The High Calling/Chapter 15
"MISS DOUGLAS, I haven't had half a chance to talk to you and you'll forgive me, won't you, if I take advantage of this moment."
Helen was not in the slightest degree prepared for what Van Shaw was going to say. She was conscious, as every beautiful young woman must be, of her charms and of the effect of them on the young men she met, but she would have been a most remarkably vain and shallow person if she had ever imagined for herself such a scene as the one now being acted out on the top of the rock at Oraibi. The wildest stretch of her romantic temperament had never carried her so far, and when she first began to really grasp the sense of what Van Shaw was saying she was frightened and angry. At the same time there was a certain feeling of pride and exultation of which she was vaguely ashamed.
Helen quietly began to say some simple thing in reply to Van Shaw's first remark when he hurriedly went on, interrupting her:
"I won't have much time to speak now, but I'm going to risk everything, and tell you. I just can't keep it to myself. It may sound awfully absurd to you,--I suppose it does, but I can't help it. I'm just simply dead in love with you and I want you to know that I------"
"What!" said Helen sharply. She was so disturbed, so confused in her mind that Van Shaw's words seemed unreal, as unreal as the kiva on which she was sitting or the changing groups of vivid colour moving about on the tops of the houses.
"I can't help it," Van Shaw began again hurriedly, "You do not know how fascinating you are. It has just swept me off my feet."
This time Helen understood what Van Shaw was saying and her face was flooded with a swift wave of colour. And she said coldly:
"You have no right to talk to me like that. I will not listen." She turned her head and saw her mother just coming out of Talavenka's house, standing at the foot of the ladder as if preparing to go up with Mrs. Masters to the house roof.
"Mother!" she called, in a dim way thinking of nothing except her desire somehow to escape a very embarrassing scene with Van Shaw. But there was so much noise made by the clattering groups of tourists and the sudden arrival of new comers that Mrs. Douglas did not hear. Besides at that moment Helen saw Bauer speaking to her and the next moment he and her mother had walked slowly off together up the tortuous village street and were lost to sight in the crowd.
Van Shaw sat down on the kiva, and smiled a little. But his face was pale, and evidently for one of the rare occasions in his life he was truly and desperately in earnest.
"You can't blame me, can you?"
"It's--it's simply impossible. It's out of the question. I have not known you two days."
"It doesn't take lighting two days to hit," said Van Shaw doggedly.
"I won't listen. I forbid your talking to me," said Helen haughtily.
"All right. But you can't forbid my thinking of you."
"But I can and I will refuse to be in your company!" said Helen. She was angry now at something undefined in Van Shaw's manner. "If you do not leave me at once, I will try to leave you." She actually made a movement to rise and put her foot on the ground at the edge of the kiva. Van Shaw instantly got up and said quickly, "Of course I'll go. But I can't change my feelings and never shall. Promise me one thing. Don't believe all the stories you may hear about me."
He had turned and walked up the street and Helen sank back with a strange feeling of relief mingled with shame and again that other feeling--what was it, pride? The sense of power over men? The feeling that her beauty was a gift or something else? She was frightened at it all put together and felt irritated to be left alone by the rest of the party as she looked around at the medley of old and new jumbled together in that Hopi village. And then the next reaction left her nervous and somewhat hysterical as she tried to imagine such a thing in a book. She actually laughed and the next moment Miss Gray and Walter appeared, at the edge of the kiva. Miss Gray came running up to her.
"It's a shame to leave you here alone. How did that happen?"
"Oh, I don't know. I haven't been alone long. How strange everything is."
"Yes. And it gets stranger the more you see of it. Talavenka and her mother have asked us to eat with them. They will have something ready in about an hour. You had better go in and rest there a while. It's too hot out here. Where are your jinrikisha men?"
"Van Shaw just went up the street," said Walter looking closely at Helen.
"We don't need him," said Miss Gray. "Mr. Douglas, will you get Mr. Coleman and Mr. Calder? There they are, over there. I'll help, and we'll take Helen over to Talavenka's."
Walter went over to call the Pittsburgh young men and Miss Gray and Helen were together a moment. Helen suddenly asked:
"Do you know Mr. Van Shaw, Lucy? Didn't I hear you say to mother yesterday that he was related distantly to your mother?"
