Part 3 out of 5
ignorant of my presence. Slowly she came down to the stream,
then cautiously made her way over the line of stepping-stones by
which it was crossed; and only when within ten yards did the old
creature catch sight of me sitting silent and motionless in her
path. With a sharp cry of amazement and terror she straightened
herself up, the bundle of sticks dropping to the ground, and
turned to run from me. That, at all events, seemed her
intention, for her body was thrown forward, and her head and arms
working like those of a person going at full speed, but her legs
seemed paralysed and her feet remained planted on the same spot.
I burst out laughing; whereat she twisted her neck until her
wrinkled, brown old face appeared over her shoulder staring at
me. This made me laugh again, whereupon she straightened herself
up once more and turned round to have a good look at me.
"Come, Cla-cla," I cried; "can you not see that I am a living man
and no spirit? I thought no one had remained behind to keep me
company and give me food. Why are you not with the others?"
"Ah, why!" she returned tragically. And then deliberately
turning from me and assuming a most unladylike attitude, she
slapped herself vigorously on the small of the back, exclaiming:
"Because of my pain here!"
As she continued in that position with her back towards me for
some time, I laughed once more and begged her to explain.
Slowly she turned round and advanced cautiously towards me,
staring at me all the time. Finally, still eyeing me
suspiciously, she related that the others had all gone on a visit
to a distant village, she starting with them; that after going
some distance a pain had attacked her in her hind quarters, so
sudden and acute that it had instantly brought her to a full
stop; and to illustrate how full the stop was she allowed herself
to go down, very unnecessarily, with a flop to the ground. But
she no sooner touched the ground than up she started to her feet
again, with an alarmed look on her owlish face, as if she had sat
down on a stinging-nettle.
"We thought you were dead," she remarked, still thinking that I
might be a ghost after all.
"No, still alive," I said. "And so because you came to the
ground with your pain, they left you behind! Well, never mind,
Cla-cla, we are two now and must try to be happy together."
By this time she had recovered from her fear and began to feel
highly pleased at my return, only lamenting that she had no meat
to give me. She was anxious to hear my adventures, and the
reason of my long absence. I had no wish to gratify her
curiosity, with the truth at all events, knowing very well that
with regard to the daughter of the Didi her feelings were as
purely savage and malignant as those of Kua-ko. But it was
necessary to say something, and, fortifying myself with the good
old Spanish notion that lies told to the heathen are not
recorded, I related that a venomous serpent had bitten me; after
which a terrible thunderstorm had surprised me in the forest, and
night coming on prevented my escape from it; then, next day,
remembering that he who is bitten by a serpent dies, and not
wishing to distress my friends with the sight of my dissolution,
I elected to remain, sitting there in the wood, amusing myself by
singing songs and smoking cigarettes; and after several days and
nights had gone by, finding that I was not going to die after
all, and beginning to feel hungry, I got up and came back.
Old Cla-cla looked very serious, shaking and nodding her head a
great deal, muttering to herself; finally she gave it as her
opinion that nothing ever would or could kill me; but whether my
story had been believed or not she only knew.
I spent an amusing evening with my old savage hostess. She had
thrown off her ailments and, pleased at having a companion in her
dreary solitude, she was good-tempered and talkative, and much
more inclined to laugh than when the others were present, when
she was on her dignity.
We sat by the fire, cooking such food as we had, and talked and
smoked; then I sang her songs in Spanish with that melody of my
Muy mas clara que la luna;
and she rewarded me by emitting a barbarous chant in a shrill,
screechy voice; and finally, starting up, I danced for her
benefit polka, mazurka, and valse, whistling and singing to my
More than once during the evening she tried to introduce serious
subjects, telling me that I must always live with them, learn to
shoot the birds and catch the fishes, and have a wife; and then
she would speak of her granddaughter Oalava, whose virtues it was
proper to mention, but whose physical charms needed no
description since they had never been concealed. Each time she
got on this topic I cut her short, vowing that if I ever married
she only should be my wife. She informed me that she was old and
past her fruitful period; that not much longer would she make
cassava bread, and blow the fire to a flame with her wheezy old
bellows, and talk the men to sleep at night. But I stuck to it
that she was young and beautiful, that our descendants would be
more numerous than the birds in the forest. I went out to some
bushes close by, where I had noticed a passion plant in bloom,
and gathering a few splendid scarlet blossoms with their stems
and leaves, I brought them in and wove them into a garland for
the old dame's head; then I pulled her up, in spite of screams
and struggles, and waltzed her wildly to the other end of the
room and back again to her seat beside the fire. And as she sat
there, panting and grinning with laughter, I knelt before her
and, with suitable passionate gestures, declaimed again the old
delicate lines sung by Mena before Columbus sailed the seas:
Muy mas clara que la luna
en el mundo vos nacistes
tan gentil, que no vecistes
Desdi ninez en la cuna
cobrastes fama, beldad, con tanta graciosidad,
que vos doto la fortuna.
Thinking of another all the time! O poor old Cla-cla, knowing
not what the jingle meant nor the secret of my wild happiness,
now when I recall you sitting there, your old grey owlish head
crowned with scarlet passion flowers, flushed with firelight,
against the background of smoke-blackened walls and rafters, how
the old undying sorrow comes back to me!
Thus our evening was spent, merrily enough; then we made up the
fire with hard wood that would last all night, and went to our
hammocks, but wakeful still. The old dame, glad and proud to be
on duty once more, religiously went to work to talk me to sleep;
but although I called out at intervals to encourage her to go on,
I did not attempt to follow the ancient tales she told, which she
had imbibed in childhood from other white-headed grandmothers
long, long turned to dust. My own brain was busy thinking,
thinking, thinking now of the woman I had once loved, far away in
Venezuela, waiting and weeping and sick with hope deferred; now
of Rima, wakeful and listening to the mysterious nightsounds of
the forest--listening, listening for my returning footsteps.
Next morning I began to waver in my resolution to remain absent
from Rima for some days; and before evening my passion, which I
had now ceased to struggle against, coupled with the thought that
I had acted unkindly in leaving her, that she would be a prey to
anxiety, overcame me, and I was ready to return. The old woman,
who had been suspiciously watching my movements, rushed out after
me as I left the house, crying out that a storm was brewing, that
it was too late to go far, and night would be full of danger. I
waved my hand in good-bye, laughingly reminding her that I was
proof against all perils. Little she cared what evil might
befall me, I thought; but she loved not to be alone; even for
her, low down as she was intellectually, the solitary earthen pot
had no "mind stuff" in it, and could not be sent to sleep at
night with the legends of long ago.
By the time I reached the ridge, I had discovered that she had
prophesied truly, for now an ominous change had come over nature.
A dull grey vapour had overspread the entire western half of the
heavens; down, beyond the forest, the sky looked black as ink,
and behind this blackness the sun had vanished. It was too late
to go back now; I had been too long absent from Rima, and could
only hope to reach Nuflo's lodge, wet or dry, before night closed
round me in the forest.
For some moments I stood still on the ridge, struck by the
somewhat weird aspect of the shadowed scene before me--the long
strip of dull uniform green, with here and there a slender palm
lifting its feathery crown above the other trees, standing
motionless, in strange relief against the advancing blackness.
Then I set out once more at a run, taking advantage of the
downward slope to get well on my way before the tempest should
burst. As I approached the wood, there came a flash of
lightning, pale, but covering the whole visible sky, followed
after a long interval by a distant roll of thunder, which lasted
several seconds and ended with a succession of deep throbs. It
was as if Nature herself, in supreme anguish and abandonment, had
cast herself prone on the earth, and her great heart had throbbed
audibly, shaking the world with its beats. No more thunder
followed, but the rain was coming down heavily now in huge drops
that fell straight through the gloomy, windless air. In half a
minute I was drenched to the skin; but for a short time the rain
seemed an advantage, as the brightness of the falling water
lessened the gloom, turning the air from dark to lighter grey.
This subdued rain-light did not last long: I had not been twenty
minutes in the wood before a second and greater darkness fell on
the earth, accompanied by an even more copious downpour of water.
The sun had evidently gone down, and the whole sky was now
covered with one thick cloud. Becoming more nervous as the gloom
increased, I bent my steps more to the south, so as to keep near
the border and more open part of the wood. Probably I had
already grown confused before deviating and turned the wrong way,
for instead of finding the forest easier, it grew closer and more
difficult as I advanced. Before many minutes the darkness so
increased that I could no longer distinguish objects more than
five feet from my eyes. Groping blindly along, I became
entangled in a dense undergrowth, and after struggling and
stumbling along for some distance in vain endeavours to get
through it, I came to a stand at last in sheer despair. All
sense of direction was now lost: I was entombed in thick
blackness--blackness of night and cloud and rain and of dripping
foliage and network of branches bound with bush ropes and
creepers in a wild tangle. I had struggled into a hollow, or
hole, as it were, in the midst of that mass of vegetation, where
I could stand upright and turn round and round without touching
anything; but when I put out my hands they came into contact with
vines and bushes. To move from that spot seemed folly; yet how
dreadful to remain there standing on the sodden earth, chilled
with rain, in that awful blackness in which the only luminous
thing one could look to see would be the eyes, shining with their
own internal light, of some savage beast of prey! Yet the
danger, the intense physical discomfort, and the anguish of
looking forward to a whole night spent in that situation stung my
heart less than the thought of Rima's anxiety and of the pain I
had carelessly given by secretly leaving her.
It was then, with that pang in my heart, that I was startled by
hearing, close by, one of her own low, warbled expressions.
There could be no mistake; if the forest had been full of the
sounds of animal life and songs of melodious birds, her voice
would have been instantly distinguished from all others. How
mysterious, how infinitely tender it sounded in that awful
blackness!--so musical and exquisitely modulated, so sorrowful,
yet piercing my heart with a sudden, unutterable joy.
"Rime! Rima!" I cried. "Speak again. Is it you? Come to me
Again that low, warbling sound, or series of sounds, seemingly
from a distance of a few yards. I was not disturbed at her not
replying in Spanish: she had always spoken it somewhat
reluctantly, and only when at my side; but when calling to me
from some distance she would return instinctively to her own
mysterious language, and call to me as bird calls to bird. I
knew that she was inviting me to follow her, but I refused to
"Rima," I cried again, "come to me here, for I know not where to
step, and cannot move until you are at my side and I can feel
There came no response, and after some moments, becoming alarmed,
I called to her again.
