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- Their Mariposa Legend - 2/12 -
The third man spoke. He was smaller than the other two and darker, with a sly look about his eyes and mouth in strong contrast to the bluff frankness of his comrades. So far he had appeared content to listen in amused silence, but now with a short laugh he interrupted.
"The Apache did not lie. This is the island Santa Catalina, though that, mark you, is not the Indian name. And right well can the chief who rules here direct our captain also to the goldfields of the north. But hearkee, comrades. 'Tis not Drake will reap the profits this time!" He lowered his voice mysteriously as though fearful of being overheard, albeit nothing was nearer than his two companions and the clear, green stretch of water. "Have ye not observed the boy who travels with the captain? - the boy I serve, - the one they call Sir Harry? To my mind, cub though he be, 'tis he who rules the ship. Hast never noticed how the great Drake himself bends to his slightest wish?"
"Aye, marry, that have I! And who, then, is he, think'st thou?" inquired the man who had spoken first.
"Some close kin to the queen, - that much I know," the other answered quickly, "the heir to some great dukedom, mayhap, in disguise to see the world and make a fortune. 'Tis his desire we land, so much he told me, and 'tis to learn more than directions, my hearties, and that I'll warrant ye! But, look ye, the water grows too shallow! We can use the oars no longer."
And even as he spoke the boat grated upon the pebbles. An incoming breaker would have carried it ashore, but before the sailors could take advantage of this help or even so much as ship their oars, half a dozen swarthy youths had waded out and, with shouts and gestures, whether of welcome or hostility the Englishmen had no means of knowing, pushed it high upon the beach. At once, then, for well they realized the danger of delay, and with a stolid courage born of many a like adventure, the seamen leaped fearlessly out upon the sand. In their hands they held aloft bolts of brightly colored cloth snatched on the instant from the bottom of the boat. These they offered for the wondering inspection of the women who, observing the small number of invaders, were cautiously returning. To the warriors grouped about the chief they proffered knives of which the steel blades, set in strong handles of bone, glistened in the sun. Eagerly, yet with a certain unexpected formality, the men accepted these, passing them for examination from one to another with many a grunt of satisfaction. To be sure, no brave among them but might the next moment decide to try out the merits of his gift upon the bestower, but this danger the adventurers had to risk. More timidly the women, their eyes fixed wistfully upon the gaudy red and yellow cloth, approached the strangers, offering in their turn bits of abalone shell polished to iridescent beauty.
They seemed in truth a gentle, friendly people, so much so that at length the sailors, deeming it safe to undertake the second part of their errand, began to plead for water and to request, besides, an interview between their captain and the chief. All this by means of signs in which they displayed no little wit and skill, the Englishmen accomplished until, well on toward the middle of the morning, they made ready to return to the ship, the casks they had brought brimming with sweet mountain water, while with them they bore as well the promise of an interview of state between the great chief Torquam and Sir Francis Drake, to take place upon the beach at sunset.
And then at once the little village of Toyobet seethed again with excitement. For these good paleface friends and their god-like commander a fitting welcome must be prepared. Fleet-footed messengers, bearing flaming torches, sped in hot haste along the mountain trails that all who saw might know without words spoken of the assembling of the tribe. To the distant village at the isthmus they hurried, and to the cove on the western coast, some twenty miles away, to which a band of warriors had gone several days before to hunt the otter. That no one among his people might remain in ignorance of his command, Torquam even caused signal fires to be kindled on each of the twin peaks, extinct volcanoes, near the center of the island. Smoke rising there was visible from every corner of his land, and woe to any subject who dared to disregard that warning!
Throughout the long bright day the women toiled, preparing a ceremonial feast. Three antelope, a deer, and half a dozen of the wild sheep which roamed the hills were killed and placed for roasting over deep pits dug in the sand. Nor did any member of the tribe forget in his own crude fashion to deck himself for the occasion. The warriors adorned their heads with feathers and daubed their cheeks and lips with ochre. The women clothed themselves in loose-hanging tunics of doeskin girt with strings of wampum, and hung about their tawny shoulders the lovely greens and blues of uncut turquoise. Meanwhile, also, the great chief Torquam donned his ceremonial dress, a string of eagle feathers held by the crimsoned quills of the porcupine and extending down his back until almost it touched the ground. About his neck, as token of his priesthood, he threw the bear-claw necklace, known far and wide among the tribes for its famous powers of healing. Wildenai alone made no change except to bind the satin black of her hair still more smoothly within a fillet of silver. In the center of the band, so that it rested just above her brow, a strange device appeared, a circle enclosing many rays, - the royal insignia of the tribe which only the daughter of the chief might wear.
