Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Green Mansions A Romance of the Tropical Forest by W. H. Hudson

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

study to keep the feeling alive, and, more than that, to drop
continual hints of his enemy's secret murderous purpose, until he
was wrought up to a kind of frenzy of mingled fear and rage. And
being of a suspicious and somewhat truculent temper, he one day
all at once turned on me as the immediate cause of his miserable
state, suspecting perhaps that I only wished to make an
instrument of him. But I was strangely bold and careless of
danger then, and only mocked at his rage, telling him proudly
that I feared him not; that Runi, his mortal enemy and mine,
feared not him but me; that Runi knew perfectly well where I had
taken refuge and would not venture to make his meditated attack
while I remained in his village, but would wait for my departure.
"Kill me, Managa," I cried, smiting my chest as I stood facing
him. "Kill me, and the result will be that he will come upon you
unawares and murder you all, as he has resolved to do sooner or

After that speech he glared at me in silence, then flung down the
spear he had snatched up in his sudden rage and stalked out of
the house and into the wood; but before long he was back again,
seated in his old place, brooding on my words with a face black
as night.

It is painful to recall that secret dark chapter of my life--that
period of moral insanity. But I wish not to be a hypocrite,
conscious or unconscious, to delude myself or another with this
plea of insanity. My mind was very clear just then; past and
present were clear to me; the future clearest of all: I could
measure the extent of my action and speculate on its future
effect, and my sense of right or wrong--of individual
responsibility--was more vivid than at any other period of my
life. Can I even say that I was blinded by passion? Driven,
perhaps, but certainly not blinded. For no reaction, or
submission, had followed on that furious revolt against the
unknown being, personal or not, that is behind nature, in whose
existence I believed. I was still in revolt: I would hate Him,
and show my hatred by being like Him, as He appears to us
reflected in that mirror of Nature. Had He given me good
gifts--the sense of right and wrong and sweet humanity? The
beautiful sacred flower He had caused to grow in me I would crush
ruthlessly; its beauty and fragrance and grace would be dead for
ever; there was nothing evil, nothing cruel and contrary to my
nature, that I would not be guilty of, glorying in my guilt.
This was not the temper of a few days: I remained for close upon
two months at Managa's village, never repenting nor desisting in
my efforts to induce the Indians to join me in that most
barbarous adventure on which my heart was set.

I succeeded in the end; it would have been strange if I had not.
The horrible details need not be given. Managa did not wait for
his enemy, but fell on him unexpectedly, an hour after nightfall
in his own village. If I had really been insane during those two
months, if some cloud had been on me, some demoniacal force
dragging me on, the cloud and insanity vanished and the
constraint was over in one moment, when that hellish enterprise
was completed. It was the sight of an old woman, lying where she
had been struck down, the fire of the blazing house lighting her
wide-open glassy eyes and white hair dabbled in blood, which
suddenly, as by a miracle, wrought this change in my brain. For
they were all dead at last, old and young, all who had lighted
the fire round that great green tree in which Rima had taken
refuge, who had danced round the blaze, shouting: "Burn! burn!"

At the moment my glance fell on that prostrate form I paused and
stood still, trembling like a person struck with a sudden pang in
the heart, who thinks that his last moment has come to him
unawares. After a while I slunk away out of the great circle of
firelight into the thick darkness beyond. Instinctively I turned
towards the forests across the savannah--my forest again; and
fled away from the noise and the sight of flames, never pausing
until I found myself within the black shadow of the trees. Into
the deeper blackness of the interior I dared not venture; on the
border I paused to ask myself what I did there alone in the
night-time. Sitting down, I covered my face with my hands as if
to hide it more effectually than it could be hidden by night and
the forest shadows. What horrible thing, what calamity that
frightened my soul to think of, had fallen on me? The revulsion
of feeling, the unspeakable horror, the remorse, was more than I
could bear. I started up with a cry of anguish, and would have
slain myself to escape at that moment; but Nature is not always
and utterly cruel, and on this occasion she came to my aid.
Consciousness forsook me, and I lived not again until the light
of early morning was in the east; then found myself lying on the
wet herbage--wet with rain that had lately fallen. My physical
misery was now so great that it prevented me from dwelling on the
scenes witnessed on the previous evening. Nature was again
merciful in this. I only remembered that it was necessary to
hide myself, in case the Indians should be still in the
neighbourhood and pay the wood a visit. Slowly and painfully I
crept away into the forest, and there sat for several hours,
scarcely thinking at all, in a half-stupefied condition. At noon
the sun shone out and dried the wood. I felt no hunger, only a
vague sense of bodily misery, and with it the fear that if I left
my hiding-place I might meet some human creature face to face.
This fear prevented me from stirring until the twilight came,
when I crept forth and made my way to the border of the forest,
to spend the night there. Whether sleep visited me during the
dark hours or not I cannot say: day and night my condition seemed
the same; I experienced only a dull sensation of utter misery
which seemed in spirit and flesh alike, an inability to think
clearly, or for more than a few moments consecutively, about
anything. Scenes in which I had been principal actor came and
went, as in a dream when the will slumbers: now with devilish
ingenuity and persistence I was working on Managa's mind; now
standing motionless in the forest listening for that sweet,
mysterious melody; now staring aghast at old Cla-cla's wide-open
glassy eyes and white hair dabbled in blood; then suddenly, in
the cave at Riolama, I was fondly watching the slow return of
life and colour to Rima's still face.

When morning came again, I felt so weak that a vague fear of
sinking down and dying of hunger at last roused me and sent me
forth in quest of food. I moved slowly and my eyes were dim to
see, but I knew so well where to seek for small morsels--small
edible roots and leaf-stalks, berries, and drops of congealed
gum--that it would have been strange in that rich forest if I had
not been able to discover something to stay my famine. It was
little, but it sufficed for the day. Once more Nature was
merciful to me; for that diligent seeking among the concealing
leaves left no interval for thought; every chance morsel gave a
momentary pleasure, and as I prolonged my search my steps grew
firmer, the dimness passed from my eyes. I was more forgetful of
self, more eager, and like a wild animal with no thought or
feeling beyond its immediate wants. Fatigued at the end, I fell
asleep as soon as darkness brought my busy rambles to a close,
and did not wake until another morning dawned.

