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- Their Mariposa Legend - 5/12 -


At length, standing quite still with folded arms, he seemed to lose himself in thought.

"Battling with the surf I did not see nor hear," he muttered at last. "But he could not sail without me!" he added. Fiercely he raised his head and his eyes flashed. "He dare not so betray me!"

Wildenai, too, had been considering.

"The great white captain knew, then, that you were not on board?" she asked suddenly.

"No," replied the young man reluctantly, "that did he not. I came without his knowledge. He would have prevented me," he continued stubbornly, "and I had promised thee a gift. Never did I break my word, nor would not then. But I did not dream it possible they could get away so soon! By our virgin lady in Heaven I swear I know not what to do." And once more he seemed lost in despair.

But only for a moment. Then he turned hastily to the entrance.

"I must follow them at once," he declared impatiently, "I can overtake them even yet."

Swift as lightning the girl threw herself between him and the opening in the cave.

"No, no, senor Englishman," she cried. "It is impossible! Listen, only listen to me! What have you, then, to steer by save the stars? And you see that, drowned in moonlight, they do not shine tonight. And, more than that, you do not even know what course the vessel takes. Remember, too, that there is neither food nor drink within your boat. You would surely die ere you could ever find the ship."

Gradually she compelled him to listen to reason until, seating himself again upon the skins, he challenged her still further.

"But what, then, shall I do?" he demanded. "Can'st also tell me that?"

And with equal readiness the princess replied:

"If you will but let me I can hide you here. The cavern is my own. Here for many a moon have I worked and waited. No one would dare to enter. You will be safe. Besides, my father's anger will grow cold in time, and then I know that, if I ask him, he will help you."

His chin propped upon his hands, the young nobleman moodily considered.

"Well, do then as thou deemest best," he told her finally.

And from that moment there began for the little princess a time so wonderful that for all the rest of her life she remembered each separate hour as though it had been some beautiful word in a poem learned by heart.

With deft fingers she piled her softest doeskins for his bed.

"But what wilt thou do, tell me, if I rob thee of thy nest?" he asked, watching her with amused eyes as she worked.

"I go always to the village to sleep," she answered simply, and so left him.

But in the morning while yet the red of sunrise burned above the great peak Orazaba, she returned, bearing upon her head an olla of carved stone filled with water from a mountain spring. This in smiling silence she set before him and disappeared. Within the hour, however, she was back again and this time, kneeling on the ground, she laid at his feet the ripe fruit of the manzanita tree, lying like small red apples, dewy fresh, upon a wild-grape leaf.

"Ala - ate, see! Are they not good?" she asked triumphantly.

And so from day to day she ministered to him. Many a time as he sat, listless and moody, within his hiding-place, a handful of wild strawberries, steeped in the warm sweetness of the hills, would be pushed beneath the leafy branches that concealed the door. Sometimes she brought him bread baked from a curious kind of meal made of pounded seeds.

Once, too, when a sudden storm had chilled the air, she kindled a fire for him within a smaller cave, receding like a fire-place into the rocky wall opposite the opening. It was a long and tedious process which the man watched curiously. First, kneeling on the ground, she rubbed together two dry willow sticks until a little pile of dust had gathered. Then, still stooping, she struck two flints together until at last a spark fell into the dust. Some dry leaves were dropped upon the tiny blaze, then twigs, and lo, a fire!

In spite of himself the Englishman smiled, though a softer feeling shown in his eyes. How beautiful and yet how childish she looked kneeling there with the anxious pucker between her brows. Poor little princess, how very hard she worked to serve him!

"It takes a long time, Wildenai," he observed, "dost thou try it often?"

"Never for myself," she answered gravely. "I have no need. But I do it gladly for you." She smiled brightly back at him, then rose and moved swiftly to the doorway. "Another thing I do for you today. Wait!"

And when she returned a few minutes later she brought with her, carefully wrapped in cool green leaves, a fish freshly caught that morning.

