story came to me from the lips of Maarda herself. It
was hard to realize, while looking at her placid and
happy face, that Maarda had ever been a mother of sorrows,
but the healing of a wounded heart oftentimes leaves
a light like that of a benediction on a receptive face,
and Maarda’s countenance held something greater
than beauty, something more like lovableness, than any
We sat together on the deck
of the little steamer throughout the long violet twilight,
that seems loath to leave the channels and rocky [?]
of the Upper Pacific in June time. We had dropped easily
into conversation, for nothing so readily helps one
to an introduction as does the friendly atmosphere of
the extreme West, and I had paved the way by greeting
her in the Chinook, to which she responded with a sincere
and friendly handclasp.
Dinner on the small coast-wise
steamers is almost a function. It is the turning-point
of the [Page 227] day, and is served
English fashion, in the evening. The passengers “dress”
a little for it, eat the meal leisurely and with relish.
People who perhaps have exchanged no conversation during
the day, now relax, and fraternize with their fellow
men and women.
I purposely secured a seat at
the dining-table beside Maarda. Even she had gone through
a simple “dressing” for dinner, having smoothed
her satiny black hair, knotted a brilliant silk handkerchief
about her throat, and laid aside her large, heavy plaid
shawl, revealing a fine delaine gown of green, bordered
with two flat rows of black silk velvet ribbon. That
silk velvet ribbon, and the fashion in which it was
applied, would have bespoken her nationality, even had
her dark copper-colored face failed to do so.
The average Indian woman adores
silk and velvet, and will have none of cotton, and these
decorations must be in symmetrical rows, not designs.
She holds that the fabric is in itself excellent enough.
Why twist it and cut it into figures that would only
make it less lovely.
We chatted a little during dinner.
Maarda told me that she and her husband lived at the
Squamish River, some thirty-five miles north of Vancouver
City, but when I asked if they had any children, she
did not reply, but almost instantly called my attention
to a passing vessel seen through the porthole. I took
the hint, and said no more of family matters, but talked
of the [Page 228] fishing and the prospects
of a good sockeye run this season.
Afterwards, however, while I
stood alone on deck watching the sun set over the rim
of the Pacific, I felt a feathery touch on my arm. I
turned to see Maarda, once more enveloped in her shawl,
and holding two deck stools. She beckoned with a quick
uplift of her chin, and said, “We’ll sit
together here, with no one about us, and I’ll
tell you of the child.” And this was her story:
She was the most beautiful little
Tenas Klootchman a mother could wish for, bright, laughing,
pretty as a spring flower, but—just as frail.
Such tiny hands, such buds of feet! One felt that they
must never take her out of her cradle basket for fear
that, like a flower stem, she would snap asunder and
her little head droop like a blossom.
But Maarda’s skilful fingers
had woven and plaited and colored the daintiest cradle
basket in the entire river district for this little
woodland daughter. She had fished long and late with
her husband, so that the canner’s money would
purchase silk “blankets” to enwrap her treasure;
she had beaded cradle bands to strap the wee body securely
in its cosy resting-nest. Ah, it was such a basket,
fit for an English princess to sleep in! Everything
about it was fine, soft, delicate, and everything born
of her mother-love. [Page 229]
So, for weeks, for even months,
the little Tenas Klootchman laughed and smiled, waked
and slept, dreamed and dimpled in her pretty playhouse.
Then one day, in the hot, dry summer, there was no smile.
The dimples did not play. The little flower paled, the
small face grew smaller, the tiny hands tinier; and
one morning, when the birds awoke in the forests of
the Squamish, the eyes of the little Tenas Klootchman
They put her to sleep under
the giant cedars, the lulling, singing firs, the whispering
pines that must now be her lullaby, instead of her mother’s
voice crooning the child-songs of the Pacific, that
tell of baby foxes and gamboling baby wolves and bright-eyed
baby birds. Nothing remained to Maarda but an empty
little cradle basket, but smoothly-folded silken “blankets,”
but disused beaded bands. Often at nightfall she would
stand alone, and watch the sun dip into the far waters,
leaving the world as gray and colorless as her own life;
she would outstretch her arms—pitifully empty
arms—towards the west, and beneath her voice again
croon the lullabies of the Pacific, telling of the baby
foxes, the soft, furry baby wolves, and the little downy
fledglings in the nests. Once in an agony of loneliness
she sang these things aloud, but her husband heard her,
and his face turned gray and drawn, and her soul told
her she must not be heard again singing these things
aloud. [Page 230]
And one evening a little steamer
came into harbor. Many Indians came ashore from it,
as the fishing season had begun. Among others was a
young woman over whose face the finger of illness had
traced shadows and lines of suffering. In her arms she
held a baby, a beautiful, chubby, round-faced, healthy
child that seemed too heavy for her wasted form to support.