"Yes," said Miss Gray slowly. "He is. What do you want to know?"
"Anything you can tell me."
Miss Gray looked troubled.
"Are you willing to tell me why you want to know?"
Helen hesitated. Walter and the young men were approaching.
"Give me your full confidence," Miss Gray smiled at Helen. "And I will know better what to tell."
"I will when there is time for it," Helen said and that was all she could say, before she was carried into Talavenka's house.
Once inside the little square room with its corn grinding boxes taking up one whole side of it there was so much of interest that Helen let everything else wait, as she watched the preparations for the meal soon to be served. It would be several hours before the snake dance and in that time there was no likelihood that Van Shaw would try to speak to her again. She was not afraid of that, but she felt uneasy at the thought of some future scene, just what she was not clear about, but it vexed and allured her until finally the surroundings compelled all her attention and drove everything else out of her imagination.
Her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Masters and Miss Gray were invited with her to the mid day meal in the house. The rest of the Tolchaco party ate out of doors on the platform by the door. There was boiled mutton, red, white and blue wafer bread made of corn meal that made one think he was eating wall paper, Elijah Clifford said, melons, green peas taken from a can that had a Ft. Wayne, Ind., label on it, and to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas's astonishment some delicious peaches brought by Talavenka's brother all the way from their little garden down by the Oraibi Wash. In reply to questions from Mr. Masters, who used Talavenka as interpreter, Schewingoiashchi said, as if it were an ordinary every day occurrence, that her oldest boy nineteen years old had run twenty-five miles that forenoon to get the peaches from the orchard for their anticipated guests.
About an hour before sunset they all went out to the village plaza to witness the great event of the year in Oraibi. And as long as they live they will need no photographs or pictures to make the weird scene vivid to them.
Picture a grey mass of rock rising up abruptly above the desert, bare of tree or shrub; scattered over its irregular top, blocks of two and three story stone and dried brick houses, for the most part square in outward shape, with steps on the outside built into the wall, or heavy ladders with long projecting ends resting upon platforms built in front of small square topped doorways, the roofs flat and covered with dried grasses. No stairways within these houses permitting passage from lower to upper rooms, and all built after century old architectural plans, by the hands of women. Between the blocks of irregular houses picture rectangular slabs of stone rising two feet above the ground, containing an opening in the middle out of which project high in the air the two ends of a hard-wood ladder, the rungs of which have been worn almost through by the passage of naked feet that have pressed up and down on these bits of wood for scores of years. It is not easy to imagine the real fact that down in those upstairs cellars the men of Oraibi lead their club life, weaving down there in the dim light that filters past the ladder, the rugs and belts and other material mysteriously used for religious ceremonial. And down in the snake priests' kiva, just over yonder, the venomous reptiles have been kept for weeks past in the sacrificial clay jars, out of which they have crawled during the rites of their purification and hung in twisted hissing knots out of the crevices between the sides of the kiva walls, from which places the brown hands of old Thisdoa, Talavenka's father, have only this morning taken them to put in the cottonwood booth out on the village plaza, where they are now awaiting their part in the coming ceremony. For old Thisdoa is the head priest and knows more of the mysteries of the snake nature than any being in Oraibi.
The sun is just on the edge of the desert. All traces of the morning storm are vanished. Out on the tops of the houses all about the open plaza, groups of men and women begin to appear, the unmarried girls distinguished from the married by the graceful whorls of black hair standing out in marked contrast with the two rolls that hang down past the ears of the matrons. Cowboys, Navajo horsemen, traders, all the non-acting part of Oraibi's population, tourists, photographers, visitors, crowd up in a rainbow coloured fringe about the sandy depression which now contains only one conspicuous object, the cottonwood booth or kisi, the size of a boy's wigwam, having a canvas flap on the side opening close by the broad board over which the feet of the priests will thump as they file past. A moving picture machine is installed on top of a near-by house. The Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago tourists and newspaper men are grouped about in what they believe are advantageous positions. The costumes vary from smart tailor made dresses worn by the tourist girls from Cincinnati to a Hopi child's dress made of a piece of a gunny sack bearing the name of a Minnesota flouring mill. Over all the jumble of old and new, modern and ancient, the setting sun floods the medley of colour and language and dress and Christian and pagan. And in the stillness that waits the coming of the twenty-four priests out of the kivas, the town crier walks out on the corner of a house top and cries aloud an announcement of a service to be held that night in the little mission chapel out there on the edge of the rock.
