★ A Huron Cinderella Story :
Many years ago there was an Indian chief who had three daughters; and they lived in a lodge by the side of the Ottawa River–not in a wigwam, mind you, but a good old Huron lodge, like a tunnel, made of two rows of young trees bent into arches and tied together at the top, with walls of birch-bark. Oh! it was an honorable old lodge, with more cracks in the birch-bark than you could count, all patched and smeared with pitch.
The chief had three sons too, but they were killed in a great fight with the Iroquois. When the brave Hurons used up all their arrows they threw down their bows and rushed on the Iroquois with their tomahawks. They screamed and howled like eagles and wolves, and the Iroquois were so frightened that they wanted to run away, but their own magic-man threw a spell upon them, so that they couldn’t turn round or run, and they had to stand and fight. The Iroquois were cousins of the Hurons, and came of a brave stock; and as the Hurons were few compared to the Iroquois, few as the thumbs compared to the fingers, the Hurons were beaten, and only twenty men of the tribe escaped down the river, and none of the women except the chief’s three daughters.
Now the two eldest daughters were very proud, and loved to make a fine show before the young men of the tribe. One day a brave young man came to the lodge and asked the chief to give him a daughter for a wife.
The chief said, “It is not right for me to give my daughter to any but a chief’s son.” However, he called his eldest daughter and said to her, “This young man wants you for a wife.”
The eldest daughter thought in her mind: “I am very handsome, and one day a chief’s son will come and ask for me; but my clothes are old and common. I will deceive this young man.” So she said to him: “If you want me for your wife, get me a big piece of the fine red cloth that the white men bring to the fort far down the river.”
The young man was brave, as we have said, and he took his birch-bark canoe and paddled down the river day after day for seven days, only stopping to paddle up the creeks where the beavers build their dams; and when he stopped at the foot of the great rapids, where the white men lay behind stone walls in fear of the Iroquois, his canoe was deep and heavy with the skins of the beavers. The white men were at war with the Indians, and, though he was no Iroquois, his heart grew cold in his breast. But he did not tremble; he marched in at the watergate, and the white men were glad to see his beaver skins, and gave him much red cloth for them; so his heart grew warm again, and he paddled up the river with his riches. Twelve days he paddled, for the current was strong against him; but at last he stood outside the old lodge, and called the chief’s eldest daughter to come out and be his wife. When she saw how red was his load, she was glad and sorry–glad because of the cloth, and sorry because of the man.
“But where are the beads?” said she.
“You asked me for no beads,” said he.
“Fool!” said she. “Was it ever heard that a chief’s daughter married in clothing of plain red cloth? If you want me for your wife, bring me a double handful of the glass beads that the Frenchmen bring from over the sea–red and white and blue and yellow beads!”
So the brave paddled off in his canoe down the river. When he came to the beavers’ creeks he found the dams and the lodges; but the beavers were gone. He followed them up the creeks till the water got so shallow that the rocks tore holes in his canoe, and he had to stop and strip fresh birch-bark to mend the holes; but at last he found where the beavers were building their new dams; and he loaded his canoe with their skins, and paddled away and shot over the rapids, and came to the white man’s fort. The white men passed their hands over the skins and felt that they were good, and gave him a double handful of beads. Then he paddled up the river, paddling fast and hard, so that when he stood before the old chief’s lodge he was very thin.
The eldest daughter came out when he called, and said: “It is a shame for such an ugly man to have a chief’s daughter for his wife. You are not a man; you are only the bones of a man, like the poles of the lodge when the bark is stripped away. Come back when you are fat.”
Then he went away to his lodge, and ate and slept and ate and slept till he was fat, and he made his face beautiful with red clay and went and called to the chief’s daughter to come and marry him. But she called out to him, saying:
“A chief’s daughter must have time to embroider her clothes. Come back when I have made my cloth beautiful with a strip of beadwork a hand’s-breadth wide from end to end of the cloth.”
But she was very lazy as well as proud, and she took the cloth to her youngest sister, and said: “Embroider a beautiful strip, a hand’s-breadth wide, from end to end of the cloth.”
Now the chief’s youngest daughter was very beautiful; so her sisters were jealous and made her live in the dark corner at the back of the lodge, where no man could see her; but her eyes were very bright, and by the light of her eyes she arranged the beads and sewed them on so that the pattern was like the flowers of the earth and the stars of heaven, it was so beautiful. But when the youngest daughter had fallen asleep at night her eldest sister came softly and took away the cloth and picked off the beads.
In the morning she went to her youngest sister and said, “Show me the work you did yesterday.”
And the youngest sister cried, and said, “Truly I worked as well as I could, but some evil one has picked out the beads.”
Then her sister scolded her, and pricked her with the needle, and said, “You are lazy! Embroider this cloth, and do it beautifully, or I shall beat you!”
This she did day after day, and whenever the young man came to see if she was dressed for the wedding she showed him the cloth, and it was not finished.
Now there was another brave young man in that village, and he came and asked the chief for his second daughter.
The second daughter was as proud as the first, and said to herself, “One day a great chief’s son will come, and I will marry him.” But she said to the young man, “If you want me for your wife, you must build me a new lodge, and cover the door of it with a curtain of beaver-skins.”
The young man smiled in his heart, for he said to himself, “This is easy; this is child’s play.” So he built a new lodge, and hung a curtain of beaver-skins over the door.
But when the chief’s daughter saw the curtain, she said, “I should be ashamed to live behind a curtain of plain beaver-skins like that! Go and hunt for porcupines, that the curtain may be embroidered with their quills.”
