In a lonely forest, there once lived a man and his wife, who had a son. The father went forth every day, according to the custom of the Indians, to hunt for food to supply his family.
One day, while he was absent, his wife, on going out of the lodge, looked toward the lake that was near, and she saw a very large man walking on the water, and coming fast toward the lodge. He was already so near that she could not, if she had wished to, escape by flight. She thought to herself, “What shall I say to the monster?”
As he advanced rapidly, she ran in, and taking the hand of her son, a boy of three or four years old, she led him out. Speaking very loud, “See, my son,” she said, “your grandfather;” and then added, in a tone of appeal and supplication, “he will have pity on us.”
The giant approached and said, with a loud ha! ha! “Yes, my son;” and added, addressing the woman, “Have you any thing to eat?”
By good luck the lodge was well supplied with meats of various kinds; the woman thought to please him by handing him these, which were savory and carefully prepared. But he pushed them away in disgust, saying, “I smell fire;” and, not waiting to be invited, he seized upon the carcass of a deer which lay by the door, and dispatched it almost without stopping to take breath.
When the hunter came home he was surprised to see the monster, he was so very frightful. He had again brought a deer, which he had no sooner put down than the cannibal seized it, tore it in pieces, and devoured it as though he had been fasting for a week. The hunter looked on in fear and astonishment, and in a whisper he told his wife that he was afraid for their lives, as this monster was one whom Indians call Weendigoes. He did not even dare to speak to him, nor did the cannibal say a word, but as soon as he had finished his meal, he stretched himself down and fell asleep.
In the evening the Weendigo told the people that he should go out a hunting; and he strided away toward the North. Toward morning he returned, all besmeared with blood, but he did not make known where he had been nor of what kind of game he had been in quest; although the hunter and his wife had dreadful suspicions of the sport in which he had been engaged. Withal his hunger did not seem to be staid, for he took up the deer which the hunter had brought in, and devoured it eagerly, leaving the family to make their meal of the dried meats which had been reserved in the lodge.
In this manner the Weendigo and the hunter’s family lived for some time, and it surprised them that the monster never attempted their lives; although he never slept at night, but always went out and returned, by the break of day, stained with blood, and looking very wild and famished. When there was no deer to be had wherewith to finish his repast, he said nothing. In truth he was always still and gloomy, and he seldom spoke to any of them; when he did, his discourse was chiefly addressed to the boy.
One evening, after he had thus sojourned with them for many weeks, he informed the hunter that the time had now arrived for him to take his leave, but that before doing so, he would give him a charm that would bring good luck to his lodge. He presented to him two arrows, and thanking the hunter and his wife for their kindness, the Weendigo departed, saying, as he left them, that he had all the world to travel over.
The hunter and his wife were happy when he was gone, for they had looked every moment to have been devoured by him. He tried the arrows, and they never failed to bring down whatever they were aimed at.
They had lived on, prosperous and contented, for a year, when, one day, the hunter being absent, his wife on going out of the lodge, saw something like a black cloud approaching.
She looked until it came near, when she perceived that it was another Weendigo or Giant Cannibal. Remembering the good conduct of the other, she had no fear of this one, and asked him to look into the lodge.
He did so; and finding after he had glared around, that there was no food at hand, he grew very wroth, and, being sorely disappointed, he took the lodge and threw it to the winds. He seemed hardly at first to notice the woman in his anger; but presently he cast a fierce glance upon her, and seizing her by the waist, in spite of her cries and entreaties, he bore her off. To the little son, who ran to and fro lamenting, he paid no heed.
At night-fall, when the hunter returned from the forest, he was amazed. His lodge was gone, and he saw his son sitting near the spot where it had stood, shedding tears. The son pointed in the direction the Weendigo had taken, and as the father hurried along he found the remains of his wife strewn upon the ground.
The hunter blackened his face, and vowed in his heart that he would have revenge. He built another lodge, and gathering together the bones of his wife, he placed them in the hollow part of a dry tree.
He left his boy to take care of the lodge while he was absent, hunting and roaming about from place to place, striving to forget his misfortune, and searching for the wicked Weendigo.
He had been gone but a little while one morning, when his son shot his arrows out through the top of the lodge, and running out to look for them, he could find them nowhere. The boy had been trying his luck, and he was puzzled that he had shot his shafts entirely out of sight.
His father made him more arrows, and when he was again left alone, he shot one of them out; but although he looked as sharply as he could toward the spot where it fell, and ran thither at once, he could not find it.
He shot another, which was lost in the same way; and returning to the lodge to replenish his quiver, he happened to espy one of the lucky arrows, which the first Weendigo had given to his father, hanging upon the side of the lodge. He reached up, and having secured it, he shot it out at the opening, and immediately running out to find where it fell, he was surprised to see a beautiful boy just in the act of taking it up, and hurrying away with it to a large tree, where he disappeared.
The hunter’s son followed, and having come to the tree, he beheld the face of the boy looking out through an opening in the hollow part.
“Ha! ha!” he said, “my friend, come out and play with me;” and he urged the boy till he consented. They played and shot their arrows by turns.
Suddenly the young boy said, “Your father is coming. We must stop. Promise me that you will not tell him.”
The hunter’s son promised, and the other disappeared in the tree.
