest they
should destroy her gift of Far-Seeing, as they call it. So they took
counsel and decided to change the hiding-place. Prassade said it wasn’t
an altogether popular movement. Some of the Wards haven’t taken kindly
to the Cup when their turn came, and they feared the precedent. But
anyway they did it. They made a cordon round the place where it was hid,
three days’ journeys wide, and the four old men went in and dug up the
Treasure and buried it again.”

“All those jewels and beaten gold?”

“Whatever it is they’ve got, colored pebbles most likely. It wouldn’t
have been so bad, Prassade says, changing the place of the Treasure;
that has happened several times in their history. But while they had it
up they had a look at it, and Noche’s head has been turned ever since.”

“I should think it might. It’s all true, then?”

“Folk tales, likely; all tribes have them.” Though his face was turned
from me on the trail, I could feel Herman’s professional manner coming
on again. “It is extraordinary, though, how their social organization is
so nearly like to what you would expect of a highly civilized people
thrown suddenly back on the primal environment. Take their notions of
property now——”

What he was going to say must have been very interesting, but just at
this point we came to Fallen Tree, and saw the irised banner of the Leap
floating before its resounding crash of waters. A little spit of grassy
land ran here from the clearing into the dense growth, and the trail
entered by it. Beyond it, pale late lilies censed the shadows of the
redwoods, and below in the meadow there was nothing fairer than the
bleached, wind-blown hair of the children, as they ran and shouted
through the scrub. Evarra came hurrying with the Cup against her breast.
Prassade and Persilope took up a station of some prominence on the point
opposite us, with Mancha behind them, leaning on his long weapon.
Presently the flutes began.

The sound of them stole upon us softly from far within the redwoods,
keyed a little under the bell tones of the creek, and rising through it
to the pitch at which the water note seems forever at the point of
breaking into speech. As the procession skirted the meadow, the music
emerged in a tune fetching and human. Now you heard the swing of
blossoms by runnels in the sod, the beat of spray on the bent leaves by
the water borders; then the melody curling and uncurling like the
ringlets on a girl’s neck. With the music some sort of pageant passed,
boys and girls wreathed and dancing, forming as they wound in the wood
glooms, breaking and dissolving where the trail led through the bright,
sunned space of the meadow. We could hear from the Outliers ranged about
the clearing, light applause of laughter like the patter that follows
the wind in the quaking asp.

The pageant circled the open space around which rippled the curved blade
of the creek, and came to halt behind Persilope and the Council. Then a
drum-beat arose and rolled steadily, the four keepers came out of the
wood; Noche and Waddyn and two others I did not know or observe, except
that they were not young and carried the occasion solemnly. The keepers
took up their station on either side of the meadow, and the two
foremost, saluting, passed on a little beyond the chief. Into the hollow
square thus formed for her, came the maiden Ward.

First as she stood there, one realized in her figure the springing pose
of immaturity, in her gaze the wraptness and fixity of the devotee.
Altogether she was of so exquisite a finish and delicacy that one would
wish to have plucked her like a flower. She was dressed in a smooth,
seamless bodice of tawny skin, baring the throat and rounded upper arm;
below that a skirt of thin green was shaped to her young curves by the
vagrant wind. Her hair, which was all of burnt gold, powdered with ashes
of gold, was drawn loosely back and confined close to her head, but fell
free to her hips, blown forward, defining her like the sheath of a
flower. Her brows also were touched with gold and the eyes under her
brows were like agate at the bottom of a brook.

She wore no jewels but a thread of scarlet berries that, in its
revealing femininity, in the way it took the curve of her slender throat
and ran into the little hollow between her breasts, so seemed to me as
if I had never seen a more endearing ornament. As she appeared among
us,—for though she had walked very quietly out of the forest there was
that appealing quality of her loveliness which gave to her coming the
swiftness of a vision,—as she appeared thus, a ring of smiling ran
sensibly about the hushed, observing circle.

She moved in the exultation of her shining mood, unconscious of the way
her feet went or what eyes were upon her, to the sound of the shallow
drums and the delicate high flutes. As the music dropped she stopped
before Persilope, who stood forward a little with some formal words of
ritual or salutation. I missed the exact words, all my attention taken
up with what had happened to Mancha. He had been standing just behind
the chief, and in the brief interval while Zirriloë had come ten steps
or so out of the shadow, he had passed, as though her beauty had been
some swift, vivifying shock, from being a grave beholder to an active
participant of the occasion. Deep red surged up in his face and left it
pale again, his eyes, which were blue, burned amber points and took her
like a flame. He shook as though the joints of his spirit were loosed,
and took the full red under-lip in his teeth to keep back the tide of
strength that came on him as he looked at her. His breath came
purringly. I saw the soul of the man lithe and rippling in him, the
glint of his eyes, the mass and thickness of his body incredibly lifted
and lightened by the consciousness of the Mate. He did not know what had
happened to him, but he laughed to himself his joy in her, as she moved
wrapped in her high errand down the still summer glade, and across the
meadow.

“Herman! Herman! Do you see?” I whispered.

He was sitting on the fallen tree next to me, and as I moved my hand
toward him in that vague pang following quick on the shock of
inexpressible beauty, I felt his fingers cold. His lips were open and I
saw his tongue move to wet them, like a man unconsciously athirst.

Beyond the clearing, thick purplish trunks of the redwood upbore the
masses of foliage like a cloud. The space between the first twenty feet
or so of their gigantic columns was choked with laurel and holly and
ceanothus, pierced by long tunnels that the deer had made. Down one of
these the two foremost of the keepers plunged and were lost behind the
mask of loose, wild vines that festooned the front of the wood, lifting
and falling in the wind that by mid-morning began to set seaward from
the high ridges.

But the girl, some ten steps behind them, still in her half-seeing mood,
missed the moment of the out-streaming of the vines, checked and
faltered. The wind caught her dress and wrapped her in it, the drapery
of vines swung out and caught her hair. Before the other keepers could
come up with her, the long arm of Ravenutzi reached out from his point
of vantage on a heavy, slanting trunk and gathered up the offending
vines, holding them high and guardedly until the girl could pass. The
detention was slight, but long enough for the annoyance of it to have
pierced her abstraction before he let the curtain fall almost on the
heads of the hurrying keepers, long enough for her to have looked up at
Ravenutzi and accord to him the first conscious recognition of her
solemn passage. Whatever flattery there might have been in that, it
could not draw so much as a backward glance from him. With the swish of
the long vines flung back upon the wall of boughs, he sprang forward
from his perch, and as if that action had been the signal, drew with him
a ring of staring faces toward the grassy spit by which the trail
entered the meadow.

The music, which during the ritual had melted into the undertone of
forest sounds, emerged again more pointedly human and appealing. It
summoned from the bluish glooms an interest so personal and touching
that it drew the Outliers from the shy wildness of their ways. The ring
of watchers surged forward a step, the music rose like a sigh of
expectation and ushered in a group of women who, without any order or
solemnity, but with a great and serious kindness, supported a young
woman in their midst. It was she who had been the Ward and was now to
receive forgetfulness.

As soon as I saw Trastevera, upon whose arm she leaned, I understood
that these were the former Wards, come to afford her such comfort as
their experience justified. It was not until I saw her mother hurry
forward crying: “Daria! Daria!” that I began to realize what need of
comfort there must be. Evarra beside me stirred the Cup. Its faint
aromatic odor was of a cold and sickly dread, reflected from Daria’s
widened eyes on some secret surface of myself.

She was a pretty girl, warm-tinted, eyes of a wet gray, the broad brow
and sensitive short lip of women whose happiness centers in approval. It
was easy to read in her face that of all the restrictions of her
Wardship the one against loving had been hardest borne; plain to be seen
now in the way she clung to her mother, who took the face between her
hands, that of all the forfeitures that lay in the blue flower of
forgetfulness, that one of loving was most difficult to pay.

“O mother, mother,” she said, “I cannot bear it!”

She shuddered sick, looking on all she had lived among and knowing that
she might never know them again with that one of herselves which stood
hesitating between the meadow and the wood. There was not one of all
those trails, if she set foot in it to-morrow, that she would know where
it went or what she might meet in it. She was to die in effect, to leave
life and memory, to wake mutilated in the midst of full-blooded
womanhood, without childhood, girlhood, parents, intimates.

“O mother,” she said, “I cannot bear it!”

She clung crying to her mother’s hand, while the other women crowded
comfort upon her.

“Indeed, Daria,” one assured her, “but I knew my mother. There were four
others with me when I woke, but I knew her. I did not know what she was
to me, nor any name to call her, but my heart chose her from among the
rest, and I held out my arms.”

They said many more things to this purport, while the girl turned her
face to her mother’s bosom as though she admitted all this, but it did
not touch her case.

Then her father, coming forward, distressed for her, but somewhat more
concerned for the situation, taking her by the shoulders, recalled her
to herself.

“Daughter,” he said, “have you carried the honor of the Outliers so many
years to fail us at the last? How do you make life worth remembering
with broken faith? And who will respect you if you respect not your
word?”

She cleared a little at that and recovered, so that she was able to go
through with some dignity the farewells which the elders now came
forward to bestow with fixed cheerfulness. Then came her young
companions, saying, “We have nothing ill to remember of you, Daria,” and
“Good-waking, Daria.” She broke out again, desperate rather than
despairing.

“Do not say so to me, I shall not drink it!”

“Shall not?” It was Persilope taking the Cup from Evarra, and moving
forward as he spoke. “It is a word that has never been heard before from
a Ward.”

Quick red leaped in Daria’s face, which she turned this way and that,
searching the meadow for some prop to her determination. It seemed that
she found it, though there was nothing I could read there but
commiseration and disapproval.

“Shall not,” she breathed; and then quite low, sweeping his countenance
once with her glance, and then fixing it steadily on the ground. “_She_
did not drink it.”

The emphasis was slight, slighter than the flicker of her eyes toward
Trastevera, but the impact of her meaning drove the chief’s wife from
her. One scarcely saw Trastevera move, but there was now a rift between
the two women, which widened with the shocked perception in the
listening circle. Persilope’s recovery was instant, some sternness with
it.

“What had been done,” he said, “was done by all the Council with good
reason. But what reason is here beyond a girl’s protesting fancy?”

Again Daria’s mutinous eyes searched the meadow, and her resistance rose
visibly in advance of its support.

“Reason enough!” The group of young persons at the foot of the circle
turned upon itself, and released the figure of a young man about thirty,
tall and personable.

“I have reason”—his voice shook, as though the words had been too long
repressed in him and escaped bubblingly—“the best of reasons, for I ...
we love....”

He had hesitated an instant over the admission, wanting some quick
assurance which flashed between the girl and him. Instantly it brought
from the women, in whose care and keeping she had chiefly been, quick
cries of protest and denial, falling almost on the stroke of his
declaration.

“But you”—Persilope voiced the general knowledge—“you have been these
three years at River Ward, you have not seen her.”

“Not for three years,” admitted the lover, “for as soon as I knew that I
loved her I went away, that I might keep her honor and mine.” His
thought worked uneasily, but he went on. “I have always loved her, but I
had not told her so when it came my turn to serve with Mancha, and while
I was away you chose her to be the Ward. I went back and served my time.
When I returned to Deep Fern I saw her walking with the women in the
cool of the morning and knew that I loved her. That was the year the
water came down from Water Gate and tore up the valley. In the flood I
carried her——”

He smiled; the inexpressible joyousness of the woodlander broke upward
in the remembrance.

“The next day,” he said, “she sent me word to go back to River Ward, and
I knew by that that she loved me. So I went, and by the evidence of the
work I have done _you_ know how I have loved her.”

“By the evidence of the faith I have kept,” said Daria, “you know how I
have loved him.”

All this time I could see the faces of the men, especially of the girl’s
father and of Prassade, growing sterner. Trastevera looked down,
studying the pattern of the meadow grass. Persilope bit his lip in the
midst, with the Cup in his hand, and the lover grew bolder.

“Is love so cheap a thing to you, Persilope, that you take it from us
before we have tasted it? It is Daria I love as she is, as I have seen
her grow from a child into a woman, not a stranger, looking at me with
unremembering eyes. Let the men take up the Treasure and bury it again,
as they did for Trastevera.”

“There was a reason,” the chief began, and stopped, as if he knew that
to argue was to lose.

“Oh, a reason——” I do not know by what imperceptible degrees and mutual
consentings the lovers had got across the open space to each other, but
there they were, handfast, confronting him. “Reason you thought you had,
but what good came of all your reasons seeing that Trastevera has lost
the Far-Seeing for the sake of which she was excused from the Cup. Let
them bury the Treasure again—or give it to the Far-Folk, for all I care,
since nothing comes of it but wars and forgettings.”

He caught the girl to him fiercely as he spoke, irritated by the
hardening of the elders’ minds against that very touch of wildness and
rebellion by which he urged the disregard of custom. Whatever advantage
he had with Persilope because of the precedent, he had lost by the hint
of its insufficiency.

“If,” said the chief, holding the bowl before him, “there had arisen any
occasion, which I do not allow: _if_ there had arisen such an occasion
for doubting the wisdom of our former breach, it would be greater cause
for our not admitting it now. Do you propose”—forestalling the rising
thought—“to bring it to Council? Look around you and see that we who
make the Council are already agreed.” The eyes of the young couple
traveled about the group, they saw regret, but no relenting.

“If she forgets you,” said the chief more kindly, “she forgets also the
pain of her forgetting, and you shall teach her to love again.”

