3.THE SLEEP FAIRIES
A hunter was once going through a forest with his dogs. After he had gone some distance he missed them. He called and whistled, but they did not come, so he turned back to find them. Going some distance farther, he thought he saw one lying under some low bushes, and when he reached the spot, he saw his three dogs lying there fast asleep. He tried to waken them, but they would open their eyes only for a moment, then fall asleep again. Soon he began to feel a strange, sleepy feeling coming over him. He shook himself and tried to keep awake. Just then he noticed a very large insect on a branch of a tree. It had many wings on its back, which kept up a steady, droning noise. When it noticed the hunter looking at it, the insect said, “I am Weeng, the spirit of sleep. Your dogs came too near my home, and so they have fallen under my spell. In a few minutes you will be asleep yourself.”
“Must I go to sleep?” said the hunter. “I would like to go back to my lodge.”
“You are a brave chief and have always been kind to the forest insects, so this time I am going to let you go. Take a leaf from yonder little tree, chew it and swallow the juice.”
The hunter did as he was told and at once the sleepy feeling was gone. Then the strangest thing happened. He saw all around him strange little fairies, each one with a tiny war-club. They peeped from out the bark of the trees, from amidst the grass, and even from out his pouch.
“What are these?” he asked Weeng.
“They are my sleep fairies, and are called ‘Weengs.’ Now you may waken your dogs and go.” And before the hunter had time to reply the insect had gone.
He turned and roused the dogs, who followed him, still looking very stupid. As he went he saw the Weengs all around the trees, and many seemed to be coming with him. When he reached his lodge, he saw the little creatures run to the men and climb up their foreheads; then with their war-clubs they began to knock them on the head. Soon the Indians began to yawn and rub their eyes, and in a little while they all lay asleep.
Then the hunter began to feel his own head grow heavy. He tried to keep awake, but could not, so he stretched himself beside the fire and went to sleep. When he awakened and looked around, there were no fairies to be seen.
The hunter determined to go into the forest and see if he could find the little tree from which he had plucked the leaf. But before he went, he carefully tied up his dogs, for he did not wish them to follow him and again fall under the spell of Weeng. They whined when he left them and pulled at their ropes, but he was soon lost to their sight among the trees. Making his way slowly through the forest, he kept a sharp lookout for the little tree with the magic leaves. But he could see nothing that looked like it. For many hours he tramped on, and at last he threw himself down on the ground to rest.
As he lay there, he heard a droning noise above his head. He looked up quickly, and there sat Weeng on the farthermost branch of the tree.
“Good-morning, great hunter,” said the insect. “You have been searching for my little tree, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” replied the hunter. “How did you know?”
“I know many things,” said Weeng, “but listen, to me. Over there is the tree.” As he spoke, he pointed to a little tree not two yards away. “Pluck one of the leaves, but do not chew it until sunset. At that hour I utter my sleep call, which tells all the insects to fly home to rest. When you hear the call, you may chew the leaf, for I want you to see what happens then.”
“Is anything strange going to happen?” asked the hunter.
“Great hunter,” said Weeng, “if you remain in this forest behind that large oak tree, you may see it all. One hour before sunset, the Red Squirrel and all his army are coming to attack me.”
“Why are they going to do that?” asked the hunter, in surprise.
“Because the Red Squirrel wishes to have my branch for his home. He ordered me to get down, and I refused. So, one hour before sunset, he and his army are coming to drive me from my home.”
“What are you going to do?” asked the hunter. “Can I help you?”
“I and my winged friends,” said Weeng, “are going to fight them when they come. Yes, great hunter, you can help us by remaining to see that the battle is fair. The Red Squirrel knows that if he can touch me once, I must fall. But my insects have sharp swords, and they can keep the army back till sunset.”
“And what will happen then?” asked the hunter.
“Then the insects must go to their homes. But, if you swallow the juice of the leaf, you will see the end of the battle. Now go and hide behind the oak tree. In a few minutes my army will be here.”
The hunter did as he was told and took his place behind the tree. From here he could see Weeng quite plainly, but he was himself hidden. In a few minutes the insects began to assemble. First came the wasps, looking fierce and warlike. Then came the bees, buzzing along with indignation. Then dozens of flies, bluebottles, sand-flies, and bull-flies, all ready for the fight. Then followed the moths, ladybugs, butterflies, and mosquitoes.
Lastly, with a great noise, came a regiment of hornets and took their places on the branch directly in front of Weeng. The others had gathered in a huge circle around him, and in the midst of the bodyguard he sat, like a general ready for the attack of the enemy. He had not long to wait, for somewhere in the forest the Red Squirrel had assembled his army, and now he brought them forward in one body to the foot of the tree. All the red squirrels were in front, next came the gray squirrels, then the chipmunks.
The Red Squirrel gave the command, and up the tree his army began to climb. Out on the branch they came, where Weeng sat at the farthest end. But the hornets were ready for them, and as they advanced the sharp swords of the defenders pricked their noses, eyes, and bodies. Backward they tumbled, some falling from the limb, others clinging desperately to the under side. Then the gray squirrels pushed forward, and in spite of many wounds, broke through the ranks of the hornets. They had nearly reached Weeng when the bees, buzzing more indignantly than ever, made one fierce dash at them. The gray squirrels fought bravely, but at every turn they met terrible, stinging blows. At last they could not see what they were doing, and, like the red squirrels, many of them fell from the limb.
While this part of the battle was going on, the chipmunks had been waging a war of their own with the wasps, who had attacked them. The battle had been a sharp one, and many soldiers of both armies lay dead on the ground below the tree. But the chipmunks had won the victory, and now made their way along the branches towards Weeng. Their leader, a large, bold-looking chipmunk, made a fierce rush at Weeng, and almost touched him. But just as he did so, with a noiseless swoop, down came the mosquitoes upon him. They covered his head, until not a part of it was to be seen. He slapped wildly at them, lost his hold on the branch, and fell to the ground. With redoubled fury on rushed the other chipmunks and the red squirrels, who had by this time recovered. They were met by a solid wall of insects bristling with sharp swords, for the wasps, the hornets, and flies had placed themselves across their path. Then came the hottest part of the battle, and in one confused mass they struggled and fought on the slender branch. In the midst of this there sounded a soft, sweet call. It was the sleep call of the fairy Weeng. At once all the insects sheathed their swords, and turning, fluttered slowly home to bed. As each one departed, he uttered a soft good-night to Weeng.
The hunter, who was watching all this anxiously, wondered that although the Red Squirrel’s army was still fighting it was making no headway. He wondered how this could be. Suddenly he remembered the leaf in his pocket. At once he chewed it, and he then saw the reason for the squirrels’ defeat. At the call of Weeng his sleep fairies had come forth, and now with their clubs were knocking their enemies on the head. Blow after blow they struck. The squirrels resisted bravely, but it was useless. In a few minutes they were driven back and off the branch of the tree, and were glad to escape to their homes. As the darkness gathered and the magic of the leaf began to wear away, the hunter could just dimly see Weeng sitting in the midst of his sleep fairies, like a great general who has won his battle.