In the southern part of the Mojave Desert a low hill stands somewhat apart from the foot-hills beyond, and back of it. Although not more than two hundred feet above the surrounding plateau, on account of its peculiar location, a commanding view may be had from its top. In front, toward the south, and extending all the way from east to west, the plain stretches off for many miles, until it approaches the distant horizon, where it is merged into lofty mountains, forming a tumultuous, serrated sky-line. Midway between the hill and the distant mountains, lie the beds, sharply defined, of three dry lakes. In the garish light of day they show for what they are, the light yellow hard-baked soil of the desert, without even the ordinary sage brush; but in early morning and, less frequently, toward evening, these lakes take on a semblance of their former state, sometimes (so strong is the mirage) almost deceiving those best acquainted with the region. Years ago – how many it would be difficult to say – these dry lakes were veritable bodies of water; indeed, at an earlier period than that, they were, without doubt, and including a large extent of the surrounding desert, one vast lake. But that was centuries ago, maybe, and with time the lake dried up, leaving, at last, only these three light spots in the view, which, in their turn, are growing smaller with the passing years, until they, too, will vanish, obliterated by the encroaching vegetation.
Back of the eminence from which this extended view is had, the mountains come close, not as high as those toward the south, but still respectable heights, snow-covered in winter. They array themselves in fantastic shapes, with colors changing from hour to hour. One thinks of the desert as a barren sandy waste, minus water, trees and other vegetation, clouds, and all the color and beauty of nature of more favored districts. Not so. Water is scarce, it is true, and springs few and far between, and the vegetation is in proportion; for what little there is is mostly dependent on the annual rainfall, never excessive, at the best, yet always sufficient for the brush covering the ground, and the yuccas towering up many feet here and there. But color, beautiful, brilliant, magnificent color, is here any and every day of the year, and from earliest dawn until the last traces of the evening sun have faded away, only to give place to moonlight unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Truly, the desert is far from being the dry, desolate, uninteresting region it is commonly pictured.
More than a century and a quarter ago, there stood on the side of this hill, and not far from its top, an Indian hut, or wickiup. It was built after the manner of the Indian tribes of Southern California – a circular space of about fifteen feet in diameter enclosed by brush-work, and roofed by a low dome of the same material. At the side was an opening, too small to permit one to enter without stooping low. This doorway, if it may be so called, being window and chimney as well, fronted toward the south, facing the dry lakes and the mountains beyond. Close by, at the left, was a heap of bones, which, on a nearer view, disclosed themselves to be those of rabbits, coyotes and quail, while three or four larger bones in the pile might inform the zoologist that the fierce mountain-lion was not unknown to this region. To the right of the doorway, some ten feet from it, were two large flat stones, set facing each other, a few inches apart; between them lay a handful of ashes, betokening the kitchen of the family living here. Close by the stones lay a number of smooth, rounded stones of use and value to the people of the hut. Back of the wickiup, a few paces up the hill, a tiny spring issued from the ground, affording a never-failing, though scanty, supply of water.
The location of this solitary hut, remote from all other signs of humanity, so far as the eye could judge, was a singular one; for the Indian loves his kind, and it is rare that one wanders deliberately away to make his home in loneliness, far from the rest of the tribe to which he belongs. In the case of this hut, however, its solitariness was more apparent than real; for although out of sight of any habitation whatever, the tribe to which its inmates belonged was distant not more than two miles, but on the other face of the hill, and hidden far in the recesses of a small caon. Here, on the site of a beautiful source of precious water, was a cluster of Indian houses of brush, built like the one on the hillside. Each had its fireplace on one side, as well as the accompanying heap of bones of animals killed in the chase. Near the centre of the group of huts stood the temescal – an institution with nearly every Southern California tribe of Indians – where those who were ill subjected themselves to the heroic treatment of parboiling over a fire, until in a profuse perspiration, to be followed, on crawling out, by a plunge into the icy water of the stream. It was truly a case of kill or cure.