Then close by me, in a low, trembling voice, she returned: "I am
I put out my hand and touched something soft and wet; it was her
breast, and moving my hand higher up, I felt her hair, hanging
now and streaming with water. She was trembling, and I thought
the rain had chilled her.
"Rime--poor child! How wet you are! How strange to meet you in
such a place! Tell me, dear Rima, how did you find me?"
"I was waiting--watching--all day. I saw you coming across the
savannah, and followed at a distance through the wood."
"And I had treated you so unkindly! Ah, my guardian angel, my
light in the darkness, how I hate myself for giving you pain!
Tell me, sweet, did you wish me to come back and live with you
again?" She made no reply. Then, running my fingers down her
arm, I took her hand in mine. It was hot, like the hand of one
in a fever. I raised it to my lips and then attempted to draw
her to me, but she slipped down and out of my arms to my feet. I
felt her there, on her knees, with head bowed low. Stooping and
putting my arm round her body, I drew her up and held her against
my breast, and felt her heart throbbing wildly. With many
endearing words I begged her to speak to me; but her only reply
was: "Come--come," as she slipped again out of my arms and,
holding my hand in hers, guided me through the bushes.
Before long we came to an open path or glade, where the darkness
was not profound; and releasing my hand, she began walking
rapidly before me, always keeping at such a distance as just
enabled me to distinguish her grey, shadowy figure, and with
frequent doublings to follow the natural paths and openings which
she knew so well. In this way we kept on nearly to the end,
without exchanging a word, and hearing no sound except the
continuous rush of rain, which to our accustomed ears had ceased
to have the effect of sound, and the various gurgling noises of
innumerable runners. All at once, as we came to a more open
place, a strip of bright firelight appeared before us, shining
from the half-open door of Nuflo's lodge. She turned round as
much as to say: "Now you know where you are," then hurried on,
leaving me to follow as best I could.
There was a welcome change in the weather when I rose early next
morning; the sky was without cloud and had that purity in its
colour and look of infinite distance seen only when the
atmosphere is free from vapour. The sun had not yet risen, but
old Nuflo was already among the ashes, on his hands and knees,
blowing the embers he had uncovered to a flame.Then Rima appeared
only to pass through the room with quick light tread to go out of
the door without a word or even a glance at my face. The old
man, after watching at the door for a few minutes, turned and
began eagerly questioning me about my adventures on the previous
evening. In reply I related to him how the girl had found me in
the forest lost and unable to extricate myself from the tangled
He rubbed his hands on his knees and chuckled. "Happy for you,
senor," he said, "that my granddaughter regards you with such
friendly eyes, otherwise you might have perished before morning.
Once she was at your side, no light, whether of sun or moon or
lantern, was needed, nor that small instrument which is said to
guide a man aright in the desert, even in the darkest night--let
him that can believe such a thing!"
"Yes, happy for me," I returned. "I am filled with remorse that
it was all through my fault that the poor child was exposed to
"O senor," he cried airily, "let not that distress you! Rain and
wind and hot suns, from which we seek shelter, do not harm her.
She takes no cold, and no fever, with or without ague."
After some further conversation I left him to steal away
unobserved on his own account, and set out for a ramble in the
hope of encountering Rima and winning her to talk to me.
My quest did not succeed: not a glimpse of her delicate shadowy
form did I catch among the trees; and not one note from her
melodious lips came to gladden me. At noon I returned to the
house, where I found food placed ready for me, and knew that she
had come there during my absence and had not been forgetful of my
wants. "Shall I thank you for this?" I said. "I ask you for
heavenly nectar for the sustentation of the higher winged nature
in me, and you give me a boiled sweet potato, toasted strips of
sun-dried pumpkins, and a handful of parched maize! Rima! Rima!
my woodland fairy, my sweet saviour, why do you yet fear me? Is
it that love struggles in you with repugnance? Can you discern
with clear spiritual eyes the grosser elements in me, and hate
them; or has some false imagination made me appear all dark and
evil, but too late for your peace, after the sweet sickness of
love has infected you?"
But she was not there to answer me, and so after a time I went
forth again and seated myself listlessly on the root of an old
tree not far from the house. I had sat there a full hour when
all at once Rima appeared at my side. Bending forward, she
touched my hand, but without glancing at my face; "Come with me,"
she said, and turning, moved swiftly towards the northern
extremity of the forest. She seemed to take it for granted that
I would follow, never casting a look behind nor pausing in her
rapid walk; but I was only too glad to obey and, starting up, was
quickly after her. She led me by easy ways, familiar to her,
with many doublings to escape the undergrowth, never speaking or
pausing until we came out from the thick forest, and I found
myself for the first time at the foot of the great hill or
mountain Ytaioa. Glancing back for a few moments, she waved a
hand towards the summit, and then at once began the ascent. Here
too it seemed all familiar ground to her. From below, the sides
had presented an exceedingly rugged appearance--a wild confusion
of huge jagged rocks, mixed with a tangled vegetation of trees,
bushes, and vines; but following her in all her doublings, it
became easy enough, although it fatigued me greatly owing to our
rapid pace. The hill was conical, but I found that it had a flat
top--an oblong or pear-shaped area, almost level, of a soft,
crumbly sandstone, with a few blocks and boulders of a harder
stone scattered about--and no vegetation, except the grey
mountain lichen and a few sere-looking dwarf shrubs.
Here Rima, at a distance of a few yards from me, remained
standing still for some minutes, as if to give me time to recover
my breath; and I was right glad to sit down on a stone to rest.
Finally she walked slowly to the centre of the level area, which
was about two acres in extent; rising, I followed her and,
climbing on to a huge block of stone, began gazing at the wide
prospect spread out before me. The day was windless and bright,
with only a few white clouds floating at a great height above and
casting travelling shadows over that wild, broken country, where
forest, marsh, and savannah were only distinguishable by their
different colours, like the greys and greens and yellows on a
map. At a great distance the circle of the horizon was broken
here and there by mountains, but the hills in our neighbourhood
were all beneath our feet.
After gazing all round for some minutes, I jumped down from my
stand and, leaning against the stone, stood watching the girl,
waiting for her to speak. I felt convinced that she had
something of the very highest importance (to herself) to
communicate, and that only the pressing need of a confidant, not
Nuflo, had overcome her shyness of me; and I determined to let
her take her own time to say it in her own way. For a while she
continued silent, her face averted, but her little movements and
the way she clasped and unclasped her fingers showed that she was
anxious and her mind working. Suddenly, half turning to me, she
began speaking eagerly and rapidly.
"Do you see," she said, waving her hand to indicate the whole
circuit of earth, "how large it is? Look!" pointing now to
mountains in the west. "Those are the Vahanas--one, two,
three--the highest--I can tell you their names--Vahana-Chara,
Chumi, Aranoa. Do you see that water? It is a river, called
Guaypero. From the hills it comes down, Inaruna is their name,
and you can see them there in the south--far, far." And in this
way she went on pointing out and naming all the mountains and
rivers within sight. Then she suddenly dropped her hands to her
sides and continued: "That is all. Because we can see no
further. But the world is larger than that! Other mountains,
other rivers. Have I not told you of Voa, on the River Voa,
where I was born, where mother died, where the priest taught me,
years, years ago? All that you cannot see, it is so far away--so
I did not laugh at her simplicity, nor did I smile or feel any
inclination to smile. On the contrary, I only experienced a
sympathy so keen that it was like pain while watching her clouded
face, so changeful in its expression, yet in all changes so
wistful. I could not yet form any idea as to what she wished to
communicate or to discover, but seeing that she paused for a
reply, I answered: "The world is so large, Rima, that we can only
see a very small portion of it from any one spot. Look at this,"
and with a stick I had used to aid me in my ascent I traced a
circle six or seven inches in circumference on the soft stone,
and in its centre placed a small pebble. "This represents the
mountain we are standing on," I continued, touching the pebble;
"and this line encircling it encloses all of the earth we can see
from the mountain-top. Do you understand?--the line I have
traced is the blue line of the horizon beyond which we cannot
see. And outside of this little circle is all the flat top of
Ytaioa representing the world. Consider, then, how small a
portion of the world we can see from this spot!"
"And do you know it all?" she returned excitedly. "All the
world?" waving her hand to indicate the little stone plain.
"All the mountains, and rivers, and forests--all the people in
"That would be impossible, Rima; consider how large it is."
"That does not matter. Come, let us go together--we two and
grandfather--and see all the world; all the mountains and
forests, and know all the people."
"You do not know what you are saying, Rima. You might as well
say: 'Come, let us go to the sun and find out everything in it.'"
"It is you who do not know what you are saying," she retorted,
with brightening eyes which for a moment glanced full into mine.
"We have no wings like birds to fly to the sun. Am I not able to
walk on the earth, and run? Can I not swim? Can I not climb
"No, you cannot. You imagine that all the earth is like this
little portion you see. But it is not all the same. There are
great rivers which you cannot cross by swimming; mountains you
cannot climb; forests you cannot penetrate--dark, and inhabited
by dangerous beasts, and so vast that all this space your eyes
look on is a mere speck of earth in comparison."
She listened excitedly. "Oh, do you know all that?" she cried,
with a strangely brightening look; and then half turning from me,
she added, with sudden petulance: "Yet only a minute ago you knew
nothing of the world--because it is so large! Is anything to be
gained by speaking to one who says such contrary things?"
I explained that I had not contradicted myself, that she had not
rightly interpreted my words. I knew, I said, something about
the principal features of the different countries of the world,
as, for instance, the largest mountain ranges, and rivers, and
the cities. Also something, but very little, about the tribes of
savage men. She heard me with impatience, which made me speak
rapidly, in very general terms; and to simplify the matter I made
the world stand for the continent we were in. It seemed idle to
go beyond that, and her eagerness would not have allowed it.
"Tell me all you know," she said the moment I ceased speaking.
"What is there--and there--and there?" pointing in various
directions. "Rivers and forests--they are nothing to me. The
villages, the tribes, the people everywhere; tell me, for I must
know it all."
"It would take long to tell, Rima."
"Because you are so slow. Look how high the sun is! Speak,
speak! What is there?" pointing to the north.
