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- Their Mariposa Legend - 6/12 -
her treasures, Wildenai guided him to a quiet stretch of water lying close to shore within the shadow of tall cliffs which rose at that point with precipitous abruptness from the sea itself.
"Here are my gardens that grow under the water," she explained, as they glided above the spot. "Look well at them. They are most beautiful."
And gazing down at her command through the clear green into the luminous depths below, he caught glimpses of these gardens of the sea where goldfish darted like tropical birds among the branches of tall tree-like stalks of swaying seaweed, and strange shapes of jade and blue floated in the shadows.
"Is it not wonderful?" she asked.
"It is indeed, my Wildenai," he answered earnestly. "Never in all my travels, methinks, have I seen aught before like this your island here! It seems to me indeed a charmed land, a kind of magic isle!"
One day it rained, the last belated rain of winter. But even the storm brought pleasures of its own, for, seated on the pile of skins beside him, the little gray fox curled contentedly at her feet, Wildenai worked at her loom. Within its dull-colored warp a blanket, woven in a strange design of mingled red, and black, and white, grew slowly beneath her busy fingers.
For hours the maiden drew the short woolen threads in and out while the young man, stretched lazily upon the ground, told her many a tale of the England he had left. Then, quite without warning, she ceased her work and sat pensively watching through the opening in the rocks the long gray swell of the sea.
"And what is it now, my princess?" laughed young Harold. "The pattern is not yet finished, nor is the rain abated."
"Ah, senor Harold lord," wistfully replied the girl, "I was but wishing I had been born one of those same fair English maids with the eyes of blue and golden hair you tell about. Then would you love me even as you do them!" she added artlessly, and leaned her chin upon her hand, considering. A secret trembled on her lips.
"And how if I were Spanish born?" she questioned, and lifted hesitating, frightened eyes to his, "dark to look at, that I know well, but even so, the white man's kind of princess, who also has a throne?"
And all unwitting Lord Harold answered scornfully, "Spanish! Say no such word to me! The English hate the Spanish!" Fiercely he caught up a pebble and sent it whirling out across the water. "Even now their robber king plans his huge armada to take our queen and rule our land, but that, by the holy virgin herself, shall never be! Sooner will every drop of blood in bonny England be spilt. Never could I make thee understand how much I hope to be at home before he comes! Spanish indeed! Nay, never let me hear the hateful word again!"
Then, noting her puzzled, downcast face, with the impulsive changeableness which had so endeared him to her, he caught one little brown hand and raised it to his lips.
"But I do love thee even as thou art, my Wildenai," he told her with the careless assurance of one much older speaking to a child. "Is not a wild rose sweet as any garden bloom? Nay, methinks 'tis often sweeter!"
Again he laughed and the little princess laughed with him now, for into her heart at his words had come a happiness so unlooked for and so wildly sweet as wholly to bewilder her. Quickly she rose, struck by a sudden thought, and running to the farthermost corner of the cavern she brushed aside a pile of leaves and lifted some stones, disclosing at length a box fashioned from the choicest cedar. Out of it, while the Englishman watched with wondering eyes, she drew a garment made of creamy doeskin, deeply fringed and trimmed besides with strings of wampum, the polished fragments of abalone shells and many-colored beads. Silently she brought it to him and when he touched it admiringly, for the dress was beautiful. "It is my marriage robe," she told him gravely.
That night, while the rain tapped softly at her tepee, the princess dreamed of a wondrous land beyond the sea where proudly she walked by her white chief's side and fair women with braided, golden hair spoke kind words of welcome, smiling at her out of sweet blue eyes.
Then, without warning, came the end of all her dreams. Hurrying along the beach at sunset only a few days later, Wildenai caught the first glimpse of the returning vessel as it stole around a distant point. For the space of a second her heart stood still, then throbbed wildly, but whether with joy or pain she could not herself have told. One question only demanded all her thought. Should she let Lord Harold know? Perhaps the great white captain would not remember their bay. Perhaps, - her breath came fast, - perhaps the ship, unseen by anyone, would pass and Lord Harold remain behind content. With hands tight-clenched she watched the distant sail, fear growing in her eyes. Yet she knew that she would tell him. Nothing else was honorable. This, surely, he must decide for himself.
But tidings of such moment outran even her swift feet. She found him buckling on his swordbelt, in his eyes the glad light of some trapped bird which sees the door of its cage suddenly open.
"The ship - " she began with sinking heart.
