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- Their Mariposa Legend - 1/12 -
Their Mariposa Legend
A Romance of Santa Catalina
By Charlotte Herr
To Little Bruce Parker Who Loved Stories
Sir Francis Starts It
It began to happen a long time ago, centuries ago, when, in a fragrant rush of rain, spring came one day to Punagwandah, fairest of the Channel Islands. Beneath the golden mists of sunrise danced a radiant sea. On steeply sloping hillsides where thickets of wild lilac bloomed, the lark shook from his tiny throat a tumult of glad music. In shadowed niches of the canyons lilies waited to fill with light their gleaming ivory cups. Spring in very truth was there.
And looking down upon it from her cavern bower high above the beach, watched the Princess Wildenai. Kneeling there, the light of dawn shining on her long black hair, she was, herself, the sweetest blossom of the spring. Loveliest was she among all the maidens of the Mariposa and of royal blood besides; although of this the great chief Torquam, who even at that moment lay sleeping in his lodge of deerskin on the crescent beach below, knew more than he had ever told.
With eyes rapt, her breath scarcely stirring the folds of softest fawnskin drawn across her breast, the princess bent her gaze to where the waves ran silver on the ocean's distant rim. There she knew the sun must rise and, as the first dazzling ray sparkled across the water, she rose slowly until she stood erect, a slender, graceful figure against the dim, gray rocks, and stretching her arms toward the East, spoke in the musical words of her people.
"Oh, Waken-ate, great spirit-father," she pleaded, "have mercy on me. Grant to me, thy humble daughter, one only boon. Grant, I pray thee, that it need not be I wed with Torquam's friend, the pale-face stranger. Well knowest thou I would not disobey my father, him the bravest and most powerful of all thy warriors, him whom his people delight to honor, and whom I strive to please. All the more I feel my duty since, many moons ago, they laid my mother underneath the flowers. Yet, even so, I cannot find it in my heart to wed with Don Cabrillo, dearly as does my father wish it. Can'st thou not then, in thy great power, turn his heart, oh lord of spirits, that he no longer may desire it? Help me in this, my only trial, I pray thee, and in all else will I be indeed his loyal daughter, - in all else save alone in this one thing!"
Her arms fell. Slowly she sank again to her knees, bending her head until her forehead touched the ground. For many minutes she lay thus prostrate while the glory of the rising sun bathed the sea in splendor. Yet, when at last she rose, her eyes were dim with tears.
But now from the beach below there drifted up to her the sounds of a village astir. Shrill voices of women mingled with the crackling of freshly kindled fires. A canoe, pushed hastily into the water, grated harshly on the pebbles. Still the maiden did not stir. Leaning against the rocky ledge, her chin in her hands, she gazed listlessly out over the shining sea. If any interests lived for her among the dark-skinned people beneath the cliffs, for the moment at least she gave no sign.
Then, suddenly, above the ordinary din of the Indian village, rose the hoarse shouting of men. Wildenai lifted her eyes, - eyes that widened first with wonder, then with fear. For there, far down the shoreline to the south, her sails gleaming white against the walls of rock behind her as she rounded a distant point, a ship came slowly into view. With wildly beating heart the young girl watched the vessel tack to clear the long curve of the coast. But once before in all her life had she seen such another monster winged canoe, and that had been when Senor Don Cabrillo first cast anchor in the Bay of Moons below, now almost a year ago. For many a week had the young man lingered, renewing the friendship with the Mariposa cemented more than eighteen years before when his father, hindered by storms in his adventurous journey up the coast, cast anchor off the shore, - the first white man to see their island. Nor was the lingering without result. Torquam he taught to speak the Spanish tongue, learning in his turn safer and easier routes to the gold fields of the north, while not the least among the treasures carried with him when at last he sailed away did he hold the promise that the beautiful daughter of the chief should become his bride when next he touched upon that shore. Could this, then, be the Spaniard's fleet returning? Was the Great Spirit powerless, after all, to save her? In sore bewilderment and terror Wildenai watched the distant ship.