"All that country," I said, waving my hands from east to west,
"is Guayana; and so large is it that you could go in this
direction, or in this, travelling for months, without seeing the
end of Guayana. Still it would be Guayana; rivers, rivers,
rivers, with forests between, and other forests and rivers
beyond. And savage people, nations and tribes--Guahibo,
Aguaricoto, Ayano, Maco, Piaroa, Quiriquiripo, Tuparito--shall I
name a hundred more? It would be useless, Rima; they are all
savages, and live widely scattered in the forests, hunting with
bow and arrow and the zabatana. Consider, then, how large
"Guayana--Guayana! Do I not know all this is Guayana? But
beyond, and beyond, and beyond? Is there no end to Guayana?"
"Yes; there northwards it ends at the Orinoco, a mighty river,
coming from mighty mountains, compared with which Ytaioa is like
a stone on the Around on which we have sat down to rest. You
must know that guayana is only a portion, a half, of our country,
Venezuela. Look," I continued, putting my hand round my shoulder
to touch the middle of my back, "there is a groove running down
my spine dividing my body into equal parts. Thus does the great
Orinoco divide Venezuela, and on one side of it is all Guayana;
and on the other side the countries or provinces of Cumana,
Maturm, Barcelona, Bolivar, Guarico, Apure, and many others." I
then gave a rapid description of the northern half of the
country, with its vast llanos covered with herds in one part, its
plantations of coffee, rice, and sugar-cane in another, and its
chief towns; last of all Caracas, the gay and opulent little
Paris in America.
This seemed to weary her; but the moment I ceased speaking, and
before I could well moisten my dry lips, she demanded to know
what came after Caracas--after all Venezuela.
"The ocean--water, water, water," I replied.
"There are no people there--in the water; only fishes," she
remarked; then suddenly continued: "Why are you silent--is
Venezuela, then, all the world?"
The task I had set myself to perform seemed only at its
commencement yet. Thinking how to proceed with it, my eyes roved
over the level area we were standing on, and it struck me that
this little irregular plain, broad at one end and almost pointed
at the other, roughly resembled the South American continent in
"Look, Rima," I began, "here we are on this small pebble--Ytaioa;
and this line round it shuts us in--we cannot see beyond. Now
let us imagine that we can see beyond--that we can see the whole
flat mountaintop; and that, you know, is the whole world. Now
listen while I tell you of all the countries, and principal
mountains, and rivers, and cities of the world."
The plan I had now fixed on involved a great deal of walking
about and some hard work in moving and setting up stones and
tracing boundary and other lines; but it gave me pleasure, for
Rima was close by all the time, following me from place to place,
listening to all I said in silence but with keen interest. At
the broad end of the level summit I marked out Venezuela, showing
by means of a long line how the Orinoco divided it, and also
marking several of the greater streams flowing into it. I also
marked the sites of Caracas and other large towns with stones;
and rejoiced that we are not like the Europeans, great
city-builders, for the stones proved heavy to lift. Then
followed Colombia and Ecuador on the west; and, successively,
Bolivia, Peru, Chile, ending at last in the south with Patagonia,
a cold arid land, bleak and desolate. I marked the littoral
cities as we progressed on that side, where earth ends and the
Pacific Ocean begins, and infinitude.
Then, in a sudden burst of inspiration, I described the
Cordilleras to her--that world-long, stupendous chain; its sea of
Titicaca, and wintry, desolate Paramo, where lie the ruins of
Tiahuanaco, older than Thebes. I mentioned its principal
cities--those small inflamed or festering pimples that attract
much attention from appearing on such a body. Quito, called--not
in irony, but by its own people--the Splendid and the
Magnificent; so high above the earth as to appear but a little
way removed from heaven--"de Quito al cielo," as the saying is.
But of its sublime history, its kings and conquerors, Haymar
Capac the Mighty, and Huascar, and Atahualpa the Unhappy, not one
word. Many words--how inadequate!--of the summits, white with
everlasting snows, above it--above this navel of the world, above
the earth, the ocean, the darkening tempest, the condor's flight.
Flame-breathing Cotopaxi, whose wrathful mutterings are audible
two hundred leagues away, and Chimborazo, Antisana, Sarata,
Illimani, Aconcagua--names of mountains that affect us like the
names of gods, implacable Pachacamac and Viracocha, whose
everlasting granite thrones they are. At the last I showed her
Cuzco, the city of the sun, and the highest dwelling-place of men
I was carried away by so sublime a theme; and remembering that I
had no critical hearer, I gave free reins to fancy, forgetting
for the moment that some undiscovered thought or feeling had
prompted her questions. And while I spoke of the mountains, she
hung on my words, following me closely in my walk, her
countenance brilliant. her frame quivering with excitement.
There yet remained to be described all that unimaginable space
east of the Andes; the rivers--what rivers!--the green plains
that are like the sea--the illimitable waste of water where there
is no land--and the forest region. The very thought of the
Amazonian forest made my spirit droop. If I could have snatched
her up and placed her on the dome of Chimborazo she would have
looked on an area of ten thousand square miles of earth, so vast
is the horizon at that elevation. And possibly her imagination
would have been able to clothe it all with an unbroken forest.
Yet how small a portion this would be of the stupendous whole--of
a forest region equal in extent to the whole of Europe! All
loveliness, all grace, all majesty are there; but we cannot see,
cannot conceive--come away! From this vast stage, to be occupied
in the distant future by millions and myriads of beings, like us
of upright form, the nations that will be born when all the
existing dominant races on the globe and the civilizations they
represent have perished as utterly as those who sculptured the
stones of old Tiahuanaco--from this theatre of palms prepared for
a drama unlike any which the Immortals have yet witnessed--I
hurried away; and then slowly conducted her along the Atlantic
coast, listening to the thunder of its great waves, and pausing
at intervals to survey some maritime city.
Never probably since old Father Noah divided the earth among his
sons had so grand a geographical discourse been delivered; and
having finished, I sat down, exhausted with my efforts, and
mopped my brow, but glad that my huge task was over, and
satisfied that I had convinced her of the futility of her wish to
see the world for herself.
Her excitement had passed away by now. She was standing a little
apart from me, her eyes cast down and thoughtful. At length she
approached me and said, waving her hand all round: "What is
beyond the mountains over there, beyond the cities on that
side--beyond the world?"
"Water, only water. Did I not tell you?" I returned stoutly;
for I had, of course, sunk the Isthmus of Panama beneath the sea.
"Water! All round?" she persisted.
"Water, and no beyond? Only water--always water?"
I could no longer adhere to so gross a lie. She was too
intelligent, and I loved her too much. Standing up, I pointed to
distant mountains and isolated peaks.
"Look at those peaks," I said. "It is like that with the
world--this world we are standing on. Beyond that great water
that flows all round the world, but far away, so far that it
would take months in a big boat to reach them, there are islands,
some small, others as large as this world. But, Rima, they are
so far away, so impossible to reach, that it is useless to speak
or to think of them. They are to us like the sun and moon and
stars, to which we cannot fly. And now sit down and rest by my
side, for you know everything."
She glanced at me with troubled eyes.
"Nothing do I know--nothing have you told me. Did I not say that
mountains and rivers and forests are nothing? Tell me about all
the people in the world. Look! there is Cuzco over there, a
city like no other in the world--did you not tell me so? Of the
people nothing. Are they also different from all others in the
"I will tell you that if you will first answer me one question,
She drew a little nearer, curious to hear, but was silent.
"Promise that you will answer me," I persisted, and as she
continued silent, I added: "Shall I not ask you, then?"
"Say," she murmured.
"Why do you wish to know about the people of Cuzco?"
She flashed a look at me, then averted her face. For some
moments she stood hesitating; then, coming closer, touched me on
the shoulder and said softly: "Turn away, do not look at me."
I obeyed, and bending so close that I felt her warm breath on my
neck, she whispered: "Are the people in Cuzco like me? Would
they understand me--the things you cannot understand? Do you
Her tremulous voice betrayed her agitation, and her words, I
imagined, revealed the motive of her action in bringing me to the
summit of Ytaioa, and of her desire to visit and know all the
various peoples inhabiting the world. She had begun to realize,
after knowing me, her isolation and unlikeness to others, and at
the same time to dream that all human beings might not be unlike
her and unable to understand her mysterious speech and to enter
into her thoughts and feelings.
"I can answer that question, Rima," I said. "Ah, no, poor child,
there are none there like you--not one, not one. Of all
there--priests, soldiers, merchants, workmen, white, black, red,
and mixed; men and women, old and young, rich and poor, ugly and
beautiful--not one would understand the sweet language you
She said nothing, and glancing round, I discovered that she was
walking away, her fingers clasped before her, her eyes cast down,
and looking profoundly dejected. Jumping up, I hurried after
her. "Listen!" I said, coming to her side. "Do you know that
there are others in the world like you who would understand your
"Oh, do I not! Yes--mother told me. I was young when you died,
but, O mother, why did you not tell me more?"
"Oh, do you not think that I would go to them if I knew--that I
"Does Nuflo know?"
She shook her head, walking dejectedly along.
"But have you asked him?" I persisted.
"Have I not! Not once--not a hundred times."
Suddenly she paused. "Look," she said, "now we are standing in
Guayana again. And over there in Brazil, and up there towards
the Cordilleras, it is unknown. And there are people there.
Come, let us go and seek for my mother's people in that place.
With grandfather, but not the dogs; they would frighten the
animals and betray us by barking to cruel men who would slay us
with poisoned arrows."
"O Rima, can you not understand? It is too far. And your
grandfather, poor old man, would die of weariness and hunger and
old age in some strange forest."
"Would he die--old grandfather? Then we could cover him up with
palm leaves in the forest and leave him. It would not be
grandfather; only his body that must turn to dust. He would be
away--away where the stars are. We should not die, but go on,
and on, and on."
To continue the discussion seemed hopeless. I was silent,
thinking of what I had heard--that there were others like her
somewhere in that vast green world, so much of it imperfectly
known, so many districts never yet explored by white men. True,
it was strange that no report of such a race had reached the ears
of any traveller; yet here was Rima herself at my side, a living
proof that such a race did exist. Nuflo probably knew more than
he would say; I had failed, as we have seen, to win the secret
from him by fair means, and could not have recourse to foul--the
rack and thumbscrew--to wring it from him. To the Indians she
was only an object of superstitious fear--a daughter of the
Didi--and to them nothing of her origin was known. And she, poor
girl, had only a vague remembrance of a few words heard in
childhood from her mother, and probably not rightly understood.
While these thoughts had been passing through my mind, Rima had
been standing silent by, waiting, perhaps, for an answer to her
last words. Then stooping, she picked up a small pebble and
tossed it three or four yards away.
