An Indian Boy
Bright eyes got into mischief as soon as he was old enough to toddle about on his unsteady legs. He tangled the long grasses with which his mother was weaving nets to catch the shining fish.
He stumbled into the thin, brittle rinds of the linden trees, which she was sewing into corn bags with a needle of bone and threads from the fiber of an elm-tree. He broke a drinking-cup made from a dried squash. He cracked some earthen pots which had cost a great deal of wampum money. "Hi, bad papoose!" cried his mother. She scolded the little busybody, but she never whipped him. He was to be a great warrior some day, and must never know what fear of anybody living was.
When Bright Eyes grew yet stronger, he ran about the village, playing leap frog and wolf with his mates, jumping, running and wrestling.
As soon as his hands were large enough to hold a little bow and arrow, a mark was set for him to shoot at. "Hi, brave papoose!" if he struck in the red spot. "He will follow the bear to its cave! He will bring back a deer to the lodge! He will win scalp locks for his girdle!" Thus shouted his mother as she watched him at his games.
He could soon swim like a fish, dive like a beaver, climb like a bear and run like a deer.
Sometimes when he was plunging into the cool river he fancied he was a beaver. Then he clutched at the mud with his hands and feet, piled up mounds on the water's edge, and ran in a wriggling fashion on all fours, spreading out his mouth to take in the twigs and pebbles to build his beaver lodge.
He knew all about the habits of the beaver, and often lay on the limb of an overhanging tree watching them as they built their village. This was something like a log rolling, and the whole community joined in the work. But laying up provisions for winter was almost always a family affair. Father and Mother Beaver and their two or three children worked busily to provide for the time when the trees would be stripped of their tender leaves.
The old beavers gnawed by turns at a maple or a poplar, and sometimes the younger ones tried their teeth.
They sat on their hind legs and cut all around the tree, cutting deeper on the side it was to fall. Finally the trunk began to crackle, then there was a crash and the whole beaver family plunged into the pond, where they kept as still as mice till they were sure the noise of the falling tree had brought no Indian trapper. Then all came out of their hiding-place and began to lop off the branches and carry them to the pond, where they sank them in a pile near the lodge. They carried the smaller branches on one fore leg and limped off on the other three; they pushed the larger limbs with their bodies, grasping now and then with their powerful teeth to guide them.
It was a sad thing when a beaver became old and toothless. Unable to borrow and ashamed to beg, he began to steal the cuttings of his neighbors, and was sure to be found one day gashed in the side.
Once the father of Bright Eyes found a very old and toothless beaver in his trap, and he said, "It was just as well for this beaver to die in a trap, for see, he has no teeth and would soon have been killed by his fellows for stealing."
Once Bright Eyes heard a sound just like an Indian baby's cry. He followed the noise and found two little beavers hungry and alone. They wanted their mother. Bright Eyes searched all through the neighboring wood, and at last found the old beaver fast in a trap. He felt so sorry for the lonesome little babies that he set the mother free, and she went limping back to her lodge.
Sometimes Bright Eyes was a bear, with his home in a hollow tree, and many a search was made to find the truant. He robbed birds' nests and turtles' nests, and cooked the eggs in bunches of burning leaves. One of his games in the village was the "crooked path." A dozen little mischief-makers, all naked, but a string tied around their fat, bulging bodies, stood in a row. Each grasped with his right hand the belt-cord of the one in front of him. Then off they moved in a slow trot, singing as they went. They trudged in and out among the trees, through the puddles and around the wigwams. If some old woman was pounding her corn, the stumbling line hurried past her in a circle. Each left hand seized some corn until the squaw was out of patience. Rut when she ran to catch them they were off to the woods like squirrels, which hang chattering and barking from the branches overhead.
Those were glad days for Bright Eyes. They were school-days, too, with all Nature for an open book. The trees, with mosses creeping over their gnarled branches, the storms spreading thick mantles over the dancing stars, the winds blowing from the four quarters of the earth-he knew them well. Had his mother not told him how Kabeyun, the West Wind, was the ruler of all the winds? They obeyed him when he whistled O-ho-oo-ho-o!