"Yes, yes, I know! I saw it!" he answered, a fever of impatience in his voice. "'Tis Drake. I knew he dared not leave me! 'Twill soon be too close in. Needs not he risk his safety. I must go before he gains the shore."
The princess hesitated. What meant that strange heaviness at her heart? Was he not still her brave, true warrior, - her great white chief? Had he not told her that he loved her? Crossing to where he stood she bowed herself before him until her silver fillet touched his feet.
"I, too!" she whispered, "I shall go to England with thee!"
And at her words, within the little cavern there came a silence to be felt. In undisguised dismay the Englishman gazed at her where she knelt. Then:
"By the holyrood!" he muttered aghast, "She must have thought, - God only knows what she must have thought!"
He glanced hurriedly toward the doorway and back again, ashamed. Then even such impatience as was his gave way, for the moment at least, to something more chivalric. He stooped and patted awkwardly the smooth black head.
"Come, Wildenai, little wild rose, look up and speak to me. I must be going!"
But still the maid lay prostrate, clasping close his rough buskins in her little brown hands. Never in all his life had Lord Harold been so sorely uncomfortable. How was it possible she had ever imagined that he could take her with him, - that he had meant so much? Resentment grew within him at the thought, yet strangely mingled always with something far more tender. Hastily he considered, his heart torn between the desire not to wound her and dread of what he knew she wanted. To be sure the maid was beautiful, with the softened beauty of a moonlit night in summer, her eyes beneath her dusky hair like stars between the branches of dark trees, her voice that of the forest stream when it sings itself to sleep. Yet past all doubt he knew that not one among the gorgeous throng that crowded about Elizabeth would ever see that beauty, no English ear take heed to hear the music of her voice. Nay, he could even, as he thought of it, picture the amazement of the great queen, could hear her scornful laughter, should he present, to help adorn her court, a savage Indian girl! No, a thousand times no! Such disgrace he could not suffer. Nor was the maid herself, so he defended himself, fitted for such a life. Soon would she be as unhappy in England as he would be to have her there. Besides, she was but a child. Else had she never so far forgot all womanly dignity as to force herself upon him, and being but a child she would soon forget. Gently he made to raise her to her feet.
"Wildenai, little wild rose," he began again, "what thou hast asked of me thou dost well know thyself is an unheard of thing. Much as I owe to thee, and well know I that 'tis so much I never can repay it; still for thine own sweet sake 'tis not in this way thy reward must come. The long journey and the strange new life would kill thee, Wildenai." Having once begun he stumbled on, but half aware of how each word he uttered hurt her, eager only to have done with the whole sorry scene. "Thou art but a little wild flower. Thou couldst not live away from this, thy sunny island. Can'st thou not understand, my Wildenai?"
He paused, waiting for a reply; but the maiden answered nothing. Silent she lay as though in very truth she were a wild flower tossed to earth and trampled upon by some uncaring foot.
At last the man could bear it no longer. Forcibly he loosed her hands and stepped back. For a moment longer he lingered, looking down upon her in mingled impatience and regret; then, turning abruptly, he passed hastily out of the cavern and down the trail to the beach.
Still the girl lay motionless. It was as if every sense were stunned, all power of thought suspended except to grasp the one fact that made her whole world empty, - he was gone! As in a dream she heard the grating of the pebbles when he pushed his boat into the water, heard the clank of the oars as they dropped into the oar-locks. Even yet she did not move. Then, after many minutes, she crept to the opening and searched the sea with eyes almost, too dim with tears to find that for which she sought. But yes, there it was, - a black speck against the golden sunset. She watched until she had seen the distant vessel put about, making for the open sea. Ah, now she knew that he was safe aboard, - no need had they to come farther into shore. Yet still she waited, straining her eyes to see the ship sink slowly beneath the horizon. One last glint of sunlight against a white sail, and it was gone.
Then at once she rose, and moving quietly about the little cavern, she put all in perfect order with touch as tender as that of a mother preparing for its last sleep some little child. Here was the basket he had helped to weave, here the mat on which he had lain. Her fingers lingered caressingly on each thing that he had touched. There in the corner still stood the olla in which she had brought him water. How amused he had been that she could carry it on her head all the way up the hill from the spring without so much as spilling one drop! But that was all past now.
When at last everything was finished she gave the little rock-walled room one long, lingering look, the look of one who would carry in his heart the image of what he beholds all the rest of his life. Then she, too, made her way through the doorway into the deepening dusk.
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