"Do you see where it fell?" she cried, turning towards me.
"That is on the border of Guayana--is it not? Let us go there
"Rime, how you distress me! We cannot go there. It is all a
savage wilderness, almost unknown to men--a blank on the map--"
"The map?--speak no word that I do not understand."
In a very few words I explained my meaning; even fewer would have
sufficed, so quick was her apprehension.
"If it is a blank," she returned quickly, "then you know of
nothing to stop us--no river we cannot swim, and no great
mountains like those where Quito is."
"But I happen to know, Rima, for it has been related to me by old
Indians, that of all places that is the most difficult of access.
There is a river there, and although it is not on the map, it
would prove more impassable to us than the mighty Orinoco and
Amazon. It has vast malarious swamps on its borders, overgrown
with dense forest, teeming with savage and venomous animals, so
that even the Indians dare not venture near it. And even before
the river is reached, there is a range of precipitous mountains
called by the same name--just there where your pebble fell--the
mountains of Riolama--"
Hardly had the name fallen from my lips before a change swift as
lightning came over her countenance; all doubt, anxiety,
petulance, hope, and despondence, and these in ever-varying
degrees, chasing each other like shadows, had vanished, and she
was instinct and burning with some new powerful emotion which had
flashed into her soul.
"Riolama! Riolama!" she repeated so rapidly and in a tone so
sharp that it tingled in the brain. "That is the place I am
seeking! There was my mother found--there are her people and
mine! Therefore was I called Riolama--that is my name!"
"Rima!" I returned, astonished at her words.
"No, no, no--Riolama. When I was a child, and the priest
baptized me, he named me Riolama--the place where my mother was
found. But it was long to say, and they called me Rima."
Suddenly she became still and then cried in a ringing voice:
"And he knew it all along--that old man--he knew that Riolama was
near--only there where the pebble fell--that we could go there!"
While speaking she turned towards her home, pointing with raised
hand. Her whole appearance now reminded me of that first meeting
with her when the serpent bit me; the soft red of her irides
shone like fire, her delicate skin seemed to glow with an intense
rose colour, and her frame trembled with her agitation, so that
her loose cloud of hair was in motion as if blown through by the
"Traitor! Traitor!" she cried, still looking homewards and
using quick, passionate gestures. "It was all known to you, and
you deceived me all these years; even to me, Rima, you lied with
your lips! Oh, horrible! Was there ever such a scandal known in
Guayana? Come, follow me, let us go at once to Riolama." And
without so much as casting a glance behind to see whether I
followed or no, she hurried away, and in a couple of minutes
disappeared from sight over the edge of the flat summit. "Rime!
Rima! Come back and listen to me! Oh, you are mad! Come back!
But she would not return or pause and listen; and looking after
her, I saw her bounding down the rocky slope like some wild,
agile creature possessed of padded hoofs and an infallible
instinct; and before many minutes she vanished from sight among
crabs and trees lower down.
"Nuflo, old man," said I, looking out towards his lodge, "are
there no shooting pains in those old bones of yours to warn you
in time of the tempest about to burst on your head?"
Then I sat down to think.
To follow impetuous, bird-like Rima in her descent of the hill
would have been impossible, nor had I any desire to be a witness
of old Nuflo's discomfiture at the finish. It was better to
leave them to settle their quarrel themselves, while I occupied
myself in turning over these fresh facts in my mind to find out
how they fitted into the speculative structure I had been
building during the last two or three weeks. But it soon struck
me that it was getting late, that the sun would be gone in a
couple of hours; and at once I began the descent. It was not
accomplished without some bruises and a good many scratches.
After a cold draught, obtained by putting my lips to a black rock
from which the water was trickling, I set out on my walk home,
keeping near the western border of the forest for fear of losing
myself. I had covered about half the distance from the foot of
the hill to Nuflo's lodge when the sun went down. Away on my
left the evening uproar of the howling monkeys burst out, and
after three or four minutes ceased; the after silence was pierced
at intervals by screams of birds going to roost among the trees
in the distance, and by many minor sounds close at hand, of small
bird, frog, and insect. The western sky was now like
amber-coloured flame, and against that immeasurably distant
luminous background the near branches and clustered foliage
looked black; but on my left hand the vegetation still appeared
of a uniform dusky green. In a little while night would drown all
colour, and there would be no light but that of the wandering
lantern-fly, always unwelcome to the belated walker in a lonely
place, since, like the ignis fatuus, it is confusing to the sight
and sense of direction.
With increasing anxiety I hastened on, when all at once a low
growl issuing from the bushes some yards ahead of me brought me
to a stop. In a moment the dogs, Susio and Goloso, rushed out
from some hiding place furiously barking; but they quickly
recognized me and slunk back again. Relieved from fear, I walked
on for a short distance; then it struck me that the old man must
be about somewhere, as the dogs scarcely ever stirred from his
side. Turning back, I went to the spot where they had appeared
to me; and there, after a while, I caught sight of a dim, yellow
form as one of the brutes rose up to look at me. He had been
lying on the ground by the side of a wide-spreading bush, dead
and dry, but overgrown by a creeping plant which had completely
covered its broad, flat top like a piece of tapestry thrown over
a table, its slender terminal stems and leaves hanging over the
edge like a deep fringe. But the fringe did not reach to the
ground and under the bush. in its dark interior. I caught sight
of the other dog; and after gazing in for some time, I also
discovered a black, recumbent form, which I took to be Nuflo.
"What are you doing there, old man?" I cried. "Where is
Rima--have you not seen her? Come out."
Then he stirred himself, slowly creeping out on all fours; and
finally, getting free of the dead twigs and leaves, he stood up
and faced me. He had a strange, wild look, his white beard all
disordered, moss and dead leaves clinging to it, his eyes staring
like an owl's, while his mouth opened and shut, the teeth
striking together audibly, like an angry peccary's. After
silently glaring at me in this mad way for some moments, he burst
out: "Cursed be the day when I first saw you, man of Caracas!
Cursed be the serpent that bit you and had not sufficient power
in its venom to kill! Ha! you come from Ytaioa, where you
talked with Rima? And you have now returned to the tiger's den
to mock that dangerous animal with the loss of its whelp. Fool,
if you did not wish the dogs to feed on your flesh, it would have
been better if you had taken your evening walk in some other
These raging words did not have the effect of alarming me in the
least, nor even of astonishing me very much, albeit up till now
the old man tract always shown himself suave and respectful. His
attack did not seem quite spontaneous. In spite of the wildness
of his manner and the violence of his speech, he appeared to be
acting a part which he had rehearsed beforehand. I was only
angry, and stepping forward, I dealt him a very sharp rap with my
knuckles on his chest. "Moderate your language, old man," I
said; "remember that you are addressing a superior."
"What do you say to me?" he screamed in a shrill, broken voice,
accompanying his words with emphatic gestures. "Do you think you
are on the pavement of Caracas? Here are no police to protect
you--here we are alone in the desert where names and titles are
nothing, standing man to man."
"An old man to a young one," I returned. "And in virtue of my
youth I am your superior. Do you wish me to take you by the
throat and shake your insolence out of you?"
"What, do you threaten me with violence?" he exclaimed, throwing
himself into a hostile attitude. "You, the man I saved, and
sheltered, and fed, and treated like a son! Destroyer of my
peace, have you not injured me enough? You have stolen my
grandchild's heart from me; with a thousand inventions you have
driven her mad! My child, my angel, Rima, my saviour! With your
lying tongue you have changed her into a demon to persecute me!
And you are not satisfied, but must finish your evil work by
inflicting blows on my worn body! All, all is lost to me! Take
my life if you wish it, for now it is worth nothing and I desire
not to keep it!" And here he threw himself on his knees and,
tearing open his old, ragged mantle, presented his naked breast
to me. "Shoot! Shoot!" he screeched. "And if you have no
weapon take my knife and plunge it into this sad heart, and let
me die!" And drawing his knife from its sheath, he flung it down
at my feet.
All this performance only served to increase my anger and
contempt; but before I could make any reply I caught sight of a
shadowy object at some distance moving towards us--something grey
and formless, gliding swift and noiseless, like some great
low-flying owl among the trees. It was Rima, and hardly had I
seen her before she was with us, facing old Nuflo, her whole
frame quivering with passion, her wide-open eyes appearing
luminous in that dim light.
"You are here!" she cried in that quick, ringing tone that was
almost painful to the sense. "You thought to escape me! To hide
yourself from my eyes in the wood! Miserable! Do you not know
that I have need of you--that I have not finished with you yet?
Do you, then, wish to be scourged to Riolama with thorny
twigs--to be dragged thither by the beard?"
He had been staring open-mouthed at her, still on his knees, and
holding his mantle open with his skinny hands. "Rima! Rima!
have mercy on me!" he cried out piteously. "I cannot go to
Riolama, it is so far--so far. And I am old and should meet my
death. Oh, Rima, child of the woman I saved from death, have you
no compassion? I shall die, I shall die!"
"Shall you die? Not until you have shown me the way to Riolama.
And when I have seen Riolama with my eyes, then you may die, and
I shall be glad at your death; and the children and the
grandchildren and cousins and friends of all the animals you have
slain and fed on shall know that you are dead and be glad at your
death. For you have deceived me with lies all these years even
me--and are not fit to live! Come now to Riolama; rise
instantly, I command you!"
Instead of rising he suddenly put out his hand and snatched up
the knife from the ground. "Do you then wish me to die?" he
cried. "Shall you be glad at my death? Behold, then I shall
slay myself before your eyes. By my own hand, Rima, I am now
about to perish, striking the knife into my heart!"
While speaking he waved the knife in a tragic manner over his
head, but I made no movement; I was convinced that he had no
intention of taking his own life--that he was still acting.
Rima, incapable of understanding such a thing, took it
"Oh, you are going to kill yourself." she cried. "Oh, wicked
man, wait until you know what will happen to you after death.
All shall now be told to my mother. Hear my words, then kill
She also now dropped on to her knees and, lifting her clasped
hands and fixing her resentful sparkling eyes on the dim blue
patch of heaven visible beyond the treetops, began to speak
rapidly in clear, vibrating tones. She was praying to her mother
in heaven; and while Nuflo listened absorbed, his mouth open, his
eyes fixed on her, the hand that clutched the knife dropped to
his side. I also heard with the greatest wonder and admiration.
