That evening by the fire old Nuflo, lately so miserable, now happy in his delusions, was more than usually gay and loquacious. He was like a child who by timely submission has escaped a threatened severe punishment. But his lightness of heart was exceeded by mine; and, with the exception of one other yet to come, that evening now shines in memory as the happiest my life has known. For Rima's sweet secret was known to me; and her very ignorance of the meaning of the feeling she experienced, which caused her to fly from me as from an enemy, only served to make the thought of it more purely delightful.
On this occasion she did not steal away like a timid mouse to her own apartment, as her custom was, but remained to give that one evening a special grace, seated well away from the fire in that same shadowy corner where I had first seen her indoors, when I had marvelled at her altered appearance. From that corner she could see my face, with the firelight full upon it, she herself in shadow, her eyes veiled by their drooping lashes. Sitting there, the vivid consciousness of my happiness was like draughts of strong, delicious wine, and its effect was like wine, imparting such freedom to fancy, such fluency, that again and again old Nuflo applauded, crying out that I was a poet, and begging me to put it all into rhyme. I could not do that to please him, never having acquired the art of improvisation — that idle trick of making words jingle which men of Nuflo's class in my country so greatly admire; yet it seemed to me on that evening that my feelings could be adequately expressed only in that sublimated language used by the finest minds in their inspired moments; and, accordingly, I fell to reciting. But not from any modern, nor from the poets of the last century, nor even from the greater seventeenth century. I kept to the more ancient romances and ballads, the sweet old verse that, whether glad or sorrowful, seems always natural and spontaneous as the song of a bird, and so simple that even a child can understand it.
It was late that night before all the romances I remembered or cared to recite were exhausted, and not until then did Rima come out of her shaded corner and steal silently away to her sleeping-place.
Although I had resolved to go with them, and had set Nuflo's mind at rest on the point, I was bent on getting the request from Rima's own lips; and the next morning the opportunity of seeing her alone presented itself, after old Nuflo had sneaked off with his dogs. From the moment of his departure I kept a close watch on the house, as one watches a bush in which a bird one wishes to see has concealed itself, and out of which it may dart at any moment and escape unseen.
At length she came forth, and seeing me in the way, would have slipped back into hiding; for, in spite of her boldness on the previous day, she now seemed shyer than ever when I spoke to her.
"Rima," I said, "do you remember where we first talked together under a tree one morning, when you spoke of your mother, telling me that she was dead?"
"I am going now to that spot to wait for you. I must speak to you again in that place about this journey to Riolama." As she kept silent, I added: "Will you promise to come to me there?"
She shook her head, turning half away.
"Have you forgotten our compact, Rima?"
"No," she returned; and then, suddenly coming near, spoke in a low tone: "I will go there to please you, and you must also do as I tell you."
"What do you wish, Rima?"
She came nearer still. "Listen! You must not look into my eyes, you must not touch me with your hands."
"Sweet Rima, I must hold your hand when I speak with you."
"No, no, no," she murmured, shrinking from me; and finding that it must be as she wished, I reluctantly agreed.
Before I had waited long, she appeared at the trysting-place, and stood before me, as on a former occasion, on that same spot of clean yellow sand, clasping and unclasping her fingers, troubled in mind even then. Only now her trouble was different and greater, making her shyer and more reticent.
"Rima, your grandfather is going to take you to Riolama. Do you wish me to go with you?"
"Oh, do you not know that?" she returned, with a swift glance at my face.
"How should I know?"
Her eyes wandered away restlessly. "On Ytaioa you told me a hundred things which I did not know," she replied in a vague way, wishing, perhaps, to imply that with so great a knowledge of geography it was strange I did not know everything, even her most secret thoughts.
"Tell me, why must you go to Riolama?"
"You have heard. To speak to my people."
"What will you say to them? Tell me."
"What you do not understand. How tell you?"
"I understand you when you speak in Spanish."
"Oh, that is not speaking."
"Last night you spoke to your mother in Spanish. Did you not tell her everything?"
"Oh no — not then. When I tell her everything I speak in another way, in a low voice — not on my knees and praying. At night, and in the woods, and when I am alone I tell her. But perhaps she does not hear me; she is not here, but up there — so far! She never answers, but when I speak to my people they will answer me."
Then she turned away as if there was nothing more to be said.
"Is this all I am to hear from you, Rima — these few words?" I exclaimed. "So much did you say to your grandfather, so much to your dead mother, but to me you say so little!"
She turned again, and with eyes cast down replied:
"He deceived me — I had to tell him that, and then to pray to mother. But to you that do not understand, what can I say? Only that you are not like him and all those that I knew at Voa. It is so different — and the same. You are you, and I am I; why is it — do you know?"