Shyuote stands at the foot of the beam, gaping. His mother lies so still, she breathes so loudly. How well she must be sleeping! Why did they call him down at all? It would have been much nicer upstairs where there are Koshare to be seen. He knows well enough that sanaya is sick, but as long as she has such good rest she ought to feel well. A child is not afraid of a dying mother, and when she has breathed her last is convinced that she must be happy. To be well is compatible in the minds of children only with life. Death therefore appears to them as a step into a better and more beautiful existence. Children and fools tell the truth. The gleam of light which from dying Say is cast on her unruly son is but the rosy hue of a hopeful twilight.
The remaining occupants of the room stand with sad looks; they are all women but one, a middle-aged man. They do not feel the occasion except so far as there is a certain solemnity connected with it. Silent and grave, they watch a process going on whose real nature they cannot understand except as a momentous and appalling change. Change is only transformation, not annihilation.
Say Koitza has been lying thus for several days. The end is near at hand, and yet hours may elapse ere she dies. So still it is in the apartment that nobody dares even move. Rising and falling come the song and the noise of the dance from the outside, but they seem to halt at the little opening, as if an invisible medium would interpose itself, saying, "Stay out, for within there ripens a fruit for another and a better world."
Mitsha glides over to the young man with the dark, streaming hair and touches his arm lightly. He looks up and at her. It is Okoya,—Okoya, whom we believed to be dead, but who stands here by the side of his dying mother. He also looks emaciated and wan. After all the dangers and misery of a protracted flight this hour has come upon him. The eyes of the two meet; their looks express neither tenderness nor passion, but a perfect understanding that betokens a union which even death cannot destroy. It is that simple, natural attachment which forms the basis of Indian wedlock when the parties are congenial to each other.
That the two are one can be plainly seen. As yet no outward sanction has been given to their union; but they are tacitly regarded as belonging to each other, and no opposition is offered to an intimacy which lacks but the bond of marriage. Passion has little to do with that intimacy; the severe trials of the past have riveted them together on a higher plane.
Mitsha has made a sign to the young man. Both steal from the chamber noiselessly and climb to the roof. He goes first and she follows, as is customary among Indians. Once up there the dance attracts Okoya's attention for a moment. He has not seen anything of it as yet, for all day he has remained by his mother's side.
Shyuote improves the opportunity to slip out also. As he sees his brother and future sister-in-law go out, he follows. Why should he stay down any longer? His mother is well. She sleeps soundly and breathes so loud! She certainly is improving, and up there he can see Koshare. But he is careful not to let Mitsha see him; her positive ways are distasteful, so he creeps in among the spectators where her eyes cannot follow and soon has lost sight of everything in contemplation of the Koshare.
The appearance of Okoya and Mitsha on the roof attracts no attention. As long as the death-wail is not sounded, none but those of her clan have a right to be with the dying. Still one or other of the women casts an inquisitive glance at Mitsha; a slight shake of her head is sufficient answer to them. The young pair go to one side; he sits down on the parapet of the roof and she beside him. Their eyes follow the dance, but their thoughts are elsewhere. Okoya whispers at last, "Sanaya is dying."
Mitsha nods, and tears come to her eyes. Here she is not afraid to weep. Okoya continues,—
"I knew it would happen. Yonder"—he points at the mountains—"I heard the owl, and I knew it meant what is now coming upon us."
The girl shudders. She weeps no longer; dread scenes of the past are looming up before her mind.
"In the kote," says she, "it was very bad. Do you remember over on the other side of the great river on the mesa, from which one can see so very far, almost over where we are now?"
"Not as far as that," replied Okoya, in a quiet tone, "but far enough. You are right, makatza; on the mesa we suffered much; there the Moshome did us a great deal of harm. If it had not been for you we should not be here."
"For me?" Mitsha asked in surprise.
"Yes, you. You saved me, saved the yaya, saved Shyuote from the fierce shuatyam! Yes, surely," he continued as the girl shook her head incredulously. "Do you remember, sa uishe, when one Moshome was holding my hands while another struck at me with his club? You took a big stone and hit him so that he fell and I could kill the other. Afterward you took the bow away from the dead Moshome, and you did as much with it as I did with mine. Yes, indeed, you are strong, but you are wise too, and good." He fastened his eyes on her with a deep, earnest look, and the girl turned away her face. She felt embarrassed.
