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Nevertheless, he used the telescope again that day. But there was
no repetition of the incident, and he was forced to believe that he
had been the victim of some extraordinary illusion. The next
morning, however, with his calmer judgment doubts began to visit
him. There was no one of whom he could make inquiries but his
Indian helper, and their conversation had usually been restricted
to the language of signs or the use of a few words he had picked
up. He contrived, however, to ask if there was a "waugee" (white)
woman in the neighborhood. The Indian shook his head in surprise.
There was no "waugee" nearer than the remote mountain-ridge to
which he pointed. Pomfrey was obliged to be content with this.
Even had his vocabulary been larger, he would as soon have thought
of revealing the embarrassing secret of this woman, whom he
believed to be of his own race, to a mere barbarian as he would of
asking him to verify his own impressions by allowing him to look at
her that morning. The next day, however, something happened which
forced him to resume his inquiries. He was rowing around the
curving spot when he saw a number of black objects on the northern
sands moving in and out of the surf, which he presently made out as
Indians. A nearer approach satisfied him that they were wading
squaws and children gathering seaweed and shells. He would have
pushed his acquaintance still nearer, but as his boat rounded the
point, with one accord they all scuttled away like frightened
sandpipers. Pomfrey, on his return, asked his Indian retainer if
they could swim. "Oh, yes!" "As far as the rock?" "Yes." Yet
Pomfrey was not satisfied. The color of his strange apparition
remained unaccounted for, and it was not that of an Indian woman.

Trifling events linger long in a monotonous existence, and it was
nearly a week before Pomfrey gave up his daily telescopic inspection
of the rock. Then he fell back upon his books again, and, oddly
enough, upon another volume of voyages, and so chanced upon the
account of Sir Francis Drake's occupation of the bay before him. He
had always thought it strange that the great adventurer had left no
trace or sign of his sojourn there; still stranger that he should
have overlooked the presence of gold, known even to the Indians
themselves, and have lost a discovery far beyond his wildest dreams
and a treasure to which the cargoes of those Philippine galleons he
had more or less successfully intercepted were trifles. Had the
restless explorer been content to pace those dreary sands during
three weeks of inactivity, with no thought of penetrating the inland
forests behind the range, or of even entering the nobler bay beyond?
Or was the location of the spot a mere tradition as wild and
unsupported as the "marvells" of the other volume? Pomfrey had the
skepticism of the scientific, inquiring mind.

Two weeks had passed and he was returning from a long climb inland,
when he stopped to rest in his descent to the sea. The panorama of
the shore was before him, from its uttermost limit to the
lighthouse on the northern point. The sun was still one hour high,
it would take him about that time to reach home. But from this
coign of vantage he could see--what he had not before observed--
that what he had always believed was a little cove on the northern
shore was really the estuary of a small stream which rose near him
and eventually descended into the ocean at that point. He could
also see that beside it was a long low erection of some kind,
covered with thatched brush, which looked like a "barrow," yet
showed signs of habitation in the slight smoke that rose from it
and drifted inland. It was not far out of his way, and he resolved
to return in that direction. On his way down he once or twice
heard the barking of an Indian dog, and knew that he must be in the
vicinity of an encampment. A camp-fire, with the ashes yet warm,
proved that he was on the trail of one of the nomadic tribes, but
the declining sun warned him to hasten home to his duty. When he
at last reached the estuary, he found that the building beside it
was little else than a long hut, whose thatched and mud-plastered
mound-like roof gave it the appearance of a cave. Its single
opening and entrance abutted on the water's edge, and the smoke he
had noticed rolled through this entrance from a smouldering fire
within. Pomfrey had little difficulty in recognizing the purpose
of this strange structure from the accounts he had heard from
"loggers" of the Indian customs. The cave was a "sweat-house"--a
calorific chamber in which the Indians closely shut themselves,
naked, with a "smudge" or smouldering fire of leaves, until,
perspiring and half suffocated, they rushed from the entrance and
threw themselves into the water before it. The still smouldering
fire told him that the house had been used that morning, and he
made no doubt that the Indians were encamped near by. He would
have liked to pursue his researches further, but he found he had
already trespassed upon his remaining time, and he turned somewhat
abruptly away--so abruptly, in fact, that a figure, which had
evidently been cautiously following him at a distance, had not time
to get away. His heart leaped with astonishment. It was the woman
he had seen on the rock.

Although her native dress now only disclosed her head and hands,
there was no doubt about her color, and it was distinctly white,
save for the tanning of exposure and a slight red ochre marking on
her low forehead. And her hair, long and unkempt as it was, showed
that he had not erred in his first impression of it. It was a
tawny flaxen, with fainter bleachings where the sun had touched it
most. Her eyes were of a clear Northern blue. Her dress, which
was quite distinctive in that it was neither the cast off finery of
civilization nor the cheap "government" flannels and calicoes
usually worn by the Californian tribes, was purely native, and of
fringed deerskin, and consisted of a long, loose shirt and leggings
worked with bright feathers and colored shells. A necklace, also
of shells and fancy pebbles, hung round her neck. She seemed to be
a fully developed woman, in spite of the girlishness of her flowing
hair, and notwithstanding the shapeless length of her gaberdine-
like garment, taller than the ordinary squaw.

Pomfrey saw all this in a single flash of perception, for the next
instant she was gone, disappearing behind the sweat-house. He ran
after her, catching sight of her again, half doubled up, in the
characteristic Indian trot, dodging around rocks and low bushes as
she fled along the banks of the stream. But for her distinguishing
hair, she looked in her flight like an ordinary frightened squaw.
This, which gave a sense of unmanliness and ridicule to his own
pursuit of her, with the fact that his hour of duty was drawing
near and he was still far from the lighthouse, checked him in full
career, and he turned regretfully away. He had called after her at
first, and she had not heeded him. What he would have said to her
he did not know. He hastened home discomfited, even embarrassed--
yet excited to a degree he had not deemed possible in himself.

During the morning his thoughts were full of her. Theory after
theory for her strange existence there he examined and dismissed.
His first thought, that she was a white woman--some settler's wife--
masquerading in Indian garb, he abandoned when he saw her moving;
no white woman could imitate that Indian trot, nor would remember
to attempt it if she were frightened. The idea that she was a
captive white, held by the Indians, became ridiculous when he
thought of the nearness of civilization and the peaceful, timid
character of the "digger" tribes. That she was some unfortunate
demented creature who had escaped from her keeper and wandered into
the wilderness, a glance at her clear, frank, intelligent, curious
eyes had contradicted. There was but one theory left--the most
sensible and practical one--that she was the offspring of some
white man and Indian squaw. Yet this he found, oddly enough, the
least palatable to his fancy. And the few half-breeds he had seen
were not at all like her.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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