Wabun, the East Wind, brought the rosy dawn, and called to the deer and to the hunter as the light rose from over the morning waters. The North Wind dwelt in his lodge of snowdrifts up among the icebergs. He froze the ponds and rivers, and sent the snowflakes flying through the forest.
The South Wind had his home in never-ending summer. He sent the robins and the bluebirds northward, and gave the melons, the tobacco and the purple grapes that hung along the rivers.
Bright Eyes knew much of Glooskap, the magician. Once this Glooskap was very angry when a storm on the sea had spoiled his fishing. He sped in rage to the high rock where the storm bird sat, and, creeping up behind him, tied his wings so that not a breath of air was stirring for a month. The sea became like glass, and everything was lovely. But after a time a green slime spread over its surface, and the fishes were all dying. Then swift to the high rock sped Glooskap. He untied one wing. That made all things just right. There was wind enough, but no tornadoes, as in the olden time, when the storm bird flapped both its wings.
This Glooskap was a wonderful fellow. His canoe stretched so large that it carried a whole army, or-shrunk so small that a dwarf could not sit in it at ease. He smoked a magic pipe which brought all the animals of the forest to his beck and call. Indeed, Glooskap's collection of pipes was one of his strong points. He always had one ready to bestow as a reward for some service.
One fine day a whale brought him dry-shod from far out in the sea. He gave her a short pipe filled with tobacco, and she sailed away again, smoking as she went.
Once, when Bright Eyes' little sister sat cooing on the floor, the squaw mother told how Glooskap could not conquer a baby.
He said he had conquered everything. "Ah, master, there is one whom no one has ever conquered, and never will," said a squaw. "Impossible! "he said, "How dare you? There is no one." "It is the baby," said the squaw. "There it sits, and woe be to the man who interferes with it." Now this master of men and beasts had never had a baby, and when he saw the tiny red thing sitting there on the floor of the wigwam, sucking sugar and paying no heed to a word he had been saying, he called with a smile and bade it come to him. Baby smiled, and sucked away at the sugar. Glooskap made his voice sweet like the coo of the dove, and again bade it come; but baby did not budge an inch. Then the brow of the great master darkened; he commanded in a voice of thunder that it should come immediately.
And straightway baby yelled when it heard the voice. Then Glooskap used his magic arts. He sang the songs which had brought the dead to life again, and baby glowed with admiration at his motions, and seemed to think it all very fine indeed; but still never budged from its seat.
Then Glooskap gave up, in rage and despair; and baby sat on the floor of the wigwam saying, "goo! goo!" and, it is said, the reason a baby now says goo, goo is because it remembers the time when the master of men, ghosts, witches and beasts was overcome by a baby like itself.
Bright Eyes knew of the giants who dwelt in wigwams, high as mountains. They came from the chase with a dozen antelopes hanging from their belts like squirrels, and swinging two or three moose like rabbits in their hands.
When they returned from their battles in the forest their legs were stuck full of pine-trees, with here and there an oak or a hemlock. This did not distress them nearly so much as thistles and splinters distress a common, everyday Indian.
But with all the stories his mother told him, she gave Bright Eyes much good advice. "Be brave, my son," she said, "and face whatever dangers you may meet. Your father is a great sachem, but you must not think of that. Because he is a chief does not mean that you will be one, too. It is the man who sweats, who is tired from going on the hunt and on the warpath, who becomes a chief among his people.
"I would not cry if I were to hear that you had been killed in battle, surrounded by your foes; but I should be sorry to see you die in your lodge like a feeble old woman. Be faithful to your friends. Never desert them on the field of battle. Do not run away if they are taken by the enemy. Be killed together. So live, little Bright Eyes, that you may join the warriors of your people who have gone before you to the happy Hunting Grounds in the land of the Hereafter."