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In The Land Of Souls

from The Yellow Fairy Book





From the Red Indian.

Far away, in North America, where the Red Indians dwell, there
lived a long time ago a beautiful maiden, who was lovelier than
any other girl in the whole tribe. Many of the young braves
sought her in marriage, but she would listen to one only--a
handsome chief, who had taken her fancy some years before. So
they were to be married, and great rejoicings were made, and the
two looked forward to a long life of happiness together, when the
very night before the wedding feast a sudden illness seized the
girl, and, without a word to her friends who were weeping round
her, she passed silently away.

The heart of her lover had been set upon her, and the thought of
her remained with him night and day. He put aside his bow, and
went neither to fight nor to hunt, but from sunrise to sunset he
sat by the place where she was laid, thinking of his happiness
that was buried there. At last, after many days, a light seemed
to come to him out of the darkness. He remembered having heard
from the old, old people of the tribe, that there was a path that
led to the Land of Souls--that if you sought carefully you could
find it.

So the next morning he got up early, and put some food in his
pouch and slung an extra skin over his shoulders, for he knew not
how long his journey would take, nor what sort of country he
would have to go through. Only one thing he knew, that if the
path was there, he would find it. At first he was puzzled, as
there seemed no reason he should go in one direction more than
another. Then all at once he thought he had heard one of the old
men say that the Land of Souls lay to the south, and so, filled
with new hope and courage, he set his face southwards. For many,
many miles the country looked the same as it did round his own
home. The forests, the hills, and the rivers all seemed exactly
like the ones he had left. The only thing that was different was
the snow, which had lain thick upon the hills and trees when he
started, but grew less and less the farther he went south, till
it disappeared altogether. Soon the trees put forth their buds,
and flowers sprang up under his feet, and instead of thick clouds
there was blue sky over his head, and everywhere the birds were
singing. Then he knew that he was in the right road.

The thought that he should soon behold his lost bride made his
heart beat for joy, and he sped along lightly and swiftly. Now
his way led through a dark wood, and then over some steep cliffs,
and on the top of these he found a hut or wigwam. An old man
clothed in skins, and holding a staff in his hand, stood in the
doorway; and he said to the young chief who was beginning to tell
his story, 'I was waiting for you, wherefore you have come I
know. It is but a short while since she whom you seek was here.
Rest in my hut, as she also rested, and I will tell you what you
ask, and whither you should go.'

On hearing these words, the young man entered the hut, but his
heart was too eager within him to suffer him to rest, and when he
arose, the old man rose too, and stood with him at the door.
'Look,' he said, 'at the water which lies far out yonder, and the
plains which stretch beyond. That is the Land of Souls, but no
man enters it without leaving his body behind him. So, lay down
your body here; your bow and arrows, your skin and your dog.
They shall be kept for you safely.'

Then he turned away, and the young chief, light as air, seemed
hardly to touch the ground; and as he flew along the scents grew
sweeter and the flowers more beautiful, while the animals rubbed
their noses against him, instead of hiding as he approached, and
birds circled round him, and fishes lifted up their heads and
looked as he went by. Very soon he noticed with wonder, that
neither rocks nor trees barred his path. He passed through them
without knowing it, for indeed, they were not rocks and trees at
all, but only the souls of them; for this was the Land of
Shadows.

So he went on with winged feet till he came to the shores of a
great lake, with a lovely island in the middle of it; while on
the bank of the lake was a canoe of glittering stone, and in the
canoe were two shining paddles.

The chief jumped straight into the canoe, and seizing the paddles
pushed off from the shore, when to his joy and wonder he saw
following him in another canoe exactly like his own the maiden
for whose sake he had made this long journey. But they could not
touch each other, for between them rolled great waves, which
looked as if they would sink the boats, yet never did. And the
young man and the maiden shrank with fear, for down in the depths
of the water they saw the bones of those who had died before, and
in the waves themselves men and women were struggling, and but
few passed over. Only the children had no fear, and reached the
other side in safety. Still, though the chief and the young girl
quailed in terror at these horrible sights and sounds, no harm
came to them, for their lives had been free from evil, and the
Master of Life had said that no evil should happen unto them. So
they reached unhurt the shore of the Happy Island, and wandered
through the flowery fields and by the banks of rushing streams,
and they knew not hunger nor thirst; neither cold nor heat. The
air fed them and the sun warmed them, and they forgot the dead,
for they saw no graves, and the young man's thoughts turned not
to wars, neither to the hunting of animals. And gladly would
these two have walked thus for ever, but in the murmur of the
wind he heard the Master of Life saying to him, 'Return whither
you came, for I have work for you to do, and your people need
you, and for many years you shall rule over them. At the gate my
messenger awaits you, and you shall take again your body which
you left behind, and he will show you what you are to do. Listen
to him, and have patience, and in time to come you shall rejoin
her whom you must now leave, for she is accepted, and will remain
ever young and beautiful, as when I called her hence from the
Land of Snows.'





Next: The White Duck

Previous: The Dead Wife



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