The Punishment of the Stingy and Other Indian Stories, by George Bird Grinnell, , at sacred-texts.com
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IN ancient times, long before the people had found horses and used them instead of dogs to bear burdens and drag lodge poles, there lived ManyanNew Robean orphan.
New Robe's parents had died when he was a little child, and he was brought up by an old woman who also died before he grew up to be a man. His parents, hopeful for his future, had given their son a good name, but in all his life up to the time he was seventeen or eighteen years old, he had never worn a new robe or any other new article of clothing. The castoff garments of the well-to-do were thought good enough for him. He was always dirty and ragged, and his matted and tangled hair hung low over his forehead, and almost hid his sore red eyes. Somewhere he had picked up an old bow, but it had no strength; and even if it had been
strong and full of quick spring, the broken-pointed flint heads of his arrows would not have pierced the flesh of any large animal. He had an old flint knife, but its edge was so ragged and blunted that it would scarcely cut a piece of boiled meat.
Yet New Robe lived along contentedly enough, for he knew nothing better than all this. He never thought that he was different from other young men, until one day he chanced to overhear the conversation of some young women. He was lying half asleep in a patch of willows when the girls came along, and, stopping near him, sat down and kept on talking.
"Well," said one, "you have each told your choice, but you have not spoken of the very handsomest and nicest of all the young men. Why have you forgotten New Robe?"
They all shrieked with laughtershe who had spoken most of alland then began to jest about him, and New Robe's face grew hot as he heard the many unkind things they said about his appearance and his poverty. One of the girls, however, had a better heart.
"It is wrong," she said, "for us to talk in
this way about the young man. He cannot help being poor, and I am sorry for him. I must say, though, that he might be cleaner and neater than he is. I wish I could talk to him; I would like to tell him some things that would be for his good."
"Why, you must be in love with him," one of the girls exclaimed, laughing.
"Well," replied the other, "I pity the poor young man, and, if my father would allow me, I would marry him and make a man of him. All he needs to change his ways is kindness and teaching."
In the evening New Robe met this girl, Mastah kiRaven Womanas she was coming from the river with a skin of water. Already he had combed out his hair and washed himself, and she stared at him in surprise.
"Ah," he said, stopping her in the path. "To-day I heard your kind words, and have taken them to my heart. I am going away to try to earn a name, to try to become a chief. Pray for me; ask the Sun to help me."
"I will pray for you every day," said the girl.
"And if I return such a man that no one
need be ashamed of me," he asked, "will you be my wife?"
"Yes, gladly," she replied. "And now go; people are looking at us."
The next morning New Robe left the camp. He did not know where to go, nor what he was going to do. Something seemed to tell him to push forward, and that somehow, in some way, he would be fortunate. He had but little food, only some tough, dried meat, and his weapons were poor and of little use; yet he did not fear that he would starve, or suffer any harm from the animals or from the enemy.
It was late in the fall, and the nights were very cold. One evening, after a long day's tramp, he came to the edge of a broad beaver pond. Tall, thick grass grew on the dam, and he pulled armfuls of this and heaped it up, and then crawled under the pile to pass the night. It was a warm, soft nest, and he was already almost asleep when some one called his name. He lifted his head and looked out from under the grass, and saw standing near by a handsome young man, very beautifully dressed.
"Come," said the stranger, "this is a cold
and cheerless place. My father's lodge is close by, and he asks you to be his guest."
New Robe arose and shook the grass from his robe. "It is strange," he said, "that I did not see your camp. Before I descended into the valley from the prairie I looked carefully over it, up and down."
"It is very near here," the stranger replied. "Come, let us go in. My father waits for us, and the night is cold."
He started, and led the way out over the ice, which had frozen from the shore for some distance out into the pond. New Robe followed, wondering why they should take that course. Presently they reached the edge of the ice; just beyond, a large beaver house rose above the water.
"That is our home," said the stranger. "Now, I am going to dive, and you must follow me. Just shut your eyes, and do not be afraid."
