"No; yes — I know, but cannot tell you. And if you find your people, what will you do — leave me to go to them? Must I go all the way to Riolama only to lose you?"
"Where I am, there you must be."
"Do I not see it there?" she returned, with a quick gesture to indicate that it appeared in my face.
"Your sight is keen, Rima — keen as a bird's. Mine is not so keen. Let me look once more into those beautiful wild eyes, then perhaps I shall see in them as much as you see in mine."
"Oh no, no, not that!" she murmured in distress, drawing away from me; then with a sudden flash of brilliant colour cried:
"Have you forgotten the compact — the promise you made me?"
Her words made me ashamed, and I could not reply. But the shame was as nothing in strength compared to the impulse I felt to clasp her beautiful body in my arms and cover her face with kisses. Sick with desire, I turned away and, sitting on a root of the tree, covered my face with my hands.
She came nearer: I could see her shadow through my fingers; then her face and wistful, compassionate eyes.
"Forgive me, dear Rima," I said, dropping my hands again. "I have tried so hard to please you in everything! Touch my face with your hand — only that, and I will go to Riolama with you, and obey you in all things."
For a while she hesitated, then stepped quickly aside so that I could not see her; but I knew that she had not left me, that she was standing just behind me. And after waiting a moment longer I felt her fingers touching my skin, softly, trembling over my cheek as if a soft-winged moth had fluttered against it; then the slight aerial touch was gone, and she, too, moth-like, had vanished from my side.
Left alone in the wood, I was not happy. That fluttering, flattering touch of her finger-tips had been to me like spoken language, and more eloquent than language, yet the sweet assurance it conveyed had not given perfect satisfaction; and when I asked myself why the gladness of the previous evening had forsaken me — why I was infected with this new sadness when everything promised well for me, I found that it was because my passion had greatly increased during the last few hours; even during sleep it had been growing, and could no longer be fed by merely dwelling in thought on the charms, moral and physical, of its object, and by dreams of future fruition.
I concluded that it would be best for Rima's sake as well as my own to spend a few of the days before setting out on our journey with my Indian friends, who would be troubled at my long absence; and, accordingly, next morning I bade good-bye to the old man, promising to return in three or four days, and then started without seeing Rima, who had quitted the house before her usual time. After getting free of the woods, on casting back my eyes I caught sight of the girl standing under an isolated tree watching me with that vague, misty, greenish appearance she so frequently had when seen in the light shade at a short distance.
"Rima!" I cried, hurrying back to speak to her, but when I reached the spot she had vanished; and after waiting some time, seeing and hearing nothing to indicate that she was near me, I resumed my walk, half thinking that my imagination had deceived me.
I found my Indian friends home again, and was not surprised to observe a distinct change in their manner towards me. I had expected as much; and considering that they must have known very well where and in whose company I had been spending my time, it was not strange. Coming across the savannah that morning I had first begun to think seriously of the risk I was running. But this thought only served to prepare me for a new condition of things; for now to go back and appear before Rima, and thus prove myself to be a person not only capable of forgetting a promise occasionally, but also of a weak, vacillating mind, was not to be thought of for a moment.
I was received — not welcomed — quietly enough; not a question, not a word, concerning my long absence fell from anyone; it was as if a stranger had appeared among them, one about whom they knew nothing and consequently regarded with suspicion, if not actual hostility. I affected not to notice the change, and dipped my hand uninvited in the pot to satisfy my hunger, and smoked and dozed away the sultry hours in my hammock. Then I got my guitar and spent the rest of the day over it, tuning it, touching the strings so softly with my finger-tips that to a person four yards off the sound must have seemed like the murmur or buzz of an insect's wings; and to this scarcely audible accompaniment I murmured in an equally low tone a new song.
In the evening, when all were gathered under the roof and I had eaten again, I took up the instrument once more, furtively watched by all those half-closed animal eyes, and swept the strings loudly, and sang aloud. I sang an old simple Spanish melody, to which I had put words in their own language — a language with no words not in everyday use, in which it is so difficult to express feelings out of and above the common. What I had been constructing and practicing all the afternoon sotto voce was a kind of ballad, an extremely simple tale of a poor Indian living alone with his young family in a season of dearth; how day after day he ranged the voiceless woods, to return each evening with nothing but a few withered sour berries in his hand, to find his lean, large-eyed wife still nursing the fire that cooked nothing, and his children crying for food, showing their bones more plainly through their skins every day; and how, without anything miraculous, anything wonderful, happening, that barrenness passed from earth, and the garden once more yielded them pumpkin and maize, and manioc, the wild fruits ripened, and the birds returned, filling the forest with their cries; and so their long hunger was satisfied, and the children grew sleek, and played and laughed in the sunshine; and the wife, no longer brooding over the empty pot, wove a hammock of silk grass, decorated with blue-and-scarlet feathers of the macaw; and in that new hammock the Indian rested long from his labours, smoking endless cigars.
When I at last concluded with a loud note of joy, a long, involuntary suspiration in the darkening room told me that I had been listened to with profound interest; and, although no word was spoken, though I was still a stranger and under a cloud, it was plain that the experiment had succeeded, and that for the present the danger was averted.
I went to my hammock and slept, but without undressing. Next morning I missed my revolver and found that the holster containing it had been detached from the belt. My knife had not been taken, possibly because it was under me in the hammock while I slept. In answer to my inquiries I was informed that Runi had BORROWED my weapon to take it with him to the forest, where he had gone to hunt, and that he would return it to me in the evening. I affected to take it in good part, although feeling secretly ill at ease. Later in the day I came to the conclusion that Runi had had it in his mind to murder me, that I had softened him by singing that Indian story, and that by taking possession of the revolver he showed that he now only meant to keep me a prisoner. Subsequent events confirmed me in this suspicion. On his return he explained that he had gone out to seek for game in the woods; and, going without a companion, he had taken my revolver to preserve him from dangers — meaning those of a supernatural kind; and that he had had the misfortune to drop it among the bushes while in pursuit of some animal. I answered hotly that he had not treated me like a friend; that if he had asked me for the weapon it would have been lent to him; that as he had taken it without permission he must pay me for it. After some pondering he said that when he took it I was sleeping soundly; also, that it would not be lost; he would take me to the place where he had dropped it, when we could search together for it.