My hunger was extreme now. The wailing notes of a pair of small
birds, persistently flitting round me, or perched with gaping
bills and wings trembling with agitation, served to remind me
that it was now breeding-time; also that Rima had taught me to
find a small bird's nest. She found them only to delight her
eyes with the sight; but they would be food for me; the crystal
and yellow fluid in the gem-like, white or blue or red-speckled
shells would help to keep me alive. All day I hunted, listening
to every note and cry, watching the motions of every winged
thing, and found, besides gums and fruits, over a score of nests
containing eggs, mostly of small birds, and although the labour
was great and the scratches many, I was well satisfied with the

A few days later I found a supply of Haima gum, and eagerly began
picking it from the tree; not that it could be used, but the
thought of the brilliant light it gave was so strong in my mind
that mechanically I gathered it all. The possession of this gum,
when night closed round me again, produced in me an intense
longing for artificial light and warmth. The darkness was harder
than ever to endure. I envied the fireflies their natural
lights, and ran about in the dusk to capture a few and hold them
in the hollow of my two hands, for the sake of their cold, fitful
flashes. On the following day I wasted two or three hours trying
to get fire in the primitive method with dry wood, but failed,
and lost much time, and suffered more than ever from hunger in
consequence. Yet there was fire in everything; even when I
struck at hard wood with my knife, sparks were emitted. If I
could only arrest those wonderful heat- and light-giving sparks!
And all at once, as if I had just lighted upon some new,
wonderful truth, it occurred to me that with my steel
hunting-knife and a piece of flint fire could be obtained.
Immediately I set about preparing tinder with dry moss, rotten
wood, and wild cotton; and in a short time I had the wished fire,
and heaped wood dry and green on it to make it large. I nursed
it well, and spent the night beside it; and it also served to
roast some huge white grubs which I had found in the rotten wood
of a prostrate trunk. The sight of these great grubs had
formerly disgusted me; but they tasted good to me now, and stayed
my hunger, and that was all I looked for in my wild forest food.

For a long time an undefined feeling prevented me from going near
the site of Nuflo's burnt lodge. I went there at last; and the
first thing I did was to go all round the fatal spot, cautiously
peering into the rank herbage, as if I feared a lurking serpent;
and at length, at some distance from the blackened heap, I
discovered a human skeleton, and knew it to be Nuflo's. In his
day he had been a great armadillo-hunter, and these quaint
carrion-eaters had no doubt revenged themselves by devouring his
flesh when they found him dead--killed by the savages.

Having once returned to this spot of many memories, I could not
quit it again; while my wild woodland life lasted, here must I
have my lair, and being here I could not leave that mournful
skeleton above ground. With labour I excavated a pit to bury it,
careful not to cut or injure a broad-leafed creeper that had
begun to spread itself over the spot; and after refilling the
hole I drew the long, trailing stems over the mound.

"Sleep well, old man," said I, when my work was done; and these
few words, implying neither censure nor praise, was all the
burial service that old Nuflo had from me.

I then visited the spot where the old man, assisted by me, had
concealed his provisions before starting for Riolama, and was
pleased to find that it had not been discovered by the Indians.
Besides the store of tobacco leaf, maize, pumpkin, potatoes, and
cassava bread, and the cooking utensils, I found among other
things a chopper--a great acquisition, since with it I would be
able to cut down small palms and bamboos to make myself a hut.

The possession of a supply of food left me time for many things:
time in the first place to make my own conditions; doubtless
after them there would be further progression on the old
lines--luxuries added to necessaries; a healthful, fruitful life
of thought and action combined; and at last a peaceful,
contemplative old age.

I cleared away ashes and rubbish, and marked out the very spot
where Rima's separate bower had been for my habitation, which I
intended to make small. In five days it was finished; then,
after lighting a fire, I stretched myself out in my dry bed of
moss and leaves with a feeling that was almost triumphant. Let
the rain now fall in torrents, putting out the firefly's lamp;
let the wind and thunder roar their loudest, and the lightnings
smite the earth with intolerable light, frightening the poor
monkeys in their wet, leafy habitations, little would I heed it
all on my dry bed, under my dry, palm-leaf thatch, with glorious
fire to keep me company and protect me from my ancient enemy,

From that first sleep under shelter I woke refreshed, and was not
driven by the cruel spur of hunger into the wet forest. The
wished time had come of rest from labour, of leisure for thought.
Resting here, just where she had rested, night by night clasping
a visionary mother in her arms, whispering tenderest words in a
visionary ear, I too now clasped her in my arms--a visionary
Rima. How different the nights had seemed when I was without
shelter, before I had rediscovered fire! How had I endured it?
That strange ghostly gloom of the woods at night-time full of
innumerable strange shapes; still and dark, yet with something
seen at times moving amidst them, dark and vague and strange
also--an owl, perhaps, or bat, or great winged moth, or nightjar.
Nor had I any choice then but to listen to the night-sounds of
the forest; and they were various as the day-sounds, and for
every day-sound, from the faintest lisping and softest trill to
the deep boomings and piercing cries, there was an analogue;
always with something mysterious, unreal in its tone, something
proper to the night. They were ghostly sounds, uttered by the
ghosts of dead animals; they were a hundred different things by
turns, but always with a meaning in them, which I vainly strove
to catch--something to be interpreted only by a sleeping faculty
in us, lightly sleeping, and now, now on the very point of

Now the gloom and the mystery were shut out; now I had that which
stood in the place of pleasure to me, and was more than pleasure.
It was a mournful rapture to lie awake now, wishing not for sleep
and oblivion, hating the thought of daylight that would come at
last to drown and scare away my vision. To be with Rima
again--my lost Rima recovered--mine, mine at last! No longer the
old vexing doubt now--"You are you, and I am I--why is it?"--the
question asked when our souls were near together, like two
raindrops side by side, drawing irresistibly nearer, ever nearer:
for now they had touched and were not two, but one inseparable
drop, crystallized beyond change, not to be disintegrated by
time, nor shattered by death's blow, nor resolved by any alchemy.