For she had been shy and reticent with me, and now, as if
oblivious of my presence, she was telling aloud the secrets of
her inmost heart.
"O mother, mother, listen to me, to Rima, your beloved child!"
she began. "All these years I have been wickedly deceived by
grandfather--Nuflo--the old man that found you. Often have I
spoken to him of Riolama, where you once were, and your people
are, and he denied all knowledge of such a place. Sometimes he
said that it was at an immense distance, in a great wilderness
full of serpents larger than the trunks of great trees, and of
evil spirits and savage men, slayers of all strangers. At other
times he affirmed that no such place existed; that it was a tale
told by the Indians; such false things did he say to me--to Rima,
your child. O mother, can you believe such wickedness?
"Then a stranger, a white man from Venezuela, came into our
woods: this is the man that was bitten by a serpent, and his name
is Abel; only I do not call him by that name, but by other names
which I have told you. But perhaps you did not listen, or did
not hear, for I spoke softly and not as now, on my knees,
solemnly. For I must tell you, O mother, that after you died the
priest at Voa told me repeatedly that when I prayed, whether to
you or to any of the saints, or to the Mother of Heaven, I must
speak as he had taught me if I wished to be heard and understood.
And that was most strange, since you had taught me differently;
but you were living then, at Voa, and now that you are in heaven,
perhaps you know better. Therefore listen to me now, O mother,
and let nothing I say escape you.
"When this white man had been for some days with us, a strange
thing happened to me, which made me different, so that I was no
longer Rima, although Rima still--so strange was this thing; and
I often went to the pool to look at myself and see the change in
me, but nothing different could I see. In the first place it
came from his eyes passing into mine, and filling me just as the
lightning fills a cloud at sunset: afterwards it was no longer
from his eyes only, but it came into me whenever I saw him, even
at a distance, when I heard his voice, and most of all when he
touched me with his hand. When he is out of my sight I cannot
rest until I see him again; and when I see him, then I am glad,
yet in such fear and trouble that I hide myself from him. O
mother, it could not be told; for once when he caught me in his
arms and compelled me to speak of it, he did not understand; yet
there was need to tell it; then it came to me that only to our
people could it be told, for they would understand, and reply to
me, and tell me what to do in such a case.
"And now, O mother, this is what happened next. I went to
grandfather and first begged and then commanded him to take me to
Riolama; but he would not obey, nor give attention to what I
said, but whenever I spoke to him of it he rose up and hurried
from me; and when I followed he flung back a confused and angry
reply, saying in the same breath that it was so long since he had
been to Riolama that he had forgotten where it was, and that no
such place existed. And which of his words were true and which
false I knew not; so that it would have been better if he had
returned no answer at all; and there was no help to be got from
him. And having thus failed, and there being no other person to
speak to except this stranger, I determined to go to him, and in
his company seek through the whole world for my people. This
will surprise you, O mother, because of that fear which came on
me in his presence, causing me to hide from his sight; but my
wish was so great that for a time it overcame my fear; so that I
went to him as he sat alone in the wood, sad because he could not
see me, and spoke to him, and led him to the summit of Ytaioa to
show me all the countries of the world from the summit. And you
must also know that I tremble in his presence, not because I fear
him as I fear Indians and cruel men; for he has no evil in him,
and is beautiful to look at, and his words are gentle, and his
desire is to be always with me, so that he difFers from all other
men I have seen, just as I differ from all women, except from you
only, O sweet mother.
"On the mountain-top he marked out and named all the countries of
the world, the great mountains, the rivers, the plains, the
forests, the cities; and told me also of the peoples, whites and
savages, but of our people nothing. And beyond where the world
ends there is water, water, water. And when he spoke of that
unknown part on the borders of Guayana, on the side of the
Cordilleras, he named the mountains of Riolama, and in that way I
first found out where my people are. I then left him on Ytaioa,
he refusing to follow me, and ran to grandfather and taxed him
with his falsehoods; and he, finding I knew all, escaped from me
into the woods, where I have now found him once more, talking
with the stranger. And now, O mother, seeing himself caught and
unable to escape a second time, he has taken up a knife to kill
himself, so as not to take me to Riolama; and he is only waiting
until I finish speaking to you, for I wish him to know what will
happen to him after death. Therefore, O mother, listen well and
do what I tell you. When he has killed himself, and has come
into that place where you are, see that he does not escape the
punishment he merits. Watch well for his coming, for he is full
of cunning and deceit, and will endeavor to hide himself from
your eyes. When you have recognized him--an old man, brown as an
Indian, with a white beard--point him out to the angels, and say:
'This is Nuflo, the bad man that lied to Rima.' Let them take him
and singe his wings with fire, so that he may not escape by
flying; and afterwards thrust him into some dark cavern under a
mountain, and place a great stone that a hundred men could not
remove over its mouth, and leave him there alone and in the dark
Having ended, she rose quickly from her knees, and at the same
moment Nuflo, dropping the knife, cast himself prostrate at her
"Rima--my child, my child, not that!" he cried out in a voice
that was broken with terror. He tried to take hold of her feet
with his hands, but she shrank from him with aversion; still he
kept on crawling after her like a disabled lizard, abjectly
imploring her to forgive him, reminding her that he had saved
from death the woman whose enmity had now been enlisted against
him, and declaring that he would do anything she commanded him,
and gladly perish in her service.
It was a pitiable sight, and moving quickly to her side I touched
her on the shoulder and asked her to forgive him.
The response came quickly enough. Turning to him once more, she
said: "I forgive you, grandfather. And now get up and take me to
He rose, but only to his knees. "But you have not told her!" he
said, recovering his natural voice, although still anxious, and
jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "Consider, my child, that I
am old and shall doubtless perish on the way. What would become
of my soul in such a case? For now you have told her everything,
and it will not be forgotten."
She regarded him in silence for a few moments; then, moving a
little way apart, dropped on to her knees again, and with raised
hands and eyes fixed on the blue space above, already sprinkled
with stars, prayed again.
"O mother, listen to me, for I have something fresh to say to
you. Grandfather has not killed himself, but has asked my
forgiveness and has promised to obey me. O mother, I have
forgiven him, and he will now take me to Riolama, to our people.
Therefore, O mother, if he dies on the way to Riolama let nothing
be done against him, but remember only that I forgave him at the
last; and when he comes into that place where you are, let him be
well received, for that is the wish of Rima, your child."
As soon as this second petition was ended she was up again and
engaged in an animated discussion with him, urging him to take
her without further delay to Riolama; while he, now recovered
from his fear, urged that so important an undertaking required a
great deal of thought and preparation; that the journey would
occupy about twenty days, and unless he set out well provided
with food he would starve before accomplishing half the distance,
and his death would leave her worse off than before. He
concluded by affirming that he could not start in less time than
seven or eight days.
For a while I listened with keen interest to this dispute, and at
length interposed once more on the old man's side. The poor girl
in her petition had unwittingly revealed to me the power I
possessed, and it was a pleasing experience to exercise it.
Touching her shoulder again, I assured her that seven or eight
days was only a reasonable time in which to prepare for so long a
journey. She instantly yielded, and after one glance at my face,
she moved swiftly away into the darker shadows, leaving me alone
with the old man.
As we returned together through the now profoundly dark wood, I
explained to him how the subject of Riolama had first come up
during my conversation with Rima, and he then apologized for the
violent language he had used to me. This personal question
disposed of, he spoke of the pilgrimage before him, and informed
me in confidence that he intended preparing a quantity of
smoke-dried meat and packing it in a bag, with a layer of cassava
bread, dried pumpkin slips, and such innocent trifles to conceal
it from Rima's keen sight and delicate nostrils. Finally he made
a long rambling statement which, I vainly imagined, was intended
to lead up to an account of Rima's origin, with something about
her people at Riolama; but it led to nothing except an expression
of opinion that the girl was afflicted with a maggot in the
brain, but that as she had interest with the powers above,
especially with her mother, who was now a very important person
among the celestials, it was good policy to submit to her wishes.
Turning to me, doubtless to wink (only I missed the sign owing to
the darkness), he added that it was a fine thing to have a friend
at court. With a little gratulatory chuckle he went on to say
that for others it was necessary to obey all the ordinances of
the Church, to contribute to its support, hear mass, confess from
time to time, and receive absolution; consequently those who went
out into the wilderness, where there were no churches and no
priests to absolve them, did so at the risk of losing their
souls. But with him it was different: he expected in the end to
escape the fires of purgatory and go directly in all his
uncleanness to heaven--a thing, he remarked, which happened to
very few; and he, Nuflo, was no saint, and had first become a
dweller in the desert, as a very young man, in order to escape
the penalty of his misdeeds.
I could not resist the temptation of remarking here that to an
unregenerate man the celestial country might turn out a somewhat
uncongenial place for a residence. He replied airily that he had
considered the point and had no fear about the future; that he
was old, and from all he had observed of the methods of
government followed by those who ruled over earthly affairs from
the sky, he had formed a clear idea of that place, and believed
that even among so many glorified beings he would be able to meet
with those who would prove companionable enough and would think
no worse of him on account of his little blemishes.
How he had first got this idea into his brain about Rima's
ability to make things smooth for him after death I cannot say;
probably it was the effect of the girl's powerful personality and
vivid faith acting on an ignorant and extremely;superstitious
mind. While she was making that petition to her mother in
heaven, it did not seem in the least ridiculous to me: I had felt
no inclination to smile, even when hearing all that about the old
man's wings being singed to prevent his escape by flying. Her
rapt look; the intense conviction that vibrated in her ringing,
passionate tones; the brilliant scorn with which she, a hater of
bloodshed, one so tender towards all living things, even the
meanest, bade him kill himself, and only hear first how her
vengeance would pursue his deceitful soul into other worlds; the
clearness with which she had related the facts of the case,
disclosing the inmost secrets of her heart--all this had had a
strange, convincing effect on me. Listening to her I was no
longer the enlightened, the creedless man. She herself was so
near to the supernatural that it seemed brought near me;
indefinable feelings, which had been latent in me, stirred into
life, and following the direction of her divine, lustrous eyes,
fixed on the blue sky above, I seemed to see there another being
like herself, a Rima glorified, leaning her pale, spiritual face
to catch the winged words uttered by her child on earth. And
even now, while hearing the old man's talk, showing as it did a
mind darkened with such gross delusions, I was not yet altogether
free from the strange effect of that prayer. Doubtless it was a
delusion; her mother was not really there above listening to the
girl's voice. Still, in some mysterious way, Rima had become to
me, even as to superstitious old Nuflo, a being apart and sacred,
and this feeling seemed to mix with my passion, to purify and
exalt it and make it infinitely sweet and precious.