Nearer and nearer it came. But, as its outline grew each moment more distinct, gradually her fears departed. For this was not the clumsy Spanish galleon she remembered. The prow was not nearly so high, nor was the incoming vessel as large in any respect as had been that other. Yet, though fear died, wonder grew. What new variety of strangers, then, was about to visit them? For that the ship intended to anchor she was by this time sure. Steadily it bore on until within a scant half mile of the crescent shaped beach where lay the royal village of the tribe. At length, as if in fear to trust themselves closer to the rocky shore, the crew were seen to bring the vessel sharply about. An anchor was cast over, the creaking of the hawsers distinctly audible in the clear morning air, and a few moments later a small boat was lowered. Into this boat immediately several sailors swung themselves and after a short delay, amidst the shouting of the Indians, now running in wild excitement up and down the beach, the men picked up their oars and started for the land.
Up the stony trail leading to her cavern scrambled an Indian runner, a lithe youth who flung himself breathless at her feet.
"Thy father, oh princess, sends me to summon thee to his lodge. Strangers, - paleface strangers, - enemies, who can tell, are coming. See, - the ship!" With dark forefinger he pointed toward the sea. "Torquam would have thee hide with the rest of the women in the cave at the Great Rock. There Kathah-galwa wilt keep thee safe, he says. Make haste, oh Wildenai!"
"And am I not as safe up here?" returned the princess, calmly. "Be not so lost in thy terror, oh Norqua. I, too, have seen the ship and I fear not. Yet will I obey if so my father bids," she added quickly. "Go thou ahead. I follow." And hastily gathering together some reeds and colored grasses lying on the ledge, parts of an unfinished basket upon which, evidently, she had during some previous visit been at work, she flung them into a corner of the cavern and ran lightly down the narrow path leading to the village.
Here all by this time was tense excitement, the dramatic, ungoverned excitement of children. While with shrill cries two or three of the women gathered the little ones together, the rest pulled frantically at the poles holding each tepee in place. Still apparently quite unmoved, Wildenai sought first her father standing surprised but unafraid in the doorway of his lodge. Tall and spare and stern he looked, straight as some lonely pine on the slopes of distant San Jacinto. Yet even in the stress of such a moment a tender light stole into his eyes as they rested upon his motherless daughter.
Wildenai made obeisance and for a brief moment the two surveyed each other in silence. Then,
"It is well thou art come, my beloved one," spoke the chief. "Stranger pale-faces will soon be amongst us."
"Wildenai feels no fear, my father," quietly answered the girl.
"If they come in friendship," quickly Torquam replied, "then indeed may all be well. But the ship is not of the Senor's fleet, and if so be that we must fight, thou wert better hidden in the cave. We shall see."
Bending her head in mute acquiescence the girl moved away to join the group of women now almost ready to depart.
Meantime the vessel's long boat, driven onward by the stout arms of three strong sailors, steadily approached the bay.
"What think'st thou then, Rufus Broadmead, of this fool's errand to the savages?" inquired one of these, resting upon his oars for a moment that he might the better listen to the tumult on the shore. "Wot ye not that if water had been the only boon he craves the captain had fared much better on the mainland? Besides, did not I myself overhear the Apache only yesterday tell him of a certainty that the tribes over there were away on the warpath? But no, by the mass, here must we risk our precious scalps to row into the very teeth of the heathen, and that to humor the whim of as obstinate an Englishman as ever sailed aboard Her Majesty's fleets!" and without awaiting any reply he lowered his oars in disgust.
The others laughed.
"Hast been, then, so stupid, brother Giles, for all thy listening with thy big ears, as not to know 'tis Spanish treasure ever and naught else our captain seeks? Water, - pouf!" the speaker made a rough grimace, "water may well serve as an excuse, and what to bold Sir Francis were the lives of half a dozen seamen when booty for the queen lies in the balance? The Apache told him, too, - thou see'st thou hast not played the listening game alone, for, hiding behind the fo'castle door myself, I heard him say it, - that here lay that famous island, San - how is't they call it? San Catlina - I know not how 'tis spoken, - some Spanish lingo not fit for English tongues! At any rate 'twas here your Spanish robber, Don Cabrillo, and, for the matter of that, his precious son as well, stopped to seek direction ere they found the land of gold. The savage sware besides they were a gentle tribe, not given to war and murder like the rest. I hearkened well, forsooth, knowing past doubt I would be een one o' those chosen to try 'em out. The devil take the Apache an he lied," he added fiercely, "I'll break his head across till even he shrieks out for help when I get back!"
He paused to gaze fearfully at the stern cliffs now looming close at hand, beneath which the excited natives still ran back and forth, pointing with frantic gestures at the boat.
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