Let us return to the hillside hut, and make the acquaintance of its inmates. Passing through the humble opening, the interior is disclosed to the curious eye at one glance. The ground embraced within the circle of the wickiup had been dug away so as to make an even, hard floor two or three feet below the surface of the earth outside. To the right, standing on the floor, were two large, round baskets, each one with a capacity of half a dozen gallons. They were made in conformity to the general type of basket of the Southern California aborigine, but with the distinctive marks peculiar to the tribe to which belonged the dwellers within, and woven so tightly as to hold water without permitting a drop to pass through. In the bottom of one of these baskets was scattered a little ground meal of the acorn, a staple article of food with all the Indians of California. The other basket, similar to the first in shape and size, but of rougher weave, and lined on the inside with bitumen, was nearly full of water; for though the finely woven baskets of the Southern California Indians were really water-tight, they were not generally used for liquids. Any one, acquainted with the customs of these Indians, would understand the meaning of the little heap of stones by the fireside without: they were used in warming the water in the basket, which was done by heating them in the embers of the fire, then, when hot, throwing them into the water, in this way bringing it almost to a boil. Afterward, the stones having been taken out, some meal was thrown in and, in this manner, cooked. Beyond the baskets, and nearly opposite the entrance, against the wall, was a heap of fine brush, covered with the tawny skin of an immense mountain-lion – a giant specimen of his species, and a formidable animal, truly, for an Indian to encounter with only bow and arrow.
On this bed of brush was the gaunt, emaciated form of a woman lying stretched out at full length. At first glance, one might have mistaken her for a mummy, so still and lifeless she lay; her face, too, carried out the resemblance startlingly, for it was furrowed and seamed with countless wrinkles, the skin appearing like parchment in its dry, leathery texture. Only the eyes gave assurance that this was no mummy, but a living, sentient body – eyes large, full-orbed and black as midnight, arched by heavy brows that frowned with great purpose, as if the soul behind and beyond were seeking, powerless, to relieve itself of some weighty message. These were not the eyes of age, yet they belonged to a countenance that gave token of having lived through a great many years; for the woman lying there so deathly still had experienced all the varied joys and sufferings of near four score years, each one leaving its indelible mark on the tell-tale face. She was clothed in a loose dress made from rabbit skins, sewn together coarsely, sleeveless, and so short as to leave her feet and ankles bare.
To the left of the entrance crouched a young Indian woman. She was an unusually good-looking specimen of the desert tribes: a tall well-shaped form; a head and face of much beauty and character, with a pair of eyes that, at first glance, betrayed a close relation to the woman lying on the bed. They were of the same size, color and brilliance; but the tense, powerful expression that was seen in those of the aged woman, here was softened to a mild, yet piercing glance, which had, at the same time, a touch of sadness. She appeared to be not more than twenty-five years old, although her face, in spite of its gentle, youthful expression, showed the traces of more than her full quota of hardships; for the life of the desert Indian is never an easy one at the best, and here had been a greater struggle for existence than is usual among the aborigines. As she crouched by the doorway, she seemed almost as lifeless as the old Indian woman on the bed, her gaze fixed absently on the extended view of plain and mountain stretching out before her, the only sign of life being the slow, even rise and fall of her bosom with each succeeding breath. Her dress was similar to that of the other woman, but was shorter, reaching only to the knees.
This young Indian was the granddaughter of the older woman. On the death of her parents (her father’s following that of her mother, the daughter of the aged Indian, after an interval of a few months), when she was little more than an infant, her grandmother had taken sole charge of her, treating her, as she became older, with the closest intimacy, more as a sister than a grandchild; and notwithstanding the diversity in age, this, feeling was reciprocated on the part of the child.
It was after her father’s death, but before she herself was old enough to see more than the surface of action, that her grandmother took up her abode in the lone hut on the brow of the hill, apart from the rest of the tribe of which she was a member, with the child her only companion. At first, the little girl noticed not the difference between their mode of living and that of the rest of the tribe, all the other members of which lived together, surrounding the spring of water, their life and mainstay; but very quickly, as the child grew older, she saw, only too plainly, that her grandmother was looked upon as different from the others: and the Indian regards all those of his kin, no matter how near, who display any peculiar form of mentality, either with reverence, as something of the divine, or with cruel hatred, when he believes the unfortunate individual possessed with the evil spirit. She saw, in the brief and infrequent visits the two made to the tribe, that her grandmother was regarded with distrust; that glances of aversion were cast at her from the doorways of the huts as they passed, and, once or twice, a mischievous boy had slyly thrown a stone at the two, wending their way to their lonely home.
