The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
THERE was a chieftain in the days of yore. He had a great desire for a poor girl who was a servant, and who worked for him. To win this girl he first must lose his wife. He took his wife afar into the woods to gather spruce-gum, and then left her there.
She soon found out that she had lost her way, and, wandering, she lost it more and more for many days, until she came at last to a bear's den, where, going in, she found the Chief of all the bears, who welcomed her, provided for her wants, and furnished her with pleasant food; but as the meat was raw he went into a neighboring town for fire. And as she lived with him she was to him in all things as he wished, and as a wife.
So that it came to pass, as time went on, that a new-comer was expected, and she bade the Bear provide the baby's clothes. And when the long-expected infant came it was a boy, large, beautiful, and strong; he was in everything beyond all other boys.
And as the child was born in a strange way, he very soon displayed a magic power. No baby ever grew so rapidly: when four months old he wrestled with the Bear and threw him easily upon the floor. And so the mother saw that he would be a warrior, and the chief of other men.
She loathed the life she led, and wished to leave, and live as she had done in days of old. To this the Bear would in nowise consent, and as her son was human, like herself, he loved his mother best, and thought with her.
One day he said, "Now I can wrestle well and throw the Bear as often as I choose. When I next time cast him upon the ground, catch up a club; the rest remains for you!"
They waited yet a while till he had grown so strong that the Bear was nothing in his grasp. One day they wrestled as they ever did, and then the woman, with a vigorous blow, strengthened by hate and famishing desire of freedom and a better human life, laid him in death upon the mossy floor.
They went their way back to the chieftain's town, and found him married to the servant-girl. The mother only spoke, and the wild boy tore down the wigwam of the Indian chief just with a blow, and then he called aloud unto the Lightning in the sky above, "Come down to me and help me in my need! Build a grand wigwam such as man ne'er saw! Build it, I say, and for my mother here!"
The Lightning came, and with a single flash built such a home as man had never seen.
And then he said, "Mother, I mean to go and travel everywhere, until I find another man who is as strong as I. When he is found I will return to thee."
So on he went afar until he saw a man who lifted up a vast canoe with many people in it. This he did,
raising it in the water; but the boy bore it ashore, and lifted it on land.
And so the two agreed that they would go on together until they found a third equal to them in strength, if such a man were living anywhere in all the world.
So traveling by hill and lake, they went, until one day, far in a lonely land, they saw a man rolling a mighty rock, large as the largest wigwam, up a hill. But the Bear's son, lifting the stone with ease, threw it afar over the mountain-top,--threw it afar beyond the rocky range; they heard it thunder down the depths below.
Then the three strong men went to hunt the moose. He who had tossed the ship remained in camp to do the cooking, while the others went with bow and spear afar to find their game.
Now when the sun was at the edge of noon, just balancing to fall, there came a boy, a little wretched, elfish-looking child, as sad and sickly as a boy could be, who asked the man for food. He answered him, "Poor little fellow! there, the pot is full of venison, so go and eat your fill."
He ate, indeed, the dinner for the three. When he had done he did not leave a scrap; then walked into the stony mountain-side, as any man might walk into the fog, and in a second he was seen no more.
Now when the two returned and heard the tale they were right angry, being hungry men. The man who rolled the stone stayed next in turn, but when the
little fellow came to him he seemed so famished and he shed such tears that this one also gave him leave to eat. Then, in a single swallow, as it seemed, he bolted all the food, and yelled aloud with an insulting laugh. The man, enraged, grappled him by the throat, but the strange boy flung him away as one would throw a nut, and vanished in the mountain as before.
Oin the third day the mighty man himself remained at home, and soon the starveling child came and began to beg, with tears, for food. "Eat," said the chief, "as other people eat, and no more tricks, or I will deal with you." But as it was with him the day before, so it went now; he swallowed all the meat with the same jeering yell. Then the strong man closed with the boy. It was an awful strife; they fought together from the early morn until the sun went down, and then the Elf--for elf he was--cried out, "I now give in!" So both his arms were tightly bound behind, and with a long, tough cord of plaited hide the strong man kept his prey, the lariat fast noosed about his neck. The child went on, the strong man ever following behind, holding the cord well twisted round his hand.
And so they went into the mountain-side, and ever on, a long and winding way, down a deep cavern, on for many a mile,--the light of sorcery shining from the elf made it all clear,--until at last the guide stopped in his course, and said:—
"Now list to me. I am the servant of a frightful fiend, a seven-headed devil, whom I deemed no man
could ever conquer, he and I being of equal strength; but I believe that thou mayst conquer him, since I have found, by bitter proof, that thou canst conquer me. Here is a staff, the only thing on earth that man way smite him with and give him pain. Now, do your best; it is all one to me which of you gains, so one of you be slain, for well I wot 't will be a roaring fight."