“Girl,” said her father, “if you shame me there is no forgetfulness deep
enough for that.”

I suppose that the mere acknowledgment of their love had eased the
tension of dread, had waked, perhaps, that foolish human certainty of
passion to survive the loss even of its own identity. Perhaps they had
never had any real hope of avoiding the issue; insensibly, too, as the
matter had increased in gravity, the young listeners had melted from the
circle, leaving a ring of older, sterner faces, before which they felt
their resolution fail. We saw the girl turn piteously in her lover’s
arms.

“You,” she said, “at least will not forget me.”

“I will not forget.”

“See,” Persilope smiled faintly, and shaking a little of the pale green
liquid from the bowl, “I have made it light for you.”

The girl kept her eyes on the young man. “And I am yours,” she urged;
“whether or not I remember, I am yours.”

“Knowing or unknowing,” the young lover assured, “I call these to
witness that you are mine.”

Daria put out her hand and took the bowl from Persilope, but her lover
put his hand upon it over hers, holding it back until he charged her
soul again.

She lifted the Cup and shuddered as she drank; once she faltered, but he
pressed it firmly to her lips. No one moved in the listening circle. The
wind was busy with the forest boughs; we saw the redwoods bend and the
curdling of the water at the falls. We saw Daria’s head bowing on its
slender stalk, like the wild white columbine which the wind shook behind
her.

“You will remember,” still her lover warned her.

“I will remember.”

She drooped, all her body lax with sleep, but still he propped her on
his bosom. Her mother took up the girl’s flaccid hand in hers and
fondled it softly; she did not urge her claim.

“Daria, Daria,” pleaded the lover, “say you will remember.”

She could not answer now except by the turning of her head upon his
bosom; color, drained away by the drug, forsook her, the lips were open
and a little drawn. He would have gathered her up then, but a motion
from the elders stayed him.

“Remember, oh remember,” he called upon her soul, and the soul struggled
to reassure him, but it lay too deep under Forgetfulness. With a shudder
she seemed almost to cease to breathe. Evarra, stepping softly, lifted
the relaxed lids and showed the eyes rolled upward, the pupils widened.
She made a sign at which the circle parted and made way for the youth
down the green aisles through which he bore her to his house.



                                   VI
        IN WHICH I AM UNHAPPY AND MEET A TALL WOMAN IN THE WOOD


When the vines dropped back from Ravenutzi’s hand upon the wall of
boughs through which the Ward and her Keepers passed, it was as if the
step that carried them out of sight of the Outliers had also carried
them out of knowledge. Not an eye that any other eye could discover, nor
any inquiring word strayed upon their vanished trail. In the three days
before they returned to the Meet, or it was proper to mention them, they
would have visited the King’s Desire, and Zirriloë would be informed of
everything pertinent to that connection.

During these three days no Outlier concerned himself with their
whereabouts lest he should be thought to have some concern about the
Treasure. With the exception of Noche, I believe no Outlier had even so
much as curiosity about it. It had been so long since any man had seen
it, that until Noche’s account of what the cache contained began to be
current, I think they had not any clear idea what the Treasure might
consist in. It was something that the Far-Folk wanted and the Outliers
did not mean they should get. The struggle kept alive in them tribal
integrity and the relish for supremacy.

The practice of not speaking of the Treasure during the three days’
absence of the Ward, had taken on a rigidity of custom which Herman and
I did not feel ourselves bound to observe. We could talk of the Treasure
and of Zirriloë, and we did that same morning.

When the shadows were gathered close under the forest border, and even
to our accustomed eyes there was no sign of the Outliers, other than the
subdued sense of gladsome life spread on the pleasant air, I found a
place I knew. There the creek went close about the roots of the pine
between shallow sandy shoals, and there Herman came to talk to me of the
Love-Left Ward. As he sat there at my feet pitching stones into the
shallows, that effulgence of personality which had streamed from him at
the opening of that day, and now suffused his manner with an
unaccustomed warmth, lay quite beyond my reach.

Some of the dread with which Daria had met the obliteration of memory
and identity, moved me to draw from Herman an assurance that nothing
could quite wipe out from him all recollection of the fellowship and the
good times we had had together. It began to appear an alarming
contingency that I should be turned out at any moment in a strange
country to find my way back to life in company with a man I did not know
and whose disposition toward me was still to be learned. It would have
become Herman to be very nice to me at this juncture, and while I sat
feeling blankly for the communicating thread, he began to talk of the
Ward.

“Some of the women should have gone with her,” he said; “somebody
interested in her. It’s all stiff chaparral from here to the ridge. The
girl will never stand it.”

“You don’t really know where they have gone,” I hinted, “and Daria
doesn’t seem to have suffered.”

“Oh, Daria! But this girl needs looking after. You can see that it means
a lot to her, losing—everything. She would have appreciated—things. That
string of red berries now—she would have done justice to rubies.”

“The great necklace of red stones? Well, she probably knows where they
are by this time.”

“A lot better use for them than keeping them in a hole in the ground,”
Herman insisted, “especially when it costs the youth of a girl like that
to keep them there.”

“I know at least one Outlier who will agree with you.”

“Who, then?”

“Mancha.”

“Did he say that? What makes you think so?”

I have often wondered why having gone so far I did not go further and
tell Herman frankly what I thought I had discovered of Mancha’s state of
mind. I have wondered oftener, if I had spoken then, if anything would
have come of it different or less grievous than what did come. Whatever
prevented me, I answered only that he seemed to me a man less bound by
custom and superstition than his fellows, and Herman agreed with me.

“But I can tell you,” he said, “that Zirriloë wouldn’t hear of it. You
can just see how her whole soul is bound up in the keeping of her vows.
She could be true as death to—anybody.” He went on to say how he derived
this assurance from the way the sun-touched color of her cheek spread
into the whiteness of her neck, and from the blueness of the vein that
ran along her wrist, and her springy walk. He ran on in this fashion
taking my agreement very much for granted. What I really had thought was
that in spite of her beauty and wraptness, the girl had rather a shallow
face and would be as likely to be as much engrossed and as sure of
herself in any other circumstances. And I was so much disappointed at
Herman’s extraordinary failure of perception that I could not allow
myself to say anything about it. I felt that a personal note must
unreasonably attach to any woman’s attempt to show that a more beautiful
one is not necessarily a woman of more personal fineness. I was so
irritated with myself for being irritated that I was glad to hear Evarra
calling down by the willows, and to leave Herman pitching pebbles into
the shallows. Though it turned out that Evarra was asleep under a
madroño and nobody had called me.

During those three days while the Ward and the keepers were away, there
was a great deal going on in the fenced meadows and by Deer Lake and at
the bottom of deep wells of shade in the damp cañons. It was a broken,
flying festival, no two events of which took place successively in the
same quarter, for the Outliers wished not to occupy ground long enough
to leave upon it any mark of use by which House-Folk might suspect their
presence. The great events of the Meet went on in so many places that
nobody ever saw the whole of them. That was why I had no more talk with
Herman and saw him but once or twice until Zirriloë came back again. I
heard of him, though, and that in a manner and matter that surprised me
very much.

The morning of the second day I went up with the girls to race in
Leaping Water. We left the Middle Basin by a trail that took the side of
the hill abruptly and brought us out at the foot of the second fall,
above the long white torrent of the Reach. They meant to come down with
the stream to the meadow again, and the game went to the one who was
least out of water in that passage. I followed the windings of the creek
as near as the undergrowth allowed and heard their laughter, now louder
and now less than the water noises, and saw between the trees the flash
of foam change to the glancing of white limbs, and the flicker of the
sun on fair bodies as they drifted through the shallows. They took the
falls feet foremost, curving to its flying arch, white arms wreathed
backwards and wet hair blowing with the spray. The swimmers so mixed
themselves with the movement of the water and the well-sunned, spacious
day, that they seemed no more apart from it than the rush of the creek
or the flicker of light on leaf surfaces displaced by the wind. They
were no more obtrusive than that mysterious sense of presence out of
which men derive gods and the innumerable fairy host.

I had walked thus in that awakened recognition of sentience in the wild,
in which all Outland had become a dream which hunts along the drowsy
edge of sleep. I had continued in it for perhaps half an hour, in such a
state that though I had no idea where we were on the map, I believe I
could have set out suddenly in the right quarter for home. I had not
heard my name pronounced, but I began to be aware within myself that
some one had called. I was so sure of it that, though I had no
intimation yet of any presence, I began to look about. After a little
trouble I made out Trastevera on the opposite bank, between the willows,
making signs that she wished to speak to me, and yet enjoining silence.
The creek widened here and the girls were coming down, following like
trout. I saw her press back among the swinging boughs as they went by,
and guessed that something more than the ordinary occasion of the day
was astir. Presently, when we heard from below the splash of laughter as
the swimmers struck the rapids, she came across to me.

“Where were you yesterday when Daria took the Cup?” she asked
immediately.

“By Fallen Tree, not twenty steps from you—but you were so taken up with
that affair that you did not see me.”

“You heard, then, what her young man said about”—she flushed
sensitively—“his reasons for her not drinking. Have you heard anything
of that in the Meet?”

“Nothing that need disquiet you.”

This was not strictly true, for Evarra had told me that all those who
had opposed Trastevera’s exemption ten years before were now justifying
themselves in Daria’s rebellion.

“They are saying what I feared,” she said, “that it is a mistake to
release the possessor of gifts from the common obligation.”

“They are wrong, then, for nothing has come of it but the momentary
outburst of a sensitive spirit. After all, Daria fulfilled her vows.”

She looked at me curiously for a moment, as if she were not sure what to
make of me. We were walking up and down behind the trees, her dress
a-flutter, her small hands clasping and unclasping, her body rippling
with the expressive accompaniment of excitement which was as natural to
her as the unstrained stillness of repose.

“Do you not think it wrong,” she said, “when the findings of the Council
are scorned, and I—even I—make secret occasion to talk of forbidden
things?”

She wheeled upon me suddenly:

“And this plan which is hatched between your man and Mancha, perhaps you
see no wrong in that?”

She was too guileless herself to have taken that method on purpose, but
I felt my spirit curling like a dried leaf out of all proportion to her
news. I managed to answer steadily.

“He is not my man.” It did not occur to me until afterward that it would
have been a surer form of denial not to acknowledge so readily what man.
“And as for any plans he may have with Mancha or any other, I do not
know what they are. Nor would I be interested except that I see it
troubles you.”

All the time I was resenting unreasonably that Herman should have any
plans with anybody and not broach them first to me.

“I do not know very well what it is myself,” she said more quietly,
“except that it grows out of this unhappy episode of Daria’s. It must
refer to the Wardship, because it is rumored about that the Meet,
instead of breaking up on the evening when the keepers come back, will
hold over another day for Council. That must be because they wish to
talk of matters that may not be opened earlier. It is Mancha, I think,
who wishes it. When some of the elders reproved Daria’s lover for having
allowed himself to love a Ward, and for speaking so lightly of the
Keeping, Mancha said that a man could not help where his heart went, and
that there was too much truth in what the young man said. Myself, I
cannot account for it.”

“I can,” I said, “and though you might not feel at liberty to question
me, I at least may tell you that it has to do with the Ward. He is in
love with her.” And I told her all that I had seen or surmised.

“And your friend?”

“Not knowing what his plan is, I cannot give his reasons.”

“Ah!” she said for all answer, and we walked on without saying anything
further until I asked her what had become of Daria.

“Gone on her wedding month; they went away this morning as soon as she
was fully recovered, having seen no one. They went out by Singing Ford.
And even in that,” she added, “there is something to criticize, for it
is not customary for any one to go away from the Meet while the Keepers
are abroad. Oh,” she cried, striking suddenly upon her breast, “it is
through me, through me, that all this breaking of custom comes.”

“Why do you care so much? All customs pass and in the end are replaced
by better ones.”

“If that is not so,” she said, “if it is not so, Daria’s lover was
right.”

She walked a little from me and bit her hands, as though she would have
eaten down the mortification of one who sees harm come through what is
best in him. Having recovered herself a little came to ask me when I had
last seen Ravenutzi, and if I had observed anything unusual in him. I
had not, and naturally wished to know if she had.

“The shadow,” she said, “the long shadow.”

“Has it come again?”

“It lies at his feet, it stretches behind him and blots out the good
day, it runs before him and covers the Outliers when they sit happy and
at ease. Oh, I am weary because of it, and yet I can find no fault with
him. During the last three days, which must have tried him, he has been
most discreet. But did you think”—she turned to me—“when he broke in
upon the singing to provoke debate, that he meant to turn the talk to
some other meaning than it had?”

“I thought so.”

“Then I am sure of it. Listen,” she said; “if this is true what you tell
me about Mancha, I shall have enough to watch, for the greatest danger
will be when the Ward comes home again.”

“Why then?”

“She will have been six months away from her friends, she will be tired
in body and the glow of the ceremonial will be gone, her heart will turn
toward her family, and the secret will weigh upon her. Then, if ever,
she will need counsel and support—when she comes back—when she first
comes.” She said the words over to herself. “Mancha I can trust as far
as I can trust any man in love; but the girl—I will say no more of her
than that she is much like other girls. I shall be busy there. Ravenutzi
I cannot watch, he disturbs me too much. Do you see as much of him as
possible and bring me word.”

There being no reason why I should not, I promised readily, and so
concluded the interview.