She looked about her wistfully, evidently seeking a
face that was not there, and as the steamer pulled out
of the harbor, she sat down weakly on the wharf, laid
the child across her lap, and buried her face in her
hands. Maarda touched her shoulder.
“Who do you look for?”
“For my brother Luke ‘Alaska,’”
replied the woman. “I am ill, my husband is dead,
my brother will take care of me; he’s a good man.”
said Maarda. What had she heard of Luke “Alaska?”
Why, of course, he was one of the men her own husband
had taken a hundred miles up the coast as axeman on
a surveying party, but she dared not tell this sick
woman. She only said: “You had better come with
me. My husband is away, but in a day or two he will
be able to get news of your brother. I’ll take
care of you till they come.”
The woman arose gratefully,
then swayed unsteadily under the weight of the child.
Maarda’s arms were flung out, yearningly, longingly,
towards the baby.
“Where is your cradle
basket to carry him [Page 231] in?”
she asked, looking about among the boxes and bales of
merchandise the steamer had left on the wharf.
“I have no cradle basket.
I was too weak to make one, too poor to buy one. I have
nothing,” said the woman.
“Then let me carry him,”
said Maarda. “It’s quite a walk to my place;
he’s too heavy for you.”
The woman yielded the child
gratefully, saying, “It’s not a boy, but
a Tenas Klootchman.”
Maarda could hardly believe
her senses. That splendid, sturdy, plump, big baby a
Tenas Klootchman! For a moment her heart surged with
bitterness. Why had her own little girl been so frail,
so flower-like? But with the touch of that warm baby
body, the bitterness faded. She walked slowly, fitting
her steps to those of the sick woman, and jealously
lengthening the time wherein she could hold and hug
the baby in her yearning arms.
The woman was almost exhausted
when they reached Maarda’s home, but strong tea
and hot, wholesome food revived her; but fever burned
brightly in her cheeks and eyes. The woman was very
ill, extremely ill. Maarda said, “You must go
to bed, and as soon as you are there, I will take the
canoe and go for a doctor. It is two or three miles,
but you stay resting, and I’ll bring him. We will
put the Tenas Klootchman beside you in—”
she hesitated. Her glance travelled up to the wall above,
where a beautiful empty cradle [Page 232]
basket hung, with folded silken “blankets”
and disused beaded bands.
The woman’s gaze followed
hers, a light of beautiful understanding pierced the
fever glare of her eyes, she stretched out her hot hand
protestingly, and said, “Don’t put her in—that.
Keep that, it is yours. She is used to being rolled
only in my shawl.”
But Maarda had already lifted
the basket down, and was tenderly arranging the wrappings.
Suddenly her hands halted, she seemed to see a wee flower
face looking up to her like the blossom of a russet-brown
pansy. She turned abruptly, and, going to the door,
looked out speechlessly on the stretch of sea and sky
glimmering through the tree trunks.
For a time she stood. Then across
the silence broke the little murmuring sound of the
baby half crooning, half crying, indoors, the little
cradleless baby that, homeless, had entered her home.
Maarda returned, and, lifting the basket, again arranged
the wrappings. “The Tenas Klootchman shall have
this cradle,” she said, gently. The sick woman
turned her face to the wall and sobbed.
It was growing dark when Maarda
left her guests, and entered her canoe on the quest
for a doctor. The clouds hung low, and a fine, slanting
rain fell, from which she protected herself as best
she could with a shawl about her shoulders, crossed
in front, with each end tucked into [Page 233]
her belt beneath her arms—Indian-fashion. Around
rocks and boulders, headlands and crags, she paddled,
her little craft riding the waves like a cork, but pitching
and plunging with every stroke. By and by the wind veered,
and blew head on, and now and again she shipped water;
her skirts began dragging heavily about her wet ankles,
and her moccasins were drenched. The wind increased,
and she discarded her shawl to afford greater freedom
to her arm-play. The rain drove and slanted across her
shoulders and head, and her thick hair was dripping
with sea moisture and the downpour.
Sometimes she thought of beaching
the canoe and seeking shelter until daylight. Then she
again saw those fever-haunted eyes of the stranger who
was within her gates, again heard the half wail of the
Tenas Klootchman in her own baby’s cradle basket,
and at the sound she turned her back on the possible
safety of shelter, and forged ahead.
It was a wearied woman who finally
knocked at the doctor’s door and bade him hasten.
But his strong man’s arm found the return journey
comparatively easy paddling. The wind helped him, and
Maarda also plied her bow paddle, frequently urging
him to hasten.