I had other company besides this unfailing vision and the bright
dancing fire that talked to me in its fantastic fire language.
It was my custom to secure the door well on retiring; grief had
perhaps chilled my blood, for I suffered less from heat than from
cold at this period, and the fire seemed grateful all night long;
I was also anxious to exclude all small winged and creeping
night-wanderers. But to exclude them entirely proved impossible:
through a dozen invisible chinks they would find their way to me;
also some entered by day to lie concealed until after nightfall.
A monstrous hairy hermit spider found an asylum in a dusky corner
of the hut, under the thatch, and day after day he was there, all
day long, sitting close and motionless; but at dark he invariably
disappeared--who knows on what murderous errand! His hue was a
deep dead-leaf yellow, with a black and grey pattern, borrowed
from some wild cat; and so large was he that his great outspread
hairy legs, radiating from the flat disk of his body, would have
covered a man's open hand. It was easy to see him in my small
interior; often in the night-time my eyes would stray to his
corner, never to encounter that strange hairy figure; but
daylight failed not to bring him. He troubled me; but now, for
Rima's sake, 1 could slay no living thing except from motives of
hunger. I had it in my mind to injure him--to strike off one of
his legs, which would not be missed much, as they were many--so
as to make him go away and return no more to so inhospitable a
place. But courage failed me. He might come stealthily back at
night to plunge his long, crooked farces into my throat,
poisoning my blood with fever and delirium and black death. So I
left him alone, and glanced furtively and fearfully at him,
hoping that he had not divined any thoughts; thus we lived on
unsocially together. More companionable, but still in an
uncomfortable way, were the large crawling, running
insects--crickets, beetles, and others. They were shapely and
black and polished, and ran about here and there on the floor,
just like intelligent little horseless carriages; then they would
pause with their immovable eyes fixed on me, seeing or in some
mysterious way divining my presence; their pliant horns waving up
and down, like delicate instruments used to test the air.
Centipedes and millipedes in dozens came too, and were not
welcome. I feared not their venom, but it was a weariness to see
them; for they seemed no living things, but the vertebrae of
snakes and eels and long slim fishes, dead and desiccated, made
to move mechanically over walls and floor by means of some
jugglery of nature. I grew skilful at picking them up with a
pair of pliant green twigs, to thrust them into the outer

One night a moth fluttered in and alighted on my hand as I sat by
the fire, causing me to hold my breath as I gazed on it. Its
fore-wings were pale grey, with shadings dark and light written
all over in finest characters with some twilight mystery or
legend; but the round under-wings were clear amber-yellow, veined
like a leaf with red and purple veins; a thing of such exquisite
chaste beauty that the sight of it gave me a sudden shock of
pleasure. Very soon it flew up, circling about, and finally
lighted on the palm-leaf thatch directly over the fire. The
heat, I thought, would soon drive it from the spot; and, rising,
I opened the door, so that it might find its way out again into
its own cool, dark, flowery world. And standing by the open door
I turned and addressed it: "O night-wanderer of the pale,
beautiful wings, go forth, and should you by chance meet her
somewhere in the shadowy depths, revisiting her old haunts, be my
messenger--" Thus much had I spoken when the frail thing loosened
its hold to fall without a flutter, straight and swift, into the
white blaze beneath. I sprang forward with a shriek and stood
staring into the fire, my whole frame trembling with a sudden
terrible emotion. Even thus had Rima fallen--fallen from the
great height- -into the flames that instantly consumed her
beautiful flesh and bright spirit! O cruel Nature!

A moth that perished in the flame; an indistinct faint sound; a
dream in the night; the semblance of a shadowy form moving
mist-like in the twilight gloom of the forest, would suddenly
bring back a vivid memory, the old anguish, to break for a while
the calm of that period. It was calm then after the storm.
Nevertheless, my health deteriorated. I ate little and slept
little and grew thin and weak. When I looked down on the dark,
glassy forest pool, where Rima would look no more to see herself
so much better than in the small mirror of her lover's pupil, it
showed me a gaunt, ragged man with a tangled mass of black hair
falling over his shoulders, the bones of his face showing through
the dead-looking, sun-parched skin, the sunken eyes with a gleam
in them that was like insanity.

To see this reflection had a strangely disturbing effect on me.
A torturing voice would whisper in my ear: "Yes, you are
evidently going mad. By and by you will rush howling through the
forest, only to drop down at last and die; and no person will
ever find and bury your bones. Old Nuflo was more fortunate in
that he perished first."

"A lying voice!" I retorted in sudden anger. "My faculties were
never keener than now. Not a fruit can ripen but I find it. If
a small bird darts by with a feather or straw in its bill I mark
its flight, and it will be a lucky bird if I do not find its nest
in the end. Could a savage born in the forest do more? He would
starve where I find food!"

"Ay, yes, there is nothing wonderful in that," answered the
voice. "The stranger from a cold country suffers less from the
heat, when days are hottest, than the Indian who knows no other
climate. But mark the result! The stranger dies, while the
Indian, sweating and gasping for breath, survives. In like
manner the low-minded savage, cut off from all human fellowship,
keeps his faculties to the end, while your finer brain proves
your ruin."

I cut from a tree a score of long, blunt thorns, tough and black
as whalebone, and drove them through a strip of wood in which I
had burnt a row of holes to receive them, and made myself a comb,
and combed out my long, tangled hair to improve my appearance.

"It is not the tangled condition of your hair," persisted the
voice, "but your eyes, so wild and strange in their expression,
that show the approach of madness. Make your locks as smooth as
you like, and add a garland of those scarlet, star-shaped
blossoms hanging from the bush behind you--crown yourself as you
crowned old Cla-cla--but the crazed look will remain just the

And being no longer able to reply, rage and desperation drove me
to an act which only seemed to prove that the hateful voice had
prophesied truly. Taking up a stone, I hurled it down on the
water to shatter the image I saw there, as if it had been no
faithful reflection of myself, but a travesty, cunningly made of
enamelled clay or some other material, and put there by some
malicious enemy to mock me.


