To continue the discussion seemed hopeless. I was silent, thinking of what I had heard — that there were others like her somewhere in that vast green world, so much of it imperfectly known, so many districts never yet explored by white men. True, it was strange that no report of such a race had reached the ears of any traveller; yet here was Rima herself at my side, a living proof that such a race did exist. Nuflo probably knew more than he would say; I had failed, as we have seen, to win the secret from him by fair means, and could not have recourse to foul — the rack and thumbscrew — to wring it from him. To the Indians she was only an object of superstitious fear — a daughter of the Didi — and to them nothing of her origin was known. And she, poor girl, had only a vague remembrance of a few words heard in childhood from her mother, and probably not rightly understood.
While these thoughts had been passing through my mind, Rima had been standing silent by, waiting, perhaps, for an answer to her last words. Then stooping, she picked up a small pebble and tossed it three or four yards away.
"Do you see where it fell?" she cried, turning towards me. "That is on the border of Guayana — is it not? Let us go there first."
"Rima, how you distress me! We cannot go there. It is all a savage wilderness, almost unknown to men — a blank on the map — "
"The map? — speak no word that I do not understand."
In a very few words I explained my meaning; even fewer would have sufficed, so quick was her apprehension.
"If it is a blank," she returned quickly, "then you know of nothing to stop us — no river we cannot swim, and no great mountains like those where Quito is."
"But I happen to know, Rima, for it has been related to me by old Indians, that of all places that is the most difficult of access. There is a river there, and although it is not on the map, it would prove more impassable to us than the mighty Orinoco and Amazon. It has vast malarious swamps on its borders, overgrown with dense forest, teeming with savage and venomous animals, so that even the Indians dare not venture near it. And even before the river is reached, there is a range of precipitous mountains called by the same name — just there where your pebble fell — the mountains of Riolama — "
Hardly had the name fallen from my lips before a change swift as lightning came over her countenance; all doubt, anxiety, petulance, hope, and despondence, and these in ever-varying degrees, chasing each other like shadows, had vanished, and she was instinct and burning with some new powerful emotion which had flashed into her soul.
"Riolama! Riolama!" she repeated so rapidly and in a tone so sharp that it tingled in the brain. "That is the place I am seeking! There was my mother found — there are her people and mine! Therefore was I called Riolama — that is my name!"
"Rima!" I returned, astonished at her words.
"No, no, no — Riolama. When I was a child, and the priest baptized me, he named me Riolama — the place where my mother was found. But it was long to say, and they called me Rima."
Suddenly she became still and then cried in a ringing voice:
"And he knew it all along — that old man — he knew that Riolama was near — only there where the pebble fell — that we could go there!"
While speaking she turned towards her home, pointing with raised hand. Her whole appearance now reminded me of that first meeting with her when the serpent bit me; the soft red of her irides shone like fire, her delicate skin seemed to glow with an intense rose colour, and her frame trembled with her agitation, so that her loose cloud of hair was in motion as if blown through by the wind.
"Traitor! Traitor!" she cried, still looking homewards and using quick, passionate gestures. "It was all known to you, and you deceived me all these years; even to me, Rima, you lied with your lips! Oh, horrible! Was there ever such a scandal known in Guayana? Come, follow me, let us go at once to Riolama." And without so much as casting a glance behind to see whether I followed or no, she hurried away, and in a couple of minutes disappeared from sight over the edge of the flat summit. "Rima! Rima! Come back and listen to me! Oh, you are mad! Come back! Come back!"
But she would not return or pause and listen; and looking after her, I saw her bounding down the rocky slope like some wild, agile creature possessed of padded hoofs and an infallible instinct; and before many minutes she vanished from sight among crabs and trees lower down.
"Nuflo, old man," said I, looking out towards his lodge, "are there no shooting pains in those old bones of yours to warn you in time of the tempest about to burst on your head?"
Then I sat down to think.