31.III. THE GRAY GOOSE
Many years ago, when Wesakchak was the only man upon the earth, there was a being, the Evil Spirit, who did not love him. This spirit was very wicked, and when he saw how much the animals loved Wesakchak, he made up his mind to carry out a cunning scheme, for he wanted to become the master of the animals himself, and it made him very jealous to see how they obeyed Wesakchak.
But the North Wind, when it was passing by his wigwam, heard the Evil Spirit say what he was going to do. The wind passed on, and when it came to the birch-tree, it told her. She told it to her leaves, and they rustled in the wind, as they listened to the terrible plan. “Oh, North Wind,” said the birch-tree, “will you carry my leaves to the wigwam of Wesakchak, and they will tell him of his danger?” So the North Wind took the dried leaves of the birch-tree and carried them many miles, until they reached the wigwam of Wesakchak. There it dropped them at his door.
Wesakchak was sitting by the fire, and he heard the rustling leaves. “Listen!” they said to him, “We have a message for you.” Then they told him of the terrible plan the North Wind had overheard. It was in the spring the Evil Spirit was going to carry out his purpose.
Wesakchak hunted all winter in the forest. When spring came, he was near the edge of the woods one day, and as he stepped out into the prairie, he heard a little rustle at his feet. He looked down and saw some leaves of the birch-tree. “Remember the message we carried to you, O Master,” they said. Wesakchak answered, “Yes, I remember. It is now spring, and I shall go back to my wigwam for my bow and arrows. Then I shall go in search of the Evil Spirit, my enemy.”
The next day Wesakchak left his lodge and travelled over the prairie. Towards nightfall he reached a low valley. He saw that the snow was melting and that some feet of water lay in the valley. But he did not stop for this. He walked on through the water, never resting even when the darkness descended. But when the sun rose next morning, he saw that the plan of the Evil Spirit was being carried out, for all around him lay water. The Evil Spirit had melted the snow during the night, and now every little stream was swollen as big as a river, and the valley was full of water to the brim.
Wesakchak had to swim, and after he had gone some miles, he began to feel very tired. Then the jackfish swam up to him and said, “My Master, get on my back and I shall take you safely to the land.” Wesakchak at once did as he was told, and the jackfish, who was strong and a swift swimmer, soon brought him safely to the dry land.
Then Wesakchak went home to his lodge. It was not far away, and he could see it rising out of the water like an island, for the land on which it was built was a tiny hill. He was very glad to be inside his wigwam and to sit down beside the fire; but as he looked out through the open door, he saw the water rising steadily, and knew that by morning it would be in his lodge, and that he, if no help came, would be drowned.
Wesakchak was very tired, and as he sat there thinking, he fell asleep, and he had a strange dream. He thought Nihka, the wild goose, flew into the wigwam and around and around near the top, napping her wings and crying. She seemed to say, “Give me a message! Give me a message! And I shall save you.” Around and around she flew, and at last lighted in the ashes of the smouldering fire and disappeared.
Then Wesakchak wakened, and as he looked around the wigwam, he knew that Nihka must have been there, for everything had fallen on the floor as if struck by her wings, and the floor of the lodge was covered with ashes. The fire was out, and in the centre of it lay the quill of a goose. Wesakchak picked it up, and saw that a little piece of birch bark was rolled inside. He pulled it out, and as he did so, he heard the honk-honk of a wild goose, and Nihka flew in at the door.
“Write on the birch bark,” she said, “and I shall take it to your friend the beaver.”
Wesakchak did as she told him. He wrote a message on the birch bark and slipped it in the hollow end of the quill. As he gave it to Nihka, he saw that she was no longer white as she had been, but was gray with the ashes of the fire, and marked with black specks where the cinders had touched her. Her breast was still white, and a small patch under her wings.
Nihka took the quill and flew off at once. It was not long before Wesakchak saw the beaver coming to him through the water. When he came close, Wesakchak saw that he carried mud in his paws and on his broad, flat tail. When he reached the door of the lodge, he put the mud down and patted it smooth and hard with his tail. Then he swam away and brought back more, and this he did until he had made a path across the water. Wesakchak had stood watching the beaver as he worked, and now as it was finished, he said:
“Brother Beaver, this is a wonderful bridge you have made for me. How did you learn to do it? Surely the Great Spirit has taught you this, to make a path of land in the midst of the water.”
“Yes, Master,” answered the beaver, “the Great Spirit has taught me how to do this, that you might escape the wicked snares of your enemy. If you cross to the other side, you will be safe.”
“Thank you, Brother Beaver,” said Wesakchak, “I shall do as you say,” and stepping out on the mud bridge, he walked safely to dry land.
Then, in memory of this kindness, Wesakchak told the beaver that from that time he might always build a path across the water to remind his children of what he had done. Then, turning to the goose, he told her that he wished her to wear always her dress of gray and black, so that the world might not forget her loving service.
Each spring, the Evil Spirit, who is the spring flood, grows wild with rage, as he remembers how his plan was spoiled, and he tries to waste the lands of Wesakchak and his children. But this is always in vain, for the Evil One can never win.