It fell out just as I had expected; she accompanied me in the sense of being always near me, or within earshot, and her manner was now free and unconstrained as I could wish; but little or nothing was gained by the change. She was once more the tantalizing, elusive, mysterious creature I had first known through her wandering, melodious voice. The only difference was that the musical, inarticulate sounds were now less often heard, and that she was no longer afraid to show herself to me. This for a short time was enough to make me happy, since no lovelier being was ever looked upon, nor one whose loveliness was less likely to lose its charm through being often seen.
But to keep her near me or always in sight was, I found, impossible: she would be free as the wind, free as the butterfly, going and coming at her wayward will, and losing herself from sight a dozen times every hour. To induce her to walk soberly at my side or sit down and enter into conversation with me seemed about as impracticable as to tame the fiery-hearted little humming-bird that flashes into sight, remains suspended motionless for a few seconds before your face, then, quick as lightning, vanishes again.
At length, feeling convinced that she was most happy when she had me out following her in the wood, that in spite of her bird-like wildness she had a tender, human heart, which was easily moved, I determined to try to draw her closer by means of a little innocent stratagem. Going out in the morning, after calling her several times to no purpose, I began to assume a downcast manner, as if suffering pain or depressed with grief; and at last, finding a convenient exposed root under a tree, on a spot where the ground was dry and strewn with loose yellow sand, I sat down and refused to go any further. For she always wanted to lead me on and on, and whenever I paused she would return to show herself, or to chide or encourage me in her mysterious language. All her pretty little arts were now practiced in vain: with cheek resting on my hand, I still sat.
So my eyes fixed on that patch of yellow sand at my feet, watching how the small particles glinted like diamond dust when the sunlight touched them. A full hour passed in this way, during which I encouraged myself by saying mentally: "This is a contest between us, and the most patient and the strongest of will, which should be the man, must conquer. And if I win on this occasion, it will be easier for me in the future — easier to discover those things which I am resolved to know, and the girl must reveal to me, since the old man has proved impracticable."
Meanwhile she came and went and came again; and at last, finding that I was not to be moved, she approached and stood near me. Her face, when I glanced at it, had a somewhat troubled look — both troubled and curious.
"Come here, Rima," I said, "and stay with me for a little while — I cannot follow you now."
She took one or two hesitating steps, then stood still again; and at length, slowly and reluctantly, advanced to within a yard of me. Then I rose from my seat on the root, so as to catch her face better, and placed my hand against the rough bark of the tree.
"Rima," I said, speaking in a low, caressing tone, "will you stay with me here a little while and talk to me, not in your language, but in mine, so that I may understand? Will you listen when I speak to you, and answer me?"
Her lips moved, but made no sound. She seemed strangely disquieted, and shook back her loose hair, and with her small toes moved the sparkling sand at her feet, and once or twice her eyes glanced shyly at my face.
"Rima, you have not answered me," I persisted. "Will you not say yes?"
"Where does your grandfather spend his day when he goes out with his dogs?"
She shook her head slightly, but would not speak.
"Have you no mother, Rima? Do you remember your mother?"
"My mother! My mother!" she exclaimed in a low voice, but with a sudden, wonderful animation. Bending a little nearer, she continued: "Oh, she is dead! Her body is in the earth and turned to dust. Like that," and she moved the loose sand with her foot. "Her soul is up there, where the stars and the angels are, grandfather says. But what is that to me? I am here — am I not? I talk to her just the same. Everything I see I point out, and tell her everything. In the daytime — in the woods, when we are together. And at night when I lie down I cross my arms on my breast — so, and say: 'Mother, mother, now you are in my arms; let us go to sleep together.' Sometimes I say: 'Oh, why will you never answer me when I speak and speak?' Mother — mother — mother!"
At the end her voice suddenly rose to a mournful cry, then sunk, and at the last repetition of the word died to a low whisper.
"Ah, poor Rima! she is dead and cannot speak to you — cannot hear you! Talk to me, Rima; I am living and can answer."
But now the cloud, which had suddenly lifted from her heart, letting me see for a moment into its mysterious depths — its fancies so childlike and feelings so intense — had fallen again; and my words brought no response, except a return of that troubled look to her face.
"Silent still?" I said. "Talk to me, then, of your mother, Rima. Do you know that you will see her again some day?"
"Yes, when I die. That is what the priest said."
"Yes, at Voa — do you know? Mother died there when I was small — it is so far away! And there are thirteen houses by the side of the river — just here; and on this side — trees, trees."
This was important, I thought, and would lead to the very knowledge I wished for; so I pressed her to tell me more about the settlement she had named, and of which I had never heard.
"Everything have I told you," she returned, surprised that I did not know that she had exhausted the subject in those half-dozen words she had spoken.
Obliged to shift my ground, I said at a venture: "Tell me, what do you ask of the Virgin Mother when you kneel before her picture? Your grandfather told me that you had a picture in your little room."
"You know!" flashed out her answer, with something like resentment.
"It is all there in there," waving her hand towards the hut. "Out here in the wood it is all gone — like this," and stooping quickly, she raised a little yellow sand on her palm, then let it run away through her fingers.
Thus she illustrated how all the matters she had been taught slipped from her mind when she was out of doors, out of sight of the picture. After an interval she added: "Only mother is here — always with me."
"Ah, poor Rima!" I said; "alone without a mother, and only your old grandfather! He is old — what will you do when he dies and flies away to the starry country where your mother is?"
She looked inquiringly at me, then made answer in a low voice: "You are here."
"But when I go away?"