Zuni Folktales by Frank Hamilton Cushing
Previous Index Next
THE TRIAL OF LOVERS:
OR THE MAIDEN OF MÁTSAKI AND THE RED FEATHER
(Told the First Night)
In the days of the ancients, when Mátsaki was the home of the children of men, there lived, in that town, which is called "Salt City," because the Goddess of Salt made a white lake there in the days of the New, a beautiful maiden. She was passing beautiful, and the daughter of the priest-chief, who owned more buckskins and blankets than he could hang on his poles, and whose port-holes were covered with turquoises and precious shells from the ocean-so many were the sacrifices he made to the gods. His house was the largest in Mátsaki, and his ladder-poles were tall and decorated with slabs of carved wood-which you know was a great thing, for our grandfathers cut with the tímush or flint knife, and even tilled their corn-fields with wooden hoes sharpened with stone and weighted with granite. That's the reason why all the young men in the towns round about were in love with the beautiful maiden of Salt City.
Now, there was one very fine young man who lived across the western plains, in the Pueblo of the
Winds. He was so filled with thoughts of the maiden of Mátsaki that he labored long to gather presents for her, and looked not with favor on any girl of his own pueblo.
One morning he said to his fathers: "I have seen the maiden of Mátsaki; what think ye?"
"Be it well," said the old ones. So toward night the young man made a bundle of mantles and necklaces, which he rolled up in the best and whitest buckskin he had. When the sun was setting he started toward Mátsaki, and just as the old man's children had gathered in to smoke and talk he reached the house of the maiden's father and climbed the ladder. He lifted the corner of the mat door and shouted to the people below—"Shé!"
"Hai!" answered more than a pair of voices from below.
"Pull me down," cried the young man, at the same time showing his bundle through the skyhole.
The maiden's mother rose and helped the young man down the ladder, and as he entered the firelight he laid the bundle down.
"My fathers and mothers, my sisters and friends, how be ye these many days?" said he, very carefully, as though he were speaking to a council.
"Happy! Happy!" they all responded, and they said also: "Sit down; sit down on this stool," which they placed for him in the fire-light.
"My daughter," remarked the old man, who was smoking his cigarette by the opposite side of the hearth-place, "when a stranger enters the house of
a stranger, the girl should place before him food and cooked things." So the girl brought from the great vessel in the corner fresh rolls of héwe, or bread of corn-flour, thin as papers, and placed them in a tray before the young man, where the light would fall on them.
"Eat!" said she, and he replied, "It is well." Whereupon he sat up very straight, and placing his left hand across his breast, very slowly took a roll of the wafer bread with his right hand and ate ever so little; for you know it is not well or polite to eat much when you go to see a strange girl, especially if you want to ask her if she will let you live in the same house with her. So the young man ate ever so little, and said, "Thank you."
"Eat more," said the old ones; but when he replied that he was "past the naming of want," they said, "Have eaten," and the girl carried the tray away and swept away the crumbs.
"Well," said the old man, after a short time, it when a stranger enters the house of a stranger, it is not thinking of nothing that he enters."
"Why, that is quite true," said the youth, and then he waited.
"Then what may it be that thou hast come thinking of?" added the old man.
"I have heard," said the young man, "of your daughter, and have seen her, and it was with thoughts of her that I came."
Just then the grown-up sons of the old man, who had come to smoke and chat, rose and said to one another: "Is it not about time we should be
going home? The stars must be all out." Thus saying, they bade the old ones to "wait happily until the morning," and shook hands with the young man who had come, and went to the homes of their wives' mothers.
"Listen, my child!" said the old man after they had gone away, turning toward his daughter, who was sitting near the wall and looking down at the beads on her belt fringe. "Listen! You have heard what the young man has said. What think you?"
"Why! I know not; but what should I say but 'Be it well,'" said the girl, "if thus think my old ones?"
"As you may," said the old man; and then he made a cigarette and smoked with the young man. When he had thrown away his cigarette he said to the mother: "Old one, is it not time to stretch out?"
So when the old ones were asleep in the corner, the girl said to the youth, but in a low voice: "Only possibly you love me. True, I have said 'Be it well'; but before I take your bundle and say 'thanks,' I would that you, to prove that you verily love me, should go down into my corn-field, among the lands of the priest-chief, by the side of the river, and hoe all the corn in a single morning. If you will do this, then shall I know you love me; then shall I take of your presents, and happy we will be together."
"Very well," replied the young man; "I am willing."
Then the young girl lighted a bundle of cedar
splints and showed him a room which contained a bed of soft robes and blankets, and, placing her father's hoe near the door, bade the young man it wait happily unto the morning."
So when she had gone he looked at the hoe and thought: "Ha! if that be all, she shall see in the morning that I am a man."
At the peep of day over the eastern mesa he roused himself, and, shouldering the wooden hoe, ran down to the corn-fields; and when, as the sun was coming out, the young girl awoke and looked down from her house-top, "Aha!" thought she, "he is doing well, but my children and I shall see how he gets on somewhat later. I doubt if he loves me as much as he thinks he does."
