15.THE FAIRIES’ CLIFF
An Indian chief once had ten daughters. They were all very beautiful, especially the youngest. When they grew to be women, nine of them married handsome, young warriors. But the youngest maiden would not look at any of the young men who came to see her at her father’s cabin. After a while, she married an old man with gray hair, and so feeble that he could hardly walk. Her father and sisters were very angry, but she would not listen to them. She only said, “I am very happy, and so nothing else matters.”
One evening, the father asked his ten daughters and their husbands to come to his cabin for a feast. On the way there, the nine sisters kept saying, as they looked at the youngest maiden and her husband: “Our poor sister, is it not a pity she is married to such an old man? See, he can hardly walk. Would it not be a good thing if he were to fall and kill himself?”
As they were saying this, they noticed that the old man kept looking up at the Evening Star, and every once in a while he would utter a low call.
“See,” said one of the sisters, “he thinks the Evening Star is his father and is calling to him.”
Just then, they were passing a hollow log which lay by the roadside. When the old man noticed it, he suddenly dropped on his hands and knees and crawled in at one end. When he came out at the other end, he was no longer an old man; he had been changed into a tall, handsome, young chief. But his wife was no longer a beautiful maiden. She had been changed into a bent, old woman, hobbling along with a stick. The young husband was very kind to her and took good care of her all the rest of the way to the father’s cabin. He seemed very sorry that she had been changed like this, but he loved her just the same as before. During the feast the young husband heard a voice speak to him. It seemed to come from the skies. Looking up, he saw the Evening Star shining in through a crack in the roof.
“My son,” the Star said to him, “many years ago an evil spirit changed you into an old man, but that spirit has now lost its power. You are free, and may come home and live with me. Your wife shall be beautiful once more, and you shall have everything you can wish for.”
The others had not heard this voice, so they were very much surprised when they felt the cabin begin to rise in the air. As it floated upwards, the bark changed into beautiful silver gauze. It was now a cabin made of wings of insects. The young chief looked at his wife and saw that she was a beautiful maiden once more. Her dress was changed into one of shining, green silk, and her stick became a silver feather. The sisters and their husbands had been changed into birds with bright-colored feathers. Some were parrots, some blue jays, some singing birds that flew around and sang their sweet songs. At the side of the cabin was a large cage for the birds. Upwards, the cabin floated till they found themselves in the Evening Star. Everything was silvery white here and very peaceful. The Star was very glad to see his son.
“Hang up that cage of birds which you have brought with you by the cabin door, and then come and sit down while we talk.”
The young chief did as he was told. He sat on one side of his father, while his wife sat on the other, and the Star father told them many stories.
“You must be careful,” he said, “not to let the beams of the next star shine on you. That is the Evil Star which turned you into an old man. If it shines on you again, you might once more be changed, so be very careful.”
The young chief promised to remember his father’s warnings, and he always kept away from the Evil Star. They lived happily together for several years. Then one day their young son wanted to learn to hunt. He had heard that the people on the earth could shoot with bow and arrows, and he wished to learn. The Evening Star did not like to refuse his young grandson anything, so he made him a little bow and arrows. He showed him how to use them; then said, “I shall open the bird-cage and let out the birds. You may try to shoot them, if you like.”
This delighted the young boy, and so for many days he tried to shoot a bird. His arrows always fell to one side. But he kept on trying, and one day the arrow sank deep in the breast of one of the birds. The boy was very proud, but what was his surprise, when he went to pick up the bird, to find that it had changed into a beautiful maiden with an arrow sticking in her breast. It was one of his aunts, who had been changed back into her earthly form. As her blood fell on the ground of this pure and spotless planet, the spell was broken.
The boy felt himself sinking down through the air. He fell slowly, as if he had wings. At last his feet touched the ground, and he found himself on a high, rocky island. He was delighted to see his aunts and uncles all following him. They floated down through the air until at last they too reached the rock. Then came the silvery cabin, with his father and mother, with its bark looking like the shining wings of insects. The cabin sank down until it reached the cliff, and there they all made their home. They had been given back their earthly bodies, but were only the size of fairies.
The top of the cliff, which had been bare before, now grew soft with green grass. In the grass, bright flowers blossomed, and tiny pools of water glistened here and there. The fairies were all very happy to have been given such a beautiful home, and, looking up, they thanked the Evening Star. His soft beams fell on them and they heard his gentle voice say, “Be happy, my children, until I call you again to your home in the sky. I shall keep watch over you until then.” So from that time they have been very contented.
On calm summer evenings, they always come out on top of the rock to dance and sing. And when the moon is shining very brightly, you may see the silver cabin on the very highest part of the cliff; you may also, if you listen very hard, hear the voices of the happy little dancers.