In came the evil being with a scream, and clutched the Indian with teeth and claws. There, in the magic cavern, many a mile from the sun's rays, they fought for seven days, the stubborn devil and the stubborn man, whose savage temper gave him fresher strength with every fresh wound; the more his blood ran from his body all the more his heart grew harder with the love of fight, until he beat away the monster's seven heads. And so he slew him, and the watching elf burst into laughter at the victory.
"Now," said the Elf, "I have a gift for thee. I have three sisters: all are beautiful, and all shall be thine own if thou wilt but unbind my hands." The strong man set him free. And so he led the man to another cave, and there he saw three girls so strangely fair they seemed to be a dream. The first, indeed, was very beautiful, and yet as plump as she was lovely; then the second maid was tall, superb, and most magnificent, in rarest furs, with richest wampum bands, the very picture of a perfect bride; but fairer than them both, as much more fair as swans outrival ducks, the youngest smiled. And the young chieftain chose her for his own.
With the three girls he went into the day. Par on the rocks above him he could see his two companions, and a sudden thought came to his mind, for he was quick to think; and so he called, "I say, let down a rope; I have three girls here, and they cannot climb." And so the two strong men let down a cord: then the first fairy-maid went up by it, and then the second. Now the chief cried out, "It is my turn; now you must pull on me!" And saying this, he tied a heavy stone, just his own weight, unto the long rope's end, then bid them haul. It rose, but as it came just to the top the traitors let it fall, as he supposed they would, to murder him.
And then the chieftain said unto the elf, "You know the mountain and its winding ways: bear me upon thy back, and that in haste, to where those fellows are!" The goblin flew, and in an instant he was by their side.
He found the villains in a deadly fight, quarreling for the maids; but seeing him they ceased to wrestle, upon which he said, "I risked my life to bring away these girls; I would have given each of you a wife: for doing this you would have murdered me. Now I could kill you, and you both deserve death at the stake, vile serpents that you are; but take your lives,--you are too low for me,--and with them take these women, if they wish to wed with such incarnate brutes as you!
They went their way; the women followed then, along the forest paths, and ever on. Into this story they return no more.
And then the strong man said to his young bride, "I must return unto my village; then I'll come again to you; await me here." But she, as one to elfin magic born, replied, "I warn you of a single thing. When you again are at your wigwam door a small black dog will leap to lick your hand. Beware, I say; if he succeed in it, you surely will forget me utterly." As she predicted so it came to pass.
And so she waited in the lonely wood beside the mountain till a month was gone, and then arose and went to seek her love. All in the early dawn she reached the town, and found the wigwam of the saga, more. She sought a neighboring hiding-place, where she might watch unseen, and found a tree, a broad old ash, which spread its stooping boughs over the surface of a silent pool.
An old black Indian had a hut hard by. His daughter, coming, looked into the spring, and saw a lovely face. The simple girl thought it was hers, her own grown beautiful by sorcery which hung about the place. She flung away her pail, and said, "Aha! I'll work no more; some chief shall marry me!" and so she went to smile among the men.
Then came the mother, who beheld the same sweet, smiling, also girlish face. She, said, "Now I am young and beautiful again; I'll seek another husband, and at once." She threw her pail afar and went away, losing no time to smile among the men.
And then in turn the old black Indian came, and looking in the spring beheld the face. He knew right
well that it was not his own, for in his youth he never had been fair. So looking up above he saw the bride, and bade her come to him; and then he said, "My wife has gone away; my daughter, too. You were the cause of it; it is but right that you should take the place my wife has left. Therefore remain with me and be my own."
He fares but ill who weds unwilling witch. When night came on they laid them down to sleep, and then the bride murmured a magic prayer, begging the awful Spirit of the Wind, the giant Eagle of the wilderness, to do his worst. A fearful tempest blew, and all night long the old black Indian was out-of-doors, working with all his power to keep the lodge from being blown away. As soon as he had pinned one sheet of bark into its place another blew away, and then a tent pole rattling in the rain bounded afar. It was a weary work, but all night long the young bride slept in peace, until the morning came, and then he slept.
Then she arose, and, walking to the wood, sat down beside a stream and sang a song:—
"There are many men in the world,
But only one is dear to me.
He is good and brave and strong.
He swore to love none but me;
He has forgotten me.
It was a bad spirit that changed him,
But I will love none but him."
And as she sat and sang, the sagamore her husband,
paddling by in his canoe, heard the sweet song intoned in magic style, 1 and all at once recalled what had been lost,--the two strong giants, the cavern and the elf, the seven-headed monster and the fight, the sisters and the evil-minded men, and the black dog who leaped to lick his hand: it flashed upon him like some early dream brought out by sorcery. He saw her sit beside the stream, and still he heard her song, soft as a magic flute. He went to her, and in a minute he was won again.
And then she said, "This world is ever false. I know another, let us go to it." So then again she sang a magic spell, and as she sang they saw the great Culloo, the giant bird, broad as a thunder cloud, winging his way towards them. Then he came; they stepped upon him, and he soared away. But to this earth they never came again.
