As the canoes reached the shallows, the shore Indians dashed into the water to draw them up to land, and the company was joyously received. Teddy was delighted, for in one of the canoes was his father, whom he had not seen for several weeks. After the greetings were over, the dancers arranged themselves in opposite lines, men on one side, women on the other, and swayed their bodies while the drum kept up its unceasing tum-tum-tum.
“It’s a little bit like square dances at home,” said Ted. “It’s ever so pretty, isn’t it? First they sway to the right, then to the left, over and over and over; then they bend their bodies forward and backward without bending their knees, then sway again, and bend to one side and then the other, singing all the time. Isn’t it odd, father?”
“It certainly is, but it’s very graceful,” said Mr. Strong. “Some of the girls are quite pretty, gentle-looking creatures, but the older women are ugly.”
“The very old women look like the mummies in the museum at home,” said Ted. “There’s one old woman, over a hundred years old, whose skin is like a piece of parchment, and she wears the hideous lip-button which most of the Thlinkits have stopped using. Kalitan says all the women used to wear them. The girls used to make a cut in their chins between the lip and the chin, and put in a piece of wood, changing it every few days for a piece a little larger until the opening was stretched like a second mouth. When they grew up, a wooden button like the bowl of a spoon was set in the hole and constantly enlarged. The largest I have seen was three inches long. Isn’t it a curious idea father?”
“It certainly is, but there is no telling what women will admire. A Chinese lady binds her feet, and an American her waist; a Maori woman slits her nose, and an English belle pierces her ears. It’s on the same principle that your Thlinkit friends slit their chins for the lip-button.”
“I’m mighty glad they don’t do it now, for Tanana’s as pretty as a pink, and it would be a shame to spoil her face that way,” said Ted. “The dancing has stopped, father; let’s see what they’ll do next. There comes Kalitan.”
A feast of berries was to follow the dance, and Kalitan led Mr. Strong and Ted to the chief’s house, which was gaily decorated with blankets and bits of bright cloth. A table covered with a cloth was laid around three sides of the room, and on this was spread hardtack and huge bowls of berries of different colours. These were beaten up with sugar into a foamy mixture, pink, purple, and yellow, according to the colour of the berries, which tasted good and looked pretty.
Ted and Kalitan had helped gather the berries, and their appetites were quite of the best. Mr. Strong smiled to see how the once fussy little gentleman helped himself with a right good-will to the Indian dainties of his friends.
Many pieces of goods had been provided for the potlatch; and these were given away, given and received with dignified politeness. There was laughing and merriment with the feast, and when it was all over, the canoes floated away as they had come, into the sunset, which gilded all the sea to rosy, golden beauty.