So she went into a closed room. Down in the corner stood a water jar, beautifully painted and as bright as new. It looked like other water jars, but it was not. It was wonderful, wonderful! for it was covered with a stone lid which held down many may-flies and gnats and mosquitoes. The maiden lifted the lid and began to speak to the little animals as though she were praying.
"Now, then, my children, this day fly ye forth all, and in the corn-fields by the river there shall ye see a young man hoeing. So hard is he working that he is stripped as for a race. Go forth and seek him."
"Tsu-nu-nu-nu," said the flies, and "Tsi-ni-ni-ni," sang the gnats and mosquitoes; which meant "Yes," you know.
"And," further said the girl, "when ye find him,
bite him, his body all over, and eat ye freely of his blood; spare not his armpits, neither his neck nor his eyelids, and fill his ears with humming."
And again the flies said, "Tsu-nu-nu-nu," and the mosquitoes and gnats, "Tsi-ni-ni-ni." Then, nu-u-u, away they all flew like a cloud of sand on a windy morning.
"Blood!" exclaimed the young man. He wiped the sweat from his face and said, "The gods be angry!" Then he dropped his hoe and rubbed his shins with sand and slapped his sides. "Atu!" he yelled; "what matters—what in the name of the Moon Mother matters with these little beasts that cause thoughts?" Whereupon, crazed and restless as a spider on hot ashes, he rolled in the dust, but to no purpose, for the flies and gnats and mosquitoes sang "hu-n-n" and "tsi-ni-ni" about his ears until he grabbed up his blanket and breakfast, and ran toward the home of his fathers.
"Wa-ha ha! Ho o!" laughed a young man in the Tented Pueblo to the north, when he heard how the lover had fared. "Shoom!" he sneered. "Much of a man he must have been to give up the maid of Mátsaki for may-flies and gnats and mosquitoes!" So on the very next morning, he, too, said to his old ones: "What a fool that little boy must have been. I will visit the maiden of Mátsaki. I'll show the people of Pínawa what a Hámpasawan man can do. Courage!"—and, as the old ones said "Be it well," he went as the other had gone; but, pshaw! he fared no better.
After some time, a young man who lived in the River Town heard about it and laughed as hard as the youth of the Tented Pueblo had. He called the two others fools, and said that "girls were not in the habit of asking much when one's bundle was large." And as he was a young man who had everything, he made a bundle of presents as large as he could carry; but it did him no good. He, too, ran away from the may-flies and gnats and mosquitoes.
Many days passed before any one else would try again to woo the maiden of Mátsaki. They did not know, it is true, that she was a Passing Being; but others had failed all on account of mosquitoes and may-flies and little black gnats, and had been more satisfied with shame than a full hungry man with food. "That is sick satisfaction," they would say to one another, the fear of which made them wait to see what others would do.
Now, in the Ant Hill, which was named Hálonawan, lived a handsome young man, but he was poor, although the son of the priest-chief of Hálonawan. He thought many days, and at last said to his grandmother, who was very old and crafty, 'Hó-ta?"
[1. The ancient pueblo of Zuñi itself was called Hálonawan, or the Ant Hill, the ruins of which, now buried beneath the sands, lie opposite the modern town within the cast of a stone. Long before Hálonawan was abandoned, the nucleus of the present structure was begun around one of the now central plazas. It was then, and still is, in the ancient songs and rituals of the Zuñis, Hálona-ítiwana, or the "Middle Ant Hill of the World," and was often spoken of in connection with the older town as simply the "Ant Hill."]
"What sayest my nána?" said the old woman; for, like grandmothers nowadays, she was very soft and gentle to her grandson.
"I have seen the maiden of Mátsaki and my thoughts kill me with longing, for she is passing beautiful and wisely slow. I do not wonder that she asks hard tasks of her lovers; for it is not of their bundles that she thinks, but of themselves. Now, I strengthen my thoughts with my manliness. My heart is hard against weariness, and I would go and speak to the beautiful maiden."
"Yo á! my poor boy," said the grandmother. She is as wonderful as she is wise and beautiful. She thinks not of men save as brothers and friends; and she it is, I bethink me, who sends the may-flies and gnats and mosquitoes, therefore, to drive them away. They are but disguised beings, and beware, my grandson, you will only cover yourself with shame as a man is covered with water who walks through a rain-storm! I would not go, my poor grandchild. I would not go," she added, shaking her head and biting her lips till her chin touched her nose-tip.
"Yes, but I must go, my grandmother. Why should I live only to breathe hard with longing? Perhaps she will better her thoughts toward me."
"Ah, yes, but all the same, she will test thee. Well, go to the mountains and scrape bitter bark from the finger-root; make a little loaf of the bark and hide it in your belt, and when the maiden sends you down to the corn-field, work hard at the hoeing until sunrise. Then, when your body is
covered with sweat-drops, rub every part with the root-bark. The finger-root bark, it is bitter as bad salt mixed in with bad water, and the 'horn-wings' and 'long-beaks' and 'blue-backs' fly far from the salt that is bitter."
