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HIRAM CORSON, BORN, NOVEMBER 6, 1828; DIED, JUNE 15, 1911 At the time of his death Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Cornell University.
N prehistoric times, so the wise men of of Yucatan achieved a civilization wonderfully complete in its way. It was a complex social structure, with religious and secular heads of autocratic power, and a gradually decreasing status, until the limit. was reached in the slave captive of some wild and still primitive people.
If this be indeed the case, then Dimas Tus and his mate Ana must have descended from such primitive stock. Their parents may have been ordinary workingpeople, good as their world goes; but if so, Dimas and Ana were examples of atavism, reversions to the original type.
They were not vicious, only wild, shrewd in avoiding labor, and with wants so simple that the necessities of the ordinary native Indian were mostly luxuries to them.
They were small, but well proportioned, bright-eyed, and cleanly, with quick movements. Most wild animals, when they can be, are cleanly.
They lived somewhere in one of the many, little red earth valleys between the foot-hills. Only the hunters who tracked the jaguar to his lair, the wild boars to their rootings in the forest, or the golden turkey to its safest nesting-place, ever saw the tiny ná, like the nest of some wild bird, hidden in the tall tangle of the valley.
A tiny garden was beside it, an aërial one made of felled, age-hollowed trunks of great cocoyal palms, split open at the middle, and raised several feet from the ground by the stout, smooth forks of a chucum tree.
Safe from the attacks of the forest-foragers grew the tiny bunches of aromatic herbs that Ana used to season their daily food.
Deeper in the forest, about many low mounds, shapeless remains of a prehistoric hamlet, was their tiny corn-field, well planted and well kept. Dimas worked away at his corn-field with the same tireless, instinctive industry that the ant exhibits when it cuts its leafy food and stores it against the dry and leafless spell. Ana, at home, went the same instinctive, tireless pace. She rose with the earliest bird-chirp, then by the light of freshened embers she ground the corn and made the gruel and bread. All this was done in perfect silence, while Dimas, wrapped in his faded, red-barred blanket, crouched on the floor, equally mute.
Only after they had taken their hot gruel and the steaming uahes (cornbread) did they open their mouths to speak, and then only in simple phrases.
"The tunkuluchues [great horned owls] hooted very early this morning," said Ana. "I heard them," replied Dimas.
Dimas went off to the corn-field, and Ana went to the water-hole in the rock and drew the water in a bucket of chucum bark to water the aërial garden in the canche, to wash the corn and cook it, and then for the nightly bath of warm water when Dimas came back from the cornfield.
The seasons seemed to bring to them their voices, as they did to the animals and the birds. When the crop was ready to be gathered, then they went to the field and worked together. At this time the tongues of both were loosened, and when near together, they kept up a kind of constant twittering in a curious minor key that made their words so strangely sounding that none, though close by them, could tell what they were saying to each other. When separate in the field and filling their xuxacs, or woven back-baskets, the constant vocal interchange was in long-drawn, high-keyed sounds, more like the clear, sweet cries of the wild forest creatures than like human words.
When the crops were housed for safety, each after the needs of its kind, the unhusked corn packed in the three-forked tree-trunk as closely as Nature herself could pack the kernels on the cob, and the black beans packed and sealed with ashes in the large gourds, then side by side the two crouched on the ground outside the door in the clear moonlight, picking out the flat, edible seeds of the field pumpkin, the calabasa. At these times they kept up a never-ending conversation in a monotonous undertone. What were they talking about? What did he say, and what did she answer? As well ask what the coon says when it whimpers to its mate as they work on the field corn in the husk. One is as easy to answer as the other.
At other times they were silent, almost mute. The venturesome hunters who from time to time passed through the valley and called at their door for water or rest never saw a candle lighted or one hanging from the beams, as in other, even the poorest, homes. When the dusk of evening came on, the evening quietness of the
day-birds' nests was over the little hut of Dimas and Ana. Only the red star-gleam of the embers in the three-stone fireplace gave sign that human life was there.
ONCE a year there came to Dimas and Ana the fluttering excitement that must be upon all migrating creatures when they leave for a while their old haunt behind them. For several weeks ahead they had been planning for it. Dimas had gone to his bank for a blank check, and they both set their hands and seals upon it to make it good and valid. In other words, he had gone to the ruined homes of the ancient ones close by, and torn from the massive walls a handsome, fine-grained, smoothworked block of stone. Then they picked and picked at this with sharp-edged pieces of steel, and with the industry of a squirrel opening nuts, until the perfect ká, or native mill, and its symmetrical roller were lying before them.
The bleached squash-seeds were wrapped up into two well-made, compact bundles, covered with palm-leaf and tied with vines. One was for Ana to carry, while the other, crowned by the heavy mill and its roller, was for Dimas and his foreheadband.
At last they reached the nearest little pueblo, to them a wonderful place, with many people. They went up to the door of the one little store and looked timidly in. The proprietor saw them coming, as he had seen them coming for several years before. He was the great man of the village. Some villages have great men, and the villagers curse them,-curse them quietly, but with feeling,-but this village's great man had a heart as great as his position was thought to be by those under him. More than this no man can be, and his fellow-villagers respected and feared him as they did the village cura.
He bought the handsome, hand-made mill at a price that made him a handsome profit afterward, for he was shrewd, this village great man. He sold them cottoncloth, a new flint for Dimas, and powder for his gun, and so made another handsome profit.
The next time they came to the village they brought, beside the mill of hard, red stone, a large sack of rich, golden, yellow, nancene fruit, and the great man of the village bought both the mill and the fruit, the