THE LOVES OF VERVA AND WHY-WHY.
No man, however intrepid, can offend with impunity the most sacred laws of society. Why-Why proved no exception to this rule. His decline and fall date, we may almost say, from the hour when he bought a fair-haired, blue-eyed female child from a member of a tribe that had wandered out of the far north. The tribe were about to cook poor little Verva because her mother was dead, and she seemed a bouche inutile. For the price of a pair of shell fish-hooks, a bone dagger, and a bundle of grass-string Why-Why (who had a tender heart) ransomed the child. In the cave she lived an unhappy life, as the other children maltreated and tortured her in the manner peculiar to pitiless infancy.
Such protection as a man can give to a child the unlucky little girl received from Why-Why. The cave people, like most savages, made it a rule never to punish their children. Why-Why got into many quarrels because he would occasionally box the ears of the mischievous imps who tormented poor Verva, the fair-haired and blue-eyed captive from the north. There grew up a kind of friendship between Why-Why and the child. She would follow him with dog-like fidelity and with a stealthy tread when he hunted the red deer in the forests of the Alpine Maritimes. She wove for him a belt of shells, strung on stout fibres of grass. In this belt Why-Why would attend the tribal corroborees, where, as has been said, he was inclined to “sit out” with Verva and watch, rather than join in the grotesque dance performed as worship to the Bear.
As Verva grew older and ceased to be persecuted by the children, she became beautiful in the unadorned manner of that early time. Her friendship with Why-Why began to embarrass the girl, and our hero himself felt a quite unusual shyness when he encountered the captive girl among the pines on the hillside. Both these untutored hearts were strangely stirred, and neither Why-Why nor Verva could imagine wherefore they turned pale or blushed when they met, or even when either heard the other’s voice. If Why-Why had not distrusted and indeed detested the chief medicine-man, he would have sought that worthy’s professional advice. But he kept his symptoms to himself, and Verva also pined in secret.
These artless persons were in love without knowing it.
It is not surprising that they did not understand the nature of their complaint, for probably before Why-Why no one had ever been in love. Courtship had consisted in knocking a casual girl on the head in the dark, and the only marriage ceremony had been that of capture. Affection on the side of the bride was out of the question, for, as we have remarked, she was never allowed so much as to see her husband’s face. Probably the institution of falling in love has been evolved in, and has spread from, various early centres of human existence. Among the primitive Ligurian races, however, Why-Why and Verva must be held the inventors, and, alas! the protomartyrs of the passion. Love, like murder, “will out,” and events revealed to Why-Why and Verva the true nature of their sentiments.