"Then, my gentle grandmother, I will try your words and thank you,"—for he was as gentle and good as his grandmother was knowing and crafty. Even that day he went to the mountains and gathered a ball of finger-root. Then, toward evening, he took a little bundle and went up the trail by the river-side to Mátsaki. When he climbed the ladder and shouted down the mat door: "Shé! Are ye within?" the people did not answer at once, for the old ones were angry with their daughter that she had sent off so many fine lovers. But when he shouted again they answered:
"Hai, and Ée, we are within. Be yourself within."
Then without help he went down the ladder, but he didn't mind, for he felt himself poor and his bundle was small. As he entered the fire-light he greeted the people pleasantly and gravely, and with thanks took the seat that was laid for him.
Now, you see, the old man was angry with the girl, so he did not tell her to place cooked things before him, but turned to his old wife.
"Old one," he began—but before he had finished the maiden arose and brought rich venison stew and flaky héwe, which she placed before the youth where the fire's brightness would fall upon it, with meat broth for drink; then she sat down
opposite him and said, "Eat and drink!" Whereupon the young man took a roll of the wafer-bread and, breaking it in two, gave the girl the larger piece, which she bashfully accepted.
The old man raised his eyebrows and upper lids, looked at his old wife, spat in the fireplace, and smoked hard at his cigarette, joining the girl in her invitation by saying, "Yes, have to eat well."
Soon the young man said, "Thanks," and the maiden quickly responded, "Eat more," and "Have eaten."
After brushing the crumbs away the girl sat down by her mother, and the father rolled a cigarette for the young man and talked longer with him than he had with the others.
After the old ones had stretched out in the corner and begun to "scrape their nostrils with their breath," the maiden turned to the young man and said: "I have a corn-field in the lands of the priest-chief, down by the river, and if you truly love me, I would that you should hoe the whole in a single morning. Thus may you prove yourself a man, and to love me truly; and if you will do this, happily, as day follows day, will we live each with the other."
"Hai-í!" replied the young man, who smiled as he listened; and as the young maiden looked at him, sitting in the fading fire-light with the smile on his face, she thought: "Only possibly. But oh! how I wish his heart might be strong, even though his bundle be not heavy nor large.
"Come with me, young man, and I will show you
where you are to await the morning. Early take my father's hoe, which stands by the doorway, and go down to the corn-field long before the night shadows have run away from Thunder Mountain"—with which she bade him pass a night of contentment and sought her own place.
When all was still, the young man climbed to the skyhole and in the starlight asked the gods of the woodlands and waters to give strength to his hands and power to his prayer-medicine, and to meet and bless him with the light of their favor; and he threw to the night-wind meal of the seeds of earth and the waters of the world with which those who are wise fail not to make smooth their trails of life. Then he slept till the sky of the day-land grew yellow and. the shadows of the night-land grew gray, and then shouldered his hoe and went down to the corn-field. His task was not great, for the others had hoed much. Where they left off, there he fell to digging right and left with all his strength and haste, till the hard soil mellowed and the earth flew before his strokes as out of the burrows of the strongest-willed gophers and other digging creatures.
When the sun rose the maiden looked forth and saw that his task was already half done. But still she waited. As the sun warmed the day and the youth worked on, the dewdrops of flesh stood all over his body and he cast away, one after the other, his blanket and sash and even his leggings and moccasins. Then he stopped to look around. By the side of the field grew tall yellow-tops. He
ran into the thicket and rubbed every part of his body, yea, even. the hair of his head and his ear-tips and nostrils, with the bark of the finger-root. Again he fell to work as though he had only been resting, and wondered why the may-flies and gnats and mosquitoes came not to cause him thoughts as they had the others. Yet still the girl lingered; but at last she went slowly to the room where the jar stood.
"It is absurd," thought she, "that I should hope it or even care for it; it would indeed be great if it were well true that a young man should love me so verily as to hold his face to the front through such a testing." Nevertheless, she drew the lid off and bade her strange children to spare him no more than they had the others.
All hasty to feast themselves on the "waters of life," as our old grandfathers would say for blood, again they rushed out and hummed along over the corn-fields in such numbers that they looked more like a wind-driven sandstorm than ever, and "tsi-ni-ni-i, tso-no-o" they hummed and buzzed about the ears of the young man when they came to him, so noisily that the poor fellow, who kept at work all the while, thought they were already biting him. But it was only fancy, for the first may-fly that did bite him danced in the air with disgust and exclaimed to his companions, "Sho-o-o-m-m!" and "Us-á!" which meant that he had eaten something nasty, that tasted as badly as vile odors smell. So not another may-fly in the throng would bite, although they all kept singing their song about his ears. And
to this day may-flies are careful whom they bite, and dance a long time in the air before they do it.