I was anxious though to see Herman as soon as possible, and sent Lianth
that evening to ask him to come to the middle meadow when the stars came
out in the blue above the dim, receding ranges. But he did not come,
though I walked there a long time and saw the dark well out of the
cañons. I felt the night scents begin to stir with the little winds, and
the tall sequoias bend their tops and talk together, and my heart
cracked with expectancy with every snapped twig and rustling of wild
things going down to drink. I shouldn’t have minded his not coming if he
had anything else to do, but I minded being kept waiting for him. I
minded it still more the next morning when I met him at Fallen Tree and
he said, quite as if he had not thought of it until that time:

“Oh, by the way—I was down at the Hollow last night with Mancha and some
of the others. Was it anything particular you wanted to say to me?”

Well, of course, I had supposed it was rather particular when I had
given him such an opportunity to tell me all about his plan and get
forgiven for not telling it before. I had meant to warn him that
Trastevera, and so, of course, Persilope, had reason to distrust his
mixing himself too much in the affairs of Outland. But of course if he
didn’t see it that way himself there was no occasion for me to be
concerned about it. So I said:

“No, nothing particular.”

“Well,” he said, “when this affair is all over”—just as if it were in
any wise his affair—“we must get together and have a good talk
somewhere.” And though it was mid-morning and there was nothing whatever
to do if he wished to talk, he went off up the creek, and that was the
last I saw of him until evening.

Directly after noon I took Lianth with me and went out toward the Leap
and then up the bank of a tributary rill, and so into a part of the wood
where the Outliers did not much frequent. Lianth, who was a great
talker, grew more and more quiet as my replies were more absent, and the
way grew steeper. We could see the ground rising in front of us through
the trees, and hear the noise of the creek falling far behind.

The boy was walking very close to me, and there was a shy color coming
in his cheek; he glanced right and left under his half long lashes and
came very close.

“Well, isn’t she?” he said. “Isn’t she as beautiful as I said—you know
who?”

“Zirriloë?”

“Well, isn’t she?”

“Lianth,” said I, “if you think I have brought you out here to give you
a chance to talk about forbidden things, you are mistaken. I came
because I wished to be alone. I’m going a little farther among the
trees, and don’t you come until I call you.”

He was helping me up over a broken ledge as I spoke, and stopped there
looking at me irresolutely.

“You aren’t going to try and run away, are you? You look as though you
were—from something.”

“Only from you. You can give the call, and if I don’t answer you can
come to look for me.”

I had learned already many of the Outland methods of communicating by
forest notes rather than trust to the betraying, high-pitched human
voice. None of these was of more use to me than the call for refuge. If
any Outlier wished to be private in his place, he raised that call,
which all who were within hearing answered. Then whoever was on his way
from that placed hurried, and whoever was coming toward it stayed where
he was until he had permission to move on. Though Lianth was somewhat
taken aback at my demand, I knew I should have some little space
unmolested.

I climbed on between great roots of pines where the litter lay in
hummocks between the tracks of winter torrents, and Lianth had called
twice before I bethought myself to answer him and claim a longer time. I
lay down at last in a place where the scrub was a screen to me, and
before I understood what had happened, the laboring breath of my
climbing had burst into thick, choking sobs. I lay face down on the pine
litter and was most terribly shaken with the grief of some dumb, wounded
thing in me that did not know its hurt, but wrenched and cried a long
time unrelievingly. It was so new a thing for me to cry and so strange,
that though I knew this was what I had come there for, I did not know
why I was torn so almost to the dividing of soul and spirit. The crying
lasted a long time, and I was so exhausted by it that it was only by
faint degrees I became aware of eyes upon me. I roused up hastily,
afraid lest in the violence of my grief I had failed to answer some
inquiry of Lianth’s and he had come to find me.

Instead, I met the curious, commiserating eyes of a woman fixed on me
through the leafage of the scrub. As soon as she perceived that I saw
her she parted the brush and came through, holding it still in her hands
behind her, as though it were a door of exit to be kept open. I saw at
once by her figure, which was slight and tall, by her dark hair and by
her dress, that she was not one of the Outliers. Over her tunic she had
wound a long cloak of dark stuff, concealing her limbs, and over that
bound vines and wreathed the leaves in her hair, for adornment or
concealment. As she stood in the shadow there was little to be discerned
of her but the thin oval of her face and the long throat clasped by
linked silver ornaments finely wrought.

“You are not of the Outliers?” she questioned, though I felt she was
already sure of the fact.

“I am their prisoner.”

I thought she seemed pleased at that, more pleased if, with a swift
searching of my swollen eyes, I could have answered yes to her next
question.

“They do not treat you well? But no”—answering herself—“it is not so
that captives cry. What is your name?”

“Mona.”

She said it over two or three times to fix it in her memory; and then,
caution and curiosity struggling in her:

“You have just come from them? You know them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you”—I could see the pulse of her long throat and the bushes shake
behind with her agitation—“do you know Ravenutzi?”

“I know him.”

“Is he well? How does he look? Is he happy?” Impossible to conceal now
what the question meant to her.

“He is well. As to his looks—sometimes he looks younger, sometimes
older. His hair, I think, is not so gray.”

“Not so gray?”

“I think he dyes it.” I do not know why I should have said this, except
as I saw that no detail of him was too small to seem trivial to her.

“Oh!” she said, startled, looking at me queerly. “Oh!” she gave a short
laugh, “you think he dyes it. Is he happy?”

I considered.

“You are one of the Far-Folk, I believe, and though I am prisoner, the
Outliers have been friends to me. I am not sure I ought to answer you.”

She let go of the bushes and came a step nearer in her anxiety.

“As you are a woman who has wept in secret, and by the hurt which
brought your tears,” she said, “only tell me if he is well and happy.
Surely that cannot touch your honor.”

“I have already said he is well. He has the vigor of a young man. As for
happiness—he says very little, and that not of himself. At least he is
not openly unhappy.”

“Tell me,” she urged, “if you could imagine that in his own land he is
well loved, that there is one there who lives in him, dreams of him,
counts the hours; could you say that he found the time of his hostage
heavy because of her?”

“He is thoughtful at times, and walks by himself. Otherwise I could not
judge. I have not loved myself.”

For answer she let her eyes wander pointedly over my disfigured face and
fallen hair.

“Tell me again,” she said after an interval. “This girl who is the Ward,
is she very beautiful?”

“Very;” but not so beautiful as you, I thought, for there was in the
vivid red of her fine lips, in the purple of her eyes and the delicate
tragic arch of her brows, in the long throat and bosom, all that fire
and motion of passion which the Ward’s face hinted at elusively. I was
casting about for a way of saying this to her not too boldly when I was
advised by the tapping of her foot on the needles that she would not be
turned from her inquiry.

“And Ravenutzi, is he interested in her? Is he much about her? Does she
care for him?”

“She is the Ward,” I said, “she may not think of men; and besides, she
is only a girl, her thought would hardly turn to a white head.”

“True, true”—she pinched her lip with thumb and forefinger—“I had
forgotten; as you say, he is a very old man. No doubt he might be judged
old enough to have speech with her.”

I, not seeing fit to reply to that, rose and stood looking at her, very
curious on my own account, but knowing very well that I should get
nothing from her except what pleased her.

“Shall I tell him you inquired for him?” I wished politely to know, and
was startled at her whiteness.

“Ah, no, no! Do not tell him—tell no one lest he hear of it; he would be
very angry, he would——” She recovered herself. “Ravenutzi is very
honorable. He would not wish to break the terms of his hostage, which
are that he should not communicate with the Far-Folk for three years. It
is a long time,” she said piteously.

“A long time.”

“Then,” she said, “if you could understand how I—how his friends would
wish to assure themselves that he is well, you can see that we would not
wish him disturbed by knowing how much he is missed.”

“I understand very well.”

“Then”—relieved—“you will perhaps tell no one that you have seen me. And
if I could come so near again—I could not have managed it except that
they are all busy at their Meet—if I could let you know, you would not
deny me?”

I suppose the exhaustion of long sobbing had left me in a yielding mood.
I saw no harm in satisfying her anxiety, and said so, though I added
that I might not be long myself among the Outliers.

“If you are there I will find a way to let you know,” she assured me,
and with that she threw herself into the arms of the waiting wood, which
received and seemed to snatch her from my view.



                                  VII
                        HERMAN DEVELOPS HIS IDEA


On the third day, when the shadows were all out full length in the upper
basin, the sun blinking palely from behind a film of evening gray, the
Maiden Ward came back. Some children paddling for trout in the soddy
runnels saw her come and ran crying the news among the evening fires.
Hearing it the women all ran together distractedly, declaring that there
could be no proper welcome with no men about. This, I thought, was very
quickly noted by the girl, glancing this way and that, losing a little
of the high carriage and manner as she saw how few observed it.

The girl was white, her eyes strained wide in dark circles of fatigue.
Streakings of her fair body showed through the torn dress. I saw her
check and stumble, putting out her hands blindly, overburdened by her
hair. Remembering what importance Trastevera had attached to this
returning, I looked about for her, ready to serve or see. Before I could
reach her, up came Ravenutzi from his pot of coals and anvil of flint
stone down where the rush of the cascade covered the tinkle of his
hammers. I could not help noting the likeness between him and Trastevera
as he came, putting off his smith’s apron ready to her use like a
proffered tool. Some nods, I think, a gesture or two of Trastevera’s,
were all that passed between them. Some essential maleness leapt up in
him at the motions of those small talking hands, and took command of the
situation. I found myself running with the women at his word to spread
skins for the Ward to rest upon, and ordering the children in two lines
to some show of ceremonial welcome. There were some young brothers of
hers in that band, and as she kissed them heartily I saw tears stealing,
and realized how young she was and how hard a thing she had undertaken.
She stood with a palm behind her flat against a pine for support,
overtired and wanting her mother, no doubt, who was not allowed to come
to her. Finally the women took her away to rest.

In all this I had never seen Ravenutzi show to so great advantage. When
we were quite alone Trastevera put out her hand to him as she did not
often in the presence of Outliers.

“Kinsman,” she said, and it was the first time I had heard her call him
that, “I owe you thanks for this.”

She meant more than that he had contrived some warmth for what must
otherwise have seemed to Zirriloë a cold returning. She was thankful
that it had been his wrinkles and streaked grayness to meet the Ward
rather than the hot eyes and shining curls of Mancha.

“I do not know how it is,” said she, “I never pitied myself for being
the Ward, but somehow this pink girl seems to need to be pitied.”

“Any bond,” said Ravenutzi, “will wear at times,” and said it with a
wistful back-stroke of self-commiseration that caused me to think
swiftly of several things. I reflected that in his own place among the
Far-Folk he must have been more of a man than the Outliers conceded to
any smith. Next, that the condition of tame cat, which his hostageship
incurred, pressed more heavily on him than they were in the habit of
thinking. Also I thought of the tall woman, but I did not deliver the
comforting reassurance about her which came readily to my tongue. There
was so intimate and personal a quality in his brief surrender to our
sympathy that it made the mention of another woman an intrusion. It
began to seem likely that she could not be so much to him as he to her.
That would account both for her anxiety not to have him know of her
inquiry, and for his not having mentioned her to Trastevera.

We continued walking up and down under the linked pines, without many
words, but with a community of understanding, which led later to
Trastevera’s opening to him more of her anxieties than she realized. In
the course of an hour or two the women brought the Ward back again, and
made her a little entertainment of compliments and songs. There was a
hard, bright moon in a pale ring, and the breath of the young year
stealing through the forest.

Prassade sang, and Evarra’s man and old Noche. The women sang all
together, rocking, as they sat, but Ravenutzi sang the most and most
movingly. Mancha sang nothing; sat off fondling his weapon, and drank
the girl’s looks. She was very lovely, had got back a little of her
saint’s separateness which became her, and the conscious support of
being admired. If she had looked at him, she might have seen his heart
swimming under his gaze, but I could not see that she did. What favor
she was disposed to show went to Ravenutzi, praising his songs and
affecting to be affected. I thought she built too much on the mere
incident of his having been the only one of the men to meet her. It was
a mere accident growing out of the nature of his work, but it was
natural, perhaps, to have rewarded him for it. The women took her away
early, and nothing whatever had happened.

The next day, which ordinarily would have seen the parting of the Meet,
occurred the Council, which broke up in some disorder, without having
accomplished anything. Very early a blind fog came nosing up from the
sea, cutting between the round-backed hills, shouldering them like a
herd-dog among sheep. It threaded unsuspected cañons, and threw up great
combs of tall, raking trees against its crawling flanks. It gripped the
peaks, spreading skyward, whirling upon itself in a dry, ghostly
torrent. The chill that came with the fog drove us down toward Deep
Fern, to a sun-warmed hollow defended by jutty horns of the country
rock. Shed leaves crackled under us, the wind and fog were stayed by the
tall pines at our backs, the sun warmed whitely through the hurrying
mist.

Evarra and some others of the women were there, Zirriloë and the two
keepers beginning their daily turns, and Ravenutzi, sitting with his
long knees drawn up under his clasped hands. Somewhere out of sight the
men were holding council on a matter they had not seen fit to speak to
us about. We had scarcely settled ourselves on the warm leaf-drift when
one of them came to the head of the Hollow and shouted for Noche. There
were so many of us about, the old man could have safely left the Ward
but it seemed to him scarcely courtesy to do so with her Wardship yet so
new. He glanced around through the smother of the fog and found not
another man who could be spared to that duty. Ravenutzi, with his chin
upon his knees, and his velvety opaque eyes looked idly at nothing, but
was aware of the old man’s difficulty. Noche clapped him heavily on the
shoulder.