Many days had passed since the hut was made--how many may not be
known, since I notched no stick and knotted no cord--yet never in
my rambles in the wood had I seen that desolate ash-heap where
the fire had done its work. Nor had I looked for it. On the
contrary, my wish was never to see it, and the fear of coming
accidentally upon it made me keep to the old familiar paths. But
at length, one night, without thinking of Rima's fearful end, it
all at once occurred to me that the hated savage whose blood I
had shed on the white savannah might have only been practicing
his natural deceit when he told me that most pitiful story. If
that were so--if he had been prepared with a fictitious account
of her death to meet my questions--then Rima might still exist:
lost, perhaps, wandering in some distant place, exposed to perils
day and night, and unable to find her way back, but living still!
Living! her heart on fire with the hope of reunion with me,
cautiously threading her way through the undergrowth of
immeasurable forests; spying out the distant villages and hiding
herself from the sight of all men, as she knew so well how to
hide; studying the outlines of distant mountains, to recognize
some familiar landmark at last, and so find her way back to the
old wood once more! Even now, while I sat there idly musing, she
might be somewhere in the wood--somewhere near me; but after so
long an absence full of apprehension, waiting in concealment for
what tomorrow's light might show.

I started up and replenished the fire with trembling hands, then
set the door open to let the welcoming stream out into the wood.
But Rima had done more; going out into the black forest in the
pitiless storm, she had found and led me home. Could I do less!
I was quickly out in the shadows of the wood. Surely it was more
than a mere hope that made my heart beat so wildly! How could a
sensation so strangely sudden, so irresistible in its power,
possess me unless she were living and near? Can it be, can it be
that we shall meet again? To look again into your divine
eyes--to hold you again in my arms at last! I so changed--so
different! But the old love remains; and of all that has happened
in your absence I shall tell you nothing--not one word; all shall
be forgotten now--sufferings, madness, crime, remorse! Nothing
shall ever vex you again--not Nuflo, who vexed you every day; for
he is dead now--murdered, only I shall not say that--and I have
decently buried his poor old sinful bones. We alone together in
the wood--OUR wood now! The sweet old days again; for I know
that you would not have it different, nor would I.

Thus I talked to myself, mad with the thoughts of the joy that
would soon be mine; and at intervals I stood still and made the
forest echo with my calls. "Rima! Rima!" I called again and
again, and waited for some response; and heard only the familiar
night-sounds--voices of insect and bird and tinkling tree-frog,
and a low murmur in the topmost foliage, moved by some light
breath of wind unfelt below. I was drenched with dew, bruised
and bleeding from falls in the dark, and from rocks and thorns
and rough branches, but had felt nothing; gradually the
excitement burnt itself out; I was hoarse with shouting and ready
to drop down with fatigue, and hope was dead: and at length I
crept back to my hut, to cast myself on my grass bed and sink
into a dull, miserable, desponding stupor.

But on the following morning I was out once more, determined to
search the forest well; since, if no evidence of the great fire
Kua-ko had described to me existed, it would still be possible to
believe that he had lied to me, and that Rima lived. I searched
all day and found nothing; but the area was large, and to search
it thoroughly would require several days.

On the third day I discovered the fatal spot, and knew that never
again would I behold Rima in the flesh, that my last hope had
indeed been a vain one. There could be no mistake: just such an
open place as the Indian had pictured to me was here, with giant
trees standing apart; while one tree stood killed and blackened
by fire, surrounded by a huge heap, sixty or seventy yards
across, of prostrate charred tree-trunks and ashes. Here and
there slender plants had sprung up through the ashes, and the
omnipresent small-leaved creepers were beginning to throw their
pale green embroidery over the blackened trunks. I looked long
at the vast funeral tree that had a buttressed girth of not less
than fifty feet, and rose straight as a ship's mast, with its top
about a hundred and fifty feet from the earth. What a distance
to fall, through burning leaves and smoke, like a white bird shot
dead with a poisoned arrow, swift and straight into that sea of
flame below! How cruel imagination was to turn that desolate
ash-heap, in spite of feathery foliage and embroidery of
creepers, into roaring leaping flames again--to bring those dead
savages back, men, women, and children--even the little ones I
had played with--to set them yelling around me: "Burn! burn!"
Oh, no, this damnable spot must not be her last resting-place!
If the fire had not utterly consumed her, bones as well as sweet
tender flesh, shrivelling her like a frail white-winged moth into
the finest white ashes, mixed inseparably with the ashes of stems
and leaves innumerable, then whatever remained of her must be
conveyed elsewhere to be with me, to mingle with my ashes at

Having resolved to sift and examine the entire heap, I at once
set about my task. If she had climbed into the central highest
branch, and had fallen straight, then she would have dropped into
the flames not far from the roots; and so to begin I made a path
to the trunk, and when darkness overtook me I had worked all
round the tree, in a width of three to four yards, without
discovering any remains. At noon on the following day I found
the skeleton, or, at all events, the larger bones, rendered so
fragile by the fierce heat they had been subjected to, that they
fell to pieces when handled. But I was careful--how careful!--to
save these last sacred relics, all that was now left of
Rima!--kissing each white fragment as I lifted it, and gathering
them all in my old frayed cloak, spread out to receive them. And
when I had recovered them all, even to the smallest, I took my
treasure home.

Another storm had shaken my soul, and had been succeeded by a
second calm, which was more complete and promised to be more
enduring than the first. But it was no lethargic calm; my brain
was more active than ever; and by and by it found a work for my
hands to do, of such a character as to distinguish me from all
other forest hermits, fugitives from their fellows, in that
savage land. The calcined bones I had rescued were kept in one
of the big, rudely shaped, half-burnt earthen jars which Nuflo
had used for storing grain and other food-stuff. It was of a
wood-ash colour; and after I had given up my search for the
peculiar fine clay he had used in its manufacture--for it had
been in my mind to make a more shapely funeral urn myself--I set
to work to ornament its surface. A portion of each day was given
to this artistic labour; and when the surface was covered with a
pattern of thorny stems, and a trailing creeper with curving leaf
and twining tendril, and pendent bud and blossom, I gave it
colour. Purples and black only were used, obtained from the
juices of some deeply coloured berries; and when a tint, or
shade, or line failed to satisfy me I erased it, to do it again;
and this so often that I never completed my work. I might, in
the proudly modest spirit of the old sculptors, have inscribed on
the vase the words: Abel was doing this. For was not my ideal
beautiful like theirs, and the best that my art could do only an
imperfect copy--a rude sketch? A serpent was represented wound
round the lower portion of the jar, dull-hued, with a chain of
irregular black spots or blotches extending along its body; and
if any person had curiously examined these spots he would have
discovered that every other one was a rudely shaped letter, and
that the letters, by being properly divided, made the following

Sin vos y siu dios y mi.

