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The Story Of The Yara

from The Brown Fairy Book





Down in the south, where the sun shines so hotly that everything and
everybody sleeps all day, and even the great forests seem silent, except
early in the morning and late in the evening--down in this country there
once lived a young man and a maiden. The girl had been born in the town,
and had scarcely ever left it; but the young man was a native of another
country, and had only come to the city near the great river because he
could find no work to do where he was.

A few months after his arrival, when the days were cooler, and the
people did not sleep so much as usual, a great feast was held a little
way out of the town, and to this feast everyone flocked from thirty
miles and more. Some walked and some rode, some came in beautiful golden
coaches; but all had on splendid dresses of red or blue, while wreaths
of flowers rested on their hair.

It was the first time that the youth had been present on such an
occasion, and he stood silently aside watching the graceful dances
and the pretty games played by the young people. And as he watched,
he noticed one girl, dressed in white with scarlet pomegranates in her
hair, who seemed to him lovelier than all the rest.

When the feast was over, and the young man returned home, his manner was
so strange that it drew the attention of all his friends.

Through his work next day the youth continued to see the girl's face,
throwing the ball to her companions, or threading her way between them
as she danced. At night sleep fled from him, and after tossing for
hours on his bed, he would get up and plunge into a deep pool that lay a
little way in the forest.

This state of things went on for some weeks, then at last chance
favoured him. One evening, as he was passing near the house where she
lived, he saw her standing with her back to the wall, trying to beat off
with her fan the attacks of a savage dog that was leaping at her throat.
Alonzo, for such was his name, sprang forward, and with one blow of
his fist stretched the creature dead upon the road. He then helped the
frightened and half-fainting girl into the large cool verandah where her
parents were sitting, and from that hour he was a welcome guest in the
house, and it was not long before he was the promised husband of Julia.

Every day, when his work was done, he used to go up to the house,
half hidden among flowering plants and brilliant creepers, where
humming-birds darted from bush to bush, and parrots of all colours, red
and green and grey, shrieked in chorus. There he would find the maiden
waiting for him, and they would spend an hour or two under the stars,
which looked so large and bright that you felt as if you could almost
touch them.

'What did you do last night after you went home?' suddenly asked the
girl one evening.

'Just the same as I always do,' answered he. 'It was too hot to sleep,
so it was no use going to bed, and I walked straight of to the forest
and bathed in one of those deep dark pools at the edge of the river. I
have been there constantly for several months, but last night a strange
thing happened. I was taking my last plunge, when I heard--sometimes
from one side, and sometimes from another--the sound of a voice singing
more sweetly than any nightingale, though I could not catch any words. I
left the pool, and, dressing myself as fast as I could, I searched
every bush and tree round the water, as I fancied that perhaps it was my
friend who was playing a trick on me, but there was not a creature to be
seen; and when I reached home I found my friend fast asleep.'

As Julia listened her face grew deadly white, and her whole body
shivered as if with cold. From her childhood she had heard stories of
the terrible beings that lived in the forests and were hidden under
the banks of the rivers, and could only be kept off by powerful charms.
Could the voice which had bewitched Alonzo have come from one of these?
Perhaps, who knows, it might be the voice of the dreaded Yara herself,
who sought young men on the eve of their marriage as her prey.

For a moment the girl sat choked with fear, as these thoughts rushed
through her; then she said: 'Alonzo, will you promise something?'

'What is that?' asked he.

'It is something that has to do with our future happiness.'

'Oh! it is serious, then? Well, of course I promise. Now tell me!'

'I want you to promise,' she answered, lowering her voice to a whisper,
'never to bathe in those pools again.'

'But why not, queen of my soul; have I not gone there always, and
nothing has harmed me, flower of my heart?'

'No; but perhaps something will. If you will not promise I shall go mad
with fright. Promise me.'

'Why, what is the matter? You look so pale! Tell me why you are so
frightened?'

'Did you not hear the song?' she asked, trembling.

'Suppose I did, how could that hurt me? It was the loveliest song I ever
heard!'

'Yes, and after the song will come the apparition; and after that--
after that--'

'I don't understand. Well--after that?'

'After that--death.'