Long the child cogitated over the situation, but, as is the Indian’s habit, without a word to her grand parent of what was occupying her mind. The old woman saw she was absorbed in some mental problem, and, with the shrewdness of the aborigine, guessed the subject, and sought to divert her thoughts into other channels. It was in vain, for one evening, after their simple meal of herbs, the girl, gathering courage, in the increasing dusk, asked abruptly, after a long silence:
“Grandmother, why do we live here alone, far from the others in the caon? Why do we – ?” she paused, frightened at her temerity.
The old woman started slightly. She had been sitting with hands folded quietly in her lap, thinking, possibly, of the absent ones of her family, gone to be with Ouiot in the everlasting home. Turning to her granddaughter, she answered, slowly and solemnly:
“My child, I am grieved to have this come upon you now, for I had hoped you would escape it until, after I am gone to the eternal life beyond. Then it would not have been to you a burden, only a sorrow, softened by the thought that I had borne bravely the punishment dealt out to me, without a word of reproach. I have seen that you had something on your mind, and guessed this was it, and now that you have asked me, I think it best to tell you, although you are still but a child. For you would, I know, brood over it in your heart. Listen, then, while I tell you my life story.”
“My childhood and youth were passed in a manner no different from that of the other children of our tribe; I worked and played, careless of everything but the present, until I was a big girl. I was happy in my ignorance, for why should I be singled out from all the rest to bear the honor that was to be thrust upon me? I knew not what was in store for me.”
“One night, when I was about fifteen years old, I dreamed that the spring, near which our kindred live, dried up, and forced us to move to another spring where we had to stay for two months. When I came to myself (for it was not so much like sleep as a trance), I wondered; but this passed away after a time, and I had almost forgotten the occurrence, when one day, about a month later, we were startled by hearing there was no water in the spring. The winter before had been very dry, with almost no rain, and fears had been expressed that the spring would fail us, a thing which had not occurred for more than three generations. My dream flashed through my mind, only for an instant, but long enough to imprint the coincidence on my memory. I thought no more of it, however, until some six months later, after our return to the spring; for, as I saw it in my dream, we had been forced to depart, and to be absent from our beloved dwelling-place for two months. Again I saw, as in a dream (but this time it was full day, and I knew I was not asleep), our entire tribe in mourning for our chief who was lying dead and surrounded by all the elders. It was like a flash of lightning, leaving me, once more, broad awake, yet I had not been asleep. This time I was frightened, for I knew there had been members of our tribe who could foretell the future. Was I to be one of them? I dared not tell any one of my dream, and waited trembling, from day to day, hoping and praying that it might not come true. But the future had been revealed to me, and a few weeks later our chief fell in a battle with our enemies to the east. When I heard of it I swooned, and my mother found me lying senseless by the fire. After she had revived me, she asked me the cause of my fainting, and, weakened from the shock, I told her all.”
“‘Daughter,’ she said, after a long pause, ‘you are destined for a great work, for Ouiot speaks through you.’ And, a few days later, after the burial of the dead, she told the chief men of the tribe what I had seen. And then ended my happiness: from that day I lived a life of sorrow, for the burden I had to bear was a heavy one: not only when I foretold disaster and suffering to our people, but when I had joyful news for them, even then the dread of knowing the future was terrible. Sometimes a half-year would pass without communication from above, and I would begin to hope that the awful gift was taken from me; but always it would manifest itself again. My husband (for I had been married not long after my first dream) left me just before your mother was born, but I did not want, for I was provided with everything by the entire tribe. Your mother, also, when she grew to be a woman, left me to be married to your father; but when he died, he asked me to take care of his only child, and that is why you and I have lived together all these years.”