Words that to some might seem wild, even insane in their
extravagance, sung by some ancient forgotten poet; or possibly
the motto of some love-sick knight-errant, whose passion was
consumed to ashes long centuries ago. But not wild nor insane to
me, dwelling alone on a vast stony plain in everlasting twilight,
where there was no motion, nor any sound; but all things, even
trees, ferns, and grasses, were stone. And in that place I had
sat for many a thousand years, drawn up and motionless, with
stony fingers clasped round my legs, and forehead resting on my
knees; and there would I sit, unmoving, immovable, for many a
thousand years to come--I, no longer I, in a universe where she
was not, and God was not.

The days went by, and to others grouped themselves into weeks and
months; to me they were only days--not Saturday, Sunday, Monday,
but nameless. They were so many and their sum so great that all
my previous life, all the years I had existed before this
solitary time, now looked like a small island immeasurably far
away, scarcely discernible, in the midst of that endless desolate
waste of nameless days.

My stock of provisions had been so long consumed that I had
forgotten the flavour of pulse and maize and pumpkins and purple
and sweet potatoes. For Nuflo's cultivated patch had been
destroyed by the savages--not a stem, not a root had they left:
and I, like the sorrowful man that broods on his sorrow and the
artist who thinks only of his art, had been improvident and had
consumed the seed without putting a portion into the ground.
Only wild food, and too little of that, found with much seeking
and got with many hurts. Birds screamed at and scolded me;
branches bruised and thorns scratched me; and still worse were
the angry clouds of waspish things no bigger than flies.
Buzz--buzz! Sting- -sting! A serpent's tooth has failed to kill
me; little do I care for your small drops of fiery venom so that
I get at the spoil--grubs and honey. My white bread and purple
wine! Once my soul hungered after knowledge; I took delight in
fine thoughts finely expressed; I sought them carefully in
printed books: now only this vile bodily hunger, this eager
seeking for grubs and honey, and ignoble war with little things!

A bad hunter I proved after larger game. Bird and beast despised
my snares, which took me so many waking hours at night to invent,
so many daylight hours to make. Once, seeing a troop of monkeys
high up in the tall trees, I followed and watched them for a long
time, thinking how royally I should feast if by some strange
unheard-of accident one were to fall disabled to the ground and
be at my mercy. But nothing impossible happened, and I had no
meat. What meat did I ever have except an occasional fledgling,
killed in its cradle, or a lizard, or small tree-frog detected,
in spite of its green colour, among the foliage? I would roast
the little green minstrel on the coals. Why not? Why should he
live to tinkle on his mandolin and clash his airy cymbals with no
appreciative ear to listen? Once I had a different and strange
kind of meat; but the starved stomach is not squeamish. I found
a serpent coiled up in my way in a small glade, and arming myself
with a long stick, I roused him from his siesta and slew him
without mercy. Rima was not there to pluck the rage from my
heart and save his evil life. No coral snake this, with slim,
tapering body, ringed like a wasp with brilliant colour; but
thick and blunt, with lurid scales, blotched with black; also a
broad, flat, murderous head, with stony, ice-like, whity-blue
eyes, cold enough to freeze a victim's blood in its veins and
make it sit still, like some wide-eyed creature carved in stone,
waiting for the sharp, inevitable stroke--so swift at last, so
long in coming. "O abominable flat head, with icy-cold,
humanlike, fiend-like eyes, I shall cut you off and throw you
away!" And away I flung it, far enough in all conscience: yet I
walked home troubled with a fancy that somewhere, somewhere down
on the black, wet soil where it had fallen, through all that
dense, thorny tangle and millions of screening leaves, the white,
lidless, living eyes were following me still, and would always be
following me in all my goings and comings and windings about in
the forest. And what wonder? For were we not alone together in
this dreadful solitude, I and the serpent, eaters of the dust,
singled out and cursed above all cattle? HE would not have
bitten me, and I--faithless cannibal!--had murdered him. That
cursed fancy would live on, worming itself into every crevice of
my mind; the severed head would grow and grow in the night-time
to something monstrous at last, the hellish white lidless eyes
increasing to the size of two full moons. "Murderer! murderer!"
they would say; "first a murderer of your own fellow
creatures--that was a small crime; but God, our enemy, had made
them in His image, and He cursed you; and we two were together,
alone and apart--you and I, murderer! you and I, murderer!"

I tried to escape the tyrannous fancy by thinking of other things
and by making light of it. "The starved, bloodless brain," I
said, "has strange thoughts." I fell to studying the dark,
thick, blunt body in my hands; I noticed that the livid, rudely
blotched, scaly surface showed in some lights a lovely play of
prismatic colours. And growing poetical, I said: "When the wild
west wind broke up the rainbow on the flying grey cloud and
scattered it over the earth, a fragment doubtless fell on this
reptile to give it that tender celestial tint. For thus it is
Nature loves all her children, and gives to each some beauty,
little or much; only to me, her hated stepchild, she gives no
beauty, no grace. But stay, am I not wronging her? Did not
Rima, beautiful above all things, love me well? said she not
that I was beautiful?"

"Ah, yes, that was long ago," spoke the voice that mocked me by
the pool when I combed out my tangled hair. "Long ago, when the
soul that looked from your eyes was not the accursed thing it is
now. Now Rima would start at the sight of them; now she would
fly in terror from their insane expression."

"O spiteful voice, must you spoil even such appetite as I have
for this fork-tongued spotty food? You by day and Rima by
night--what shall I do--what shall I do?"

