Once long, long ago, in Matsaki the Salt City, there lived many rich Indians who owned large flocks of Turkeys. The poor people of the town herded them on the mesas, or on the plains around Thunder Mountain, at the foot of which Matsaki stood.
Now, at this time, on the border of the town was a little tumble-down hut in which there lived alone a very poor girl. Her clothes were patched and ragged; and, though she had a winning face and bright eyes, she was shameful to behold because her hair was uncombed and her face dirty. She herded Turkeys for a living, in return for which she received a little food, and now and then an old garment.
But she had a kind heart, and was lonely, so she was good to her Turkeys as she drove them to and from the plains each day. The birds loved her very much, and would come at her call, or go wherever she wished.
One day this poor girl was driving her Turkeys past Old Zuñi, and as she went along she heard a man, who was standing upon a house-top, invite all the people of Zuñi and the other towns to come to a great dance that was to take place in four days.
Now this poor girl had never been allowed to join in, or even to watch, the dances, and she longed to see this one. She sighed, and said to her Turkeys,—for she often talked to them,—"Alas! How could a girl, so ugly and ill-clad as I am, watch and much less join in the great dance!" Then she drove her Turkeys to the plain, and when night came, returned them to their cage on the edge of the town.
So every day, for three days, this poor girl drove her Turkeys out in the morning, and saw the people busy cleaning and mending their garments, cooking all sorts of good things, and making ready for the festival. And she heard them laughing and talking about the great dance. And as she went along with her Turkeys, she talked to them, and told them how sad she was. Of course she did not think they understood a word.
They did understand, however, for on the fourth day, when all the people of Matsaki had gone to Old Zuñi, and the poor girl was herding her Turkeys on the plain, a big Gobbler strutted up to her. He made a fan of his tail, and skirts of his wings, and, blushing with pride and puffing with importance, he stretched his neck, and said:—
"O Maiden Mother, we know what your thoughts are, and truly pity you. We wish that, like the other people of Matsaki, you might enjoy the great dance. Last night, after you had placed us safely and comfortably in our cage, we said to ourselves, 'Our maiden mother is just as worthy to enjoy the dance as any maiden of Matsaki or Zuñi.'
"So now, listen, Maiden Mother," continued the old Gobbler. "Would you like to go to the dance, and be merry with the best of your people? If you will drive us home early this afternoon, when the dance is most gay and the people are most happy, we will make you so handsome and dress you so prettily that no one will know you. And the young men will wonder whence you came, and lay hold of your hand in the dance."
At first the poor girl was very much surprised to hear the Gobbler speak, then it seemed so natural that her Turkeys should talk to her as she did to them, that she sat down on a little mound, and said: "My beloved Turkeys, how glad I am that we may speak together! But why should you promise me things that you know I cannot have?"
"Trust us," said the old Gobbler, "and when we begin to call, and gobble, gobble, and turn toward our home in Matsaki, do you follow us; and we will show you what we can do for you. Only let me tell you one thing. If you remain true and kind of heart, no one knows what happiness and good fortune may come to you. But if you forget us, your friends, and do not return to us before sunset, then we will think, 'Behold, our maiden mother deserves all her poverty and hard life, for when good fortune came she forgot her friends and was ungrateful.' "
"Never fear, my Turkeys!" cried the girl, "never fear! Whatever you tell me to do I will do! I will be as obedient as you have always been to me!"
The noon hour was scarcely passed, when the Turkeys of their own accord turned homeward, gobbling as they went. And the girl followed them, light of heart. They knew their cage, and immediately ran into it. When they had all entered, the old Gobbler called to the girl, "Come into our house!"
So she went in, and he said, "Maiden Mother, sit down, and give us one by one your garments, and we will see what we can do with them."
The girl obediently drew off her ragged mantle, and cast it on the floor in front of the Gobbler. He seized it in his beak, and spread it out. Then he picked and picked at it, and trod upon it. Lowering his wings, he began to strut back and forth upon it. Next, taking it up in his beak, he puffed and puffed, and laid it down at the feet of the girl—a beautiful white embroidered mantle!