“Hey, smith,” he said, “will you take a watch for me? I am wanted.”

At this the man who leaned to us dimly from the rim of the Hollow gave a
grunt.

“What,” he said, “will you set the Far-Folk to watch a Ward? These are
gentle times.”

“Why, he is as gray as I am, and twice as wrinkled,” answered Noche,
mightily disconcerted. “Would you have him come to the Council instead?”

The other laughed shortly.

“No, not to the Council, though I daresay it will come to that yet.”

He released the young tree upon which he leaned, which sprang back with
a crackling sound. From his silence Noche drew consent to his
half-jesting proposal and, smiling embarrassedly, like a chidden child,
swung his great body up by the trunk of a leaning oak and disappeared
behind the smoky fog. By such intimations we knew there was something
going forward among the men, but we did not know how much of this the
Ward, who was most involved by it, surmised. She might have guessed from
our not referring to these mysterious comings and goings that it
concerned the keeping of the Treasure. She grew uneasy, started at
sounds, would have Trastevera hold her hand, was in need of stroking and
reassuring.

The fog increased, hurrying and turning upon itself. Runnels of cooler
air began to pour through it, curling back the parted films against the
trees. Now and then one of these air-streams, deflected by the rim of
the Hollow, would rush up its outer slope, blowing leaves and dust like
a fountain, and, subsiding, leave us more sensible of warmth and ease,
in the thick leaf litter below the oaks.

Ravenutzi came over to Trastevera, who sat holding the Ward’s hand, and
stretched himself at her feet, smiling up at her his fawn’s smile. He
held up his hand between him and the pale smear of sunlight with one of
those slight, meaningful gestures so natural to him that it served as a
more delicate sort of speech: “Surely it seemed to say, to-day not even
I can cast a shadow?”

Trastevera, like one too deep in thought to rise to the surface of
words, smiled back. Not finding himself in disfavor, Ravenutzi ventured
a little more to lure her from disturbing meditation. He turned upon his
side, leaning on his elbow, and began to sing. His voice was mellow and
of a carrying quality, with a tang in it like the taste of the
honey-comb in wild honey. Some half-governed energy of passion kept it
under his breath as the warm earth was held under the smother of the
fog. It was a song of the Far-Folk, I know, for there were some words in
it not common to the Outliers, but it had their method of carrying the
mood in the movement and the mind of the singer, rather than in the
words.

    “‘Oh, a long time.’

it said,

    ‘Have I been gathering lilies in the dawn-dim woodland.
    ‘Oh, long—long!’”

and ran on into a sound like the indrawing of breath before tears, and
began again:

    “Scented and sweet is the house
    And the door swings outward,
    It is made fair with lilies:
    But there are no feet on the trail to the house
    And the door swings outward.
    Long, O long, have I been gathering lilies.”

Just that, three times over; and the first time of the singing it was a
girl wreathing herself with flowers and looking down the trail, sure of
her lover but sighing for his delay. Then it was the tall woman I had
met in the wood, keeping her empty house with fierce loyalty through the
years of his hostage.

    “Long, oh long, have I been gathering lilies!”

Finally it was a heart made fair with unrequited tendernesses, singing
to itself through all the unimpassioned years. Strangely it was I
singing that song and walking through it in a bewildered mist of pain.

I do not know how long it was after Ravenutzi ceased before I could
separate myself from the throbbing of the song. I was recalled sharply
by the wish to comfort Zirriloë, whose young egotism, suffering perhaps
in the withdrawal of attention from herself, had startled us all by
turning her face on Trastevera’s shoulder and bursting into tears. It
was pure hysteria, I thought, but she was so very pretty in it. There
was such appeal of childishness in the red, curling lip, the trembling
of her delicate bosom, that I was drawn in spite of myself into the
general conspiracy to restore her to the balance of cheerfulness.
Ravenutzi, realizing that his song was in a manner to blame, was so
embarrassed in his dismay and so wistful of our good opinion, that the
girl was obliged to come out of her tears to reassure him. He, to
requite the forgiveness, began to be at once so gay and charming in his
talk that in a very little time we had returned to that even breathing
lightness of mood which was the habit of the Outliers. Content welled
out of the earth and overflowed us like some quiet tide, disturbed only
as some sharp jet of human emotion sprang up fountain-wise momentarily
beyond the level, and dropped back again to vital, pulsing peace.

We had no more disturbances that day, and I felt that Trastevera, much
as she was concerned about the Council, could only have been thankful
for so commonplace an occasion. We were both glad that the quick-blooded
Mancha had business, which kept him out of the way until the Ward had
recovered a little from the self-consciousness of her situation. When
about three hours had gone over us, Persilope came stooping under the
hanging boughs, gave us Good Friending somewhat briefly, and took his
wife away with him. From time to time after that, one or another woman
slipped away, answering some call of her mate out of the mist. When we
heard the fluttering shriek of a hawk given rapidly twice, and again
impatiently, without space for replying we all laughed.

“That is your man, Evarra! One would think the woods were a-fire!”

Evarra blushed.

“Assuredly, he would set them a-fire when he is in that state if he did
not find me.” She made a sign to me. “Come,” she said; “now we shall
hear what it is all about.”

The Council, so Evarra’s husband told us, was not the immediate outcome
of the incidents of the Meet. Matter for it had been growing these ten
years past, ever since the unearthing and reburial of the Treasure had
been undertaken on Trastevera’s account. It had been so long since they
had any feeling of its reality, except as the point on which their honor
hung! But after Noche had seen the Treasure, the craftsman’s soul of him
was forever busy with the wonders of it, brooding on the fire of its
jewels as a young man on the beam of a maiden eye. All the children who
had come to maturity these ten years past had been nourished on the
Treasure tale, livened and pointed by Noche’s account. With the advent
of the hostage, interest in the King’s Desire as a possession had rather
increased through the awakened appreciation of smith’s work among them.
Ravenutzi had made curious ornaments for the women of bits of metal
found in deserted summer camps, the patterns of which reproduced, so far
as the Far-Folk remembered them, the wrought gold of the King’s jewels.

Both the items which were responsible for this liveliness of
curiosity—the exemption of Trastevera and consequent reburial of the
Treasure, and the acceptance of the hostage—had been strongly opposed by
part of the Council. Now they thought themselves justified by the turn
of events. They thought further that the incident of Daria and her lover
called loudly for measures which should stem this current of departure
from old usage. A Ward had been released from her obligation of
forgetfulness; another had ventured to plead for it. A young man had
loved a Ward and dared to avow it during the term of her Wardship. Here
was one of the Far-Folk teaching smitheying to the Outliers. Here were
House-Folk going about among them talking of forbidden things. Matter
enough for Council if ever Council was. More disconcerting, here was
Mancha, Ward of the Outer Borders, Mancha of the Hammerers, who had
opposed the hostage and stood for the inviolateness of obligation, come
out suddenly as the leader, the precipitator, of revolt. Evarra’s man
fumed over this and the probable reason for it. Upon which point, though
I was at no loss myself, I did not see fit to enlighten him.

The Council had begun soberly in the consideration as to whether some
formal penalty should be visited on the Ward who had dared to love, and
the man who had ventured to love her. It had been disrupted widely by
the question, which seemed to spring up simultaneously among the younger
men, as to why there should be a Ward at all.

It was the nature and the exquisite charm of the life of Outland that it
could not carry superfluous baggage either of custom or equipment.
Question as to the continuance could not have arisen had there not run
before it some warning of dead weight, like the creaking of a blasted
bough about to fall. Such warning they had in the incidents about which
the Council was met. The mere question was not so disquieting as the
speech Mancha made upon it, a speech which, proceeding from an impulse
perhaps not very well defined in his own mind, and not guessed by his
audience. His private determination to get Zirriloë free so that he
might make love to her, was neither very direct in its process nor clear
in its conclusion.

Why, said Mancha, waste the youth of a girl, always the chiefest and
loveliest, keeping a Treasure for which the Far-Folk had ceased to
struggle. Did they not prefer pilferings of House-Folk? Had they not
sold their best man for a free passage to the Ploughed Lands? Honor,
said he, had been kept alive by the custom of the Maiden Ward. But was
honor so little among the Outliers that they had to buy it at the price
of a girl’s love-time?

Moreover, declared Mancha of the Hammerers, it was a form of honor which
they did not trust her to keep. Besides, keeping was the business of
men. Further, said the Ward of the Outer Borders, not having made it
very clear where his speech tended up to this point, there was a better
way of keeping the Treasure effectively out of reach of the Far-Folk.
There was a way costing them nothing of which, since it was new to him,
and he no speech-maker—this much was sufficiently clear at any rate—he
begged leave to let Herman of the House-Folk put for him. This was what
broke and scattered the Council like a blast of wind on burning leaves.
They blew out this way and that, sparking and flaring, saying it was an
incredible thing and impossible that the House-Folk should come to
Council, or, coming, should have anything to say worth hearing. Some
blamed Mancha and some the occasion. Some there were who laughed,
unbound their slings and went hunting. Said they:

“This is mere child’s talk, when you have business afoot call us.”

Others, deeply angered at the flouting of old customs, went out
suddenly, picked up their women with a sign and set out without
farewells for their own places. Of these we heard nothing again until a
greater occasion grown out of that same slighted Council called them.

There were many, however, and these chiefly of the younger men, who
stayed to hear Herman’s idea, which was as he explained to me a little
later at the pine tree by the shallows, perfectly feasible. It was
nothing less than that the Outliers should become, as he said,
civilized.

“It is quite impossible, you know, that they should go on living like
this indefinitely. They are practically cut off from the sea already,
and every summer there are more and more campers. Think how these hills
would be overrun, and with what sort of people, if we went back to
Fairshore and told what we know of the Treasure?”

“Well, we aren’t going to be allowed to. Do you remember last summer how
one of a hunting party in these same hills wandered away from his
companions and was found afterwards, dazed and witless? He was thought
to have had a fall or something. But now I know that like us, he
stumbled on the Outliers and they gave him the Cup.”

“That may work very well when they get us singly,” Herman agreed, “but a
whole party of campers now—the wonder is they have been exempt so long.
Their trails go everywhere.”

I could have reminded Herman then of one who walked in their trails and
believed them trodden out by deer, who caught them nearly at their
faggot gathering and thought only of wood-choppers. Or I might have
asked him if even now he could find any Outlier in the woods who did not
wish to be found. But I waited to hear the whole of his idea.

“They are getting no good out of their Treasure as it is, and paying too
dear for its keep. A girl like Zirriloë ought to be married, you
know ... with all that capacity for loving ... what a wife she would
make ... for ... anybody.” I had not said anything to the contrary, but
Herman took on an insisting tone. “She would pick up things,” he said,
“and her beauty would carry her anywhere——” He broke off, staring into
the brown shallows as if he were watching of that beauty carrying her
somewhere out of the bounds of her present life, and the sight pleased
him.

“But your idea?”

“Well, it’s only that they should take up their Treasure, abolish all
this business of the Ward, and with the proceeds of the jewels buy
themselves a tract of land in which the law could protect them from the
encroachments of House-Folk and Far-Folk alike. I know a man in the
forestry bureau who would be able to tell me how it could be managed.”

He said that with so great an implied indifference to any objection I
might entertain, that I began to feel a very quick resentment. I began
to wonder if that old inclusive sympathy had ever been at all, if indeed
it had not grown, as I felt this whole Outland experience to have done,
out of my expectant wish for it.

“It would mean so much to us ... to those of us who care about such
things,” he corrected himself, as if already a little less sure of me,
“to have their social system working in plain sight. Their notions of
the common good ... I’ve talked with the men a bit ... what they’ve
worked out without any of our encumbrances, if they could take it up now
with all our practical advantages—the University might establish a sort
of protectorate——But you don’t seem to care for the idea, Mona.”

I don’t know what I thought of the idea as a solution of the troubles of
the Outliers. I thought of a great many practical objections afterward,
but just then I knew what I thought of Herman for proposing it.

They were our Outliers—or I might have said _my_ Outliers, for I had
imagined them, believed in them and discovered them. It was only
Herman’s interest in me which had brought him within their borders. It
was a unique and beautiful experience, and it was ours. We had said that
and had felicitated ourselves so many times on its being an experience
we were having together. If we forgot it we must have even our
forgetfulness in common as we had so many things—and here was Herman
willing to throw it open to the world as an experiment in sociology. If
Herman felt that way about it, how was I to claim that exquisite
excluding community of interest in which the adventure had begun!

“I daresay,” I answered quickly, for I had thought all this while he
talked to me, “that it is as good as most ideas of yours, but it doesn’t
interest me.” And I walked away and left him staring into the water.



                                  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 in 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 together, 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. Ravenutzi 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
his 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. The 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. That 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 that 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.”

He 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.

“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 up 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?

Had 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
chiefly 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 about 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.”

“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 fetch 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?

The 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 the 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 then 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 breakfast 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.”



                                   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.

All 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 be 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 hill, 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.

They 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.

Let 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 was, 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.

I 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 have 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 some
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.

He 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?”

“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 seen 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.

The 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.

“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 a 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 shot 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?”

“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 the 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
into 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.



                                   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?”

“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 unaccountably. 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 turned 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 to 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 the 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 under 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.”

“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 strained 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 his 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 down 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 knew—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 the 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; the 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.

“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.

“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.

“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 like 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 to 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 bent 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.