Then at last when, in the sunset, level rays of light rested golden on the bay and turned to amethyst the distant mountains on the mainland, all was ready. Once again, this time to the weird music of tom-toms and the beating of drums, a boat was lowered from the ship while on the shore the Indians watched.
It was in truth a picture not soon to be forgotten. Behind the mirrored Bay of Moons, its crescent of sand gleaming white against the rocks, the bands of dusky men and women stood motionless as statues in the quiet light of the setting sun, while in the doorway of his lodge, his daughter close beside him, Torquam waited with simple dignity to receive his guests, the fair-skinned strangers.
At length along the beach advanced the little group of English, friends and fellow adventurers with the most renowned of all their great queen's buccaneers. Beside Sir Francis himself marched young Harold of Wessex, little more than a boy in years, yet dreaded and feared in his own land even then - a possible heir to Elizabeth's throne. Some short distance in front of these two, standard bearers carried the flags of Merry England, each glorious with fringes and tassels of gold. Well might such banners dazzle the eyes and wits of simple savages.
Yet, possibly, for all that, had it not been for the lengthy ceremonial of the peace-pipe, Wildenai could not have taken time to observe so closely, in stolen glances from beneath her long black lashes, the splendor of the young noble standing proudly erect beside his captain; nor could he have stared so often, with no attempt to hide his admiration, at the dark beauty of the princess.
Perhaps, too, if fate had not contrived to place them side by side at the feast which followed, young Harold might never have discovered that an Indian girl, however beautiful, possessed the wit to learn a foreign language. Yet it was certainly Spanish and that well spoken in which, at length, she softly asked of her father a question intended obviously for himself.
Under cover of one of the Indian dances with which, from time to time, the feast was enlivened, he leaned impulsively toward her.
"Can'st speak the Spanish tongue?" he hastily inquired.
The princess dropped her eyes. For a moment she remained silent as if debating to what extent such boldness might involve her. Then, with a glance as shy as if some deer gazed at him startled from the thicket,
"Yes, mon senor," she answered simply. "I learned it when Don Cabrillo came to Punagwandah many moons ago."
After that it was only that one thing led to another, as was sometimes true of men and maidens even in the days so long gone by. For, as if by common consent, then, they drew a little apart from the rest, where, throwing himself on the sand beside her while the firelight threw flickering shadows among the rocks, the young man related fragments of his story, - of the long journey across the sea, something of his home in England, and of the brilliant court of the great queen wherein he had served as gentleman-in-waiting. So had he served, yet soon, but here her guest had suddenly flushed and paused as though he spoke too hastily or of what he should not. To all of it the princess listened with fast-beating heart and a desire, ever growing, to make herself a place in this splendid stranger's world. Was not she then, also, the daughter of a king? Yet how different and how unimportant beside that wonderful woman of whom he spoke! For father she boasted the great chief Torquam, feared by every tribe in the north and rich because of the gold hidden in many a canyon among the distant mountains; yet her woman's instinct told her that to this proud Englishman her people were at best little more than a curiosity, almost, indeed, a cause for laughter.
When at last the feast was finished, Torquam rose, and removing with slow solemnity his crest of eagle feathers, he placed it upon the head of Sir Francis, a seal of everlasting friendship. With difficulty young Harold suppressed a smile. But the older man, as well aware of what the situation demanded as he was keenly alive to its danger, received the attention with a gravity fully equal to that of his host. Indeed, he went still further.
"Most gracious hast thou been, oh Torquam, all wise chief of the Mariposa," he began in carefully chosen Spanish, "nor shall thy kingly gift remain unrequited. Listen, oh Torquam! On yonder vessel I carry steeds like those of which I told you. For a journey over the mountains of the north we have brought them. One there is, swifter of foot than all the rest. Him will I cause my men to lower into the boat and bring to you after our return tonight."
In silence Torquam inclined his head. Nothing could have pleased him more. He would be the first then, of all his tribe to own one of those strange yet wondrous creatures never before seen in his world until the Spanish landed! Yet only the eager gleam in his eyes betrayed his pleasure. But Harold of Wessex stared at his captain in blank astonishment, for the gift he had just bestowed with such apparent carelessness was the most valuable bit of cargo in the ship, a costly Arabian horse intended for the young noble's own special comfort and convenience during the search for gold on which they were bound. Was Drake gone suddenly mad, then, thus to throw away, and that without permission, his choicest property on a mere savage? Hot with resentment he was about to interfere; but before he could obey the rash impulse his better judgment prevailed, and just in time he remembered how, on several other such occasions, his very life had been saved by some swift expedient of Drake's and his tact in handling the natives.
Slowly Sir Francis continued, and now one watching intently might have sensed from the gleam in his eyes that he had reached the real point in the interview.
"One question, nevertheless, would I ask of all-wise Torquam before we part." He hesitated, searching the impassive face of the Indian. "Can'st
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