Alonzo stared at her. Had she really gone mad? Such talk was very unlike
Julia; but before he could collect his senses the girl spoke again:

'That is the reason why I implore you never to go there again; at any
rate till after we are married.'

'And what difference will our marriage make?'

'Oh, there will be no danger then; you can go to bathe as often as you
like!'

'But tell me why you are so afraid?'

'Because the voice you heard--I know you will laugh, but it is quite
true--it was the voice of the Yara.'

At these words Alonzo burst into a shout of laughter; but it sounded
so harsh and loud that Julia shrank away shuddering. It seemed as if he
could not stop himself, and the more he laughed the paler the poor girl
became, murmuring to herself as she watched him:

'Oh, heaven! you have seen her! you have seen her! what shall I do?'

Faint as was her whisper, it reached the ears of Alonzo, who, though he
still could not speak for laughing, shook his head.

'You may not know it, but it is true. Nobody who has not seen the
Yara laughs like that.' And Julia flung herself on the ground weeping
bitterly.

At this sight Alonzo became suddenly grave, and kneeling by her side,
gently raised her up.

'Do not cry so, my angel,' he said, 'I will promise anything you please.
Only let me see you smile again.'

With a great effort Julia checked her sobs, and rose to her feet.

'Thank you,' she answered. 'My heart grows lighter as you say that! I
know you will try to keep your word and to stay away from the forest.
But--the power of the Yara is very strong, and the sound of her voice is
apt to make men forget everything else in the world. Oh, I have seen it,
and more than one betrothed maiden lives alone, broken-hearted. If ever
you should return to the pool where you first heard the voice, promise
me that you will at least take this with you.' And opening a curiously
carved box, she took out a sea-shell shot with many colours, and sang a
song softly into it. 'The moment you hear the Yara's voice,' said she,
'put this to your ear, and you will hear my song instead. Perhaps--I do
not know for certain--but perhaps, I may be stronger than the Yara.'

It was late that night when Alonzo returned home. The moon was shining
on the distant river, which looked cool and inviting, and the trees of
the forest seemed to stretch out their arms and beckon him near. But the
young man steadily turned his face in the other direction, and went home
to bed.

The struggle had been hard, but Alonzo had his reward next day in the
joy and relief with which Julia greeted him. He assured her that having
overcome the temptation once the danger was now over; but she, knowing
better than he did the magic of the Yara's face and voice, did not fail
to make him repeat his promise when he went away.

For three nights Alonzo kept his word, not because he believed in the
Yara, for he thought that the tales about her were all nonsense, but
because he could not bear the tears with which he knew that Julia would
greet him, if he confessed that he had returned to the forest. But, in
spite of this, the song rang in his ears, and daily grew louder.

On the fourth night the attraction of the forest grew so strong that
neither the thought of Julia nor the promises he had made her could hold
him back. At eleven o'clock he plunged into the cool darkness of the
trees, and took the path that led straight to the river. Yet, for the
first time, he found that Julia's warnings, though he had laughed at her
at the moment, had remained in his memory, and he glanced at the bushes
with a certain sense of fear which was quite new to him.

When he reached the river he paused and looked round for a moment to
make sure that the strange feeling of some one watching him was fancy,
and he was really alone. But the moon shone brightly on every tree, and
nothing was to be seen but his own shadow; nothing was to be heard but
the sound of the rippling stream.

He threw off his clothes, and was just about to dive in headlong, when
something--he did not know what--suddenly caused him to look round. At
the same instant the moon passed from behind a cloud, and its rays fell
on a beautiful golden-haired woman standing half hidden by the ferns.

With one bound he caught up his mantle, and rushed headlong down the
path he had come, fearing at each step to feel a hand laid on his
shoulder. It was not till he had left the last trees behind him, and
was standing in the open plain, that he dared to look round, and then
he thought a figure in white was still standing there waving her arms
to and fro. This was enough; he ran along the road harder than ever, and
never paused till he was save in his own room.

With the earliest rays of dawn he went back to the forest to see whether
he could find any traces of the Yara, but though he searched every clump
of bushes, and looked up every tree, everything was empty, and the only
voices he heard were those of parrots, which are so ugly that they only
drive people away.