With a great splash he disappeared in the water, and New Robe, after hesitating a little and praying to the Sun for aid in this strange adventure, closed his eyes and pitched headlong into the place where his companion had disappeared. After swimming a few strokes, he felt
the pressure of the water suddenly give way, and, opening his eyes, found that he was in a great circular lodge. From the doorway a pool of water extended into the centre of it, and between its edge and the walls were beds of soft and beautiful robes. On the one at the back sat a kind-looking old man, who spoke pleasantly to him and bade him take a seat by his side; and as New Robe stepped out of the pool he found that he was perfectly dryno part of his clothing or person had been wet by the water he had passed through. Near the old man sat his wife, a handsome old woman, and on other beds reclined their two sons, one of whom had guided New Robe to the place. They all wore clothing of beautiful material and fashion, but he now noticed that the skin of each of these persons, wherever it could be seeneven their faceswas covered with fine fur, that of the two sons being pure white.
"You are welcome, my son," said the old man"welcome to the lodge of the Beaver Chief. One of my sons saw you creeping into your nest of grass, and I bade him invite you in. These nights are cold for one to be without shelter."
"Yes," added his wife, "and no doubt the poor young man is hungry; he seems to be lean and pinched."
"Oh! Ai! To be sure," said the old man; cc course he is hungry: just give me a dish, and I will prepare some food for him."
New Robe looked in astonishment at what the Beaver Chief was doing. He took a large buffalo chip and placed it in the dish, and began to break it up into fine pieces, singing, as he did so, a strange song. The hard, dry stuff turned into rich pemmican, and when the last bit of the chip had been broken up the bowl was passed to him. His wonder increased when he found that the food tasted as good as it looked.
"Our only food," said the old man, "is the bark of the trees; for, after all, you know, we are actually beavers, although we have the power to change our bodies into the form of any living thing. But there are many secret and wonderful things that we have learned through much prayer and through the search for different medicines. Stay with us for a time, and perhaps you may learn something of them. Just look about you and see how many we have gathered in our time."
Indeed, there were more than one could count. They hung on the walls and from the roof, enclosed in beautiful pouches and sacks of strange shape. New Robe wondered what they were, and wished he could open each one and examine it.
The pool in the centre of the lodge was never still; the current coming in from the door whirled slowly around and around. On its surface floated a short piece of beaver cutting which seemed very old and quite water-soaked; yet it did not sink, nor, like other pieces of wood, finally float out on the current constantly entering and going out of the doorway. Night and day it whirled slowly around the circumference of the pool. Although there was no fire in the lodge, it was warm enough, and not colder at night than in the daytime; thus little covering was needed when its occupants went to bed.
New Robe was awakened from his first night's rest in the strange place by the old man calling him to arise and eat. He had scarcely begun to taste a fresh dish of the strangely made pemmican, when the water in the pool began to heave and rise, and then again sank to its level as one of the sons arose from its depths and
stepped over to his couch, not a drop of water clinging to him or his garments. "Our pond is frozen over," he said. "Not even an air-hole remains open."
"Hai!" the old man exclaimed. "Is it so? Well, winter has come, and," turning to New Robe, "now you cannot leave us until spring comes and melts the ice. But do not be uneasy; we will treat you well, and try to make your life here pleasant."
So New Robe spent the winter in the beaver's lodge. The days came and went, one after another, and easy contentment marked their flight. Most of the waking hours were passed by the beavers in praying to their medicines and in singing their sacred songs, and the young man, listening, learned much of their secret wisdom.
The months passed, and one morning the water in the whirling pool was seen to be a little muddy. The next day, one of the sons reported that in places the ice had melted. The old man and the two sons went out to look about and inspect the dam, leaving New Robe and the old woman inside.
"Kyi," she said, "summer is now come, and
you will soon leave us. Before you go the old man will make you a present; he will give you your choice of all his medicines. Choose that stick whirling about there in the pool, for it is the strongest of them all. He will try to make you believe it is worthless, but insist on having it, and finally he will give it to you."
Presently the others returned. "Well," said the old man to New Robe, "spring has really come, and I know that you wish to return to your people. I am going to give you something to take back with you. Look about you, my son. See all these beautiful medicines hanging on the walls. Choose the one you fancy, and it is yours."
"Give me that," said New Robe, pointing to the floating stick.
