The Valiant Runaways by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
That evening Anastacio called Roldan to him.
"I fear treachery," he said. "Who can trust five hundred men that have learned too much? And the white men, they have better brains than mine. I watch to-night. Will you watch with me, senor?--that I can sleep before morning and rest for the fight."
"I will," said Roldan, enthusiastically. "And Adan also?"
"It matters not."
When the dusk was so thick in the aisles that every moving frond looked like a man looming suddenly, one of the sentinels returned with the news that the paper had been taken from the tree, and that the Californians had pitched tents, and to all appearance were at rest for the night.
It was not likely that the enemy would venture into the forest at night. They were not a large body, they were not pressed for time, nor were they the heroes of many wars. The Indians were comparatively safe until morning; nevertheless, Anastacio was too good a general to relax vigilance. When night came he and the two boys went down the mountain and sent the outpost back to sleep. They ventured out where the trees grew far apart, and the brilliant stars of California illumined the great valley like so many thousand watch-fires.
The three sat down side by side, their gaze directed steadily downward and outward.
"Why do you fight at all?" asked Roldan. "You could stay in these mountains until the Californians were dust, and not be caught."
"And live like hunted beasts. I like the valley; the sun in winter, the cool mountains in summer. If I am victor to-morrow, all the Indians in California will call me chief. They will run here from every Mission and hacienda, and from every hill and mountain, like little ones to their good father; and we will drive the priests out of the country, and make the hidalgos, the caballeros, the soft silk-dressed donas our friends or our slaves--as they wish. California belongs to us. The Great Spirit put us here, not the white man. If it was for them why did they not grow out of the earth as we did? Why were we put here at all if our land was not for us? We were happy until these priests came to drive us mad making boots and mud bricks and wine all day, driven like dogs to the kennel, flogged when we wanted to lie in the sun--"
"But, Anastacio," interrupted Roldan, who had listened to this strange outburst with the vague consciousness that the soul of an expiring race had opened its lips for a brief moment, "you are far more clever than most Indians. If it were not for the priests you would be no better than the most ignorant of them."
"If I am clever now, senor, was I not clever in the beginning? You do not make cake out of bran. The Great Spirit sent his light into me and said: 'Thou shalt be a great chief.' I could have done as well and better without the priests. What good did it do me to read and tell my beads and make chocolate? Was I happy at the Mission? Not for one moon, senor. I felt as if I had a wild beast chained in me that choked and panted for the free life of my youth, of my fathers. I ran away from the Mission twenty-three times--and was brought back and flogged. Many times I would have crushed my head with a stone had it not been that all the other Indians of the Mission ran to me like dogs, and that I could make them tremble with a word and obey with a look. I knew that the Great Spirit had given me what these poor creatures had not, and that one day I would give California to them again. It has begun."
"But we have better things to eat and drink and more comfortable houses and clothes than you have in your pueblos. I like what the priests call 'civilisation.'"
"It is for the white man, not for the Indian with a skin like the earth and a heart like the wild-cat. If we did not know of fine bread and thin wine and heavy shoes and cursed bags about our legs we should not want them. Padre Flores says that he and the other priests came here to make us happy. Why not let us be happy in our own way? We needed no teaching."
Years after, Roldan, who grew to know the world well and many men, recalled the conversation of that night, and meditated upon the strange workings of the human mind: the fundamental philosophy of life differs little in the brain of the savage and the brain of the student-thinker.
"We are told that we must progress, grow better," he said.
"Hundreds and hundreds of years Indians lived and died here before the priests came. All legends say they were happy. Now they 'progress,' and suffer--in the body and in the spirit. One life is for us, another for you. Should the white man have many children and children's children until all the mountains and valleys of California are his, then will all the Indians die, even though they are treated well for they are slaves-- no more. Are they happy? For what were they made? To be slaves and die from the earth before they are threescore and ten, to be no more remembered than the beasts of the field?"
"I hope you'll win to-morrow," cried Roldan, his young mind moved to pity, and profoundly disturbed. "You can never get California away from the Spaniard, and I can't wish you to; but you might, if you rallied all the Indians to you, become powerful enough to live in the way you like best, and I hope you will. Why should men say: 'I am better than you; I will make you like myself?' How do we know? I have ridden like the wind, and coliared a bull with the best vaquero in the Californias, but I am afraid my mind has had fifteen years of siesta. Now--well, I shall be governor of the Californias one day, and then I shall send all the Indians back to the mountains."
Anastacio put out his hand, and the two civilisations decreed by Nature to stand apart from the beginning to the end of time clasped in brief friendship.
"I will be your friend," said the Indian, "and the white man need not despise the friendship of a great chief. California is a fair land. Others will come to it besides the Spaniard. If Anastacio has thousands of Indians to run to his call they will fight when he bids them."
"Caramba! you are right," exclaimed Roldan. "Those Americans--"
"American boys?" asked Adan, eagerly.
"Now," said Anastacio, "I sleep. Awake me when the sky turns grey."
He stretched himself out and slept at once. The boys drew close together and speculated upon the fateful morrow. They agreed to remain close together, out of sight of the enemy, but where they could watch the Indian forces. If Anastacio fell they would flee at once.