After we had been silent for some time, I said: "Old man, the
result of the grand discussion you have had with Rima is that you
have agreed to take her to Riolama, but about my accompanying you
not one word has been spoken by either of you."
He stopped short to stare at me, and although it was too dark to
see his face, I felt his astonishment. "Senor!" he exclaimed,
"we cannot go without you. Have you not heard my granddaughter's
words--that it is only because of you that she is about to
undertake this crazy journey? If you are not with us in this
thing, then, senor, here we must remain. But what will Rima say
"Very well, I will go, but only on one condition."
"What is it?" he asked, with a sudden change of tone, which
warned me that he was becoming cautious again.
"That you tell me the whole story of Rima's origin, and how you
came to be now living with her in this solitary place, and who
these people are she wishes to visit at Riolama."
"Ah, senor, it is a long story, and sad. But you shall hear it
all. You must hear it, senor, since you are now one of us; and
when I am no longer here to protect her, then she will be yours.
And although you will never be able to do more than old Nuflo for
her, perhaps she will be better pleased; and you, senor, better
able to exist innocently by her side, without eating flesh, since
you will always have that rare flower to delight you. But the
story would take long to tell. You shall hear it all as we
journey to Riolama. What else will there be to talk about when
we are walking that long distance, and when we sit at night by
"No, no, old man, I am not to be put off in that way. I must
hear it before I start."
But he was determined to reserve the narrative until the journey,
and after some further argument I yielded the point.
That evening by the fire old Nuflo, lately so miserable, now
happy in his delusions, was more than usually gay and loquacious.
He was like a child who by timely submission has escaped a
threatened severe punishment. But his lightness of heart was
exceeded by mine; and, with the exception of one other yet to
come, that evening now shines in memory as the happiest my life
has known. For Rima's sweet secret was known to me; and her very
ignorance of the meaning of the feeling she experienced, which
caused her to fly from me as from an enemy, only served to make
the thought of it more purely delightful.
On this occasion she did not steal away like a timid mouse to her
own apartment, as her custom was, but remained to give that one
evening a special grace, seated well away from the fire in that
same shadowy corner where I had first seen her indoors, when I
had marvelled at her altered appearance. From that corner she
could see my face, with the firelight full upon it, she herself
in shadow, her eyes veiled by their drooping lashes. Sitting
there, the vivid consciousness of my happiness was like draughts
of strong, delicious wine, and its effect was like wine,
imparting such freedom to fancy, such fluency, that again and
again old Nuflo applauded, crying out that I was a poet, and
begging me to put it all into rhyme. I could not do that to
please him, never having acquired the art of improvisation--that
idle trick of making words jingle which men of Nuflo's class in
my country so greatly admire; yet it seemed to me on that evening
that my feelings could be adequately expressed only in that
sublimated language used by the finest minds in their inspired
moments; and, accordingly, I fell to reciting. But not from any
modern, nor from the poets of the last century, nor even from the
greater seventeenth century. I kept to the more ancient romances
and ballads, the sweet old verse that, whether glad or sorrowful,
seems always natural and spontaneous as the song of a bird, and
so simple that even a child can understand it.
It was late that night before all the romances I remembered or
cared to recite were exhausted, and not until then did Rima come
out of her shaded corner and steal silently away to her
Although I had resolved to go with them, and had set Nuflo's mind
at rest on the point, I was bent on getting the request from
Rima's own lips; and the next morning the opportunity of seeing
her alone presented itself, after old Nuflo had sneaked off with
his dogs. From the moment of his departure I kept a close watch
on the house, as one watches a bush in which a bird one wishes to
see has concealed itself, and out of which it may dart at any
moment and escape unseen.
At length she came forth, and seeing me in the way, would have
slipped back into hiding; for, in spite of her boldness on the
previous day, she now seemed shyer than ever when I spoke to her.
"Rima," I said, "do you remember where we first talked together
under a tree one morning, when you spoke of your mother, telling
me that she was dead?"
"I am going now to that spot to wait for you. I must speak to
you again in that place about this journey to Riolama." As she
kept silent, I added: "Will you promise to come to me there?"
She shook her head, turning half away.
"Have you forgotten our compact, Rima?"
"No," she returned; and then, suddenly coming near, spoke in a
low tone: "I will go there to please you, and you must also do as
I tell you."
"What do you wish, Rima?"
She came nearer still. "Listen! You must not look into my eyes,
you must not touch me with your hands."
"Sweet Rima, I must hold your hand when I speak with you."
"No, no, no," she murmured, shrinking from me; and finding that
it must be as she wished, I reluctantly agreed.
Before I had waited long, she appeared at the trysting-place, and
stood before me, as on a former occasion, on that same spot of
clean yellow sand, clasping and unclasping her fingers, troubled
in mind even then. Only now her trouble was different and
greater, making her shyer and more reticent.
"Rime, your grandfather is going to take you to Riolama. Do you
wish me to go with you?"
"Oh, do you not know that?" she returned, with a swift glance at
"How should I know?"
Her eyes wandered away restlessly. "On Ytaioa you told me a
hundred things which I did not know," she replied in a vague way,
wishing, perhaps, to imply that with so great a knowledge of
geography it was strange I did not know everything, even her most
"Tell me, why must you go to Riolama?"
"You have heard. To speak to my people."
"What will you say to them? Tell me."
"What you do not understand. How tell you?"
"I understand you when you speak in Spanish."
"Oh, that is not speaking."
"Last night you spoke to your mother in Spanish. Did you not
tell her everything?"
"Oh no--not then. When I tell her everything I speak in another
way, in a low voice--not on my knees and praying. At night, and
in the woods, and when I am alone I tell her. But perhaps she
does not hear me; she is not here, but up there--so far! She
never answers, but when I speak to my people they will answer
Then she turned away as if there was nothing more to be said.
"Is this all I am to hear from you, Rima--these few words?" I
exclaimed. "So much did you say to your grandfather, so much to
your dead mother, but to me you say so little!"
She turned again, and with eyes cast down replied:
"He deceived me--I had to tell him that, and then to pray to
mother. But to you that do not understand, what can I say? Only
that you are not like him and all those that I knew at Voa. It
is so different--and the same. You are you, and I am I; why is
it--do you know?"
"No; yes--I know, but cannot tell you. And if you find your
people, what will you do--leave me to go to them? Must I go all
the way to Riolama only to lose you?"
"Where I am, there you must be."
"Do I not see it there?" she returned, with a quick gesture to
indicate that it appeared in my face.
"Your sight is keen, Rima--keen as a bird's. Mine is not so
keen. Let me look once more into those beautiful wild eyes, then
perhaps I shall see in them as much as you see in mine."
"Oh no, no, not that!" she murmured in distress, drawing away
from me; then with a sudden flash of brilliant colour cried:
"Have you forgotten the compact--the promise you made me?"
Her words made me ashamed, and I could not reply. But the shame
was as nothing in strength compared to the impulse I felt to
clasp her beautiful body in my arms and cover her face with
kisses. Sick with desire, I turned away and, sitting on a root
of the tree, covered my face with my hands.
She came nearer: I could see her shadow through my fingers; then
her face and wistful, compassionate eyes.
"Forgive me, dear Rima," I said, dropping my hands again. "I
have tried so hard to please you in everything! Touch my face
with your hand--only that, and I will go to Riolama with you, and
obey you in all things."
For a while she hesitated, then stepped quickly aside so that I
could not see her; but I knew that she had not left me, that she
was standing just behind me. And after waiting a moment longer I
felt her fingers touching my skin, softly, trembling over my
cheek as if a soft-winged moth had fluttered against it; then the
slight aerial touch was gone, and she, too, moth-like, had
vanished from my side.
Left alone in the wood, I was not happy. That fluttering,
flattering touch of her finger-tips had been to me like spoken
language, and more eloquent than language, yet the sweet
assurance it conveyed had not given perfect satisfaction; and
when I asked myself why the gladness of the previous evening had
forsaken me--why I was infected with this new sadness when
everything promised well for me, I found that it was because my
passion had greatly increased during the last few hours; even
during sleep it had been growing, and could no longer be fed by
merely dwelling in thought on the charms, moral and physical, of
its object, and by dreams of future fruition.
I concluded that it would be best for Rima's sake as well as my
own to spend a few of the days before setting out on our journey
with my Indian friends, who would be troubled at my long absence;
and, accordingly, next morning I bade good-bye to the old man,
promising to return in three or four days, and then started
without seeing Rima, who had quitted the house before her usual
time. After getting free of the woods, on casting back my eyes I
caught sight of the girl standing under an isolated tree watching
me with that vague, misty, greenish appearance she so frequently
had when seen in the light shade at a short distance.
"Rima!" I cried, hurrying back to speak to her, but when I
reached the spot she had vanished; and after waiting some time,
seeing and hearing nothing to indicate that she was near me, I
resumed my walk, half thinking that my imagination had deceived
I found my Indian friends home again, and was not surprised to
observe a distinct change in their manner towards me. I had
expected as much; and considering that they must have known very
well where and in whose company I had been spending my time, it
was not strange. Coming across the savannah that morning I had
first begun to think seriously of the risk I was running. But
this thought only served to prepare me for a new condition of
things; for now to go back and appear before Rima, and thus prove
myself to be a person not only capable of forgetting a promise
occasionally, but also of a weak, vacillating mind, was not to be
thought of for a moment.
I was received--not welcomed--quietly enough; not a question, not
a word, concerning my long absence fell from anyone; it was as if
a stranger had appeared among them, one about whom they knew
nothing and consequently regarded with suspicion, if not actual
hostility. I affected not to notice the change, and dipped my
hand uninvited in the pot to satisfy my hunger, and smoked and
dozed away the sultry hours in my hammock. Then I got my guitar
and spent the rest of the day over it, tuning it, touching the
strings so softly with my finger-tips that to a person four yards
off the sound must have seemed like the murmur or buzz of an
insect's wings; and to this scarcely audible accompaniment I
murmured in an equally low tone a new song.