'I think I must be mad,' he said to himself, 'and have dreamt all that
folly'; and going back to the city he began his daily work. But either
that was harder than usual, or he must be ill, for he could not fix his
mind upon it, and everybody he came across during the day inquired if
anything had happened to give him that white, frightened look.

'I must be feverish,' he said to himself; 'after all, it is rather
dangerous to take a cold bath when one is feeling so hot.' Yet he knew,
while he said it, that he was counting the hours for night to come, that
he might return to the forest.

In the evening he went as usual to the creeper-covered house. But he
had better have stayed away, as his face was so pale and his manner so
strange, that the poor girl saw that something terrible had occurred.
Alonzo, however, refused to answer any of her questions, and all she
could get was a promise to hear everything the next day.

On pretence of a violent headache, he left Julia much earlier than usual
and hurried quickly home. Taking down a pistol, he loaded it and put it
in his belt, and a little before midnight he stole out on the tips of
his toes, so as to disturb nobody. Once outside he hastened down the
road which led to the forest.

He did not stop till he had reached the river pool, when holding the
pistol in his hand, he looked about him. At every little noise--the
falling of a leaf, the rustle of an animal in the bushes, the cry of a
night-bird--he sprang up and cocked his pistol in the direction of the
sound. But though the moon still shone he saw nothing, and by and by
a kind of dreamy state seemed to steal over him as he leant against a
tree.

How long he remained in this condition he could not have told, but
suddenly he awoke with a start, on hearing his name uttered softly.

'Who is that?' he cried, standing upright instantly; but only an echo
answered him. Then his eyes grew fascinated with the dark waters of the
pool close to his feet, and he looked at it as if he could never look
away.

He gazed steadily into the depths for some minutes, when he became aware
that down in the darkness was a bright spark, which got rapidly bigger
and brighter. Again that feeling of awful fear took possession of
him, and he tried to turn his eyes from the pool. But it was no use;
something stronger than himself compelled him to keep them there.

At last the waters parted softly, and floating on the surface he saw
the beautiful woman whom he had fled from only a few nights before. He
turned to run, but his feet were glued to the spot.

She smiled at him and held out her arms, but as she did so there came
over him the remembrance of Julia, as he had seen her a few hours
earlier, and her warnings and fears for the very danger in which he now
found himself.

Meanwhile the figure was always drawing nearer, nearer; but, with a
violent effort, Alonzo shook off his stupor, and taking aim at her
shoulder he pulled the trigger. The report awoke the sleeping echoes,
and was repeated all through the forest, but the figure smiled still,
and went on advancing. Again Alonzo fired, and a second time the bullet
whistled through the air, and the figure advanced nearer. A moment more,
and she would be at his side.

Then, his pistol being empty, he grasped the barrel with both hands, and
stood ready to use it as a club should the Yara approach and closer. But
now it seemed her turn to feel afraid, for she paused an instant while
he pressed forward, still holding the pistol above his head, prepared to
strike.

In his excitement he had forgotten the river, and it was not till the
cold water touched his feet that he stood still by instinct. The Yara
saw that he was wavering, and suffering herself to sway gently backwards
and forwards on the surface of the river, she began to sing. The song
floated through the trees, now far and now near; no one could tell
whence it came, the whole air seemed full of it. Alonzo felt his senses
going and his will failing. His arms dropped heavily to his side, but in
falling struck against the sea shell, which, as he had promised Julia,
he had always carried in his coat.

His dimmed mind was just clear enough to remember what she had said, and
with trembling fingers, that were almost powerless to grasp, he drew it
out. As he did so the song grew sweeter and more tender than before,
but he shut his ears to it and bent his head over the shell. Out of its
depths arose the voice of Julia singing to him as she had sung when she
gave him the shell, and though the notes sounded faint at first, they
swelled louder and louder till the mist which had gathered about him was
blown away.

Then he raised his head, feeling that he had been through strange
places, where he could never wander any more; and he held himself erect
and strong, and looked about him. Nothing was to be seen but the shining
of the river, and the dark shadows of the trees; nothing was to be heard
but the hum of the insects, as they darted through the night.





Next: The Cunning Hare

Previous: Father Grumbler



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