For it had now come to this, that the end of each day brought not
sleep and dreams, but waking visions. Night by night, from my
dry grass bed I beheld Nuflo sitting in his old doubled-up
posture, his big brown feet close to the white ashes--sitting
silent and miserable. I pitied him; I owed him hospitality; but
it seemed intolerable that he should be there. It was better to
shut my eyes; for then Rima's arms would be round my neck; the
silky mist of her hair against my face, her flowery breath mixing
with my breath. What a luminous face was hers! Even with
closeshut eyes I could see it vividly, the translucent skin
showing the radiant rose beneath, the lustrous eyes, spiritual
and passionate, dark as purple wine under their dark lashes.
Then my eyes would open wide. No Rima in my arms! But over
there, a little way back from the fire, just beyond where old
Nuflo had sat brooding a few minutes ago, Rima would be standing,
still and pale and unspeakably sad. Why does she come to me from
the outside darkness to stand there talking to me, yet never once
lifting her mournful eyes to mine? "Do not believe it, Abel; no,
that was only a phantom of your brain, the What-I-was that you
remember so well. For do you not see that when I come she fades
away and is nothing? Not that--do not ask it. I know that I
once refused to look into your eyes, and afterwards, in the cave
at Riolama, I looked long and was happy--unspeakably happy! But
now--oh, you do not know what you ask; you do not know the sorrow
that has come into mine; that if you once beheld it, for very
sorrow you would die. And you must live. But I will wait
patiently, and we shall be together in the end, and see each
other without disguise. Nothing shall divide us. Only wish not
for it soon; think not that death will ease your pain, and seek
it not. Austerities? Good works? Prayers? They are not seen;
they are not heard, they are less-than nothing, and there is no
intercession. I did not know it then, but you knew it. Your life
was your own; you are not saved nor judged! acquit
yourself--undo that which you have done, which Heaven cannot
undo--and Heaven will say no word nor will I. You cannot, Abel,
you cannot. That which you have done is done, and yours must be
the penalty and the sorrow--yours and mine--yours and mine--yours
and mine."

This, too, was a phantom, a Rima of the mind, one of the shapes
the ever-changing black vapours of remorse and insanity would
take; and all her mournful sentences were woven out of my own
brain. I was not so crazed as not to know it; only a phantom, an
illusion, yet more real than reality--real as my crime and vain
remorse and death to come. It was, indeed, Rima returned to tell
me that I that loved her had been more cruel to her than her
cruellest enemies; for they had but tortured and destroyed her
body with fire, while I had cast this shadow on her soul--this
sorrow transcending all sorrows, darker than death, immitigable,

If I could only have faded gradually, painlessly, growing feebler
in body and dimmer in my senses each day, to sink at last into
sleep! But it could not be. Still the fever in my brain, the
mocking voice by day, the phantoms by night; and at last I became
convinced that unless I quitted the forest before long, death
would come to me in some terrible shape. But in the feeble
condition I was now in, and without any provisions, to escape
from the neighbourhood of Parahuari was impossible, seeing that
it was necessary at starting to avoid the villages where the
Indians were of the same tribe as Runi, who would recognize me as
the white man who was once his guest and afterwards his
implacable enemy. I must wait, and in spite of a weakened body
and a mind diseased, struggle still to wrest a scanty subsistence
from wild nature.

One day I discovered an old prostrate tree, buried under a thick
growth of creeper and fern, the wood of which was nearly or quite
rotten, as I proved by thrusting my knife to the heft in it. No
doubt it would contain grubs--those huge, white wood-borers which
now formed an important item in my diet. On the following day I
returned to the spot with a chopper and a bundle of wedges to
split the trunk up, but had scarcely commenced operations when an
animal, startled at my blows, rushed or rather wriggled from its
hiding-place under the dead wood at a distance of a few yards
from me. It was a robust, round-headed, short-legged creature,
about as big as a good-sized cat, and clothed in a thick,
greenish-brown fur. The ground all about was covered with
creepers, binding the ferns, bushes, and old dead branches
together; and in this confused tangle the animal scrambled and
tore with a great show of energy, but really made very little
progress; and all at once it flashed into my mind that it was a
sloth--a common animal, but rarely seen on the ground--with no
tree near to take refuge in. The shock of joy this discovery
produced was great enough to unnerve me, and for some moments I
stood trembling, hardly able to breathe; then recovering I
hastened after it, and stunned it with a blow from my chopper on
its round head.

"Poor sloth!" I said as I stood over it. "Poor old lazy-bones!
Did Rima ever find you fast asleep in a tree, hugging a branch as
if you loved it, and with her little hand pat your round,
human-like head; and laugh mockingly at the astonishment in your
drowsy, waking eyes; and scold you tenderly for wearing your
nails so long, and for being so ugly? Lazybones, your death is
revenged! Oh, to be out of this wood--away from this sacred
place--to be anywhere where killing is not murder!"

Then it came into my mind that I was now in possession of the
supply of food which would enable me to quit the wood. A noble
capture! As much to me as if a stray, migratory mule had rambled
into the wood and found me, and I him. Now I would be my own
mule, patient, and long-suffering, and far-going, with naked feet
hardened to hoofs, and a pack of provender on my back to make me
independent of the dry, bitter grass on the sunburnt savannahs.

Part of that night and the next morning was spent in curing the
flesh over a smoky fire of green wood and in manufacturing a
rough sack to store it in, for I had resolved to set out on my
journey. How safely to convey Rima's treasured ashes was a
subject of much thought and anxiety. The clay vessel on which I
had expended so much loving, sorrowful labour had to be left,
being too large and heavy to carry; eventually I put the
fragments into a light sack; and in order to avert suspicion from
the people I would meet on the way, above the ashes I packed a
layer of roots and bulbs. These I would say contained medicinal
properties, known to the white doctors, to whom I would sell them
on my arrival at a Christian settlement, and with the money buy
myself clothes to start life afresh.

