16.THE STONE CANOE
Once a beautiful Chippewa maiden died on the day she was to have married a brave, young warrior. He was very brave, but this sorrow was almost too great for him to bear. He sat down at the door of his cabin and would not go hunting with the other Indians.
All that he could think of was the dead maiden, and he wished and wished that he could go to the Land of Souls, where he knew she now lived. But he did not know where this land was. All that the old people could tell him was that it lay to the south. So, after grieving for many days, he made up his mind to try to find it. He put some food in a bag, gathered up his arrows and bow, and calling his dog to him, started off. On he went for many days, and everything looked the same as in the land he had left—forests, hills, and valleys, with snow lying thick on the ground and in the trees. Then gradually the snow began to vanish, and as he went on he saw trees with leaves budding on them, and could hear the songs of birds. At the end of a few more days, he had reached the southern land, where all is warm and bright. There he saw a narrow path leading through a forest and up a hill.
He followed this path, and at the top of the hill found a cabin. At the door of the cabin stood an Indian, dressed in a robe of bearskins. He was a very old man, but his eyes were bright and soft.
“Come in, my grandson,” he said. “I have been expecting you. The maiden whom you seek passed here a few days ago. You may follow her and enter the Land of Souls, but you must leave your body behind with me. My cabin is the gateway into that beautiful land, and you do not need your body there, nor your arrows, nor your bow. Leave them with me and I shall keep them safe for you. Look over there! Do you see that deep gorge and the beautiful plain beyond? That is the Land of Souls, and the one you seek is already there.”
Suddenly the young man felt himself grow very light, and his feet began to run as though they were winged. Everything looked the same to him, only more beautiful, and the little animals did not seem afraid. They seemed to know that he would not kill them. As he went on swiftly through the forest, he noticed that the trees did not stop him. He seemed to pass right through them, and he saw then that they were only images of trees.
At last he came to a beautiful lake, whose waters were clear and sparkling. In the centre of this lake was an island, with green grass and flowers and birds. Then, to his joy, he noticed a canoe tied to the shore of the lake. It was made of shining, white stone and had paddles that shone, also. He climbed in and pushed away from the shore, and, to his surprise, he saw the maiden whom he loved, in a canoe exactly like his, floating beside him. They kept close together and began to cross the lake. Its waves seemed to be rising, and at a distance looked ready to swallow them up. But when the huge waves drew close, they passed by and left them unharmed, and the maiden and her lover saw that they were only the shapes of waves. But another thing frightened them. It was the clearness of the water, for as they looked down, they could see the bodies of people who had been drowned. And in the water all along, there were men and women of all ages struggling and sinking in the waves. Only the canoes of the little children floated on in safety.
At last their canoes reached the shore of the island, and jumping out, they roamed joyfully over the soft grass. They felt that the very air was food, and thought only of pleasant things. For there was nothing that was sad here in this land, no cold winds, no hunger—only brightness and joy.
As the warrior, wandered by the maiden’s side, he heard the voice of the Master of Life speaking to him. “Go back,” he said, “to the land you came from. Your work is not completed yet. Go back and be a good man, and do all the work that I send to you. You must leave the spirit whom you love, but she shall wait here for you, for she is accepted, and shall always remain young and happy. When your work is finished, I shall call you also from the land of hunger and tears, to come to this beautiful Land of Souls.”
So the young man said farewell to the maiden, and getting into the canoe, he was carried across the lake. In a few minutes, he was at the cabin of the old man. The Indian smiled when he saw him.
“Enter, my grandson,” he said, “and you will find your body inside.”
The young man obeyed, and when he came out he felt as when he had first arrived. But his heart was brave now. The Indian smiled again at him.
“I see how brave and strong you are,” he said, “and my message to you is, always remain cheerful and brighten every sad life that you see.”
The young man promised to obey the message, and, with one long look at the Land of Souls, he turned and began his journey towards his home.