Chapter XIII. The Spires of Stone

One afternoon they had pushed over back of Harney, up a very steep little trail in a very tiny cleft-like canon, verdant and cool. All at once the trail had stood straight on end. The ponies scrambled up somehow, and they found themselves on a narrow open mesa splashed with green moss and matted with an aromatic covering of pine needles.

Beyond the easternmost edge of the plateau stood great spires of stone, a dozen in all, several hundred feet high, and of solid granite. They soared up grandly into the open blue, like so many cathedral spires, drawing about them that air of solitude and stillness which accompanies always the sublime in Nature. Even boundless space was amplified at the bidding of their solemn uplifted fingers. The girl reined in her horse.

"Oh!" she murmured in a hushed voice, "I feel impertinent--as though I were intruding."

A squirrel many hundreds of feet below could be heard faintly barking.

"There is something solemn about them," the boy agreed in the same tone, "but, after all, we are nothing to them. They are thinking their own thoughts, far above everything in the world."

She slipped from her horse.

"Let's sit here and watch them," she said. "I want to look at them, and feel them."

They sat on the moss, and stared solemnly across at the great spires of stone.

"They are waiting for something there," she observed; "for something that has not come to pass, and they are looking for it always toward the East. Don't you see how they are waiting?"

"Yes, like Indian warriors wrapped each in his blanket. They might be the Manitous. They say there are lots of them in the Hills."

"Yes, of course!" she cried, on fire with the idea. "They are the Gods of the people, and they are waiting for something that is coming--something from the East. What is it?"

"Civilization," he suggested.

"Yes! And when this something, this Civilization, comes, then the Indians are to be destroyed, and so their Gods are always watching for it toward the East."

"And," he went on, "when it comes at last, then the Manitous will have to die, and so the Indians know that their hour has struck when these great stone needles fall."

"Why, we have made a legend," she exclaimed with wonder.

They stretched out on their backs along the slope, and stared up at the newly dignified Manitous in delicious silence.

"There was a legend once, you remember?" he began hesitatingly, "the first day we were on the Rock together. It was about a Spirit Mountain."

"Yes, I remember, the day we saw the Shadow."

"You said you'd tell it to me some time."

"Did I?"

"Don't you think now is a good time?"

She considered a moment idly.

"Why, yes, I suppose so," she assented, after a pause. "It isn't much of a legend though." She clasped her hands back of her head. "It goes like this," she began comfortably:

"Once upon a time, when the world was very young, there was an evil Manitou named Ne-naw-bo-shoo. He was a very wicked Manitou, but he was also very accomplished, for he could change himself into any shape he wished to assume, and he could travel swifter than the wind. But he was also very wicked. In old times the centres of all the trees were fat, and people could get food from them, but Ne-naw-bo-shoo walked through the forest and pushed his staff down through the middle of the trunks, and that is why the cores of the trees are dark-coloured. Maple sap used to be pure sirup once, too, but Ne-naw-bo-shoo diluted it with rain water just out of spite. But there was one peculiar thing about Ne-naw-bo-shoo. He could not cross a vein of gold or of silver. There was some sort of magic in them that turned him back--repelled him.

"Now, one day two lovers were wandering about on the prairie away east of here. One of them was named Mon-e-dowa, or the Bird Lover, and the other was Muj-e-ah-je-wan, or Rippling Water. And as these two walked over the plains talking together, along came the evil spirit, Ne-naw-bo-shoo, and as soon as he saw them he chased them, intending to kill them and drink their blood, as was his custom.

"They fled far over the prairie. Everywhere that Muj-e-ah-je-wan stepped, prairie violets grew up; and everywhere that Mon-e-dowa stepped, a lark sprang up and began to sing. But the wicked Ne-naw-bo-shoo gained on them fast, for he could run very swiftly.

"Then suddenly they saw in front of them a great mountain, grown with pines and seamed with fissures. This astonished them greatly, for they knew there were no mountains in the prairie country at all; but they had no time to spare, so they climbed quickly up a broad canon and concealed themselves.

"Now, when the wicked Manitou came along he tried to enter the canon too, but he had to stop, because down in the depths of the mountain were veins of gold and silver which he could not cross. For many days he raged back and forth, but in vain. At last he got tired and went away.

"Then Mon-e-dowa and Muj-e-ah-je-wan, who had been living quite peacefully on the game with which the mountain swarmed, came out of the canon and turned toward home. But as soon as they had set foot on the level prairie again, the mountain vanished like a cloud, and then they knew they had been aided by Man-a-boo-sho, the good Manitou."

The girl arose and shook her skirt free of the pine needles that clung to it.

"Ever since then," she went on, eyeing Bennington saucily sideways, "the mountain has been invisible except to a very few. The legend says that when a maid and a warrior see it together they will be----"

"What?" asked Bennington as she paused.

"Dead within the year!" she cried gaily, and ran lightly to her pony.

"Did you like my legend?" she asked, as the ponies, foot-bunched, minced down the steepest of the trail.

"Very much; all but the moral."

"Don't you want to die?"

"Not a bit."

"Then I'll have to."

"That would be the same thing."

And Bennington dared talk in this way, for the next day began the Pioneer's Picnic, and lately she had been very kind.