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The Gentle People of Patagonia

The Gentle People of Patagonia

Long, long ago, when there were giants and before there were horses in this land, there lived a gentle people who did not know sickness or pain or anger. They moved about among the animals and the birds as we move about among the flowers in the garden, and men were much kinder and the maidens more graceful and beautiful than any on the earth to-day. The colors of the birds were brighter and the scent of the flowers sweeter than now; the sun was never too hot nor the wind too cold. What was more wonderful, the Gentle People had a strange power by means of which they could change flowers into living things which turned to bright-colored birds.

Now and then there would be great gatherings, when all the Gentle People would come together before their prince who sat on a throne decked with precious stones. And the people who loved him for his wisdom as well as for his goodness brought to him at such times gold and silver and diamonds and rubies and glittering precious stones, and these he would give to the young people to play with, for in those days people loved things for their beauty alone. The birds and animals too would join in the gathering, and the air would be full of song and colour and the scent of woods and flowers. On that day each person there would have his or her wish granted, whatever it was. To be sure, where was so much that was good, it seemed hard to wish for anything at all.

There was one thing only that was forbidden to the Gentle People, which was to go north until they saw no more the stars of the Southern Cross in the sky, for after many days’ journey, they were told, there was a great dark forest on the other side of which were fierce men who did evil. But one day one of the Gentle People saw a strange bird, more beautiful than anything ever seen, a bird whose breast shone green and blue and gold, with a tail of long feathers white as ivory. Capa it was who saw the bird, and it seemed strange to him that seeing him the bird flew away. Never before had he seen a bird that he could not touch and hold, and the more the bird avoided him the more eager was he to take it to the prince. So he followed it as it went from place to place, always thinking that at last the strange bird would allow him to draw near. That it feared him he never knew, for his people knew no fear, neither did the animals nor birds that lived among them. At last the bird led him to the edge of the forest, and when he looked into the sky that night he saw new stars there, at which he wondered. Into the forest he went, always following the bird, and so tall and thick were the trees that the sun did not shine and the stars were blotted out at night.

Then one day he came to a place where he saw men with yellow skins and teeth like a dog, who gathered about him. Never before had he seen such people, who tore animals apart and ate of the flesh, who tore skins from living creatures and wore them on their own bodies. To make matters worse, these yellow-skinned ones seized Capa and took from him his glorious robes of gold and silver thread, tore the feathers from his hair and plucked away the ruby that he wore for its beauty. Then, greatly to his surprise, they fell on one another, fighting for the things that they had taken from Capa, so that the very robe they struggled for was torn and trampled under foot. At that Capa turned and fled back through the forest, never stopping day or night, until he came to his own people.

Straight to the prince he went and told his tale, hearing which, the prince was sad at heart.

“You have,” he said, “been where there are greed and selfishness and avarice, and it is bad for us. For those of the yellow skin will not rest until they have found us and brought sorrow into our midst.”

Then he called all his people together and they came, as they always did, singing and dancing and bearing flowers, and after them came the birds and animals, skipping and flying, calling. But a great silence fell upon all when they saw their Golden Prince, for his eyes were grave.

So he told the Gentle People all that Capa had seen, and Capa himself stood by the side of his prince and sang a sad song, so that the people knew of the evil on the other side of the dark forest, and the hearts of the Gentle People were as heavy as was the heart of the Golden Prince. And the prince told them that if they chose, he would arm them and lead them so that they could go forth and fight against the yellow-faced men when they came, “but,” he went on to say, “having learned to fight and to do hurt and to bring death, then you yourselves will turn on each other, will bring death to your own people. You will turn against the animals and they will turn against you. You will walk the land alone, and all things will avoid and hide from you. These things of the earth, these bright and shining things which to-day you take or leave as you wish, you will play with no more, but will hide in boxes and under stones so that others may not see them.” When he said this last he picked up a handful of diamonds and rubies, of emeralds and gold dust, and poured them from one hand to another, so that it was as a cascade that fell bright and dazzling in the sunlight.

Fearing that, the Gentle Folk looked at one another, and there was no doubt in their minds. “Far better,” said they, “is it that we should change in some manner and flee away than that we should do evil to the birds and beasts that are our friends.”

Then the Golden Prince called on his people to follow him, and as the yellow man broke through the forest as he had said they would, he led all of them away swiftly, and the multitude of animals and birds followed them. Having arrived at a great valley where was a river, he told his people that he would change their form so that they would become for a time other creatures, but creatures that would neither bite nor scratch nor spit poison, nor do any kind of harm. So, he changed them into guanacos, animals of proud and graceful carriage, and their dress was of red and white like the gold and silver they wore. Then when he saw his people thus, friends of the birds and animals they loved, he changed himself into one also, but greater and more beautiful than any.

But there was a memory of that time, and even to this day when a herd of guanacos is seen, there also is one standing on a high rock as sentinel, keeping watch for the yellow men. And when at last the prince guanaco died, he died in the valley; seeing which, each of his people also laid down their bones in that place. So must it be until each and every guanaco has passed away.

Yet remember this: Where dies a guanaco, there springs up a flower blue as the sky, its petals all gold tipped. And when the day comes in which the last guanaco dies, then the yellow men will be gone. On that day each flower will bend to its neighbor, and, at a word, there will stand a great host, for the spirit of the guanaco is in the flower that is blue and gold tipped. Then, for ever and ever, the Gentle People will again live in the Valley of the Gallegos in southern Patagonia, and kindness and gentleness and beauty and joy will be theirs once more

Citation: Finger, Charles J. Tales from the Silver Lands. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1924. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.