Then a gnat tried it and gasped, "Weh!" which meant that his stomach had turned over, and he had such a sick headache that he reeled round and round in the air, and for that reason gnats always bite very quickly, for fear their stomachs will turn over, and they will reel and reel round and round in the air before doing it.
Finally, long-beak himself tried it, and, as long-beak hangs on, you know, longer than most other little beasts, he kept hold until his two hindlegs were warped out of shape; but at last he had to let go, too, and flew straight away, crying, "Yá kotchi!" which meant that something bitter had burned his snout. Now, for these reasons mosquitoes always have bent-up hindlegs, which they keep lifting up and down while biting, as though they were standing on something hot, and they are apt to sing and smell around very cautiously before spearing us, and they fly straight away, you will notice, as soon as they are done.
Now, when the rest of the gnats and mosquitoes heard the words of their elder brothers, they did as the may-flies had done—did not venture, no, not one of them, to bite the young lover. They all flew away and settled down on the yellow-tops, where they had a council, and decided to go and find some prairie-dogs to bite. Therefore you will almost always find may-flies, gnats, and mosquitoes around prairie-dog holes in summer time when the corn is growing.
So the young man breathed easily as he hoed hard to finish his task ere the noonday, and when the maiden looked down and saw that he still labored there, she said to herself: "Ah, indeed he must love me, for still he is there! Well, it may be, for only a little longer and they will leave him in peace." Hastily she placed venison in the cooking-pot and prepared fresh héwe and sweetened bread, "for maybe," she still thought, "and then I will have it ready for him."
Now, alas! you do not know that this good and beautiful maiden had a sister, alas!—a sister as beautiful as herself, but bad and double-hearted; and you know when people have double hearts they are wizards or witches, and have double tongues and paired thoughts—such a sister elder had the maiden of Mátsaki, alas!
When the sun had climbed almost to the middle of the sky, the maiden, still doubtful, looked down once more. He was there, and was working among the last hills of corn.
"Ah, truly indeed he loves me," she thought, and she hastened to put on her necklaces and bracelets of shells, her ear-rings as long as your fingers-of turquoises,—and her fine cotton mantles with borders of stitched butterflies of summer-land, and flowers of the autumn. Then she took a new bowl from the stick-rack in the corner, and a large many-colored tray that she had woven herself, and she filled the one with meat broth, and the other with the héwe and sweet-bread, and placing the bowl of meat broth on her head, she
took the tray of héwe in her hand, and started down toward the corn-field by the river-side to meet her lover and to thank him.
Witches are always jealous of the happiness and good fortune of others. So was the sister of the beautiful maiden jealous when she saw the smile on her hani's face as she tripped toward the river.
"Ho há!" said the two-hearted sister. "Témithlokwa thloká! Wananí!" which are words of defiance and hatred, used so long ago by demons and wizards that no one knows nowadays what they mean except the last one, which plainly says, "Just wait a bit!" and she hastened to dress herself, through her wicked knowledge, exactly as the beautiful maiden was dressed. She even carried just such a bowl and tray; and as she was beautiful, like her younger sister, nobody could have known the one from the other, or the other from the one. Then she passed herself through a hoop of magic yucca, which made her seem not to be where she was, for no one could see her unless she willed it.
Now, just as the sun was resting in the middle of the sky, the young man finished the field and ran down to the river to wash. Before he was done, he saw the maiden coming down the trail with the bowl on her head and the tray in her hand; so he made haste, and ran back to dress himself and to sit down to wait for her. As she approached, he said: "Thou comest, and may it be happily,"—when lo! there appeared two maidens exactly alike; so he quickly said, "Ye come."
"E," said the maidens, so nearly together that it sounded like one voice; but when they both placed the same food before him, the poor young man looked from one to the other, and asked:
"Alas! of which am I to eat?"
Then it was that the maiden suddenly saw her sister, and became hot with anger, for she knew her wicked plans. "Ah, thou foolish sister, why didst thou come?" she said. But the other only replied:
"Ah, thou foolish sister, why didst thou come?"
"Go back, for he is mine-to-be," said the maiden, beginning to cry.
"Go back, for he is mine-to-be," said the bad one, pretending to cry.
And thus they quarrelled until they had given one another smarting words four times, when they fell to fighting—as women always fight, by pulling each other's hair, and scratching, and grappling until they rolled over each other in the sand.
The poor young man started forward to part them, but he knew not one from the other, so thinking that the bad one must know how to fight better than his beautiful maiden wife, he suddenly caught up his stone-weighted hoe, and furiously struck the one that was uppermost on the head, again and again, until she let go her hold, and fell back, murmuring and moaning: "Alas! that thus it should be after all, after all!" Then she forgot, and her eyes ceased to see.
While yet the young man looked, lo! there was only the dying maiden before him; but in the air
above circled an ugly black Crow, that laughed "kawkaw, kawkaw, kawkaw!" and flew away to its cave in Thunder Mountain.
Then the young man knew. He cried aloud and beat his breast; then he ran to the river and brought water and bathed the blood away from the maiden's temples; but alas! she only smiled and talked with her lips, then grew still and cold.