"We shall be happy when you have built your house and you dwell in it as my koitza," Okoya whispered.
Mitsha cast her eyes to the ground, and a faint glow appeared on her bronzed cheeks. The young man was not misled by her manner, he knew well enough that she liked him to speak in this way.
"Sanaya goes to Shipapu," said he, moving closer to her, "and I must have a koitza. You said you would be mine and I should be your husband. It was the night of the council on the Tyuonyi. Do you remember?"
"I do, and so it will be," she said, raising her head. Her large eyes beamed upon him with an expression of softness and deep joy. "But whither shall we go? Here we are strangers; and the Puyatye, although they are very good to us, speak a tongue we do not understand. Shall we return to the Tyuonyi and live with my mother and the hanutsh?"
"Are you sure that your mother is still alive? Are you sure that there is a single one of our people alive?" Okoya objected.
Again the eyes of Mitsha grew moist; she turned her head away and Okoya heard her sobs. Well did he understand her grief; it was stirred for the fate of her parents. Had he, had she, known all that had happened on the Rito!
A tremendous shout arose from the dancing crowd below. The distribution of gifts was beginning anew. Again the majority of the missiles were directed toward the Queres; a perfect shower of provisions, cooked and raw, pattered down upon the strangers. A large ear of corn tumbled into Mitsha's lap, and she handed it to Okoya, whispering,—
"The Shiuana are good."
"They are. They are good also to the yaya, for they take her away to Shipapu, where there is no hunger as on the shore of the great stream."
He sighed, and gazed to the west, where the San Francisco mountains stood. Beyond them, along the northern base of the Sierra de Sandia, in the sandy bottom of the Rio Grande, uninhabited at this time, they had suffered from hunger and heat. There misery had reached its climax. It is terrible even in our days to be compelled to flee from house and home in time of war into the cold, strange world. And yet nowadays one can flee to one's kind; and where there are human beings there are hearts. But in the days of old, and for Indians, it was not only distressing, it was ghastly to be obliged to fly. Nature alone stared them in the face, and Nature has no heart, although it is said that we are one with her. The Navajos had driven away the fugitives, had tracked and tormented them fearfully, and yet once relieved from the enemy's clutches and thrust upon Nature alone, the wretched band regretted the days when the ruthless enemy swarmed about them. The Moshome at least fed those whom they captured, and those whom they killed were happy forever. Nature knows but law and force, and whoever depends upon her at a time when her laws will not tolerate the existence of man, falls a victim to the power of her forces.
Now all this was past. It rained gifts about them, and with a sad smile Mitsha gathered them into a little pile. Okoya looked on; he thought the girl was making provision for their future household.
The distribution stopped, for the dancers were resting. They began to sit down along the walls of the houses to rest and to enjoy the needed recess, Mitsha took some of the fruit on her arm, and said to Okoya,—
"Come, let us go down again."
"What do you want to do with that?" asked he, designating her little burden.
"I give it to the Chayan for what the Shiuana are doing for our mother."
Even in the state of most abject poverty, the Indian shows gratitude to Those Above.
The head of a man rises above the hatchway and signals the two young people gravely, sadly. They descend hastily; Okoya remains standing in the middle of the room, and Mitsha goes over to him as soon as she has deposited her burden. As nobody notices her she grasps his hand, and he presses it softly with his own. Say Koitza remains in the same position as before, but she lies more extended, and her chest heaves no longer. The bystanders are motionless like statues, expectant. A last rattle sounds from the throat of the woman; a deep heavy effort, and all is over. Light froth issues from her lips. Say Koitza has breathed her last.
It has become very quiet outside, as if men there had guessed at what was going on within. In the little apartment it is as still as the grave,—a stillness which speaks louder to the heart than the mightiest sound, and which is appropriately designated by the popular saying, "There is an angel flitting through the room."
This stillness might have lasted long; but now the noise and uproar arise again outside, and with full power the sounds of delight and mirth break into the dingy cell like mighty waves. With the departure of life from the body, it is as if a barrier that forbade entrance to noise from the outer world had been drawn away, permitting the sounds of joy to come in triumphantly, now that the soul is free. They find an echo inside, a dismal echo of lamentations and tears. Mitsha cannot weep boisterously like the rest, neither can Okoya. The two lean toward each other sobbing; the girl has grasped his arm with both hands, her head rests on his shoulder, and she weeps.