Another Gobbler came forward, and the girl gave him one of her garments, which in the same manner, he made very fine. And then another and another Gobbler did the same, until each garment was made into as new and beautiful a thing as that worn by any maiden of Matsaki.
Before the girl put these on, the Turkeys circled about her, singing and brushing her with their wings, until she was clean, and her skin as smooth and bright as that of the loveliest maiden of Matsaki. Her hair was soft and waving, her cheeks full and dimpled, and her eyes dancing with smiles.
Then an old Turkey Gobbler came forward, and said: "O Maiden Mother, all you lack now is some rich ornaments. Wait a minute!"
Spreading his wings, he trod round and round, throwing his head back, and laying his wattled beard upon his neck. By and by he began to cough, and he produced in his beak a beautiful necklace. And one by one the other Gobblers did the same thing, and coughed up earrings, and all the ornaments befitting a well-clad maiden, and laid them at the feet of the poor Turkey girl.
With these beautiful things, she decorated herself, and thanking the Turkeys over and over, she started to go to the great dance. But the Turkeys called out: "O Maiden Mother, leave open the wicket gate, for who knows whether you will remember your Turkeys when your fortunes are changed! Perhaps you will be ashamed of being the maiden mother of Turkeys. But we love you, and would bring you good fortune! Therefore remember our words, and do not stay too late."
"I will surely remember you, my Turkeys," answered the girl, and she opened the wicket, and sped hastily away toward Old Zuñi.
When she arrived there, the people looked at her, and she heard murmurs of astonishment at her beauty and the richness of her dress. The people were asking one another, "Who is this lovely maiden?"
The Chiefs of the dance, all gorgeous in their attire, hastily came to her, and invited her to join the youths and maidens in the dance. With a blush and a smile and a toss of her hair over her eyes, the girl stepped into the circle, and the finest youths among the dancers sought to lay hold of her hand.
Her heart became merry, her feet light, and she danced and danced until the Sun began to go down. Then, alas! in her happiness she thought of her Turkeys, and said to herself: "Why should I go away from this delightful place, to my flock of gobbling Turkeys? I will stay a little longer, and just before the Sun sets, I will run back to them. Then these people will not know who I am, and I shall have the joy of hearing them talk day after day, wondering who the girl was, who joined their dance."
So the time sped on, and soon the Sun set, and the dance was well-nigh over. Then the girl, breaking away, ran out of the town, and being swift of foot, she sped up the river-path before any one could follow the course she took.
As for the Turkeys, when they saw that it grew late, they began to wonder and wonder that their maiden mother did not return to them. And when the Sun had set, the old Gobbler mournfully said: "Alas! It is as we might have known! She has forgotten us! So she is not worthy of better things than those she has been used to! Let us go to the mountains, and endure captivity no longer, since our maiden mother is not so good and true as we once thought her."
So calling, calling to one another, and gobbling, gobbling in a loud voice, they trooped out of their cage, and ran through the cañon, and around Thunder Mountain, and up the valley.
All breathless the girl arrived at the wicket, and looked in. And, lo, not a Turkey was there! She ran and she ran along their trail. And when she reached the valley, they were far ahead, and she could hear them calling, calling to one another, and gobbling, gobbling loudly. She redoubled her speed, and as she drew nearer, she heard them singing sadly:—
"Oh, our maiden mother,
Whom we love so well,
To the dance went to-day!
"Therefore, as she lingers,
To the cañon mesa,
We'll all run away!"
Hearing this, the girl called to her Turkeys, called and called in vain! They quickened their steps, and spreading their wings to help themselves along, ran on till they came to the base of the cañon mesa. Then, singing once more their sad song, they spread wide their wings, and fluttered away over the plain above.
As for the girl, she looked down at her garments, and, lo, they were changed again to rags and patches and dirt! And she was the same poor Turkey girl that she had been before.
Weary and weeping, and very much ashamed, she returned to Matsaki.