Alone, as the sun travelled toward the land of evening, wept the young man over the body of his beautiful wife. He knew naught but his sad thoughts. He took her in his arms, and placed his face close to hers, and again and again he called to her: "Alas, alas! my beautiful wife; I loved thee, I love thee. Alas, alas! Ah, my beautiful wife, my beautiful wife!"
When the people returned from their fields in the evening, they missed the beautiful maiden of Mátsaki; and they saw the young man, bending low and alone over something down in the lands of the priest-chief by the river, and when they told the old father, he shook his head and said:
"It is not well with my beautiful child; but as They (the gods) say, thus must all things be." Then he smiled—for the heart of a priest—chief never cries,-and told them to go and bring her to the plaza of Mátsaki and bury her before the House of the Sun; for he knew what had happened.
So the people did as their father had told them. They went down at sunset and took the beautiful maiden away, and wrapped her in mantles, and buried her near the House of the Sun.
But the poor young man knew naught but his sad thoughts. He followed them; and when he had made her grave, he sat down by her earth bed and would not leave her. No, not even when the sun set, but moaned and called to her: "Alas, alas! my beautiful wife; I loved thee., I love thee, even though I knew not thee and killed thee. Alas! Ah, my beautiful wife!"
"Shonetchi!" ("There is left of my story.") And what there is left, I will tell you some other night.
(Told the Second Night)
"Sons shonetchi!" ("There is left of my story";) but I will tell you not alone of the Maid of Mátsaki, because the young man killed her, for he knew not his wife from the other. It is of the Red Feather, or the Wife of Mátsaki that I will tell you this sitting.
Even when the sun set, and the hills and houses grew black in the shadows, still the young man sat by the grave-side, his hands rested upon his knees and his face buried in them. And the people no longer tried to steal his sad thoughts from him; but, instead, left him, as one whose mind errs, to wail out with weeping: "Alas, alas! my beautiful wife; I loved thee, I love thee; even though I knew not thee and killed thee! Alas! Ah, my beautiful wife!"
But when the moon set on the western hills, and
the great snowdrift streaked across the mid-sky, and the night was half gone, the sad watcher saw a light in the grave-sands like the light of the embers that die in the ashes. As he watched, his sad thoughts became bright thoughts, for the light grew and brightened till it burned the dark grave-sands as sunlight the shadows. Lo! the bride lay beneath. She tore off her mantles and raised up in her grave-bed. Then she looked at the eager lover so coldly and sadly that his bright thoughts all darkened, for she mournfully told him: "Alas! Ah, my lover, my husband knew not me from the other; loved me not, therefore killed me; even though I had hoped for love, loved me not, therefore killed me!"
Again the young man buried his face in his hands and shook his head mournfully; and like one whose thoughts erred, again he wailed his lament "Alas, alas! my beautiful bride! I do love thee I loved thee, but I did not know thee and killed thee! Alas! Ah, my beautiful bride, my beautiful bride!"
At last, as the great star rose from the sky-land, the dead maiden spoke softly to the mourning lover, yet her voice was sad and strange: "Young man, mourn thou not, but go back to the home of thy fathers. Knowest thou not that I am another being? When the sky of the day-land grows yellow and the houses come out of the shadows, then will the light whereby thou sawest me, fade away in the morn-light, as the blazes of late councils pale their red in the sunlight." Then her voice
grew sadder as she said: "I am only a spirit; for remember, alas! ah, my lover, my husband knew not me from the other—loved me not, therefore killed me; even though I had hoped for love, loved me not, therefore killed me."
But the young man would not go until, in the gray of the morning, he saw nothing where the light had appeared but the dark sand of the grave as it had been. Then he arose and went away in sorrow. Nor would he all day speak to men, but gazed only whither his feet stepped and shook his head sadly like one whose thoughts wandered. And when again the houses and hills grew black with the shadows, he sought anew the fresh grave and sat down by its side, bowed his head and still murmured: "Alas, alas! my beautiful wife, I loved thee, though I knew not thee, and killed thee. Alas! Ah, my beautiful wife!"
Even brighter glowed the light in the grave-sands when the night was divided, and the maiden's spirit arose and sat in her grave-bed, but she only reproached him and bade him go. "For," said she, "I am only a spirit; remember, alas! ah, my lover, my husband knew not me from the other; loved me not, therefore killed me; even though I had hoped for love, loved me not, therefore killed me!"
But he left only in the morning, and again when the dark came, returned to the grave-side.
When the light shone that night, the maiden, more beautiful than ever, came out of the grave-bed and sat by her lover. Once more she urged
him to return to his fathers; but when she saw that he would not, she said: "Thou hadst better, for I go a long journey. As light as the wind is, so light will my feet be; as long as the day is, thou canst not my form see. Know thou not that the spirits are seen but in darkness? for, alas! ah, my lover, my husband knew not me from the other; loved me not, therefore killed me; even though I had hoped for love, loved me not, therefore killed me!"
