Chapter II. The Story of the Indians
"Run, Cleeta, run, the waves will catch you." Cleeta scudded away, her naked little body shining like polished mahogany. She was fleet of foot, but the incoming breakers from the bosom of the great Pacific ran faster still; and the little Indian girl was caught in its foaming water, rolled over and over, and cast upon the sandy beach, half choked, yet laughing with the fun of it.
"Foolish Cleeta, you might have been drowned; that was a big wave. What made you go out so far?" said Gesnip, the elder sister.
"I found such a lot of mussels, great big ones, I wish I could go back and get them," said the little one, looking anxiously at the water.
"The waves are coming in higher and higher and it is growing late," said Gesnip; "besides, I have more mussels already than you and I can well carry. The boys have gone toward the river mouth for clams. They will be sure to go home the other way."
Cleeta ran to the basket and looked in.
"I should think there were too many for us to carry," she said, as she tried with all her strength to lift it by the carry straps. "What will you do with them; throw some back into the water?"
"No, I don't like to do that," answered her sister, frowning, "for it has been so long since we have had any. The wind and the waves have been too high for us to gather any. Look, Cleeta, look; what are those out on the water? I do believe they are boats."
"No," said the little girl; "I see what you mean, but boats never go out so far as that."
"Not tule boats," said Gesnip, "but big thick one made out of trees; that is the kind they have at Santa Catalina, the island where uncle lives. It has been a long time since he came to see us, not since you were four years old, but mother is always looking for him."
The children gazed earnestly seaward at a fleet of canoes which were making for the shore. "Do you think it is uncle?" asked Cleeta.
"Yes," replied her sister, uncertainly, "I think it may be." Then, as the sunlight struck full on the boats "Yes, yes, I am sure of it, for one is red, and no on else has a boat of that color; all others are brown."
"Mother said he would bring abalone when he came," cried Cleeta, dancing from one foot to the other; "and she said they are better than mussels or anything else for soup."
"He will bring fish," said Gesnip, "big shining fish with yellow tails."
"Mother said he would bring big blue ones with hard little seams down their sides," said Cleeta.
Meantime the boats drew nearer. They were of logs hollowed out until they were fairly light, but still seeming too clumsy for safe seagoing craft. In each were several men. One sat in the stern and steered, the others knelt in pairs, each man helping propel the boat by means of a stick some four feet long, more like a pole than a paddle, which he worked with great energy over the gunwale.
"I am afraid of them," said Cleeta, drawing close to her sister. "They do not look like the people I have seen. Their faces are the color of the kah-hoom mother weaves in her baskets. There are only three like us, and they all have such strange clothes."
"Do not be afraid," said Gesnip. "I see uncle; he is one of the dark ones like ourselves. The island people have yellow skins."
The time was the year 1540, and the people, the Californians of that day. The men in the boat were mostly from the island of Santa Catalina, and were fairer, with more regular features, than the inhabitants of the mainland, who in southern California were a short, thick-set race, with thick lips, dark brown skin, coarse black hair, and eyes small and shining like jet-black beads. They were poorly clothed in winter; in summer a loin cloth was often all that the men wore, while the children went naked a large part of the year.
With wonderful skill the badly shaped boats were guided safely over the breakers until their bows touched the sand. Then the men leaped out and, half wading, half swimming, pulled them from the water and ran them up on the beach.
The little girls drew near and stood quietly by, waiting to be spoken to. Presently the leading man, who was short, dark, and handsomely dressed in a suit of sealskin ornamented with abalone shell, turned to them.
"Who are these little people?" he asked, in a kind voice.
"We are the children of Cuchuma and Macana," replied Gesnip, working her toes in and out of the soft sand, too shy to look her uncle in the face.
"Children of my sister, Sholoc is glad to see you," said the chief, laying his hand gently on Cleeta's head. "Your mother, is she well?"
"She is well and looking for you these many moons," said Gesnip.
The men at once began unloading the boats. The children watched the process with great interest, Abalone in their shells, a dainty prized then as well as now, fish, yellowtail and bonito, filled to the brim the large baskets which the men slung to their backs, carrying them by means of a strap over the forehead. On their heads they placed ollas, or water jars, of serpentine from quarries which may be seen in Santa Catalina to-day, the marks of the tools of workmen of, that time still in the rocks.
There were also strings of bits of abalone shell which had been punctured and then polished, and these Sholoc hung around his neck.
"Uncle," exclaimed Gesnip, touching one of these strings, "how much money! You have grown rich at Santa Catalina. What will you buy?"
"Buy me a wife, perhaps," was the reply. "I will give two strings for a good wife. Do you know any worth so much?"
"No," said the girl, stoutly. "I don't know any worth two whole strings of abalone. You can get a good wife for much less."