On the morrow I would bid a last farewell to that forest of many
memories. And my journey would be eastwards, over a wild savage
land of mountains, rivers, and forests, where every dozen miles
would be like a hundred of Europe; but a land inhabited by tribes
not unfriendly to the stranger. And perhaps it would be my good
fortune to meet with Indians travelling east who would know the
easiest routes; and from time to time some compassionate voyager
would let me share his wood-skin, and many leagues would be got
over without weariness, until some great river, flowing through
British or Dutch Guiana, would be reached; and so on, and on, by
slow or swift stages, with little to eat perhaps, with much
labour and pain, in hot sun and in storm, to the Atlantic at
last, and towns inhabited by Christian men.

In the evening of that day, after completing my preparations, I
supped on the remaining portions of the sloth, not suitable for
preservation, roasting bits of fat on the coals and boiling the
head and bones into a broth; and after swallowing the liquid I
crunched the bones and sucked the marrow, feeding like some
hungry carnivorous animal.

Glancing at the fragments scattered on the floor, I remembered
old Nuflo, and how I had surprised him at his feast of rank
coatimundi in his secret retreat. "Nuflo, old neighbour," said
I, "how quiet you are under your green coverlet, spangled just
now with yellow flowers! It is no sham sleep, old man, I know.
If any suspicion of these curious doings, this feast of flesh on
a spot once sacred, could flit like a small moth into your mouldy
hollow skull you would soon thrust out your old nose to sniff the
savour of roasting fat once more."

There was in me at that moment an inclination to laughter; it
came to nothing, but affected me strangely, like an impulse I had
not experienced since boyhood--familiar, yet novel. After the
good-night to my neighbour, I tumbled into my straw and slept
soundly, animal-like. No fancies and phantoms that night: the
lidless, white, implacable eyes of the serpent's severed head
were turned to dust at last; no sudden dream-glare lighted up old
Cla-cla's wrinkled dead face and white, blood-dabbled locks; old
Nuflo stayed beneath his green coverlet; nor did my mournful
spirit-bride come to me to make my heart faint at the thought of

But when morning dawned again, it was bitter to rise up and go
away for ever from that spot where I had often talked with
Rima--the true and the visionary. The sky was cloudless and the
forest wet as if rain had fallen; it was only a heavy dew, and it
made the foliage look pale and hoary in the early light. And the
light grew, and a whispering wind sprung as I walked through the
wood; and the fast-evaporating moisture was like a bloom on the
feathery fronds and grass and rank herbage; but on the higher
foliage it was like a faint iridescent mist--a glory above the
trees. The everlasting beauty and freshness of nature was over
all again, as I had so often seen it with joy and adoration
before grief and dreadful passions had dimmed my vision. And now
as I walked, murmuring my last farewell, my eyes grew dim again
with the tears that gathered to them.


Before that well-nigh hopeless journey to the coast was half over
I became ill--so ill that anyone who had looked on me might well
have imagined that I had come to the end of my pilgrimage. That
was what I feared. For days I remained sunk in the deepest
despondence; then, in a happy moment, I remembered how, after
being bitten by the serpent, when death had seemed near and
inevitable, I had madly rushed away through the forest in search
of help, and wandered lost for hours in the storm and darkness,
and in the end escaped death, probably by means of these frantic
exertions. The recollection served to inspire me with a new
desperate courage. Bidding good-bye to the Indian village where
the fever had smitten me, I set out once more on that apparently
hopeless adventure. Hopeless, indeed, it seemed to one in my
weak condition. My legs trembled under me when I walked, while
hot sun and pelting rain were like flame and stinging ice to my
morbidly sensitive skin.

For many days my sufferings were excessive, so that I often
wished myself back in that milder purgatory of the forest, from
which I had been so anxious to escape. When I try to retrace my
route on the map, there occurs a break here--a space on the chart
where names of rivers and mountains call up no image to my mind,
although, in a few cases, they were names I seem to have heard in
a troubled dream. The impressions of nature received during that
sick period are blurred, or else so coloured and exaggerated by
perpetual torturing anxiety, mixed with half-delirious
night-fancies, that I can only think of that country as an
earthly inferno, where I fought against every imaginable
obstacle, alternately sweating and freezing, toiling as no man
ever toiled before. Hot and cold, cold and hot, and no medium.
Crystal waters; green shadows under coverture of broad, moist
leaves; and night with dewy fanning winds--these chilled but did
not refresh me; a region in which there was no sweet and pleasant
thing; where even the ita palm and mountain glory and airy
epiphyte starring the woodland twilight with pendent blossoms had
lost all grace and beauty; where all brilliant colours in earth
and heaven were like the unmitigated sun that blinded my sight
and burnt my brain. Doubtless I met with help from the natives,
otherwise I do not see how I could have continued my journey; yet
in my dim mental picture of that period I see myself incessantly
dogged by hostile savages. They flit like ghosts through the
dark forest; they surround me and cut off all retreat, until I
burst through them, escaping out of their very hands, to fly over
some wide, naked savannah, hearing their shrill, pursuing yells
behind me, and feeling the sting of their poisoned arrows in my

This I set down to the workings of remorse in a disordered mind
and to clouds of venomous insects perpetually shrilling in my
ears and stabbing me with their small, fiery needles.

Not only was I pursued by phantom savages and pierced by phantom
arrows, but the creations of the Indian imagination had now
become as real to me as anything in nature. I was persecuted by
that superhuman man-eating monster supposed to be the guardian of
the forest. In dark, silent places he is lying in wait for me:
hearing my slow, uncertain footsteps he starts up suddenly in my
path, outyelling the bearded aguaratos in the trees; and I stand
paralysed, my blood curdled in my veins. His huge, hairy arms
are round me; his foul, hot breath is on my skin; he will tear my
liver out with his great green teeth to satisfy his raging
hunger. Ah, no, he cannot harm me! For every ravening beast,
every cold-blooded, venomous thing, and even the frightful
Curupita, half brute and half devil, that shared the forest with
her, loved and worshipped Rima, and that mournful burden I
carried, her ashes, was a talisman to save me. He has left me,
the semi-human monster, uttering such wild, lamentable cries as
he hurries away into the deeper, darker woods that horror changes
to grief, and I, too, lament Rima for the first time: a memory of
all the mystic, unimaginable grace and loveliness and joy that
had vanished smites on my heart with such sudden, intense pain
that I cast myself prone on the earth and weep tears that are
like drops of blood.