Then the young man ceased bemoaning his beautiful bride. He looked at her sadly, and said: "I do love thee, my beautiful wife! I do love thee, and whither thou goest let me therefore go with thee! I care not how long is the journey, nor how hard is the way. If I can but see thee, even only at night time, then will I be happy and cease to bemoan thee. It was because I loved thee and would have saved thee; but alas, my beautiful wife! I knew not thee, therefore killed thee!"
"Alas! Ah, my lover; and Ah! how I loved thee; but I am a spirit, and thou art unfinished. But if thou thus love me, go back when I leave thee and plume many prayer-sticks. Choose a light, downy feather and dye it with ocher. Wrap up in thy blanket a lunch for four daylights; bring with thee much prayer-meal; come to me at midnight and sit by my grave-side, and when in the eastward the dayland is lighting, tie over my forehead the reddened light feather, and when with the morning I fade from thy vision, follow only the feather until it is evening, and then thou shalt see me and sit down beside me."
So at sunrise the young man went away and gathered feathers of the summer birds, and cut many prayer-sticks, whereon he bound them with cotton, as gifts to the Fathers. Then he found a beautiful downy feather plucked from the eagle, and dyed it red with ocher, and tied to it a string of cotton wherewith to fasten it over the forehead of the spirit maiden. When night came, he took meal made from parched corn and burnt sweetbread, and once more went down to the plaza and sat by the grave-side.
When midnight came and the light glowed forth through the grave-sands, lo! the maiden-spirit came out and stood by his side. She seemed no longer sad, but happy, like one going home after long absence. Nor was the young man sad or single-thoughted like one whose mind errs; so they sat together and talked of their journey till the dayland grew yellow and the black shadows gray, and the houses and hills came out of the darkness.
"Once more would I tell thee to go back," said the maiden's spirit to the young man; "but I know why thou goest with me, and it is well. Only watch me when the day comes, and thou wilt see me no more; but look whither the plume goeth, and follow, for thou knowest that thou must tie it to the hair above my forehead."
Then the young man took the bright red plume out from among the feathers of sacrifice, and gently tied it above the maiden-spirit's forehead.
As the light waved up from behind the great mountain the red glow faded out from the grave-sands
and the youth looked in vain for the spirit of the maiden; but before him, at the height of one's hands when standing, waved the light downy feather in the wind of the morning. Then the plume, not the wife, rose before him, like the plumes on the head of a dancer, and moved through the streets that led westward, and down through the fields to the river. And out through the streets that led westward, and down on the trail by the river, and on over the plains always toward the land of evening, the young man followed close the red feather; but at last he began to grow weary, for the plume glided swiftly before him, until at last it left him far behind, and even now and then lost him entirely. Then, as he hastened on, he called in anguish:
"My beautiful bride! My beautiful bride! Oh, where art thou?"
But the plume, not the wife, stopped and waited. And thus the plume and the young man journeyed until, toward evening, they came to the forests of sweet-smelling piñons and cedars. As the night hid the hills in the shadows, alas! the plume disappeared, but the young man pressed onward, for he knew that the plume still journeyed westward. Yet at times he was so weary that he almost lost the strength of his thoughts; for he ran into trees by the trail-side and stumbled over dry roots and branches. So again and again he would call out in anguish: "My beautiful wife! My beautiful bride! Oh, where art thou?"
At last, when the night was divided, to his joy
he saw, far away on the hill-top, a light that was red and grew brighter like the light of a camp-fire's red embers when fanned by the wind of the nighttime. And like a star that is rising or setting, the red light sat still on the hill-top. So he ran hastily forward, until, as he neared the red light, lo! there sat the spirit of the beautiful maiden; and as he neared her, she said:
"Comest thou?" and "How hast thou come to the evening?"
As she spoke she smiled, and motioned him to sit down beside her. He was so weary that he slept while he talked to her; but, remember, she was a spirit, therefore she slept not.
Just as the morning star came up from the dayland, the maiden rose to journey on, and the young man, awaking, followed her. But as the hills came out of the shadows, the form of the maiden before him grew fainter and fainter, until it faded entirely, and only the red plume floated before him, like the plume on the head of a dancer. Far ahead and fast floated the plume, until it entered a plain of lava filled with sharp crags; yet still it went on, for the maiden's spirit moved over the barriers as lightly as the down of dead flowers in autumn. But alas! the young man had to seek his way, and the plume again left him far behind, until he was forced to cry out: "Ah, my beautiful bride, do wait for me, for I love thee, and will not turn from thee!" Then the plume stopped on the other side of the crags and waited until the poor young man came nearer,
his feet and legs cut and bleeding, and his wind almost out. Then the trail was more even, and led through wide plains; but even thus the young man could scarce keep the red plume in sight. But at night the maiden awaited him in a sheltered place, and they rested together beneath the cedars until daylight. Then again she faded out in the daylight, and the red plume led the way.