"A brook trout, on my word, such as I have often taken in the streams at home!" exclaimed Lord Harold, amazed.

"I got it far up the canyon before the sun was risen," she answered, delighted at his surprise.

This, having quickly dressed it, she wrapped again in leaves and placed under the hot ashes to bake, and it being, evidently, a feast out of the ordinary, a merry-making to which a third guest might be bidden, suddenly Wildenai left the cavern again to return this time with a tiny gray fox perched familiarly upon her shoulder.

"'Tis Onatoa, senor Englishman," she announced, gently stroking the bushy tail of the little creature as it lay about her neck.

But from his vantage point above his rival, Onatoa merely sniffed disdainfully with his sharp black nose. He looked far from friendly.

The princess laughed softly.

He does not know you yet," she defended her pet. "He will soon learn to love you, too."

"I will catch fish with thee next time thou goest," declared young Harold later as they ate together. "There's no reason I can see why I should stay mewed up forever in this cave. I fear not Indians! No, not even Torquam, thy father, himself."

For an instant Wildenai seemed alarmed. Then she laughed.

"You are afraid of nothing. I knew it!" she exclaimed with pride. "Nor would there be much danger. We will go to the other side of the island where the waves run high and the cliffs are tall and black. There will I show you the nests of the great eagles, and the antelope leaping among the rocks. And, - who can tell?" she laughed again with child-like pleasure, "perhaps we shall find a white otter!"

And, true to her word, he heard at dawn next day outside the cavern the whistle of a blackbird, a signal early contrived between them. She deemed it best, she explained, to start thus early that the darkness might conceal them until they had passed well beyond the outskirts of the village. But this danger overcome, they spent the whole day rambling fearlessly among the hills, - a long, idle, happy day. Up many a dim trail winding back into the canyons the princess led him. Through golden thickets of wild mustard they passed, coming, when he least expected it, upon glimpses of the summer sea framed between the branches of knarled old oak trees.

"They are low and crooked, and they spread themselves over the ground as do our English oaks," the young nobleman informed her.

As Wildenai had promised they discovered, poised high among the crags of the wild southern shore, the great eagles of which she had told him, measuring easily, from wing-tip to wing-tip, fully a dozen feet. The white otter, rarest and most valuable of all the game hunted by her people, eluded them, but many a small gray fox slipped away among the bushes, leaving the Englishman tingling for the chase.

At twilight, as they made their way back to the cavern, they came upon a tiny lake lying asleep within the crater of a dead volcano. From the sides little clouds of ashes rose, floating softly away on the breezes of evening. The princess gathered a handful and murmuring some musical words in her own tongue she threw them into the air.

"And would it be amiss for me to ask what 'tis you do?" questioned her companion, observing her closely.

"I was sending a prayer to Wakan-ate, the Great Spirit," she replied quietly.

"A prayer, - and borne to heaven on the wings of ashes!" He seemed amused. "But what hast thou to pray for, oh fair princess?"

Her cheeks glowing with quick color, she replied: "It were not fitting that any maiden tell for what she prays!"

The words were spoken with such gravity that the young man flushed under the rebuke.

When she left him at the doorway of the cavern that evening she said as she made a gay little gesture of farewell: "Today the land, but tomorrow we shall find still more beautiful things that lie hidden under the deep waters. You shall see!"

And once again with dawn she came. This time it was the splash of a paddle that brought him to the opening in the rock.

"Aloho-ate, lazy one!" she called gaily from below. "Make haste! The world is always loveliest while it lies waiting for the sun!"

That day, perhaps, from among them all, lived longest within the memory of young Harold, - the porpoises playing fearlessly around her canoe as the princess, with graceful, effortless strokes, paddled around one after another of the pointed tongues of rock; the flying fish, skimming the surface of the ocean until, by virtue of their speed alone, they rose like gleaming bows of silver from the foam. Intent to show him all


Their Mariposa Legend - 5/12

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