Where in the rude savage heart of Guiana was this region where
the natural obstacles and pain and hunger and thirst and
everlasting weariness were terrible enough without the imaginary
monsters and legions of phantoms that peopled it, I cannot say.
Nor can I conjecture how far I strayed north or south from my
course. I only know that marshes that were like Sloughs of
Despond, and barren and wet savannahs, were crossed; and forests
that seemed infinite in extent and never to be got through; and
scores of rivers that boiled round the sharp rocks, threatening
to submerge or dash in pieces the frail bark canoe--black and
frightful to look on as rivers in hell; and nameless mountain
after mountain to be toiled round or toiled over. I may have
seen Roraima during that mentally clouded period. I vaguely
remember a far-extending gigantic wall of stone that seemed to
bar all further progress--a rocky precipice rising to a
stupendous height, seen by moonlight, with a huge sinuous rope of
white mist suspended from its summit; as if the guardian camoodi
of the mountain had been a league-long spectral serpent which was
now dropping its coils from the mighty stone table to frighten
away the rash intruder.

That spectral moonlight camoodi was one of many serpent fancies
that troubled me. There was another, surpassing them all, which
attended me many days. When the sun grew hot overhead and the
way was over open savannah country, I would see something moving
on the ground at my side and always keeping abreast of me. A
small snake, one or two feet long. No, not a small snake, but a
sinuous mark in the pattern on a huge serpent's head, five or six
yards long, always moving deliberately at my side. If a cloud
came over the sun, or a fresh breeze sprang up, gradually the
outline of that awful head would fade and the well-defined
pattern would resolve itself into the motlings on the earth. But
if the sun grew more and more hot and dazzling as the day
progressed, then the tremendous ophidian head would become
increasingly real to my sight, with glistening scales and
symmetrical markings; and I would walk carefully not to stumble
against or touch it; and when I cast my eyes behind me I could
see no end to its great coils extending across the savannah.
Even looking back from the summit of a high hill I could see it
stretching leagues and leagues away through forests and rivers,
across wide plains, valleys and mountains, to lose itself at last
in the infinite blue distance.

How or when this monster left me--washed away by cold rains
perhaps--I do not know. Probably it only transformed itself into
some new shape, its long coils perhaps changing into those
endless processions and multitudes of pale-faced people I seem to
remember having encountered. In my devious wanderings I must
have reached the shores of the undiscovered great White Lake, and
passed through the long shining streets of Manoa, the mysterious
city in the wilderness. I see myself there, the wide
thoroughfare filled from end to end with people gaily dressed as
if for some high festival, all drawing aside to let the wretched
pilgrim pass, staring at his fever- and famine-wasted figure, in
its strange rags, with its strange burden.

A new Ahasuerus, cursed by inexpiable crime, yet sustained by a
great purpose.

But Ahasuerus prayed ever for death to come to him and ran to
meet it, while I fought against it with all my little strength.
Only at intervals, when the shadows seemed to lift and give me
relief, would I pray to Death to spare me yet a little longer;
but when the shadows darkened again and hope seemed almost
quenched in utter gloom, then I would curse it and defy its
power. Through it all I clung to the belief that my will would
conquer, that it would enable me to keep off the great enemy from
my worn and suffering body until the wished goal was reached;
then only would I cease to fight and let death have its way.
There would have been comfort in this belief had it not been for
that fevered imagination which corrupted everything that touched
me and gave it some new hateful character. For soon enough this
conviction that the will would triumph grew to something
monstrous, a parent of monstrous fancies. Worst of all, when I
felt no actual pain, but only unutterable weariness of body and
soul, when feet and legs were numb so that I knew not whether I
trod on dry hot rock or in slime, was the fancy that I was
already dead, so far as the body was concerned--had perhaps been
dead for days--that only the unconquerable will survived to
compel the dead flesh to do its work.

Whether it really was will--more potent than the bark of barks
and wiser than the physicians--or merely the vis medicatrix with
which nature helps our weakness even when the will is suspended,
that saved me I cannot say; but it is certain that I gradually
recovered health, physical and mental, and finally reached the
coast comparatively well, although my mind was still in a gloomy,
desponding state when I first walked the streets of Georgetown,
in rags, half-starved and penniless.

But even when well, long after the discovery that my flesh was
not only alive, but that it was of an exceedingly tough quality,
the idea born during the darkest period of my pilgrimage, that
die I must, persisted in my mind. I had lived through that which
would have killed most men--lived only to accomplish the one
remaining purpose of my life. Now it was accomplished; the
sacred ashes brought so far, with such infinite labour, through
so many and such great perils, were safe and would mix with mine
at last. There was nothing more in life to make me love it or
keep me prisoner in its weary chains. This prospect of near
death faded in time; love of life returned, and the earth had
recovered its everlasting freshness and beauty; only that feeling
about Rima's ashes did not fade or change, and is as strong now
as it was then. Say that it is morbid--call it superstition if
you like; but there it is, the most powerful motive I have known,
always in all things to be taken into account--a philosophy of
life to be made to fit it. Or take it as a symbol, since that
may come to be one with the thing symbolized. In those darkest
days in the forest I had her as a visitor--a Rima of the mind,
whose words when she spoke reflected my despair. Yet even then I
was not entirely without hope. Heaven itself, she said, could
not undo that which I had done; and she also said that if I
forgave myself, Heaven would say no word, nor would she. That is
my philosophy still: prayers, austerities, good works--they avail
nothing, and there is no intercession, and outside of the soul
there is no forgiveness in heaven or earth for sin. Nevertheless
there is a way, which every soul can find out for itself--even
the most rebellious, the most darkened with crime and tormented
by remorse. In that way I have walked; and, self-forgiven and
self-absolved, I know that if she were to return once more and
appear to me--even here where her ashes are--I know that her
divine eyes would no longer refuse to look into mine, since the
sorrow which seemed eternal and would have slain me to see would
not now be in them.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest