Once more, as on that day in the forest when she prevented me from killing the serpent, and as on the occasion of her meeting with Nuflo after we had been together on Ytaioa, she appeared transformed and instinct with intense resentment — a beautiful human wasp, and every word a sting.
"Rima," I cried, "you are cruelly unjust to say such words to me. If you know that I have never deceived you before, give me a little credit now. You are no delusion — no mirage, but Rima, like no other being on earth. So perfectly truthful and pure I cannot be, but rather than mislead you with falsehoods I would drop down and die on this rock, and lose you and the sweet light that shines on us for ever."
As she listened to my words, spoken with passion, she grew pale and clasped her hands. "What have I said? What have I said?" She spoke in a low voice charged with pain, and all at once she came nearer, and with a low, sobbing cry sank down at my feet, uttering, as on the occasion of finding me lost at night in the forest near her home, tender, sorrowful expressions in her own mysterious language. But before I could take her in my arms she rose again quickly to her feet and moved away a little space from me.
"Oh no, no, it cannot be that you know best!" she began again. "But I know that you have never sought to deceive me. And now, because I falsely accused you, I cannot go there without you" — pointing to the summit — "but must stand still and listen to all you have to say."
"You know, Rima, that your grandfather has now told me your history — how he found your mother at this place, and took her to Voa, where you were born; but of your mother's people he knows nothing, and therefore he can now take you no further."
"Ah, you think that! He says that now; but he deceived me all these years, and if he lied to me in the past, can he not still lie, affirming that he knows nothing of my people, even as he affirmed that he knew not Riolama?"
"He tells lies and he tells truth, Rima, and one can be distinguished from the other. He spoke truthfully at last, and brought us to this place, beyond which he cannot lead you."
"You are right; I must go alone."
"Not so, Rima, for where you go, there we must go; only you will lead and we follow, believing only that our quest will end in disappointment, if not in death."
"Believe that and yet follow! Oh no! Why did he consent to lead me so far for nothing?"
"Do you forget that you compelled him? You know what he believes; and he is old and looks with fear at death, remembering his evil deeds, and is convinced that only through your intercession and your mother's he can escape from perdition. Consider, Rima, he could not refuse, to make you more angry and so deprive himself of his only hope."
My words seemed to trouble her, but very soon she spoke again with renewed animation. "If my people exist, why must it be disappointment and perhaps death? He does not know; but she came to him here — did she not? The others are not here, but perhaps not far off. Come, let us go to the summit together to see from it the desert beneath us — mountain and forest, mountain and forest. Somewhere there! You said that I had knowledge of distant things. And shall I not know which mountain — which forest?"
"Alas! no, Rima; there is a limit to your far-seeing; and even if that faculty were as great as you imagine, it would avail you nothing, for there is no mountain, no forest, in whose shadow your people dwell."
For a while she was silent, but her eyes and clasping fingers were restless and showed her agitation. She seemed to be searching in the depths of her mind for some argument to oppose to my assertions. Then in a low, almost despondent voice, with something of reproach in it, she said: "Have we come so far to go back again? You were not Nuflo to need my intercession, yet you came too."
"Where you are, there I must be — you have said it yourself. Besides, when we started I had some hope of finding your people. Now I know better, having heard Nuflo's story. Now I know that your hope is a vain one."
"Why? Why? Was she not found here — mother? Where, then, are the others?"
"Yes, she was found here, alone. You must remember all the things she spoke to you before she died. Did she ever speak to you of her people — speak of them as if they existed, and would be glad to receive you among them some day?"
"No. Why did she not speak of that? Do you know — can you tell me?"
"I can guess the reason, Rima. It is very sad — so sad that it is hard to tell it. When Nuflo tended her in the cave and was ready to worship her and do everything she wished, and conversed with her by signs, she showed no wish to return to her people. And when he offered her, in a way she understood, to take her to a distant place, where she would be among strange beings, among others like Nuflo, she readily consented, and painfully performed that long journey to Voa. Would you, Rima, have acted thus — would you have gone so far away from your beloved people, never to return, never to hear of them or speak to them again? Oh no, you could not; nor would she if her people had been in existence. But she knew that she had survived them, that some great calamity had fallen upon and destroyed them. They were few in number, perhaps, and surrounded on every side by hostile tribes, and had no weapons, and made no war. They had been preserved because they inhabited a place apart, some deep valley perhaps, guarded on all sides by lofty mountains and impenetrable forests and marshes; but at last the cruel savages broke into this retreat and hunted them down, destroying all except a few fugitives, who escaped singly like your mother, and fled away to hide in some distant solitude."
The anxious expression on her face deepened as she listened to one of anguish and despair; and then, almost before I concluded, she suddenly lifted her hands to her head, uttering a low, sobbing cry, and would have fallen on the rock had I not caught her quickly in my arms. Once more in my arms — against my breast, her proper place! But now all that bright life seemed gone out of her; her head fell on my shoulder, and there was no motion in her except at intervals a slight shudder in her frame accompanied by a low, gasping sob. In a little while the sobs ceased, the eyes were closed, the face still and deathly white, and with a terrible anxiety in my heart I carried her down to the cave.