The old woman paused, and several minutes passed silently in the gathering dusk, while the little girl waited wonderingly, afraid to speak. Presently the Indian stirred, as if waking from a slumber, and, after a slight shiver, resumed her tale:
“And thus I lived for many years, prophesying as the Great Spirit revealed the future to me, and my prophecies always came true. I foretold poor harvests, and the issues of our wars. Only once before the last prophecy I made was my word doubted, and then unbelief was born in the minds of many of the men. I spoke the words of truth then, but when I said we should, in time, vanish from this country, I was treated with scorn. But I was right. Are we greater in numbers than our traditions tell us were our fathers many generations ago? Is it not more difficult to live now than it was in former days? Where are the quail, the rabbits, that our ancestors used to kill so plentifully? Are not they growing less all the time? And the water! Look – ” and the old woman, with arm extended, pointed with her forefinger toward the three dry lakes in the distance, only one of which showed any signs of moisture, a small spot in the centre, covered with, perhaps, a foot of water -“look,” she repeated, “what were those lakes years ago? Our fathers tell us that long, long ages past, those three lakes were one large body of water. Where is it now? Have not I seen, in my own lifetime, the last one slowly drying up? Where will our game go when it has quite disappeared? And they laughed at me for telling them. It needs no gift of prophecy to see that. But they heeded me not. What cared they for anything so far in the future as that?
“But,” continued the woman, after a pause, dropping her arm in her lap, and speaking in a low, sad voice, “the last time came, and I prophesied, and this time I told wrongly, for Ouiot did not speak through me. We were at war with the southern tribe, and it was revealed to me that our men should conquer. When I told them, a shout went up, and at once they set off for our enemies. It was four days before they came back, but I felt no foreboding, for never before had I been deceived, and why should I be this time? So I waited, confident of the result. Alas! On the fourth day came a messenger with news of the defeat of our army, and the massacre of more than half of the men. For the second time in my life I fainted. When the men returned, they sought me out, and, with cries and curses, drove me from my home, and told me never to come back. But, on account of the position I had held, they gave me this hut by the spring for a dwelling-place, and suffered me to keep you with me. If I had belonged to one of the fierce tribes of Indians to the far east, I think they would have killed me, but we are a milder – people. And here we have lived ever since. After a time I was permitted to visit my kindred, but always I am greeted with looks of hatred.”
As she crouched in the doorway of the hut, and gazed absently over the distant view, the young woman was thinking of that day when her grandmother had told her past history. Well she remembered, that night, and the inspired look on her grandmother’s face as she spoke of the future of their people. It was the first time she had ever seen her in that psychic condition, and it was almost terrifying. Since that day, although at rare intervals, her grandmother had given proof of her former power, and in instances touching the welfare of the tribe; but no one save the young woman knew of it.
Then she traveled over in thought the following years, until she became a woman, and was wooed by one of the young men of the tribe, a few months before the date of our story. There had been much opposition to this on the part of her grandmother and of the elders of the tribe; but the young people won the day, and her husband had since made his home with her at the hut. But his marriage with her, in a measure, cut him off from the rest of the tribe; and gradually, as time went on, he had found himself refused the company of his former associates in the hunt, and was forced to make his livelihood, and that of the two women, without the aid of numbers. Until his marriage, the two women had been provided with food by the tribe, but one of the conditions of his wedding the young woman was that all assistance in that line should cease. Henceforward they were to live as though utterly alone. This they had done, and a hard struggle it had been at times, when game was scarce and hard to find. But, though suffering hunger and hardship, they had stayed at the spring, dreading to leave their dwelling-place, and seek other and better hunting-grounds, as is the custom of the Indians when sore pressed for food.
At this particular moment, her husband was absent on one of his hunting trips, which generally kept him away for several days. This time, however, he had been from home longer than usual, and the young wife was looking anxiously for his return, for there was nothing to eat save the remnant of meal in the bottom of the basket, and to-day her grandmother appeared to be worse. The old woman was dying slowly of old age, aided by the peculiar hardship of her long life; she had not left her bed for some time, and the young woman could see that her aged grandparent was not long for this world. During her illness (which, however, was more a gradual breaking down and dying of her strength than actual illness; for her mind seemed to be as clear as ever) she had given evidences of having something in her thought, some instruction or advice she desired to impart to her children, but which, so feeble was she, was beyond her strength to utter. Thus she had lain for three days, motionless, but for the restless turning of the head, and the burning, gleaming eyes seeming to take the place of her voice, and cry out the message her lips refused to speak.