For a long time the trail was pleasant, but to ward evening they came to a wide bed of cactus, and the plume passed over as swiftly as ever, but the young man's moccasins were soon torn and his feet and legs cruelly lacerated with the cactus spines; yet still he pursued the red plume until the pain seemed to sting his whole body, and he gasped and wailed: "Ah, my beautiful wife, wait for me; do wait, for I love thee and will not leave thee!" Then the plume stopped beyond the plain of cactus and waited until he had passed through, but not longer, for ere he had plucked all the needles of the cactus from his bleeding feet, it floated on, and he lifted himself up and followed until at evening the maiden again waited and bade him "Sit down and rest."
That night she seemed to pity him, and once more spoke to him: "Yo á! My lover, my husband, turn back, oh, turn back! for the way is long and untrodden, and thy heart is but weak and is mortal. I go to the Council of Dead Ones, and how can the living there enter?"
But the youth only wept, and begged that she let him go with her. "For, ah," said he, "my
beautiful wife, my beautiful bride, I love thee and cannot turn from thee!"
And she smiled only and shook her head sadly as she replied: "Yo á! It shall be as thou willest. It may be thy heart will not wither, for tomorrow is one more day onward, and then down the trail to the waters wherein stands the ladder of others, shall I lead thee to wait me forever.
At mid-sun on the day after, the plume led the way straight to a deep cañon, the walls of which were so steep that no man could pass them alive. For a moment the red plume paused above the chasm, and the youth pressed on and stretched his hand forth to detain it; but ere he had gained the spot, it floated on straight over the dark cañon, as though no ravine had been there at all; for to spirits the trails that once have been, even though the waters have worn them away, still are.
Wildly the young man rushed up and down the steep brink, and despairingly he called across to the plume: "Alas! ah, my beautiful wife! Wait, only wait for me, for I love thee and cannot turn from thee!" Then, like one whose thoughts wandered, he threw himself over the brink and hung by his hands as if to drop, when a jolly little striped Squirrel, who was playing at the bottom of the cañon, happened to see him, and called out: "Tsilhl! Tsilhl!" and much more, which meant "Ah hai! Wananí!" "You crazy fool of a being! You have not the wings of a falcon, nor the hands of a Squirrel, nor the feet of a spirit, and if
you drop you will be broken to pieces and the moles will eat up the fragments! Wait! Hold hard, and I will help you, for, though I am but a Squirrel, I know how to think!"
Whereupon the little chit ran chattering away and called his mate out of their house in a rock-nook: "Wife! Wife! Come quickly; run to our corn room and bring me a hemlock, and hurry! hurry! Ask me no questions; for a crazy fool of a man over here will break himself to pieces if we don't quickly make him a ladder."
So the little wife flirted her brush in his face and skipped over the rocks to their store-house, where she chose a fat hemlock and hurried to her husband who was digging a hole in the sand underneath where the young man was hanging. Then they spat on the seed, and buried it in the hole, and began to dance round it and sing,—
Silokwe, silokwe, silokwe;
Ki'ai silu silu,
Which meant, as far as any one can tell now (for it was a long time ago, and partly squirrel talk),
Hemlock of the
Tall kind, tall kind, tall kind,
Sprout up hemlock, hemlock,
And every time they danced around and sang the song through, the ground moved, until the fourth
time they said "Tsithl! Tsithl!" the tree sprouted forth and kept growing until the little Squirrel could jump into it, and by grabbing the topmost bough and bracing himself against the branches below, could stretch and pull it, so that in a short time he made it grow as high as the young man's feet, and he had all he could do to keep the poor youth from jumping right into it before it was strong enough to hold him. Presently he said "Tsithl! Tsithl!" and whisked away before the young man had time to thank him. Then the sad lover climbed down and quickly gained the other side, which was not so steep; before he could rest from his climb, however, the plume floated on, and he had to get up and follow it.
Just as the sun went into the west, the plume hastened down into a valley between the mountains, where lay a beautiful lake; and around the borders of the lake a very ugly old man and woman, who were always walking back and forth across the trails, came forward and laughed loudly and greeted the beautiful maiden pleasantly. Then they told her to enter; and she fearlessly walked into the water, and a ladder of flags came up out of the middle of the lake to receive her, down which she stepped without stopping until she passed under the waters. For a little—and then all was over—a bright light shone out of the water, and the sound of many glad voices and soft merry music came also from beneath it; then the stars of the sky and the stars of the waters looked the same at each other as they had done before.
"Alas!" cried the young man as he ran to the lake-side. "Ah, my beautiful wife, my beautiful wife, only wait, only wait, that I may go with thee!" But only the smooth waters and the old man and woman were before him; nor did the ladder come out or the old ones greet him. So he sat down on the lake-side wringing his hands and weeping, and ever his mind wandered back to his old lament: "Alas! alas! my beautiful bride, my beautiful wife, I love thee; I loved thee, but I knew not thee and killed thee!"