So he took his bow and his arrows and went away through the woods to hunt. Twelve days he marched, till he came to the porcupines’ country. When the porcupines saw him coming; they ran to meet him, crying out, “Don’t kill us! We will give you all the quills that you want.” And while he stood doubting, the porcupines turned round, and shot their prickly quills out at him so that they stuck in his body. And the porcupines ran away into hiding before he could shoot.
Then the young man, because he had been gone so long already, did not chase the porcupines, but left the quills sticking in his body and went back to the village, saying to himself, “She will see how brave I am, that I care nothing for the pain of the porcupine quills.”
But when the chief’s daughter saw him she only laughed and said:
“You cannot deceive me! It was never heard that a chief’s daughter married a man who was not brave. If you were brave, you would have twenty Iroquois scalps hanging from your belt. It is easy to hunt porcupines; go and hunt the Iroquois, that I may embroider the curtain black and white with the porcupine-quills and the Iroquois hair.”
Then the young man’s heart grew cold; but he took his bow and arrows and went through the woods; and when he came near the Iroquois town he lay down on his face and slipped through the bushes like a snake. When an Iroquois came to hunt in the woods, he shot the Iroquois and took his scalp; and this he did till he had twenty scalps on his belt.
Now all the time that he lay in the bushes by the Iroquois town he ate nothing but wild strawberries, for the blueberries were not yet ripe; so when he came to his own village and called to the chief’s second daughter, she said:
“You are an ill-looking man for a chief’s daughter to marry. You are like a porcupine-quill yourself. Nevertheless, I am not like my sister, and I will marry you as soon as the curtain is embroidered.”
Then she took the curtain of beaver-skin and gave it to her youngest sister, and said:
“Embroider this curtain with quills, black and white, and criss-cross, so that it shall be more beautiful than the red cloth and the beadwork.”
So the youngest sister, when she had done her day’s work on the cloth, and was tired and ready to sleep, took the quills and the hair and began to embroider the curtain, black and white, in beautiful patterns like the boughs of the trees against the sky, till she could work no longer, and fell asleep with her chin on her breast.
Then her second sister came with her mischievous fingers and picked out all the embroidery of quills and hair, and in the morning came and shook her and waked her, and said, “You are lazy! you are lazy! Embroider this curtain!”
In this way the youngest sister’s task was doubled, and she grew thin for want of sleep; yet she was so beautiful, and her eyes shone so brightly, that her sisters hated her more and more, for they said to themselves, “If a great chief’s son comes this way, he will see her eyes shining even in the dark at the back of the lodge.”
One day, when the chief looked out of his door, he saw a new lodge standing in the middle of the village, covered with buckskin, and painted round with pictures of wonderful beasts that had never been seen in that country before. There was a fire in front of the lodge, and the haunch of a deer was cooking on the fire. When the chief went and stood and looked in at the door, the lodge was empty, and he said, “Whose can this lodge be?”
Then a voice close by him said, “It is the lodge of a chief who is greater than any chief of the Hurons or any chief of the Iroquois.”
“Where is he?” asked the old chief.
“I am sitting beside my fire,” said the voice; “but you cannot see me, for your eyes are turned inward. No one can see me but the maiden I have come to marry.”
“There are no maidens here,” said the old chief, “except my daughters.”
Then he went back to his lodge, where his two elder daughters were idling in the sun, and told them:
“There is a great chief come to seek a wife in my tribe. His magic is so strong that no one can see him except the maiden whom he chooses to marry.”
Then the eldest daughter got up, snatched the red cloth out of her youngest sister’s hand, wrapped it round her, smeared red clay over her face, and ran to the new lodge and called to the great chief to come and look at her.
“I am looking at you now,” said a voice close beside her; “and you are very ugly; you have been dipping your face in the mud. And you are very lazy, for your embroidery is not finished.”
“Great chief,” said she, “I will wash the clay from my face, and I will go and finish the embroidery and make a robe fit for a maiden who is to marry the great chief.”
Then the voice said, “How can you marry a man you cannot see?”
“Oh,” she said, “I can see you as plainly as the lodge and the fire. I can see you quite plainly, sitting beside the fire.”
“Then tell me what I am like,” said he.
“You are the handsomest of men,” she said, “straight of back and brown of skin.”
“Go home,” said the voice, “and learn to speak truth.”
When she came back to the lodge, she flung the red cloth down on the ground without speaking.
Then the old chief said to his second daughter, “Your sister has failed; it must be you that the great chief will marry.”
So the second daughter picked up the beaver curtain and flung it round her, and ran to the empty lodge; and, being crafty, she cried aloud as she came near, “Oh! What a handsome chief you are!”
“How do you know I am handsome?” said the voice. “Tell me what clothes I wear.”
So she guessed in her mind, and, looking on the painted lodge, she said, “A robe of buckskin, with wonderful animals painted on it.”
“Go home,” said the voice, “and learn to speak truth.”
Then she slunk away home, and squatted on the ground before the lodge, with her chin on her breast.
Now, when the youngest daughter saw that both her sisters had failed, she said to herself, “They tell me I am very thin and ugly, but I will go and try if I can see this great chief.” So she pushed aside a corner of the birch-bark, slipped out at the back of the lodge, and stole away to the painted lodge; and there, sitting by his fire on the ground, she saw a wonderful great chief, with skin as white as midwinter snow, dressed in a long robe of red and blue and green and yellow stripes.
He smiled on her as she stood humbly before him, and said, “Tell me now, chief’s daughter, what I am like, and what I wear!”
And she said, “Your face is like a cloud in the north when the sun shines bright from the south; and your robe is like the arch in the sky when the sun shines on the rain.”
Then he stood up and took her for his wife, and carried her away to live in his own country.
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