It was dawn when they entered
her home. The sick woman moaned, and the child fretted
for food. The doctor bent above his patient, shaking
his head ruefully as Maarda built the [Page
234] fire, and attended to the child’s
needs before she gave thought to changing her drenched
garments. All day she attended her charges, cooked,
toiled, watched, forgetting her night of storm and sleeplessness
in the greater anxieties of ministering to others. The
doctor came and went between her home and the village,
but always with that solemn headshake, that spoke so
much more forcibly than words.
“She shall not die!”
declared Maarda. “The Tenas Klootchman needs her,
she shall not die!” But the woman grew feebler
daily, her eyes grew brighter, her cheeks burned with
“We must fight for it
now,” said the doctor. And Maarda and he fought
the dread enemy hour after hour, day after day.
Bereft of its mother’s
care, the Tenas Klootchman turned to Maarda, laughed
to her, crowed to her, until her lonely heart embraced
the child as a still evening embraces a tempestuous
day. Once she had a long, terrible fight with herself.
She had begun to feel her ownership in the little thing,
had begun to regard it as her right to tend and pet
it. Her heart called out for it; and she wanted it for
her very own. She began to feel a savage, tigerish joy
in thinking—aye, knowing that it really
would belong to her and to her alone—very soon.
When this sensation first revealed
itself to her, the doctor was there—had even told
her the woman could not recover. Maarda’s gloriously
[Page 235] womanly soul was horrified
at itself. She left the doctor in charge, and went to
the shore, fighting out this outrageous gladness, strangling
She returned, a sanctified being,
with every faculty in her body, every sympathy of her
heart, every energy of her mind devoted to bringing
this woman back from the jaws of death. She greeted
the end of it all with a sorrowing, half-breaking heart,
for she had learned to love the woman she had envied,
and to weep for the little child who lay so helplessly
against her unselfish heart.
A beautifully lucid half-hour
came to the fever-stricken one just before the Call
to the Great Beyond!
“Maarda,” she said,
“you have been a good Tillicum to me, and I can
give you nothing for all your care, your kindness—unless—”
Her eyes wandered to her child peacefully sleeping in
the delicately-woven basket. Maarda saw the look, her
heart leaped with a great joy. Did the woman wish to
give the child to her? She dared not ask for it. Suppose
Luke “Alaska” wanted it. His wife loved
children, though she had four of her own in their home
far inland. Then the sick woman spoke:
“Your cradle basket and
your heart were empty before I came. Will you keep my
Tenas Klootchman as your own?—to fill them both
again?” [Page 236]
Maarda promised. “Mine
was a Tenas Klootchman, too,” she said.
“Then I will go to her,
and be her mother, wherever she is, in the Spirit Islands
they tell us of,” said the woman. “We will
be but exchanging our babies, after all.”
When morning dawned, the woman
did not awake.
had finished her story, but the recollections had saddened
her eyes, and for a time we both sat on the deck in
the violet twilight without exchanging a word.
the little Tenas Klootchman is yours now?” I asked.
A sudden radiance suffused her
face, all trace of melancholy vanished. She fairly scintillated
“Mine!” she said.
“All mine! Luke ‘Alaska’ and his wife
said she was more mine than theirs, that I must keep
her as my own. My husband rejoiced to see the cradle
basket filled, and to hear me laugh as I used to.
“How I should like to
see the baby!” I began.
“You shall,” she
interrupted. Then with a proud, half-roguish expression,
“She is so strong, so
well, so heavy; she sleeps a great deal, and wakes laughing
As night fell, an ancient Indian
woman came up the companion-way. In her arms she carried
a beautifully-woven basket cradle, within which [Page
237] nestled a round-cheeked, smiling-eyed
baby. Across its little forehead hung locks of black,
straight hair, and its sturdy limbs were vainly endeavoring
to free themselves from the lacing of the “blankets.”
Maarda took the basket, with an expression on her face
that was transfiguring.
“Yes, this is my little
Tenas Klootchman,” she said, as she unlaced the
bands, then lifted the plump little creature out on
to her lap.
Soon afterwards the steamer
touched an obscure little harbor, and Maarda, who was
to join her husband there, left me, with a happy good-night.
As she was going below, she faltered, and turned back
to me. “I think sometimes,” she said, quietly,
“the Great Spirit thought my baby would feel motherless
in the far Spirit Islands, so He gave her the woman
I nursed for a mother; and He knew I was childless,
and He gave me this child for my daughter. Do you think
I am right? Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said, “I
think you are right, and I understand.”
Once more she smiled radiantly,
and turning, descended the companion-way. I caught a
last glimpse of her on the wharf. She was greeting her
husband, her face a mirror of happiness. About the delicately-woven
basket cradle she had half pulled her heavy plaid shawl,
beneath which the two rows of black velvet ribbon bordering
her skirt proclaimed once more her nationality. [Page
In Chinook language “Tenas Klootchman” means
“girl baby.” [back]