The lament below has been heard on the roof; it is a signal to rush down and join in it. Soon the room is crowded with people; the women grasp their hair and pull it over their faces. Dismal wailing fills the cell. Among the others stands Shyuote, who has been told that his mother is dead. He plants himself squarely with the rest, and howls at the top of his voice. In front of the house the dance continues, and the monotonous chant and the dull drumming ascend to the sky; alongside of it the death-wail.
Tanos also crowd into the room; the throng is so great that the last comers must stand on the beam. Suddenly they are pushed aside; a tall young man rushes down and makes room, regardless of the weeping and howling crowd. Up to Okoya he forces his way; throws his left arm around him and Mitsha; his right hand seizes the hand of the youth and presses it against his breast. It is Hayoue, who has come from the north at last,—his heart guiding him to that friend whom he has so bravely, so unwearyingly sought.
Another Indian rushes down after Hayoue, his motions not less anxious, not less rapid and determined. He makes his way to the body and falls down upon his knees, staring with heaving chest but tearless eyes into the placid, emaciated face. It is Zashue Tihua. With a tension akin to despair he searches for lingering life in the features of that wife whom he formerly neglected and afterward suspected, whom he at last anxiously sought, and now finds asleep in death.
After twenty-one long and it may be tedious chapters, no apology is required for a short one in conclusion. I cannot take leave of the reader, however, without having made in his company a brief excursion through a portion of New Mexico in the direction of the Rito de los Frijoles, though not quite so far.
We start from Santa Fe, that "corner in the east" above which the Tano village stood many centuries ago. We proceed to the Rio Grande valley, to the little settlement called Pena Blanca, and to the Queres village, or Pueblo of Cochiti. There you will hear the language that was once spoken on the Rito; you will see the Indians with characteristic sidelocks, with collars of turquoises and shell beads, but in modern coats and trousers, in moccasins and in New England boots and shoes. Still they are at heart nearly the same Indians we found them in this story. I could introduce you to Hayoue, to Zashue, to Okoya, and the rest. If we strike the time well, you may witness the Koshare at their pranks, and in their full, very unprepossessing ceremonial toggery. At Cochiti we take a guide, possibly Hayoue, and proceed northward in the direction of the Rito.
For a number of hours we have to follow the base of the huge potreros, crossing narrow ravines, ascending steep but not long slopes, until at about noon we stand on the brink of a gorge so deep that it may be termed a chasm. We look down to a narrow bottom and groves of cottonwood trees. To the north, the chasm is walled in by towering rocks; the Rio Grande flows through one corner; and on its opposite bank arise cliffs of trap lava and basalt, black and threatening, while the rocks on the west side are bright red, yellow, and white. The trail to the Rito goes down into this abyss and climbs up on the other side through clefts and along steep slopes. But we are not going to follow this trail. We turn to the left, and with the dizzy chasm of Canon del Alamo to our right, proceed westward on one of the narrow tongues which, as the reader may remember, descend toward the Rio Grande from the high western mountains, and which are called in New Mexico potreros. The one on which we are travelling, or rather the plateau, or mesa, that constitutes its surface, is called Potrero de las Vacas.
For about two hours we wander through a thin forest, From time to time the trail approaches the brink of the rocky chasm of the Canon del Alamo, near enough to have its echo return to us every word we may shout down into its depths. Suddenly the timber grows sparse and we behold an open space on a gentle rise before us. It is a bare, bleak spot, perhaps a quarter of a mile long, and occupying the entire width of the mesa, which here is not much broader. Beyond, the timber begins again, and in the centre of the opening we see the fairly preserved ruins of an abandoned Indian pueblo.
There are still in places three stories visible. The walls are of evenly broken parallelopipeds of very friable pumice-stone, and the village forms the usual quadrangles. In the centre is a large square; and no fewer than six depressions indicate that the Pueblos had at one time as many as six circular subterranean estufas. In the ruins of the dwellings over four hundred cells are still well defined, so that the population of this communal village must formerly have reached as high as one thousand souls. Over and through the ruins are scattered the usual vestiges of primitive arts and industry,—pottery fragments and arrow-heads. Seldom do we meet with a stone hammer, whereas grinding-slabs and grinders are frequent, though for the most part scattered and broken.
