The possession of a supply of food left me time for many things: time in the first place to make my own conditions; doubtless after them there would be further progression on the old lines — luxuries added to necessaries; a healthful, fruitful life of thought and action combined; and at last a peaceful, contemplative old age.
I cleared away ashes and rubbish, and marked out the very spot where Rima's separate bower had been for my habitation, which I intended to make small. In five days it was finished; then, after lighting a fire, I stretched myself out in my dry bed of moss and leaves with a feeling that was almost triumphant. Let the rain now fall in torrents, putting out the firefly's lamp; let the wind and thunder roar their loudest, and the lightnings smite the earth with intolerable light, frightening the poor monkeys in their wet, leafy habitations, little would I heed it all on my dry bed, under my dry, palm-leaf thatch, with glorious fire to keep me company and protect me from my ancient enemy, Darkness.
From that first sleep under shelter I woke refreshed, and was not driven by the cruel spur of hunger into the wet forest. The wished time had come of rest from labour, of leisure for thought. Resting here, just where she had rested, night by night clasping a visionary mother in her arms, whispering tenderest words in a visionary ear, I too now clasped her in my arms — a visionary Rima. How different the nights had seemed when I was without shelter, before I had rediscovered fire! How had I endured it? That strange ghostly gloom of the woods at night-time full of innumerable strange shapes; still and dark, yet with something seen at times moving amidst them, dark and vague and strange also — an owl, perhaps, or bat, or great winged moth, or nightjar. Nor had I any choice then but to listen to the night-sounds of the forest; and they were various as the day-sounds, and for every day-sound, from the faintest lisping and softest trill to the deep boomings and piercing cries, there was an analogue; always with something mysterious, unreal in its tone, something proper to the night. They were ghostly sounds, uttered by the ghosts of dead animals; they were a hundred different things by turns, but always with a meaning in them, which I vainly strove to catch — something to be interpreted only by a sleeping faculty in us, lightly sleeping, and now, now on the very point of awaking!
Now the gloom and the mystery were shut out; now I had that which stood in the place of pleasure to me, and was more than pleasure. It was a mournful rapture to lie awake now, wishing not for sleep and oblivion, hating the thought of daylight that would come at last to drown and scare away my vision. To be with Rima again — my lost Rima recovered — mine, mine at last! No longer the old vexing doubt now — "You are you, and I am I — why is it?" — the question asked when our souls were near together, like two raindrops side by side, drawing irresistibly nearer, ever nearer: for now they had touched and were not two, but one inseparable drop, crystallized beyond change, not to be disintegrated by time, nor shattered by death's blow, nor resolved by any alchemy.
I had other company besides this unfailing vision and the bright dancing fire that talked to me in its fantastic fire language. It was my custom to secure the door well on retiring; grief had perhaps chilled my blood, for I suffered less from heat than from cold at this period, and the fire seemed grateful all night long; I was also anxious to exclude all small winged and creeping night-wanderers. But to exclude them entirely proved impossible: through a dozen invisible chinks they would find their way to me; also some entered by day to lie concealed until after nightfall. A monstrous hairy hermit spider found an asylum in a dusky corner of the hut, under the thatch, and day after day he was there, all day long, sitting close and motionless; but at dark he invariably disappeared — who knows on what murderous errand! His hue was a deep dead-leaf yellow, with a black and grey pattern, borrowed from some wild cat; and so large was he that his great outspread hairy legs, radiating from the flat disk of his body, would have covered a man's open hand. It was easy to see him in my small interior; often in the night-time my eyes would stray to his corner, never to encounter that strange hairy figure; but daylight failed not to bring him. He troubled me; but now, for Rima's sake, I could slay no living thing except from motives of hunger. I had it in my mind to injure him — to strike off one of his legs, which would not be missed much, as they were many — so as to make him go away and return no more to so inhospitable a place. But courage failed me. He might come stealthily back at night to plunge his long, crooked farces into my throat, poisoning my blood with fever and delirium and black death. So I left him alone, and glanced furtively and fearfully at him, hoping that he had not divined any thoughts; thus we lived on unsocially together. More companionable, but still in an uncomfortable way, were the large crawling, running insects — crickets, beetles, and others. They were shapely and black and polished, and ran about here and there on the floor, just like intelligent little horseless carriages; then they would pause with their immovable eyes fixed on me, seeing or in some mysterious way divining my presence; their pliant horns waving up and down, like delicate instruments used to test the air. Centipedes and millipedes in dozens came too, and were not welcome. I feared not their venom, but it was a weariness to see them; for they seemed no living things, but the vertebrae of snakes and eels and long slim fishes, dead and desiccated, made to move mechanically over walls and floor by means of some jugglery of nature. I grew skilful at picking them up with a pair of pliant green twigs, to thrust them into the outer darkness.