In the evening, when all were gathered under the roof and I had
eaten again, I took up the instrument once more, furtively
watched by all those half-closed animal eyes, and swept the
strings loudly, and sang aloud. I sang an old simple Spanish
melody, to which I had put words in their own language--a
language with no words not in everyday use, in which it is so
difficult to express feelings out of and above the common. What
I had been constructing and practicing all the afternoon sotto
voce was a kind of ballad, an extremely simple tale of a poor
Indian living alone with his young family in a season of dearth;
how day after day he ranged the voiceless woods, to return each
evening with nothing but a few withered sour berries in his hand,
to find his lean, large-eyed wife still nursing the fire that
cooked nothing, and his children crying for food, showing their
bones more plainly through their skins every day; and how,
without anything miraculous, anything wonderful, happening, that
barrenness passed from earth, and the garden once more yielded
them pumpkin and maize, and manioc, the wild fruits ripened, and
the birds returned, filling the forest with their cries; and so
their long hunger was satisfied, and the children grew sleek, and
played and laughed in the sunshine; and the wife, no longer
brooding over the empty pot, wove a hammock of silk grass,
decorated with blue-and-scarlet feathers of the macaw; and in
that new hammock the Indian rested long from his labours, smoking
When I at last concluded with a loud note of joy, a long,
involuntary suspiration in the darkening room told me that I had
been listened to with profound interest; and, although no word
was spoken, though I was still a stranger and under a cloud, it
was plain that the experiment had succeeded, and that for the
present the danger was averted.
I went to my hammock and slept, but without undressing. Next
morning I missed my revolver and found that the holster
containing it had been detached from the belt. My knife had not
been taken, possibly because it was under me in the hammock while
I slept. In answer to my inquiries I was informed that Runi had
BORROWED my weapon to take it with him to the forest, where he
had gone to hunt, and that he would return it to me in the
evening. I affected to take it in good part, although feeling
secretly ill at ease. Later in the day I came to the conclusion
that Runi had had it in his mind to murder me, that I had
softened him by singing that Indian story, and that by taking
possession of the revolver he showed that he now only meant to
keep me a prisoner. Subsequent events confirmed me in this
suspicion. On his return he explained that he had gone out to
seek for game in the woods; and, going without a companion, he
had taken my revolver to preserve him from dangers--meaning those
of a supernatural kind; and that he had had the misfortune to
drop it among the bushes while in pursuit of some animal. I
answered hotly that he had not treated me like a friend; that if
he had asked me for the weapon it would have been lent to him;
that as he had taken it without permission he must pay me for it.
After some pondering he said that when he took it I was sleeping
soundly; also, that it would not be lost; he would take me to the
place where he had dropped it, when we could search together for
He was in appearance more friendly towards me now, even asking me
to repeat my last evening's song, and so we had that performance
all over again to everybody's satisfaction. But when morning
came he was not inclined to go to the woods: there was food
enough in the house, and the pistol would not be hurt by lying
where it had fallen a day longer. Next day the same excuse;
still I disguised my impatience and suspicion of him and waited,
singing the ballad for the third time that evening. Then I was
conducted to a wood about a league and a half away and we hunted
for the lost pistol among the bushes, I with little hope of
finding it, while he attended to the bird voices and frequently
asked me to stand or lie still when a chance of something
The result of that wasted day was a determination on my part to
escape from Runi as soon as possible, although at the risk of
making a deadly enemy of him and of being compelled to go on that
long journey to Riolama with no better weapon than a
hunting-knife. I had noticed, while appearing not to do so, that
outside of the house I was followed or watched by one or other of
the Indians, so that great circumspection was needed. On the
following day I attacked my host once more about the revolver,
telling him with well-acted indignation that if not found it must
be paid for. I went so far as to give a list of the articles I
should require, including a bow and arrows, zabatana, two spears,
and other things which I need not specify, to set me up for life
as a wild man in the woods of Guayana. I was going to add a
wife, but as I had already been offered one it did not appear to
be necessary. He seemed a little taken aback at the value I set
upon my weapon, and promised to go and look for it again. Then I
begged that Kua-ko, in whose sharpness of sight I had great
faith, might accompany us. He consented, and named the next day
but one for the expedition. Very well, thought I, tomorrow their
suspicion will be less, and my opportunity will come; then taking
up my rude instrument, I gave them an old Spanish song:
Desde aquel doloroso momento;
but this kind of music had lost its charm for them, and I was
asked to give them the ballad they understood so well, in which
their interest seemed to increase with every repetition. In
spite of anxiety it amused me to see old Cla-cla regarding me
fixedly with owlish eyes and lips moving. My tale had no
wonderful things in it, like hers of the olden time, which she
told only to send her hearers to sleep. Perhaps she had
discovered by now that it was the strange honey of melody which
made the coarse, common cassava bread of everyday life in my
story so pleasant to the palate. I was quite prepared to receive
a proposal to give her music and singing lessons, and to bequeath
a guitar to her in my last will and testament. For, in spite of
her hoary hair and million wrinkles, she, more than any other
savage I had met with, seemed to have taken a draught from Ponce
de Leon's undiscovered fountain of eternal youth. Poor old
The following day was the sixth of my absence from Rima, and one
of intense anxiety to me, a feeling which I endeavoured to hide
by playing with the children, fighting our old comic stick
fights, and by strumming noisily on the guitar. In the
afternoon, when it was hottest, and all the men who happened to
be indoors were lying in their hammocks, I asked Kua-ko to go
with me to the stream to bathe. He refused--I had counted on
that--and earnestly advised me not to bathe in the pool I was
accustomed to, as some little caribe fishes had made their
appearance there and would be sure to attack me. I laughed at
his idle tale and, taking up my cloak, swung out of the door,
whistling a lively air. He knew that I always threw my cloak
over my head and shoulders as a protection from the sun and
stinging flies when coming out of the water, and so his suspicion
was not aroused, and I was not followed. The pool was about ten
minutes' walk from the house; I arrived at it with palpitating
heart, and going round to its end, where the stream was shallow,
sat down to rest for a few moments and take a few sips of cool
water dipped up in my palm. Presently I rose, crossed the
stream, and began running, keeping among the low trees near the
bank until a dry gully, which extended for some distance across
the savannah, was reached. By following its course the distance
to be covered would be considerably increased, but the shorter
way would have exposed me to sight and made it more dangerous. I
had put forth too much speed at first, and in a short time my
exertions, and the hot sun, together with my intense excitement,
overcame me. I dared not hope that my flight had not been
observed; I imagined that the Indians, unencumbered by any heavy
weight, were already close behind me, and ready to launch their
deadly spears at my back. With a sob of rage and despair I fell
prostrate on my face in the dry bed of the stream, and for two or
three minutes remained thus exhausted and unmanned, my heart
throbbing so violently that my whole frame was shaken. If my
enemies had come on me then disposed to kill me, I could not have
lifted a hand in defence of my life. But minutes passed and they
came not. I rose and went on, at a fast walk now, and when the
sheltering streamed ended, I stooped among the sere dwarfed
shrubs scattered about here and there on its southern side; and
now creeping and now running, with an occasional pause to rest
and look back, I at last reached the dividing ridge at its
southern extremity. The rest of the way was over comparatively
easy ground, inclining downwards; and with that glad green forest
now full in sight, and hope growing stronger every minute in my
breast, my knees ceased to tremble, and I ran on again, scarcely
pausing until I had touched and lost myself in the welcome
Ah, that return to the forest where Rima dwelt, after so anxious
day, when the declining sun shone hotly still, and the green
woodland shadows were so grateful! The coolness, the sense of
security, allayed the fever and excitement I had suffered on the
open savannah; I walked leisurely, pausing often to listen to
some bird voice or to admire some rare insect or parasitic flower
shining star-like in the shade. There was a strangely delightful
sensation in me. I likened myself to a child that, startled at
something it had seen while out playing in the sun, flies to its
mother to feel her caressing hand on its cheek and forget its
tremors. And describing what I felt in that way, I was a little
ashamed and laughed at myself; nevertheless the feeling was very
sweet. At that moment Mother and Nature seemed one and the same
thing. As I kept to the more open part of the wood, on its
southernmost border, the red flame of the sinking sun was seen at
intervals through the deep humid green of the higher foliage.
How every object it touched took from it a new wonderful glory!
At one spot, high up where the foliage was scanty, and slender
bush ropes and moss depended like broken cordage from a dead
limb--just there, bathing itself in that glory-giving light, I
noticed a fluttering bird, and stood still to watch its antics.
Now it would cling, head downwards, to the slender twigs, wings
and tail open; then, righting itself, it would flit from waving
line to line, dropping lower and lower; and anon soar upwards a
distance of twenty feet and alight to recommence the flitting and
swaying and dropping towards the earth. It was one of those
birds that have a polished plumage, and as it moved this way and
that, flirting its feathers, they caught the beams and shone at
moments like glass or burnished metal. Suddenly another bird of
the same kind dropped down to it as if from the sky, straight and
swift as a falling stone; and the first bird sprang up to meet
the comer, and after rapidly wheeling round each other for a
moment, they fled away in company, screaming shrilly through the
wood, and were instantly lost to sight, while their jubilant
cries came back fainter and fainter at each repetition.
I envied them not their wings: at that moment earth did not seem
fixed and solid beneath me, nor I bound by gravity to it. The
faint, floating clouds, the blue infinite heaven itself, seemed
not more ethereal and free than I, or the ground I walked on.
The low, stony hills on my right hand, of which I caught
occasional glimpses through the trees, looking now blue and
delicate in the level rays, were no more than the billowy
projections on the moving cloud of earth: the trees of unnumbered
kinds--great more, cecropia, and greenheart, bush and fern and
suspended lianas, and tall palms balancing their feathery foliage
on slender stems--all was but a fantastic mist embroidery
covering the surface of that floating cloud on which my feet were
set, and which floated with me near the sun.
The red evening flame had vanished from the summits of the trees,
the sun was setting, the woods in shadow, when I got to the end
of my walk. I did not approach the house on the side of the
door, yet by some means those within became aware of my presence,
for out they came in a great hurry, Rima leading the way, Nuflo
behind her, waving his arms and shouting. But as I drew near,
the girl dropped behind and stood motionless regarding me, her
face pallid and showing strong excitement. I could scarcely
remove my eyes from her eloquent countenance: I seemed to read in
it relief and gladness mingled with surprise and something like
vexation. She was piqued perhaps that I had taken her by
surprise, that after much watching for me in the wood I had come
through it undetected when she was indoors.