"What's that?" asked one of the tourists near Clifford.
"That's the town crier of Oraibi," said Clifford. "There are no newspapers up here and the official village news purveyor is telling the crowd to come over to the Gospel meeting to-night. He says Mr. Masters is going to preach in three languages. Better come and hear him in one of 'em."
The tourist stares at Clifford. "Well of all the places on earth for preaching, this beats me. Do you mean to say a preacher will actually hold a service up here after this snake dance and expect to get an audience?"
"Will he?" says Clifford cheerfully. "You had better come early or you won't get a seat. And as for preaching you'll hear a better sermon than you ever heard in Cincinnati, Ohio."
"I guess that may be so," says the tourist. "For I haven't been to church since I don't know when."
"You need preaching then, like the rest of these heathen," said Clifford so simply that the Cincinnati man takes no offence but promises to go over to the service if he isn't too tired.
The rim of the sun is an hour above the horizon and the crowd has ceased its chatter. It is very quiet on the grey rock of Oraibi, although a thousand people are looking intently at the openings of the two kivas. Suddenly from the one nearest the Tolchaco party up the ladder the chief of the Antelope priests appears. He holds the rattle box in his hand and is followed by the eleven priests, the last one a lad twelve years old. The line twists through the fringe of visitors, as oblivious of any onlookers as if they were going through this ceremony five hundred years ago when not a white face was dreamed of and when the Hopi was doing exactly what old Thisdoa and his grandson are doing to-day.
Then from out the other kiva the stately snake priests emerge, a group of twelve old men each bearing the rattle which contains the grains of corn. The incessant pattering of the rattles is the only sound heard in the plaza until the soft moccasined feet reach the board over the hole in front of the kisi. The thump, thump, thump of the feet pound over the board to call the attention of the underworld gods to the needs of their children up here. The sandy plaza is traversed and the two lines of priests circle about, finally stopping in front of the kisi, facing one another; then rises the "wo, wo, wo, wo," the guttural chant. The Hopis have been for many years a peaceful people, but this monotonous chant, rising occasionally into a swelling crescendo howl sends delightful cold shivers down the backs of the visitors, and even Elijah Clifford says he wouldn't want to meet that howl unexpectedly around the corner. Then the priests file past the kisi one by one, stoop by the opening and receive from the old warrior priest sitting within, a snake. Each one raises his snake to his mouth and holds it there between his teeth as he walks about the plaza accompanied by his hugger or companion. Suddenly the snakes are released and thrown down upon the sand. They make swift and desperate efforts to escape but are caught up again with such rapidity of movement that the closest attention paid by the tourists can not discover how it is done. Round and round the procession of twenty-four moves. Out from the houses near the snake kiva a group of girls and women suddenly run. They stop at the edge of the plaza near the Tolchaco party and scatter the sacred corn meal on the ground. Navajo horsemen dismount and pick up pinches of this sacred meal to put in their pouches for good luck. The twenty-four priests with their snakes twisting in their sinewy brown hands turn together and with a common movement all dart up to the place where the meal lies. They circle about the spot. Paul raises Helen up a little higher so that she can throw a horrified gaze into that astonishing scene. For a moment the only thing she and the rest can see is a squirming, hissing heap of snakes, apparently tangled together in an angry mass. And then the twenty-four priests shoulder one another as they stoop and with both hands grab up as many snakes as they can hold in their fingers, and suddenly separating, turn and face towards the edge of the rock, running with all their might, thrusting the snakes into the faces of any unlucky tourist or visitor who may be in the way.
There is a rush for the edge of the rock. Those who line up there see the lean figures of the priests leaping down the wild trail. Their forms can hardly be distinguished as they reach the desert and are dimly seen to be kneeling in prayer over the snakes as they let them go, down to the great plumed snake to beseech him to send rain, rain, rain, on the corn and melons of his children up here.