One night a moth fluttered in and alighted on my hand as I sat by the fire, causing me to hold my breath as I gazed on it. Its fore-wings were pale grey, with shadings dark and light written all over in finest characters with some twilight mystery or legend; but the round under-wings were clear amber-yellow, veined like a leaf with red and purple veins; a thing of such exquisite chaste beauty that the sight of it gave me a sudden shock of pleasure. Very soon it flew up, circling about, and finally lighted on the palm-leaf thatch directly over the fire. The heat, I thought, would soon drive it from the spot; and, rising, I opened the door, so that it might find its way out again into its own cool, dark, flowery world. And standing by the open door I turned and addressed it: "O night-wanderer of the pale, beautiful wings, go forth, and should you by chance meet her somewhere in the shadowy depths, revisiting her old haunts, be my messenger — " Thus much had I spoken when the frail thing loosened its hold to fall without a flutter, straight and swift, into the white blaze beneath. I sprang forward with a shriek and stood staring into the fire, my whole frame trembling with a sudden terrible emotion. Even thus had Rima fallen — fallen from the great height — into the flames that instantly consumed her beautiful flesh and bright spirit! O cruel Nature!
A moth that perished in the flame; an indistinct faint sound; a dream in the night; the semblance of a shadowy form moving mist-like in the twilight gloom of the forest, would suddenly bring back a vivid memory, the old anguish, to break for a while the calm of that period. It was calm then after the storm. Nevertheless, my health deteriorated. I ate little and slept little and grew thin and weak. When I looked down on the dark, glassy forest pool, where Rima would look no more to see herself so much better than in the small mirror of her lover's pupil, it showed me a gaunt, ragged man with a tangled mass of black hair falling over his shoulders, the bones of his face showing through the dead-looking, sun-parched skin, the sunken eyes with a gleam in them that was like insanity.
To see this reflection had a strangely disturbing effect on me. A torturing voice would whisper in my ear: "Yes, you are evidently going mad. By and by you will rush howling through the forest, only to drop down at last and die; and no person will ever find and bury your bones. Old Nuflo was more fortunate in that he perished first."
"A lying voice!" I retorted in sudden anger. "My faculties were never keener than now. Not a fruit can ripen but I find it. If a small bird darts by with a feather or straw in its bill I mark its flight, and it will be a lucky bird if I do not find its nest in the end. Could a savage born in the forest do more? He would starve where I find food!"
"Ay, yes, there is nothing wonderful in that," answered the voice. "The stranger from a cold country suffers less from the heat, when days are hottest, than the Indian who knows no other climate. But mark the result! The stranger dies, while the Indian, sweating and gasping for breath, survives. In like manner the low-minded savage, cut off from all human fellowship, keeps his faculties to the end, while your finer brain proves your ruin."
I cut from a tree a score of long, blunt thorns, tough and black as whalebone, and drove them through a strip of wood in which I had burnt a row of holes to receive them, and made myself a comb, and combed out my long, tangled hair to improve my appearance.
"It is not the tangled condition of your hair," persisted the voice, "but your eyes, so wild and strange in their expression, that show the approach of madness. Make your locks as smooth as you like, and add a garland of those scarlet, star-shaped blossoms hanging from the bush behind you — crown yourself as you crowned old Cla-cla — but the crazed look will remain just the same."
And being no longer able to reply, rage and desperation drove me to an act which only seemed to prove that the hateful voice had prophesied truly. Taking up a stone, I hurled it down on the water to shatter the image I saw there, as if it had been no faithful reflection of myself, but a travesty, cunningly made of enamelled clay or some other material, and put there by some malicious enemy to mock me.