The spot is well selected for an abode of sedentary Indians. An extensive view opens toward the east, north, and south. We see in the east the mountains above Santa Fe, in the south the ranges at whose foot lie the ruins of Hishi. In the north the high plateaus above the Rito shut out a glimpse of the Puye, but a whitish streak in that direction indicates the top line of the northern cliffs that overhang the Rito de los Frijoles. Right and left of the village, not more than a hundred yards from each side, begin the rugged declivities of the sides of the potrero. If we want to go farther we can proceed to the west only, and there we soon get into timber again.
A few steps within that timber, and we have before us a strange sight. A wall of rudely piled stone slabs planted upright, flags laid upon them crosswise, and smaller fragments piled against and between them, form a pentagonal enclosure which at first sight reminds us of a diminutive Stonehenge. There is an entrance to it from the southeast,—an open corridor flanked by similar parapets. The enclosing wall is not more than three feet high, and we easily peep into the interior.
Inside there are two statues carved out of the living rock. Although much disfigured to-day they still show a plain resemblance to the figures of two crouching panthers or pumas. They are life size; and the animals seem to lie there with their heads to the east, their tails extended along the ground. As we stand and gaze, our Indian goes up to the statues and furtively anoints their heads with red ochre, muttering a prayer between his teeth.
What may be the signification of this statuary? Do you remember the great dance at the Rito, and the painting on the wall of the estufa where the Koshare Naua sat and held communication with Those Above? Do you recollect that among these paintings there was one of a panther and another of a bear? The relation of the bear and panther of the estufa to the picture of the sun-father is here that of the two stone panthers to the sun himself. Their faces are turned to the east, whence rises the sun, in which dwells the father of all mankind, and the moon, which their mother inhabits. As in the estufa on the Rito, so in the outside world, the pictures of stone express a prayer to the higher powers, and here daily the people of the village were wont to make offerings and say their prayers.
We are therefore on sacred ground in this crumbling enclosure. But who knows that we are not on magic ground also? We might make an experiment; and though our Indian guide is not one of the great shamans, he might help us in an attempt at innocent jugglery.
Let us suffer ourselves to be blindfolded, and then turn around three times from left to right while our friend recites some cabalistic formula, incomprehensible of course to us.
One, two, three! The bandage is removed. What can we see?
Nothing strange at first. Surrounding nature is the same as before. The same extensive view, the same snow-clad ranges in the far east, the same silent, frowning rocks, the same dark pines around us. But in the north, over the yellowish band that denotes the cliffs of the Rito, we notice a slight bluish haze.
A change has taken place in our immediate vicinity. The stone panthers and the stone enclosure have vanished, and the ground is bare, like all the ground in the neighbourhood. Looking beyond we see that a transformation has also taken place on the spot where stood the ruin. The crumbling walls and heaps of rubbish are gone, and in their place newly built foundations are emerging from the ground; heaps of stone, partly broken, are scattered about; and where a moment ago we were the only living souls, now Indians—village Indians like our guide, only somewhat more primitive—move to and fro, busily engaged.
Some of them are breaking the stones into convenient sizes, for the friable pumice breaks in parallelopipeds without effort. The women are laying these in mortar made of the soil from the mesa, common adobe. We are witnessing the beginning of the construction of a small village. Farther down, on the edge of the timber, smoke arises; there the builders of this new pueblo dwell in huts while their house of stone is growing to completion. It is the month of May, and only the nights are cool.
These builders we easily recognize. They are the fugitives from the Rito, the little band whom the Tanos of Hishi have kindly received and charitably supported until a few months since, when they allowed them to go and build a new home. They came hither led on by Hayoue, who is now their maseua; for each tribe, however small, must have one. Okoya is with him, and Mitsha, now Okoya's wife, comes up from the bottom with the water-urn on her head, as on the day when we first saw her on the Rito de los Frijoles.
And now we have, though in a trance, seen the further fate of those whose sad career has filled the pages of this story. We may be blindfolded again, turned about right to left; and when the bandage is taken from our eyes the landscape is as before, silent and grand. The ruins are in position again; the panthers of stone with their mutilated heads lie within the enclosure; an eagle soars on high; and our Indian points to it, smiles, and whispers,—
"Look! see! the Shiuana are good!"