The rest of the ceremony is purification. The priests come panting and sweating up the rock. On the edge of the snake priests' kiva the women bring out huge jars of mysterious brown liquid. The panting figures kneel there in the now desert twilight and drink great draughts of this liquor. Kneeling about over the rock they disgorge from their mouths what they have been drinking. The merciful darkness is closing in swiftly over this disgusting scene, participated in, however, in all reverence by the priests and gazed upon in astonishing seriousness by the spectators, for is it not all a part of the painful crucifying of the flesh that these poor creatures have been subjecting themselves to for centuries in their blind but constant desire to find God, the God of the rain, the rain, the rain.
Gradually the priests disappear down into the kiva where a feast has been prepared for them by the women. The great festival, which will not occur again at Oraibi for two years, is over.
Paul sees Masters standing by him. In the dim light he realises with a start as he looks up, that the tears are rolling down over Masters's face.
"Oh, the people! How long will they seek after God in these ways! Oh, for the power to open their eyes to see him as He is!"
Through the growing darkness groups of tourists and visitors pass, choking the narrow paths between the houses, crowding into the trail down to the wagons at the foot of the rock. Among the confusion of chattering voices and exclamations one shrill voice of a girl penetrates through to the hearing of Masters and Paul.
"Wasn't it the greatest thing you ever saw? and oh, how picturesque! Those people, those girls on the houses! What a pity it would be to spoil it by trying to civilise these nature children!"
Masters looked at Paul grimly.
"Yes, it would be a great pity, wouldn't it? I wish that girl could stay here one winter and enjoy the picturesqueness of a Hopi Indian girl's life. I wonder if she has any little thought of the real life of these 'nature children'? Of its misery, its impurity, its dreadful sin and superstition and darkness; its infant mortality; its pain and disease due to the absence of any sanitary or medical skill. But most of all its ignorance of Jesus Christ and his love. 'Picturesque!' I grant you it is. But Christianity would not destroy anything worth keeping. For centuries these 'nature children' have walked in darkness. Are they not entitled, like that white girl, to the light of life? And did you see Talavenka when her father reached into the kisi for the snake?"
"No," said Paul, "I must confess my eyes were on the priests, not the spectators."
"Talavenka was crying all through the ceremony. Her father can not understand her new life. The girl stands alone in the midst of this superstition. What will become of her? The estrangement in the family is one of the most painful things I ever knew. Her mother Schewingoiashchi is the only one who seems kind to her. At times I think Schewingoiashchi is not far from the Kingdom herself. She does not object to Talavenka's baptism. We have talked of that. It will be a part of our service to-night. I must go and get ready."
Paul and Esther and the rest of the party went to Talavenka's house for the evening meal. Masters, who was of the old school of preachers, they learned afterwards had spent the hour before the service out on the edge of the rock a little past the mission chapel, praying in the darkness for the people of Oraibi.
Helen was very eager to go to see Talavenka baptised. During the afternoon she had noticed the girl's grief and had been deeply touched by it. They were of the same age, she had learned from Mrs. Masters. The few words she spoke in English during the midday meal had revealed a quiet dignity and a genuine Christian faith. Already Helen's romantic temperament was constructing a plan to have Talavenka leave Oraibi and finish her education in Milton academy.
"We can carry you over to the chapel all right," her father said. "Where are those young men? I haven't seen Van Shaw or his friends all the afternoon."
"They were there, I saw them," said Walter.
"I saw them on the other side of the plaza," said Bauer who had not lost sight of Van Shaw during the afternoon and had wondered more than once why he was avoiding Helen. He had had his talk with Mrs. Douglas and had been tormented all through that ancient prayer for rain with questions as to his wisdom in telling some things to Helen's mother. But he was not given to doubt concerning his motives and in this particular instance he had no hesitation over his own absolutely clean and disinterested motive. He wanted Helen to escape the horror of a union with a degenerate mind and heart as he knew they existed in Van Shaw's character and his own feeling for her did not occupy a prominent place in his motive. Of that much he was sure and it helped him somewhat to get through one of the most trying experiences of his life.