                                   XI
HOW THE OUTLIERS CAME UP WITH THE FAR-FOLK AT A PLACE CALLED THE SMITHY,
                   AND HERMAN CAME BACK TO RIVER WARD


Nothing in all that struggle initiated by the lifting of the King’s
Desire, pleased me so much as the way the Far-Folk outstretched
themselves by their own cunning. They had chewed the cud of the old
grudge so long, disgorging and regorging, that life smacked no other
savour for them. They made the mistake of imagining no other among their
enemies. That slow treachery of Ravenutzi’s, while it burned against the
honor of the Outliers, kept the habit of treacherous thinking alive
among their enemies. The Far-Folk wasted themselves upon the method and
left not much to reckon with beyond the fact of possession.

Let them once get their hands upon the King’s Desire! They asked no more
than that, planned very little more. Communication with Ravenutzi was
difficult. Never greater than the time of the Meet from which they hoped
so much, when the thought of the Treasure was uppermost in every man’s
mind. Then hope overrode precaution and drew them, when they had most
need to keep in the dark, to cluster just beyond River Ward like
wastrels above the water where the dead are about to rise. There, had he
not had other business for his thoughts, Mancha should have discerned
them. But the Hammerer’s preoccupation, though it saved them from
detection by increasing the sense of safety, hurried the unearthing of
the King’s Desire.

News of this move only reached the Far-Folk as they lay all together,
with no preparation for flight or siege, in a shallow cañon back of
River Ward, humming with excited talk, like a hive about to swarm. The
mere hint of frustration fanned them into a fury, which was succeeded
when the Treasure was actually in camp, by gross, babbling boastfulness
and exultation. Close on this came word from Ravenutzi that he had fled
the Outliers with the Ward, and they were to await him in a place called
the Smithy.

If they wondered why he should have taken so much trouble for a girl who
had already served her turn, they had either less interest in his
relation to her, or trusted him more. What did concern them was that the
same message told them that by this time the Outliers were in a fair way
to discover the loss of the King’s Desire.

They judged they would be tracked and planned their defense in keeping
with what they thought the Outliers’ probable estimate of themselves.
They reasoned that the Outliers would be expecting lies in the enemy’s
country. They left a boy behind them to watch. If the Outliers lost the
trail he was to run and bring the Far-Folk word. If they struck the
trail to the Smithy he was to turn them from it by the simple truth.
There they overdid themselves. The Outliers, not yet inured to lies,
believed what the boy told them.

They caught the boy—one with some spirit in him meriting a better
employment—crawling through the scrub half a day beyond River Ward, and
brought him before Persilope, where he scratched and cursed awhile and
then fell sullen under their questioning. Let them kill him, he said,
but he would not tell where his people were, nor how to get at them.

“Nay, we will not kill you, lad,” Noche reassured him, “we love you so
much.” Here he wrapped his great arms about the boy, handfast behind his
back as the captors had brought him in, and lifted him against his
breast.

“So,” he laughed, “will you not tell me for love where the Far-Folk
are?”

“No.” The boy’s face flushed purple, the breath came whistling through
his teeth.

“One,” said Noche, and the muscles of his back began to swell.

“Two,” said Noche.

“Yes-s-ss!” sung the boy’s rattling breath.

And when Noche, who would have cracked the ribs of a grown man as well,
set him down, the boy staggered and was sick, and admitted they were at
the Smithy. He had been entirely within his instruction in that, but he
must have seen the unwisdom of telling the truth as he had been
instructed, when the Outliers set out immediately in that direction. His
distress was evident and genuine, he moaned and whimpered, came fawning
to Persilope.

“Why, what ails the boy?” said he, perplexed. “We want no more of you.”

“But, oh, I have lied to you,” whined the lad. “I have lied; you will
kill me when you learn how I have lied. They are not at the Smithy.”

“Where then?”

“Oh, oh, I do not know. Over there. At Eagle Rock, perhaps. But
certainly not at the Smithy.”

His anxiety undid him; Noche came close.

“Shall I say three to you, my youngling?”

The boy fell silent and shivering. All the rest of that journey Noche
kept him serviceable by the mere motion of his arms.

The place called the Smithy lies in the pit of a blind cañon, all of
rusty red volcanic stone. Half-cooled it seems, smudged black with
smoke, encrusted with flakes of dark lichen like soot. Some Junipers
grow there, wind depressed, all asquat above the rocks like dwarfed,
warty things crept out of the ruins to take the sun. In the middle of
the pit half a score of pines staggered together as if awry with labor
at the cold forges. Here the Far-Folk repaired to wait the smith and
gloat upon his work. Here, when the earth melted in its own shadow under
a sky of dusky blueness, whitening to an unrisen moon, the Outliers
found them. The Far-Folk had eaten, and sat about on the broken stones
gloating. Even in repose, and from the top of the hill where the
Outliers looked down at them, they had the attitudes of exultation. The
King’s Desire lay uncorded in their midst, the little low fire struck a
thousand bright reflections from it. Red eyes of gems winked from behind
a screen of golden fret. At the head of the circle sat the chief of the
Far-Folk, and the Cup of the Four Quarters was between his knees.

This Oca was a lithe man, well bronzed, of a singular, wild, fearless
bearing; he had a beard of thick, wavy locks that he blew back from his
lips as he talked, accommodated to the carriage of his head like
sculptor work. Around his mouth there was the evidence of something
half-formed, undependable, the likeness of half fabled wood-creatures.
In his eyes, which were bright and roving, and on his brow, there was
the witness of extraordinary intelligence. He had a laugh, short and
bubbling, that came always at the end of his words and belied their
seriousness; it was as if some sardonic half-god sat in him and laughed
at his assumption of being a man. He laughed now as the Outliers looked
down on him, lifting the Cup of the Four Quarters, blowing back his long
lip locks to drink.

The Outliers had come, I say, to the top of the cañon at dark, for they
had not been very sure of the way, and had scorned to squeeze further
help from their captive. They hung there straining through the dusk to
take the lay of the land and for the moment forgot the lad. He must have
had some good stuff in him, for all that afternoon he had been white
with high resolve, when they thought him merely frightened. The
Outliers’ party halted where the coiled and undulating strata flowed
down the sides of the cañon like water lines in old bas-reliefs. Under
the wiry trees they made out sparkles of red and green and figures
moving. Just then the boy managed, by slipping on a pebble, to bring his
throat a foot from Noche’s hand and to let out a cry formless and
anguished, breaking off in mid-utterance like a trumpet torn asunder. To
it succeeded the sound of a limp body dropping among disjointed stones,
the rush of the Outliers going down, and the scuttling of the Far-Folk
in the blind gully like scared sheep in a runway.

It was very quickly over. The cry had done its work and the advantage of
the ground was all to the Far-Folk; dark people as they were, the dark
befriended them. When the Outliers loosed their slings the first sound
took them into cover. There was heard the crack of the sling stones
followed by sharp groans, but by the time our men got down to the twisty
trees there was not a spark of the Treasure nor one of the Treasure
lifters. They stumbled on some of the Far-Folk women who had lingered to
wake the sleeping children, and took them, with a good part of their
baggage. By the time the moon came up there was nothing to be seen of
either party but one slim body of a lad, with his back broken, growing
cold in a deep cairn of stones.

Persilope moved on with the slingsmen to keep the trail of the Far-Folk
warm, and Mancha, who preferred the work that promised earliest news of
Zirriloë, came back with the captives to River Ward.

In the early half light, as they traveled, they were aware of a tall
woman with long hair blowing, who came and stood on a hill overlooking
them for long enough to have counted all the captives. When she had told
them over, she wrung her hands and bit upon them, and vanished into the
morning mist. I supposed it must have been Ravenutzi’s wife. She was
still looking for some clue of him and had not found it.

We moved, all of us, from Windy Covers that day to a place beyond the
Ledge, but near enough to the Gap for us to fall back upon our own
country if need arose. That night, before Mancha got in from the Smithy,
Herman came back again. It was the pale end of night, the moon was gone
ghost white, and the wind was awake that runs before the dawn. I was
lying sleepless in my bed under the buckthorn when I heard the whisper
of their arrival on the far side of the camp.

I had said to myself that I owed Herman no welcome. Though there was no
personal tie between us, there was in our common condition of aliens
among the Outliers an obligation to look out for me, which he had no
right to neglect. Here was I left to he knew not what pains and
inconveniences while he ran after this wild girl and a faithless,
dishonored man. The more I considered this, the less of satisfaction it
brought me. For whatever the pitiableness of the girl’s case, and I felt
there might be something in that, it was no affair of Herman’s. Why
should he set himself beside her and against all other women who had
kept right and true, by what pains and passionate renunciations I seemed
now to feel myself seized and participated. I saw myself with the others
affronted by any excusing of Zirriloë. That my friend should so excuse
her pointed and made personal the offense.

I was so sure of this resentment, and it was so palpable a barrier in my
own mind to the renewal of intimacy, that when Herman, before he had
eaten or rested, came stealing among the stretched figures, I could not
imagine what he was looking for. He crept with long, stooping pauses
where an arm thrown up or a drawn cover concealed an identity, until he
came to where I lay, wrapped in a cougar skin under the buckthorn. Then
I knew by the full stop, and by the long breath of easement after strain
that it was I he wanted.

He sat down a very little way from me, on the hillock of a broken pine.
Though I could not see his eyes in that light, I made out that his face
was turned toward me, and that he leaned it upon his hand. Whether he
felt some emanation of my resentment and was troubled by it, or whether
from weariness, he moved uneasily and sighed. He must have grown more
accustomed to the dark by traveling in it, for presently he reached out
to brush lightly some small twigs and leaves that had fallen on my bed,
and felt or saw the barely perceptible stir I made.

“Mona?” he whispered.

“Well?”

“Did I wake you? I did not mean to. Do you wish to sleep again?”

“I am not asleep.”

I suppose he expected some question which would give him leave to begin
with what his mind was full of, but I had already heard the whisper,
handed from bed to bed. I guessed what ill success the expedition had,
and I had no wish to hear Herman’s part in it. I lay still and made out
the faint movement in the leaves of the buckthorn, until, by the slow
clearing of the dark, I could see the droop of his figure with fatigue,
and I was not proof against that.

“You are very tired; why do you not go and lie down?”

“If you don’t mind I would rather talk.”

He moved over nearer and seemed to get some comfort from my proximity,
for he began without any further encouragement.

Herman, he said, had not kept close to the Outliers but with Mancha had
scouted far to the left in the hope of coming on some trace of the
Far-Folk’s secret camp, where he imagined Zirriloë might be hid. They
had followed fruitlessly on faint clues, and finally with no clues at
all, and had come to no conclusion except that the fugitives must be
still on the Outlanders’ side of the Ledge. The track had gone far north
of Windy Covers and there was no other passage known for so great a
distance as to be impracticable.

“There is a way,” said I.

And as soon as I had said it I was overtaken with a swift certainty.
This secret way by which Ravenutzi and the girl had gone must be the
same one the wife had come through with her torn hands, venturing so
much to ease her need of him by talking to me. I was so struck by the
idea that, by just the time she had taken to wait for me at Windy Covers
she had missed seeing Ravenutzi help the girl tenderly over that same
trail, that I began at once to tell Herman about it, to his great
amazement.

“You did that,” he said; “you talked to her and let her go, knowing what
harm she had in her mind to do?”

“She was a desperate woman; she could have killed me before help came if
I had given the alarm. In any case,” I protested, “I would not have
given it, because she trusted me. But no harm will come to the Outliers.
This is a private quarrel.”

“That poor girl,” he said, “if she should find her!”

“In that case,” said I, “would you back Ravenutzi to back his wanton or
his wife?”

“Mona—you have no proof!”

“You said—the day she came out of the woods by Leaping Water—that she
was the sort to do anything for the man she loved. Well—she is that
sort.”

“Mona!”

“Perhaps it was not for love then. You said she could appreciate—things.
Perhaps Ravenutzi promised her a——”

“Mona! Mona!” he said, with so sharp an anguish that if I had not felt I
owed it to all honorable women to show him where he stood, I should have
left him to his dear illusion. Yet to see him so excusing treachery for
the sake of a tinted cheek or the way a wrist was turned, set me white
hot and throbbing.

“Would you rather,” I said, “she had done it for love, or for the King’s
Desire?”

I could not see his face, but his voice was troubled with amazement.

“Mona—I—I was not prepared for this.” It was too dark to see, but I
guessed the pauses to be the swallowings of his throat. “I thought you
would be glad to have me go to that poor girl and make things as easy
for her as I could. You never seem to think how she must have suffered
before she came to this.”

“She hid it well. And depend upon it, Herman, whatever sufferings a
woman has in such a case, whatever struggles, they are _toward_ the
thing she would do, not away from it.” I do not know how I knew this,
but the moment I had spoken I was quite sure. “If she struggles,” I
said, “it is to justify her right to do it, to quiet compunction, to
appease her fears. Zirriloë came to the end too quickly to have suffered
much.”

We were both still after that, while the heavens whitened and showed me
a little of how worn he was and what marks of the trail were on him. I
suppose he must have felt the melting of my mood toward him, for
presently his hand stole toward me and began to finger the loose end of
my cougar skin.

“You never seem to think, Mona”—he hesitated—“what this might mean to
me.”

“Well, what does it mean?”