"O-e-ai!" the old man exclaimed, in a surprised and pained tone. "O-e-ai! What? That old stick? Surely, my son, you must be crazy. Look about you; open your eyes and choose one of these beautiful medicines."
"Give me the stick," New Robe repeated.
"Come, come. Surely you do not know what you ask for. Now let me explain to you,"
and the old mares began to point out the different medicines and to tell what they were, explaining the wonderful and mysterious power of each. "There, you see," he concluded, "how unreasonable was your choice. Now I have explained them all, tell me which will you have?"
New Robe considered; he wondered if the old woman had not been mistaken in advising him to choose the old beaver cutting, but he caught her eye, and, assured by her meaning glance, replied as before, "Give me the stick."
Once more the old man tried with all his power to persuade him to make a different choice, and the sweat rolled from his brow .as he entreated the young man to select something else, and once more New Robe said, "I want the stick."
"O-e-ai!" cried the old man in despair. "Four times you have asked for the old cutting, and when that sacred number is reached I cannot refuse. Take the cutting, my son. It is the most valuable and powerful of all my medicines. It is really a beaver which, at will, you can change to the simple cutting as it appears to be."
New Robe was pleased, and when he learned how powerful the medicine was that he had chosen he knew that he had not left the home of his people in vain. He was now obliged to put off his departure, for he had to learn the hundred songs and the many prayers that went with his gift. But at last he knew them all by heart, and the old man gave him some parting advice.
"You must not look back," he said, "when you leave us, not even once, or the medicine will leave you and return to me. Also, you must always carry it concealed beneath your shirt, hanging by the string I have tied to it. Never let any one see it, or your power will be broken."
Then they all bade him good-bye, and he dived into the pool, and presently rose to the surface of the pond. When he reached the shore he knelt down in the grass and cried, cried long and bitterly, for he felt very sad to leave the kind beavers. It was all he could do to keep from looking back for one last glimpse of them. But after a time he rose and walked on, out of the valley, up over the dry, wide plain. After a little he came to a river,
swollen and swift with the melted snows. He placed a little cutting in the water, and it changed at once into a large, pure white beaver.
"Little brother," said New Robe, "the stream is high and dangerous. Cut me some logs so that I may make a raft on which to cross it safely."
At once the beaver began to fell some trees, and, as fast as he cut them into lengths, New Robe bound them together. In a little while there were enough to bear his weight, and he crossed to the other side in safety. Then, lifting the beaver up, it changed into the stick again, and, putting it safely in his bosom, he journeyed on.
One morning he came in sight of the camp, and sat down on a neighboring hill, prepared to do just as the old man had instructed him.
Pretty soon two or three young men approached, looking with wonder at the strange and beautiful robe he wore. When they had come near enough to hear his voicefor he kept his face coveredhe told them to stand where they were, and asked them to go and tell the father of Raven Woman that he was New Robe,
returned from strange adventures, and with a powerful medicine. "Ask him," he said, "to have four sweat lodges built for me, in a row from east to west, and when the stones are heated to let me know."
The young men returned to the camp, and in a little while came back to say that all was ready. New Robe told them to walk ahead and warn the people to keep away from him, and, as they all stood in a big crowd on each side of his path, he came to the first sweat lodge and entered it. Sprinkling the water on the hot stones, he began the sacred songs that the old man beaver had taught him, and, as he sang, some of the fur with which his body had been gradually covered during the winter fell to the ground. Soon he left this sweat lodge and went into the next one, and the people crowded around the one he had left, looking with wonder at the little heap of shed fur. So he went into the four sweat lodges, one after the other.
When he came out of the fourth sweat lodge, New Robe had shed the last of his beaver fur, and was so changed that no one recognized him. He was a beautiful, clear-eyed, longhaired young man. He went straight to Raven
[paragraph continues] Woman, who was standing near, and took her hand. They were both so happy they could not speak. The girl's father pointed to his lodge. "It is yours," he said, "and everything it contains. Go and live happily, my children."
New Robe became a great chief. By the aid of his medicine he was able not only to cure sickness, but he became a great warrior. No river or lake could stop his way, and he was able to kill many of the enemy who were encamped by the shores of any water, for, whenever he asked it of his medicine, it took him safely down under the surface of the water, wherever he wished to go.