Green Mansions By William H. Hudson Chapters 20-22

I succeeded in the end; it would have been strange if I had not. The horrible details need not be given. Managa did not wait for his enemy, but fell on him unexpectedly, an hour after nightfall in his own village. If I had really been insane during those two months, if some cloud had been on me, some demoniacal force dragging me on, the cloud and insanity vanished and the constraint was over in one moment, when that hellish enterprise was completed. It was the sight of an old woman, lying where she had been struck down, the fire of the blazing house lighting her wide-open glassy eyes and white hair dabbled in blood, which suddenly, as by a miracle, wrought this change in my brain. For they were all dead at last, old and young, all who had lighted the fire round that great green tree in which Rima had taken refuge, who had danced round the blaze, shouting: "Burn! burn!"

At the moment my glance fell on that prostrate form I paused and stood still, trembling like a person struck with a sudden pang in the heart, who thinks that his last moment has come to him unawares. After a while I slunk away out of the great circle of firelight into the thick darkness beyond. Instinctively I turned towards the forests across the savannah — my forest again; and fled away from the noise and the sight of flames, never pausing until I found myself within the black shadow of the trees. Into the deeper blackness of the interior I dared not venture; on the border I paused to ask myself what I did there alone in the night-time. Sitting down, I covered my face with my hands as if to hide it more effectually than it could be hidden by night and the forest shadows. What horrible thing, what calamity that frightened my soul to think of, had fallen on me? The revulsion of feeling, the unspeakable horror, the remorse, was more than I could bear. I started up with a cry of anguish, and would have slain myself to escape at that moment; but Nature is not always and utterly cruel, and on this occasion she came to my aid. Consciousness forsook me, and I lived not again until the light of early morning was in the east; then found myself lying on the wet herbage — wet with rain that had lately fallen. My physical misery was now so great that it prevented me from dwelling on the scenes witnessed on the previous evening. Nature was again merciful in this. I only remembered that it was necessary to hide myself, in case the Indians should be still in the neighbourhood and pay the wood a visit. Slowly and painfully I crept away into the forest, and there sat for several hours, scarcely thinking at all, in a half-stupefied condition. At noon the sun shone out and dried the wood. I felt no hunger, only a vague sense of bodily misery, and with it the fear that if I left my hiding-place I might meet some human creature face to face. This fear prevented me from stirring until the twilight came, when I crept forth and made my way to the border of the forest, to spend the night there. Whether sleep visited me during the dark hours or not I cannot say: day and night my condition seemed the same; I experienced only a dull sensation of utter misery which seemed in spirit and flesh alike, an inability to think clearly, or for more than a few moments consecutively, about anything. Scenes in which I had been principal actor came and went, as in a dream when the will slumbers: now with devilish ingenuity and persistence I was working on Managa's mind; now standing motionless in the forest listening for that sweet, mysterious melody; now staring aghast at old Cla-cla's wide-open glassy eyes and white hair dabbled in blood; then suddenly, in the cave at Riolama, I was fondly watching the slow return of life and colour to Rima's still face.

When morning came again, I felt so weak that a vague fear of sinking down and dying of hunger at last roused me and sent me forth in quest of food. I moved slowly and my eyes were dim to see, but I knew so well where to seek for small morsels — small edible roots and leaf-stalks, berries, and drops of congealed gum — that it would have been strange in that rich forest if I had not been able to discover something to stay my famine. It was little, but it sufficed for the day. Once more Nature was merciful to me; for that diligent seeking among the concealing leaves left no interval for thought; every chance morsel gave a momentary pleasure, and as I prolonged my search my steps grew firmer, the dimness passed from my eyes. I was more forgetful of self, more eager, and like a wild animal with no thought or feeling beyond its immediate wants. Fatigued at the end, I fell asleep as soon as darkness brought my busy rambles to a close, and did not wake until another morning dawned.

My hunger was extreme now. The wailing notes of a pair of small birds, persistently flitting round me, or perched with gaping bills and wings trembling with agitation, served to remind me that it was now breeding-time; also that Rima had taught me to find a small bird's nest. She found them only to delight her eyes with the sight; but they would be food for me; the crystal and yellow fluid in the gem-like, white or blue or red-speckled shells would help to keep me alive. All day I hunted, listening to every note and cry, watching the motions of every winged thing, and found, besides gums and fruits, over a score of nests containing eggs, mostly of small birds, and although the labour was great and the scratches many, I was well satisfied with the result.

A few days later I found a supply of Haima gum, and eagerly began picking it from the tree; not that it could be used, but the thought of the brilliant light it gave was so strong in my mind that mechanically I gathered it all. The possession of this gum, when night closed round me again, produced in me an intense longing for artificial light and warmth. The darkness was harder than ever to endure. I envied the fireflies their natural lights, and ran about in the dusk to capture a few and hold them in the hollow of my two hands, for the sake of their cold, fitful flashes. On the following day I wasted two or three hours trying to get fire in the primitive method with dry wood, but failed, and lost much time, and suffered more than ever from hunger in consequence. Yet there was fire in everything; even when I struck at hard wood with my knife, sparks were emitted. If I could only arrest those wonderful heat- and light-giving sparks! And all at once, as if I had just lighted upon some new, wonderful truth, it occurred to me that with my steel hunting-knife and a piece of flint fire could be obtained. Immediately I set about preparing tinder with dry moss, rotten wood, and wild cotton; and in a short time I had the wished fire, and heaped wood dry and green on it to make it large. I nursed it well, and spent the night beside it; and it also served to roast some huge white grubs which I had found in the rotten wood of a prostrate trunk. The sight of these great grubs had formerly disgusted me; but they tasted good to me now, and stayed my hunger, and that was all I looked for in my wild forest food.

For a long time an undefined feeling prevented me from going near the site of Nuflo's burnt lodge. I went there at last; and the first thing I did was to go all round the fatal spot, cautiously peering into the rank herbage, as if I feared a lurking serpent; and at length, at some distance from the blackened heap, I discovered a human skeleton, and knew it to be Nuflo's. In his day he had been a great armadillo-hunter, and these quaint carrion-eaters had no doubt revenged themselves by devouring his flesh when they found him dead — killed by the savages.

Having once returned to this spot of many memories, I could not quit it again; while my wild woodland life lasted, here must I have my lair, and being here I could not leave that mournful skeleton above ground. With labour I excavated a pit to bury it, careful not to cut or injure a broad-leafed creeper that had begun to spread itself over the spot; and after refilling the hole I drew the long, trailing stems over the mound.

"Sleep well, old man," said I, when my work was done; and these few words, implying neither censure nor praise, was all the burial service that old Nuflo had from me.

I then visited the spot where the old man, assisted by me, had concealed his provisions before starting for Riolama, and was pleased to find that it had not been discovered by the Indians. Besides the store of tobacco leaf, maize, pumpkin, potatoes, and cassava bread, and the cooking utensils, I found among other things a chopper — a great acquisition, since with it I would be able to cut down small palms and bamboos to make myself a hut.

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