I tried, I think I tried, not to make my voice sound so yielding that he
should suppose me softened toward the shame and wrong of it, nor so hard
that he might imagine the hardness grew out of my caring what it meant
to him. I must have fallen a little to one side or the other, for it was
a long time before he began again.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I am hardly sure myself. There was a time
before we came to Outland—how long ago was that, Mona?—when I fell short
of much that you said and thought. There was something in books and
poetry and music, especially in music, that you were always expecting me
to understand, and the expectation irritated me. I fell into the way of
denying and despising that something, and trying—I am afraid succeeding,
too, in making myself feel that it sprang from some superiority in me
not to understand.... Are you listening, Mona?”

“Yes, Herman.”

“It was not that I felt the want of it so much in myself, but other
people—you, Mona—missed it in me. There was a door to all that, about to
swing upon the latch ... and I could never swing it. And then we came to
this free life ... and Zirriloë.... Did you think I was in love with
her, Mona?”

“Were you in love with her?”

“I don’t know ... she made the door swing back ... she had such a way of
walking ... and that little smile of hers coming and going ... she was
all those things made manifest. A man would understand. I liked to do
things for her. It was a way of serving all the loveliness of women ...
it was serving you, Mona....”

“Ah,” I said, “I would have understood better if the service had been
paid in person.”

“I suppose so.”

He was both humble and reluctant in his acknowledgment, and paused so
long a time after it that I could mark the ebb of the dark from the
highest hills and the full slopes emerging rounded with verdure. But I
found I had nothing to say to him in all this, and perhaps he expected
nothing.

“If she could have stayed so ...” he began again, “as long as she stayed
so, I could feel ... what was it you used to say? ... the roll of the
world eastward.... But to have it end like this ... in meanness and
betrayal ... I wish I might have brought her back with me!”

“Better that you did not, considering what she would come back to meet.
If she loved Ravenutzi she is having her happiness now. If she suffers
at all it is not for what she has done but for what you may think of it.
And if there is any deep-felt misery going on in this anywhere, it is on
the part of Ravenutzi’s wife.”

“Ah, I had forgotten there was a wife.”

I meant he should not forget, nor lose for that shallow girl any of the
deeper opprobriousness that should attach to the double betrayal. But I
was taken by surprise to have him turned by that suggestion quite in
another direction.

“A desperate woman, by your account of her,” he said. “Promise me, Mona,
that you will not hold any further communication with her, and that you
will not go out of the camp without an escort. It isn’t safe, and it
isn’t quite fair, is it, to parley with the enemies of the Outliers?”

If he had stopped with the consideration of my safety, I should probably
have consented meekly like any woman when any man takes an interest in
her, but that suggestion of unfairness set me at odds again.

“I shall not do anything imprudent,” I said; “but as to the relation of
my behavior to the Outliers, that is a matter which you must leave me to
decide for myself.”

“I suppose so,” said Herman ruefully. “I beg your pardon. I don’t know
how it is, Mona, I let other women do pretty much as they like with me,
but I always find myself getting irritated if you don’t do exactly as I
say.”

I was certain Herman had never said anything like this to me before, yet
it had so familiar a ring to it that I found myself going back in my
mind for the association. I recalled what Evarra said when she asked if
Herman was in love with me, that if such were the case he would expect
me to do as he said. I was so taken up with this possibility that I
heard not too attentively the far cry of coyotes going by. There must
have been some nuance in it not of the beasts’ cry, for the Outliers
began springing up around us, listening and intent. It came again and
one answered it. By such signs we were made aware it was Mancha
returning from the Smithy.



                                  XII
  HOW AN OUTLIER SAW A TALL WOMAN FOLLOWING A TRAIL AND MANCHA MET THE
                              SMITH AGAIN


I have no notion how long we lay in the neighborhood of River Ward. By
this time we had lost all track of the calendar, Herman and I, and the
Outliers had none except the orderly procession of the season’s bloom
and fruit and mating time. Great umbrageous clouds came up behind the
hills and were cut down by the wind. Clear days succeeded one another,
matched so perfectly for warmth and color that the consciousness took no
account of the dividing nights. Crowns of foothills lying seaward showed
increasing green and then faint flecks of poppy color. These were our
quietest days, for though there was fighting and following, Herman and I
had no active part in it. Consider how few we were in a great land, and
no trumpeting, no shock of guns, no daily bulletin. Ten men would set
out on the mere stirring of an animal sense that beyond a certain hill
or in a known hollow lurked the breeders of offense. And then no news of
them except as they came or did not come again. Companies of Far-Folk
and Outliers would fence all day each to come at the other unsuspected:
flights and evasions and sharp encounters took place in such deeps of
leafage as dulled all sound. All this was covered, swept over as
carefully as the wild creature hides its ways.

Often now, walking on the tawny-colored hill that sleeps above the bay
with the Mission between its paws, I look back at the warm-tinted
slopes, beyond the reach of the encroaching fogs, and wonder under what
peaks, between what long blue ranges we lay that season. What tumult and
warfare goes on in those still spaces unregarded? But we have never, as
I said in the beginning, got any nearer to it than Broken Tree.

The Outliers stuck to the track of the Far-Folk, and had so much the
better of them in readiness and organization that before long they had
captured the most of their women. Under Mancha our men had sought out
their homes, abandoned so hurriedly, in the shallow, brush-grown cañons,
and had burned and broken what they found. That Ravenutzi had joined the
Far-Folk we knew, for once when they had come to parley over a wounded
man, they saw the hostage at Oca’s back directing the Council by such
knowledge of the Outliers as he had acquired by long residence. Oca blew
out his long beard, laughing as he listened.

I knew too from one of the captive women, that he still concealed from
his wife the place where he had hidden the Ward. The explanation
Ravenutzi had given to Oca of the use he should make of Zirriloë’s
person in the game that was yet to be played, set that chief chuckling
in his beard like a cataract.

But to his wife Ravenutzi had denied seriousness: laughed, kissed her
burned throat, blinded, bound her with an ingenuity of charm and
tenderness until she grew tame under his hand. Then she would rage the
more bitterly when he was away, suspecting him with the girl in hiding;
flaming with jealousy until his return found her burned out, white and
faint, creeping humbly to his caress.

This, I say, I had from one of the captives, for I talked of her to the
Outliers only with Trastevera. I think the woman’s story was known to
them. She was seen often flitting from some post of observation when
they came with prisoners, and though it was certain she had been twice
inside the Ledge seeking the place where Zirriloë lay hidden, no motion
was made to take her. They judged her no doubt hunted by a more
remorseless enemy; the same that drove on Mancha’s trail and wasted him
in the night. It was strange to me at first when I looked on the
Hammerer’s passion-hollowed face, to see how it was contradicted by the
youthful fuzziness of his blond hair and the round stalwartness of his
frame, until I realized that he tried to make his body what his hammer
was, the instrument of his satisfaction, and nursed it carefully to that
end. But here the invisible enemy had him at point. Eat he could, and
bathe, and exercise himself and rough the handle of his hammer to his
grasp, and tighten the thongs. But in the night sleep and jealousy
contended, and he turned in his bed and set his teeth upon his hands.
His eyes reddened at the lids, and when he would be sitting among us,
his attention would be forever wandering, and there would be a half
inadvertent movement of those same hands as if to rend and tear. It was
plain that he came but half out of some burning preoccupation to attend
to whatever his men brought to his notice, and slipped back into it even
between the utterance of two words, like a drowned insect in a glass. He
was seldom at River Ward, seeming easier to be on the trail and in
action. That there was only one trail that interested him was perfectly
evident. He cared nothing whatever for the recovery of the Treasure if
only he might get at Ravenutzi and find where the Ward was hidden. And
as often as Outliers and Far-Folk came together in running fights, his
men fell apart tacitly to afford him the craved-for opportunity. As we
knew afterward, by Oca’s express direction, the Far-Folk closed round
the smith to oppose him. As often as Mancha came back unslaked, his new
whetted fury turned on himself. Bitter as these frustrated encounters
were, they were less so than those times when they surprised their enemy
and found Ravenutzi not with them. Where was he then but lingering in
some shut quarter with the Ward! One would know that this had occurred
when the Hammerer sat upon the edges of his bed the night long goading
himself with recollections.

“Give over; give up,” cried Trastevera to him. “She never thought of
you; and what do you but suck poison from the thought of her?”

“And what,” said he, “shall I think of, if I do not think of her? Do you
advise me to think of _him_?”

“Think of your work, how you are to win back the King’s Desire for us.”

“And how shall I think to win the King’s Desire and not think of how it
was lost?” And so having worked round in a circle again he did think of
it; what looks and sighs and wooing touches had gone to that betrayal.

“If I could get at him,” he cried, “if I could only get at him”; and
groaned and struck with his stone hammer deep into the soft earth.

It was difficult for Trastevera, who alone partook of his stormy
confidences, to be patient with his consuming thought, since she was
herself the happier, free of the obsession of Ravenutzi. For the
Outliers remembered now how she had been against him in the beginning,
and blamed themselves for overriding with their weighty reasons that
delicate presentiment. Warmed by this support, all her power of
foreseeing put forth again and promised them success. She burned with
foreknowledge that kept time like a poised and constant needle with what
went on afar behind wooded hills and in secret valleys. Often as we lay
in the chaparral and heard the bees fumble at the flagons of the wild
currant, and saw the young rabbits rising to drink delicately of dew in
the shallow cup of leaves, she would start up bright and hot, sniffing
battle. As she drooped and grieved, or snatches of triumphant song burst
from her, we guessed what went on between our men and Oca’s a day’s
journey south and west.

It was in that quarter they defended themselves for as long as enjoyment
of the King’s Desire exceeded all other considerations. It was a region
of high hills, set close, well covered; narrow cañons choked with
chaparral; rain-fed springs, trailless steep barrancas. Here they kept
like foxes, quick and slinking, and the Outliers hunted them, not often
with success. The cover was too thick for slings, and the ways too steep
to give free play with the hammers. The enemy showed themselves and ran,
involving the Outliers in a maze of blind gullies, and came out
unscathed and mocking on hills above them. They made elaborate false
clues and set traps which at the last moment they wanted the courage to
spring, but never came to any open issue because of the King’s Desire.
They had the Treasure in hand at last, and could not be persuaded to
leave it. Where it was they hung like flies at a honey-pot. You could
never find the Far-Folk very far nor very long from one another. They
would have out the jewels and gloated upon them, tracing the patterns,
holding them this way and that to catch the light, tried on the collars
and the armlets, pranked in the crowns, fed upon the mere sight of them
as an antidote to defeat. All this was very well for a time, but the
drawing of their forces together about the King’s Desire served their
enemies more than it served them. Threescore men in a camp were easier
hunted than two or three. By keeping in close order they left betraying
traces in the forest, and brought down Mancha’s hammerers. To avoid this
they made longer flights, swift, uncalculated leaps. Their women and
children, unable to keep up with them, were gathered in by the Outliers
and carried to River Ward. It began to appear that they must make
temporary disposition of their trove until they had possession of their
families again, and could make off with both into that wooded country
south where there were no man traces and no Outliers could come.

They buried the Treasure once, and then the whole party sat upon the
place like brooding quail, and betrayed it by their guarding. So they
had it up again, and Ravenutzi and Oca made a plan between them. They
were to send the jewels on south under convoy, then by means of the
person of the Ward they were to draw Mancha off from River Ward. Then
with a free field left the main body of the Far-Folk were to raid the
camp at River Ward and recapture their women.

This was the plan: An old man was to have himself captured by Mancha’s
men in order to convey to the women news of the rescue waiting them. The
Ward, who lay still in some secret place of Ravenutzi’s contriving, was
to be brought up to that quarter where it was to their advantage to have
Mancha get word of her. A good plan, and worthy of the smith who planned
it. It was well agreed to except in one point. No one of them trusted
another one to take away the Treasure. So after much argument they fell
upon the notion of dividing it. It was evident that as long as it
remained in the common custody, no man was free to fight and run,
according to his fighting humor or his chances. But give every man his
own to carry about with him and he would know what he was fighting for,
not with one eye over his shoulder to see how the common object fared.
Good logic and sound, answering in many a better case; singularly not in
this. Settling on a division of the King’s Desire proved a much easier
matter than dividing it. They were two days wrangling over the manner of
the division, and another trading and bargaining and matching lots among
themselves. Then followed the period of inaction, planned to give the
Outliers the impression that they had withdrawn from that part of the
country. The next move was to have the Mancha sent seeking in the
direction where it was to be made known through the captives the Ward
was to be found. Ravenutzi had gone to prepare her for her part in it.
Poor child, if it were willingly or not, if she consented at all, or
even if she had any clear idea what was required of her, who can say?

In the meantime there were the Far-Folk lying separate, very quiet,
every man with his treasure in his bosom to finger and fondle, with the
south open before him and the spring coming on by leaps and bounds.
Everywhere there were the smell of sap, the mating cry of quail and
poppy fires kindling seaward; not much to put the fighting humor in a
man.

But the Outliers were not quite in the same case. They were wronged,
robbed, betrayed, they distrusted every move of their enemies, kept
watches out. From the meeting of the river and the Ledge to the Gap,
where the dip of the ranges east began, there was a line of solitary
outposts, patrolling all the passages. While the Far-Folk played fox in
the thorny covers south, there was in reality a stopped earth between
them and their women and the places they had known.