Bauer went on to say to Mr. Douglas that he had seen Van Shaw and his two friends go down the trail to their wagons and had not seen them come back up the rock. So Paul and Walter, Clifford and Felix took Helen over to the mission chapel towards which various groups could be seen moving through the unlighted spaces of Oraibi's crooked and narrow windings.
The chapel had been built by a small missionary society ambitious to signalise its existence by doing something desperately hard in a corner of the world where no missionary work had ever been done. The missionary in charge had laboured several years with that marvelous patience and persistence which nothing but the history of missions in this old world has ever recorded. And as a result of his work Talavenka had come into the light. She had spent two winters at the mission in Tolchaco and Masters had shaped and enlarged the faith that first had begun to glow on the grey rock of Oraibi. And the missionary had been planning to have Masters hold this special service and baptise Talavenka from the time he heard of his coming up to the snake dance.
Masters found a place on one end of the little platform for Helen's cot where she lay propped up in comfortable fashion. The room was very small and it filled up rapidly. When it would hold no more it is doubtful if any man with a message ever faced a more mixed or astonishing audience.
There were native Hopis, old men and women who did not understand a word of English. Navajo visitors, men who never appeared at Oraibi except once in two years. Paul recognised one man whom Masters had pointed out one day at Tolchaco as a notorious gambler and horse trader, known all over the painted desert as "Iadaka" the gambler; there were traders from the different government posts; a few teachers from the government schools; a bunch of cowboys from Flagstaff; half a dozen Apaches who had come up to Oraibi from an encampment near the Bottomless Pits; a dozen tourists from a half dozen different cities in the east attracted from tourist curiosity; three interpreters, one of whom happened to be in government employ and had been caught at Oraibi and detained there by an accident to his team on the way to Shungapavi. Masters knew him and asked him to come in and help at the service.
Besides this miscellaneous and polyglot audience inside the room, Helen soon became aware of nearly as many more spectators and listeners outside the building crowded about the open windows. The night was warm and still. The chapel had three windows on each side, and two at the rear behind the platform, and at each opening dark faces of various nationalities grouped and peered in with stoical or wondering interest. After the service had begun Helen suddenly became aware of the presence of Van Shaw and his two friends. They had evidently finished their supper and camp work and come back up the rock to be present at the chapel service but had been too late to get inside. Helen felt Van Shaw's gaze directed constantly at herself. He had secured a position close up to the second window from the platform. Helen again had that curious blending of anger and exultation, of shame and gratified vanity as if there were forces at work in her at war with one another tempting and antagonistic, attractive and repellant. But after one look had been exchanged between her and Van Shaw she changed her position on the cot so that she was partly hidden from him by a lamp which stood on one corner of the little parlour organ of the platform.
Do you know of any greater heroes than the heroes of the cross? These are the undaunted, unterrified, passion-filled souls of the earth. Masters personified the very spirit of aggressive, human, loving Christianity. That strange room full of humanity would have appalled anyone but a real soul-hungry man. What could anyone do with it? Century old vices and superstitions, brutal contempt for anything but coarse pleasures, stolid indifference to God, measureless egotism and age-long selfishness looked at him from the faces in the room and at the windows, from "Iadaka" and the wrinkled Hopis, from the sentimental tourist girl and Van Shaw and his two friends, from the dull visaged Apaches and the smirking traders, one of whom, to Master's own knowledge, had for years been cheating the rug weavers all the way from Black Bear Canyon to the Spanish Peaks.
And yet for some reason or a number of reasons, these humans were all here in front of him and as he looked at them, Masters had soul hunger for them. He loved the multitude. And it never entered his simple thought that anything else was possible but that in the long run they would all have to go down before the conquering Carpenter's Son. Yes, even old "Iadaka." He would some day see the light and he would walk and run all the way from Crested Buttes to the Bottomless Pit and throw his da'aka in there and kneel at Jesus feet and call him Lord. Have not the peoples of the earth been doing that all through the ages? Is not the miracle of regeneration greatest of all miracles since Jesus lived? Is anything too hard for God?
So Masters's simple unswerving faith spoke that night. He told in the simplest possible way the story of the cross. The old, old story that is changing the history of the world every day. The old story that is not afraid of modern philosophy, nor antique prejudice nor even the scoffing and sneering of Athens and the jeers of Vanity Fair and the complacent self satisfaction of the modern pharisee.
