26.THE RED SWAN
Three brothers, who were hunters, once lived together in a forest. They were very skilful and always returned well laden from the chase. One day they all agreed to go hunting. They were each to kill the animals that they usually killed, and then see who could get back to the lodge first and have the game cooked. So they took their finest arrows, and off they went.
The youngest brother, whose name was Odjibaa, had not gone far when he saw a bear. Now this was one animal that he was not supposed to kill, but he forgot his bargain and shot it. Then everything seemed to grow red, and he heard a queer noise. He followed it, and as he tramped on, the noise seemed closer. At last he came to the edge of the lake and there, floating on the water, was a beautiful Red Swan. Every once in a while it uttered the queer noise he had been hearing. He shot an arrow at the bird, but it flew past her. He shot another and another. They all fell near her, but she was quite unharmed. She swam around in the water, bending her head and arching her neck and not even noticing Odjibaa. This made him want her more than ever, so he shot the rest of his arrows. Still she was untouched.
Then he remembered that, in his dead father’s medicine sack, there were three magic arrows, so he ran back at once to the lodge and took them. When he again reached the shore of the lake, he put one in his bow. He took good aim and shot. It came close to the bird. The second arrow came closer, and the third went through her neck. She did not fall into the water, but rose slowly into the air, and flew away towards the setting sun, with the arrow still in her neck.
Odjibaa waded into the lake and picked up the two magic arrows which were floating on the water. When he reached the shore again, he set out to follow the Red Swan. He was a great runner, for when he shot an arrow ahead of him, he could run so fast that it fell behind him.
So now he ran at his greatest speed. But the Red Swan was already out of sight. On he went through the forest, across streams, and over the prairie. At nightfall he reached a town where many Indians lived. The chief made him welcome and let him stay the night. In the morning, he set out once more, and by night he had reached a second town. He stayed there till morning and then continued his race.
By the next night, he had reached a lodge where a magician lived. The old man treated him very kindly. He made him sit down by the fire. Then he spoke a few words, and a metal pot with legs walked out and stood by the fire. He spoke a few more words and put one grain of corn and one berry into the pot. At once it became full of porridge. He told Odjibaa to eat this, and when he had done so, the pot became full again. It continued to do this until Odjibaa had eaten all he could. Then the magician told the hunter to lie down and rest, and in the morning he said to him:
“My grandchild, you are in search of the Red Swan. Be brave and travel on, and at last you will be successful. When you near the end, you will come to a lodge of another magician, and he will tell you what to do.”
Odjibaa thanked the old man, and went once more on his way.
When he had gone some distance, he shot an arrow ahead of him and it fell behind him, so he knew that he was still going his best. He went on for some days and at last saw the lodge of the magician. This second old man was as kind as the first and treated him in much the same way. He gave him food from a magic kettle exactly like the first, and then bade him stay the night. Then in the morning he said to him:
“My grandchild, you are following the Red Swan. Many a hunter has done the same and has never returned. For she is the sister of a great chief. He once had a wampum cap which was fastened to his scalp. One day some warriors came and told him that the daughter of their chief was very sick. She said the only thing that would cure her was this cap of wampum and that the sight of it would make her better at once. The chief did not like to lend his cap, for if he took it off, his head would be bare and bloody. But he thought again of the sick girl and at last gave it to the warriors.
“That is many years ago, but they have not returned the cap yet. They were cheats and are keeping it to make fun of it. They carry it from one village to another to dance around it, and at every mean thing they say, the old man groans with pain. Many young men have tried to get it for him, but all have failed. He has offered many gifts to the one who gets it, and even the Red Swan will belong to the successful one. She is a very beautiful maiden, and for her many young men have risked their lives. You are very brave and will face great dangers. Go as you have come, and you will be the one to win the precious wampum.”
So Odjibaa travelled for several more days. At last he saw a lodge, but before he came up to it he could hear the groans of some one inside. Coming up to the door, he knocked, and a voice bade him come in. On entering he saw a very old man seated in one corner. His face was withered and his head bare and bloody. He seemed to be in great pain.
The young man spoke kindly to him and asked him how he lost his scalp. Then the old man told his story: how the young men had cheated him, and how they were abusing the scalp now. Odjibaa looked very sorry, and when the old man saw this, he began to coax him to try and get it back. He promised him blankets and many other things that make an Indian rich. But he did not mention the Red Swan. Odjibaa noticed that a wall divided the lodge into two parts. He guessed that the Red Swan was behind the wall, for he thought he heard her dress rustle. After he had talked with the old man, and had learned many things about the unfriendly Indians, he said:
“I shall go in search of the cap. When you hear the noise of a hawk, put your head out of the door, so I may put the scalp on you quickly.”
Early next morning he set out, and before the day was over had come near the Indian village. As he drew near he could hear the sound of much shouting, and in a few minutes could see hundreds of warriors dancing and yelling around a pole. On the top of this pole was the scalp. He changed himself into a humming-bird and flew by their heads. When they heard the soft, humming noise, they said, “What is that?” He flew on, until he came near the pole. Then he changed himself into a blue butterfly and fluttered up to it. He took the scalp in his mouth and lifted it from the pole. A mighty shout went up from the Indians when they saw what was happening. But they could not reach the butterfly, as it was so high up in the air. It began to float slowly away with the scalp. This was hard work, and the load was almost too heavy for Odjibaa, but he hung on until he was safe outside the village. Then he changed himself into a hawk and flew rapidly away. When he came near the lodge of the old man, he uttered the cry of the hawk. The old man put his head out, and with a great blow Odjibaa clapped his scalp on. The old man fell senseless and lay very still for a long time.
Odjibaa entered the lodge and sat down to wait. At length the old man opened his eyes and arose. But he was no longer an old man. Instead there stood a handsome, young warrior. He reached out his hand to Odjibaa and said:
“I can never thank you for all you have done for me. See, you have given me back my youth and strength. Now I shall never grow old. You must stay and live with me and I shall make you a great chief.” Odjibaa replied:
“No, I must go back to my brothers. I shall leave early to-morrow morning.” Then the magician began to get ready a bundle for Odjibaa. He put blankets, beads, feathers, and paints in it, but he said no word about the Red Swan, and Odjibaa did not like to ask him. The next morning the hunter said good-bye to the magician and prepared to go.
“Wait, my friend,” he said, as he opened the door in the wall. A beautiful maiden stepped forth. “This is my sister, Red Swan. She is to be yours, as you saved my scalp.”
Odjibaa was overjoyed at this. He thanked the magician again; then taking the maiden by the hand, they set out for his home.