The posts beat eastward half a day each from his own station to the next
and back. One of these, going as still as a snake, saw a tall woman with
long, coiling hair wrapped about her body, wasted and lovely, following
a track in the woods. She followed so patiently, and with so much
intention and such sureness, poring above it as though every footprint
stabbed her and she hugged the stabbing to her breast; urged forward on
it with such anguished purpose, held back from it by such torturing
fears! Who else but a jealous woman follows in such fashion on the trail
of the man she loves? The Outlier counted himself a poor guesser if this
were not Ravenutzi’s wife following Ravenutzi. He followed, too, at a
discreet distance. He might, perhaps, have come alongside her without
attracting her attention, so intently was it fixed upon what lay before
her, what she could not withhold herself from seeking, and was afraid to
find. Now she hurried on with a kind of fury of discernment. Now she
turned aside to compose her anguished bosom the better to read its
traces where the trail looped and turned to baffle and bewilder. He
followed. Trees gave place to scrub, and that to knee-high chaparral,
and that to open hill crowns and broken stony ledges. Here he must skulk
behind hills and at a considerable distance, because of the betraying
openness. Presently he lost her. He had made sure that she was headed
for a certain sag in the crest of a hill, and that by coming around the
brow of another one he would have full sight of her again, that he was
astounded and chagrined to discover, as it seemed, that she had sunk
into the earth. There was no cover and no woman. Below him lay a slight
hollow full of loose boulders. Toward this the trail, if trail there
was, must have led, and he would have hurried on except for being so
sure she had not had time to make it. He lay still where he was, under
the jut of a bald hill, and considered.

Presently he saw a fox come out of its hole on the opposite side and
begin to trot across the hollow; it started between tall boulders, but
swerved, went sidewise, muzzle pointed with suspicion. Within the ring
of boulders then lay something that was neither stick nor stone. From
his post the watcher could not say very well what it was until the
shadows had shrunk by about an hour. And then he saw the woman. She lay
flat, face downward, waiting.

“If you wait, my girl,” said he to himself, “it is because he you follow
is at the end of his trail and returns upon it soon.”

The Outlier saw the tortured woman writhing with impatience, saw the
shadows shorten toward noon, and crows flying over, and then he saw
Ravenutzi. The smith came over the sag of the hills, walking steadily,
with apparently nothing on his mind but to get on to the place where he
was going. He passed the woman lying among the boulders. The Outlier saw
her crowding her face in the dust as he went by, as if she feared she
must have cried out and run to him if she had looked. He passed the hill
where the watcher lay, and struck into his former trail, deeply
cogitating, looking neither down nor about to discover if he had been
followed. When the smith was quite out of the hollow the woman rose and
ran the way he had come, and the watcher considered. He thought most
likely the Ward was at the end of that trail, but he had no particular
interest in her, it was Ravenutzi who bred mischief and must be looked
after. Accordingly he kept the smith in sight. As they passed the
neighborhood of River Ward going back, the Outlier whistled one of his
fellows out of the wood and sent word to Mancha.

That was how it happened when the Far-Folk came together to have their
last direction from the smith, that there was an Outlier tracked him
quite to that place. Behind him, following a slot of bent twigs and
broken leaves, were Prassade and Persilope with the slingsmen and Mancha
with the hammerers.

It was late of the afternoon and the light low enough to dazzle in the
eyes. The place was rather level and open, with thin-branched pines and
scant fern; behind it a sharp hill breaking abruptly. Oca sat below the
hill where a glade opened, and the thick locks of his beard, heavy and
waved like sculptor’s work, were gathered in his hand. He had on his
head the circlet of fire-stones that gleamed as he turned, red, blue and
green like some strange insect’s eyes. His body was half bare and his
arms from the elbow up were banded with circles of beaten gold. The
smith whispered behind him, and as the chief nodded, the eyes of his
circlet changed from blue to green and red again as though they took
their color from his thought.

Around stood the Far-Folk, eager, pleased with themselves, more
interested in the cunning of their scheme than anxious over its success,
making the necklets and armlets to shine on their dark skins. They
laughed, boasting together like boys, then crowding one another to
stillness to hear what went on among the leaders debating round Oca with
some show of order. Half girt they stood, pluming themselves upon the
morrow, the ring of unguarded backs turned outward. And in the midst of
this came a sharp winging like the flight of birds—but no birds so
swift—and a heavy pelting as of hail—but no hail tapped so loudly on the
trees or thudded so sickeningly on human flesh. The outer ring of the
Far-Folk surged toward the middle and there was a rush of those within
outward, and then the pleasant wood was full of racing figures and
hurtling noises.

It had come so quickly and from so many quarters, the light shining so
low took the Far-Folk so squarely in the eyes, that the best men of them
must have known from the beginning what the end was to be. After the
first scattering rush they formed a ring about Oca and Ravenutzi, and
then the curse of the King’s Desire began to work. Standing so in close
order they made a better mark for the pelting of the slings. Such
punishment as they had from the slingsmen was not to be endured. Had
they had any reason for keeping their close order, they might by sheer
weight have broken through the ranks of the Outliers, thinned to enclose
them. But they had broken up the Treasure and had no other motive for
holding together; they broke scattering, and Mancha’s men dealt with
them singly as they came. There was heard the rapping of the slings,
like the snapping of coals in the fire, and after the slings left off
the hammers began.

Always as the ring about Oca melted into the scuffle and disorder of the
fight, the Outliers followed the shine of Mancha’s hair as he ate like
flame through the ranks toward Ravenutzi.

I suppose the smith saw him come and saved himself for what was before
him; at least no man saw him strike a blow until his time came. The
Far-Folk had edged the old king forward through the press, keeping
toward a clear cañon down which they hoped to get away. But at the last
Oca saw a son of his lifted high in Noche’s arms, one hand cast up like
a crest, squealing with anguish. Back the old chief leaped, avoiding the
whirling hammers, leaving the smith uncovered. Oca’s men rushed to
defend him, and Mancha’s, wheeling to prevent it, carried the fight to
another quarter. The sound of the struggle receded from Mancha’s ears,
filled with the rushing of his own blood as he came face to face with
Ravenutzi.

When the fighting mass cleared away and left them so confronting one
another, the advantage seems to have been all to the smith. He was
unwinded and wary. Mancha was hot and driven, hate rocked him where he
stood like drunkenness.

They looked each upon the other for two or three short breaths, and
Ravenutzi took a slight step backward. It was in reality to bring him in
a better position with the light, but Mancha mistook it for flinching.
With a cry he rushed upon him, whirling his stone hammer. The smith
parried and thrust.

The hammer struck glancing, the smith reeled from it and dropped his
pike. Mancha threw away his weapon and took the swaying body in his
arms. He was head and shoulders shorter, but the lift of his back was
tremendous, and Ravenutzi was dizzy from the blow. Mancha had him down.
The long legs and arms of the smith clung and bound him; they were down
together and up again and down, rolling and writhing, as they turned in
a heap. Mancha was aware of one of the Far-Folk running toward them
frothed with rage, weapon lifted, but he would not loosen his hold nor
look away from Ravenutzi. He expected a blow from behind, and then he
heard the shock of men coming together that told him how the blow was
intercepted. He had the smith down now and under him, and struggled to
loose the binding arms. He heard a voice calling: “Mancha! Mancha!” and
thought it was the voice of Lianth. Too young to come to battle, the boy
had been allowed by Mancha’s friendship to run between the creek and the
fighting men to bring stones, as they might be needed, to the slingsmen.
Once he had heard the whistling of the slings, the lad had come bounding
like an unbroke hound to bay around the skirts of the fight.

“Mancha! Mancha!” said the voice, “I have him. He shall not get you.”

“Good lad!” said Mancha, but he would not look away from the smith’s
eyes lest he should lose the hint of motion in them.

“Mancha, Mancha, I am hurt.” He heard the sounds of mortal agony in the
fern, but they were not louder to him than the coming and going of his
own breath.

“Hold him,” he said to the voice behind him. He had his knee on the pit
of the smith’s stomach and the arms were loosening.

“Mancha!”—the voice was nearer—“he is dragging me. I cannot——”

Mancha had one of Ravenutzi’s arms twisted under the smith’s own body
and his own hand at the smith’s throat.

“Mancha! Manc——” The voice broke with a bubbling sound.

He had the smith’s windpipe under his thumb, he was shaking him and
grinding his head into the earth. A hand from behind clutched upon his
heel. He kicked out and heard a wet cough, followed by a groan, but he
could not turn to see what came of it. He shook and wried the smith’s
head as it blackened under his hand.

“Where is she? Tell me where she is,” he cried, short and gaspingly.
With every repetition of the word he lifted the smith’s head and ground
it into the earth. He saw surrender in the bitten tongue and the
protruding eyes. He rested a little, but as yet he would not spare the
time to look behind him. Ravenutzi came slowly back to consciousness.

“Tell me where she is.” The answer came thickly.

“Far from here.”

“Where, where——” There was a motion of the choking and grinding to begin
again.

“How can I tell you?... in a place known only to me.”

“If I let you up will you take me to it?”

“Breath,” said Ravenutzi, “give me breath.”

Mancha let his throat be while he bound the man’s arms.

“Do you promise, smith?”

“What is that across my feet?”

“A dead man, I think.” Mancha glanced slightingly over his shoulder.

“Where is my king?”

“Prassade has taken him.”

“And my friends?”

“One of them is across your feet; a lad of mine killed him. I do not
know where the others are, it is some moments since I heard fighting.”

“It is all to you, then?”

“All to us ... _you dog_ ... if I let you up she is?”

“I will take you.”

But it was not until Mancha had bound and rebound him that he left the
smith to go and turn over the stiffening body of Lianth and wipe the
bloody froth from his lips.



                                  XIII
     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.

“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?”

“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 between 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 before 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. I 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, and 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 smith 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.

“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
a-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, and 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, that 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.”

Prassade 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 swaying 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 his 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 people 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 were 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 wife, 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.



                                  XIV.
                THE KING’S DESIRE, AND WHAT BECAME OF IT

The party of us that came up from River Ward to Leaping Water turned
aside from the meadow where the Meet had been, and settled in one of the
galleries of that amphitheater looking down on its veiled cascades. The
shouting of the falls came up to us mixed with the faint, incessant
murmur given off by a great forest. From here the rim of the world sank
westward into the thin blue ring of the sea.

We had come so slowly, being joined at times by families of Outliers,
come out of safe hiding and already furnished with news. We were
scarcely well settled in the place when word of the death of the Ward
began to circulate among them in that mysterious way of news to travel
in the open. Doubtless it came by way of runners stationed out toward
Windy Covers, by which trail the seekers of the Ward returned. Rumor of
it was rife in the camp a full hour before Mancha and Prassade came in.
There was very little said about it, they were at all times as private
in their griefs as wild creatures, but I think they felt better
satisfied to learn that the natural progress of her betrayal had
furnished its own punishment and spared them the necessity of putting
Zirriloë to death.

Herman came and told me this, walking at dusk on an open hill where
there was long grass blowing and shut-eyed heavy flowers among the
grasses. But it was a long time before he would talk freely of that
suggestion of excuse, put forth by Ravenutzi, which lay in the appeal to
his craftsman’s soul of the girl’s bodily perfection. He had been no
more able to resist taking into his hand that fair contrivance than any
other jewel of gold and fine stones, and its turning to flesh and blood
under his touch had been a bitter and unavoidable consequence. I think
Herman’s inarticulateness grew out of feeling himself involved in the
ruin of a lovely woman in the common culpability of men. She was a vase
which they had pulled about among them in admiring, and dropped and
shattered.

I say I think Herman felt this, though I do not now recall any words
that passed between us on the subject. Yet I was at that time much
nearer to understanding the beguilement of beauty, and the pain of its
bafflement which drives men to create of words and paint and stone,
forms of it by which no confusion can come. When I saw Ravenutzi sitting
among the Far-Folk, with his knees drawn up under his hands and his
delicate faun’s profile bent above them, looking out at me in the old
way, at once wishful and compelling, the look I sent back to him was
almost kind.

The whiteness of his hair had been cut away, the drawn look of his skin
smoothed out. I saw how young he was, a little of what those two women
had seen who had been drawn by it to death and killing. His wife sat
with her head propped against his shoulder. And for so long as she sat
there, assured, accepted, it was plain there was for her neither anxiety
nor pained remembrance, nor any other thing.

One supposes death at all times so natural that the wound of it heals by
its own processes. It was so with the Outliers. No later than the next
morning much of the bitterness of loss had drained away with the dark.
The business of the Ward being finished they turned without
discursiveness to disposing of Ravenutzi, the Far-Folk and the King’s
Desire. Though we had no inkling, Herman and I, what would be done to
the smith, we felt it would be just; and whatever would be done to the
Far-Folk, more than kind. Concerning the Treasure there must some
command have circulated. Though we had seen it glinting in the camp at
River Ward—there was scarcely a man who had not brought something away
with him from the last fight—there was not so much as the red sparkle of
a jewel to be seen at Leaping Water.

The Council met early on the second morning, going down toward Council
Hollow before the dew was dried upon the fern. All the camp, scattered
as it was in a great treeless tract, hung in the breathless quiet of
suspense. There was scarcely any stir of talk or movement except now and
then among the Far-Folk, who lay all together like cattle on a warm hill
slope, turning toward the sun.

Herman and I, since no one seemed to regard us, thought of going down to
revisit the meadow and the lovely open water below the Leap. But the
expectant sense that brooded over the camp bound us to the consideration
of what might be decided about us personally at the Council. If we
looked afar at the sea rim, trying to make out at what point we were, we
looked suddenly back to see if the councilors were not coming up the
hill. If we heard a lark rising with its breast all brightening yellow
from some grassy water border, we listened the more anxiously
immediately to hear if any one had come to call us in to judgment.

