She was silent; and not wishing to dwell on a subject that seemed to pain her, I continued: "Yes, I am here now, but you will not stay with me and talk freely! Will it always be the same if I remain with you? Why are you always so silent in the house, so cold with your old grandfather? So different — so full of life, like a bird, when you are alone in the woods? Rima, speak to me! Am I no more to you than your old grandfather? Do you not like me to talk to you?"
She appeared strangely disturbed at my words. "Oh, you are not like him," she suddenly replied. "Sitting all day on a log by the fire — all day, all day; Goloso and Susio lying beside him — sleep, sleep. Oh, when I saw you in the wood I followed you, and talked and talked; still no answer. Why will you not come when I call? To me!" Then, mocking my voice: "Rima, Rima! Come here! Do this! Say that! Rima! Rima! It is nothing, nothing — it is not you," pointing to my mouth, and then, as if fearing that her meaning had not been made clear, suddenly touching my lips with her finger. "Why do you not answer me? — speak to me — speak to me, like this!" And turning a little more towards me, and glancing at me with eyes that had all at once changed, losing their clouded expression for one of exquisite tenderness, from her lips came a succession of those mysterious sounds which had first attracted me to her, swift and low and bird-like, yet with something so much higher and more soul-penetrating than any bird-music. Ah, what feeling and fancies, what quaint turns of expression, unfamiliar to my mind, were contained in those sweet, wasted symbols! I could never know — never come to her when she called, or respond to her spirit. To me they would always be inarticulate sounds, affecting me like a tender spiritual music — a language without words, suggesting more than words to the soul.
The mysterious speech died down to a lisping sound, like the faint note of some small bird falling from a cloud of foliage on the topmost bough of a tree; and at the same time that new light passed from her eyes, and she half averted her face in a disappointed way.
"Rima," I said at length, a new thought coming to my aid, "it is true that I am not here," touching my lips as she had done, "and that my words are nothing. But look into my eyes, and you will see me there — all, all that is in my heart."
"Oh, I know what I should see there!" she returned quickly.
"What would you see — tell me?"
"There is a little black ball in the middle of your eye; I should see myself in it no bigger than that," and she marked off about an eighth of her little fingernail. "There is a pool in the wood, and I look down and see myself there. That is better. Just as large as I am — not small and black like a small, small fly." And after saying this a little disdainfully, she moved away from my side and out into the sunshine; and then, half turning towards me, and glancing first at my face and then upwards, she raised her hand to call my attention to something there.
Far up, high as the tops of the tallest trees, a great blue-winged butterfly was passing across the open space with loitering flight. In a few moments it was gone over the trees; then she turned once more to me with a little rippling sound of laughter — the first I had heard from her, and called: "Come, come!"
I was glad enough to go with her then; and for the next two hours we rambled together in the wood; that is, together in her way, for though always near she contrived to keep out of my sight most of the time. She was evidently now in a gay, frolicsome temper; again and again, when I looked closely into some wide-spreading bush, or peered behind a tree, when her calling voice had sounded, her rippling laughter would come to me from some other spot. At length, somewhere about the centre of the wood, she led me to an immense mora tree, growing almost isolated, covering with its shade a large space of ground entirely free from undergrowth. At this spot she all at once vanished from my side; and after listening and watching some time in vain, I sat down beside the giant trunk to wait for her. Very soon I heard a low, warbling sound which seemed quite near.
"Rima! Rima!" I called, and instantly my call was repeated like an echo. Again and again I called, and still the words flew back to me, and I could not decide whether it was an echo or not. Then I gave up calling; and presently the low, warbling sound was repeated, and I knew that Rima was somewhere near me.
"Rima, where are you?" I called.
"Rima, where are you?" came the answer.
"You are behind the tree."
"You are behind the tree."
"I shall catch you, Rima." And this time, instead of repeating my words, she answered: "Oh no."
I jumped up and ran round the tree, feeling sure that I should find her. It was about thirty-five or forty feet in circumference; and after going round two or three times, I turned and ran the other way, but failing to catch a glimpse of her I at last sat down again.
"Rima, Rima!" sounded the mocking voice as soon as I had sat down. "Where are you, Rima? I shall catch you, Rima! Have you caught Rima?"
"No, I have not caught her. There is no Rima now. She has faded away like a rainbow — like a drop of dew in the sun. I have lost her; I shall go to sleep." And stretching myself out at full length under the tree, I remained quiet for two or three minutes. Then a slight rustling sound was heard, and I looked eagerly round for her. But the sound was overhead and caused by a great avalanche of leaves which began to descend on me from that vast leafy canopy above.
"Ah, little spider-monkey — little green tree-snake — you are there!" But there was no seeing her in that immense aerial palace hung with dim drapery of green and copper-coloured leaves. But how had she got there? Up the stupendous trunk even a monkey could not have climbed, and there were no lianas dropping to earth from the wide horizontal branches that I could see; but by and by, looking further away, I perceived that on one side the longest lower branches reached and mingled with the shorter boughs of the neighbouring trees. While gazing up I heard her low, rippling laugh, and then caught sight of her as she ran along an exposed horizontal branch, erect on her feet; and my heart stood still with terror, for she was fifty to sixty feet above the ground. In another moment she vanished from sight in a cloud of foliage, and I saw no more of her for about ten minutes, when all at once she appeared at my side once more, having come round the trunk of the mora. Her face had a bright, pleased expression, and showed no trace of fatigue or agitation.
I caught her hand in mine. It was a delicate, shapely little hand, soft as velvet, and warm — a real human hand; only now when I held it did she seem altogether like a human being and not a mocking spirit of the wood, a daughter of the Didi.
"Do you like me to hold your hand, Rima?"
"Yes," she replied, with indifference.
"Is it I?"
"Yes." This time as if it was small satisfaction to make acquaintance with this purely physical part of me.
Having her so close gave me an opportunity of examining that light sheeny garment she wore always in the woods. It felt soft and satiny to the touch, and there was no seam nor hem in it that I could see, but it was all in one piece, like the cocoon of the caterpillar. While I was feeling it on her shoulder and looking narrowly at it, she glanced at me with a mocking laugh in her eyes.
"Is it silk?" I asked. Then, as she remained silent, I continued: "Where did you get this dress, Rima? Did you make it yourself? Tell me."