Suddenly the young woman gave a start, and a look of joy passed swiftly across her face, for she saw her husband come around the brow of the hill far below. She rose quickly and hastened to meet him. As she neared him, she saw he was bearing on his back the carcass of a young deer, under the weight of which he staggered up the hill toward her. Running to him she cried:
“Itatli! Oh, you are come in time! You have been away so long! But I see you have had good luck this time in your hunting. How tired and thin you look! Have you been far?” and as she spoke, she took the deer from him, and laid it upon her own strong shoulder.
“Mota, it is a long way I have been, and I am sorely tired. Let me rest and have something to eat, and tonight I will tell you where I have been and what I have seen. How is the grandmother?”
“She is dying, Itatli. She has grown worse every day, and now cannot sit up, and she lies all day so still – all but her eyes. She tries to speak, and I am sure she has something on her mind that she wants to tell us. She will not live long.”
Slowly they climbed the hill, with an occasional sentence now and then. Arrived at the hut, the Indian entered, leaned his bow against the wall, near the baskets, and stood regarding the inanimate figure, a somber expression stealing over his face as he gazed. The woman’s eyes were closed, and she seemed to be asleep, nothing but her short, quick breathing showing she was still alive. For some minutes the man stood thus, then turned and strode out of the hut, picking up his bow as he passed it, and carrying it with him. Without a word to his wife, who had begun to cook a piece of the deer meat, and was busily at work over the out-door fire, he occupied himself with his bow and arrows, testing the strength of the cord, made of the intestines of a wild-cat, and examining closely the arrow-heads, tipped with poison, taken from the rattlesnake; but all in an intermittent way, for every few moments he raised his head and gazed long and steadily over the plain to the far distant hills on the southern horizon.
At last his wife called to him that the meal was ready. He went over to the fire and began to eat, while the woman took some of the broth, which she had made out of the meat, put it into a small earthen pot, and carried it to her grandmother, in the hope that she might be able to force a little of it down her throat. It was of no use: the dying woman was insensible to all help from food, and lay as in a stupor, from which it was impossible to rouse her. Mota returned sadly to the fire where her husband was eating as only a hungry man can eat.
They finished their meal in silence, and after the wife had put away the remains of the food, she came over to where her husband was sitting in the opening of the hut, and crouched by his side. There, in the gathering gloom of the night, he told of the experiences of his search for food.
“It was a long, long distance I went, Mota,” he began. “I journeyed on and on to the far south, until I reached a river that flows across the plains toward the sea. It was nearing evening of the second day after I came to the river, when suddenly I heard a queer sound as of the steps of a small army of some kind of hard-footed animals. It was far in the distance when first I heard it; for the air was still as though listening to the voice of the Great Spirit, its master; and I listened, rooted to the spot where I stood. What could it be? Never had I heard the tread of so many animals at one time. Nearer they came, and soon I heard the voices of men, speaking to each other, but not in any Indian language I am familiar with, and I know several. But if they were men I must hide, for they would take me prisoner, if they did not kill me, should I be seen. So I ran to the rushes growing on the bank of the river, and sank down among their thickly-growing shoots. The army came nearer steadily, and, in a few moments, I could see them climbing down the steep bank of the river a little way above me. I took one peep, and my breath almost left my body, for what I thought were men before I saw them, now that they came in sight, I knew to be celestial beings.”
“But that could not have been, Itatli,” exclaimed his wife, “for such a sight would have blinded, if not killed, you.”
“I know not about that,” answered the man, “but if they were not from above, whence came they? They were like me in shape, stature, and all else but in color and dress. They were white, nearly as white as, the snow on the distant mountains, and their bodies were completely covered with their clothes, excepting only their faces and hands. Their clothes were not made of skins, but were something different from anything I had ever seen; it was more like fine basketwork than anything I know of. They had no bows and arrows, such as ours, but straight, long, bright weapons which glittered in the sun. It may have been a strange kind of bow, but I could see no arrows, and they did not shoot with them while near me. On their heads, they wore a large round covering, which shaded them from the hot sun, and on their feet they had queer clothes, shaped like their feet, and these it was which had made me think the sound I heard was that made by animals. But among them were a few who were like us, and they may have been Indians, although they had on clothes like the others; so, perhaps, after all, the white beings were not gods, for the Indians were in their company and lived.”