Toward the middle of the night once more he heard strange, happy voices. The doorway to the Land of Spirits opened, and the light shot up through the dark green waters from many windows, like sparks from a chimney on a dark, windless night. Then the ladder again ascended, and he saw the forms of the dead pass out and in, and heard the sounds of the Kâkâ, as it danced for the gods. The comers and goers were bright and beautiful, but their garments were snow-white cotton, stitched with many-colored threads, and their necklaces and bracelets were of dazzling white shells and turquoises unnumbered. Once he ventured to gain the bright entrance, but the water grew deep and chilled him till he trembled with fear and cold. Yet he looked in at the entrances, and lo! as he gazed he caught sight of his beautiful bride all covered with garments and bright things. And there in the midst of the Kâkâ she sat at the head of the dancers. She seemed happy and smiled as she watched, and youths as bright
and as happy came around her, and she seemed to forget her lone lover.
Then with a cry of despair and anguish he crawled to the lake-shore and buried his face in the sands and rank grasses. Suddenly he heard a low screech, and then a hoarse voice seemed to call him. He looked, and a great Owl flew over him, saying "Muhaí! Hu hu! Hu hu!"
"What wilt thou?" he cried, in vexed anguish.
Then the Owl flew closer, and, lighting, asked: "Why weepest thou, my child?"
He turned and looked at the Owl and told it part of his trouble, when the Owl suddenly twisted its head quite around—as owls do—to see if anyone were near; then came closer and said: "I know all about it, young man. Come with me to my house in the mountain, and if thou wilt but follow my counsel, all will yet be well." Then the Owl led the way to a cave far above and bade him step in. As he placed his foot inside the opening, behold! it widened into a bright room, and many Owl-men and Owl-women around greeted him happily, and bade him sit down and eat.
The old Owl who had brought him, changed himself in a twinkling, as he entered the room, and hung his owl-coat on an antler. Then he went away, but presently returned, bringing a little bag of medicine. "Before I give thee this, let me tell thee what to do, and what thou must promise," said he of the owl-coat.
The young man eagerly reached forth his hand for the magic medicine.
"Fool!" cried the being; "were it not well, for that would I not help thee. Thou art too eager, and I will not trust thee with my medicine of sleep. Thou shalt sleep here, and when thou awakest thou shalt find the morning star in the sky, and thy dead wife before thee on the trail toward the Middle Ant Hill. With the rising sun she will wake and smile on thee. Be not foolish, but journey preciously with her, and not until ye reach the home of thy fathers shalt thou approach her or kiss her; for if thou doest this, all will be as nothing again. But if thou doest as I counsel thee, all will be well, and happily may ye live one with the other."
He ceased, and, taking a tiny pinch of the medicine, blew it in the face of the youth. Instantly the young man sank with sleep where he had been sitting, and the beings, putting on their owl-coats, flew away with him under some trees by the trail that led to Mátsaki and the Ant Hill of the Middle.
Then they flew over the lake, and threw the medicine of sleep in at the windows, and taking the plumed prayer-sticks which the young man had brought with him, they chose some red plumes for themselves, and with the others entered the home of the Kâkâ. Softly they flew over the sleeping fathers and their children (the gods of the Kâkâ) and the spirits) and, laying the prayer-plumes before the great altar, caught up the beautiful maiden and bore her over the waters and woodlands to where the young man was still sleeping. Then they hooted and flew off to their mountain.
As the great star came out of the dayland, the young man awoke, and lo! there before him lay his own beautiful wife. Then he turned his face away that he might not be tempted, and waited with joy and longing for the coming out of the sun. When at last the sun came out, with the first ray that brightened the beautiful maiden's face, she opened her eyes and gazed wildly around at first, but seeing her lonely lover, smiled, and said: "Truly, thou lovest me!"
Then they arose and journeyed apart toward the home of their fathers, and the young man forgot not the counsel of the Owl, but journeyed wisely, till on the fourth day they came in sight of the Mountain of Thunder and saw the river that flows by Salt City.
As they began to go down into the valley, the maiden stopped and said: "Hahuá, I am weary, for the journey is long and the day is warm." Then she sat down in the shadow of a cedar and said "Watch, my husband, while I sleep a little; only a little, and then we will journey together again." And he said: "Be it well."
Then she lay down and seemed to sleep. She smiled and looked so beautiful to the longing lover that he softly rose and crept close to her. Then, alas! he laid his hand upon her and kissed her.
Quickly the beautiful maiden started. Her face was all covered with sadness, and she said, hastily and angrily: "Ah, thou shameless fool! I now know! Thou lovest me not! How vain that I should have hoped for thy love!"
With shame, indeed, and sorrow, he bent his head low and covered his face with his hands. Then he started to speak, when an Owl flew up and hooted mournfully at him from a tree-top. Then the Owl winged her way to the westward, and ever after the young man's mind wandered.
Alas! alas! Thus it was in the days of the ancients. Maybe had the young man not kissed her yonder toward the Lake of the Dead, we would never have journeyed nor ever have mourned for others lost. But then it is well! If men and women had never died, then the world long ago had overflown with children, starvation, and warring.
Thus shortens my story.