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The Lake of Merita.

The lengthening shadows of evening
Were creeping on Mount Tamalpais,
Painting with purple the valleys,
Gilding the ridges and summit.
Green were the groves of the redwoods,
Lacing their branches together;
Through them the last rays of sunlight
Pierced to the carpet of needles.
Only the tinkling of water,
Only the breeze in the branches,
Only the call of the blue jays
Broke the mysterious silence.

Far through the canyon I wandered,
Far to her camp in the redwoods -
The home of the Indian woman,
Wrinkled and old and decrepit,
Learned in the lore of the Tamals.
Nearing her camp-fire, I saw her,
And halted in fear, lest I trespass.

She sat like a Priestess of Forests,
Chanting with weird intonations,
Slowly, with strange repetitions,
Swaying in rhythmical measure.
Round her the wild forest creatures
Gathered and sat at attention.
Birds ceased their anthems of evening,
Fluttered to branches above her,
Listened as if fascinated.

The singing was hushed when she saw me;
Away fled the wild things to cover.
"Welcome, my friend," said the Tamal.
"A seat at my camp-fire is waiting."
Her welcome was hearty and friendly,
But out of the shade of the forests
Came chattering, chirping and barking,
Resenting, reproaching, complaining.

I sat by the camp-fire and listened
In wonder. The scene was uncanny.
At last, when the plaints had subsided,
Or faded away in the distance,
I said , "Tell me, friend, by what magic
Are wild creatures called to your camp-fire.
Is it a secret you cherish?
May you reveal it to others?"

She gazed in the flickering embers,
Dreamily gazed in the embers,
Then she replied, "You have heard me
Singing the song of Merita,
The magical song of Merita,
Merita, the friend of wild creatures,
Wearers of fur or of feathers,
Creatures of forest and mountain,
Birds of the sea and the marshes.

I will tell you the tale of Merita,
Merita, the daughter of Yado,
Chief of the fishermen people
Who lived by the Lake of the Oak Trees,
Far to the east of the harbor.

Slender and tall was Merita,
Dark were her eyes, and her tresses
Glossy and black as the feathers
That gleam on the wings of the raven.
Gentle and kind was Merita,
Serving the young and the aged,
Nursing the sick and the wounded,
Cheering when sorrow was breaking
The heart of some one of her people.
The Gods taught Merita the language
Of birds that made nests in the oak trees,
Of water fowl thronging the tules,
Of all furry creatures that peopled
The hills and the valleys around them.
They came from afar when she called them,
Called with her song, and they hastened
To tell her their troubles and sorrows.
She bound up their wounds and caressed them,
And told them the wiles of the hunters.

Wandering one day to the northward,
She came to a creek where strawberries,
Ripe and delicious were growing
Beside a small stream that cascaded
Down from the Peak of the Grizzlies.
Refreshing herself with the berries
She sat in the shade of the live oaks,
The ancient and widespreading live oaks,
And called to the wild forest creatures,
Singing the Song of Merita.

'Come, come, come, birds of the air,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, tell how you fare,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, wild creatures, know
-- That I love you.
Come, come, come, tell me your woe,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, you will I serve,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, you well deserve,
-- And I love you.
Come, come, come, I bring you aid,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, be not afraid,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come - come - come - come.'

Before the monotonous chanting
Was finished, the Blue Jays and Robins,
Pigeons, and Bluebirds, and Blackbirds
Flew to the branches above her,
And tipping their heads to observe her
Opened their bills in complaining.
Down from the canyon a white fawn
Came with a shaft in her shoulder,
Fell at the feet of Merita,
Bleating her plea for protection.
Quickly the arrow was taken
Out of her quivering shoulder.
Then came the hunter, pursuing -
Halted, and gazed in amazement.
'I am Zarando, the Tamal,
Chief of the Thousand Oaks People.
Pardon me, if I have wounded
A pet of the beautiful stranger.'

Under the arm of Merita
The frightened fawn crept for protection.

'I am Merita, the daughter
Of Yado, the Chief of the Fishers
Who live by the Lake of the Oak Trees.
The Fawn is my friend, and she answers
My call to all wild forest creatures.'

'I have a call,' said Zarando,
'A call to decoy the wild creatures
Into the range of my arrows,
Yet few are deceived by the pretense.
Teach me your call, oh, Merita.

'Nay, nay, Zarando; love only
Will draw the wild creatures around you.
Love does not change cannot injure -
The shaft is not aimed at a loved one.
If you would draw the wild creatures,
Love them, and guard them from danger.'

'I am a hunter, Merita,
And yet would I gladly abandon
The bow and the trap to secure
The charm that the Great Spirit gives you.
Tell me the secret, Merita,
Teach me to speak in the language
Of all the wild creatures around you;
Teach me to know and to love them.'

Then were the first lessons given,
Where now gather thousands of students,
Beneath the old widespreading live oaks
That stand by the stream in the Campus.
There the first Teacher and Pupil,
Merita and young Chief Zarando,
Met on the mornings that followed,
Met for the love of the study,
And then for the love of each other.

No more were the Tamals and Fishers
Rivals, at war with each other;
United they lived as one people -
One people around the great harbor.
Zarando, their chief ruled with justice;
Merita, their Queen ruled with mercy.
Their village grew up where the oak trees
Stand on a point in the Lakelet.
The water birds came at her calling,
And thronged on the Lake of Merita,
Holding conventions, and heeding
The judgments she gave in their quarrels.
No one disturbed them nor harmed them;
There was a refuge from danger.

It is said that souls of the lovers
Still live in the oak trees that border
The shore of the Lake of Merita;
And that water-birds come at their calling,
And throng, unafraid, on the waters,
Hearing the song of Merita:

'Come, come, come, birds of the air,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, tell how you fare,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, I bring you aid,
-- For I love you.
Come, come, come, be not afraid,
-- For I love you.'
Come, come, come,
-- Come,
---- Come,
------ Come."

The End

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