The man had talked in low, earnest tones; but as he advanced in his tale, his voice, though still low, had taken on a penetrating, vibrating quality that thrilled his wife, and reached the ears of the old woman on the couch, seeming to rouse her from her lethargy like a voice from the grave. She had stirred restlessly two or three times, striving ever harder to break the thrall of her weakness: it would have moved the heart of any one beholding her efforts to make herself heard, but she lay unnoticed, for the man was deep in his wonderful narrative, and his wife listening intently, drinking in every word. At last she attracted the attention of the two, for her strenuous efforts to speak resulted in a hoarse, guttural sound deep in her throat. They sprang to their feet, and stepped quickly to the couch. There they saw a surprising change in the countenance of the old woman: her eyes, bright and unclouded as they had been before, now looked at them recognisingly, although they still bore the weighty, thoughtful expression; her mouth, now partly open, was full of resolve, and the lips were just shaping the words she was about to speak, as the two approached:
“Itatli, I heard the words you have spoken this evening, and I, alone, understand them. You know not what manner of men were those you saw; you know not, indeed, whether they be men or angels. I will tell you. They are men like ourselves, but they come from afar. Listen, my children,” she continued, her voice growing in power and volume, “I will disclose to you what I have never revealed to any one of our people. About two seasons of rain after I had foretold the future of our tribe, when the last lake should have become entirely dry, I had a revelation of what was to befall all the Indians of this great land, that far surpassed anything I had ever before prophesied. I saw, as in a vision, the great blue sea sparkling in the sun, the little waves rolling softly to the shore, to break into lines of white foam on the sands of the beach at my feet. I was alone, but was not afraid, although I had never before seen the sea, either in my visions or in real life; yet I knew at once what it was. While I gazed at the water, and watched the waves rushing up to my feet, I felt, all at once, as though an unseen power was impelling me to look up. I raised my head and gazed out over the water, and there I saw, far away, a great white object that looked like an immense bird. I knew, as I know all things that occur in my visions, this was a ship.
“Presently, the unseen power, as though whispering in my ear, revealed to me that the ship was full of men from a far country, coming to settle in our land, and that they would subdue the Indians, killing many, taking others captive, and making them work for their masters; and that, later, after many years, the Indians would vanish from the land which had been theirs since the time when Ouiot was on this earth. Then the vision faded slowly from my sight, and I seemed to enter a luminous mist as I felt myself impelled to walk. After what, in my trance, seemed many hours, I came out of the mist on to a level stretch of land, through which flowed a large river. There were mountains on the north, reaching for many miles, and from the west, which was lowland as far as the eye could see, came the cool afternoon sea wind. In the middle of the plain was a great tall house, white with a red roof, and at one end hung some bells in openings made for them in the wall. All around were a great many houses of brush, much like this we are in, and outside and in were crowds of Indians working like bees, at all kinds of toil, doing many things, too, that we never do, such as planting fields with seeds, and gathering the harvest when it was ripe; making cloth for clothes, such as you, my son, saw those strange men wearing. Then they were making jars and dishes of clay, and weaving baskets, such as we use.”
“Suddenly, a little time before sunset, while they were at their busiest, the bells in the big white house began to ring. Every one stopped working and stood facing the building. Then, as the bells were ringing, they bowed their heads. At this moment, I heard, again, the voice which yet was not a voice, revealing to me the meaning of the scene before my eyes. ‘Behold,’ I seemed to hear, ‘the final end of the Indians of this, land! See the fate which is awaiting them! All these peoples and tribes, and others far to the north and south of here, will be brought together into places like unto this. They will be made to work at these white men’s tasks; give up their own wild, free life in the open country; give up their old customs; give up their own god, even, to pray to the God of their masters. And thus will it be for many years, until the Indians disappear forever; for, after a time, they will grow fewer and fewer until not one shall be left in the whole land which once they owned.’ Then what seemed a deep sleep fell upon me, and when I awoke, I was in my own home. I was greatly frightened, but dared not tell any one of my visions; for I knew they would laugh me to scorn, perhaps drive me away, as they did at the last.”
As the old woman described this picture of the future revealed to her, her agitation increased. She raised herself on an arm, and with the other stretched out, she swept her hand along the horizon, from the south to the north, saying, as she did so:
“This is the land of the Indians; this Ouiot gave to our fathers, and they gave it to us. While the sun has been traveling over his path in the sky for many hundred years, we, and our fathers before us, for generations, have lived in this land. But now the end is come. We must give way before a people stronger than we; give up our land to them and vanish.”
