When the spirit swells my breast I love to roam leisurely among the green hills; or sometimes, sitting on the brink of the murmuring Missouri, I marvel at the great blue overhead. With half closed eyes I watch the huge cloud shadows in their noiseless play upon the high bluffs opposite me, while into my ear ripple the sweet, soft cadences of the river's song. Folded hands lie in my lap, for the time forgot. My heart and I lie small upon the earth like a grain of throbbing sand. Drifting clouds and tinkling waters, together with the warmth of a genial summer day, bespeak with eloquence the loving Mystery round about us. During the idle while I sat upon the sunny river brink, I grew somewhat, though my response be not so clearly manifest as in the green grass fringing the edge of the high bluff back of me.
At length retracing the uncertain footpath scaling the
precipitous embankment, I seek the level lands where grow the wild
prairie flowers. And they, the lovely little folk, soothe my soul with
their perfumed breath.
Their quaint round faces of varied hue convince the heart which
leaps with glad surprise that they, too, are living symbols of
omnipotent thought. With a child's eager eye I drink in the myriad star
shapes wrought in luxuriant color upon the green. Beautiful is the
spiritual essence they embody.
I leave them nodding in the breeze, but take along with me their
impress upon my heart. I pause to rest me upon a rock embedded on the
side of a foothill facing the low river bottom. Here the Stone-Boy, of
whom the American aborigine tells, frolics about, shooting his baby
arrows and shouting aloud with glee at the tiny shafts of lightning that
flash from the flying arrow-beaks. What an ideal warrior he became,
baffling the siege of the pests of all the land till he triumphed over
their united attack. And here he lay,--Inyan our
great-great-grandfather, older than the hill he rested on, older than
the race of men who love to tell of his wonderful career.
Interwoven with the thread of this Indian legend of the rock, I
fain would trace a subtle knowledge of the native folk which enabled
them to recognize a kinship to any and all parts of this vast universe.
By the leading of an ancient trail I move toward the Indian village.
With the strong, happy sense that both great and small are so
surely enfolded in His magnitude that, without a miss, each has his
allotted individual ground of opportunities, I am buoyant with good
Yellow Breast, swaying upon the slender stem of a wild sunflower,
warbles a sweet assurance of this as I pass near by. Breaking off the
clear crystal song, he turns his wee head from side to side eyeing me
wisely as slowly I plod with moccasined feet. Then again he yields
himself to his song of joy. Flit, flit hither and yon, he fills the
summer sky with his swift, sweet melody. And truly does it seem his
vigorous freedom lies more in his little spirit than in his wing.
With these thoughts I reach the log cabin whither I am strongly
drawn by the tie of a child to an aged mother. Out bounds my
four-footed friend to meet me, frisking about my path with unmistakable
delight. Chän is a black shaggy dog, "a thorough bred little mongrel"
of whom I am very fond. Chän seems to understand many words in Sioux,
and will go to her mat even when I whisper the word, though generally I
think she is guided by the tone of the voice. Often she tries to
imitate the sliding inflection and long drawn out voice to the amusement
of our guests, but her articulation is quite beyond my ear. In both my
hands I hold her shaggy head and gaze into her large brown eyes. At
once the dilated pupils contract into tiny black dots, as if the roguish
spirit within would evade my questioning.
Finally resuming the chair at my desk I feel in keen sympathy
with my fellow creatures, for I seem to see clearly again that all are
The racial lines, which once were bitterly real, now serve
nothing more than marking out a living mosaic of human beings. And even
here men of the same color are like the ivory keys of one instrument
where each resembles all the rest, yet varies from them in pitch and
quality of voice. And those creatures who are for a time mere echoes of
another's note are not unlike the fable of the thin sick man whose
distorted shadow, dressed like a real creature, came to the old master
to make him follow as a shadow. Thus with a compassion for all echoes
in human guise, I greet the solemn-faced "native preacher" whom I find
awaiting me. I listen with respect for God's creature, though he mouth
most strangely the jangling phrases of a bigoted creed.
As our tribe is one large family, where every person is related to all the others, he addressed me:--
"Cousin, I came from the morning church service to talk with you."
"Yes?" I said interrogatively, as he paused for some word from me.
Shifting uneasily about in the straight-backed chair he sat upon,
he began: "Every holy day (Sunday) I look about our little God's
house, and not seeing you there, I am disappointed. This is why I come
to-day. Cousin, as I watch you from afar, I see no unbecoming behavior
and hear only good reports of you, which all the more burns me with the
wish that you were a church member. Cousin, I was taught long years ago
by kind missionaries to read the holy book. These godly men taught me
also the folly of our old beliefs.
"There is one God who gives reward or punishment to the race of
dead men. In the upper region the Christian dead are gathered in
unceasing song and prayer. In the deep pit below, the sinful ones dance
in torturing flames.
"Think upon these things, my cousin, and choose now to avoid the
after-doom of hell fire!" Then followed a long silence in which he
clasped tighter and unclasped again his interlocked fingers.
Like instantaneous lightning flashes came pictures of my own
mother's making, for she, too, is now a follower of the new
"Knocking out the chinking of our log cabin, some evil hand
thrust in a burning taper of braided dry grass, but failed of his
intent, for the fire died out and the half burned brand fell inward to
the floor. Directly above it, on a shelf, lay the holy book. This is
what we found after our return from a several days' visit. Surely some
great power is hid in the sacred book!"
Brushing away from my eyes many like pictures, I offered midday
meal to the converted Indian sitting wordless and with downcast face.
No sooner had he risen from the table with "Cousin, I have relished it,"
than the church bell rang.
Thither he hurried forth with his afternoon sermon. I watched
him as he hastened along, his eyes bent fast upon the dusty road till he
disappeared at the end of a quarter of a mile.
The little incident recalled to mind the copy of a missionary
paper brought to my notice a few days ago, in which a "Christian"
pugilist commented upon a recent article of mine, grossly perverting the
spirit of my pen. Still I would not forget that the pale-faced
missionary and the hoodooed aborigine are both God's creatures, though
small indeed their own conceptions of Infinite Love. A wee child
toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into
the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the
twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet
breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I
am a Pagan.