Then he told Talavenka's story as he knew she would be willing to have it told. The Hopi girl had sat on the front seat close to the platform. She was dressed in white and Helen wondered with herself more than once if Talavenka was like other girls and really knew or understood how marvellous was her black hair and her perfect coloured skin. And then almost as if someone had asked her, Helen asked herself if Talavenka had ever known a lover and if the great romance of life could come to her now that she had cut herself off from her people, and the swift runner in the corn dance might no longer look for her to come out in the grey morning and with the other maidens snatch from his arms the cool dew washed corn leaves and from his glowing eye the message which is the same between youths and maidens the world over.
But Talavenka was conscious herself of no other thought here to-night in the mission chapel at Oraibi. Masters spoke to her of her faith and asked her a few questions. The girl's face shone with intelligent affection for her Redeemer and then the missionary rose and held the baptismal bowl. Talavenka kneeled between him and Masters, Elijah Clifford with the tear in his eye standing by Miss Gray as if naturally their common interest in Talavenka and knowledge of her history made their mutual nearness a natural thing. Masters touched Talavenka's forehead with the water and said in a voice that trembled for the first time that night, "Talavenka, I baptise thee because of thy faith in the Lord Jesus, into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
All through the service Masters had spoken through one or the other of the interpreters. In turn the Hopis, the Navajos, and the Apaches had heard of Jesus and what he had said had been listened to in some instances with evident eagerness. But the baptism of Talavenka impressed all alike. Even the stolid imagination of the trader from Red Stone Tanks could understand a little of the significance of what was going on there that night when the first Hopi maiden was being baptised into a religion which her ancestors for centuries had known nothing about.
They sang "My Faith looks up to Thee," and after a prayer by Miss Gray, which was so tender it made Helen cry, the meeting was over.
The people went out slowly. Those who knew Talavenka came up to see her. Her mother had sat still as if graven there all through the evening. Suddenly she drew her shawl over her head and rose and went out. Talavenka trembled as she watched her. "My mother!" was all she said. It was a whole volume of longing for her redemption. Helen heard her and held out her hand to her as she stood there near the little platform. And the two girls, one born in Christian civilisation, nurtured in soft and comfortable ways, and the other who first drew breath in a dark and filthy corner of a stone hut on this treeless rock, drew near together and the Christian faith of each swiftly bridged over all the centuries of difference in matters of language, customs and ceremonies. For is it not beautifully true that when Jesus enters a life it becomes a part of all life everywhere, and there is no longer any Greek nor Jew, neither Barbarian, Scythian, bondman or freeman, but all are one.
At that instant Van Shaw and his friends came down the aisle of the little room. They had crowded in as soon as enough people had gone out. They came up now, greeting the other tourists, some of whom they had met for the first time that afternoon.
Van Shaw, however, seemed especially anxious to reach the spot where Mrs. Douglas was standing talking with one of the government teachers from Kean's Canyon. In passing one of the tourists who was in the middle of the aisle, Van Shaw came face to face with Bauer, and to Bauer's tremendous astonishment Van Shaw said at once in a threatening tone--which, however, he guarded so as not to be heard by anyone else:
"I understand you have been meddling in my affairs. I consider it a mighty sneaking thing for you to do and I want you to understand I won't------"
Bauer recovered his composure quickly as he interrupted Van Shaw.
"We can't very well discuss this matter in here."
"I want a word with Mrs. Douglas first," said Van Shaw.
But Bauer stepped in front of him and said:
"I think you had better have a word with me first."
Van Shaw looked at him uncertainly and then turned and walked out of the chapel. Bauer followed him immediately.
The only light out on the rock was starlight. Darkness covered the blurred outline of Oraibi's houses, with only an occasional point of light here and there, or the sudden glow from some kiva as the opening reflected the fire at the bottom.
Van Shaw walked slowly as if by appointment out to the edge of the rock. When he stopped, Bauer was close by him. In the mist far below a red glow marked the camp by the Oraibi Wash. The night was very still and they were almost near enough to the chapel to distinguish the sound of voices within.