"Happy the eyes that see you!" shouted the old man, laughing
"Happy are mine that look on Rima again," I answered. "I have
been long absent."
"Long--you may say so," returned Nuflo. "We had given you up.
We said that, alarmed at the thought of the journey to Riolama,
you had abandoned us."
"WE said!" exclaimed Rima, her pallid face suddenly flushing.
"I spoke differently."
"Yes, I know--I know!" he said airily, waving his hand. "You
said that he was in danger, that he was kept against his will
from coming. He is present now--let him speak."
"She was right," I said. "Ah, Nuflo, old man, you have lived
long, and got much experience, but not insight--not that inner
vision that sees further than the eyes."
"No, not that--I know what you mean," he answered. Then, tossing
his hand towards the sky, he added: "The knowledge you speak of
comes from there."
The girl had been listening with keen interest, glancing from one
to the other. "What!" she spoke suddenly. as if unable to keep
silence, "do you think, grandfather, that SHE tells me--when
there is danger--when the rain will cease--when the wind will
blow--everything? Do I not ask and listen, lying awake at night?
She is always silent, like the stars."
Then, pointing to me with her finger, she finished:
"HE knows so many things! Who tells them to HIM?"
"But distinguish, Rima. You do not distinguish the great from
the little," he answered loftily. "WE know a thousand things,
but they are things that any man with a forehead can learn. The
knowledge that comes from the blue is not like that--it is more
important and miraculous. Is it not so, senor?" he ended,
appealing to me.
"Is it, then, left for me to decide?" said I, addressing the
But though her face was towards me, she refused to meet my look
and was silent. Silent, but not satisfied: she doubted still,
and had perhaps caught something in my tone that strengthened her
Old Nuflo understood the expression. "Look at me, Rima," he
said, drawing himself up. "I am old, and he is young--do I not
know best? I have spoken and have decided it."
Still that unconvinced expression, and her face turned expectant
"Am I to decide?" I repeated.
"Who, then?" she said at last, her voice scarcely more than a
murmur; yet there was reproach in the tone, as if she had made a
long speech and I had tyrannously driven her to it.
"Thus, then, I decide," said I. "To each of us, as to every kind
of animal, even to small birds and insects, and to every kind of
plant, there is given something peculiar--a fragrance, a melody,
a special instinct, an art, a knowledge, which no other has. And
to Rima has been given this quickness of mind and power to divine
distant things; it is hers, just as swiftness and grace and
changeful, brilliant colour are the hummingbird's; therefore she
need not that anyone dwelling in the blue should instruct her."
The old man frowned and shook his head; while she, after one
swift, shy glance at my face, and with something like a smile
flitting over her delicate lips, turned and re-entered the house.
I felt convinced from that parting look that she had understood
me, that my words had in some sort given her relief; for, strong
as was her faith in the supernatural, she appeared as ready to
escape from it, when a way of escape offered, as from the limp
cotton gown and constrained manner worn in the house. The
religion and cotton dress were evidently remains of her early
training at the settlement of Voa.
Old Nuflo, strange to say, had proved better than his word.
Instead of inventing new causes for delay, as I had imagined
would be the case, he now informed me that his preparations for
the journey were all but complete, that he had only waited for my
return to set out.
Rima soon left us in her customary way, and then, talking by the
fire, I gave an account of my detention by the Indians and of the
loss of my revolver, which I thought very serious.
"You seem to think little of it," I said, observing that he took
it very coolly. "Yet I know not how I shall defend myself in
case of an attack."
"I have no fear of an attack," he answered. "It seems to me the
same thing whether you have a revolver or many revolvers and
carbines and swords, or no revolver--no weapon at all. And for a
very simple reason. While Rima is with us, so long as we are on
her business, we are protected from above. The angels, senor,
will watch over us by day and night. What need of weapons, then,
except to procure food?"
"Why should not the angels provide us with food also?" said I.
"No, no, that is a different thing," he returned. "That is a
small and low thing, a necessity common to all creatures, which
all know how to meet. You would not expect an angel to drive
away a cloud of mosquitoes, or to remove a bush-tick from your
person. No, sir, you may talk of natural gifts, and try to make
Rima believe that she is what she is, and knows what she knows,
because, like a humming-bird or some plants with a peculiar
fragrance, she has been made so. It is wrong, senor, and, pardon
me for saying it, it ill becomes you to put such fables into her
I answered, with a smile: "She herself seems to doubt what you
"But, senor, what can you expect from an ignorant girl like Rima?
She knows nothing, or very little, and will not listen to reason.
If she would only remain quietly indoors, with her hair braided,
and pray and read her Catechism, instead of running about after
flowers and birds and butterflies and such unsubstantial things,
it would be better for both of us."
"In what way, old man?"
"Why, it is plain that if she would cultivate the acquaintance of
the people that surround her--I mean those that come to her from
her sainted mother--and are ready to do her bidding in
everything, she could make it more safe for us in this place.
For example, there is Runi and his people; why should they remain
living so near us as to be a constant danger when a pestilence of
small-pox or some other fever might easily be sent to kill them
"And have you ever suggested such a thing to your grandchild?"
He looked surprised and grieved at the question. "Yes, many
times, senor," he said. "I should have been a poor Christian had
I not mentioned it. But when I speak of it she gives me a look
and is gone, and I see no more of her all day, and when I see her
she refuses even to answer me--so perverse, so foolish is she in
her ignorance; for, as you can see for yourself, she has no more
sense or concern about what is most important than some little
painted fly that flits about all day long without any object."
The next day we were early at work. Nuflo had already gathered,
dried, and conveyed to a place of concealment the greater portion
of his garden produce. He was determined to leave nothing to be
taken by any wandering party of savages that might call at the
house during our absence. He had no fear of a visit from his
neighbours; they would not know, he said, that he and Rima were
out of the wood. A few large earthen pots, filled with shelled
maize, beans, and sun-dried strips of pumpkin, still remained to
be disposed of. Taking up one of these vessels and asking me to
follow with another, he started off through the wood. We went a
distance of five or six hundred yards, then made our way down a
very steep incline, close to the border of the forest on the
western side. Arrived at the bottom, we followed the bank a
little further, and I then found myself once more at the foot of
the precipice over which I had desperately thrown myself on the
stormy evening after the snake had bitten me. Nuflo, stealing
silently and softly before me through the bushes, had observed a
caution and secrecy in approaching this spot resembling that of a
wise old hen when she visits her hidden nest to lay an egg. And
here was his nest, his most secret treasure-house,.which he had
probably not revealed even to me without a sharp inward conflict,
notwithstanding that our fates were now linked together. The
lower portion of the bank was of rock; and in it, about ten or
twelve feet above the ground, but easily reached from below,
there was a natural cavity large enough to contain all his
portable property. Here, besides the food-stuff, he had already
stored a quantity of dried tobacco leaf, his rude weapons,
cooking utensils, ropes, mats, and other objects. Two or three
more journeys were made for the remaining pots, after which we
adjusted a slab of sandstone to the opening, which was
fortunately narrow, plastered up the crevices with clay, and
covered them over with moss to hide all traces of our work.
Towards evening, after we had refreshed ourselves with a long
siesta, Nuflo brought out from some other hiding-place two sacks;
one weighing about twenty pounds and containing smoke-dried meat,
also grease and gum for lighting-purposes, and a few other small
objects. This was his load; the other sack, which was smaller
and contained parched corn and raw beans, was for me to carry.
The old man, cautious in all his movements, always acting as if
surrounded by invisible spies, delayed setting out until an hour
after dark. Then, skirting the forest on its west side, we left
Ytaioa on our right hand, and after travelling over rough,
difficult ground, with only the stars to light us, we saw the
waning moon rise not long before dawn. Our course had been a
north-easterly one at first; now it was due east, with broad, dry
savannahs and patches of open forest as far as we could see
before us. It was weary walking on that first night, and weary
waiting on the first day when we sat in the shade during the
long, hot hours, persecuted by small stinging flies; but the days
and nights that succeeded were far worse, when the weather became
bad with intense heat and frequent heavy falls of rain. The one
compensation I had looked for, which would have outweighed all
the extreme discomforts we suffered, was denied me. Rima was no
more to me or with me now than she had been during those wild
days in her native woods, when every bush and bole and tangled
creeper or fern frond had joined in a conspiracy to keep her out
of my sight. It is true that at intervals in the daytime she was
visible, sometimes within speaking distance, so that I could
address a few words to her, but there was no companionship, and
we were fellow travellers only like birds flying independently in
the same direction, not so widely separated but that they can
occasionally hear and see each other. The pilgrim in the desert
is sometimes attended by a bird, and the bird, with its freer
motions, will often leave him a league behind and seem lost to
him, but only to return and show its form again; for it has never
lost sight nor recollection of the traveller toiling slowly over
the surface. Rima kept us company in some such wild erratic way
as that. A word, a sign from Nuflo was enough for her to know
the direction to take--the distant forest or still more distant
mountain near which we should have to pass. She would hasten on
and be lost to our sight, and when there was a forest in the way
she would explore it, resting in the shade and finding her own
food; but invariably she was before us at each resting- or
Indian villages were seen during the journey, but only to be
avoided; and in like manner, if we caught sight of Indians
travelling or camping at a distance, we would alter our course,
or conceal ourselves to escape observation. Only on one
occasion, two days after setting out, were we compelled to speak
with strangers. We were going round a hill, and all at once came
face to face with three persons travelling in an opposite
direction--two men and a woman, and, by a strange fatality, Rima
at that moment happened to be with us. We stood for some time
talking to these people, who were evidently surprised at our
appearance, and wished to learn who we were; but Nuflo, who spoke
their language like one of themselves, was too cunning to give
any true answer. They, on their side, told us that they had been
to visit a relative at Chani, the name of a river three days
ahead of us, and were now returning to their own village at
Baila-baila, two days beyond Parahuari. After parting from them
Nuflo was much troubled in his mind for the rest of that day.
These people, he said, would probably rest at some Parahuari
village, where they would be sure to give a description of us,
and so it might eventually come to the knowledge of our
unneighbourly neighbour Runi that we had left Ytaioa.
Other incidents of our long and wearisome journey need not be
related. Sitting under some shady tree during the sultry hours,
with Rima only too far out of earshot, or by the nightly fire,
the old man told me little by little and with much digression,
chiefly on sacred subjects, the strange story of the girl's