I had not been watching her more than three seconds before the bird, with a sharp, creaking little chirp, flew up and away in sudden alarm; at the same moment she turned and saw me through the light leafy screen. But although catching sight of me thus suddenly, she did not exhibit alarm like the bird; only her eyes, wide open, with a surprised look in them, remained immovably fixed on my face. And then slowly, imperceptibly — for I did not notice the actual movement, so gradual and smooth it was, like the motion of a cloud of mist which changes its form and place, yet to the eye seems not to have moved — she rose to her knees, to her feet, retired, and with face still towards me, and eyes fixed on mine, finally disappeared, going as if she had melted away into the verdure. The leafage was there occupying the precise spot where she had been a moment before — the feathery foliage of an acacia shrub, and stems and broad, arrow-shaped leaves of an aquatic plant, and slim, drooping fern fronds, and they were motionless and seemed not to have been touched by something passing through them. She had gone, yet I continued still, bent almost double, gazing fixedly at the spot where I had last seen her, my mind in a strange condition, possessed by sensations which were keenly felt and yet contradictory. So vivid was the image left on my brain that she still seemed to be actually before my eyes; and she was not there, nor had been, for it was a dream, an illusion, and no such being existed, or could exist, in this gross world; and at the same time I knew that she had been there — that imagination was powerless to conjure up a form so exquisite.
With the mental image I had to be satisfied, for although I remained for some hours at that spot, I saw her no more, nor did I hear any familiar melodious sound. For I was now convinced that in this wild solitary girl I had at length discovered the mysterious warbler that so often followed me in the wood. At length, seeing that it was growing late, I took a drink from the stream and slowly and reluctantly made my way out of the forest and went home.
Early next day I was back in the wood full of delightful anticipations, and had no sooner got well among the trees than a soft, warbling sound reached my ears; it was like that heard on the previous day just before catching sight of the girl among the ferns. So soon! thought I, elated, and with cautious steps I proceeded to explore the ground, hoping again to catch her unawares. But I saw nothing; and only after beginning to doubt that I had heard anything unusual, and had sat down to rest on a rock, the sound was repeated, soft and low as before, very near and distinct. Nothing more was heard at this spot, but an hour later, in another place, the same mysterious note sounded near me. During my remaining time in the forest I was served many times in the same way, and still nothing was seen, nor was there any change in the voice.
Only when the day was near its end did I give up my quest, feeling very keenly disappointed. It then struck me that the cause of the elusive creature's behaviour was that she had been piqued at my discovery of her in one of her most secret hiding-places in the heart of the wood, and that it had pleased her to pay me out in this manner.
On the next day there was no change; she was there again, evidently following me, but always invisible, and varied not from that one mocking note of yesterday, which seemed to challenge me to find her a second time. In the end I was vexed, and resolved to be even with her by not visiting the wood for some time. A display of indifference on my part would, I hoped, result in making her less coy in the future.
Next day, firm in my new resolution, I accompanied Kua-ko and two others to a distant spot where they expected that the ripening fruit on a cashew tree would attract a large number of birds. The fruit, however, proved still green, so that we gathered none and killed few birds. Returning together, Kua-ko kept at my side, and by and by, falling behind our companions, he complimented me on my good shooting, although, as usual, I had only wasted the arrows I had blown.
"Soon you will be able to hit," he said; "hit a bird as big as a small woman"; and he laughed once more immoderately at the old joke. At last, growing confidential, he said that I would soon possess a zabatana of my own, with arrows in plenty. He was going to make the arrows himself, and his uncle Otawinki, who had a straight eye, would make the tube. I treated it all as a joke, but he solemnly assured me that he meant it.
Next morning he asked me if I was going to the forest of evil fame, and when I replied in the negative, seemed surprised and, very much to my surprise, evidently disappointed. He even tried to persuade me to go, where before I had been earnestly recommended not to go, until, finding that I would not, he took me with him to hunt in the woods. By and by he returned to the same subject: he could not understand why I would not go to that wood, and asked me if I had begun to grow afraid.
"No, not afraid," I replied; "but I know the place well, and am getting tired of it." I had seen everything in it — birds and beasts — and had heard all its strange noises.
"Yes, heard," he said, nodding his head knowingly; "but you have seen nothing strange; your eyes are not good enough yet."
I laughed contemptuously and answered that I had seen everything strange the wood contained, including a strange young girl; and I went on to describe her appearance, and finished by asking if he thought a white man was frightened at the sight of a young girl.