Her voice increased in volume as she spoke, until, at the close, it was as powerful as in former days. When she had ceased speaking, she paused, with arm still outstretched, as though transfixed. She gazed steadily across the level plain to the distant mountains, motionless and rigid, while the two young Indians waited, awed and afraid, minute after minute, for they knew not what.
After a long silence, the aged sibyl let fall her arm, and dropped back suddenly on to the couch. The fire of prophecy in her eyes was still undimmed; but turning toward the two waiting ones, she spoke again, yet as if coming back to the present:
“Mota, Itatli, I am going to the distant home of our people, where all are happy. It will be but a few hours before I shall leave you. Do you, my son, after I am dead, go to the village, and tell the chief men all that I have revealed to you to-night. Tell them that, with my last breath, I spoke the truth revealed to me by the gods above. Tell them that the only safety for them, and their children after them, is to live with the strange white men who are come to our land; that they must be at peace with the strangers, live with them, and do all that is commanded them; that this is the only way they can put off the evil day when they shall disappear forever. And it is for a time only at best; but it is better to do that than to resist them, for they are too strong to be driven back. But I fear they will not listen to my words which you shall speak. And if so, you, my children, must leave here and go to the south, through the pass in the mountains, then toward the setting sun until you come to the river; and there you will find the strange men, as in my vision. Put yourselves under their care, and perhaps Ouiot will spare you, and the others there before you, from the fate of the rest of the tribes in this land.”
Her voice sank to a whisper, so that it was with difficulty they made out her last words. Closing her eyes, she lay gasping for some minutes; after this, she fell into a comatose state, from which she did not revive again. Hour after hour passed, the two watchers crouching motionless, without a word, regarding the fleeting breath of the dying woman. Shortly before the dawn began to lighten the horizon, a tremor passed through the body of the sufferer; a long, feeble sigh issued from her lips, and the aged, distrusted seer was no more.
The young woman, on seeing this, broke out into bitter wailing, swaying slowly forward and backward, while her husband sat with his head bowed on his knees. Their first thought was of utter bereavement, for to these two lonely ones, and especially to the woman, the grandparent had been not only the sole member of their tribe they had known for years, but she had proved to them a help, at times through her singular gift. On several occasions, in seasons of little game, had she told the man in which direction, to go for the best results. Once, at her instance, they had migrated to a distant spring she had known in her youth, where the three were safe from the murderous designs of the warlike tribe coming to their country from the north.
Finally the man bethought himself of the last behest of the dead woman. “I go to the village, Mota,” he said hoarsely, and without another word left the hut and set off down the hill.
The woman moved not, but remained as before, near the bed of her grandmother. There she sat, on the earthen floor, without taking her eyes from the face of the dead, until her husband returned, nearly three hours later.
“It was no use,” he exclaimed sadly, “they would not listen, but told me to go back and bury the grandmother; they would not come with me.”
Mota replied not.
That night, as the sun was setting, the two lone creatures made a grave on the hill a few feet from the hut, and there they buried the mortal remains of the old Indian woman. It was a sad, silent rite; both felt deeply the absence of all their friends and kindred; the lack of all the customary wailing proper to the solemn service of burial; but, above all, the want of belief in the dead woman’s prophecy. That gave the poignant touch to their sorrow. Sadly and silently, as they had buried the dead, they returned to their hut in the gathering shades of night.
The next morning, these two bereaved ones, packing up their few simple belongings, stole sorrowfully away from their home. They knew not what was before them, scarcely anything of the country whither they were bound; but such was their faith in the dead woman’s word, that they did not falter in their resolution to fulfill her admonition.
The hut, and all belonging to it, is long passed away; and the spring, also, has disappeared, drying up till merely a stony furrow in the ground shows where it once had its course. Only the lonely grave on the hillside remains to mark the ancient Indian habitation here, and that, today, is almost obliterated. As for the village beyond in the caon, that, too, is no more; hardly a vestige can now be found to tell us that here, long ago, was a thriving Indian settlement. All is silent and deserted. Truly, as the aged Indian prophetess foretold, has the aborigine vanished from the land.