When the shadows were gone far toward midday we heard what might have
been the breaking out of bird songs low and urgently through all the
open woodland. There was a sound of feet moving all together, and then
some one calling us by name. The Council men were coming up from the
Hollow and the Outliers crowded up to them to hear what they had to say.
They said nothing whatever until we were all come into hearing, and
ranged, the Far-Folk on one side and we on the other, on the crown of a
hill, open, and having a large grassy space beyond it.

I thought then, and I have not since reconsidered it, that of all times
the noon is the most solemn in which to deliver judgment. When all the
earth is quiet, shadows folded up, no bird singing, no beast abroad, all
the outer sense drowses under the sun glare. At such a time to hear a
voice crying punishment and doom is more terrible than any hour of
night. A convocation of wolves in the open sun would not have seemed
more singular, but this was not a business which could await a gentler
time.

We could see Persilope standing up, all expression beaten out of his
face by the sun, like leaf under the gold beater’s hand. Presently when
we were all well quieted, he began in a voice pitched for carrying, but
toneless as the light, ordering some skins to be spread in the grassy
space in front of him. Then it was ordered that all the Outliers who had
anything of the King’s Desire should bring it to that place. The chief
held up as he spoke, the circlet which he had taken from Oca’s head; and
as he turned it in the sun, it melted and ran a ring of changing fire.
When he had done speaking he cast it down with so much force that the
setting, which was old and delicate, burst and sent the stones
scattering like broken coals. There was a little pause after that, and
then Noche, springing up from behind him, held up the King’s Cup, but
neither so high nor so steadily. A little laggard of perception, as the
very strong commonly are, the point of what Ravenutzi had said about the
way in which he had come to learn the secret of the Treasure, had driven
slowly to the old man’s brain. Now it troubled his countenance: his eyes
were dark sockets between the drift of his brows and beard. He held up
the vase in his hands.

“Cup of the Four Quarters,” he said, “O Cup of Tears!” His strength
surged in him with the recollection; the bowl crumpled in his grip, he
bent back the base upon the stem and dropped it on the ground.

After him came every man with what he had; armlets and buckles and
chains of wrought and beaten gold and jewels, and the jeweled lamps and
vessels. The heap grew; it glittered and darted pain into the eyes; it
had green and blue and ruby gleams in it that winked and mocked the sun.
When it was all in—all but the great rubies which lie still in a place
known only to some few of us who are not likely to go there to fetch
them—and the men had sat down again, Persilope began.

He spoke steadily and without passion, saying what was well known to
them, that a curse was laid on whoever lifted the King’s Desire. But the
truth was, the curse lay in the mere possession of it by whatever means;
as if one should expect to keep a viper in his house and not himself be
stung by it. Itlan had been destroyed for it, and all those of their own
people who had kept the Treasure since, had purchased nothing but wars
and trouble with it. All of which being within their knowledge and true,
it was agreed for the safety of the Outliers to cast out the King’s
Desire as men would a poison snake which they had found among the huts.

At this there was a spark, a quiver of expectancy among the Far-Folk. As
if they imagined, eyeing it so greedily, that the treasure heap was to
be handed over to them as it lay, not so very unlike the snake of his
comparison, coiled glisteningly upon itself with red jeweled eyes.

Such an expectation, if it amounted to that, died with Persilope’s next
sentence, which was, briefly, to the effect that for all these reasons
it had been determined that when the Treasure was buried again, as it
shortly would be, it was to be followed by a forgetfulness from which
there would be no revival. It was to be forgetfulness of such a
fashion—here he looked over at Ravenutzi and the bleakness of his
delivery augmented—that there would be no picking of their brains
afterward.

I could see that the news of this conclusion had already spread and been
accepted by the Outliers. It was, perhaps, in the eye of all that had
recently occurred, not strange they should accept it with so much
gravity, and on the part of the women with some consternation.

I looked over at Trastevera where she sat close to her husband. I saw
her look doubtfully; write with her finger in the dust. Then I saw that
no Outlier looked at any other, but down or up. I thought I understood
that though they agreed with the judgment, no one wished to assume the
responsibility and drink so deeply of the Cup. It had not yet occurred
to me that there was any other way in which complete forgetfulness could
be secured.

I saw Persilope search his people slowly with his glance before he spoke
in a voice heard to the outer ring.

“Outliers, are you all here?”

It was followed by the rustle and murmur by which they took account of
themselves and of those left beyond River Ward with the wounded. The
murmur, swelled to affirmation, passed from group to group and was
handed up to Persilope by the nearest council-men.

“We are all here.”

“Know then,” he said, his voice and words shaping to formality and
sounding drearily in the white aching noon, “that there is a service to
be performed for the common good, and a penalty to be undertaken. The
Council leaves it open to any man who loves the common good so much, now
to offer himself. Is there any so offers?”

And still the eye of no Outlier sought any other eye, only I saw
Trastevera look up from her drawing and, leaning a little past the
others, gaze steadily toward some spot beyond her with a long,
compelling look. Before I could follow it to its point of attention,
almost before Persilope had done speaking, I saw Noche getting on his
feet, blinking a little as though the light abashed him, and fumbling
embarrassedly at his girdle like a child.

“If I should be counted worthy ... if I could be trusted again....” He
shook with eagerness. “Tribesmen, it is my right, for it was through my
doddering old tongue the secret escaped.... Ask him.” He pointed to
Ravenutzi. “He said so; ask _them_.” His great, gnarly arm, like the
stump of an oak, was stretched toward Prassade and Mancha, and it
trembled like an oak when the axe is at its roots. “Ask them if he did
not say so at the Place of Caves ... though I would have died
rather....”

“It was from _my_ hand the Ward was loosed ... under _my_ eyes he
seduced her mind ... fool, fool!” This was the voice of Waddyn, who rose
up in his place behind Noche, tall and very gaunt, as some old wolf of
the wilderness. He struck himself on the breast. “We are old men,” he
said, “shall we have discredit at the last? Chief, are we accepted?”

In their eagerness he and Noche had struck hands together like two
children come to beg a holiday, dropping apart as the murmur of
acceptance ran among the Outliers and made them men again. “You are
accepted,” announced Persilope. So they sat down again, each in his
place, quite contented.

There was a little pause here. I was trying from where I sat to have a
glimpse of Ravenutzi, to see how this affected him, if at all, when I
heard some disturbance behind me, and a voice crying out:

“No, no, I cannot lose you both!”

I turned, and I saw Prassade stooping to disengage his knees from his
wife’s clinging, and holding her from him by the shoulders, begin to
speak.

“I also....”

“Outliers,” he said, and by the hollowness of his voice and the sinking
of his cheek under the red beard they saw what havoc grief and disgrace
had made in him, “Outliers, it is through my blood dishonor came, and
one of my blood must cure it. There is none but me.”

There was a general outcry of dismayed protest and assurance.

“Not you, Prassade, not you....”

“No fault of yours....”

“She has paid....”

“She was but a child, she has paid in full....”

And then from the woman at his feet:

“Think of _me_, Prassade.”

“Think of what I think on day and night,” cried Prassade, “and let me
go.”

“Prassade,” said the young chief, greatly troubled, “in that which we
propose to do, when this business is settled, I shall have great need,
as in the past I have had great benefit, from your interest and
advice....”

“No, no!...” The man’s voice was a desperate gasp merely. “Never shall I
give counsel who could not advise my own child against dishonor”—holding
his wife from him still, though the poor creature worked toward him on
her knees. “Never shall I beget children again who have been betrayed by
my own child.... Ah ... let me go ... let me go ... and by service ...
by forgetting....” There was something almost of madness in his wounded
desperation. I suppose his wife must have seen that. She left off
entreaty and took his hand, fondling it quietly, turning as she was,
upon her knees, toward Persilope and the elders, quite broken and
submissive.

“It is best you let him go,” she said, “he will be happier so.”

Prassade caught at this, his lip was wet with eagerness.

“Ay, ay, how can I know happiness again? She knows I cannot.”

“Are you sure,” said Persilope to the wife, “that you are prepared
for ... that you understand?”

“I understand,” she answered back, neither of them looking at the man in
question. “If it means peace for him, I am....” She threw out her hands
to show how obedient she was to destiny.

“Am I accepted, chief; am I accepted?” The man trembled with the hope of
deliverance.

“You are accepted,” the chief admitted, seeing there was no one disposed
to deny him. There was a space of stillness in the bright palpitating
noon before Persilope, measuring the heap of gold and jeweled vessels
with his eye, had turned back and said: “It wants yet another.”

Then I saw his wife leaning a little from where she sat with her glance
still fixed and compelling. I followed it past the line of elders and
found it fixed on Ravenutzi. Before I could shape in my mind what
wordless urgency lay behind that look, I saw the smith rise slowly, and
stepping carefully among the rows of seated captives, come and stand
beside Prassade and the two others. Trastevera sunk backward in her seat
with the look of one justified in a long belief.

“I,” he said, “offer myself.”

At this simple and unexpected intrusion of the smith into the situation,
there burst from the Outliers a sudden sharp hiss of refusal and
indignation. It was followed instantly after by harsh ironical laughter.
Cries sounded, here and there two arms and a head cast up, like the
crest of a wolf out of a pack, protestingly, and hands pulled him down
again.

“The smith, the smith!” they cried. “A reparation, a reparation!”

They were fierce for the moment with the irony of the situation and
their grim enjoyment of it. Yet, though there was a kind of justice in
making the man who had dared most to possess the King’s Desire the best
keeper of it, I thought they might easily have found a better
punishment. Ravenutzi was, as I believed, a man of great sensibility.
There must have been many things in that connection he would be wishful
to forget. And I could not understand why his willingness to take the
Cup in such company confirmed in Trastevera the hope of a latent
nobleness in him which had been her own excuse for her former kindness.
Neither could I any more understand the unmirthful humor of the
Outliers.

Nor, I think, did the Far-Folk then understand it, looking askance and
half hopeful, as if in spite of everything they expected Ravenutzi’s wit
to bring something out of the situation to their profit. But the
Outliers continuing to shout: “The smith, the smith! A reparation!”
Persilope was obliged formally to announce his acceptance.

Ravenutzi’s part in the reburial of the Treasure being settled, the four
men went to work to cord it up conveniently for carrying. Without
further ceremony they took tools for digging and set out from the camp
with the Treasure swung between them. They went toward the deep forest
and by such a trail that, when they had passed over a little rise of
ground a few hundred yards from us, no one could see the way they went.
No one moved from his place lest he should accuse himself of a wish to
do so.

We sat and watched below us the banner of the Leap stream through its
irised changes, saw the shadows shrink and stretch toward afternoon. Sat
so still that a little black bear came out of the manzanita and
_whoofed_ and ran across the outstretched legs of the Outliers, and a
troop of deer trotted up from the valley and stared soft-eyed at us,
skirting the rim of the hollow. Two or three hours went over us, and
hawks began to dart out of the scrub to hunt before we heard the four
returning. They were tired, overdone, but they had bathed at the creek
and set their clothing in order. No soiling traces betrayed where they
had been.

They came up and delivered themselves as for inspection to Persilope.
What followed was very brief.

“Is it accomplished?” said the chief.

“It is accomplished.”

“You are prepared, then?”

“We are prepared.”

Some slight bequests followed concerning articles of property, which the
chief took as executor.

“My young sons ...” said Prassade.

“Are mine.”

“Then we are ready.”

All this time Ravenutzi had not said a word. One by one the Outliers, as
I had seen them do with Daria, came up to take their leave. It was done
with a deep and moving brevity. I came in my turn and cried a little
over old Noche.

“Have you forgiven me for overhearing what you never meant for me?” said
I.

“Child, I bless you for it: but for you we might not have had back again
what my prattling lost.”

All this time no one spoke to Ravenutzi. Trastevera stopped before him
for a moment or two, and some wordless assurance of reconciliation
passed between them. He had not asked for farewells from his own people
and the Outliers had not suggested it. All being over, the four men
began to walk from the camp and away from the sun. As they passed the
old King of the Far-Folk, he stood up, biting his long beard.

“Oh, my King,” said Ravenutzi, speaking loud that the Outliers might
suspect no hidden communication, “I have done what I could.”

“O smith,” said Oca, bitter with impotence, “it shall be remembered.”

They passed on until they had reached a knoll that lifted them clear of
intervening scrub. They stood there, turned facing us; the light, strong
against them, made them indistinct, the wind blurred the folds of their
garments. I looked about expecting one with the Cup, and saw instead a
score of the slingsmen measuring off their ground.

They stood with the sun to their backs and swung their slings lightly to
free them for action. Until that moment I had not a notion what was
really forward, nor I think had the Far-Folk. When they heard the slight
preparatory whistling of the slings I saw the wife of Ravenutzi start as
if they had stung upon her flesh. She looked up and saw the four
standing so quietly and the young men with their slings drawn to
position across the grassy intervening space. Noiselessly she sprang up
and began running. Swiftly as she cleared the space between her and
Ravenutzi it was not swift enough. The word was given, the slings were
up and whirling; swifter than birds the stones took their flight. I saw
her leaping on the knoll and her husband’s arms opened to receive her,
then I heard the singing of the stones and saw them go down, with her
body across his, all so quietly, as grass is mown in summer.



                                   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 lower 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 it; 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, and
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 never 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 the 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 gesture, 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 a 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,” consented 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 be 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, the 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 the 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

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 2. Anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings retained as
      printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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