This very singular legend was obtained for me by Mrs. W. Wallace Brown. It is from the Micmac, and is in the original from beginning to end a song, or poem. For this reason I have given it a plain metrical form, neither prose nor poetry, such being quite the character of the original. But I have not introduced anything not in the original.
This story consists of a very old Indian legend
mingled with a European fairy tale drawn through a French-Canadian source. The incident of the Elf who eats the food of three men is to be found in another tale. In one version, the bride, finding that her husband, though utterly deprived by magic of his memory, has married again, sails away on the great bird, leaving him forever. I have naturally rejected this senseless termination in favor of one found in another form.
The calling on the Lightning to build a wigwam is probably a mistake. It is more likely that it was summoned to destroy the chief's wigwam, but the narrator, confused with the subject of the hero's strength, changed the original. The invocations of Lightning, and subsequently of the Storm Bird are probably entirely Indian, though there are Norse invocations to Hroesvelgar, or the Eagle of the Northwest, as we read in Scott's Pirate.
The black whelp or small black dog is in this tale ominous of evil. It causes oblivion. In the Edda to dream of the same thing is the most evil of all Atli's bad dreams (vide the second lay of Gudrun, 41):—
"Seemed to me from my hand
Whelps I let slip.
Lacking cause of joy;"
and in the very same song (24) he takes a potion which causes oblivion. But there is even a third point in the Atlamal in Groenlenzku, which resembles one in the Indian tale. It is where the half enchantress Kostbera, warns Högni against leaving her:
"From home thou art going:
Give ear to counsel;
Few are fully prudent;
Go another time."
In the Norse lay we are told that to dream of a white bear indicates a storm, but here it means a strange and terrible event. Long before I met with this, I observed that the introduction, or mention, of a white bear-skin in these Indian stories invariably intimates some strange magical change.
But it is most remarkable of all, that, while the poems of the Edda have nothing but a very few incidents in common with the traditions of the western tribes, they are inspired throughout with a strange and mysterious sentiment or manner wonderfully like that of the Wabanaki. As regards literal resemblance the following coincidences may here be noted.
In a widely spread Norse tale a very small goblin sustains a long and obstinate contest with an immense white bear.
The Norsemen invoked the Eagle Giant of the Winds, as Scott has shown in his song of the Reimkennar. The same being is invoked in this legend.
The whelp, as an omen of evil, is mentioned in the Edda. In this tale he causes forgetfulness. A potion of oblivion is also mentioned in the Norse poem in close connection with the omen of the dog.
If we accept the termination of this tale as given in the Micmac poem it amounts to this: A certain woman causes the whelp to lick the hero's hand.
[paragraph continues] This causes forgetfulness. The hero marries her, and thereby loses his first wife. In the Edda, Brynhild, who has morally the first claim to Sigurd, says of Crymhild, "She presented to Sigurd the pernicious drink, so that he no more remembers me." In the saga of Thorstein, Viking's son the hero, is made by the witch Dis to utterly forget his bride Hunoor.
The Kalmuk tale of How the Schimm-Khan was Slain contains striking analogies to this of the Three Strong Men. 1 In it the hero associates with three men, who take turns to cook. Their food is devoured, as in this tale, every day by a little old witch who is very strong. He overcomes her by craft. His companions, instead of drawing him up by the rope, as agreed on, leave him to perish, in order to possess themselves of a treasure. There can be no doubt as to the Hindoo origin of this and many more plots found among the red Indians. But a careful study of the Norse story convinces me that the tale did not come to the Wabanaki through any other than a Norse source.
Since writing out the foregoing poem, with the comment, I have received from Louis Mitchell the Penobscot version of it. It is about twice as long as the Micmac story, and differs from it very materially. In it the hero conquers the goblin by getting possession of his red cap. In the Norse tales the same incident occurs in different forms. He then fights with a copper demon; also with one of silver and another of
gold. Each devil, while he is sharpening his sword, exclaims, "Hurry! hurry! I am hungry!" The last of the three, the Kche mitche-hant, or great devil, has three heads, which replace themselves when cut off; but the hero summons a lion (pee'tahlo) and an eagle, who devour each a head, when the demon, to save the last, surrenders. There are old "aboriginal" incidents in this Passamaquoddy tale, but the European elements predominate to such an extent as to call for the following remark from the Indian writer:—
"This story is ended. When Indians in it, as they do in many others, speak of kings and queens or ships and ivory, I think they got it all from Europe. But perhaps when the Indians came here from Asia they brought these stories with them. Thus they very often mention ivory, calling it white bone. They also mention cities. But these things are not new, for they were handed down from one generation to another."
I have to add that, while the story agrees with an universally spread Aryan fairy tale, it is very remarkable that it should add to these, several strictly Eddaic details, such as the white bear.
319:1 Not only the words, but the peculiar intonations of them, were essential to produce the proper effect of a magic song. An intelligent white man has left it on record that it required two years to learn one of these incantations of only a few lines.
322:1 Sagas from the Far East, London, 1873.