When the hunter returned from the chase, his son sat demurely by the fire. In the course of the evening he asked his father to make him a new bow; and when he was questioned as to the use he could find for two bows, he answered that one might break or get lost.
The father pleased at his son’s diligence in the practice of the bow, made him the two weapons; and the next day, as soon as his father had gone away, the boy ran to the hollow tree, and invited his little friend to come out and play; at the same time presenting to him the new bow. They went and played in the lodge together, and in their sport they raised the ashes all over it.
Suddenly again the youngest said, “Your father is coming, I must leave.”
He again exacted a promise of secresy, and went back to his tree. The eldest took his seat near the fire.
When the hunter came in he was surprised to see the ashes scattered about. “Why, my son,” he said, “you must have played very hard to day to raise such a dust all alone.”
“Yes,” the boy answered, “I was very lonesome, and I ran round and round—that is the cause of it.”
The next day the hunter made ready for the chase as usual. The boy said, “Father, try and hunt all day, and see what you can kill.”
He had no sooner set out than the boy called his friend, and they played and chased each other round the lodge. They had great delight in each other’s company, and made merry by the hour. The hunter was again returning, and came to a rising ground, which caught the winds as they passed, and he heard his son laughing and making a noise, but the sounds as they reached him on the hill-top, seemed as if they arose from two persons playing.
At the same time the younger boy stopped, and after saying “Your father is coming,” he stole away, under cover of the high grass, to his hollow tree, which was not far off.
The hunter, on entering, found his son sitting by the fire, very quiet and unconcerned, although he saw that all the articles of the lodge were lying thrown about in all directions.
“Why, my son,” he said “you must play very hard every day; and what is it that you do, all alone, to throw the lodge in such confusion?”
The boy again had his excuse. “Father,” he answered, “I play in this manner: I chase and drag my blanket around the lodge, and that is the reason you see the ashes spread about.”
The hunter was not satisfied until his son had shown him how he played with the blanket, which he did so adroitly as to set his father laughing, and at last drive him out of the lodge with the great clouds of ashes that he raised.
The next morning the boy renewed his request that his father should be absent all day, and see if he could not kill two deer. The hunter thought this a strange desire on the part of his son, but as he had always humored the boy, he went into the forest as usual, bent on accomplishing his wish, if he could.
As soon as he was out of sight, his son hastened to his young companion at the tree, and they continued their sports.
The father on nearing his home in the evening, as he reached the rising ground, again heard the sounds of play and laughter; and as the wind brought them straight to his ear, he was now certain that there were two voices.
The boy from the tree had no more than time to escape, when the hunter entered, and found his son, sitting as usual, near the fire. When he cast his eyes around, he saw that the lodge was in greater confusion than before. “My son,” he said, “you must be very foolish when alone to play so. But, tell me, my son; I heard two voices, I am sure;” and he looked closely on the prints of the footsteps in the ashes. “True,” he continued, “here is the print of a foot which is smaller than my son’s;” and he was now satisfied that his suspicions were well founded, and that some very young person had been the companion of his son.
The boy could not now refuse to tell his father what had happened.
“Father,” he said, “I found a boy in the hollow of that tree, near the lodge, where you placed my mother’s bones.”
Strange thoughts came over the mind of the hunter; did his wife live again in this beautiful child?
Fearful of disturbing the dead, he did not dare to visit the place where he had deposited her remains.
He, however, engaged his son to entice the boy to a dead tree, by the edge of a wood, where they could kill many flying-squirrels by setting it on fire. He said that he would conceal himself near by, and take the boy.
The next day the hunter accordingly went into the woods, and his son, calling the boy from the tree, urged him to go with him to kill the squirrels. The boy objected that his father was near, but he was at length prevailed on to go, and after they had fired the tree, and while they were busy killing or taking the squirrels, the hunter suddenly made his appearance, and clasped the strange boy in his arms. He cried out, “Kago, kago, don’t, don’t. You will tear my clothes!” for he was clad in a fine apparel, which shone as if it had been made of a beautiful transparent skin. The father reassured him by every means in his power.
By constant kindness and gentle words the boy was reconciled to remain with them; but chiefly by the presence of his young friend, the hunter’s son, to whom he was fondly attached. The children were never parted from each other; and when the hunter looked upon the strange boy, he seemed to see living in him the better spirit of his lost wife. He was thankful to the Great Spirit for this act of goodness, and in his heart he felt assured that in time the boy would show great virtue, and in some way avenge him on the wicked Weendigo who had destroyed the companion of his lodge.
The hunter grew at ease in his spirit, and gave all of the time he could spare from the chase to the society of the two children; but, what affected him the most, both of his sons, although they were well-formed and beautiful, grew no more in stature, but remained children still. Every day they resembled each other more and more, and they never ceased to sport and divert themselves in the innocent ways of childhood.
One day the hunter had gone abroad with his bow and arrows, leaving, at the request of the strange boy, one of the two shafts which the friendly Weendigo had given to him, behind in the lodge.
When he returned, what were his surprise and joy to see stretched dead by his lodge-door, the black giant who had slain his wife. He had been stricken down by the magic shaft in the hands of the little stranger from the tree; and ever after the boy, or the Bone-Dwarf as he was called, was the guardian and good genius of the lodge, and no evil spirit, giant, or Weendigo, dared approach it to mar their peace.